It is a good place to be, for me. I enjoy this part of the process very much. But whether you enjoy it or not so much, whether you are a veteran CM practitioner, or just starting out, it is always refreshing to gather a few new ideas to inspire and encourage. I keep a folder of articles and/or books on hand just for that purpose.
As I was reading Marion Berry’s I Buy a School, a few thoughts struck me from her stories of the PNEU school she ran. Miss Berry attended Charlotte Mason’s Teacher’s Training college in Ambleside in the years just following Mason’s death. After college, she did a short stint as a governess before teaching in cottage schools. She then took over Miss Kitching’s Rickmansworth PNEU school and remained there for thirty years.
'It is January 1927 and I’m on the long seven hour train journey to Windermere in a coach reserved for the College…' (p. 21)
Her book is difficult to find so I thought I would share a few gleanings that were needful reminders and aids to me and might be of interest to you as you plan out your school year.
First, A Reality Check
It is tempting to sometimes think that neither Mason nor her teachers had to deal with the variety of things we juggle on top of our school-related responsibilities. That may be the case, to some degree. We may be better off, however, to remember that all situations have their various characteristics, some of which ease our work and some of which add to it. In all circumstances, though, is uppermost the providence of God who has selected our particular circumstances and will use them as He sees fit in His wisdom and goodness, and the Holy Spirit who is our constant Helper. I think Mason would say that as we teach the child who is in front of us, meeting him right where he is, we, too, are called to ‘teach where we are’. And the Holy Spirit is available personally and individually in that work.
‘The Divine Spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child. Because He is infinite, the whole world is not too great a school for this indefatigable Teacher, and because He is infinite, He is able to give the whole of his infinite attention for the whole time to each one of his multitudinous pupils.’ (Parents and Children, p. 273)
Miss Berry tells us in her diary that she was assigned the housekeeping, shopping, cooking, and teaching of the Form II students (Grades 4-6), in addition to her administrative duties one year. Another teacher/administrator, Miss Joss, handled the Form III students as well as ‘Fires and Gym polishing.’ (p. 109)
Our homeschool will not look like their school, and that is OK. It is a home, and that was a school, and we are each of us called to our own unique situation. Remember that only you can do the work you are called to do, you and the Holy Spirit.
A Helpful Guide
Where, then, does the rubber hit the road, so to speak? How does the above reality check become practical in our planning? It is one thing to have this as head knowledge, but we tend to forget as soon as planning gets underway, and we are confronted with booklists and schedules.
The working-out of this idea begins with expectations that match our circumstances. Miss Mason advocated teaching to the particular child, meeting them were they were and in every way setting them up for success. We don’t set unrealistic goals or ask them to do things they cannot do yet. That would be absurd. Why then do we feel free to do so with ourselves? Shouldn’t our school expectations accommodate our circumstances and our plans set our homeschool up for success?
At one point, inspectors visited Marion Berry’s Rickmansworth school and had this to say about Miss Berry in their report:
‘The organization, syllabus and time-tables of the school are prescribed by the Parents’ National Educational Union, but the Principal claims, not without proof in practice, that she regards them as a helpful guide rather than as an arbitrary control from without.’ (p. 200) [emphasis mine]
Isn’t that wise? Her diary does not reveal that she struggled with an expectation that she ‘ought’ to implement the ‘organization, syllabus and time-tables’ as they were. Quite the opposite, she considered that to do so would be to follow arbitrary control rather than her good judgment and knowledge of the students, families, environment and means in her care.
Sometimes these accommodations, these meeting places of expectations with real life, take place in our planning, and sometimes they happen on the fly, with each new day.
Berry writes in her diary one day of ‘The tangled skein, 8:45 a.m.’ I chuckled at her characterization of the day as a tangled skein—yes, I’ve had those, too, and even when the day is hardly out of the starting gate!
She goes on to describe what happens when a teacher was out with a toothache. ‘I have got out my big black book and start reorganizing the timetable.’ (p. 127) She groups forms together to advantage, schedules more of this and less of that, and even hands off a classroom of students to carry on in her absence their Age of Fable reading assignment with the instruction to skip hard-to-pronounce names and say ‘Tiddley Pom’ in their place. Sound advice. Some days are hard. We have freedom to make adjustments because we are not under ‘arbitrary control’ but under the hand of the Holy Spirit. And when we hit a difficulty, we, too, can say ‘Tiddley Pom’; doing the best that we can under the circumstances and calling it ‘good.’
The picture at the beginning of the post really has no relevance other than I like it, and it is a good reminder to me, and I hope to you as well, to be sure to include in our plans much, much time for doing as this boy is, whittling and thinking, for solitude and independence.
Happy planning, and I’ll be back another time with a few more insights from Berry’s book, I Buy a School.