A Charlotte Mason Education, Charlotte Mason, CMI Conferences
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United For the Advance of a Cause by Jennifer Stec

Is it just me, or do you find yourself answering more questions about schooling options these days?  Whether pursuing a private or charter school option, online learning, or home schooling, it seems like a growing number of parents are seeking different means of educating their children. This growth has extended to the Charlotte Mason educating community, as we’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of local support groups, regional and national conferences, schools and cooperatives.  Even Facebook users in Indonesia can join the Charlotte Mason Indonesia Community, which boasts over 2,800 members!

There are a myriad of reasons that parents choose alternative education options, but I cannot think of one parent who wants to walk that road alone. I am extraordinarily grateful for the authors and communities that “virtually” supported our transition from public to home schooling: Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, Sally Clarkson, Karen Andreola, Charlotte Mason Help, and Childlight USA (now Charlotte Mason Institute).  I remember the many nights when a hungry newborn gave me another excuse to read one of Mason’s books or look at the book lists on Ambleside Online. What a blessing those parents and educators, many of whom I’ve met in the last six years, have been to our family and so many others.

In 2008, I was able to attend my first conference with Childlight USA (CMI) in North Carolina. I had the same feeling that so many first-time conference-goers experience – drinking through a firehose, completely overwhelmed with information. I relied heavily on my virtual friends from the online forums and email lists to process the information that I learned in my first conference experience. This year (June 2014), I attended the CMI national conference with 13 local CM parent-educators, eight of whom attended for the first time. We narrated the conference on the five hour drive home, but after three weeks of “processing” the conference with our spouses and children at home, we met to offer further reflections on what we each took away from this year’s conference. Perhaps their experience will further demonstrate the value of being in community or attending a regional or national conference if one is available to you.

The fact that the Institute invites speakers who are not affiliated with CMI is a big plus in my mind. It shows that they are open to other ideas and want to seek and share knowledge with people who are leaders in other fields related to children and play, technology and education. (Father, new to CM)

I learned more about music from [Gillingham Charter School music teacher] Sam’s 15 minute Kodaly session than I’ve learned in my whole life about music. I think I could have loved music.  I wish we could do this with our kids. (Father, not new to CM)

Lowell Monke’s talk was big for me.  It made me want to touch books.  I realized how special a book’s cover could become to my child’s mind. Even as an adult, I remember the tattered covers of my favorite books.  I don’t want my children to remember my purple Kindle cover. I want them to remember the cover and pages of the books they read. (Mother, starting 3rd yr of CM)

I’ve been doing CM for five years now, and I still feel like I’m in the paradigm shift, though I think I’m much farther along now having been in the co-op and going to the conferences.  This second time at the conference really solidified for me that I cannot make connections for my child. That’s hard for my personality.  I have to let go and trust the philosophy.  I have to remember that it will come; I cannot obsess over the results.  If I want my kids to learn perseverance, I have to persevere myself.  I learned a lot about slow reading and taking time to reflect on the books. (Mother, 6th yr CM])

I loved Art’s talk on poetry and spiritual formation. I always hated poetry. That’s why I went to his talk, to find out how I could share it with my kids if I hated it.  Now I realize that if I want my children to love it, then I need to learn to love it.  Art said, “Nobody wants to be taught by a hypocrite.”  So I know I can’t expect my kids to love it if I don’t try to let it enrich my own life first.  (Mother, starting 3rd yr of CM)

This whole year I was really struggling with the paradigm shift. I’ve already graduated one homeschooler, so I’ve been struggling with why I should change for my other five kids.  The only reason I was open to CM was because [previous curriculum] was too much reading, and I thought CM would be just as good as it but less reading.  Then the more I learned about CM, the more I was overwhelmed because I realized it was way more than “less reading”; it was changing my whole approach to education and truly our whole lifestyle. I have really resisted that. I need someone to tell me what to do. I don’t trust my own judgement to tell me what my kids need for each year.  All through the conference, I was really depressed and discouraged. It all sounds so good but my personality can’t relax and let the lists go, let the guidance from a boxed curriculum go. Part of it was that I had traded following [previous curriculum] for following a CM curriculum. So my paradigm had not changed – just the list of books.  I was overwhelmed there, too. Then I went to Kerri Forney’s session.  She said that we really had to know our children, that if we had gotten through all of the years of school and read every book and checked every list but didn’t KNOW our children, what would we have accomplished?  I realized that I had to let go of seeing any curriculum as making my child smart enough to do this or that. I realized I don’t know my kids.  I want to pick books this year that will set my kids hearts on fire.  I want to know my kids better. I don’t want them to hang their heads when I tell them it’s time for school because I don’t want to use the word school.  I want to see each of them and their gifts and use this year to focus on getting to know them better and reading books to them that are NOT on some list somewhere, but books that I know will make them love to learn again. (Mother, starting 2nd yr of CM)

