A Living Education in Brazil

A Living Education in Brazil

Translated by Tina Schallhorn

My name is Lizie Henrique and I live in Brazil. I was born here, so Portuguese is my mother language. When my husband and I opted for homeschooling 4 years ago, I had no idea how to start or how to do it. I searched the Internet for a turn-key curriculum that could guide me so I would know what content to study that year and visualize what would come next. I didn’t find anything like that in Portuguese, but the search returned some American curricula and AmblesideOnline was one of them. That was my first contact with the Charlotte Mason world.

I was afraid to buy one of the paid curricula and then not like it, or later find out it would not be the most suitable for my family. The dollar is very strong against our currency so this is an important factor. As AmblesideOnline was free, I decided to use the books suggested by them that had an available Portuguese translation and replace those that had no translation with Brazilian books in similar subjects. And that was my first difficulty.

I found a book where a native sailed in his canoe on the Amazon River as in Pagoo, and I also bought one about Paraguaçu, a Native princess who married a Portuguese castaway, but I still did not have books on nature lore or about children who live in other countries. I read the definition of a living book and for months I searched for books equivalent to those indicated there on AmblesideOnline and I couldn’t find them.

But I had found that a curriculum filled with living and classic books is so beautiful that I wanted it for my children, and I needed to find out why those books were selected. Why did those kind mothers who created AmblesideOnline choose those books for their children? What is the reason why each book and each subject is there? So I started reading the Home Education Series of books there on their website. I started reading volume 6 of the series, that final part about curriculum and thought, “Wow! So beautiful! Who thought that? Who is the author and how did she come up with these suggestions?” So I started reading volume 1, Home Education, and I got to know Miss Mason’s philosophy. At first I thought Mason was a school program, a system for lessons and the formal years. I could not have imagined that it was a philosophy of life, a path for the education of children and of ourselves.

Mason is an engaging read. You read and read a little more and then you start to apply those suggestions and you see good results. You take the kids outside, out into the open and come back with calmer, more caring, happier children and you start to trust the method. Applying the method in my home and getting good results was my motivation to learn more about the philosophy.

Latin American parents can have reservations about using a method that is so English in origin. We can see an English tone in the method: patriotism, an appreciation for order, punctuality, and the Anglican influence. But when I think about habits that are characteristic of English culture, I see them as good suggestions. Order, rigor, punctuality, perfect execution are good servants. I examine everything and retain what is good and applicable here in our home and culture. But some things are universal—God and the Bible for example. When I read Mason’s writings I see genuine Christianity. I see her concern for the children to know God and His revelation. There is only one true God, and His law is the same throughout the earth. Another example is the principle that children are persons and learn through ideas. Children are the same here and there; they think the same way here and there, and the mind feeds on ideas here and there. That, for me, does not change with nationality.

Initially for me, the goal was to use the method in my home, with my children. But for the past two or three years I have been sharing everything I learn with other families. I share our daily activities on social media and study Mason’s books with other mothers in my state and elsewhere in the country. I created a website and am working on building a curriculum that other mothers can easily follow or adapt. I have been working hard to make the method more widespread in Brazil. This also provided me with the opportunity to talk to and help a Portuguese mother, along with Brazilian mothers who are living abroad: Egypt, Mongolia, England, and even the United States. The most common questions are about Brazilian writers, composers and artists.

I am often asked what I had to adapt or change in the method and curriculum. I find it easier to start by talking about what I didn’t adapt in the curriculum. The method remains the same; the principles that guide the curriculum remain. We have living books, varied subjects, short lessons, and alternation of brain regions being used in consecutive lessons. We have history in cycles using a “spine” book, and literature, music and arts continue to follow the period under study. We follow the scopes of the disciplines, so we have geography starting with children around the world and then the continents and our country. A foreign language initially is taught with simple songs and phrases and a second foreign language starts in Form 2. We keep the same forms and the three terms, and exams and everything that is organizational. We build an atmosphere of good ideas and good habits and go out in nature to learn and explore.

The authors change, but the classics remain. History begins with our country. I have, for example, in the first year, the heroic era of Brazil and I also have Aesop and tales of the brothers Grimm. In looking for living books, I still look for authors who understand the subject, who have lived or studied what they wrote. My prerequisites have been good language, rich and engaging, and beautiful illustrations (when the book is illustrated). I always search for books in Portuguese first, and when I can’t find books, then I use some in English. But this is rare because my English still needs to improve a lot.

For history, we start in Form 1B with the heroic era of Brazil and follow chronologically in the following three years. After that we start a new four-year cycle. In Form 2B we begin the stories of other neighboring countries. I chose to have them study Portugal because as our greatest colonizer they have great influence in our history. And ancient history also starts in Form 2B with the history of Rome.

For artists and composers, since there are three studied in a year, I always choose at least one Brazilian artist and composer who has lived in the historical period we are studying. The other foreign artists and composers are also chosen according to the historical period. Sloyd and handicrafts are a universal language, so the approach does not change. We practice folds and some origami, crochet and sewing. We don’t yet know how to knit, but it is in our future plans to learn.

Nature study and science change a little from what we read in Home Education because our seasons are not as well-defined as in the Northern Hemisphere. We have two major seasons: a dry and a rainy season, and the changes between them are subtle. Most trees do not lose their foliage in the few cold days we have, as our soil is extremely rich in water and minerals. At a time when the climate is drier, some species of flowers bloom to return some moisture to the air. And there are plants blooming all year round, which is an example of how our seasonal changes are subtle, where each tree has its own time to bloom and various trees bear fruit during various times of the year.

