Saturday, May 27, 2017

Charlotte Mason & the Catholic Conundrum, Part 3

What conclusions can I draw to wrap up this discussion? I'm not here to tell anyone either to embrace or refrain from using Charlotte Mason's method of education. I found CM before I was Catholic, and since coming to the Church, I've gone back and forth regarding whether or not her philosophy is in any contradiction with the Catholic Faith. I think the evident confusion that she creates holds a key.

There is wisdom in Charlotte Mason, but perhaps it's too difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. St. Thomas reflected deeply upon Aristotle in order to reconcile him with Catholicism and the Bible. Catholics reflecting upon Charlotte Mason will likewise need to separate truth from error. But we are not St. Thomas. It seems better, in the case of mothers who have taken on the enormous task of teaching their children themselves, to rely upon the work that the Catholic Church has already accomplished.

I can't imagine that there is really anything particular to Charlotte Mason that can't be found in our own tradition, and with the use of common sense. And in that case, we are relieved from the burden of trying to "Catholicize" CM. My current exploration is toward an authentically traditional, Catholic education, derived from the Scholastic Method of St. Thomas and facilitated by history-based unit studies. This seems more open somehow than CM. Likewise, I'm studying Christopher Perrin's youtube talks on the 8 essential principles of classical pedagogy, which don't seem to place arbitrary limits on what one can and cannot do. The principles could be applied in any number of ways. I want an approach that doesn't force a "best" way of doing things. That freedom to simply be a Catholic homeschooler is calling me.

I was reflecting today on how Charlotte Mason helped me when I was struggling to teach my child to read. A phonetic approach just wasn't clicking. CM gave me the "permission" to try sight reading instead, and her advice on this matter in Home Education was very valuable. But then I considered that Beezy's reading finally took off when I had a light bulb moment about the set of Dick and Jane books we had sitting in a closet. I had learned to read with Dick and Jane! Charlotte would have surely considered it "twaddle", but in desperation I was willing to try anything.

Dick and Jane worked most likely as the result of the repetitive quality of the books, which fits in with the classical principle of repetitio mater memoriae! A google search led me to vintage Ginn readers for more advanced reading levels in the same sort of style, and they even produced a Catholic "Faith and Freedom" series. CM was surely a help, but the real solution came in the form of my motherly intuition, and probably divine inspiration.

What I'm getting at with this is that we all have our seasons in life. There is nothing wrong with having a Charlotte Mason season, from discerning what is true, good, and beautiful from her method and using those elements as a faithful Catholic. But I don't think that holding scrupulously to her entire philosophy is wise. I see a lot of Catholic homeschoolers on social media trying to make CM over in a Catholic image, to rationalize the very valid concerns that many of us have. And getting very defensive if anyone dares to question the appropriateness of the Charlotte Mason method for Catholics. Falling into scrupulosity over any method verges on idolatry. It takes our eyes off the focus of faith formation and the cultivation of virtue in our children. If it doesn't bring you peace, it isn't the right thing for you and your family.

Sarah Mackenzie is, after all, quite right. The goal with any method or curriculum is teaching from rest. The quest is unshakeable peace.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Charlotte Mason & the Catholic Conundrum, Part 2

The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas

The fresco pictured here, "The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas," is to be found in Florence, Italy, in the Spanish Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. Please see Art Middlekauff's article, "Thomas Aquinas and the Great Recognition," as our reference point for this discussion (

Art tells us, "Thought to be executed by Andrea di Bonaiuto in the fourteenth century, these frescos unabashedly delight in the great achievements of the Domincan order." 

"The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas" is the fresco beloved by Charlotte Mason which I mentioned in Part 1, a copy of which she had in her House of Education and which she said formed her "educational creed."

Rather than paraphrase Art's entire article, I just want to sum up what I think are the issues in what he has brought out for the Catholic CM educator. First, Charlotte never once in all of her writings mentions the name of Thomas Aquinas. In chapter 25 of Parents and Children, she calls the fresco in question, "The Descent of the Holy Spirit." According to Art, she does at times call it Filosofica della Religione Cattolica (Philosophy of the Catholic Religion), but in chapter 25 there is no acknowledgement that this fresco has anything to do with St. Thomas, the Dominican order, or the Catholic Faith. This is despite the fact that Thomas is the central figure of the painting; that he is in fact larger than all of the other figures and is seated on a throne; and that it is intended to represent the supremacy of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church!

