Saturday, January 26, 2013

High School, Too

High School Too 
     Miss Charlotte Mason’s principles begin with little children. They are a perfect fit for the elementary and junior high years. What about high school?

     When embarking upon the high school years I felt uneasy. One day, in our house in Maryland, I stood gazing out the dinning room window. The children were eating breakfast. I was dilly-dallying. “What’s the matter Mommy?” one said.
     “Oh, look, it’s snowing over our purple crocuses,” I said. “How pretty.” But the truth was I had a knot in my stomach. A brick school - a long established Christian school - was in clear view from the dinning room where we did much of our lessons. It was only three houses down the road – almost a stone’s throw from our front door -where I could have waved my children good-bye and watched them walk the entire way, had they attended there. But the school taught by methods that I did not esteem.

     I liked our little Charlotte Mason home school. The brick school didn’t teach as far as high school, anyway. Still, it taunted me. I was faced with the memory of my own school education. It was scrappy. It was also dull and impersonal. How could I give my children a high school experience that was interesting, vibrant, friendly, memorable, and a welcome challenge. I wanted to inspire my them with ideas and actions of Christian virtue but also empower them with skills for college. Gazing out the window with these desires and apprehensions rolling around in my head, it seemed a tall order. I stepped away from the window. The children were done with breakfast. “I’ll just have to brazen it out,” I thought. “I’ll put Charlotte Mason’s principles to the test some more.” Would her principles carry over to the land where I was about to roam?

     I found the same basic principles for the younger years work just as well for the more sophisticated work of high school. They work wonderfully. They are prolific enough for a lifetime of learning.  If you’ve read my posts under the label “A Charlotte Mason Education,” and my book A Charlotte Mason Companion you will be equipped with basic principles that are adaptable to high school.

Room for Unusual Resources 
     The Charlotte Mason minded parent chooses materials wisely. We look for materials that communicate well. Sometimes the material is packaged as a familiar hardcover textbook – a book most buyers (from a marketing standpoint) recognize to be a schoolbook. But the Charlotte Mason minded teacher is rehearsed in not judging a book by its cover. The freedom to be eclectic and also to take advantage of unusual resources will lead a family down interesting side streets.

     In high school we simply look closer at things – look at the finer details of science and history. The literature and poetry is more sophisticated.  A student’s writing will reflect this.

     I took a photograph of my 1942 issue of Life magazine for you. I found it in a moldy-shelved used-everything store. The feature article is a look at the average American 18-year-old. One such young man is on the cover. (Do you think his mother knit his vest?) These young men were being drafted to defend Christendom from utter annihilation. Not only was this a first-hand source for studying WWII with my student - Nigel at the time - it brought sobering thoughts to his mom. 

A Character All Its Own
     If I’ve been hesitant in sketching out a general plan for high school it is, in part, because ours was individualistic. My three students walked along different roads, read different books, and had different experiences. It may only be a little advantageous for you to have been a fly on our wall. Your home school begs to have a character all its own. A kind of halo surrounds you as your vision forms and you carefully individualize the lessons for your family. Your vision will be based on the conviction of your heart, your sense of the practical, your cultural heritage, and even the whims of your personality. This is what Miss Mason encouraged. Her readers were urged to understand and adapt “the spirit of the law” rather than be bogged down by the letter.  

 One Example
     When a Charlotte Mason Education is confined to a nutshell it risks emphasis on the letter of the law – a To Do list. “But the answer cannot be given in the form of ‘Do’ this and that,” Charlotte Mason tells us, “but rather as an invitation to ‘Consider’ this and that; action follows when we have thought duly.”*1 One ideal may be to study a Shakespeare play every semester - deemed a hallowed Charlotte Mason plan by some. A Charlotte Mason Companion offers a gentle how-to for studying Shakespeare, one that worked remarkably well for us. It resists, however, providing a scope, sequence or schedule for any subject. I think it best to leave these details to your prerogative and circumstances. 
     The group classes I gave in our living room, were open to the few other high school age students we knew. My students grew quite familiar with a handful of plays this way. (You don’t have to hold group classes.)
     My daughters especially, formed a relationship with Shakespeare. This was pleasingly evident to me when they spent a series of bored winter afternoons together, speaking all the parts of a Shakespeare comedy into a tape recorder – a sort of impromptu radio drama. Perhaps if I had scheduled a play every semester they would never have taken the initiative to enjoy one on their own. 
     Our family attended the occasional local stage performance, which is how a Shakespeare play is originally meant to be heard. (People of olden days used to say that they were going to hear a play because the stage lacked scenery and it truly is about words.)
     During Nigel’s high school years Dean taught Henry V to a group of mainly boys. (I kept a copy of the invitation – shown here.) Nigel was a science guy, however, and at that time we had other fish to fry so he didn’t take part in as many group studies as his sisters.

