Monday, January 26, 2015

Learning Charlotte Mason Together

For several years now, Emily and I have been part of a Charlotte Mason book discussion group. Mothers come to a local restaurant once every six weeks and share a meal, followed by what usually proves to be a lively discussion of Mason's ideas. Six weeks seems to be a manageable commitment for us, meaning eight meetings per year, which gives us time to read the assigned 30-50 pages, yet is frequent enough to give continuity to our discussion and familiarity and friendliness with those who attend.

It took us five years to travel through the six volumes of the Home Education Series and we are now nearly through the first volume again. This meeting together to discover Mason through her writings has certainly brought us further in this effort than most of us would accomplish by determining to do so on our own. New members and visitors join in wherever we happen to be and, as her writings are so consistent, it doesn't take them long to catch on to her most fundamental principles. The group gives a nonthreatening opportunity for those who are curious about Mason, a place to bring questions or just observe.

At our last meeting, I realized that over the course of these years and these books, 80% of those in attendance is still the same. Each of us tries to read through and, as opportunity allows, study and research on our own to bring even more depth to the conversation. We have all grown immensely in our understanding and implementation of Ms. Mason's methods as a result. This encourages me, then, that my frequent exhortations to mothers to actually read Mason's work is truly beneficial for grasping the comprehensive and cohesive nature of her writings, as well as to put her ideas into practice.

As I emphasized in my earlier post on book clubs in general providing much needed friendship, I think a Charlotte Mason discussion group perhaps offers even more. For one thing, homeschooling can be a lonely road and it is easy for a mother to become discouraged as she plods along through the days, easy to begin to waver in her assurance that she is on the right course, not to mention easy to grow weary in the journey even if she is certain about her direction. The interaction with like-minded home educators not only provides stimulation and companionship, but helps to establish and affirm the big picture that is lost sight of as we tackle the multitudinous trials and obstacles in educating the various personalities of our children with their widely divergent abilities, strengths, and weaknesses each represents.

This group camaraderie is also just plain fun. The laughs we have as we grapple with some of her ideas, with all our individual interpretations coming together, stick with us long after we have parted. Our impressions are clarified. Our successes and failures in moving from the thoughts on the page to the application of them give us comfort as we struggle, fail, and try again. Some friendships have been formed within our group that have changed our lives and will prove to be long lasting ones.

In short, for support, encouragement, and perseverance, a Charlotte Mason study group can be a lifeline. To get a group started does not require you to be an expert, just to have a heart to see others grow and do so by joining together. Obviously, someone has to choose a place and time, then invite as many people as they can think of. This person has to be committed, no matter what the commitment of the members. The stability of one or two will provide a foundation for the group no matter how many visit, attend infrequently, or do or do not read the material. I believe our group began with three mothers and did not grow beyond 10 in attendance for some time.

(A most exciting side note here is that, after six years of mothers meeting, we now have a small group of fathers that meet elsewhere on their own timetable. They have been meeting for several months and had seven guys at their last gathering. We have no idea what they talk about there as they operate independent to our mothers' group.)

I recommend one person guide the conversation on the reading at each meeting to help keep the focus, but it is not essential that that person have a thorough comprehension of Mason's writing. In other words, a successful conversation needs someone to begin and willing to bring the discussion back to the text, but does not require that person to be the authority on the subjects under discussion. This "leader" can even change from meeting to meeting, so long as someone is willing to take the responsibility for guiding the discussion. Just as there are many personalities in your group, the various discussion leaders will have their own style in accomplishing this.

It takes most of us many years and many attempts before we become consistent at anything new - as Mason reminds us constantly in her explanations on habit formation. Your efforts to form a group will bring rewards to you personally, as well as many others in need of community in your circle of acquaintance as you "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" the life-changing implementation of The Home Education Series by Charlotte Mason - especially as you try doing it together.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, January 19, 2015

What I was Reading Last Year

Why is it that I often bemoan not having enough time to read? At the end of the year, the list usually surprises me because I read more than I thought. This must simply continue to prove my theory that,
here a little, there a little, every day a little, gets you through a lot of books in 365 days.

