I have this big old Charlotte Mason post I’m dying to write,* but the baby has a cold and will only stay asleep if I hold her. She’s propped on my shoulder right now. This means my friend Charlotte will have to wait. I am re-reading her TOWARDS A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION right now, again, and again it is utterly wowing me. If you haven’t read CM’s original works, I’d recommend starting right there, with Volume 6. If her Victorian-speak turns you off (I rather like wrestling with it, but I admit it does make for slow going!), one of the generous Ambleside folks has written—and made freely available—modern English translations of some of Charlotte Mason’s books.
What blows me away about Volume 6, and the reason I keep re-reading it and am pretty much always DYING to talk it over with people (anyone want to come for tea?), is how clearly it explains CM’s method, and how simple the method actually is. Shockingly simple, with shocking claims as to results. As an educational method, CM’s concept is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. Really. Think about it—where else do you find an educator saying her students only have to read (or be read) something ONCE and they remember it and can intelligently discuss the work forever after? That is pretty much what CM’s method promises.**
And it’s what I’ve seen with Jane, who got a couple of years of pretty steady CMing. (I am giggling at how much Miss Mason would likely loathe my lazy and careless acronymizing of her name and ideas. I repeat! Sleeping baby on my left shoulder! No feeling in my left arm!)*** Anyway, Jane, thoroughly CM’d at age six and seven, drifting into a looser, just-CM-flavored approach for the next few years: her powers of retention astonish me. She can read something once and tell it back to you almost word for word, months later. For a while I was chalking it up to her amazing genetic material (oh I crack myself up) and then one day it hit me: DUH. What Jane can do is just what Charlotte Mason’s students could do. It is just exactly what Miss Mason says will happen.
But how much is CM, and how much is Jane’s brain? Chicken or egg? This is one of the things I want to talk about, and it’s one of the reasons I keep returning to CM’s books. Rose is bright and has a good memory, but she does not (yet) display the same astonishing powers of retention that Jane does. Her education thus far has been joyful and CM-inspired, but certainly not in adherence to Miss Mason’s entire philosophy.
You understand that I’m not comparing the two girls, right? This isn’t a Marcia-Marcia-Marcia situation. Rose is doing just fine. I’m simply pondering the significance of the facts.
Jane: Educated a la CM method for two years (age six and seven); possesses a skill CM says her students will possess.
Rose: Not educated strictly according to CM’s entire set of principles; is smart and capable, certainly at or beyond "grade level" according to contemporary educational standards; does not, however, possess the almost-total-retention and narration ability described by CM.
Also: how ironic is it that I have to keep re-reading Charlotte Mason’s books? Ha. Maybe I should put her ideas to the test on myself, maybe I should narrate the entire book as I go and see if by the end my own powers of attention and retention have improved in the manner she confidently asserts they will. (She asserts it about children, though. I don’t know if she made any such claim about adults, especially women in their late thirties with lots of small children, one of whom is snuffly and keeps mommy up at night.)
Anyway, I’m really wanting to talk about this. I know, I know, no one has time right now, two weeks before Christmas. Later, though. In my spare seconds (stop laughing; you’ll wake the baby!) I’ve been perusing sample PNEU syllabi. They fascinate me.
*As opposed to the big old Charlotte Mason post this turned out to be.
**Just to be clear: Charlotte Mason’s method promises more than a good memory, much more. Her aim was to educate the whole person: to make sure "education" involved a well-developed conscience, a controlled will, and sound habits, as well as mastery of knowledge.
***Baby shifted! Freed up the second hand! Still sacked out, twenty minutes later. She is just too, too delicious, snuffles and all.
Oops, she’s awake!
See what I mean by delicious?