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.


  1. I'm hugely sorry to read you have been hacked. If only these people would put their clever skills to better use, I treasure your CM companion - it gave our homeschool a back bone. Thank you Love Leanne NZ

  2. Hi Karen,

    Our high school years looked very similar to yours. I am sorry that your sites were hacked!! I hope you are well. I have been thinking of you!

    Love, Heather

  3. Greetings Karen,

    I just finished a post on my yahoo group Observing Nature with Charlotte Mason and was using some examples from Pinecones so had you on my heart. How lovely to see a post from you as I finished that:-) Oh dear, sorry about the website troubles, I will pray you get it all sorted smoothly. I loved this post and look forward to more HS posts. I am just entering the HS years again and could use some fresh perspective. This one struggles learning and has Asperger's so school is a challenge.


  4. Many Sundays, after the sermon, I tell our preacher thanks, I needed to hear that.

    With your post today I feel the same. It is as if you wrote it for me.

    I worked it backwards, I used what you said of the higher years to the younger years, because I was starting to feel trapped in a to do list, as you said.

    But it is amazing, if I slow down and cater CM principles to my girls, they surprise me by, they read poetry by themselves, they play and use vocabulary from our books, they seem to learn, care, love what they do, much more than if I rush, compare, or push them as a result.

    Thanks for encouraging, and NO, you do not contribute to an information overload, at least not to me.

    (I too want to wish you recover soon from the hacking).


  5. Dear Karen,
    Thank you for this timely post! I have been almost grieving this upcoming year (8th grade)because I am often swayed by friends who are following a traditional home-educating model. We've been there, done that, and my boys were never excited about our work. I am determined to continue our (finally comfortable, quite imperfect)CM approach. I must continually remind myself of my own past. I was placed in a retail vo-tech path by a high school "counselor" when my GPA dropped from a 3.8 to a 1.6 after my family moved into a new state. I loved learning, but I hated school. I ended up in a doctoral program, teaching and researching in the undergraduate education department of a highly-regarded state university until the Lord called me home to my boys. It has certainly not always been easy, but I have never regretted our decision to have me quit. I firmly agree with your advice to continue the same CM practices that worked in the earlier years. I really appreciated this post, as I love hearing your specific examples from your own family. Thank you, Karen!

  6. Thank you! We (my 13 year old and I) have been reflecting on the need to set aside some days this summer to begin her highschool plans. As the first of 6 kids to enter highschool, she realizes there will be some bumps as I begin to find my way with her....but we are encouraged by this post. Having used CM for the younger years has been a joy for us.

  7. What an interesting post, Karen! It gets me thinking about the future with my children, a bit! :) My dd & I have started doing something off and on with Shakespeare that we've enjoyed. We both draw out all the characters...we also draw each different character as they are in disguise. This has really been fun to sketch them with her AND to be able to keep characters straight in the stories. I can't WAIT to be able to find local Shakespeare plays also.

    I love your wooden measuring spoons! LOVELY! :)

    Hope you are keeping warm 'n cozy, friend! :)

  8. Thank you, Karen, just thank you. I'm struggling with teaching my 9th grader. This is the encouragement I needed.

  9. Karen,
    Your gentle encouragement is appreciated.


  10. How terrible about the hacking!

    We homeschooled through the 11th grade and the only reason Christopher took his "senior year" at the community college was knowing he would need that advanced math and science to get into the Science program at the University.

    Sometimes homeschoolers are so afraid of what their kids are missing but really, everything they would need for college (should they decide that is in their future) can be made up easily in the last year or so of high school.

