16 September 2014

A Mama's Continuing Education: Oh, the Endless Possibilities!

This post is going to be my attempt at a concise summary of all the pertinent installments in this series. But I want to go beyond a mere summary of what we've learned about Charlotte Mason and continuing education, and make it a modern application. What could this look like in today's world? Life isn't exactly what it was over a hundred years ago, if you haven't noticed, but I saw way more similarities than I saw differences when I was studying all of this.

You may have noticed other categories, but I'm breaking this into the categories I noticed.

Variety of Reading

It should come as no surprise that reading is the cornerstone of learning. Books are where the ideas live, and therefore where we must go if we want to find them. Also, books are small and portable. Unlike going to a conference, they are conveniently located right in our own homes.

There is a difference between reading one book at a time, and having a number of books going. As someone who always has five to seven books going at a time, I can testify to the fact that books tend to interact with each other, in spite of the covers which separate them. They can't help it. All these ideas jump off the page into our brains and start playing with one another. One book can round another out.

Reading multiple books at a time also tends to slow us down. Gobbling a book may be fun, but it's not the best way to learn. Letting something sit and marinate is the best way. I wish I could say more about this, but I'd be stealing the thunder from a post Karen Glass has written for my upcoming 31 Days series, so all I can say is subscribe so you don't miss it!


So. We've got a lot of examples of variety. Miss Mason's own habit was to break up her work day with different types of reading. So we see Bible first thing in the morning, light reading as a mid-morning break {listed as either Punch or Trollope}, classics for 10 minutes {classic meaning Plato or Aristotle, etc.}, a travel or biography selection, an "old" novel {listed were authors like Bronte and Thackeray}, The Times, literary essays, memoirs, and then, of course, a Waverly novel before bed.

If you wanted to read by category, you could try using the topics from the Mother's Education Course: divinity, physiology and health, mental and moral science and education, and also nature lore and the elements of science. You could also add in some other topics that you, personally, are trying to learn about, of course. Mystie has done this, and her categories look wonderful to me!

The bare minimum variety that I found anywhere, the one suggested for mothers in the most difficult years of mothering {meaning the diaper and toddler years} was to have three books: a hard one, a moderately easy one, and a novel.

The Importance of Scheduling

I am understanding more and more that scheduling is key to making something happen. It is so easy to just watch life happen, and then respond. And we all know that life often happens in spite of the schedule! But scheduling the things I want to get done has made a huge difference for me. It doesn't come naturally to me to schedule certain things, and yet when I do it, I'm amazed at the results.

Miss Mason had a pretty rigid schedule for her college students, and they all reaped huge benefits from that.

If you want to read a book, don't wait for time to find you. Find the time. Make a date with that time. Do it.

The Minimum During the Busiest Seasons of Motherhood

Mommy Brain. It's a real problem, I know. Don't let it eat up all of your intellect. The Parents' Review suggested a minimum of thirty minutes of reading per day. This is what it takes to keep living. It'll help you think of something beyond the Mommy Wars and whether or not you want to use cloth diapers. Read a book on something other than being a mom. If you use the three book minimum I listed above, you'll find your brain refreshed and ready for action.


Miss Mason edited the Parents' Review, as you know. Ambleside Online has purchased a number of these old volumes, and they've been typed up by volunteers. They are available online for free! Some of it is outdated, yes, but you'd be amazed at how much of it is timeless. My local reading group regularly uses these archives to supplement our other reading assignments.

You can also take advantage of what is newly available today. Maybe you have your categories of reading all set, but don't have a book on your list for one of them? Perhaps a magazine is in order! CiRCE's magalog is excellent, and I always read it cover to cover. I also enjoy reading The Classical Teacher, even though my educational philosophy is a bit different {because they ascribe to the trivium-as-stages view, and I do not}. Modern Reformation is another great magazine -- it covers current thought and theology all at once!

I also think that blogs are a modern version of magazines. If you subscribe with care, you basically have quality articles delivered to your email, for free, that can seriously help you continue your own education.