Further evidence of her intentional avoidance of St. Thomas is the way that CM discusses the Florentines, the "Florentine mind," and the Medieval scholastics in chapter 25. She attributes the ideas that she sees exemplified in the painting, which captures her notion of the "great recognition" in picture form, as seemingly flowering from the people of Florence in general, rather than from the tradition of the Catholic Church.  

And what is this great recognition? It's the idea that the parents/teachers of children must recognize that the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator in all things, religious and secular, and that we must cooperate with the Spirit in order to effectively teach. There seems to be nothing "off" in this part of CM's philosophy. Yet she goes so far in chapter 25 as to suggest that a particular educational method might either "invite" or "repel" the Holy Spirit. The logic goes that since the Spirit is the giver of life, he would not cooperate with a teaching approach which is dry as dust, which is not living. The implication is that it is her method which will best invite the Spirit. 

The Catholic Church adopted the educational philosophy and method of Thomas Aquinas, who is regarded as the Angelic Doctor of unparalleled esteem, not that of Charlotte Mason. The Holy Spirit does his work through Holy Mother Church. The education of our children is supposed to be based upon Catholic Faith Formation. Charlotte Mason interpreted the fresco to her own liking, but more problematic, she based her notion of the Holy Spirit's cooperation on her own interpretation of the Bible, and her philosophy follows suit. 

Charlotte applied Jesus' saying, "Let the children be, and do not hinder them from coming to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," directly to her method. She tells us that we hinder the child by getting too much between him and the ideas found in living books. Let's consider narration, for example, a key CM method, which in itself is a practical tool for assimilating and remembering what is read. We are discouraged from having any influence on how the child's mind conceives of what he has taken in. We are to allow him to come to his own conclusions. Furthermore, the personality of the teacher should not have any play upon the child in his education. Her "charm" should be concealed, not used to any advantage. While St. Thomas would agree that discovery on one's own is the best way to learn anything, he also recognized that some things simply could not be learned without the guidance of the teacher, and that most people would have neither the time nor the courage to do so.

St. Thomas' method was distinguished by its conversational approach, presenting the material in engaging ways and leading the mind of the student to right thinking (the marriage of faith with reason). If we allow the books to be the primary educators of our children, then we are not following the Church's declaration that it is the parents who are the primary educators of their children! Yes, we do this with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But Charlotte's notion that a method of education itself will either invite or repel the Spirit isn't Catholic. We invite the Holy Spirit through prayer. We receive the graces of the Spirit through the sacraments and life of the Church. And teaching is an art that we need to do well. 

Charlotte's conception of the Spirit reminds me of the New Age "Universe," an impersonal energy that can be attracted (as in, the "law of attraction") and bent to one's will.

Some will say that none of this matters. That one can use CM's educational techniques, taking what one likes and leaving the rest. Homeschoolers subscribe to Charlotte's philosophy and method in varying ways and to greater and lesser degrees, so I certainly can't decree whether a Catholic can use her approach in good conscience or not. As I've written before, there can't be anything inherently heretical with using methods like copy work, narration, dictation, short lessons, and observational nature study. 

At the same time, Charlotte herself insisted that simply using some of her teaching techniques was not enough, that we must indeed understand and apply the underlying philosophy. The method flows from the philosophy. If the philosophy is marked by serious error, then we do take a risk in employing the method. 

It's ridiculous to imagine that the Holy Spirit might be repelled by, say, the use of textbooks and workbooks. This gets back to the over-emphasis on methods. What I think we need to do is to read what the Church has written on the education of youth. Remember that we are the primary educators of our children, and act accordingly. Provide them with a curriculum which presents a unified, Catholic worldview--a curriculum with faith formation at its core, which will serve in the formation of the Catholic mind. 

You might take some aspects of the CM method to accomplish your goals. I think I have done this effectively in my own homeschool, but I also think that it could be done better, and without the potential baggage that CM might bring. Future posts will concentrate upon my findings.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Charlotte Mason & the Catholic Conundrum, Part 1

O Angelic Doctor St. Thomas, prince of theologians and model of philosophers, bright ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church; O heavenly patron of all Catholic schools, who didst learn wisdom without guile and dost communicate it without envy, intercede for us with the Son of God, Wisdom itself, that the spirit of wisdom may descend upon us, and enable us to understand clearly that which thou hast taught, and fulfill it by imitating thy deeds; to become partakers of that doctrine and virtue which caused thee to shine like the sun on earth; and at last to rejoice with thee forever in their most sweet fruits in heaven, together praising the Divine Wisdom for all eternity. Amen.

