“It will be observed that the work throughout the Forms is always chronologically progressive. The young student rarely goes over old ground; but should it happen that the whole school has arrived at the end of 1920, say, and there is nothing for it but to begin again . . . ” (An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education, Vol 6, pg. 177, emphasis mine).
The above quote must have seeped into my subconscious mind when I first began teaching the moms in our library about the Charlotte Mason Method. Because my role as librarian at our small private lending library was to put the right living books into the hands of parents and children for their home school studies, I was very interested to know what Charlotte Mason assigned for students in the P.N.E.U. Eight or nine years ago I found several vintage programmes from these schools on at AmblesideOnline.org and poured over them to glean what I could about the “what” Mason used to teach students, especially in the subject of history. As any student of Mason knows, “history is the pivot” upon which the curriculum turns, and I figured I should start there.
I was particularly interested in those programmes from consecutive terms which not only showed me what books were used in each Form, but helped me understand a larger pattern behind what time periods were assigned. Those available programmes on AmblesideOnline showed me what happened when the whole school did arrive at the present and how they cycled back in time. In the intervening years, I have put this formula into practice in the dozens and dozens of consults my mom and I have conducted with homeschooling parents developing their own curricula. Then, this past September, a good friend asked me where I got my notion that “all of Charlotte Mason’s schools studied the same time period across the grades.” She had looked at more programmes and noted that different Forms were studying different time periods; but couldn’t determine the overall pattern. I was intrigued. Perhaps I had misunderstood? To the indispensable Charlotte Mason Digital Collection I went.
After much research, I could assure myself (and my friend) that it was indeed the plan that most of the students in the P.N.E.U. would study the same historical time period, but what was really exciting to me was finally feeling like I understood the method, or pattern, behind the pages assigned. It became obvious to me that there was a definite plan in Mason’s mind, one that was not deviated from even after her death. Even though she did not reveal her plan on the pages of her six volumes, I was not surprised to discover that our great mentor had thought through all the details of how to study history, and that it yielded a rich and wide panorama.
I’d like to share with you all some of what I found in the Digital Collection, in hopes that your students will benefit from this pageant of history and that your families and schools will be able to make adjustments for our different time and place. I am not the only person who has puzzled out these ideas and I am indebted to Sandy Rusby Bell whose own research helped convince me I was on the right track many years ago.
When a child began school he started with tales from the heroic age of his own country. Just as with other subjects in a Mason curriculum, history begins where a child is at physically/geographically, using story. For the rest of Form I, a student focused on the history of his own country from its recorded past. For North American students, this would mean the history of the US or Canada most likely from its colonization onwards. In Form II (grades 4-6), students continue their study of North American history, always moving forward in time chronologically, and add in the study of a close neighboring country. I call these separate history studies “streams.” In Mason’s schools this meant France, a country that wasn’t just close in proximity, but after 1066, had a history that was entwined with Britain’s. For people from the US, I tend to think that our close neighbor, whose history is linked with our own, would be Britain. We were colonized by France, England, Holland, Spain, Sweden, but Britain came out on top; our early history is colored by our relationship with England. The study of British history progresses at the same rate and focuses on the same time period as American history. If we are studying the 19th century in American history we would study the 19th century in Britain during a separate lesson each week, reading from a different book.
A third stream of history is begun in the second year of Form II (about grade 5)–Ancient history. As in other subjects, Mason eschewed the broad overview books whose scope is all encompassing and instead chose to focus culture by culture (Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.) working up through the Dark Ages. Probably you have heard of The British Museum for Young People by Frances Epps, which was used throughout the Forms for Ancient history, but another well-written spine was used as well.
These three streams are continued throughout a student’s school years, which, along with the daily news and current events contribute to a broad and rich understanding of man’s place in the world past and present supplying perspective for the future. By the time a student completes high school he would have cycled through American history three times, and twice through British and Ancient history; each pass through will be deeper as more relations are built upon than those begun in earlier years.
Now, let us look back at that quote from Volume Six that insinuates the entire school was studying the same time period. Because the P.N.E.U. schools employed Forms instead of single grades where multiple ages are in the same class, using the same books, when a student began their history studies they jumped in wherever the rest of their Form was reading in history. It was apparent to me that Mason was not concerned that every student “begin at the beginning,” but rather the pattern already begun dictated where a child started their study. While each Form had some distinct focus (the upper Forms looked much more closely at the Renaissance on, for example), they all repeated their cycles about every four years. As each Form progressed through their cycle of history, they became more and more in step with the students in the other Forms; as children approached Modern Times they focused on smaller and smaller chunks of history bringing them in sync with the other students in their school. I can only imagine the Grand Conversations that took place outside of their lessons and the creative play on the grounds. I think this translates very well to our own home schools and cottage schools today.
I don’t have space here to go into great detail about what Mason suggested children study and when, but I have spoken and written about this subject much more at www.adelectableeducation.com. If I have piqued your interest you are welcome to visit that site or email me with your ideas and questions.
© 2016 Emily Kiser