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I have often heard homeschool moms refer to the Charlotte Mason approach as a “gentle” approach. I’ve even used the term myself, come to think of it, when describing some of her methods. Usually that word comes up when we talk about how her methods fit so well with a child’s natural way of learning, how they mirror so much common sense, and how they focus on quality rather than a mind-numbing quantity of busywork.
But a recent discussion on our SCM Forum nudged me back to Charlotte Mason’s writings to see if she ever referred to her approach as “gentle” or a “gentle art of learning.”
Guess what. She didn’t.
Now, obviously, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use that description when talking about her methods, but let’s see if that term is accurate. This week let’s look at some ways that Charlotte’s approach would not be considered gentle; next week we’ll look at ways that it could be characterized as “gentle.”
How CM Is Not Gentle
If your mental picture of the Charlotte Mason method is of tea parties with lace tablecloths, snuggling on the couch with a sweet little storybook, and setting up an easel in the middle of a field of daisies as your children paint to their hearts’ content, you have only a partial picture of her approach. In fact, you have a part of a partial picture. The Charlotte Mason approach is not all warm and fuzzy.
Charlotte expected a lot of effort from the child in many areas of life. Her academic expectations were rigorous.
- Students were given only one chance to listen to a reading. Then they were required to tell back in full detail all they had heard. If you think this is an easy task, try it some time.
- Students’ living books were of a very high calibre, written with “literary power,” and students read hundreds of pages each term.
- Poetry, the highest form of literature, was included regularly. Sometimes the students were required to narrate the poems or even write a narration from one of their other books in poetry form, reflecting a certain poet’s style.
- Foreign language standards were high. Students learning French were expected to listen to readings in French and then narrate those readings in French.
- Shakespeare, Plutarch, and Latin were staples in her schedule.
- There were no pre-exam reviews and no repeating of passages. Charlotte expected long-term retention, and with her style of exam, cramming was impossible.
- Charlotte’s students did school six days a week.
Academics were not the only focus; Charlotte also had high expectations for the child as a person.
- Students were to pay full attention. Her class schedule allowed no margin for repeating material or coddling those who dawdled.
- Each child was expected to strive for perfection—the habit of perfect execution—in all his work.
- The habit of reading for instruction became the students’ responsibility. They were expected to discipline themselves to approach their books with a mind-set to learn.
- All in all, Charlotte listed some sixty habits that she encouraged and emphasized with her methods—habits that take a lot of sustained effort to cultivate.
The Charlotte Mason approach requires much of the children. It is not all sweet little storybooks and time playing outside. That skewed picture is what gives people the mistaken idea that CM is only for young children. It’s not. It is a method with high personal expectations and strong academics that gives children of all ages an excellent education.
Next week we’ll take a look at what Charlotte herself said about gentleness and see if there is room for gentleness in her approach. I think you’ll like what we find.
Those of you who roll your eyes (albeit discretely, of course) when you hear people describe Charlotte Mason as “gentle,” what else should be mentioned here? Can you think of other ways that the Charlotte Mason Method would NOT be characterized as “gentle”? Leave a comment and share your ideas.