Nuggets from the Armitt #2

Have you ever complained about your Charlotte Mason curriculum? “There’s too much reading.” “This is too hard for my student.” “We can’t get this done in the allotted time.”

If you’ve ever felt like that, join the club. Charlotte Mason teachers have been feeling that way from the beginning. During the conferences where the teachers met together, a great deal of discussion on all kinds of topics took place, and this was all reported in some detail in the PNEU publications, for the benefit of all. One year (and I apologize for my failure to document everything fully—this might have been 1905), one of the topics on the table was math. The teachers had a number of issues with certain books in certain classes, as well as complaints that they needed more time for math. They drafted their complaints as resolutions, and listed them carefully:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They had a delicious advantage that we can never have. They were able to share their concerns directly with Charlotte Mason and get some feedback, which is exactly what they did. Her responses were included a few pages later in the report from this conference, and you should really take a close look at how she responded, especially if you’ve had similar issues.

The first complaint was that too much work was being set for classes III and IV. Miss Mason’s response was that if they had used the assigned book in classes I and II, it wasn’t too much. If you find that response unhelpful, I confess that I do, too. Perhaps these students hadn’t used the PNEU for the earlier classes. For whatever reason, a number of students were having problems getting through the set work (or they wouldn’t have passed this resolution), and no suggestions are offered to them. Miss Mason had to think about the PNEU programmes as a whole, and assign the work appropriate for the greatest number of students. We know from information elsewhere that individual teachers were invited to adapt as needed, but Miss Mason wasn’t going to alter the program for them.

The second complaint was about the math book used in class III, and Miss Mason offered to consider making a change there. The third complaint was that, in both classes III and IV,  more time was needed for arithmetic lessons, and Miss Mason simply said no. She was not going to let arithmetic take away time the students needed to explore “many fields of knowledge.”

What can we glean from this? First—if something in your Charlotte Mason curriculum isn’t working perfectly, try to pinpoint the exact issue, as these teachers did. But here’s the good part! Charlotte Mason had to consider the program as a whole and make it suit the largest number of students possible. You don’t! You only have to consider your home, and your school, and your student. Don’t ignore the principle that guided Charlotte Mason’s answer to complaint #3—math is only a part of larger program. But if you need a little more time for individual math lessons, consider having longer math lessons three days per week instead of shorter ones every day. Obviously, if a given book isn’t right for you, find another one. Slow down if you need to.

I didn’t share the problems they were having with too much work in geography and natural history, but if you look past the answers to the math questions, you’ll see that Miss Mason “consented to lessen the amount of Geography set for a term’s work in Class II, and of Natural History in Class III.”

Nobody can get everything perfect every time. Adjust as needed—that’s what these teachers did—and Charlotte Mason as well—when they needed to. But it’s an interesting intellectual exercise. What principles guided Charlotte Mason’s answers to the teachers’ concerns? Would you give the exact same answers, and what principles would inform your suggestions?


As I prepared for this series,  I visited the Armitt website and discovered that the enforced closure is hurting them very much. They rely on visitor ticket sales to fund the museum, and during the closure, they have nothing except any donations they might receive. My goal with this series was merely to offer some light-hearted and interesting tidbits I gleaned during my visits, but I’m going to add here that if you enjoy this series and the virtual visit to the Armitt, please consider sending them a small donation—their link will explain how you can do that.

4 thoughts on “Nuggets from the Armitt #2

  1. Thank you for sharing Karen. This was nice to read. Although I had a thought when it came to her not agreeing to more time for arithmetic: does this mean she stuck to a time table? It was my impression we don’t have a whole lot of schedules to go by so AO uses the page numbers. I don’t time my kids for math. The lessons aren’t long, but don’t adhere to a strict schedule. I suppose maybe this also falls under the difference of running an actual school vs homeschooling when you have all the other things going on you have to adjust for.

    1. This post isn’t really about AO–AO leaves you to choose your own math and your own pace for following it. CM did not–she assigned books and a certain number of pages in those books for each term, and the exams were based on the assignment. She did have her teachers stick to the timetable, but bear in mind–if the kids were in school or even working with a governess, they had just so many hours of time in the schoolroom, and no more. At home, when we homeschool, education in general is less constrained. If you take ten extra minutes for math, you can still squeeze in a poem over lunch, or have a child finish their handwriting later in the day. Or make the executive decision to leave it for another day. In the classroom, if they gave 15 more minutes to math, that 15 minutes had to be subtracted from some other school subject, and that is what CM was unwilling to do. The implication is, in fact, they are just going to get through less math. There is a principle that CM understood, though she never expressed it this way, but my take is this: Remember that anything you say “yes” to means that you are saying “no” to something else. If CM said “yes” to more time for arithmetic, she was going to have to say “no” to foreign language or drawing or singing or a biography, or something. That’s why she said no to more time–because she wanted to say “yes” to other things. Before you say yes to anything, make sure you’re okay with saying no to whatever else.

  2. Oh. I am particularly struck by her insisting that the most important thing was to present a large number of subjects, even if it meant that certain subjects didn’t get enough time. I’ll be meditating on that as I plan for next year.

    1. Now, that is a very interesting take-away, and a good thing to notice. It’s as if “less is more” is being applied to the time given to something rather than to the number of things studied. Charlotte Mason definitely didn’t want us to mentally sustain our students with a bread-and-milk diet. Try all the things, even if you only get a taste. 🙂

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