Home Education and Life
     Around that time we were preparing well ahead for a major household move – from Maine to Pennsylvania. The day of our garage/used-book sale I met a home school mom with a pleasant face and clear blue eyes. Yet, the corners of her countenance spoke “care-worn.” She stood with an empty book-bag in hand and with her lovely teenage daughter beside her.
     “Hi, my daughter plays cello, too,” she said with a smile. “She’d like to meet your daughter.”
     “Oh, hello,” I said and called over, Yolanda.

     The girls talked. We moms did, too. After a pause in our light chatter the mom made a confession. “We’ve had a different sort of year,” she said. “My daughter loves her books, narrates lots, keeps a diary and is good with a needle. But my sister had cancer and she [the daughter] is behind in math.” I instantly read between the lines. Out of love this mom had been caring for her sister. Cheerful companionship was needed. Perhaps meals were brought over regularly, housework was attended to for her sister’s family, and the daughter had either helped out more at home or came to her mother’s side at the aunt’s house. It made me wonder what kinds of precious life-lessons were matter-of-factly recorded in the girl’s diary.

     “What your daughter learned this year cannot be gotten out of any schoolbook, I told her. “Lessons of love. Never-mind that she is behind in math,” I added. “This summer you can regain some ground.” She smiled again, filled her bag with book bargains and I never saw her again. But her example of love stayed with me. She taught her daughter no sigh of idle piety (Oh, poor so ‘n so) but rather, a practical piety.

     That spring I arranged to teach my high school daughter, Yolanda, finer skills for sewing and cooking, one on one. On second thought I invited her friend to join us for our cooking afternoons. I doubled the recipes.

     The girls became good at chop, season and sauté. The friend carried a hearty-sized portion of food back to her house. These were the weeks her mother (my friend) was recovering from surgery and the meals were welcome and appreciated.

Narration Culmination
     What works for the early years culminates in high school – beautifully. A student raised on ideas from a wide curriculum has grown accustomed to gaining knowledge through his developing imagination and his narration. His years of narrating orally (putting the reading his own words) have equipped him to speak and write with far more fluency than he would have gotten by years of multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank. He has grown accustomed to being thrown into company with authors. With some “wise letting alone” the maturing student goes off to a quiet corner to read and then write in his notebook (or open a Microsoft word document). His prior years of narrating carry over strength-of-skill for high school.
     If Miss Mason’s gentle methods are new to your high school student, and he finds oral narration to be awkward, he might narrate more readily in writing. Confidence is a slow growing plant, said George Washington. Take heart. Your older student’s abilities will eventually blossom. Talking together about life and lessons is helpful. Tutoring is (or was) used in colleges of renown.

     Formal examination questions can be set on a variety of subjects. These questions require the student to write about what he had learned during a semester. Examples of narration questions (for the younger years) are provided in A Charlotte Mason Companion. Questions for high school follow the same principle.
     The acquired skill of narration works well for history and literature but it sheds its influence upon other subjects. My daughter Sophia’s detailed drawings and lab notes for dissection came by smooth effort because of her prior years of narrating. Remember I said high school is looking closer at things? Well, in this instance I was relieved that another mother, who was a veterinarian before she had children, taught dissection at her house. We bartered. I taught her students Shakespeare at my house. 

     Dean taught a speech class in our living room open to our high school age friends. How marvelously, narration empowers this subject. 

