Anyone ever had a “CM wobble”?
I am referring to those times when her philosophy comes head-to-head with a traditional schooling paradigm or some other expectation that you didn’t know you still had. Like worrying whether or not you can trust her methods to teach your child to spell or write well, or get them into college, or dare I say it . . . be their own person and choose what they want to take from the feast. Well, I have.
I am a passionate CMer but I have sometimes struggled to trust Charlotte. When my eldest son was a toddler, I was introduced to Charlotte Mason’s methods through Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning. From the first moment reading Karen’s book, I knew that was how I wanted my son educated. I love learning, and always have, and what Charlotte proposed resonated with me deeply. But sometimes the application has been awkward and uneasy.
The early years were amazing. We sat at the feast each day and both of us savored the beautiful thoughts, ideas, and images in front of us. However, as I had two more sons and the years (and grade levels!) passed, a seed of anxiety sprouted. “Shouldn’t you be able to do this by now, aren’t other kids your age doing this?”, I would think. But then I’d ask myself, “Why? Why should they be able to do this now? Who says?” I would have to remind myself of the sanctity of my children. They should be able to develop at their own pace, right? But they were behind? It was a palpable struggle, because I hadn’t been far enough along to know that Charlotte’s methods would work, that I could really trust her.
My first breakthrough came when my eldest son was 10 years old and began written narrations. We had transitioned from the extensively detailed “Ok, yes . . . thanks so much . . . I’ve got it now” oral narrations to a few terse, summarized sentences in written form. “My” glorious crop of fruit had diminished in size overnight! Was this really going to work like Charlotte said it would? I was nervous.
The conflict was real because there was so much life and personal development in what we were doing, but was that enough? Was my son going to learn to write well through reading good literature, oral narration, copywork and dictation, and some basic grammar? Did I want to sacrifice him on the altar of experimentation?
Thankfully, because I had two other children that I was also homeschooling, an insanely busy husband, and a household to run, I didn’t have time to overthink the writing process. So, I made a decision to trust her with this. I pinched my nose and jumped in, hoping I wouldn’t live to regret it.
I will confess that I read very few of his narrations, and corrected even less. It so negatively affected our atmosphere and I could see a tiny bit of development that I chose to continue to trust her, and I butted out of the process. A few years later a mom in our community group volunteered to facilitate a composition group for our 7th through 9th graders. For the first time in years, I truly heard my then seventh and eighth graders’ writing . . . and my mouth dropped open! They each had a unique style that was completely unformulaic, and truly enjoyable to read. Their writing was articulate, intelligent and clever. These boys could write! And, they are passionate about writing. It worked! I could trust her.
What my sons produced was so much better than anything that I ever could have taught them, and it would seem that they didn’t need me to. This was my first real step towards understanding and surrendering to the idea that the only true education is self-education. This was “my” moment of self-education. I connected the dots here by experiencing it on my own. In a book that I read, that I cannot give a recommendation for, the main character says of Anne Brontë, “Anne like all good teachers must have known that a discovery was valuable only if you discover it on your own.” I believed in Charlotte’s philosophy but it would seem that I needed to discover for myself that self-education is really the only way we learn and grow. I had to experience that to let go of my expectations and old paradigms.
But sometimes it takes a few lessons. Several years ago, my middle son and I engaged in what I will call a “low grade battle” over the clarinet. After participating in a musicianship program at the local conservatory, he was ready to choose “his” instrument. He chose the clarinet. He had talked about piano for years, and then out of the blue–it was the clarinet! I really wanted him to learn to play what I considered a stand-alone instrument, like piano, capable of both chords and melodies. Also, we already owned one, and he was 10 years old, so what did he know?
I call this a “low grade battle” because I was telling him he could choose his instrument, but I was also pointing out the features of our piano, showing him videos of beautiful piano sonatas on YouTube, and asking him to take some time to really think it over. I wasn’t trusting him to choose as well as I could.
The Eastern Conference happened in the middle of our battle. There I became convicted as I listened to a woman share a story. She talked about one of her children who wanted to play the violin, which she thought was “crazy talk” for a reason I don’t recall. In listening to her, I felt the Holy Spirit show me that I was not respecting this child, and that he understood something about himself that possibly I wasn’t seeing or wasn’t willing to see. I let go and came home and called the conservatory to schedule clarinet lessons in the fall. The first day sitting in the room and watching him interact with his instrument and his AMAZING teacher moved me deeply. I thought to myself, “what other instrument would he play, of course it’s the clarinet!” He’s been playing for over four years now. He competed in a local competition a few weeks ago. He played beautifully and expressively, his entire body swaying to the music. He loves the clarinet. It moves me deeply to watch him play for many reasons, one of which is the reminder to trust him. It turns out that he knew!
I have been on a journey to embrace and implement a new paradigm, all the while letting go of the old one. Now, looking back over the past 10 years, I have seen Charlotte’s methods work over and over and over again. With each passing year, I am learning to let go and get out of the way, resting in the belief that the Holy Spirit is speaking to my children, leading and guiding them in all things. Likely His voice is even clearer for them when I get out of the way.
I now find that I am not worried about college any more, as it is no longer the point of homeschooling. They have a solid foundation for college, if they choose to go (but they might not!). To be perfectly honest with you, right now I am more concerned with helping them learn how to choose a good wife than whether or not they go to college, as their wives will have a greater impact on the expanse of their lives than college ever could. I find I am relaxing more and more about the whole trajectory of their lives, and not because I am disinterested, but rather because I am trying to teach them to listen to the Holy Spirit. He knows them better than we do, and he has a direct line to their hearts and minds. The more I let them self-educate, the more rich they become as people. It’s no wonder they’ve learned to write as well as they have, as they are surrounded and filled with beautiful ideas all day long. The best of poetry, art, music, history, scientific ideas, and nature (yes, even in Los Angeles!). We are not to put feed bags over their heads to make sure they “get their fill” so we feel better about their education.
I have learned to trust Charlotte because she reminds me to trust the Holy Spirit, and to respect my children as persons made in the image of God. She helps me to hold my hands open a little wider with each passing year. It’s a beautiful thing we get to participate in, a sacred work. Not easy, but beautiful.
And with the grace of God–I too am, and can, and ought, and will.
© 2018 Nancy Elliott