Your arrival at a destination does not depend upon your choice of a good road, or upon your journeying at a good pace, but entirely upon your starting in the right direction.
Charlotte Mason, “Ourselves”, Part II, Chapter VI
For the past two years, I have been surprised by the number of parents at the ChildlightUSA Conference who want to know what it’s like to be a Charlotte Mason student finished with school—what effects it has had on my life, and how I feel about being homeschooled using this method.
I often struggle to verbalize an answer to some of these questions—it’s hard to talk or write about something that has been a part of my life for as long as I was conscious of the reality of curriculums and schooling methods. As the saying goes, does a fish really ever know it’s wet?
I think the quote above could really answer the root of a lot of the questions that parents considering or using Mason’s method have. Everyone wants the assurance that they are, in fact, starting in the right direction; and the best way to gauge that is to look to parents and children who have already traveled the educational road.
I thought that the opportunity to write for the ChildlightUSA blog could be a chance to address some of the common questions that I’ve heard.
How do you think the method influences your life now, as an adult?
The Mason method’s focus on the habit of attention has impacted me very much. In a mild, non-formulaic way, Mason’s emphasis on attention, and school time exercises such as dictation and narration change the way the student thinks, remembers, and processes information. I can’t say that there are studies to prove this (though I think there should be), so this is just an observation of my own.
I have become more aware of these results in myself in recent years. As I’ve completed school and moved into another section of my life, the experiences that come with that transition have made these things apparent. During my internship at the local newspaper, I was a little surprised and incredibly relieved to find that the specific memory so quietly cultivated during my school years was very beneficial in the world of journalism.
And it taught me something else. At the newspaper, I found it easy to become jaded and cool hearted. This called my attention to another link to my education.
Nature study can become a sort of refuge. It had always been before in my life, so it was a lapse in logic on my part to be surprised that it still was and is after school stops. I have really appreciated and enjoyed the accessibility of nature study achieved by long practice. Nature observation has really become a second nature to me, and while that may have been my natural bent in the first place, it would probably be little more than that if that interest had not been encouraged and cultivated by my schooling. It seems that more stressful life gets, the more I appreciate the beauty I’ve been taught to see in nature.
Do you feel there are any disadvantages to being educated using this method?
I think the method is perfectly balanced. It has more subjects and broader range than an American public school, so I feel very lucky to have been educated in this way. But maybe I’m just biased…
What was the most influential part of the Charlotte Mason method, for you?
Not to go on and on about it, but my earliest school-related memory of all is nature study. I had an interest in the natural world that was largely self-directed until my mother introduced me to nature journaling. I think that nature study is a sometimes undervalued aspect of study that is just as important as reading. In her book Home Education, Mason writes that nature study is “a valuable piece of education, of more use to the child than the reading of a whole book of natural history, or much geography and Latin.”
A child’s connection to the natural world is something so unique and important. You can understand yourself better when you understand the world God created for us.
To name another memorable instance, Mason’s book Ourselves made a huge impact on my life during my early teen years. A succinct and insightful summary of the human character and the meaning of morality—penned with true wit bare of pretension—Mason’s writing prompted my mind to move in different circles. I contemplated the implications of my own behavior in a new way, and it made a chain of the links forged by life and study. I don’t pretend to be a paradigm of virtue or inspiration for better character, but I do know that the good character I do have was greatly influenced by that book. That is a repercussion of my education that I greatly value.
What did a school day look like for you?
During the younger school years, I interacted with my mother a lot, as you would with any teacher.
During high school I went to my mother if I had problems or needed more instruction, but other than that I just followed my schedule and did most subjects independently. I think that’s more of a choice of personal style—some people like more interaction, and that’s an option too. But the curriculum is very fluid and I think could play out in many different ways.
Does Charlotte Mason continue to be a part of your life?
I hope I will always answer yes to this question. I’m not saying that every Charlotte Mason student will feel this way. I probably wouldn’t have sought to familiarize myself with Mason on my own if I hadn’t been interested by reading Ourselves, going to the ChildlightUSA conferences, and hearing my mother talk about it.
But lately, I have myself started to explore Mason’s volumes more, simply because I find her method so interesting. One thing that has really struck me has been the concept of getting out of the way and letting the child’s mind fill the spaces—not over explaining or forcing every complexity of a concept down a child’s throat down to its finite details. And if we believe that children are born persons, as Charlotte suggests, rather than in some sort of limbo state of waiting to grow into full humanity, then that makes a lot of sense.
There is a passage in The Philosophy of Education in which Mason talks about “…that rich and odorous cargo of ideas which the fair vessel of a child’s mind is waiting to receive.” That to me is a magnificent idea, and it certainly applies to adults as well, tying in to my other favorite Mason-introduced concept—that education is a life, and learning should never stop. That idea inspires me to keep learning always, through outside instruction and in self-directed study. I think that has the potential to be the most life altering idea of all.
I will close by saying that on the whole, the marks that a Charlotte Mason education left on my life are beautiful, and beneficial. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish them because they are so ingrained in my character and style of living.
The mind receives knowledge, not in order that it may know, but in order that it may grow, in breadth and depth, in sound judgment and magnanimity; but in order to grow, it must know.
Charlotte Mason, “The Philosophy of Education”, Book II Chapter II
© Kaley Struble 2011