In Closing
     We want to challenge our students. There is value in a measure of hardness to what they are learning. But if books and materials are “living” they can be a merger of levels  – especially when this merger satisfies the versatile spirit of the law for the love of knowledge and supplies food for thought – ideas. Miss Mason observed:

     “Our schools turn out a good many clever young persons, [lacking] nothing but initiative, the power of reflection, and the sort of moral imagination that enable you to ‘put yourself in his place.’ These qualities flourish upon a proper diet; and this is not afforded by the ordinary schoolbook, or in sufficient quantity by the ordinary lesson."*2  

     I hope to share more examples from our home school in response to the questions I’ve received. I aim to encourage, help you focus, help you not loose heart or your sense of humor  –– but I wouldn’t wish to contribute to “information overload.” Trust your God-given vision.

     Comments are welcome,
     Karen Andreola

End Notes *1, *2, Charlotte Mason’s A Philosophy of Education, pp. 24 - 25.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mrs. Mustard

Mrs. Mustard
     This story is true. The Lady-of-the-House slightly embellished it to fill in bits and pieces of a memory. It is decorated with photographs taken of hand hooked rugs on display in Lancaster. You’ll learn why at the end of the story.

     Long ago, when still a girl (and girl scout) the Lady-of-the-House had a friend (who wasn’t a girl scout) who invited her to the house of Mrs. Mustard. (The name is real). The friend’s family was going to join a small party on a Saturday afternoon. 

     Mrs. Mustard’s wooden house was perched on a steep hill above a winding country road. Across the road was a deep creek. The sound of the water running over the creek rocks probably could be heard from the bedroom windows upstairs when sleeping with the windows open.

     It was mid-summer. A forest of trees - tall oaks, medium maples and delicate dogwoods - shaded the roof and windows of the little house. Everything about Mrs. Mustard’s house seemed lived-in. Its aged appearance was irregular to the girl who, at the time, lived in her parent’s new 1960s house with wall-to-wall carpeting, sliding glass door, push button stove top and automatic dishwater.

     To the girl Mrs. Mustard was old. She had soft hazel eyes and streaks of white in her brown hair. (She was probably the age the Lady-of-the-House is now.) Mr. Mustard looked even older.

     The house was as snug as a captain’s cabin on a sailing vessel so the visitors mostly sat outside on a level clearing bordered by rhododendrons. It might be said to be the front lawn except that it was lacking grass. Rather, a haphazard array of steppingstones was laid among ground cover and flowering herbs. A bee skep sat snugly among the flowers.

     For her guests Mrs. Mustard added fresh sliced peaches, cream and sugar to a small barrel of ice. The barrel was an ice-cream maker. It was matter-of-factly set between the two friends who were sitting together on a tree stump. They were given the job of turning the crank. The friends cranked until their puny arms ached and the sun moved in the blue sky overhead, putting them in a spotlight of sunshine. Mrs. Mustard came and took the barrel away. In a minute she was back and with a disarming smile claimed the ice cream was not quite ready. The girls continued to crank with insects at their elbows and faces perspiring, which made the eating of the ice cream when it was ready, a much anticipated and unforgettably delicious experience. 

     After the friend gave a nudge and a whisper, the girls excused themselves. They climbed down a path through the woods, down to the rocky creek. Cold water on bare feet is always refreshing. The sound of running water filled their ears as they removed their shoes and socks. Little birds hopped and fluttered from branch to branch. They could be seen but not heard for the creek’s babble was louder. Only the bigger birds with their caws and squawks – the contemptuous crows and blue jays – contributed an occasional audible note – complaining about the presence of the adventurers. 

     Inside the house the friends walked on Mrs. Mustard’s wide plank floors that squeaked. The Lady-of-the-House has no memory of a kitchen perhaps because the girl was more impressed with the walk-in pantry. She peeked into it when Mrs. Mustard put the ice cream barrel away. Its shelves were lined with glass jars of preserves, crocks and well-worn cookbooks that were cluttered with bookmarks. The girl had never seen anything like it before.

