Charlotte Mason Volume I Part I.I

Reading through Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series.

I A method of education

The first part of this section discusses traditional methods and new methods. In her day, she says traditional methods had been “tried and found wanting” while science was bringing a revolution in parenting. She lists several contrasts:

  • corporal punishment a given vs. disallowed
  • plain food vs. varied diet that considers child’s tastes
  • need to harden kids vs. need to shelter them (weather is used in the example; does she intend the more figurative sense as well?)
  • prioritize duty and obedience vs. child’s pleasures
  • child subject to parents vs. child-centered home

The point seems to be that with things in flux, without general consensus on such matters, it’s more important than ever for parents to fully think out what their approach to education will be.

The rest of the section deals with the term “method,” especially as contrasted with the term “system.” In her usage, method refers to a naturally flowing, unlaborious, holistic, and reflective approach that is based on just a few principles of natural law. System, on the other hand, is more formulaic, does not require or invite reflection, has definite steps, and is best suited to smaller specific aspects of education. Method should govern education as a whole, and is involved in the specifics as well; method can use system, but not vice versa.

Two reasons why method is considered essential are that education happens at all times, whatever the child is doing, wherever he is; and that a child is not a machine but a “self-acting, self-developing being” (10).

The appeal of system is that we tend to feel more secure about things that are definite instead of requiring continual observation and reflection, and things that are neatly compartmentalized instead of holistic, blended, integrated. Anticipating that some will see her emphasis on holistic education as implying incessant watchfulness and work, Mason assures readers that it isn’t like that — instead it becomes as natural as acting on our knowledge that fire is hot and other such things.


4 thoughts on “Charlotte Mason Volume I Part I.I

  1. You think about and process things very deeply, and you gather ideas I would never think of! OH the system thing… I feel like I started off in that direction and am SO GLAD to have moved away from it!!!!

  2. Marcy, whew, I’m finally, in very small ways, catching up after our vacation. I’ve been so eager to read your post and comment. Real quick, what are we reading for the next installment? Part 2-The Child’s Estate?
    Your comments per CM’s thoughts seem spot on to me. Tell me, do you take notes as you write? I’m trying to be a better studier, somehow I never learned this skill very well. Eventually I would like to post on my blog about our readings, but don’t know that I will summarize as effectively. Anyway…..good job. Now I want to know what YOU think about what she wrote. Do you agree, do you like her ideas?
    For myself, I would have NEVER thought about these things on my own or with any other writings about a child’s education. I would venture to say that many cirricula out there are that of a ‘system.’ Although, it might not be fair for me to say as I have never read much else extensively.

    • Yeah, Part I-2, The Child’s Estate — that sounds good. For a week from today!

      I do take notes as I write. Sometimes I write in the margins — I’m reading this on Mark’s Kindle, so I am taking notes in a notebook. I know I can write notes IN the Kindle, but I’m finding my notebook more manageable — easier than typing on those tiny buttons, and then navigating from note to note.

      My problem with note-taking and studying, historically, has been that I underline everything and make note of everything, having a hard time summarizing and getting the gist of things. Details really matter to me.

      I’m a little confused about the first part, where she’s comparing traditional methods and the current scientific advice — not sure where she lands on some of those questions. Clearly more traditional on some, but not sure on others.

      I like her ideas about method vs. system — with two exceptions. I think it is rather silly to attribute these ideas to these two words — in general use, I don’t see much difference in the two words. And while, once you know the principles so well that they’re second-nature, there IS a large learning curve to internalizing the method. And yet, in general, I often think a lot of hard work upfront is worthwhile to make things flow better later, rather than a medium amount of work both now and in the future.

      I think it might have been my first job at a Montessori school that got me thinking about this sort of thing — education based on respect for the child and other Big Ideas instead of scope and sequence charts. I loved the environment, many aspects of the approach, and all the thought behind it — and I really liked what most of the students were (or seemed) like.

      I haven’t read any materials from other curricula or approaches — just some survey books that look at several approaches. I could sort of tell just from those that some approaches weren’t for me.

      Remember, too, that I did get a master’s in teaching with endorsements in English and math for middle through high school. Some of my classes were very thoughtful and respectful of children and families. Others were more about system, in the good sense of tools and processes to use for various things. Others dealt with other stuff.

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