Here is today's question: What would happen if I simply dropped Charlotte Mason from my homeschooling philosophy? Why am I asking this question? I think it's the fault of St. Thomas Aquinas. After reading a couple of internet articles yesterday, I started wondering what had gotten me on the St. Thomas path in the first place. I could not remember. It just seemed as though his name kept mysteriously popping up. But then I realized the obvious reason. I had been praying ardently over my homeschooling vocation. Remember when I was saying that I just want to be a Catholic homeschooler and quit obsessing over methods? Evidently the answer is Thomas Aquinas.

Finding any information on what would constitute an Aquinas-based homeschooling method, however, is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. The most one will typically find is the term "traditional," usually meaning having text/workbooks for every subject, with the Catholic Faith running through everything. It seems rather dull to many people, and to Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in particular, who contrast living books with the dry dust of textbooks. But from my studies so far, Aquinas was not all about uninspiring textbooks which merely give summaries and facts, and copious fill-in-the-blank questions. He did indeed write textbooks, but as a university professor, his teaching method focused upon sincere dialogue. His scholasticism of the 13th century reconciled the reason of Aristotle with the Catholic religion--no easy feat! If he had not accomplished this miracle, the Church would have experienced an extreme crisis, a massive loss of Christian faith, so popular were Aristotle's ideas taking hold.

What I fear I've discovered is that Charlotte Mason pitted herself philosophically against the teaching authority of the Catholic Church that St. Thomas so clearly represents. For right now I'm just going to present you with the trail of my reading yesterday, the articles which led me to see the Catholic conundrum in regard to CM more clearly. First I read "The Formation of the Catholic Mind" by Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, which clearly illustrates the primacy of Aquinas in Catholic philosophy, theology, and education ( As Catholic homeschoolers we are most certainly concerned with the formation of the Catholic mind in our children. That must be our first priority.

Then I found Art Middlekauff's article, "Thomas Aquinas and the Great Recognition" ( You may remember that I had suspected some connection between Charlotte Mason and the scholasticism of St. Thomas, wondering if she had indeed been inspired by it. Middlekauff has shown that there is a connection, but his conclusion is that CM intentionally chose to distance herself from Aquinas and the Catholic Church. He refers to chapter 25 in CM's Vol. 2, Parents and Children, which addresses a certain Dominican fresco and the "great recognition" that CM says is imperative for parent-teachers. My reading of this chapter confirmed Middlekauff's conclusions. (You can find a link to all CM's volumes on Ambleside Online's introduction page.)

Now, Middlekauff has argued against the idea that CM's method is "classical," in opposition to Karen Glass' linking of CM to the classical tradition of antiquity in her book Consider This. I've written about this before and decided that it didn't matter whether or not CM is "classical," that it didn't affect how I homeschooled my child one way or another. But it seems with this Thomas Aquinas article that his concern may be that putting CM in the Classical Christian category would necessarily associate her with the Catholic scholastics of the Middle Ages.

What I suggest is that you read the two articles I mentioned and then read chapter 25 in Parents and Children, and we can come back to discuss the details in Part 2.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pray. Study. Act. (and a Loop Schedule!)

May has always been one of my favorite months. Despite the unseasonably cool weather this year, the days are beautiful. Since becoming Catholic, the special honoring of Mary during this month brings me the greatest reason to be joyful. During the Easter season, we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, and we do so through the eyes of our Blessed Mother. I'm currently reading a devotional by Rawley Myers, Embraced by Mary, which contains readings for every day in May.

Mary is our best model as mothers, and especially as homeschooling mothers. Like all of us, Mary suffered worries and grief in her vocation. She had the unparalleled responsibility of raising the Son of God! Imagine the courage, humility and patience required of her. We must do as she did and continue to say yes to God--daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. In order to follow the will of the Father, we have to pray. I am reminding myself of this today, because my patience has been tried and found to be wanting. Putting first things first, at the top of the list is a daily prayer life. If we try to go it alone, the ship will hit the rocks for sure.

The next right thing is to study. Primarily by this I am referring to the Bible. We also need edifying spiritual reading. So before you dive into your studies on educational philosophy and methods, seek out the words of the saints or contemporary spiritual writers. And don't forget to include a good work of fiction. Keep it simple. If you're reading Sacred Scripture, one excellent book on spirituality, and one enjoyable novel, plus one book on education, that's more than enough to juggle.

Once you've fortified your mind and soul (and don't forget to take good care of your body as well!), it's time to act. Trust that you've assimilated what you need to carry out your vocation, and that the Holy Spirit is there to guide you every step of the way. Make a plan, assemble the curriculum materials, and teach your child in the way he should go. Make faith formation and the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty the foundation of your goals. Sometimes we fail to do the teaching well because we're trying to do it in some exact, "pure" kind of way. Instead we need to make the actual carrying out of our homeschooling lessons a priority, and stop comparing ourselves to other mothers. One learns to teach by teaching.

