Educational Reform, Practical Application, relationship
Comments 3

Studies in the Art of Standing Aside by Laurie Bestvater

While living in Korea, my son had the privilege of studying violin with a student of the great Shinichi Suzuki.  He was a lovely, unassuming gent of indeterminate years who often had my young son sit on his knee, who invited us for lunch at his home and took us on long walks.  At first this behavior really mystified me; what I wanted, what I was paying for, was violin instruction for my son, not walks and luncheons.   In time, I became more relaxed with these “idiosyncrasies” accepting them as simply part of the package required to have this well-known and highly successful teacher. (Many things required my adjustment in Asian culture!)   Eventually, my distractible son blossomed under Dr. Kim’s care and really solidified his relationship to the violin.  As it came time for us to leave Korea, I asked Dr. Kim what I should look for in a teacher when we returned to North America, thinking he would say, “Someone who can do the Suzuki method,” and give me some addresses or at least, “Someone who understands small boys and can continue the work we’ve done on his bow hold.”  I was astonished when the old man looked me in the eyes with his warm and curious own and said, “Find someone who loves his students.”  Here was the head of Suzuki training in all of Korea, a student of the great Master himself, a doctor of Music and honored speaker at Suzuki training institutes worldwide, not only teaching my beginner, one very small Canadian boy, but seeming to care very little about the method he had spent his whole life sharing.

 I have been reminded of this dear man and our conversation often since. Over time, (I am a slow learner!) I have realized that perhaps it is not Suzuki technique that makes a great player, though many in the West may think this is so. It seems to me that Dr. Kim believed it was the relationships and respect for the child  that Suzuki sought to emphasize.  Dr. Kim was excelling as a “teacher” even when we weren’t “having lessons” by truly knowing and respecting the child enough to allow him an atmosphere of learning and a growing relationship to the music and the instrument.

That  “ah ha” experience with Dr. Kim helped me to understand the golden rule of the PNEU schools “whereby teachers shall teach less and Scholars shall learn more,” (Vol.VI) Mason meant her teachers foremost to be people living in relationship with others. A Charlotte Mason teacher is a  “…guide, philosopher and friend,” not “showm(a)n of the universe,” and, dare I say, a mentor as opposed to a master of technique?  Somehow this is an even more sobering thought than a teacher having to “know it all.” Doesn’t it mean that knowing the principles and methods of Mason, the right booklists and the ways of narration is not enough; my character and relationships matter and others are depending on me to live my life fully and authentically? I remember reading with some terror as a young mother, Henry Ward Beecher’s words, “The mother’s heart (or teacher’s) is the child’s schoolroom.”  God help us! And yet we produce our own growth no more than the geranium on my windowsill.

Mason said, “We study in many ways the art of standing aside.” (Vol. III) As teacher “development” then, I offer the memory of Dr. Kim and the following checkpoint from Philip C. Brewer. This passage lives in my commonplace book as a reminder.  I’d love to know what inspires you in the quest to be a “Charlotte Mason teacher.”


Strong enough to be weak;

Successful enough to fail;

Busy enough to take time;

Wise enough to say, “I don’t know;”

Serious enough to laugh;

Rich enough to be poor;

Compassionate enough to discipline;

Conservative enough to give freely;

Mature enough to be childlike;

Important enough to last;

Courageous enough to fear God;

Planned enough to be spontaneous;

Controlled enough to be flexible;

Free enough to endure captivity;

Knowledgeable enough to ask questions;

Great enough to be anonymous;

Responsible enough to play;

Assured enough to be rejected;

Stable enough to cry;

Victorious enough to lose;

Industrious enough to relax;

Leading enough to serve.


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. deborahdobbins says

    Excellent and motivating article, Laurie. You asked what inspires us in the quest to be a Charlotte Mason teacher. I am inspired by the wonder and originality shared in each child’s observations during our 1st and 2nd grade nature study classes. We just finished studying wild onions with our first graders, and one student shared that the roots are like an octopus. I am always amazed in the freshness of their responses.

  2. Laurie, I loved your article. It’s a vivid and memorable story. My daughter started piano with a good Suzuki teacher and I had to read a book about the approach. I thought his ideas were extremely interesting, especially his views of stopping the lessons before the child is ready, and focusing more on maintaining the appetite to learn than in cramming in as much teaching or practice as possible. I thought it went along nicely with CM ideals.

    I wanted to share with you something I wrote recently on the subject at French Kids Don’t Get Fat.

    I wasn’t familiar with CM’s phrase “the art of standing by” and was happy to learn about it.

    I hope to see more from you here. I know we met at Ambleside (Fredericksburg, TX) a few years ago. I wish I’d gotten to know you more then!

  3. I just came across this wonderful post as I was looking for a good link to the “less is more” idea of Charlotte Mason. Mr. Kim reminds me of Mr. P, my ninth grade teacher who would have failed in this No Child Left Untested world. It was a small K-12 school in Newfoundland, Canada. Everytime a group of elementary school kids walked by on their way to the library, he would herd us all into the hall and we waved at the little ones passing by. It happened about once a week. They all loved him, and he knew everyone by name.

    He was the teacher who introduced me to The Hobbit. As a veteran of winters in the foggiest place in the world, he knew that, before school ended, we would have one glorious day of sunshine where even he could not capture our attention. On that day, he told us to close up the books for we were going hobbit hunting. We strolled down to the docks, where no hobbit in his right mind would read.

    A friend of mine posted a great article, written by a speech-language pathologist experienced in autism, on the art of standing aside. It’s called The Power of Nothing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s