Regular Nature Walks

Miss Mason did this, and when she was too ill to take her daily walk, she took a ride in her carriage. Her own example shows us how important she thought it was to get out each day. This is hard for me because I get absorbed by my work. Lately, we've been doing about once every-other-week, though I'm trying to bring it to once weekly at minimum. I get out to milk my goats twice a day, but many days that is all.

Miss Mason's college students were required to take daily walks during fine weather. It's always easier when the weather is fine, isn't it? It is back in the triple digits here, so I'm feeling unmotivated right now. When our weather is perfect, we often do school at the park -- which isn't quite the same as a walk {though we try to take a walk while we're there}, but translates into a number of extra hours outdoors for all of us.

Getting in touch with and knowing your surroundings was something Miss Mason considered important. I know that, in my own life, when I was drowning in diapers and toddlers, a daily walk helped a lot. It refreshed me and helped me get a bit of perspective.

Formal Study

Not all moms can or should take formal classes. If it would drown you to do this, then don't do it. But some of us thrive on this sort of thing, and Miss Mason did design her own Mother's Education Course. Ambleside Online hopes to debut their own, modern version of the MEC, and this will be a valid option in the future, which is totally exciting!

There are lots of classes available online. Right now, I'm taking Mystie's Simplified Organization Course. My husband and I are also slowly moving through The Epics. Once upon a time, I took a sourdough course online.

There are also classes available locally. I know someone taking an art class. I have a friend who recently took a cooking class. Take advantage of what is available in your area.


We see examples of lectures throughout Miss Mason's work. It's true, they weren't used in her classrooms for the children, but that didn't mean she didn't use them with adults. She gave lectures regularly as part of the Liberal Education for All movement. Her students received lectures at the college. And many of the Parents' Review articles were simply transcriptions of lectures that had been given at one of the PNEU local meetings!

If your area is like my area, there are lectures you can attend on occasion. In fact, my church is having a couple days of theology lectures in January, and I have already arranged a babysitter! Our local college regularly has lectures available to the public. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you might be amazed at what is available.

In addition to this, though, I think podcasts are a great modern equivalent. There are a lot of helpful podcasts out there, and you can even use your reading topic areas to help you balance your podcast subscriptions. Mystie has taught me to walk while listening, which I do, except when I'm cooking while listening. Among my podcast subscriptions right now are Sarah's Read Aloud Revival, the CiRCE podcast {which just started a six-part discussion of Hamlet}, and Underground Wellness Radio.

I would encourage you put podcasts through a twaddle filter just like you would reading material. Don't waste your time anywhere, including here.


When people think of Charlotte Mason, they don't usually think of the latest mega-conference, but that is sort of what she was doing. Her first conference, in the late 1800s, had over 300 people in attendance. The conference was attended by PNEU homeschool parents and governnesses, teachers in the PNEU schools, Ambleside graduates, school headmasters, and others involved in education. She was trying to reach her entire country and regenerate the state of education.

Conferences can be wonderful. We run a small local conference, and I think it's been very good for our community. If I was going to save up and go to a big conference, I'd definitely head to CiRCE, though something in my own state would be more affordable. I can't really afford to travel, though, so our local conference is the only place I go. And it's great. Even though I'm an introvert, it's inspiring to listen to great speakers and talk with others who are also teaching their children.

Local Group Meetings

This is really what Miss Mason's PNEU was doing. There was a central office, yes, but the local groups were very decentralized. Each had its own local leadership and arranged its own lecture series, and then reported back to headquarters. Whereas the Parents' Review was one attempt to keep everyone on the same page, the local meetings were where the action was really happening.

These can't be classified as mini-conferences because over time, groups like this can become quite intimate. They become a community. You might find that you don't just go to a meeting for information -- though you'll definitely find that -- but you also go for friendship and camaraderie, inspiration, motivation to keep going, help when a course correction is needed, and more. I cannot tell you how much my local group means to me. We get together, chat informally, chat formally...and then follow up with more informal chatter! I often arrive tired and harried, but I leave totally ready to face another month of this journey we call education.

If you have one other CM mom that you know, you have what it takes to create a group. If you are looking for a local group, try to find one over at Charlotte Mason in Community. You could even put up your name as a leader and see if anyone else finds you, if you're feeling rather lonely.

