"Oh dear, when shall we learn not to take ourselves and other people as inevitable! Don't you see, the faults are in the child's bringing-up, not in her disposition. It is to her bringing-up she owes the refinement and intelligence you notice; and it is to her bringing-up she owes the disappointing fact that she continually falls into the ranks of girls younger and more ignorant than herself. It is impossible to pull her up. She will be at a disadvantage all her school-life. She will get into the habit of being at a disadvantage, and will not have the necessary self-confidence to take her fit place in the world. It is all summed up in a word; she has been brought up at home."Did Charlotte Mason really say that homeschoolers are at a disadvantage? Badly brought up? Sucks?*
Well, maybe she didn't use the word "sucks," but she came pretty close.
This PR article is, what would you call it, seminal. As in, "Adjective, (of a work, event, moment, or figure) strongly influencing later developments." It is the 1891 equivalent of a 1999 "Want to join us?" post on the CM Series e-list, which proposed a curriculum now known as AmblesideOnline. The article does not appear anywhere in Charlotte Mason's books, although one part of it has been circulated as a basic outline for young childrens' studies; it was an open letter and proposal to the subscribers of the Parents' Review. "Do you want to be part of a 'school?'"
And boy, is she harsh on homeschooling.
Imagine two girls, she starts out by saying. One homeschooled (and of the "better class"); one public-schooled (and working-class). They take some kind of entrance exams, a school-leaving test, the SAT or something like that. Without getting into a fuss over the limitations of standardized tests (we'll assume these exams are accepted and necessary), imagine that the public-schooled girl does a great deal better than the homeschooler.
The homeschooler, according to the story, is a charming young lady, as nice as they come. We'll assume that the other girl is, by comparison, a bit rougher around the edges.
This, according to Charlotte Mason, is the difference: the homeschooler has not learned to push herself, to strive. To quote another PR article, she lacks grit. She may have had the atmosphere, but she lacks the discipline. She expects to get away with a minimum of effort. She makes excuses. But she is a charming young lady...
"Oh, yes, I know; but none of these are bad faults. You often see that sort of thing in children brought up at home." "No doubt you do; and my contention is, that they are bad faults, standing in the way of progress and endeavour; and the children who betray them show bad training as much as if they were rude or deceitful."Now I would argue this point and say that I've met and heard of a number of young adults, all recent products of schools, who sound like her homeschooler. Clueless, unmotivated, and put-out because the boss keeps telling them what to do. I also know lots of hardworking, even over-achieving, homeschoolers. I know homeschool parents who worry about turning into "tiger moms," and a few "tigers" who should do more worrying. I think that, for some, the homeschooling tide of extremes now flows in the opposite direction to the 1891 perception. We worry too much that the kids won't get into college or whatever, so they're already years ahead in math and science and diagramming sentences, and making homeschooling's star shine brighter by winning music festivals and spelling bees. Yay, us.
Still, the question of what Charlotte Mason saw is worth considering. It's partly why the PNEU started the Parents' Union School--and that's what this article is, an invitation for PR subscribers to put their children under the PNEU "umbrella school," as we'd call it. "In a word, while increasing rather than diminishing the leisure of the home-taught child, to counteract any dawdling, dilatory, procrastinating habits which put him at a disadvantage as compared with the smarter** school-child."
Are our homeschoolers nice children who dawdle?
Are they faithful and kind, but procrastinators?
Would public school cure them of that?
Not likely, or at least not without other side effects, although I will say that when my older children moved on to public high school, they suddenly paid attention to turning work in on time.
Is it a necessary evil of homeschooling that homeschooled students do not work as hard as they might in a more competitive situation? No, and that was Charlotte Mason's point. If there were weaknesses that seemed common for children brought up in a nursery, or in other isolated situations, then those needed to be recognized and overcome. What she saw as problematic, she thought could also be corrected, by giving parents a stronger plan of education (including an early emphasis on habit training, and later an understanding of "the will"), and giving children a stronger connection with others who were doing the same work.
Many homeschoolers now are not in the least isolated, not with the many community and other activities that homeschoolers take part in; but when it comes to academic work and the issue of personal discipline, we still need to make sure...while not being tiger parents...that our young students know they are doing their own personal best. Not for spelling bees, not for college, and not because they are trying to make us happy; but because education is about character, and knowledge for its own sake, and finding our connections on this planet and in this universe. And bringing glory to God.
*"Sucks" is what we used to call wusses, cry-babies. It is not meant here in its more recent, much ruder usage.
**This is "smarter" in the sense of more alert, quicker to attend, as used in the expression "Look smart!" or as in a description of soldiers marching smartly. It doesn't refer to level of intelligence or to the comparative wisdom of two actions, for example "it would be smarter to prime the walls before you paint them."
Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling at Corn and Oil.