     In the corner of a room (not much larger than the pantry) sat a pair of comfortable easy chairs, each supplied with a soft fringed cushion in a fabric of roses. One couldn’t imagine the chairs without them. Baskets of wool and a stack of books crowded one corner. A potted fern sat on an oak pedestal by an open window. When a breeze found its way into the house through this window the limp curtains swayed lazily.

     There was something very strange about it all. Mrs. Mustard had no television. That’s what it was. Her eyes squinted with wrinkles while she was full of conversation. The wrinkles disappeared when she listened. All she and her company did was converse - sometimes in serious tones, sometimes with light laughter. 

     Upon reflection, Mrs. Mustard was fond of folk art. Her feet rested on a small rug speckled in browns and reds. How curious it looked. There was another by Mr. Mustard. The Lady-of-the-House doesn’t remember if the rug designs were of prancing horses, birds, flowers, sailing ships, houses, cats or dogs – only that they looked like something in her youthful mind that resembled a sort of high-end girl scout project.

     What she does remember is Mrs. Mustard’s hands. She had smooth rounded fingertips. Eventually, near the end of the visit, Mrs. Mustard couldn’t help herself. She took up some wool to fiddle with while she talked. The Lady-of-the-House wishes she could picture the rugs exactly as they were because so many years later (with white streaked hair of her own and rounded finger-tips) she, too, likes fiddling with wool and would like to accent her house with, folk art – even if she does have a glass stove top with computerized touch controls.

     You never know who will add bits and pieces of influence to your Mother Culture creativity – or what influences will eventually catch up with you – when the dust settles.

I enjoyed sharing this story with you.
Thanks for visiting,
Karen Andreola

Explanation of Photographs

Rather than add captions this time I placed my comments here to not distract the reading.

1 Mini mural hooked rug design in Rufus Porter style, in purples at Little Pines shop at the corner of Lincoln Hwy and Greenfield Rd., Lancaster. Betty taught me how to spin. She says that a punch needle is a faster tool for  “hooking” a rug. I’d like to try it.

2 Flowerpot rug displayed at Hans Herr House

3 Bee skep rug at Hans Herr in pretty Colonial blue

4 Anne uses soft wool cloth to bind the edges on the back of a rug at Hans Herr

5 A work in progress of the same Rufus Porter design at Little Pines

6 Red House - Notice the lighter shades of ground are in the background and darker shades in the foreground – Rufus Porter style. These are the colors I’d like to use.

7 Wool fabric is sold and cut in strips for rug hooking at Little Pines.

8 Yarn can also be used for rug hooking. These skeins are hand dyed.

9 I like Anne’s menagerie beside a big brick house – based on an old quilt design.

10 The same Rufus Porter design with a white clapboard house - a work in progress

11 Anne’s rugs were displayed at Hans Herr. I enjoyed our chat last autumn. Look how neat her stitches are on the back. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

At Home in a World of Books

At Home in a World of Books

Home teachers are most free to provide an education that makes children at home in a world of books. The books are the teachers.

Parents need not be especially talented or skilled in any one subject because we who take the step of faith are gifted the moment we put one foot in front of the other.

God gifts willing hearts. Those who seek, shall find. We can learn along side our children what we might have missed in our own childhood. This is how Dean and I did it. 

Reading the 19th century writings of Charlotte Mason who can miss her ardent plea for better schoolbooks? She repeats her theme that children ought to have “living books.”

How do we recognize a living book? 

“A single page will elicit a verdict,” she claims. Thus, my suggestion in A Charlotte Mason Companion for at least a “one page test.” Watch whether or not the writing opens or closes the door of a child’s mind.

Varied Relationships with Books and Things
My search for living books was a quiet but constant quest and experiment. I couldn’t help but be wary of the typical textbook after reading Miss Mason’s plea. More than one hundred years later, classroom textbooks haven’t changed much. We are still faced with their devitalizing effect.

But “a book serves the end of education only as it is vital,” Miss Mason observed.

I placed this book in my parent's garden and those above.
Classrooms haven’t changed much, either. A flood of talk from a teacher’s paraphrasing – put together from hasty notes - cannot possibly do what the carefully chosen words of an author can do.

