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    Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

    Keep Out: No Experts Allowed!

    March 15, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    I couldn’t lead a Charlotte Mason group,” she said. “I’m no expert.” In the nicest way I could think of, I told her I thought she was wrong. I thought she was exactly the sort of person to do it. And, as far as I know, she is doing it now.

    In the Charlotte Mason world, there are very few experts, at least in the way that I think of experts. We tend to be homeschoolers, after all. Homeschooling is the bastion of the amateur. And that, my friends, is the word we want: amateur.

    Do you have to be an expert to lead a Charlotte Mason group? NO! Come find out why...

    An amateur, you see, is one who loves. Love, being the heart of true study, is where we want to begin, and something we want to remain, even when we’ve come to know a lot more than when we started. We don’t want Charlotte Mason’s philosophy professionalized and institutionalized and given its own fancy academic language and eventually becoming inaccessible to normal folk.

    Probably the reasoning behind a statement like “I can’t lead a Charlotte Mason group (or other book group) because I’m not an expert” is something like this: I don’t feel like I’m far enough down the road in my experience, or wise enough in general. I shouldn’t be held up as an example.

    You know what? It’s probably true!

    When I first started leading a group, I had about 18 months of actual Charlotte Mason experience and I was young — barely over 30. Did I think I was “expert” enough?


    The thing is, I never thought leading a group like this required an expert. It needs someone to organize, yes. But, my dears, why don’t we all be content to let the author be the expert? We don’t have to already know — that’s why we’re reading the book. We can all be co-learners.

    I’ve been leading book groups for many years now, and you know what? I still learn something new at every single meeting. I know this might sound shocking, but my train left the station years ago and still hasn’t arrived at my destination.

    Because it’s all a journey.

    Yes, some of us have been on the rails longer than others. That’s true. But I really don’t see what that has to do with leading a group. If you can set a date and time, find a location, and make a reading assignment, you can lead a group. (Actually, I’ve even made some reading assignments for you, if it sounds scary to do that part.) The ability to serve coffee nicely is an added bonus, but not a requirement.

    I’ve met so many people lately who say things like, “I wish I had a group,” but when I suggest starting one, they get this deer-in-the-headlights look. You know what? It’s not so scary! And if you have the love, you’re going to do just fine.

    I really think so.

    Think about what is stopping you. For me, it was all the logistics. I can’t get my housekeeping together well enough. Fine, we can meet at a coffee shop. For others, it might be childcare. Fine, have a small group come over after the kids are in bed.

    If your hang-up is not being an expert, let. it. go.

    You’re not an expert? Fine. You’re not well-educated? Fine again! Homeschooling will give you a better education than you initially received. You’ll be awesome in 12 years or so.

    All you really need is love and a few organizational skills.

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  • Reply Leslie April 2, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    So sorry, I know this isn’t the forum, but I know how to follow social media, but not to create. How can I seek out others in my specific area? Is there a group page somewhere? (Looking for other ‘amateurs’ and Circe Institute ‘fan girls’ in Phoenix.)

  • Reply Celeste March 15, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Yes! I am no expert but LOVE the method. I think that’s probably obvious to all the people in my group. 😉 I learn something new at every meeting too, which is why I so enjoy reading and meeting with others.

  • Reply Amanda March 15, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Phew! Glad to hear we don’t need to be experts because my friend and I are leading a book club and neither of us are experts or anywhere near. ?. We are currently reading For the Children’s Sake and we all are learning so much!

  • Reply Heather M March 15, 2016 at 7:53 am

    What if no one is interested in putting in any effort? I’ve tried multiple times to start a group but I get answers like this: “I don’t have time to read.” I can’t make time in my schedule.” I don’t get this at all! I can’t help but read. I wasn’t even asking much. Once a month 1 chapter. Any thoughts? Or should I just keep praying for the right people to eventually come into my life?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 15, 2016 at 8:37 am

      Personally, I would pray for the right people! Of course, one of the ladies you spoke with already might be the right person — just not there quite yet. 🙂

      I really think that a “group” can be even you and only one other person. My local group actually started when God answered my prayer for *one* friend who was doing homeschool this way — I had no idea it would grow over the years!

      I will pray for you, Heather. That would be so discouraging! 🙁

      • Reply Tanya Stone March 16, 2016 at 7:28 am

        I’m so glad you said that, Brandy, because that’s always my problem as well. A couple years ago I tried to start a weekly nature study group. I had over 50 responses. When it came to actually meeting, it was never more than 2 or 3 families, oftentimes just 1. Now that I’m leading a monthly CM meeting, to which I also had overwhelming response, I only ever have 1. Part of the problem is our county is HUGE, and a lot of families are too far. So I type up summaries of our meetings and share them with our group (we’re on Facebook and Yahoo). I don’t always get responses but a lot of times I get a thank you, and hear that even the summary is encouraging.