Oh, the Endless Possibilities!

My purpose here is not to make you feel like you aren't doing "enough." {Whatever "enough" means.} What I have aimed to do is to show you how big is the world of continuing self-education. Don't limit yourself. Don't discount activities you're involved in because they don't consist of reading a book. If you're learning and getting inspired, that's good.

Some of these things are seasonal. A conference is once per year, often in the summer. Some of these things are intermittent. Our local group meets every 4-6 weeks excepting December and September. Sometimes we skip other months when we need to. There are times when you can read seven books, and times when you'll only be able to do the three-book, 30-minute-per-day minimum.

This matters. It matters that you learn how to live. It matters that you model delight in learning for your children.

Learning is, after all, essential to what it means to be human.

You can mix and match these elements to fit your life. And you can change things as your life changes. What I want you to see is a world that is totally open to you. Don't think you can't learn, or don't have time to learn. Instead, figure out what will work for you. And then do. it.

14 September 2014

Stupendous Selections on Sunday

  • Being not-yet-40 myself, I adored this post.
    • I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago. 
    • 40 is a time of contradiction and complexity. 
    • 40 is being glad that my children still want still good night hugs and the sweet dream head rub before bed. And on the off chance they ask to sleep in my bed when Matt is traveling, it’s always saying yes.  Because this may be the last time they ask that.
  • This is...weird.
    • The court said that Miller tore up his tourist visa at Pyongyang's airport when he entered the country on April 10 and intended to ""experience prison life so that he could investigate the human rights situation." 
    • Earlier, it had been believed that Miller had sought asylum when he entered North Korea. During the trial, however, the prosecution argued that it was a ruse and that Miller also falsely claimed to have secret information about the U.S. military in South Korea on his iPad and iPod.
  • No comment.
    • When Bilton asked Jobs, in 2010, whether his own kids loved   Apple's iPad, Jobs replied: “They haven’t used it. We limit how much   technology our kids use at home.”
    • "My kids accuse   me and my wife of being fascists," he said. "They say that none of   their friends have the same rules. That’s because we have seen the dangers   of technology first hand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that   happen to my kids.”
  • Gasp! That of which we do not speak!!
  • Missing childhood, one study session at a time.
    • We also have to read 79 pages of Angela’s Ashes and find “three important and powerful quotes from the section with 1–2 sentence analyses of its [sic] significance.”
    • Esmee stays up until a little after midnight to finish her reading.
    • But when I ask her what the verb tener means (“to have,” if I recall), she repeats, “Memorization, not rationalization.”

      She doesn’t know what the words mean.
    • What possible purpose could this serve?, I asked her teacher in a meeting.

      She explained that this sort of cross-disciplinary learning—state capitals in a math class—was now popular.
    • teachers don’t have any idea about the cumulative amount of homework the kids are assigned when they are taking five academic classes
    • It turns out that there is no correlation between homework and achievement.
    • As the person who instigated the conversation, I was called in to the vice principal’s office and accused of cyberbullying. I suggested that parents’ meeting to discuss their children’s education was generally a positive thing; we merely chose to have our meeting in cyberspace instead of the school cafeteria.

      He disagreed, saying the teacher felt threatened.
    • the underlying issue of ridiculous amounts of busywork was getting buried beneath the supposed method we had used to discuss the issue
    • I’m amazed that the pettiness of this doesn’t seem to bother her. School is training her well for the inanities of adult life.
    • But are these many hours of homework the only way to achieve this metamorphosis of child into virtuous citizen?
    • When would she ever have time to, say, read a book for pleasure? Or write a story or paint a picture or play the guitar?
    • She also has an algebra midterm on Tuesday. I tell Esmee that this seems strange—didn’t she just have an algebra midterm? She says that in her class, they have more than one midterm every term.
  • Tragic.
    • Brendan Tevlin, 19, was murdered by Ali Muhammad Brown, a Muslim terrorist, in an act of domestic terrorism.

