Educational Philosophy

Trust the Method

August 15, 2017 by Brandy Vencel

How many times have I heard this — “trust the method,” “just trust the method,” “you can trust the method” — in Charlotte Mason circles? How many times have I said this when speaking at a conference? It’s not that I’m backtracking — I really do think this philosophy is worthy of trust. But what does telling someone to “trust the method” really mean? While I can’t be sure what every single person who has said this means, I can tell you what I do (and do not!) mean.

Let’s talk.

Occasionally, some will instruct you to trust the Charlotte Mason method." What does that even mean? There's a lot packed into it.

What I Do Mean

This phrase — you can trust the method — means more than one thing to me. Or maybe I should say there is a lot packed into it.

Let me explain.

1. I see flowers.

I’ve been teaching my children this way for over a decade now. I have four children, all of whom are very different from one another. I see good things in each of their lives.

We have to be very careful thinking that we see fruit. Raising children takes time. I haven’t finished with any of my children and things could still yet go terribly wrong.

I have to laugh at the younger me who thought she saw fruit in Year 1 with three months under my belt. It wasn’t fruit. Not then. It was the tiniest of tiny sprouts in my oldest child — it was encouragement to keep adding water and fertilizer and sunshine.

But it wasn’t fruit. I see that now. We still had many battles ahead of us and the pruning, as you know, must always be done.

Even now, I am wary. It’s like that time I told someone I hadn’t gotten sick all winter. I promptly caught the most horrific of spring colds. Pride goeth before a fall and all that.

But what I see in this pre-fruit state is encouragement to continue in the direction in which I began. I see a lot of flowers, and the pollinators have been out in full force.

My father was over the other day. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “They all love to read. That’s not an accident.”

And it’s not.

I’m sure it’s helpful that their mother loves to read and that our family culture is heavy on reading aloud. But I also think their school lessons have taught them that knowledge is in books. They want to know, and so they read.

When I say, “You can trust the method,” I mean that I’ve walked this path for over a decade and found it incredibly rewarding. I’ve seen first hand what it can look like over a long period of time, and because I find it so valuable, I want that for others, too. I guess you could say I’m appealing to personal experience.

2. It’s been tested.

have seen real deal fruit, of course, just not from my own orchard. Occasionally, I get the chance to meet an AmblesideOnline graduate, and it’s always a delight. To see their eyes light up when they talk about art or Shakespeare, to see that they have not lost that childish delight in the world around them, to see them engaged in labors of love that I feel are completely beyond my limited capabilities — I think to myself, I hope my babies turn out something like these amazing people.

Charlotte Mason once said that the test of the success of our education is the size of their rooms — do they care about many things and many orders of things? Every AO graduate I’ve met has been a resounding yes! to that question.

In the beginning, I didn’t feel the need for a lot of confirmation (the next reason will explain why). But as time goes on and the days prove more challenging, evidence is encouraging. Not only did Charlotte Mason test her theories on thousands of students in hundreds of schools, but AmblesideOnline has graduated its thousands as well. And I like the harvest I’ve seen so far.

When I say, “You can trust the method,” I mean that (unlike a lot of philosophers who never taught a single child and never set foot in a classroom and sometimes even abandoned their own children), Charlotte Mason’s ideas have been put to the test and the results were (and are) fantastic. I guess you could say I’m appealing to physical evidence (and a large sample size).

3. It makes sense.

I didn’t make this the first reason, nor did I make it the last reason, but to me it’s the most important reason. Before I ever began teaching my children, I read Home Education by Charlotte Mason. My third child was about four months old and we didn’t have a backyard — just a giant pile of dirt. I was in a baby-daze and while so much of what I read rang true to me — it felt like coming home — I always laughingly say that all I got out of that initial reading was that we should be outside more.

So, I hauled the children over to Granmama’s house (where there was a backyard with flowers and things to look at), invented some nature games, and read the book again. On the second reading, I understood a lot more (including that I was being waaaaayyyy too academic with my preschool-aged oldest child).

