Idyll Challenge 3

Idyll Challenge 3

Oxford defines an idyll as “an extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque period or situation, typically an idealized or unsustainable one.”[1] It’s not a word I would normally be expected to know, even though I am familiar with the adjective form idyllic, which means “extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque.” The only reason I know the noun form is because it occurs in the title of a 1912 article by Charlotte Mason — an article that changed my life.

The article is entitled “Three Educational Idylls.”[2] In it, Charlotte Mason describes three new, idyllic philosophies of education. The first two, according to Mason, suffer from the caveat built into the definition of an idyll: they are “unsustainable.” They don’t deliver on the promise. But the third educational idyll, according to Miss Mason, has no such qualification. It is happy and peaceful, and it works. It is the method that she herself developed. It is the Charlotte Mason method:

For forty years I have laboured to establish a working and philosophic theory of education, and, I think, with success.* (p. 808)

We have the one thing to offer which the whole world wants, an absolutely effective system of education covering the whole nature of a child, the whole life of man. (p. 811)

I was very excited when I first read this article back in 2016. But something surprising caught my eye. It was the footnote on page 808:

* In some five volumes, of which, had they the good fortune to have been written by someone else, I should be able to say, read them through every year or two, so that the truths they embody may become a usual and natural part of your thinking.

The meaning of these words hit me like lightning. The five volumes refer, of course, to the Home Education Series, which contained only five books back in 1912. Mason’s signature humility doesn’t quite blunt the force of her admonishment: had the volumes been “written by someone else,” she would say to “read them through every year or two.” And that from the woman who insists on narration after a single reading! This annual or biennial reading isn’t the normal process of reading and studying. It is intended so that “the truths [the volumes] embody may become a usual and natural part of [our] thinking.”

The PNEU had already been encouraging its members to read the five volumes. Indeed, there was a PNEU Reading Course established for this express purpose. An advertisement from 1906 reads:

The attention of members is called to the new Course of Reading, which is free to all members. It is confined to the distinctive teaching of the Union, and therefore to the volumes of the Home Education Series, the contents of which have been specially prepared from time to time for the use of the Parents’ National Educational Union. The method of these volumes is a progressive amplification of the principles set forth above. It is, therefore, desirable that the books should be studied in numerical order.[3]

But at least by 1912, it would appear that Miss Mason hoped that not just new members, but all members, would be reading and rereading the volumes in numerical order.

In 1925, the sixth volume was published posthumously, completing the Home Education Series that we have today. The PNEU immediately adopted the final volume into its reading course, as shown by a notice from 1926:

The attention of Members is called to this Course, which is open to all Members of the P.N.E.U. and the Parents’ Union School Association. It is designed to include the distinctive teaching of the Union, and therefore the five volumes of the Home Education Series are set for study. These books were specially prepared from time to time by Miss C. M. Mason for the use of the Parents’ National Educational Union. The method of these volumes is a progressive amplification of the principles of the Union… The course also includes Miss Mason’s latest and most important work, An Essay towards a Philosophy of Education.[4]

Back in 2016, I took Mason’s words to heart. As a Charlotte Mason educator, I wanted the truths of the philosophy to “become a usual and natural part of [my] thinking.” Mason said to read the volumes every year or two. I reasoned that now that we have six volumes instead of five, I could justify going with the two-year cycle. That meant reading 90 pages per month, or 3 pages per day. On August 1, 2016, I set out on my journey. But I did not go alone. I issued a challenge to other men to join me. To my delight, many other men made the bold commitment to take up the challenge with me, the Idyll Challenge. Additionally, several women’s groups were formed, following the same reading schedule as the men.

We completed the series in two years as planned, and I launched a second Idyll Challenge in August of 2018. Another set of men signed up to join me, a few of whom had even completed the first cycle. Now in June of 2020, we have only the last few chapters of volume 6 to complete. My aim at the start of the journey was simply to follow Miss Mason’s own advice to keep her philosophy at the front of my mind. But I encountered an unlooked-for blessing. My men’s groups met online over Zoom for 60 minutes once per month. The meetings followed a very simple format. I was not the teacher. Rather, each man brought three items to each meeting: a question, a disagreement, and an application. And then we discussed.

In the course of 47 months, I have gotten to know these men at a very deep level. These are men who want to serve Christ and honor Him in their homes. We have laughed together, prayed together, and shared tears together. We have shared advice and accountability. We have listened to each other’s doubts and challenges. We have sat in silence when no response could be made to griefs that were shared. I set out to be reminded of Mason’s philosophy. I came out forever touched by the hearts of a company of godly men.

We are getting ready to start the third Idyll Challenge. The core format will be the same, but we are trying some new things this time around. First, in order to allow more men to participate, I will not be leading every group personally. I will be asking some experienced Idyll Challengers (Idyll Champions, as they are called) to lead or co-lead some of the groups. I will still be leading one men’s group. There will also be one or more groups for women and led by women. This time we will also have a group specifically for couples, which will be led by Glenn and Erika McKnight.

Finally, there will be one more option for Idyll Challenge 3. While I have greatly enjoyed studying the volumes with other fathers, most of them are applying the ideas in the (very important) role of cultivating atmosphere, discipline, and life in their homes. This time around I would like the opportunity to also engage with parent-teachers who are applying the method to the details of daily lessons with their children. Therefore, I will be co-leading a group with Antonella Greco which will be open to both men and women, with the requirement that members must be directly carrying out homeschool lessons with their children using the Charlotte Mason method for at least ten hours per week. The group will be limited to 20 members, and membership will be granted on a first-come first-served basis.

Like all of the resources hosted by Charlotte Mason Poetry, participation in Idyll Challenge 3 is free. If you would like to join a men’s group, a women’s group, the couple’s group, or the group for active home educators, please fill out the form at this link:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Idyll3

The Challenge starts on August 1. Space is limited so be sure to sign up right away. Then get your volumes ready. There is an educational idyll, and after one century and counting, it still hasn’t lost its sheen.

[1] https://www.lexico.com/definition/idyll

[2] The Parents’ Review, vol. 23, pp. 801-811

[3] Some suggestions for the school curriculum of girls and boys under 14., p. 34

[4] The Parents’ Review, vol. 37, p. 65

7 Replies to “Idyll Challenge 3”

  1. Will the schedule be available online for those of us that meet in local groups using your schedule as a guide?

  2. My husband and I signed up for the couples’ group. Will we be notified via e-mail if we “got in?” We’re really looking forward to this!

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