The background (oh, the vanity of it all):
In my early twenties, I shucked out some money I couldn't afford for a colour/style analysis. In those days, they gave you a choice of four seasons, not twelve or sixteen or a hundred, so I was classified as a Summer, with extra stars beside a swatch of deep cherry-pink. That explained why my elementary school pictures looked even worse than most: I was usually wearing gold, rust, or moss green. Then there was the wild horizontal stripes thing in high school, but we won't go there. I also found out that I looked better in V-necks than boatnecks, better in soft details than in hard lines, and so on (things you know but you don't know). I didn't need to totally understand how or why it worked; I just needed to be able to see enough to say OH YES or NO WAY.
Over the years, there were times when I owned clothes that fell in line with those colours and styles; I had a maternity sweater and skirt in raspberry, and maternity stirrup pants (yeah, those) in gray. I wished I could be pregnant forever...just for the clothes, okay? There have been other times when I was just putting on whatever went with blue jeans (which was everything), or whatever went with black (which was everything). But believing in a certain colour philosophy, and seeing the benefits when I did apply it, has hung on for all those years.
The way we live now
Life today is more individualized, more customized, more complicated than it was in the 1980's. We worry more about getting everything right. A colour analysis blogger did a post with responses to a reader's very anxious questions, things like "What is the very coolest blue? Originally I thought it might be the blue that has an RGB value of (0, 0, 255) – an HSL hue of 240. However, that blue is opposite yellow on the color wheel..." The colour analyst began her comments by saying, "May I suggest that this information might not be what a colour-analyzed shopper needs?" She said, "Despite being a century old, the Munsell system persists because it appears to represent human vision exceptionally well...incorporating other colour systems...make less sense to me since they span too many colours, animal, vegetable, mineral, computer, neon, textile, plastic, and so on, that have nothing to do with humans." Towards the end of her post, she said, "Questions related to application are taking us in a more constructive direction. We would love to bring the answers down to one set of criteria, If This Then That, a safely anchored set of rules. Colour analysts would love that even more but it doesn’t work that way.
Colour is as fluid as any magic, now you see it, now you don’t. Try not to think in terms of how it has to be. Learn to work with what you see in front of you."
I have also noticed a few "shocking" things on this analyst's blog. She acknowledges that finding a hundred per cent of your clothing or cosmetics in the absolutely perfect colours is going to be difficult, if not impossible...so it's okay, even necessary sometimes, to compromise (are you not going to wear shoes at all if you can't find any in the right shade?). She even appears in a video wearing a blouse that includes a stripe of colour from outside her own "season." She points that out, and says it's okay, really, honestly, the world isn't going to fall apart: it's the overall OH YES that you're going for, even if all the details don't match. How can a professional colour analyst dare to wear that, or say that? Well, yes, she's a human being too.
What this has to do with Charlotte Mason
If you're involved in discussions of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy, have you noticed any parallels yet? If we called the OH YES the recognition of certain principles, would it be more apparent?
We get a lot of questions on AmblesideOnline that are just as serious and detailed as "What is the very coolest blue?" When, exactly, should written narrations start? What is the best mathematics curriculum? What brand of notebook, of paints? And so on. I've probably written this here before, but Charlotte Mason's sidekick Elsie Kitching responded to questions about teaching reading by saying that most teachers would probably already have found some method that worked best for them, and that's what they should use. If they've got the principles right, if they're remembering that all this has to connect with human being-ness (did you notice that in the response?), then they probably are doing it right. If your children are excited about nature, making connections with books, then keep doing what you're doing. You want to hear a little "oh yes" at the end of a lesson, a medium one at the end of the day (most days), and a large happy one at the end of the term. That's what you're working towards.
What is the best way to reassure people that it's not all as hard as it might appear to be? Like the colour analyst, it might help to remind everyone that we need to allow a little room for magic, mystery, and focusing on what we really see happening, rather than starting with theory. I would also suggest that, sometimes, just seeing someone else do it can be very relaxing and reassuring. To give a completely unrelated example, when our first baby was born (after I shed the sweater and stirrup pants), we had a few nursing issues. I tried to do what the midwife said, what the books said, and ended up going to a La Leche League meeting. Just one, because what I really needed to know, I saw in about the first ten minutes, without need of words: what the other mothers were doing naturally. Aha. It worked. In the same way, about two years ago a CM learning community in Ontario put on a Saturday workshop, a show-and-tell day. I think people learned more in that one hands-on day than they did by reading hundreds of forum posts. As homeschoolers, we can be isolated, and we do get anxious. What if we miss something? What if we find out, ten years too late, that this or that nuance should have been different, that this or that book really wasn't up to the highest standard?
Even Charlotte Mason admitted that the Parents' Union School couldn't always locate the very best examples of every book for every subject. Sometimes those examples didn't exist, hadn't been written. Sometimes they found someone to create what they'd been waiting for (like a handwriting curriculum). Other times they compromised.
No, we don't want to compromise. For some of us in particular, compromising is something we don't do well at all. In our perfect world, all the stripes would be from the right palette. We'd have education down to a science. But there needs to be room for reality and also for grace. If we can get to YES more than NO, then we're probably doing fine.