Thursday, March 3, 2016

To All Unorthodox Teachers

Since the days of my homespun Parents' Review I've been talking about Mother Culture -since the 1993 issue pictured here. I liked the term Mother Culture so much I eventually made it one of my company brand names. Anyway, it is good to stimulate our minds in various directions, to keep something meaty, something sweet, a biography, a history, a novel, a devotional, etc, nearby, and pick up the one we feel fit for.

One week this winter I picked up something light, A Year with Miss Agnes. 

I have a pretty-good-guess that you will like it as much as I do. It's a children's book. Yet, because of its positive-vibes on the subject of education I recommend it for the home teacher.

Upon closing the book (oops, I speak out of habit - I read it on Kindle) I thought, This is a good example of a teacher who shares Miss Charlotte Mason's supposition that "the child is a person."  

Ten-year-old Frederika (Fred for short) describes her people - natives of Alaska - and the events in their lives - with fondness. She shares casually with the occasional native vocabulary and the tacked-on phrase "and all that stuff."
Nigel's map work at age 10, while reading Seabird.

In 1948 the Athabascan people follow the rhythm of the seasons with their extended fishing and hunting trips. In between this necessary wilderness survival the Athabascan children attend a one-room schoolhouse. It was a regular occurrence that teachers would come and go at the schoolhouse.

Photographed in 2111 while visiting my parents at the Jersey Shore. 

Frustrated, they rarely stay a whole year. One, teacher, however, is sane-enough, nerve-enough, clever-enough and generous-enough to pull it off. That teacher is Miss Agnes. Seeing that her students learn something and  catch a spark of a love-of-knowledge is a higher goal to her than forcing them through any rigid scope-and-sequence.

Tea Anyone?

Frederika's life is suddenly full of pleasant surprises. Miss Agnes arranges the desks in a circle. When the boys act up that first day this teacher doesn't holler or even act ruffled.

Fred explains,"Everything was different. But good different."

The differences are not surprising to the Charlotte-Mason-minded reader who will notice, on close inspection, that Miss Agnes's classroom runs on a certain atmosphere, discipline, and a kaleidoscope of new and interesting ideas.

(Married daughterSophia - now age 33 - made rolls from a recipe in The Tasha Tudor Cookbook this winter, then sent this photograph to me of what I had inscribed to her when she was a teen. I'd forgotten. My, the years fly.)

The teacher even talks funny. That's because Miss Agnes was brought up and educated in England. She drinks a strange brew at lunchtime - called "tea." I don't recall her drinking anything else. She must have been familiar with what was in the miserable textbooks of the day but she has other methods up her sleeves.

On her first day she has the children pull out all the ugly grimy hand-me-down textbooks from their desks. They are told to pack them away in cardboard boxes while she mentions that she pays no attention to grades or grade-levels. Fred is relieved to hear it. From her own box Miss Agnes pulls out colored pencils, paints, paintbrushes, and paper. Fred is agog.The first drawing assignment is to draw what they liked - but fill in all the white space. The walls of the school needed brightening up, Miss Agnes, says.

She plays opera on her record player. The singer speaks a strange language. Italian. On the big map she attached to the wall, she points out Italy. After lunch, while the children do penmanship Miss Agnes walks around the room reading aloud from a book the children never heard of: Robin Hood. This stimulates their imagination. (Fred tries to imagine all those shady tall trees), It brings them to a new land and time, like in a dream. It makes them, too, ask questions. (They want to know stuff.) Literature, for the-time-being, puts them in company with good English grammar (which Miss Agnes corrects in their speech).

The teacher is learning, too. She gets to know her students which enables her to challenge individual potential. More joys of learning are in store. But I'll let you meet them afresh. I will add another observation, though. Miss Agnes has a way of awakening a quality of self-education in her students. The only true education is self-education - Charlotte Mason reminds us.

The author, Kirkpatrick Hill is herself a teacher in Alaska. I took note of her dedication in the front of the book. It is inclusive of "all unorthodox teachers." Isn't this what we are? And our children are unorthodox learners to manage to come through years of education with their curiosity intact - a blessing Miss Charlotte Mason hoped every child (and teacher) would possess.

I finished my little quilt of Spools using a William Morris charm pack. The edges of the spools form a tiny pinwheel.

Can you tell how much I liked reading A Year with Miss Agnes? It would make a good read aloud. And your children will always have a little picture in their heads of Alaska. I link it here for you.

Hanging in the corner of the parlor I originally made it for my office/sewing room in the attic.

Post Script
Have your children filled-in a map following what they are reading? The map on the blog today was material published in 1990s by Beautiful Feet Books for the Holling Clancy Holling Series. Their geography course, it seems, has been updated with writing assignments.

Keep up your Mother Culture,
Karen Andreola