As the years ticked by, I continued to read. School Education came next, followed by the surprisingly helpful Formation of Character. I am more of a thinker than a feeler — I put the ideas I was reading to the test, questioning them, mapping them out, blogging hundreds of entries about them, and comparing them to Scripture. Philosophy of Education (my favorite, of course) sealed the deal, and reinforcements came from the many book clubs we did in those early days with Cindy Rollins — we read Norms and Nobility, Poetic Knowledge, Roots of American Order, Ideas Have Consequences, Leisure: The Basis of Culture — and I was sold. All the ideas continued to coalesce and I was thrilled to have such a comprehensive view so early on.

All this reading? This is why it makes sense to me. Not because Cindy Rollins told me so. Not because I went to a conference and they told me so. Not because the girls in my local reading group told me so. It was the struggle to make sense of ideas — both in conversation with others as well as by myself — that convinced me that here was a philosophy worth its salt.

This philosophy makes sense. But I don’t want you to take my word for it. That’s why I wrote study guides, why I always encourage reading, and why I began Charlotte Mason Boot Camp. You have to do this thinking for yourself; your education is the beginning of your children’s education.

When I say, “You can trust the method,” I mean that if you read and grapple with Charlotte Mason’s ideas and principles, you will see that this is true. As you ask questions and seek out answers, you will discover a method that is worth your trust. I guess you could say I’m appealing to your reason.

4. It’s what I would have wanted myself.

I still remember what it was like to be a student who wanted to know and to so often be frustrated by the system that stood in my way. Don’t get me wrong — I had it much better than many others of my generation. My parents did whatever it took — district transfers and special schools, the whole deal. I still remember the thrill of my third grade teacher reading Howard Pyle’s King Arthur aloud to my class. It was one of the highlights of my life.

Ten years ago this spring, I was surfing the internet, trying to figure out how I was going to give my oldest child, who was about to start his kindergarten year, a Charlotte Mason education when my school budget was the size of a mustard seed. Cindy Rollins mentioned AmblesideOnline in passing on her blog. I clicked, dreading what I was going to find.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was free! Oh glorious day! Here was a curriculum I could actually afford!

I continued to look around. I read all six years of booklists (it wasn’t a complete curriculum back then) that night. I’m not sure exactly when the drooling started, but I remember that feeling of recognition. If I could have mapped out exactly what I would have wanted for myself all those years ago when I was in elementary school, this would have been it. What better way to love our children as ourselves than to give them what we would have wanted?

When I say, “You can trust the method,” I mean that if you look back and think about how you would have liked to be treated, what kinds of books you would have liked to read, and how you would have liked your day to go, it’s likely you’ll recognize that in Charlotte Mason. I guess you could say I’m appealing to your imagination, to what might have been.

What I Don’t Mean

As you can see, I don’t mean blind allegiance to a philosophy you haven’t studied for yourself. I don’t mean going through the motions and clicking those Charlotte Mason check boxes when you don’t understand why these boxes are there in the first place. I don’t mean that you should take my word for it.

I don’t mean you should never question or think for yourself. I don’t mean you shouldn’t read any other education books. I don’t mean Charlotte Mason is infallible.

What I mean is that I have tested this philosophy on many levels and found it worthy, and I think it’s worth your time to do so, too.

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15 Comments

  • Reply Thoughtworthy (Back to the Future, Pep Talk Replays, New Devotional, and MORE!) | Afterthoughts August 21, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    […] What do I mean when I urge you to “trust the method”? The answer might surprise you. […]

  • Reply Rebecca May 1, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    Thank you so much for this! Once I asked a question on a different forum about narration—i was trying to make sure I was doing it right, and it didn’t seem that the narrating we were doing would lead to them being able to answer the kind of exam questions I was hearing about on their podcasts. I was told “trust the method.” I was so frustrated! I do think the method makes sense, that doesn’t mean I’m doing it right! I’m so excited to read Karen’s new book so I can learn more.