In my recent post about my "unit studies" plans (May 2, "Multum Non Multa & Homeschooling through History"), I promised to show you a schedule including the sources for ancient Egypt, and I was going to do it according to subject area. Instead I've created a simple loop schedule. I'm only including those books which we will be using to begin the first term in the fall, but as we go along some will be set aside and others will be incorporated. This schedule is for a four-day week and is divided into three sections: the Daily Core, Twice Per Week activities, and a Weekly Loop. Keep in mind that a schedule is a place to start, and mine is only a suggestion for your own process. You will find the best balance for you and your children as you go along.

Music will be covered via Choir and Musical Theater classes at a co-op on Fridays, plus weekly piano lessons. Physical education will also be partially outsourced. As usual, please post any questions in the comments!

Daily Core:
- Literature: Mara, Daughter of the Nile
- Total Math
- Piano practice
- Cursive writing (Seton)
- Language of God grammar (CHC)

Twice Per Week:
- The Harp and Laurel Wreath (memory recitation, copy work)
- Dictation/spelling
- Written narration
- Learn Spanish with Grace!

Weekly Loop:
- Religion for Young Catholics (Seton)
- A Child's Geography of the World and Usborne Essential Atlas of the World
- Draw and Write through History
- Science 7 for Young Catholics; Nature Study
- Bible History: Old Testament (Seton)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Homeschooling--Notebooking & Workbox Strategies

vintage train case workbox

You know how sometimes you can spend a very long time, hours even, surfing the net for homeschooling ideas, only to come up with nothing? Well, last night the search was worth it--I got the last bits I needed to allow myself to let it all go for summer, confidently prepared for Beezy's upcoming 7th grade year.

But you thought we were done obsessing over homeschooling philosophy and methods?! Though there will always be a little tweaking of the curriculum as we go along, discovering what works well and what needs to be altered, I feel good about my Vintage Catholic Home Education method. In producing a synthesis of Charlotte Mason, Classical Studies, and the Scholastic Method, I find that each helps to balance the strengths and weaknesses of the others in my mind, and together they form a holistic integration.  

What we are addressing today is the topic of organization. I've been wanting to move Beezy toward greater independence in her studies, but I haven't been sure how to do this, apart from the natural transition from me reading most of the books aloud, to her reading the majority of her own school books. 

One wise mother solved the mystery. She wrote that homeschooled children need to know when their work is going to be done, just like children who go to school know when their day is over. The solution is in something called a workbox. This system was invented by Sue Patrick (see The basic idea is that each child has a set of boxes, each box numbered in order of assignments, one task to each box. Some of the examples I saw online were stacked, plastic boxes with drawers. Once the child has finished completing the work in his boxes, he is done for that day. 

As I was reading about his system, Sarah Mackenzie's notebooking strategy came to mind. She spends a few minutes each evening writing the child's assignments for the next day in a spiral notebook. The child checks a box after he completes a task, and Mom checks off a 2nd box when she has inspected the work. Of course, some lessons must be done with Mom's help. 

I put the two ideas together, and I have the system set up to begin on Monday. We have a couple weeks left to this 6th grade year, so this will give me the opportunity to try it out and fine tune the details. My hope is that this process will end the whining--"How many more things do we have to do?"  "Do we still have a lot of things left to do?"  "Why can't we just be done?" 

The picture at the top of the page shows the vintage train case I set up as Beezy's workbox. Up till now I've had control of the clipboard with the list of the assignments. She now has her own clipboard with that day's assignments. She'll check them off as she goes, and I'll put a line through the check mark when I've inspected the work. Workbook pages that she will need to do will be on the clipboard, and the books she will be reading will be in the box. This will make her responsible for completing her lessons. She will be able to see what she needs to do, and she'll know when she is done!

I'm keeping a 3-ring Mother's Master Book of all the assignments on loose leaf paper, with work samples in pocket folders. The curriculum outline and general planning ideas also go in the book. So a portfolio is being made for our end-of-year evaluation by a certified teacher as we go along. I have my own clipboard with the schedule for the week printed out, and I just check things off as they're accomplished. It's a simple record-keeping system, and you could do something similar for each child in your family. You could either have a section for each one in the Master Book, or a separate book for each person, just as each one has his own workboxes. You could also create a "morning basket" for group read alouds and activities. 