      Brown told authorities that murdering Brendan was a “just kill.” He was seeking vengeance for Muslim deaths in “Iraq, Syria, (and) Afghanistan.” You can read the complete court documents here: Washington State vs Brown.
  • Wait. You mean it wasn't their bumper stickers??
    • Christians were, well, different.
    • One distinctive trait was that Christians would not pay homage to the other “gods”
    • But, there was a second trait
    • Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.
  • Shock: I totally disagree with Nancy Pelosi. Again.
    • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants to give federal regulators sweeping new powers over Internet access.
  • This post by Mystie was so great!
    • As homeschooling families, we have the opportunity to take advantage of the best model, which the logistics of the classroom forbid: tutoring. Remembering, following up, questioning one or two students at a time, taking those individuals toward a definite end without hurrying them or overemphasizing the point. And do you see that last sentence? It’s exhausting work, but effective work.
    • The dictionary defines tutoring as to “act as a private teacher to (a single student or a very small group).”

      The word comes to us from Latin tueri ‘to watch, guard.’
    • Homeschooling’s strength is in the depth of relationship and the insightfulness of personal guidance.
    • Tutoring is not making everything completely personalized and individualized for each student, as if history and tradition and logic had no bearing on what is studied and when.
  • Don't worry. It's only money. {HT: Mariel}
    • L.A. Unified spent about $67 million from July 2011 through June 2013 to purchase 70,000 computers and mobile devices from Apple and Arey Jones, a vendor.
    • Eighty-two computers disappeared from a regional district office.
    • For the most part, the missing devices covered by the audit did not include iPads that were part of last fall's rollout of a $1-billion effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and campus administrator.
    • auditors tallied 3% of netbooks as missing or unaccounted for. But they only verified 22%; they accepted that 75% were not lost even though they never saw them
    • I can no longer be a teacher who tries to build these 10-year-olds up on one hand, but then throws them to the testing wolves with the other.
    • I am just a teacher and I just want to teach.
    • Last spring, you wouldn’t find the fifth-graders in my Language Arts class reading as many rich, engaging pieces of literature as they had in the past or huddled over the same number of authentic projects as before. Why? Because I had to stop teaching to give them a Common Core Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) online sample test that would prepare them for the upcoming PARCC pilot pre-test which would then prepare them for the PARCC pilot post test – all while taking the official Ohio Achievement Tests.
    • the state is destroying the cherished seven hours I have been given to teach my students reading and writing each week,  and these children will never be able to get those foundational moments back
    • When teachers are being rated based on student test scores as well as their own attitudes about such, speaking out becomes a very risky business.
    • Many students didn’t speak out as much as they acted out. Cried. Gave their parents a hard time about going to school. Disengaged in class. Got physically sick. Or became a discipline problem.
    • So, apparently, a third grader is going to fail a school year based on tests that the teacher and parents have never seen, neither the questions nor the answers, and yet, the test company held the key to the specific errors the student made and could have learned from all along the way, after the very first test was given in October?
    • Are the third graders failing the test or is the test failing the third graders?
  • Consider yourselves warned: a primer on nominalism.
    • The nominalist revolution introduced the concept by insisting that we do not go out and discover reality so much as we simply create it by categorizing it with “names” (nomina –> names –> nominalism). The names we assign are not a recognizing of reality; they are a “making” of it. We assign meaning rather than discover it.
    • The modern and more lazy version of nominalism, which I will call here “neo-nominalism,” holds that words (nomen = word) are simply arbitrary sounds we assign to things that reflect us, more so than anything we call reality. In a more sweeping way, whole categories are also dismissed.
  • Good advice, this. I basically talk like a man, I guess. According to this post, anyway. My advice is a little different, but similar: if you know what you're talking about, SOUND like it.
    • “Nobody will believe you when you use that tone of voice. You sound so unsure of yourself, like you’re asking a question: why should they trust you?”
    • Upspeak (sometimes called uptalk, or high rising terminal) is when your intonation rises at the end of a sentence, making a question out of a sentence that isn’t a question.
    • “Say it with confidence, because if you don’t sound confident, why will anybody believe what you say?”
  • Um. This has Potential Awesomeness written all over it.
    • Rather than the body's immune system destroying its own tissue by mistake, researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered how cells convert from being aggressive to actually protecting against disease.
    • Scientists were able to selectively target the cells that cause autoimmune disease by dampening down their aggression against the body's own tissues while converting them into cells capable of protecting against disease.
    • The outcome is to reinstate self-tolerance whereby an individual's immune system ignores its own tissues while remaining fully armed to protect against infection.