  • Reply Alise Grant May 1, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    I think your explanation of Cam’s methods making sense rings most true for me right now. Everything I read of hers lines up with how I’ve already thought and felt about life, both my own experiences and the ones I see my children living out.

    I also wish I had been given this kind of education, and that one reason why I am so excited to start it with my own kids. I’ve already been learning along with them to love what God has made all around us, to actually notice it, and to enjoy the creations of His creatures as well (Who knew poetry was so fun and so lovely? I always thought if you didn’t understand it then it wasn’t worth reading. What a shame!)

  • Reply Jennifer August 30, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks so much for this! I love what I have discovered of CM so far (trying to read all I can in the last few weeks before starting next month!) but am anxious about trying to switch my 13-year-old. I started to ask for narrations last school year and he hates it, or discussing books with me. When I asked why he said, “Because I have to think”. Where do I go with that?! He wants to read easy books and learn by himself from text books without my input. I think the text books reassure him that he’s keeping on a par with schooled children. I’d be grateful for any suggestions.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 31, 2017 at 7:03 am

      Hi Jennifer! Welcome to the wonderful land of CM! ♥ I think switching an older child definitely has its challenges. Here is a post from Karen Glass that has some things you might want to consider.

      • Reply Jennifer September 1, 2017 at 3:53 pm

        Thanks Brandy. I’ve read the linked post and it is helpful, although I can’t imagine my eldest ever being prepared to write a long assignment for me and then agree to refine it based on my suggestions. I’m thinking, sadly, that school may be the only way he’ll do that. But then he’ll have all the toxic effects of school. At this point I feel like I have to choose between academic excellence and psychological/emotional/moral health for him. I could try it for a year, but I suspect it will be a challenging one for our relationship, and then I may have to send him to school another year ‘behind’ in terms of grade levels.

  • Reply Shanna August 16, 2017 at 8:38 am

    Thank you for the clarifying thoughts on fruit! Fruit is being thrown around a lot ? and I see from your post how the meaning is getting diluted. It’s like “convicted”, I started to get suspicious, surely convicted has a very specific and old meaning, it doesn’t just describe a strong feeling to avoid carbs? I haven’t looked it up yet, just going with my gut for now.

  • Reply Jennifer August 15, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    This is wonderful and encouraging!

  • Reply Rebecca August 15, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    This blog post actually got me teary eyed, especially your #4 point: It’s what I would have wanted myself.

    This is our first year completely diving into AO and I am thrilled! While I have yet to read Charlotte’s own books, I just finished For the Children’s Sake for the 3rd or 4th time and I read Consider This twice last year. This philosophy speaks to my heart and soul. It gives me such vision for what I want for myself, my husband and our family. It encourages me to keep pressing in. I was never read to as a child. I started to read for my own enjoyment while pregnant with my first at the age of 20 and it has been such a beautiful journey! I have so far to go and I feel like I got such a late start. On the other hand I have first hand experience that even if you were not given good books and a wonderful education as a child, that doesn’t mean you can’t get an education as an adult. I am happy and feel so blessed to be able to lay a feast for my own children and hope the flowers I see now will turn into a whole lot of fruit in their lives in the future!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 15, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      I love this, Rebecca. Stories like this are exactly why it’s never too late to switch our children. I’ve had parents say, “My child is in high school, is it really worth it to switch?” But I figure if we mothers can read books we’ve never read, or learn to narrate, and benefit from it, then certainly teens can! 🙂

  • Reply Nelleke August 15, 2017 at 9:16 am

    I love this. It’s not blind faith.

  • Reply dawn August 15, 2017 at 7:06 am

    Beautiful.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 15, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      Thanks, Dawn. Or should I say, dawn? 😉

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