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A friend of mine made a statement recently that stopped me in my tracks. She was explaining how in the past she hadn’t felt confident deviating from a recommended book list for her Charlotte Mason home school, and she said something like, “That was before I understood the difference between Charlotte Mason’s principles and a book list.”
That statement hit me like a ton of bricks, and I thought, “I wonder how many others are in that same place, feeling less than confident because they don’t understand that difference.” Maybe you have it stuck in your head that “if I’m going to give my children a Charlotte Mason education, I must follow this exact schedule or use only this book list.”
But that rigid one-size-fits-all mentality was never Charlotte’s intent. She did not want her approach to education to degenerate into a system that had to be strictly followed from step 1 to step 37.
And that’s why Charlotte took the time to lay out her core values. You see, once you have a firm grasp on the core values, you will have the confidence to customize a Charlotte Mason education for your family.
Here’s what I want you to remember as we walk through this series: clear thinking leads to confident teaching. Any question you have about educating your child can be laid beside these core values to see how it aligns. In other words, these values are the why behind the how.
Understanding Charlotte Mason’s core values will do two things for you.
First, you will understand more clearly the differences between homeschool approaches. Maybe this style over here looks shiny and fun to do or maybe that one looks like it would teach your child a lot of facts or motivate your child to try harder. Once you know these core values of Charlotte Mason, you will be able to discern the differences in the philosophy behind each approach; you will notice the differences in their core values. You will be able to focus on the why behind the how—the thought process behind the method. And once you understand that, it will be like putting on a new pair of eyeglasses; everything will suddenly become clearer. The more you let these core values permeate your thinking, the more clearly you will see the differences between the various approaches to homeschooling.
But these core values will do more than that. Once you know the why behind the how, you will also feel more confident about what you’re doing and how you’re teaching. You will begin to enjoy the freedom that is yours with a Charlotte Mason education—freedom to make adjustments to your schedule, freedom to level the methods up or down to fit your particular child, freedom to tweak the book list—and still feel confident that you are doing Charlotte Mason.
It’s so easy for us to get bogged down in the details of what our home schools should look like, isn’t it? We spend hours pondering and discussing what our school rooms should look like (or should we have a separate school room? Where should we do our school work?). We grow anxious over what our schedules should look like—what days of the week we should school, what time of day, what subjects we should do on which days, how long the breaks should be. We get head-down on which books we must read or which poets or artists or composers we should study. We stay awake nights wondering at what age our children should know certain facts and if they’re ahead or behind that arbitrary line. We worry and fret over how long our children’s narrations should be.
Well, I have news for you. None of those details are included in these core values. Why? Because rather than focus on what our home schools should look like outwardly, Charlotte would first have us consider what our home schools should be. That’s where it begins. We need to get very clear on the values that are at the core—the center—of everything else.
Once we can wrap our heads around the core values, the rest falls into place.
Clear thinking will lead to confident teaching. If you have a question about your child’s education, trace it back to its core values and then consider that question in the light of those key guidelines. That’s what Charlotte always did and always encouraged her teachers to do. In her biography, The Story of Charlotte Mason, we’re told that whenever a question arose, even if it seemed of small importance,
“Before an answer could be found it was necessary to think back to first principles, then to think outward again to the question in their light”The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 152
So we’re going to look at those first principles and the light that they will shed on our homeschool questions. These are the core values that we can come back to again and again as we ponder all of the variables in our homeschool lives. If the book you’re thinking about aligns with these core values, you’re free to use it. If the schedule you’re considering doesn’t violate these values, give it a try and see how it works.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I’d rather just have somebody tell me what to do.” I understand; and especially if you are new to Charlotte Mason it can be very helpful to have a guide that tells you exactly what to do, to help you find your feet and get going. But sometimes we can get stuck. We just want that guide and we follow it to the letter and we don’t embrace the freedom that comes with the Charlotte Mason method.
Let me remind you that if you get stuck to the guides, the “I must follow this exactly,” that can come with a price. That “just tell me what to do” mindset isn’t going to lead you to a place of confidence. Because (in case you hadn’t noticed) there are lots of people who are willing to tell you what you should do, and you might start down one path only to hear a conflicting report from somebody on another path.
Now suddenly your confidence is gone. How do you know which path to choose? You’ve got to know the core values. You’ve got to have those values clear in your thinking.
Clear thinking will lead to confident teaching.
We’ll be walking through the core values of Charlotte Mason one at a time over the coming months. If you want to read ahead, you’ll find them detailed in what Charlotte called A Short Synopsis in the front of volume 6, A Philosophy of Education.
Clear thinking, confident teaching. I’m really looking forward to this series. Make sure you’re subscribed to our weekly emails, so you don’t miss a post.