From the waters of fantasy to nonfiction, I made the Cathartic leap from a college graduate in May with a B.A. in history and certifications in early childhood, elementary, and middle school math to that of a professional teacher a few days before Gillingham Charter School commenced for its 2012-2013 school year. With an exuberant, “Yes!” to the invitation to teach middle school math and Title I reading and math, I could not be prepared for just how special the experience would be. It was an irrevocable baptism into Charlotte Mason’s relational education of which I knew nothing. Even as a child homeschooled from kindergarten through sixth grade, I marvel that I had never been knowingly exposed to Mason’s philosophies prior to accepting this teaching opportunity.
My earliest aspiration as a pre-school child was not to be a teacher but a “lollipop lady” to give lollipops away to children in need. Prior to igniting the passion to be a teacher, I imagined myself as a Russian fugitive during World War II, world-traveling explorer and inventor, warrior during the Roman Era, and an audacious missionary. I became the characters in the “living” books I was reading while homeschooling, classics and Newbery award winners such as The Endless Steppe, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Bronze Bow, and Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime. As I look back on my homeschool foundation, my education paralleled a handful of Mason’s philosophies and gave me an authentic and solid line of habit formation for the future. Apart from this educational experience, I would not have been so ready to be baptized into Mason’s philosophy of education.
Now two-thirds of the way through the school year, this baptism is permanent, shaping and molding who I am and will become as an educator. After student teaching in locations where the results of standardized and high-stakes tests are the standards around which education is centered, it is refreshing to work at Gillingham where genuine teaching takes place alongside morality and character development as part of the foundation for learning and life. The more I learn and grow, I believe parents’ roles in the lives of their children truly have the power to change this generation for the better or worse as Jenny King declares about Mason’s perspective of the social climate in Charlotte Mason Reviewed:
The social history of our times will be founded on the effect broken families have on the nation as a whole…Fathers are more important than Prime Ministers, and mothers than social workers, for they are the governors and the preservers of the family. Their individual positions are of vital importance to the peace of the family and the ordering of the nation (21-22).
Mason’s motto “for the children’s sake” incessantly resounds in my ear and grips my heart as I muse that the future of this nation (and the world!) lies in the hands of the children and the families from whence they come.
As I digest nuggets of truth from Mason, a steady picture is being etched in my mind of how her philosophies are the impetus behind Gillingham’s vision and dream. I hope and pray that I can learn to understand, embrace, and apply Mason not just to teaching, but to life. After all, education is, according to Mason, “an atmosphere, a discipline, AND a life!”
There is no turning back this labor of love, this baptism into the first 100% “Masonized” public relational school with real learning and real children with real needs. While the family unit is crumbling and our children are left vulnerable, the children must have a safe haven of hope and healing where rich habits are emboldened and poor ones are surrendered, where teachers teach in truth and love, where all members of the educational community work alongside each other to carry the burdens, and where children learn that learning is as natural as eating and sleeping.
A mission impossible—never. A hazardous journey—sometimes. A leap of faith—every day.
© Kara M. Stalter 2013
Kara is a Title 1 and Middle School Mathematics teacher at Gillingham Charter School in Pottsville, PA.