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.