And just as in some days in the Northern Hemisphere the heavy snow and cold make being outdoors nearly impossible, there are some days of the year here that the heat and dry climate make it impossible to get outside due to the risk of sunstroke. So I see that they are different climates, but the practice is the same. We strive to go out whenever the weather is good, and if we can on one good day why not every good day, right? And we leave the children free to observe and we give them watercolor and pastel chalk to draw their discoveries, and we create a special place for them to keep their little treasures. We do some home experiments so that they have fun with science and we get every living science book we encounter, as well as various field guides for birds and other animals.

Another small difference we see here is with foreign language. We study English because it is the current international trade language and also because of the vast literature: there are so many classics written and translated into English. Spanish is the second option due to our proximity to countries that speak this language. There are also a few families that have chosen the language of their ancestors, such as Italian or German. The actual teaching method does not change though. I have used poems, songs, and books in English. We are still reading picture books, but my children have made progress in acquiring vocabulary. We use a few simple phrases in our daily lives too. My American friends usually help me whenever I ask about vocabulary and pronunciation.

In teaching the Bible, the approach is exactly as Mason suggests. The Bible lesson is the first of the day. Children start with the historical books and the Gospels and continue reading the entire Bible sequentially. We read the original Biblical text, not watered-down versions. We read a good biblical commentary and let the Holy Spirit apply His teaching to their hearts.

To know Plutarch is to know ancient history in depth. I confess that I was a little apprehensive when I read Miss Mason talking about how she considered this reading to be fundamental. It’s a difficult read! My first thought was, “No, a child of 10 or even 12 could not read books like that!” But having built a habit of good reading during the early years and Form 1 and having put my daughter in touch with great minds and great ideas, I know she will be able to grow and learn from this reading.

That’s what Plutarch is: great ancient minds, their ideas, their good and bad experiences. It is not just facts; there are ambitions, passions, and glories in this old and rich text. My eldest hasn’t read it yet. I am looking forward to our reading of it!

As for classical languages, learning Latin is of great importance for Catholic families here because of the benefits of studying grammar and its use in the Church’s liturgy. If English speakers can see the influence of Latin on their vocabulary, imagine how much more we can see its influence on ours, given that Latin is the root of our language. And there is also the question of Latin grammatical construction, its logic and regularity and how it helps reasoning. Here in Brazil, among the homeschool families, the teaching of Latin is praised. The most influential homeschooling families on social media are Catholic, and they use the language in their liturgy and in the study of Church history and the saints.

I want my children to study Latin, learn vocabulary and derivations, and read more about the history of the church. But as with many other Protestants, I also want my children to learn Greek and know how to use it in their New Testament studies. I want them to have a banquet of subjects and to have a greater knowledge of God which is the main purpose of our education. Both Latin and Greek play a role in this.

Some of the discussions that often happen in the United States are also experienced here. One of them is the topic of classical education and Charlotte Mason, and whether they are related or even one and the same. Charlotte Mason and classical education have many points in common and the term classical is very broad here. So, if you have as a premise a way of education whose objective is to know God, to master matters in depth, to develop a love of learning, to stimulate the appreciation of good art, music and literature, to value what is beautiful, and to use good books as tools for transmitting ideas, then you think, “This is classical! And this is Charlotte Mason!”

But there is an important difference that sets the Charlotte Mason method apart from the classical umbrella, and that is how the child learns. The model proposed by Dorothy Sayers says that the acquisition of knowledge occurs in three stages: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The idea that these three stages coincide with the phases of child development does not match the principle proposed by Charlotte Mason that the child is born a person complete in his mental capacities like an adult (though limited, of course, by his knowledge). In Mason’s view, the child of six is able to take in an idea, build another idea from that, and then transmit it to another person. In other words, children work with ideas in the same way that adults do. Thought breeds thought. It is not information that generates ideas. Information does not generate learning because the mind feeds on ideas. Facts need to be wrapped in ideas to be absorbed. Thus Mason would say that making the child memorize a large amount of facts does not feed her mind and does not nourish. On the contrary, it makes the mind work because memorizing is a job. It disregards the child’s ability to think as a person, as we adults do.

My point is not to debate about which method is more effective, but rather to insist that Charlotte Mason and classical education see learning differently. If learning takes place differently, then the teaching methods will be different. And I can’t walk two paths at the same time, even if they are good paths. And because they are two different paths, even though they have common goals, for me Charlotte Mason is not classical education.

I am so grateful for all the people who have helped me walk the road of learning Mason and for those who still do. There is rich content on the Internet about Mason and her method, such as explanatory videos and book recommendations. There are groups on Facebook, mothers on Instagram, and free curriculum, and I used everything I found. I read, reread, and asked, and they answered my questions. I listened to the podcasts dozens of times to be able to understand despite my weak English. Something that made it easier for me was to have the content in writing. When you do the work of typing an article or a PNEU program and not just share the scanned photo of the original, or when you type the content of your podcasts, it is possible to use online translators, and this allows reading by those who do not speak English. So I appreciate the efforts of all volunteer typists and I thank you in advance. If you can continue, please do so as it helps for sure! All of this help was a blessing for me and my family and now I can share it with others.

Lizie Henrique discovered Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and method in 2015 and has been studying and applying it in her home ever since.  About three years ago she started to share her knowledge with others in her home country. A pioneer in the application of the method in Brazil, she has spent countless hours studying the philosophy in depth on her own and in groups, as well as searching for and discovering living books in Portuguese. She is the founder of Caminho Vivo, a free guide to help families create their own curriculum based on Mason’s philosophy and method. Lizie resides in the state of Goiás in Brazil. She is a NICU nurse, a wife, and a mother of 4.

Copyright ©2020, Lizie Henrique

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