“Ideas must reach us directly from the thinker,” Miss Mason says, “and it is chiefly by means of the books that they have written that we get in touch with the best minds.” A teacher must talk to give a lesson but this talk “must be subordinate to the book,” she insists.  When education is predominately lecture, commentary, note taking, test taking, after-hours homework, cramming to memorize, preoccupation with making-the-grade, the result is that students leave twelve years of school blasé.  

Dean took this at the New Jersey shore,
Where are These Living books?
Miss Mason uses the phrase “large room” figuratively when she says that we are to set children in a large room of varied relationships. In her country of England, really large rooms are only found in the manor houses. I’ve taken a tour of one or two and I can assure you that such rooms are well and finely furnished. But where are the books that draw a child to establish relationships in many directions – take an interest - be impressed – inspired – delighted – become absorbed – books that satisfy the efforts of attention that he must give to the reading - whether it is listening to a chapter read aloud or something he reads silently – in solitude? (In solitude one can be meditative.)

     Please Miss Mason, will you choose the books for us?

Nigel painted a creek rock to be an owl after reading a naturalist's diary.
Alas, she tells us she will not. “I should not like to play [the part of] Sir Oracle. The One Hundred Best Books for the Schoolroom may be put down on a list, but not by me.”

Instead, she lays out the principles for selecting books while she leaves “the far more difficult part, the application of those principles” to us.

Grandsons wearing Granma's knit vests
1. Something to Think About
Firstly, “The children must enjoy the book,” she simply states. Look for signs in your child that the book is making a delightful impact. Or in some small way it is giving some intellectual stir to the mind. Living books are alive with ideas that spark interest. If the book is interesting it is probably because it gives us something to think about.  

Endowed with Detail
The book needn’t always be a first-hand source. And we needn’t get hung up on whether it’s a short book or a long book, whether it is published in the 19th, 20th, or 21st century. The book is suitable providing it isn’t facts-only, that it is endowed with detail, that it is of literary language, is touched with emotion. It should carry away in the reader a feeling that “I’ve learned something new.” 

In the case of books let’s do get carried away. Maybe not today, but down the road, the student may impulsively pass on what he’s learning with a “Mom, Dad, guess what?” 

Library discards, "How and Why" series from the 1960s

2. A Prized Possession
Secondly, Miss Mason thinks “we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge . . . for themselves . . . for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like an idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated.” A teacher needs only  “give impulse and to order knowledge;” not to convey it. 

Teachers can “rouse their students with a appreciative look or word” but beware of a flood of talk. “Intellectual sympathy,” Miss Mason says, can be stimulating “but we have all been in the case of the little girl who said, ‘Mother, I think I would understand if you did not explain quite so much.’ ”

Knowledge is Personal
Here is where the value of narration enters the room – where a child puts the reading in his own words – orally or in writing.

With narration the child does the digging. The freedom to dig and delve makes knowledge a personal thing. (Chapters are dedicated to the art of narration in, A Charlotte Mason Companion.)

As a blogger I am always glad to hop on a blog where children are being set in large rooms and are feeling at home in a world of books.

Over the last twenty years home teachers have expressed a desire for better schoolbooks. Better texts are being published here and there and old texts republished. Look for those with truth, beauty, and goodness. 

An enthusiastic photographer mentioned on the pages of Pocketful of Pinecones

Miss Mason says a child is “in the world to lay hold of all that he can of those relationships proper to him so that he may live a full, happy, resourceful life with initiative and serviceableness.” Isn’t this what our educating efforts are about?

Happy New Year
Karen Andreola

End Notes
During the holidays I spent time in School Education by Charlotte Mason (Now published by Simply Charlotte Mason) highlighting passages on pages 177, 228, 229, 231 in preparation for writing you this article. Those who are keen may visit these pages to read what surrounds my quotations. If I post less-often it is because it takes me awhile to carefully say what I think you will be encouraged by. When it comes to Charlotte Mason I write by inches.   

In order of appearance:

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey and his One Morning in Maine

Columbus by D'Aulaire

An Owl in the House by Bernd Heinrich 

The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and CD by Anna Harwell Cekenza

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by E. Nesbitt

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin