Sometimes it takes a catalyst to get a good thing going. Having shelved the EDU 350 course entitled “The Educational Thought and Practice of Charlotte Mason” many years ago; it took one student spearheading a movement to resurrect Charlotte at Covenant College – that student being HollyAnne Dobbins. Originally designed by Dr. Steve Kauffman, the course languished after being taught only once about ten years ago. However after numerous conversations and meetings, HollyAnne became convinced she could gather a group of interested and likeminded students to make the course a go – again. I challenged her to deluge the Education Department Chair with requests. Several weeks later he came by my office and asked for me to stop having students bother him, and that the course would be in the next catalog framed for Spring 2013. Thus, ten or so students will begin a journey into the life and work of Charlotte Mason for college credit – a first, I think in this current age.
The original syllabus was lost long ago, and even though I had begun one afresh about five years ago, I left it by the wayside as I had no “official” students to make it happen. At that time I was having students in my home in small groups to informally discuss Mason’s books and to dream, and because of this grassroots approach saw no need to put much effort into finishing the work… until HollyAnne. At present I am completing the final draft of the course syllabus and I must say that it is a joy to do this kind of design work – immersed in Mason’s books, ideas, and practices for the sole purpose of meaningfully engaging students of a new generation with “the wide room” of learning.
I would never hazard myself as standing in the place of an FCA Williams, Elsie Kitching, or even Charlotte Mason as they purported the 21 Principles, Educational Manifesto, or Four Pillars of Education with teachers in training. Yet, this course gives me the very real opportunity to exercise those muscles of instructional practice without apology or in diluted form.
In my research of teachers who were trained in Ambleside, the one pedagogical construct that resonated essentially was the principle of “teachers doing what students do” as preservice trainees worked through their course of study. Thus as opposed to learning that teachers do “to” students, we see another idea altogether – that of teachers learning “with” students by living the principles and practices alongside children. In this, if students are going to narrate living books, then, so too, do teachers. The full range of the “realized pedagogy” becomes available to preservice teachers – nature study, picture talks, Book of Centuries, musical appreciation, Shakespeare – as living books and ideas.
Right now I am gathering my resources and deciding upon the course readings and particular books/selections students will read and narrate. Much of what they will do will find its way into a sketchbook that will eventually contain their reading and listening narrations, nature studies, picture and musical appreciation, and Book of Centuries – a copybook of sorts that helps make their growing thinking visible. As a culminating activity, each student will decide upon and research one major aspect of Mason’s thought and practice in order to become “expert” in it and then to teach it to their colleagues.
In all of the courses I teach, you would find elements of Mason’s principles embedded in various ways as informing ideas – some more explicit than others as in Educational Psychology – but now I have the freedom to engage and explore with a small group of students what many of us have embraced as a normal course of life.
Copyright Dr. Jack Beckman 2012