Last year about this time I met a young woman at our monthly local CM book study. She shared her dream of starting a Charlotte Mason tutorial in our area. She asked me to pray about how I might be a part. As providence would have it, circumstances allowed me to say yes to being one of four tutors at this new endeavor.
It was quite heady to be in on the ground floor for the planning, the praying, the hoping, and the sharing of ideas. I stood amazed as her dreams became reality and this past fall, Ingleside Tutorial opened its doors to 24 students in a charming house on a lake. The students are in grades 1 – 6 for a four-hours a day, four days a week homeschool tutorial.
Even though I had been using Mason’s ideas and philosophy to educate my own children for the past twenty plus years, the tutorial board insisted on sending me to two rounds of training at Ambleside Schools International. Honestly, I tried to tell them that the money would be better spent on books for the tutorial! Not that I knew everything, but I had been reading and studying the Charlotte Mason Method ever since I had toddlers and the training at ASI did not come cheap. But the board insisted on sending me and so I went for one long weekend to observe the Ambleside School in action in Fredericksburg, TX and for another week to an intensive teacher training in Minneapolis, MN.
Of course it is always enjoyable and inspirational to read from Charlotte Mason’s writings and to discuss their ideas with other Charlotte Mason instructors. It was quite the challenge to have to narrate in front of others after we read Mason’s writings! I especially enjoyed sitting under the teaching of folk whose books and articles I have read (Bill and Maryellen St. Cyr). Seeing how Mason’s principles function in a small private school setting with real teachers and real students was encouraging as I thought about the coming year.
Here are some of my gleanings from that first weekend of training at Ambleside Fredericksburg.
One of the principle ideas of the teacher training was that education is formation, not just information. In teaching our children we are forming them with ideas, with habits, with truth, goodness and beauty. We are not just ticking off boxes, and filling up brain space. Your child is a person and how you teach can affirm their personhood. He or she is a relational being, not just a rational being. God created us for relationship, for conversation, and for sharing.
Charlotte Mason says, “What we call ‘science’ is too much with us. We must either reverence or despise children; and while we regard them as incomplete and underdeveloped beings, rather than weak and ignorant persons, whose weakness we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own, we cannot do otherwise than despise children, however kindly or even tenderly we commit the offence.” (Mason, 1911, pp. 421-422). What she is saying, it seems to me, is that we can regard our children as incomplete and underdeveloped beings or as weak and ignorant little persons. When we see them as the former, we will assume that they need to be remolded into our image of a good student or a good child. But if we respect them as persons, albeit weak and ignorant, then we see their potential, we recognize we need to come alongside them, we need to form their character and feed their mind with ideas. This is the job description of a teacher, of a homeschool mom.
We must teach our children that work is not a negative thing. The word work must be redeemed in our culture. Too often we as parents chime along with the world in giving our children a negative view of work. We label our weekdays with Wednesday being hump day, the day to get over so we are on the weekend side of the week. We say TGIF and look eagerly toward the weekend. Work is something to get over, to quickly get done. The workweek must be endured until the weekend is here at last, and we can finally enjoy ourselves. To view work this way is a huge disservice to our children. Instead we should say there is a set time for set work. Work is what we are called to do; we are called to be productive, to use our talents and abilities as God has given them. Doing our work well blesses us and blesses others.
If you ask an 8-year-old child what does it mean to be an adult, most likely you will get the answer, “it means I get to do what I want.” Our culture reinforces this idea. Commercials tell us that we should have it the way we want it, that the product is what we want, and that we do after all deserve it. We tell our children in any number of ways, subtle and not so subtle that the fullness of life is doing what we want.
Here is what Charlotte Mason says: “In the very act of giving their freedom to children we impose fetters which will keep them enslaved all their lives. That is because we confound liberty with license and do not perceive that the two cannot co-exist . . . The child who has learned that, by persistent demands, he can get leave to do what he will, and have what he likes whether he do so by means of stormy outcries or by his bewitching, wheedling ways, becomes the most pitiable of all slaves, the slave to chance desires” (Mason, 1911, p. 423).
What is the antidote? Miss Mason continues, “Let him learn that ‘do as you are bid’ is a child’s first duty; that the life of his home is organized on a few such injunctions as ‘be true,’ ‘be kind,’ ‘be courteous,’ ‘be punctual,’ and that to fail in any of these respects is unworthy and unbecoming” (Mason, 1911, p. 424).
To this quote, I added in my notes: Children today do not learn the meaning of “must.” What is more, their parents do not teach them that they too live by the rule of must. Instead parents today present an image of unlimited choices, of feeding all their wants, of fulfilling all their desires. Parents should make a point of letting children know that the dishes must be washed, the laundry must be folded, and the meals must be cooked. Children, who see their parents fulfilling duties, will be more likely not to shirk their own. Again parents can come alongside children and help them to fulfill their duties. A conversation over bedtime is not “you are going to go to bed at 9:00 pm” but rather, “your body must have 10 hours of sleep to function at its best, I am here to help you accomplish this. What time you do need to go to bed in order to ensure that you get 10 hours of sleep?” Now it is not the father’s will over the child’s but it is the child realizing that if he needs 10 hours of sleep, his parents are his allies in getting this accomplished.
And finally Mason says, “Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food” (Mason, 1925, p. 109).
I hope you have enjoyed these readings and notes on my training time. It is exciting to see all the forms that a CM education is taking in our communities. Our journey does not end when our children are graduated. There are exciting possibilities ahead. What part will you play?
Mason, C.M. (1911). Children are born persons. Parents’ Review, 22. Issue 6. 419-437.
Mason, C.M. (1925). An essay towards a philosophy of education. Retrieved from AmblesideOnline.org.
© 2017 Jeannette Tulis