10 September 2014

Being Bossy is not the Same as Leading

"Well, you're the fellow for ideas," said Hazel. "I never know anything until you tell me."

"But you go in front and take the risks first," answered Blackberry...

--Richard Adams, Watership Down

I've recently been privy to a bad example of leadership. I don't want to say too much about it because my point here is not for anyone to identify a bad leader. This is a person who is learning to lead, and I think it'll all come out in the wash, eventually. The important thing is why I say this person is a bad leader. The answer is simple: there's a whole lot of bossy going on, but no real leading.
I make a point, says a judicious mother, of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months. That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air.

--Charlotte Mason {Vol. 1, p. 43}

The quote above isn't really meant to be a quote on what leadership looks like. I know the primary angle one should take on this quote is nature study. But, when I think of leadership, I think of the difference between sending and taking.

Leadership in Watership Down

Watership Down, which we're reading for AO Year 7, is really a leadership book, when you really think about it. Hazel, the accidental chief, is learning how to lead. He's unlikely in many ways. Oh, sure, he was pretty certain as a future leader. But sometimes the future arrives sooner than we expect. Hazel is too young, too small, too inexperienced -- and yet he must lead.

Unlike the "bad" leader I mentioned above, Hazel isn't very comfortable giving orders. He's not even comfortable being called a leader at first. And yet he knows his band of followers need him to do exactly that: they need him to lead.

Throughout the book, we see Hazel bearing the weight of this urgency. His people need him. He's not sitting back on a throne, an emperor enjoying the act of ordering others around. Instead, he's right up in the front lines with them. When they need to head through dangerous ground, Hazel is in front, leading them with his voice. When Bigwig is caught in a rabbit trap, Hazel is right there, trying to dig the peg out of the ground. He begins, and then the others join him in the work.

Leadership in the Homeschool

I think this difference between sending and taking has been huge in terms of certain successes we've had here in our homeschool. For example, I've had mothers ask him how I "got" a child to do certain things -- make entries in a commonplace book or a book of centuries, keep a nature notebook, or study Latin. It was only through the course of conversation that I realized that the difference was that I was doing these things myself before asking my children to do them.

Can I be honest with you?

When I talk to moms who are struggling with a child, a lot of the time the ultimate issue is that the child is being sent rather than taken. What I mean is, Mom is asking the child to do something that she herself is unwilling to do.

It's easier to see this play out in some subjects than others, true. So let's pick something obvious: if Mom keeps her own notebooks -- however imperfectly.


Let's talk about that real quick. We're all busy. So please don't imagine that I'm saying that Mom is making entries in her notebooks every single day. That's ridiculous. I don't do that. I don't know anyone who does do that. But Laurie Bestvater wrote something very encouraging about that:
Our practice need not be perfect to begin to ripen us into people who see beyond what is to what ought to be, and who believe that in taking up these few postures of sustained attention we can and will be open to the mysterious transformation.

But if Mom is truly a student, and she's maintaining her own notebooks as part of her own personal growth, then certain possibilities come about. For example, these notebooks can become rites of passage rather than something forced upon a child. The children see Mom doing this from a young age. "Can I have a notebook, Mommy? When do I get a notebook?" And then Mom replies, "Oh, you are still too little to have a real notebook, though you are free to get a piece of paper and pretend to have one. But when you are in {enter grade or age here}, I will buy you one and help you to begin."

The tone has totally changed. It's been seen and talked about for years, and the practices are seen as the privilege of a maturing student. The students become eager for these next steps.

Now, I'm not naive enough to think this will work for every child in every home, and every leader who leads by example still has those who resist his leadership. The difference is, the leader who serves as an example has a more authority than the one who simply gives orders.

Busywork in the Home Schoolroom

There is an inadvertent consequence here, and that's that we might need to consider what we're asking. This is a good way to discern what is busy work. While Mommy need not do her math drills -- because she already has her facts memorized, hence she is already the example -- she might reconsider some of what she is asking.

