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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.

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