It can be hard to self-evaluate. When we are trying to lead our homeschools in a Charlotte Mason way, we can fall short of the goal in a variety of ways. The two most common are opposite extremes. On the one hand, we can pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves it’s meant to be “gentle,” all the while using this to justify our own laziness. On the other hand, we can execute the supposedly perfect curriculum in the supposedly perfect way, all the while crushing the poor children put through Mama’s grind.
The question is: if we’re prone to blind spots in both places, how do we know we’ve found the right mirror? What is the standard we should use to judge ourselves?
In my Flourish Charlotte Mason Homeschool Annual Review, I set out more elaborate evaluations — evaluations for students, for the teacher, and for the homeschool as a whole. The question is whether there’s a quick test that we can use for normal days or weeks to see whether we’re keeping on track, whether the main thing is staying the main thing.
I propose we use the criteria set out in chapter 21 of Parents and Children (Charlotte Mason’s second volume) as a possible quick test. In this chapter, Miss Mason sets out a couple simple duties for parents:
[T]o form in his child right habits of thinking and behaving is a parent’s chief duty … To nourish a child daily with loving, right, and noble ideas we believe to be the parent’s next duty.Parents and Children, p. 228
A little later she repeats herself:
[O]ne of our objects is to accentuate the importance of education under the two heads of the formation of habits and the presentation of ideas …Parents and Children, p. 229
Let’s look at these two a bit deeper:
1. The Formation of Habits
In the quote above, Miss Mason specified habits of thinking and habits of behaving. I wonder if we place too much focus on habits of behaving and not enough on thinking. We train the children to obey, we teach them to be orderly, we watch closely over how they do their lessons. But do we consider the recordings playing on repeat in their heads?
The mean man thinks mean thoughts, the magnanimous man great thoughts, because we all think as we are accustomed to think …Parents and Children, p. 229
The grumpy child, the pessimist child, the complaining and ungrateful child — all these have thoughts they think again and again. Thoughts, Miss Mason tells us, can be changed. They are at times bad habits difficult to overcome, but habit is not fate. We can use a good one to drive out the bad.
How do we attack a frightful bad habit? The first step is to examine the origins:
Every habit has its beginning. The beginning is the idea which comes with a stir and takes possession of us.Parents and Children, p. 229-230
Saying that we help to form our children’s habits of thinking and behaving hinges on Mother being their leader. To form the habit of thinking, we must be the thought leader. Rooting out and correcting bad habits of thinking is not easy, but Miss Mason gives us a helpful starting point: identify the bad idea at the root.
2. The Presentation of Ideas
I like the way Miss Mason said it the first time: we offer the nourishment of loving, right, and noble ideas. She goes so far as to tell us to throw it out if these ideas are missing:
[A] ‘subject’ which does not rise out of some great thought of life we usually reject as not nourishing, not fruitful …Parents and Children, p. 230
Do you feel like you don’t have enough good ideas to offer to your children? Fret not! Miss Mason never expected us to be the font of ideas for our children. She tells us the secret source, and it’s definitely not us:
[T]here is a great storehouse of thought wherein we may find all the great ideas that have moved the world.Parents and Children, p. 231
What is this storehouse? Books! And not just any books, but the absolute best books we can find for them:
Children have a right to the best we possess; therefore their lesson books should be, as far as possible, our best books.Philosophy of Education, p. 19
The Daily Quick Test
There is more to evaluating a Charlotte Mason homeschool than this. (That’s what Flourish is all about.) But we can ask ourselves a few quick questions as a way of gauging our daily or weekly successes and failures:
- Did I consistently initiate, model, reinforce, and guard good habits of behaving?
- Did I consistently initiate, model, reinforce, and guard good habits of thinking? (Have I been their thought leader?)
- Did I give my students generous access to the best books daily, providing their minds the nourishment of good, right and noble ideas?
If the answer is yes, we’ve done pretty well, haven’t we?
What if the answer is no? Do I beat myself up? My long answer to this question appears in my post How to Move Forward. For now, I’ll give you the short version: if the answer is no, then I have some goals for tomorrow and next week. I must repent and do better.
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