Although my initial meeting of Mason three years prior at Gillingham has come and gone, my journey has really only commenced. This philosophy did not stop when the knowledge filled my mind; it had to take root in my heart, becoming a part of me, affecting how I teach as well as how I live. It is a slow, steady process of taking hold of the ideas. This I know to be true just as strongly as Charlotte Mason believed unwavering in this solely underlined phrase in her Bible—“This I know” from Psalm 56:9 as she steadfastly trusted in God as her dwelling place, as her comforter, strength, and rescuer. Interestingly, these were the only words she ever underlined in her Bible.
When one knows one wants to become a teacher, what does one do about that knowledge? Does one attend college to major in auctioneering or puppetry? (Yes, these are actual majors at select colleges and universities!) One would act upon that “knowing” by majoring in the education field!
Is not the act of knowing followed directly by the acting upon of that knowledge? Therefore, is knowing more of an action that a state of being? If I know that tomorrow is going to be rainy all day, I reckon it to be so and act upon that knowledge by changing my plans from gardening to scrubbing floors and organizing the pantry.
Why, you may ask, do I desire so strongly to continue my work at Gillingham, the first public Charlotte Mason school, having done so since college graduation while commuting two hours round-trip? My question to you is, “How can I not devote my life to this philosophy that stays true to who we are as persons?”
I can attest to Mason’s philosophy as not just a way to teach but a way to live. My life has been transformed, and I have been brought closer to life with these reminders from my students that education is, indeed, an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.
I taught a student who recalled to me how she was bullied at other schools because of her height. Students who would say things to her like, “You’re as tall as a tree. What’s the weather like up there?” This dear middle-school student declares unabashedly that Gillingham is her home. She has a found a place of belonging, an atmosphere of peace, and a “family” of students and educators who treat her as the valuable person she is. She knows this place is her home. She says it and lives it. Her face tells and whole demeanor tells you everything that words alone cannot express. Education is an atmosphere, a community of trust and comradery where one has a clear sense of value and belonging.
Just this last year, I taught an elementary student in one of my math classes who, in the beginning of the year, was angry, defiant, and given to tearful fits. After numerous restorative circles with her, habit formation plans, and natural consequences, she started making better, richer choices. By November, she was well on her way to becoming a very different child, even at home as her mother attested. Not only did she take more and more initiative for her choices in behavior and habits, but she began emerging as a leader in math class. When students were absent, she would be the first one to volunteer to teach them the concepts they missed. During the lesson clean-up, she would be the first one to volunteer to clean the chalkboard and put away the abacuses. Not only did she show by these actions that she was choosing good habits, but her demeanor was also much different. Whereas before, she would start fretting, crying, and causing a fuss when she did not understand a concept, now she was trying more on her own, asking more questions, talking to her peers about what she did not understand, and discussing the concept with me. By the end of the year, one would hardly know this child from how she started the school year. Education is a discipline.
Karriann, a student in ninth grade in her third year at Gillingham whom I had the pleasure of teaching for a year back in 2012 and interviewing for one of my graduate classes, has inspired me this year. She is a typical high-school student who loves to hang out with her friends and listen to music. Her naturally blonde hair has awakened to many new shades of color in its short life—black, blonde, and even pink. Strength, resiliency, and purpose curse through her demeanor as her body, poised and erect, and her eyes, clear and unblinking, as she described what reading means to her. In all of her hopes and dreams, Karriann is a reader, but not just any reader; she is a voracious reader in the same way that a caterpillar is a ravenous eater before forming its chrysalis. Books captivate her and pull her into their story webs. When the search for a new book commences, she declared decidedly, “Don’t judge a book by its cover. A book’s basically a person; a person’s basically a book.”
Karriann believes that reading opens up the imagination to more things, gives one additional opportunities, and makes one who one is. Reading equals learning. At Gillingham, she especially enjoys her classes in which she can take her time digesting, narrating, and reflecting on and ruminating upon the ideas. She believes wholeheartedly that time is the key to understanding a book and developing and strengthening a bond with each book. When one reads quickly, she said that the ideas go “through one eye and out the other.” She desires to stop frequently to narrate in order to grasp more fully what the author is telling the reader and subsequently embracing the book more, even with books she reads outside of class. During the interview, she admitted to spending many hours reading, even when her friends want to spend time with her. Karriann’s love for reading and colorful words started with her as a youngster as her dad read aloud to her from the Bible each night. The Bible was also an important part of her Pop’s life. After he died, she felt connected to him through hearing the Bible read. She said,
Reading will affect your life. It will change you. I used to be a bad person; I still get into trouble, but that’s because I’m a teenager…I matured a lot and got that from reading. People don’t think reading affects you, but it does. A book is opening a person and hearing about them. There’s a reason why the book was written. There is a reason why people are here. There is a reason behind everything. Books will stick with you forever when you take the time to get to know that book.
Karriann certainly knows when she “knows” a book. It becomes part of her and affects who she is, how she thinks, what she says, and what she does.
My heart melts even more when my fourth-grade struggling reading student from a year ago (and others like her) told me that, before this year, she hated to read. Now, she loves it (and devoured the Billy and Blaze series and Amelia Bedelia books). My heart does not just melt; it fairly bursts with joy. I know that this is my mission with struggling readers—to present them with a feast of ideas, to encourage and support them with living books, in hopes that they will foster a love of knowledge where once they avoided books and ideas. Education is a life.
This one conference idea really resonated with me: Knowledge is acting upon ideas with the mouth, the pen, and, ultimately, the heart. Knowledge is not the process of learning information in order to pass a test. It is truly developing a relationship with the feast of ideas that one reads and hears from rich, living texts.
The act of “knowing” cannot be measured by scores on standardized tests but by how much a student cares. So I know that it is not the amount of knowledge but this that Mason declares: “The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
Yes, I desire most to help my students to “care” and to positively affect and influence all those they meet in life as do we all who believe in this philosophy. Is it a mission impossible? Never. A hazardous journey? At times. A leap of faith? Every day.
© 2015 by Kara Stalter