        Heather, I would say just keep praying. Maybe God means for that 1 person to be the one you inspire now, and maybe she’ll go on to inspire others. It can be disappointing and even frustrating. But I know that in my case, this one person went from being uncertain which homeschool track she would choose, or even if any, to being so excited about Charlotte Mason. She even comes by once a week to join us for school time. Maybe you can get everyone to commit to meeting online once a month, if not in person. Maybe get them excited by starting an online group or page that you write on once in a while. I hope you find a way to get it off the ground. 🙂

      • Reply Tanya Stone March 16, 2016 at 7:29 am

        Sorry, I should have read more carefully. Brandy said she started with one, Heather said none. 🙂 My bad. But still, just keep praying and offering and encouraging, and maybe just one person will come into your life that joins you in your journey. Then see what happens from there. 🙂

    • Reply Amber Vanderpol March 16, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      I’m right there with you, Heather! Every mom I meet who actually does read is already in a book group and/or Bible study and feels she can’t take on something else with outside reading required. But most people are either not interested or say they don’t have time to read or time/childcare to meet.

      I’m currently experimenting with doing a monthly video chat (we’re talking about Teaching from Rest over three months) so I can draw from a wider area and at least get rid of the driving/childcare/meeting place hurdle. Seeing people’s faces and having an actual conversation has so much value, and is far better than trying to do a book group discussion via text. I’m not sure I’d say it is an unqualified success so far because I think it is easier for people to forget or not prioritize an online conversation over a out of the house meeting, but at least something is happening!

      I think doing something where there is a limited time commitment – say a certain number of meetings, rather than something ongoing – is easier for people to say yes to. The video chat is great in that it opens up possibilities for people, but the technology aspect is daunting for a lot of women (even though it is really quite simple!).

      I’m also trying to start a monthly Nature Study group in my area, and I had a similar experience to Tanya – lots of interest, but not a lot of people actually showing up. The first one actually was well attended, but only one person (who didn’t come the first time!) came the second time. Perhaps the problem is me… 😀

      And Brandy, thanks for the encouragement! I am definitely not an expert, but I am certainly passionate about Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy of Education, and so long as I am humble enough to admit where I lack knowledge/experience and I’m willing to keep reading, learning, thinking and growing, I have what it takes. (OK, that sounds like a sort of cheesy affirmation, but believe me, I need it these days!)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 16, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Heather, What about the possibility of a summer-only group? This was just something that popped into my head today. I know that our group gets tiny by early spring, but swells to almost too big in the summer because there are people who have more time then. I wonder if a summer commitment would be doable for some? And then maybe you’d get one person out of that who was willing to continue throughout the year? Just a thought…

      • Reply Amber Vanderpol March 16, 2016 at 8:09 pm

        I met someone at the conference in Seattle who did this quite successfully last summer. I think she used the first three sessions from here: as her guide.

        It is an idea that I’m kicking around myself. It would be interesting to do something like this and try to get it out at local Moms/MOPs groups, preschools and churches as well as the existing HS’ing community. Even though their kids aren’t ready for Y1, they could really benefit from learning more about CM and could become the start of a great CM community.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel March 16, 2016 at 8:52 pm

          Wow, Amber — that is a great resource and I was totally unaware of it! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

      • Reply Heather M March 16, 2016 at 8:39 pm

        I so appreciate everyone’s kind thoughts and prayers! I’m up for anything at this point! I never thought of meeting over the summer but it is worth a try for sure. I’m also mulling over what Amber said of meeting once for a specific topic and how that might play out. Thank you ladies!

        • Reply Brandy Vencel March 16, 2016 at 8:51 pm

          Ooh! One other idea: last summer, we did the videos from Perimeter School. No reading required! 🙂 There are three videos, so one per month works perfectly.

  • Reply Tanya Stone March 15, 2016 at 7:17 am

    This is encouraging to read. I lead a monthly group (in San Diego, if any readers here are interested in joining), but I have a lot of insecurities about it. Not because I’m not expert in the method, but because I know I’m not living it out perfectly in my home and homeschool. My kids certainly aren’t exhibiting good habits–that is one of my weakest points. And I know I need to work on how I teach the subjects and narration and nature study and so many other points. So I love leading it, I love teaching other moms. I just sometimes feel almost like a hypocrite because I know I’m not doing it right all the time. I’m just upfront with the people, though, that I’m learning alongside them and growing with them, and not doing it exactly right, but I’m trying.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 15, 2016 at 8:39 am

      I think the key is being honest, which is exactly what you are doing. I do not know *anyone* who has fully realized CM’s philosophy all on her own. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and our family life ebbs and flows. My thought is always that keeping in contact with the ideal gets us much closer than if we lose sight of it — with that vision, we are at least headed in a good direction. 🙂

      • Reply Tanya Stone March 16, 2016 at 7:21 am

        Thanks, that’s exactly what it is.

    • Reply Jenna Dilts March 24, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Where in San Diego? I’m in Escondido and just found CM. I only have very small children at this point, but I’m open to meeting people. 🙂

      • Reply Tanya Stone April 1, 2016 at 7:33 am

        Hi Jenna!!! I’m just seeing this, I forgot to select the “send email notification” option! LOL Yet something kept nagging me to come back and check for responses (hmm, some THING or some ONE .. .).
        I’m unfortunately quite a ways from Escondido–down in Spring Valley, near Chula Vista. BUT I happen to have a friend in Escondido that came to one of my meetings, stays in touch on our group, and once hosted a meeting at her house. And there are many families up in that area that use CM, they just are never able to make the trek. There could be a thriving group up there if someone could take the helm. 🙂 You can join our Yahoo group to meet people and keep up on meetings.

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