What do you think of when you consider a Charlotte Mason education? Snuggling on the sofa with a cup of tea (or chocolate milk) and a lovely book? Romping through meadows of buttercups and daisies? Beautiful music playing in the background while contented children quietly do their handicrafts in the afternoon? A gentle learning time for young children before their growth demands the rigors of a "real" education?
While there is some truth to this, I believe Charlotte Mason's wise philosophy has been tarnished by a false view of what her methods entail.
As you know I have all boys. In the 24 years I have been a mom, my mantra has been, "Do the Hard Thing." (Or "thang" since I'm a southern gal.) I am raising boys to be men who will be required to work hard with integrity, support a family, confront a dying culture, live an abundant life. There is no room for laziness of mind or body. Because of this, I believe a Charlotte Mason education will uniquely equip them for the life they have before them.
I think one of the barriers of communication when this discussion comes up is a difference in definition of terms. While we've all heard that a CM education is "gentle", and I agree, I am here to assert that it is also exceedingly rigorous. But how can the two co-exist?
Gentle does not equal easy.
Rigorous does not equal drudgery.
The first principle of a Charlotte Mason education is, "Children are born persons." From Ambleside Online's paraphrase we have this explanation. "Children are born persons - they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons." Charlotte recognized that children are made in the image of God and each child has a uniqe purpose in the world. When we educate our children with this in mind, rather than viewing them as a bucket to be filled, we are meeting them where they are and working alongside the Holy Spirit to teach them what He wants them to know. This naturally is a gentle education for the child because we are working with what God is making him to be.
However the methods are rigorous! Charlotte insisted that children do the work of their education. The teacher is not the fountainhead of all knowledge. The primary way children were asked to secure their knowledge was through narration. If you don't know already, narration is hard! Narration is the main tool Charlotte used to ensure the child knows. In fact, she called it the act of knowing. Children were required to narrate (tell back) after one attentive reading. One. No repeats. And they were able to do it with surprising ease. Narrations could take many forms ranging from simple telling back, drawing, acting out, or even written in poetry form.
Children in Charlotte Mason schools learned many languages including Latin. They studies music, art, poetry, Plutarch, Shakespeare, nature study and many many other subjects in addition to the 3 R's. Charlotte believed in spreading the feast of ideas to children and they could take freely from the banquet. But she did not spoonfeed them pre-digested bits of information. They took what they were ready for, what the Holy Spirit stirred in their hearts at the time.
Much of learning in Charlotte's schools was through books...living books...filled with living ideas to feed the heart and mind of the child. Children formed relations with the people, places and events they read about. Learning was a joyful time of living ideas from great minds...not the drudgery found in reams of worksheets. As children did the difficult work of wrestling with and pondering these ideas, they found their imaginations sparked and great satisfaction in coming to grips with the issues of the universe. Their education was living.
Gentle? Yes. Rigorous? Yes. But with the result of a strong mind and body equipped to do the task they were created to do.