“Like religion, education is nothing or it is everything — a consuming fire in the bones” (Charlotte Mason)
We made the decision to homeschool when my first son was a toddler. I realized that homeschooling would require an enormous amount of time. So I counted the cost and figured out a schedule that would work for my family. I set aside containers of time to devote to lessons with my children.
There are containers for time, containers for objects, and containers for chemicals. Sometimes it is hard to find the right container for a substance. Of course, chemicals that are inert are very safe. But I have heard of acids that are so reactive that they interact with their container. If you are not careful, the container can be transformed by what’s inside.
We decided to implement Charlotte Mason’s ideas in our home school. At first it was very simple. I just took Charlotte Mason’s ideas and put them into the containers of my week that were set aside for lessons. I did not realize that her ideas were more reactive than any chemical. In fact, I warn anyone interested in applying Charlotte Mason’s ideas to his school setting. Your intention may be to transform your teaching, but you may end up transforming yourself.
I remember the first time I realized that Charlotte Mason’s ideas were leaking out of the school room and into my life. I drove to the office and parked my car in the lot just like I do every day. I opened the door and stepped out into the air and suddenly I was overwhelmed with sound. There was music everywhere. There were many kinds of instruments and many songs. Every voice was separate, but somehow they joined together into a marvelous symphony.
I paused and looked around. I was hearing the sound of birds! They were everywhere, singing, calling, and whistling. They drowned out every other sound of the place. I gasped. It was as if Day 5 of creation had been repeated. I wanted to run into the office and shout, “Come outside! God created birds today!”
Then I realized that today was no different from any other day. The birds had always been there. The music was playing for me every morning. But I had no ears to hear them. Until that day.
Months later I went to California for business and had lunch with a colleague. As we walked, I thought I heard a red-winged blackbird. “Do you guys have red-winged blackbirds here? At this time of year?”
My colleague gave me a puzzled look. “You must know a lot about birds,” he said. “Well, actually, No,” I thought. “It’s just that I’ve started teaching my children with Charlotte Mason, and it’s given me new ears to hear.”
I had already developed a love for music. Specifically, classical music. Specifically, French romantic classical music. My good friend loves Mozart. “I don’t like Mozart,” I would tell him.
We use a Charlotte Mason curriculum. The curriculum indicated that the composer for the term is Purcell. Purcell? Who’s that? “Honey, can we use Ravel instead?”
“No, dear, we should follow the curriculum.”
So my son and I listened to Purcell. It was our assignment, it was doing school, it fit in the container. But after repeated listening, I suddenly discovered the beauty of Purcell’s music. The eyes of my heart were opened and the music began to leak out of the container. My friends came over for dinner and somehow I had to play “Hosanna to the Highest” by Purcell for them. They all sat politely, quietly, and listened. So there is another great composer after all!
After Purcell came Clara Schumann. To my surprise, her music turned out to be wonderful and beautiful. Isn’t it odd that the curriculum pointed me to two great composers in row? Next came Mozart. After a term with Mozart, I smiled and told my good friend: “I found out that I like Mozart after all.”
The beauty of the music was always there. I was just given new ears to hear.
Charlotte Mason also indicated that I should do picture study. I must say that I never quite understood the point of art museums. Nowadays you can get such high-quality prints, surely they are as good as the real thing. Our artist was Vermeer, so I got an oversized book of prints of his paintings. My son and I faithfully studied those pictures until we knew them from memory.
Later we went to Washington, DC on vacation. I figured we might as well go to the National Gallery of Art and look at the Vermeer paintings that we had studied. We hiked through the building, winding through the corridors and going from room to room until we found the chamber with a handful of Vermeer’s paintings. This was to be an educational moment for my son, you see.
I looked at “A Lady Writing” and gasped. There was light emanating from the painting itself. I took a step closer. The light inside the painting – it’s shining out in the room. It’s magic, I thought. At that moment I realized why we have art museums. I realized that a print is nothing like the real thing.
I walked with a new reverence to the next room. This museum had suddenly become a place of wonder. We came to the French impressionists. I saw Monet’s “Woman with a Parasol.” I was transfixed as I stared at the image. I saw the effect of the wind flowing across the canvas. I stood motionless, and for a moment, I thought I could feel the breeze across my face.
The beauty of the art was always there. I was just given new eyes to see.
In our Charlotte Mason home school we of course practice narration. I learned about how narration helps develop the habit of attention. It is important to retain and retell the story after a single careful reading. It is a good practice for a school, and I was diligent to employ it in the container.
In the office, I found myself talking with a colleague and taking notes. Suddenly there was another leak. Why am I taking notes? “Listen to what he is saying,” I said to myself. “Give all of your attention so that you understand what he is saying after just this one hearing.” Suddenly I was completely present with that colleague. As I have been at countless meetings since. I am learning the habit of attention.
Charlotte Mason occasionally mentions Sir Walter Scott. I suggested to my friends that we read “The Bride of Lammermoor” together and we did. The crest of the House of Ravenswood says, “I bide my time.” I was also reading in Charlotte Mason about “Masterly Inactivity.” At work I faced a lengthy and challenging situation. Taking action would be foolish. I remembered the crest of Ravenswood. I will be wisely inactive, I will bide my time. The living idea carried me through.
I decided to join the CMSeries Yahoo group so that I would have encouragement to read Charlotte Mason’s original volumes. In one email, I commented on Charlotte Mason’s faithfulness to her Anglican church. I wrote, “I too was born Anglican (the American kind — Episcopalian). I left my father’s religion to find truth and life. Miss Mason chose to remain.” Someone replied to me that it is still possible to find truth and life in the Anglican Communion. I replied, “I am actually still an Anglican at heart.”
What followed was a remarkable series of events that brought integrity and wholeness to my spiritual life. God in His providence worked a wonderful blessing for me. On Epiphany Sunday, my family and I were received as members into an Anglican fellowship in my neighborhood. I spoke to the regional pastor over our fellowship and explained to him that Charlotte Mason provided the key thread that completed my tapestry. “Have you heard of Charlotte Mason?” I asked.
He smiled gently. “Have I heard of Charlotte Mason,” he repeated quietly. Then he proceeded to explain to me that his wife has carefully studied Charlotte Mason’s writings for many years. She even taught a Sunday school class in 1995 on caring for the soul, using Charlotte Mason’s writings.
I run every day. I used to prefer to run in the basement on a treadmill. Now I run outside. Recently I returned from my morning run and found my beloved in the kitchen. She asked me how I like it, running outside. “I love it,” I said. “There is so much beauty by the lake.”
“You’ve changed so much,” she said.
So how does my beloved feel about all this, that I am not the same man she married fourteen years ago?
For poetry, the curriculum assigned us Sara Teasdale. I began to read these poems with my son. They were meant for the container of my life called “school.” One after another, Sara Teasdale’s poems evoked emotions and memories within me, some fourteen, some fifteen years old.
I took the book to my beloved and showed her a poem called “The Years.” “Read this,” I said. “It tells the story of me, finding you.”
To-night I close my eyes and see
A strange procession passing me —
The years before I saw your face
Go by me with a wistful grace;
They pass, the sensitive, shy years,
As one who strives to dance, half blind with tears.
The years went by and never knew
That each one brought me nearer you;
Their path was narrow and apart
And yet it led me to your heart —
Oh, sensitive, shy years, oh, lonely years,
That strove to sing with voices drowned in tears.
I think my beloved is pleased with what Charlotte Mason has done to me.