Looking through the list, I have very fond memories of some of the books, learned a lot of lessons about life in most of them, and there aren't too many here that I would rather not have read. Some of the list below were read with my children for school and for fun (not that those two things are at all separate), some for my book club I lead, and some I returned to for a new perspective after a first time reading as much as 40 years ago, some were written by authors I have enjoyed in the past, and many new authors I was pleased to discover.

Some books surprised me. 

Calvin's Institutes, for example, was not nearly as unapproachable as I expected, in fact, was enjoyable, often convicting, and sometimes made me burst out laughing. Though the two huge volumes were a daunting prospect, sure enough, bit by bit, I made it through in a year. 

Another was So Brave Young and Handsome, which I didn't expect to like as much as I did, not being given to enjoying westerns much, but it ended up being one of my favorites of the year.

Surprising also was the discovery that Catcher in the Rye, which I loathed in high school, was a completely different story to me as an old lady. 


I also thought Lord of the Flies and Clockwork Orange were both excellent and full of insight for understanding our contemporary society.

If I had to pick a favorite genre, I would probably point to the poetry. It truly enriched and was the golden thread throughout my year.

I share this list in hopes that some of these will inspire you to strike out in new reading directions. The following list of books read this past year are organized by author; (*) next to a title represents books being read a second or third time.

Poetry and Plays
Heaney, Seamus: Selected Poems, 1966-1987
Hopkins, Gerard Manley: Selected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
*Milton, John: Paradise Lost
Oliver, Mary: New and Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
Pope, Alexander: Collected Poems
Shakespeare, William: Richard III
Shakespeare, William: Romeo and Juliet

Adams, Samuel Hopkins: The Erie Canal
Behe, Michael: Darwin's Black Box
Bestvater, Laurie: The Living Page
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich: A Testament to Freedom
Burroughs, John: John Burrous' America (ed. Farida Riley)
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne: Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert
Calvin, John: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Churchill, Winston: The Birth of Britain
Collis, John: The Worm Forgives the Plough
Conway, Jill Ker: The Road from Coorain
Conway, Jill Ker: True North
Durrell, Gerald: The Amateur Naturalist
Glass, Karen: Consider This
Hansen, Ron: Exiles
Horn, Rick: Get Out of My Face
Jethani, Skye: With: Re-Imagining How You Relate to God
Johnson, Gerald: American Heroes and Hero Worship
Keller, Timothy: The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
Keller, Timothy: The Reason for Marriage: Facing the Complexities of
Commitment with the Wisdom of God
*Latham, Jean Lee: Carry On Mr. Bowditch
*Mason, Charlotte: Parents and Children
*Mason, Charlotte: Home Education
McCullough, David: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
Muir, John: My First Summer in the Sierra
Muir, John: Muir Among the Animals
Nafisi, Azar: Reading Lolita in Tehran
Norris, Kathleen: Dakota
Ruskin, John: The Seven Lamps of Architecture
Sacks, Oliver: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Tripp, Ted: Shepherding Your Child's Heart
Tuchman, Barbara: The Proud Tower
Watson, James D.: DNA: The Secret of Life
Webb, Robert N.: We Were There with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys
Wilson, Douglas: Wordsmithy

