Monday, August 29, 2016

Charlotte Mason Education, Your Way

Families, be who you are!  - St. Pope John Paul II

Yesterday was Sunday, the traditional Christian day of rest. I found myself in a contemplative mood, so I took a walk after the rain to refresh myself. I posed a question to my mind, in hopes of being guided by the Holy Spirit. How would I define Catholic education in the simplest terms possible? How would I boil it all down to its essence? Here is what I came up with:

Catholic education is the encountering of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty through the lens of Catholic Tradition, in which the Faith permeates the entire curriculum and the whole of life.

 I would add that this objective should be accomplished in as natural a way as possible.

I have ventured deeply into the Charlotte Mason philosophy as a key to natural learning. I have found that CM provides a solid foundation of ideas and practical tools for homeschooling. The approach is based primarily upon high quality literature, the use of living books as school books, and direct connection with living ideas and the things of God's creation. A broad and generous liberal arts curriculum opens the world to the child in gentle, natural ways. The result is a guided form of self-education.

I have advocated for an authentic Catholic CM education for some time now, diligently reading Charlotte's own words and applying her ideas in our homeschool, all with great results. Yet the words of Egyptian style belly dancer Bahaia occasionally haunt me: Know what you are doing so you can do whatever you want.

Bahaia was the instructor one year at a dance retreat that I attended annually. She emphasized that before one can be creatively experimental or fuse diverse styles, one needs to be a diligent student of traditional forms of Middle Eastern dance. The dancer has to understand that the music and the dance are "married". She should learn about the culture that the dance comes from, and she must work to achieve a certain level of mastery. Only then can one develop her own, unique style and deviate from the traditional forms. Even then, certain elements must be present in the dancer's personal interpretation in order for it to remain within the parameters of what can rightly be called belly dance. I see a parallel in this that can be applied to home education.

As parents, we are called by the Catholic Church to be the primary educators of our children and to follow the Church's guidelines in these matters. She does require that we utilize an organized method, and that the Faith must permeate the entire curriculum. Getting our children to heaven is our central purpose. As such, I cannot advocate a hodge-podge, eclectic way, or an unschooling avenue which is directed by the child and centered only around his interests. We also have to keep in mind that Charlotte Mason was not Catholic, so there are things we may do differently in accordance with our religion.

However, within the parameters of the Church's guidelines (see the encyclical, "On the Christian Education of Youth"), we have much freedom. And we can "tweak" Charlotte Mason's approach as needed. But what if you don't want to feel like you "have" to do things a certain away, according to someone else's opinion and experience? If you wish to do things your own way and not be bound by any convention, believe me, I understand! I have that type of maverick personality. But learn from my mistakes and know what you are doing before you do whatever you want. Cultivate the habit of humility.

Once you have become a seasoned CM homeschooler, you will find that the method becomes uniquely yours. Even from the beginning, it will take on its own flavor in your particular family. What I recommend is that you start with a modern interpretation of CM such as A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola or A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison. These will cover the basics so you can get the ball rolling. My favorite resource, and one that is specifically Catholic, is Elizabeth Foss' Real Learning, but this book is out of print and may cost more than you want to spend.

As you go along on the journey, I recommend reading CM's own words in her six volume series, beginning with either Volume 1, Home Education, or Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education. Perhaps you will be able to read these two books over the course of two years as you gain actual homeschooling experience. You will find what works well and what doesn't for your family. But you have to give the method due time and trust the process, slowly adding a few ideas and techniques until you have implemented the method in a certain "fullness" of expression.

Homeschooling is always a work in progress. As I wrote about a couple of posts back, I found that I needed to pare down the number of subjects I am covering each week, each term, and even each year. You don't have to follow Charlotte Mason to a "T" or cover every possible subject she addresses in her books, in exactly the manner she prescribes, in order to have an authentic CM education. Just stay the course and don't wander willy-nilly into a field of poppies.

Once you have done your homework, assimilated CM's ideas, and put them to use for at least a couple of years with your children, you will find that you have integrated what is essential to Charlotte Mason into your lifestyle of learning. And when you know what you are doing, you can do whatever you want.

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