Here are some more pics of all the things I've just described. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

 Monday's assignments on Beezy's clipboard

My clipboard with weekly schedule

Mother's Master Book


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Multum Non Multa & Homeschooling through History

It seems that the classical principle of multum non multa (much not many) can be as confusing as the meaning of classical education itself. In podcast episode #11 at the Schole Sisters blog, the hostesses discuss what Pliny the Younger meant by multum non multa and how this applies to the homeschooling curriculum. They conclude that the idea would be to track less books, not fewer subjects. Therefore, Pliny is right in step with Charlotte Mason, being that CM advocated covering a broad spectrum of subjects while going slowly and deeply through the books themselves.

The Schole Sisters fear that there can be too much cutting back of the curriculum in the name of multum non multa. They see this happening with the "minimalist" homeschooling trend and also in The Latin-Centered Curriculum. (You can read this "Multum Non Multa" article by Andrew Campbell at Memoria Press for the strictly Latin-based interpretation of the principle:

In his youtube series on the 8 classical principles of education, Dr. Christopher Perrin seems to agree that Charlotte Mason's philosophy fits within the classical framework. For example, CM would correspond the history, geography, and literature studies, in a similar way to Perrin's classical approach of putting subjects into "family" groupings. One book can cover three or four subjects. Perrin says that multum non multa is about achieving breadth through depth. But he differs with the Schole Sisters in that he advocates tracking both fewer books and a smaller number of subjects.

Whether or not Charlotte Mason is "classical," and if she is, in what way this might be true, will likely never be perfectly resolved. But if we start with the idea of corresponding history with literature and geography, we have found a great place to begin in designing the curriculum. RC History is a popular Catholic program which labels itself as both a classical and unit studies method. It is actually "neoclassical," with respect to corresponding the trivium with stages of child development. CM was definitely not classical in this sense, and neither am I. She also didn't believe in unit studies, in which all subjects are tied to a particular theme.

It just so happened that as I was planning my 2017--2018 (7th grade) curriculum, I noticed that the books I had chosen would allow me to expand beyond corresponding literature, history, and geography to include additional subjects. It wouldn't be a true unit studies method, but it would be a more comprehensive way of homeschooling through history; akin perhaps to the RC History program, but more streamlined, more multum non multa.

My favorite quarter of college at OSU was one in which the three classes I took corresponded to the same time period. I believe these were English, classics, and history courses (perhaps relating to the Middle Ages). This happy coincidence allowed me to experience first-hand how enriching such a living approach to learning can be. I so much enjoyed these studies done together that I wished my entire education would have been organized this way! I was able to make so many wonderful connections on my own, and I'm certain Charlotte Mason would have approved!!

I have so far planned units for ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome/early Middle Ages. In this way history will be studied chronologically, as CM advocated, and we will venture into the realm of Classical studies. We may get no further than the early Middle Ages, but that's okay, because we can pick back up where we left off for the 8th grade.

This way of scheduling organizes the material in a very natural way, and I can see now how the curriculum I've planned will flow in an organic manner. There will be both rhyme and reason present in our lessons! Not that there wasn't before, but going forward there will be a clearer picture, a better system in place, and more selective choices for the spreading of the feast. I think that subconsciously I had selected the books with following history in mind.

We already read the chapter on ancient Egypt in Our Catholic Legacy Vol. 1 (Seton) this year, but we did not dig deeply into this subject; so Egypt will be the first theme to be studied during Term 1 for the upcoming year. Beezy will finish reading the Bible History: Old Testament book from Seton for the history portion of the unit. (We are wrapping up history this year with King David and His Songs by Windeatt, along with the Bible History chapters on David.) The additional books will touch upon the other civilizations that were covered in the chapter on Egypt as well.

The following is a list of the books and specific chapters that will be included:

Bible History: Old Testament from Seton (chapter 21, "The Wisdom of Solomon," to the end)
A Child's Geography of the World by Hillyer (chapters 50-52, 54, and 64)
Mara, Daughter of the Nile by McGraw (plus mini-guide from Rainbow Resource Center)
Science 7 for Young Catholics from Seton (History of Science chapter 1, sections I and II)
Draw and Write Through History: Greece and Rome (The Hanging Gardens of Babylon)
The Meaning of Trees by Hageneder (Introduction)

It's possible that Jansen's The Story of Painting will be included, but I have misplaced the book! In the next post I will provide the entire Term 1 schedule, organized by subject area, and you will be able to see how each item in the Egypt unit fits. Until then, I hope this gives you some additional ideas for planning your curriculum. I'm really beginning to see how my synthesis of the Charlotte Mason, Classical, and Scholastic methods is going to work beautifully!!