I remember when homeschoolers were first reading Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's For the Children's Sake. It sounded nice, but we had to scratch hard for the how-to's. That led many of us to the newly-reprinted CM Series books, and we started to find out where the most useful bits were, in all those pages. We all seemed to be hollering for practical, concrete, and writers like Catherine Levison obliged with concise CM-made-easier books. How to do copywork and narration, what Charlotte Mason said about math. The operative verb seemed to be "use": we "used" Charlotte Mason.
In more recent years, it seems that the most common questions of CM methods, though still sometimes misapplied, are well-understood enough to allow CM discussions to return to the big picture, the philosophy. This is very welcome, especially for those who may not be actively homeschooling but who find more and more wisdom in Mason's writings. As I wrote here in a review of Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page (2013), talking about Charlotte Mason has become less homeschool-ish, more of a larger effort to value people and their families, homes and communities; a new understanding of why relationships matter, possibly because those things that were once taken for granted are now rare commodities. Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote regretfully about people seeing children just having fun playing outdoors together as unusual, families reading together as unheard of; that was thirty years ago, and things are worse than ever.
So when new CM books are published these days, they tend not to repeat the "user's manual" information; we seem to agree now that it's time to stop "using" Charlotte Mason and simply learn from her, as she learned from those who came before her. The Living Page discusses notebook keeping and the "blank page" philosophy in new ways. Karen Glass's book Consider This (2014) focuses on wisdom-in-action, examining a long classical tradition of character-centered education. The interesting thing is that all of this ends, like the best CM lessons, with the opportunity to do something about it: to find a blank book or, if need be, staple some pages together to write down favourite quotes; to sprout some seeds, to read a book, to look for loveliness. In a way, we're back to the ideals of happy family life described in For the Children's Sake. It's time now, and we need it more than ever.
If I were to make a word cloud of Karen's book, particularly the last, most hands-on chapters, I'd choose words like this: We need to begin with a life-giving, relational, synthetic (putting-together, making connections) kind of thinking and learning that begins with relationships, and involves delight, loveliness, wonder, enthusiasm, heroes. Much of that learning is going to be centered on names, words, language, books; books that make us want to know more, that show us that there is order in the universe, that truth exists and that we can know some of that truth, though we need the humility to see that we will never know all of it. We will incorporate analysis, picking-apart, facts and terminology, when they are useful and necessary, but the main focus, for most of the school years, will be synthesis.
In a way, you could skip the buildup to Karen's later chapters (but don't do that, the earlier part is interesting on its own); even stop worrying your way through Charlotte Mason's books, at least temporarily; and focus on what is indeed practical and concrete. Eat apples. Sprout seeds. Sail twigs. Read stories together. Narrate them back. Act kindly. Sing hymns and silly songs. Have courage. Learn to be a mensch. It's not only that everything fits into something else, but everything you've tasted and touched and read fits into you. Our learning is a gathering together. It is putting together and seeing wholeness before we try to take apart and analyze fragments. As parents and teachers, we need to provide a healthy learning environment, to offer ideals to strive for, to teach habits of right thinking (and right acting), and to allow children opportunities to think, to explore, and to act.
If that is classical, I'm in.
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