One-Handed Posting

December 12, 2006 @ 1:29 pm | Filed under:

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?

This series of Charlotte Mason posts continues with:
Charlotte Mason on Nourishing the Mind
Gearing Up for a Charlotte Mason Term
Rose’s Reading List

Previous posts on Charlotte Mason:
Who Is This Charlotte Mason Person, Anyway?
How Do You Defend Your Relaxed Approach?
The Long-Promised Charlotte Mason Curriculum Post

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14 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for writing this. I need to explore it a bit more. I appreciate you pointing me in the right direction as this is something we are focused on right now.

  2. Mary Beth P says:


    YES, she is delicious! Back to your discussion- it is really amazing how our brains seem to be in sync with each other (even down to when we have our babies, LOL). Seriously, I was pondering this very question myself today. I am in a “early winter funk” not really feeling that I am accomplishing much with HS’ing. My oldest, like Jane, has an AMAZING memory, and is an “auditory” learner. Pretty much if you tell him something once, he knows it. So I wonder, also, how much is teaching style and how much is learning style( I am not really using any “style” except the way I have always interacted with him). I have not been able to put as much effort into homeschooling as I would have liked, with 3 little ones around, but Richard still seems to be learning well. Today, I was worrying that Michael will not be so easy, and will fall through the cracks of our daily routine next year, when he is “kindergarten” age. Anyway, this post is long enough, but you have raised interesting points. Unfortunatley, I cannot type very fast, even with both hands!

  3. Isa says:

    I’ve been reading your posts on both website for a few weeks now. I am homeschooling my two boys, 6 and 9 years old. I am finding the same thing, different ways of learning. It seems the oldest can watch something and understand/memorize it quite easily, though he is prone to watching things over and over again. The youngest has a different type of mind, not quite as scientific. I wonder to, if it has anything to do with having more time for the oldest when they are younger, without a brother or sister around, or is it simply personality. I wonder if we could do an experiment and see?

    your daughter is adorable!

  4. Jeanne says:

    What amazes me is this: I do science and political science read-alouds/discussions aimed at my SIXTEEN year old (who also reads classic novels himself as well as computer manuals I cannot fathom), and my nine year old, who is often drawing or playing legoes or walking back and forth thru the room seeming not to be a part of the scene, will tell me details from whatever-book three days later. It is not intentional CMing (I have no baby on my shoulder excusing that abbreviation), but the principle seems similar and the results are amazing.

  5. sarah says:

    I will be right there with you for discussion time. I am fascinated by the Charlotte Mason system of education. I asked for her works for Christmas and can’t wait to dive right in. A “Charlotte Mason Companion” has been great to get us started and have been transitioning little by little to her methods, but I can’t wait to read the actual source. There was an excellent article in one of the Catholic Homeschool magazines that you had about auditory verses visual learning. It’s been a while since I read it, but it was very interesting. Something like, we’re born auditory learners, but our society is so visual that by the time we are adults, many of us are nearly completely visual learners UNLESS we have been trained to learn by listening. Where did I put that…

  6. Lisa says:

    Long time silent reader jumping in here. I too used exclusively CM methods with my eldest, with similar results. Later children lost this benefit, and I can certainly see the difference. This winter I am reintroducing CM practices, and already I am seeing a change in narration/memory ability. Too bad I had to experiment with lots of other ideas before I became confident enough to stick with CM. At least children 4,5,& 6 can benefit from my learning curve!

  7. Al says:

    Yes! I see the same differences in child #1 and child #2. I did MUCH more narration with child #1 and he narrates almost verbatum.
    I have been carefully observing child #2 and she REALLY needs more CM methods. For awhile I thought her memory was lacking but now I see it is her articulation that is difficient. This is where CM’s narration really helps
    Keep posting on this!
    (please forgive my poor spelling-my baby was up too)

  8. Jennifer says:

    Only one child to compare to herself here, but in previous years where we were able to follow through with CM methods I feel her retention was much better than our rather haphazard approach this year.
    I, too, have been looking forward to the new year – fresh start and all that! Eagerly awaiting the CM discussion…

  9. Stephanie says:

    I just finished reading vol. 6. What I found fascinating is how the same excuses for ‘poorer’ public education are still common today. For example the debate about what an education really is. Does what you do to earn your living determine how educated you are? Or that great works are too challenging for poor children. Lastly the eternally popular class size & pay scale. My copy has many scribble notes ‘just like today’.

    This also helps with different learning styles–some reading, some talking, some looking & some drawing. Almost a something for everyone.

  10. Jane Ramsey says:

    I love you! Why am I writing this to a total stranger, I don’t know, but I have to tell you: you are so funny, so smart, so full of energy…you just amaze me. I have slogged through the first couple CM books and am getting little visions of her greatness here and there, but having a hard time putting it all together and remembering it. The way you and Elizabeth and the other 4reallearners put it into practice and into terms that us fuzzy-brained mommies can understand is so wonderful!
    I definitely look forward to more of your posts on CM. Any time you want to share your thoughts, Advent or not, Christmas or not, you go right ahead! Heck, why don’t you just go ahead and write that CM homeschooling book that’s floating around in your brain!! 🙂 You’ve got one eager customer right here!
    God bless you!

  11. Jane Ramsey says:

    Oh, and Rilla is absolutely adorable!

  12. Kristen Laurence says:

    I will be an avid reader of your discussion on the Charlotte Mason method, but I won’t be able to contribute much. I’ve only read Karen Andreola’s Companion so far, and real homeschooling will begin next year when Gianna turns 4. But after having learned even the little I know about CM, I knew this was the way I wanted to educate my children!

    Your baby is gorgeous!

  13. Fe says:

    Thanks for the link to the modern english version. I’ve read a number of bits and pieces about CM over the last few years and have attempted to read the originals… I’m not sure if it’s because they were online, or because of ‘baby brain’ but I have struggled:-( I’ll have another go with the modern version and see if that helps:-) There are so many of her ideas that I really like, and Puggle is getting to the stage where I am starting to think about planning for him:-)

  14. Sarah says:

    I’m fairly new to your weblogs but just love them! Thank you for all that you share. Adorable baby, by the way 🙂

    I started CM when I fell in love with Karen Andreola’s book. Both my dd and I are very old-fashioned so we loved the idea of this education method.

    There was one rather large problem. My dd hates narrating. Oh, she’ll narrate spontaneously about books she’s been reading for fun, but hates formal narration & doesn’t do a good job with it. Orating, drawing, writing, you name it she hated it.

    I must admit I also wasn’t so sure of its benefits – I thought it was better to discuss with her not so much what happened but WHY it happened, etc. Otherwise narration just seemed to be a test of attention and memory, and my dd is excellent with both of those.

    However, there is much else of Charlotte Mason’s methodology that we love and use. I think the woman was amazing.