Alcott, Louisa May: Eight Cousins
Alger, Horatio: Ragged Dick, or Street Life in New York With the Boot Blacks
Berry, Wendell: That Distant Land: Collected Stories
Buchan, John: The Powerhouse
Buchan, John: The Thirty-Nine Steps
Buchan, John: Green Mantle
Buchan, John: Mr. Standfast
Buchan, John: The Three Hostages
Burgess, Anthony: A Clockwork Orange
Canfield, Dorothy: Rough Hewn
Collins, Wilkie: The Woman in White
Cooper, Susan: The Dark is Rising
Cooper, Susan: Greenwitch
Cooper, Susan: The Grey King
Cooper, Susan: Silver on the Tree
*Defoe, Daniel: Robinson Crusoe
*Dickens, Charles: Bleakhouse
*Dickens, Charles: A Tale of Two Cities
*Eliot, George: Silas Marner
Eliot, George: Daniel Deronda
Enger, Leif: So Brave, Young and Handsome
Fielding, Henry: Tom Jones
Gaskell, Elizabeth: Cousin Phyllis and Other Stories
*George, Jean Craighead: My Side of the Mountain
Golding, Richard: Lord of the Flies
*Goudge, Elizabeth: The Scent of Water
Goudge, Elizabeth: Castle on the Hill
*Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter
James, P.D.: Original Sin
James, P. D.: A Certain Justice
Joyce, James: Dubliners
Lewis, C.S.: The Dark Tower and Other Stories
MacDonald, George: A Peasant Girl's Dream
Percy, Walker: The Movie-Goer
Peters, Ellis: An Excellent Mystery
Peters, Ellis: A Morbid Taste for Bones
Potok, Chiam: Davita's Harp
*Pyle, Howard: Men of Iron
*Pyle, Howard: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
*Salinger, J.D.: The Catcher In the Rye
Sand, George: Marianne
Scott, Sir Walter: The Antiquary
Scott, Sir Walter: The Talisman
*Scott, Sir Walter: Ivanhoe
Shafer, MaryAnn: Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein
Stevenson, D.E.: The Baker's Daughter
Stevenson, D.E.: Green Money
Tey, Josephine: The Franchise Affair
Tey, Josephine: The Daughter of Time
Thackeray, William Makepeace: Penn-Dennis: His Fortunes and
Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy
Welty, Eudora: Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
Wharton, Edith: Age of Innocence
Wilson, N.D.: A Hundred Cupboards
Woolfe, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway
Zusak, Markus: The Book Thief

For the joy of reading,


Monday, January 12, 2015

Living Up to the Call

A brand new year is such a gift, a 365 day long new beginning in which to cast aside all the weariness and woes of the previous year and start afresh.

This, in theory, should have rejuvenated and infused me with new energies, but the old year had spun out in a breathtaking round of activities culminating in an attack of influenza that rendered my entire family weak and exhausted. The prospect of a new beginning was not invigorating, but a little overwhelming. Nevertheless, I managed to haul out the books, refresh my schedule, and take a deep breath before plunging back in to the round of lessons. I gathered my strength and determined to put on discipline with the goal of finishing well what I had begun last August.

I consider homeschooling to be a calling in my life, so this certainty does help under gird my resolve on a weekly basis. Charlotte Mason is a gift from God, a mentor and guide, a voice of wisdom and source of knowledge that has focused and sharpened my purpose along the way. I have made myself her student, learning how to teach and nourish my children by feeding on her writings regularly. Since a new year had begun, I picked up the Home Education Series where I had left off last, and re-immersed myself in her ideas.

On the first official day of school in this new year, having strengthened my will to begin, I found the extra dose of inspiration I needed to renew and set my heart to serving my children. The first day of school, I read this passage, and my heart was filled with gratitude to Ms. Mason for once again helping to mark my course:

"The education of the children will always remain the holiest and highest of all family duties. The welfare, civilisation, and culture of a people depend essentially upon the degree of success that attends the education in the homes. The family principle is the point at which both the religious and educational life of a people centres, and about which it revolves. It is a force in comparison with which every sovereign's command appears powerless."                  -School Education, page 96

If this wasn't encouraging and inspiring, I can't imagine what would be. I thought perhaps I should paste this on the front of my planning notebook, or possibly memorize it while my children were memorizing their Shakespeare soliloquy that morning. Instead, I am sharing this experience with you in case you too are finding it rough to get going again, praying that her perspective here will refresh your spirit to tackle a brand new year with hope and joy, to remind you of the eternal perspective we all need to continue this long, arduous, and immensely rewarding task of home education.

It is not a little thing we are about, as she says, but absolutely a very high calling with world-changing outcomes.