Let's take coloring, for example. I made that coloring book for the Burgess Animal Book, you recall. It's a great resource for children who love to color. But I don't think I ought to make anyone color. I don't need to color to understand that book, and I don't think that they do, either. If they want to, fine. 

When we run into something where we're asking the child to do something, and they don't want to do it, and we don't want to do it, either, we need to ask the question: Is this worth doing? If it's not, then maybe it needs to be something optional, that's available for those who want to do it.

Understanding True Leadership

Reading through Ambleside Online Year Seven is a great study in what it means to lead. Whether it's Hazel going from young yearling to Chief over the course of five days, the Wart becoming fit to be King, or Ivanhoe secretly fighting for his place in the world, there are a million aspect of leadership to be discussed and pondered.

Leading by example is definitely one of the concepts that has come up over and over during the course of the past few weeks of lessons. One of the things that has become clear is that the example never comes from who we hope to be, but who we actually are. Hence the need to be transformed.

Something to think about, anyway.

08 September 2014

Becoming a Charlotte Mason Teacher in a Utilitarian World

The next couple posts in this series, as we finish things up, are going to be very practical. I plan to spend one post discussing all the possibilities, in light of what we've learned about the self-education engaged in by Miss Mason and her PNEU teachers. In the other post, I'll share what I actually do, and how that changes with the seasons.

But right now, before I talk about the practical, I want to discuss the impractical -- or, at least, the not-immediately-practical.

I think it's really, really important to get at the heart of this. It's easy to look at all of this and just see the immediate -- the fact that all of these are things we can do to know more.

And it's good to know more. I don't know about you, but I like knowing more.

I said "in a utilitarian world," and I do think that is the case. The world wants to see immediate benefit. So if we say "do X and you will know more" it seems to fit in with that scheme of things.

But the ultimate goal is so much more than that.

The truth is, "do X, and you just might be different on the other side of it."

You might be transformed.

Because this is about the heart. We don't do all of this so that we can simply know more stuff. Google knows it all, and we can look it up. Knowing more for the sake of knowing more probably just breeds pride.

Do you remember the original quote that {accidentally} started this series?

Likewise, I say, we have not come to this table in order to know. We have come in order to be transformed. We've come to learn how to live.

I had this tennis instructor in college. She was old, as far as tennis instructors go {in her 70s, maybe}, but she was spunky and she would say she tried to learn one new thing each day because when you stop learning, you start dying.

That's the key: learning is living, and living is being transformed. The only other alternative is decay.

Dr. George Grant once remarked that education is repentance. This is still one of my favorite thoughts about education -- not just in regard to our children, but in regard to the self-education we've been discussing here. Dr. Grant wrote:
It is a humble admission that we've not read all that we need to read, we don't know all that we need to know, and we've not yet become all that we are called to become. Education is that unique form of discipleship that brings us to the place of admitting our inadequacies. It is that remarkable rebuke of autonomy and independence so powerful and so evident that we actually shut up and pay heed for a change.

If you go down this road, you will not be the same person you were before. I cannot tell you how different I am from that 20-something young woman who first read Charlotte Mason so many years ago. I had no idea that everything would be different. But I learned one thing: I was wrong. I was wrong about what I knew {or thought I knew}. I was wrong about what I thought in regard to education. I was wrong about the best way to spend my time.

I was wrong on so much.

And thus I began the long road of repentance known as education.

The majority of my "learning" before that was about being right, rather than realizing where I was wrong.

And I'm still wrong oh so often. It doesn't change. You just realize you're wrong about stuff that didn't catch your attention earlier on.

I'm part of a little group that meets to discuss a book we're reading, and just this past time I left the meeting with a mental list of the different things I needed to change because my practices in regard to my youngest child were not what they ought to be.

And education centers on that word ought. A real education does, anyhow. It's about the should. It's about coming to terms with both reality as well as the ideal.

So I have a blessing for you as you commit yourself -- or recommit yourself -- to this journey we call self-education:

May you be wrong.

A thousand times and more.

And may you repent.

And at the end of the journey, may you have wisdom.

Because, after all, this is life...and we're just learning how to live it.