BY SILVIA CACHIA
The most helpful way of investigating if Charlotte Mason is a method, curriculum, both or none, is to let her talk and explain. She addressed the concept of method in her Volume 1, entitled Home Education. Surprisingly, she is addressing the parent, not the teacher, and talking in the context of the home, not the school. She compels parents to think about the method, since bringing our children up is the beginning of educating them. We all have a method (and an atmosphere, and habits), whether we reflect and work on those or not. In page 8 of Vol. 1 she writes Method a Way to an End,
Method implies two things — a way to an end, and step-by-step progress in that way. Further, the following of a method implies an idea, a mental image, of the end or object to be arrived at. What do you propose that education shall effect in and for your child? Again, method is natural; easy, yielding, unobtrusive, simply as the ways of Nature herself; yet, watchful, careful, all-pervading, all-compelling.
She contrasts method to system. A system is easier, she says. A system is just a set of steps aimed to elicit a result. A system is mechanical, (think about a system when learning dance steps, sports, etc.). Surely any method will include systems or systematic tasks, but “a ‘system of education’ is mischievous, as producing only mechanical action instead of the vital growth and movement of a living being.”
In the same volume, on page 169, she writes about lessons as instruments of education:
Parents must reflect on the Subject-matter of Instruction. … [T]he parent, also, should have thought out this subject, and even when he does not profess to teach his children, should have his own carefully formed opinions as to the subject-matter and the method of their intellectual education.
Three Questions for the Mother. … She must ask herself seriously, Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? And, How should they learn it? If she take the trouble to find a definite and thoughtful answer to each of these three queries, she will be in a position to direct her children’s studies; and will, at the same time, be surprised to find that three-fourths of the time and labour ordinarily spent by the child at his lessons is lost time and wasted energy.
Charlotte Mason states her case for the need of every parent to mind and think carefully about their method. These three question are not theoretical question, but vital and pressing ones.
Volume 1 focuses on the early years, and that is where she situates the curriculum. She talks about out of door life for the children, out of door geography, the child and mother nature, out of door games, habit is ten natures, physical exercises, habits of the mind, moral habits, the matter and method of lessons. She then considers the kindergarten, talks about reading, recitation, narrating, writing, spelling and dictation, composition, bible lessons, arithmetic, natural philosophy, geography, grammar, French, pictorial art, etc. . The book culminates with a thought provoking reflection on the divine life in the child, the will, and the conscience.
Moving on to School Education (her third volume), she writes now in the context of school age children, expanding on docility and authority, masterly inactivity, the children as persons; she proposes an adequate theory of education, talks about some proper relations to a child, paints a picture of the great educationalist, on training (physical, intellectual, moral, and religious) and tells us how to use school-books. Right after the school books, she hits at education as the science of relations, and ends with her suggestions towards a curriculum.
Doesn’t a method beg for a curriculum?
Remember that she wrote, Method implies two things — a way to an end, and step-by-step progress, and that step by step progress has to be aided by a curriculum. In the early years, the method lays the rails of a child’s education, and the curriculum is simply life at home. (Yes, we do not need any boxed curriculum for the first 6 years. The mother and the home are the curriculum and could not be more appropriate and serious than it is for Charlotte Mason and her proposed “method.”)
The Question of a Curriculum. … Perhaps the main part of a child’s education should be concerned with the great human relationships. History, literature, art, languages (whether ancient or modern), travel — all of these are the record or expression of persons; so is science, so far as it is the history of discoveries, the record of observations, that is, so far as it is to be got out of books. … Before all these ranks Religion, including our relations of worship, loyalty, love and service to God; and next in order, perhaps, the intimate interpersonal relations implied in such terms as self-knowledge, self-control. …
This is the whole picture of the content, or curriculum, of what a child’s education should be concerned with, and Religion is the first in rank followed by all the others.School Education, p. 234
Now what we typically understand by curriculum comes into play. (I am thinking about the disciplines to be taught, at what age, schedules to fit those disciplines in, and the books, materials, and practices that those disciplines require.) How can we buy and commit to any packaged curriculum, guide, text book, or even plan of studies out there, when we do not have a guiding method and any idea of why, what, and how our children should learn?
In Philosophy of Education (Charlotte Mason’s sixth volume), we have a third and deeper visit of her ideas and concepts about curriculum. Self-education, children are born persons, authority and docility, the sacredness of personality, three instruments of education (education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life), how we make use of the mind, the way of the will, the way of the reason, and, voilà, “the curriculum.” Since education for Miss Mason covers three subjects (the knowledge of God, man, and His created Universe), she expands on how the different disciplines we see taught in schools fall into one of these three realms. And finally, attesting that Charlotte Mason shows good theories fit practice of those principles, part two is detailed and devoted to the Curriculum in Elementary Schools, and the Curriculum in Secondary Schools.
Many homeschooling parents look at curriculum first, and try to wade the waters of catalogs. They get a bunch of ideas here and there and call it a method, copy and paste schedules, practices, and activities they see others doing, — I have been there myself — this overlooks and underestimates how much easier it is to start from the beginning and read, reflect upon, and commit to a method. Once we have a panoramic view of education, we will be well equipped to see if that curriculum and any materials we have chosen support our method, and prevent Charlotte Mason’s observation of some situations where three-fourths of the time and labour ordinarily spent by the child at his lessons is lost time and wasted energy.
Silvia Cachia is the mom of two GRITS (Girls Raised In The South), who was born in Madrid. She found Charlotte Mason her last year of teaching in Texan public schools as a Kinder and 1st Grade teacher. She is a Charlotte Mason enthusiast, who has translated her Elementary Geography into Spanish, and the Charlotte Mason Made Easy course, written by Stephanie Walmsley. She writes at SilviaCachia.com, and moderates at the AmblesideOnline Forum.
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.