At varying times in our family’s homeschooling journey, I have extolled the virtues of one side or the other. During my father’s final illness and hospitalization, for example, I was so grateful for a ‘gentle’ approach that fed each of us with much-needed sustenance without demanding a lot from me in the way of ‘teaching’ or ‘administration.’ At other times, when we had the mental, emotional and physical stamina to meet rising challenges, I celebrated the growth that ensued as we were all stretched by new ideas, added responsibility, and minds challenged to go vast as well as deep.
This is a good thing, this elasticity, and we should recognize and appreciate that a Charlotte Mason approach is indeed rigorous enough to challenge us while yet retaining a soft touch, not white-gloved, but easy in the sense that it meets students where they are, accommodating and yet stimulating.
Maybe the question is not so much, “Is a Charlotte Mason education rigorous enough? Or, is it gentle and honoring enough?” Perhaps, in a Charlotte Mason approach, the glass is not part empty or part full, but a third option: just as full as it needs to be.
“It is surely a rare thing that a philosopher should translate his philosophy into practical life as Miss Mason did. Many philosophers are content with the supreme joy of intellectual effort, others are content with making experiments as well, but Miss Mason had put each dictum of her philosophy to the test of daily life and its needs. It lay behind all her actions.”
At one point in time, I was really struggling with that niggling voice that suggests, “Is it enough? Am I enough? Are the kids getting enough?” So, I did what I knew how to do: I researched. I read books and blogs and attended conferences and had many a good conversation. And it was very fruitful. We must all engage in this very legitimate effort to grow in our own personal knowledge and understanding of a Charlotte Mason education. We have to do the work to know and understand those principles and to follow where they lead. Miss Mason doesn’t invite us to an un-thinking pedagogy. All education—even education about education—is self-education, right?
So we all need to read and consider and discuss and reflect; it is necessary, and it is good. But without realizing it, we sometimes fall into a trap, and we construct yardsticks of our own making by which we measure and evaluate ourselves, our homeschools and our children. We overlook that we are often privy only to the ‘company is coming’ version of someone else’s life (or, school); the front room of the house, so to speak. We forget that there is a reality to that person’s life that is not revealed, that is not on display for us and that, even more importantly, is not the life or reality that we have been called to live. We are each called to live only our life, with all it entails. The inevitable outcome of measuring ourselves against these self-imposed yardsticks is that we feel we’ve come up short. And, in our frustration and our desperation we cry out, “Well, what does Charlotte Mason know of life today? She didn’t have children. She didn’t run a household and have a family of her own to attend to: to teach and to nurse and to feed and to clean. She didn’t have aging parents or children with learning or behavior challenges. She didn’t shop to feed a family, cooking meals at the end of a long day running after toddlers. She didn’t have to consider the vast educational technologies that are available to us and learn how to use them." We throw up our hands, “Is it even possible to pursue a Charlotte Mason education that fits and makes sense with the world we find ourselves in? What does Miss Mason have to say to mothers in this day and age?”
It was in just a season that I was able to locate an affordable copy of The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondley. As I read, I was moved to take some notes on how Miss Mason structured her day.
Charlotte Mason suffered significant, chronic health issues. And yet, Cholmondley says, “Miss Mason accepted the limitations of frail health” (emphasis mine). In fact, she endured “…lack of family relations, lack of means and lack of stable health.” That is quite a few ‘lacks’ but I don’t believe she was ever accused of a lack of a full life. Rather, “…Miss Mason…put each dictum of her philosophy to the test of daily life and its needs” (emphasis mine). Miss Mason had limitations and yet she wasn’t limited because she had a philosophy that was sufficient to daily life…her daily life and its needs. It is a philosophy that can meet our daily life and needs, too.
“No one can live without a philosophy which points out the means and end of effort intellectual or other…an order and a means applicable both in favourable and unpromising circumstances, capable too of new application to serve fresh endeavour.”