Mister Gatto and Miss Mason

Every so often I enjoy contemplating and posting our homeschooling goals, convictions, and philosophy. Today is such a day. If you’ve known me or read my blog for any length of time, you know that I favor a tried and true classic method of learning versus newer methods employed by institutions and even some homeschoolers. I did not invent what we do, but I certainly chose our method carefully and meticulously. After reading and trying many, many methods of homeschooling we have settled on an eclectic Charlotte Mason, unit study, fairly independent and project-based curriculum using many of the best products available to educators today.

Not one moment in our homeschool is wasted. You may not get this impression should you walk in and find the little one playing doctor in his room, Hunter bunny running a truck through the hall way, and Big Bird drawing aircraft at the dining room table. Looks a little like play actually. But the reality is, I have intentionally planned quite a bit of free, unscheduled play time that does not revolve around tv or video games. You see, Charlotte Mason believed strongly that after concentrated, quality, twaddle-free books and curriculum, time to imagine and play was equally as important. Who was Miss Mason and what does quality education mean to us?

Charlotte Mason, was a teacher who spent her life devoted to education and advocates a liberal (generous) education. She suggests that children are born persons and should be educated by the humanities. Seems obvious, right? You wouldn’t think so if you compared what she did to what students today are doing. We choose a meaningful selection of material, namely books. The books we read aloud, and the books Big Bird reads to himself provide thought and express the writer’s wisdom. I look for wisdom from above for myself and my children and I expect more, I expect the best for my kids. At the risk of offending, we don’t waste time on many of the books and products available to school children today. After reading Charlotte Mason’s six-volume set entitled The Original Homeschool Series, and praying quite fervently about our homeschooling choice, books choices, my children’s futures became clear. Should we spend time learning, reading, or discussing any of it, such as in narration, we become saturated in the activity. We have decided not to take the fast lane or take part in any sort of spiral approach. When we read a book, I often ask if my child will be left a better person after reading this book. Before we spend time reading or doing excercises out of a text, I make sure it’s absolutely necessary and not busy work or a dumbed down time waster. Children may not start out knowing how to read, or how to add, subtract, or how to write papers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate or understand intelligent works of great literature and classics.  Charlotte “really loved the children she taught. They were not just interesting specimens or an intriguing challenge. From the start they were valued friends, persons whom she respected. And this in a generation when children were to be ‘seen and not heard'”.

When I look at my children I don’t see all the problems that need to be fixed. We are on a path, a linear path to constantly move forward and improve in character and knowledge. They are not to be put on anyone’s time-table other than the Lord’s and they are valued based upon the fact that they are persons, not students. I love Charlotte Mason because she felt the same way about children that I do although she never married or conceived any little ones of her own. Why have so few heard of her today? Why do so few remember that she was one of the great educationalists, one who changed the whole idea of what education is and how we can go about it? One theory suggests that the strong Christian base upon which she built became unpopular. The view of what life is all about changed. “In fact, our generation cannot grasp the key which explains exactly what human life is. Children have often been the chattels of the adults.” Charlotte Mason believed that children learned the way many of our nation’s “greats” learned… by hearing good writing, not twaddle; by reading good writing; by narrating back what we read; and then writing our narrations out on paper.

Children need knowledge. We are the ones to give them that knowledge. Not because we are wonderfully clever, but because we have lived in God’s world as persons and that knowledge can be shared. Children are hungry! They have an appetite for knowing and experiencing. As a homeschool mother, what do I want to fill that appetite with? There are many companies, many books, and many programs available to me. How do I decide what use? Because we can’t do it all. We can’t feed a child both a meal of organic chicken and quinoa with kale and tomatoes from the garden and then in the same day give them fast food. Well we can, but then why go through the effort and added expense of making the healthful meal? I feel the same way about education, as do many others. My husband and I spend a small fortune on the children’s homeschool each year in order than they are being fed with the best of the best. No twaddle. No brightly colored, dumbed down version of the real thing. No matter what level my child is at, he is not given lectures, or lists of facts parrot-wise, but rather satisfy the hunger with substantial, well-written material that he can really think about along with materials for exploration and experiences out in the real world. So much of what’s available today is fast-paced, yet extremely dumbed down at the same time,  with loud noises and bright colors but little educational value, as if we can’t hold a child’s interest with pure substance. I expect a lot from my quite ordinary children. And they love it.

We do not measure success by how far they can get and how quickly they get “there”. I am not on another mom’s time-table as my children are unique unto the Lord. They are right where the Lord wants them. My children would be graduating elementary school should we use a spiral approach and textbook our way though everything. It wouldn’t require them to broaden their minds or dig deeply into anything. They would know things temporarily and forget after school is out (like most adults), or they would never really know the joy and pleasure of learning and reading a yards wrth of books on a topic instead of twelve pages. I can not tell you how many times I have heard a child say “I hate school” and I wonder why because learning can be so much fun. When I mention sending my children to school they beg me to continue homeschooling. They are thankful for it, and let me know often by learning much on their own. Charlotte Mason wants children to enjoy the beauty in nature, writing, art, music, and the Bible as God’s word to them. Nothing I have seen in the schools have compared to the curriculum we have provided for them.

We spend our time wisely. Thanks to Charlotte Mason I have found what fits for us. Thanks to her life’s work I know how my children learn and understand that I don’t need flashy electronics or obnoxious textbooks to love doing it. (not all of that stuff is bad, but compared to what we use, I have yet to find a public school program that holds a candle to what we do) We do not eat the “fast food” of today’s educational system, rather we use literature rich, intelligent, curriculum full of culture.

I will end with a famous quote from John Gatto, taken from his book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling:

“After a lifetime of teaching school, I believe that the method of mass schooling is its only real content. Don’t be fooled into thinking that good equipment or good teachers are the critical increments of your son or daughter’s education. All of the pathologies we’ve considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves, and with their families to learn lessons in self motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity, and love – and lessons in service to others, too, which are among the key lessons of home and community life….. A future is rushing down upon our culture that will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of nonmaterial experience; a future that will demand as the price of survival that we follow a path of natural life that is economical in material cost. These lessons can be learned in schools as they are. School is a twelve-year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.”

That was part of his acceptance speech… seriously. The book is an extraordinary read. I am fully convinced that children will learn to read, write, and learn math skills when they are ready and they will do it with pleasure if they are not forced and pushed. I am weary of anything offered by the school system because I do not agree with their one-size-fits-all system. And if you don’t fit, you are either in enrichment or in remedial classes. At home, you are how God made you. There’s no comparison.

I am grateful for all of the mentors I have, most of them are authors of my books as their writing is over a hundred years old. John Gatto is a favorite of mine and while I have learned what to do from Miss Mason, I have learned what not to do from Mr. Gatto.

Thank you for reading. Tomorrow’s post will be about the seven lesson school teacher, stay tuned!

Love,

Jackie

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