I learned at the conference that I must schedule for peace in our home.  We have to get away from going through the motions and checking off the list.  I need to use different approaches to narration instead of just oral.  I want us all to notebook instead of just the kids because I think it will be good for me to make time for myself.  I need to stop scheduling doctor’s visits during school hours and really protect our time together. (Mother, starting 3rd yr of CM)

I learned from Lowell Monke and Nicole Williams (and Art Middlekauff the year before) that books are symbols of reality, just like an iPod screen is a surface to interact but does not represent face to face interaction.  Real life is more important than books.  Books can tell us about life, but they can’t replace it. I realize now that my scheduling was so heavy on books that it left out the masterly inactivity, the real life. I REALLY wish I knew more about masterly inactivity.  I think the scheduling workshop [given by Nicole Williams] should have been heard by everyone at the conference.  Character and experience are not as much about the books themselves as what you DO with what you’ve read.  I want my kids to do more than read a book. I want them to do the mental work of assimilating what they’ve learned from the book into their ACTIONS.  I don’t think many people get this at all.  It’s about character transformation, not just narration or exams. (Mother, starting 3rd yr of CM)

The Newbie immersion class was so helpful for me.  I needed to become the student to see how much *I* could learn from just five subject areas.  The notebooking class was also great.  For someone who is new to CM, I have never seen these things in practice before, so I feel like I’m flying blind. To have it demonstrated for me was invaluable. I’m so excited about this year. (Mother, brand new, starting 1st yr of CM)

Kerri Forney’s sessions on narration and notebooking were so helpful. Art’s opening talk was incredible, convicting and encouraging.  I love hearing the overarching philosophy in the plenaries, with the reminders to focus my heart and mind. Then the workshops with the hands-on are a great way to balance the conference experience. I loved it. (Mother, 6th yr CM])

I hear similar feedback from attendees of the many regional CM conferences that are planned by Charlotte Mason educating veterans who dedicate many hours to supporting the CM community. As you have read, there is great thought and purpose behind the workshops, plenary sessions and fellowship times that are offered at a conference. Conference organizers also spend a significant amount of time after the conference is over, requesting feedback and suggestions for making the next year’s experience even more valuable. I encourage you to find a national or regional conference, or a local community, and JOIN IT.

Charlotte Mason thought community was important. When she formed the Parents National Education Union (PNEU), she wrote:

No other part of the worlds work is of such supreme difficulty, delicacy and importance, as that of parents in the right of bringing up of their children. The first obligation of the present  that of passing forward a generation better than ourselves  rests with parents. As every child belongs to the common weal, so his bringing up is the concern of all. Yet parents, with the responsibility of the worlds future resting upon them, are left to do their work, each father and mother alone, rarely getting so much as a word of sympathy, counsel or encouragement.

All other bodies of workers, whether of hand or brain, enjoy the help and profit of association; commonly, of cooperation. Thus the wisdom, the experience, the information of each is made profitable for all; enthusiasm is generated by the union of many for the advance of a cause, and every member is cheered by the sympathy of his fellow workers.  Charlotte Mason, A Draft Proof pamphlet, 1888

Ms. Mason’s words remind us of the need for community among educationalists: to be united for the advance of a cause, all of us cheered on by the sympathy of our fellow workers. Whether by book, or by website, or in meeting together locally, we must remember we do this for the children’s sake.

One final item to share: in 2015, the Charlotte Mason Institute National Conference will be held from June 17-20 in Wilmore, Kentucky, on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary.  Based on the feedback of previous attendees, CMI is confident that Asbury will be a wonderful new venue for the anticipated growth of the conference. Asbury has met and exceeded all of our conference “requirements,” from facilities and greenspace to family-friendly activities and dietary needs. When the 2015 Conference registration details are finalized, those of you who subscribe to this blog or follow CMI on Facebook will receive an invitation to join next year’s conference. I hope to meet you there!

© 2014 Jennifer Stec


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.

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