  11. Ah, Karen, thank you for your much-needed words of encouragement. The thing I struggle with the most about the high school years of homeschooling is the knowledge that our time is short. Discerning what is most important for my two youngest to learn during these final years of our homeschooling experience weighs heavily upon me, so I truly appreciate your wisdom here. My prayers are that the Lord will direct us as we navigate these years with wisdom. Again, thank you so very much. ~Lisa

    PS: How very grown up the young man in the vest appears to be. I'll bet his momma did knit it. :)

  12. My eldest completes her final high school year and my middle child begins her high school course and both elected to use government-accredited correspondence courses rather than continue our CM-literature-based education.
    My heart longs for living books, good meaty chats with them and to read their narrations, but they are happy to use textbooks, answer questions, learn for tests and exams. They are doing well, but I mourn the loss of their heart-mind connection with their subject matter.
    Whatever the method or approach, it is a joy to homeschool young emerging adults. My eldest is telling me what she still needs to learn before she leaves home. I am truly grateful to live these years so intimately with them.

  13. Karen - THANK YOU!!!
    This post was such timely encouragement! As I sit here looking at my tall strapping 13 year old manchild, comtemplating the looming senior school years. *sigh*

    'High school' starts here at 11 in England as I'm sure you remember. My second son has just turned 11 and all friends and family are peppering us with questions about exams and qualifications!

    We don't want to change what we do, how we learn, how we love learning! I just need that encouragement now and then that its ok. We can carry on and still get them the education that they need. That God intends them to have - personal to each of their God given talents and interests.

    Thank you once again for being a soothing balm to my anxious heart and troubled mind regarding these things. God Bless! - Deborah

  14. I appreciate your comments, Ladies, and am touched, too, that you would willingly share your testimonies.
    Karen A.

  15. Your posts are so timely! I've been struggling with the expanding to do list as our eldest is now 12, and your insights and experiences help we keep things in perspective.

    I'm sorry to hear about the websites, as our family has benefited from many of your recommendations. I look forward to visiting them again in the future.

  16. So sorry to hear you had difficulties with your websites. I hope/ guess you have somebody who knows how to help you? I wouldn't know!!
    I liked the story about the girl learning "practical piety". How much more valuable this is than being excellent at math!

  17. Ah, encouragement for the high school years. It's funny that after graduating two I still can find myself in need of refreshment and reminders from those who have gone before. Thanks Karen. You were there at the beginning and you continue to inspire me at the home stretch!

    Blessings, Debbie

  18. I'm so grateful I took the time as my rice was simmering in the rice cooker to come and read your post today. Your statement about "practical piety" was for me. I was discouraged that I did little "school" as I had chosen to help a young mother who's regular babysitter was sick. So many in our culture don't know the blessing of practical piety. Thank you.

  19. I had spent some time casually leafing through Charlotte Mason's "Ourselves" the week before I wrote this post and her phrases "idle piety" and "practical piety" attached themselves to my thoughts. I wish I had bookmarked the page so can place a finger on it.
    Then, this Sunday's sermon was on James 2 - " . . . I will show you my faith by my works" - another encouraging reminder to me.

    Thank you for keeping in touch,
    Karen A.

  20. Oh I love this post and has encouraged me so much. I'd like to share a school day with you. In the Fall both my boys watch the Presidential debates (ages 16 and 13). A few weeks ago, we were reading The Fox and The Crow by Aesop for our writing lesson. My 13 year old spoke up and said "Mom, the Fox speaks like President Obama and the voters react like the Crow. The Fox(Obama) tells them what they want to hear and the Crow(voters) believe him." I was blown away that he had made such a comparison.
    As you, our school years are diffent from year to year and from child to child. Of my four children, none of them learn exactly alike. It's challenging but rewarding. Thanks!

  21. Would be sooooooooooooooo helpful if you would write a sequel to Lessons at Blackberry Inn with the children being high school level, so we could "see" what it was like. Or just a book of how to CM homeschool in high school.

  22. Hello Karen, Reading this is good timing for me! I have finished my chemo now. Today is the first day I've really felt clear headed. I'm thinking about my Amy (almost 17 graduating 2020). She did much on her own this last year. Some of it successfully, some not as much. I am trying to figure out how we will spend this year of homeschooling. The tendency is to think more texts, especially since I am science poor. I need to pray.
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage