Sunday, September 17, 2017

Another Cadillac Course?

Another Cadillac Course?

You might recall the homeschool product reviews the Andreolas wrote. Who knew anything about the quantity of stuff we didn’t review?     No one.    Until now.

Letting the dishes soak I decided to tackle instead, the box that sat on a chair at the far end of the kitchen table. I tucked some hair behind an ear. I straightened my glasses. I meant business. I always gave boxes of sample curriculum a sober and honest appraisal.

Landis Valley. The white doors lead to the basement. 
This time, it was a science curriculum. Wow. What large, beautiful photographs of the animal kingdom and their habitats. The kit came with two thick, hardcover textbooks; shiny and durable enough to last 100 years. The teacher’s book contained the identical text of the student’s book but with an added paragraph or two. This way the teacher could be “one-up” on the animal at hand. Why? Was the added information too difficult for a child to comprehend? Too boring? The text was expected to be livened-up by the teacher. The teacher’s edition said it was “an aid to formulating lectures.”

Our wild rabbits eat dogwood berries for breakfast.
It supplied dozens of questions on each animal. Added to this was a pack of animal-fact-check cards, a softcover quiz book and test book. 

It was an expensive package, impressively school-ish in the modern-classroom sense of the word. 

Following this course who could possibly say a child wasn’t doing school? (Charlotte Mason. That’s who?)

My decision was firm. I would not review it. Time to wash the dishes.

At the sink I stood. Motionless. Mesmerized. I was staring out the window, a wet dishcloth in my hand. I wasn’t looking at anything outside. It was dark. I was seeing something in my mind’s eye. I saw a young mother, new-to-homeschooling, less-than-confident, well-meaning, hardworking, tired. I could relate. I’d been there. A little whirlwind of emotions swirled within me. It rose to the surface and I sighed just as Man-of-the-House entered the room. He wanted to know what was the matter. 
I finished a little quilt for a bedroom wall with early American scenes and scrappy stars.

“It’s this new fancy-dancy Cadillac course,” I blurted out, my back to him. I began filling the dishwasher. “It involves hours upon hours of teacher-preparation for giving lectures, a sort of spoiler, you-might-call-it, because much of the same information is repeated . . . as it’s supposed to be read by the student afterward. Then, repeated for the quiz. And repeated again for the test. It’s riddled with review questions, multiple choice, cross-word puzzles . . . and those dreadful match-the-columns.”

“I always hated those,” he said. “Are they meant to throw a child off?”

“I dunno,” I said weakly. But I revved up again. “The quizzes teach for the test. It all goes to substantiate a final grade. I can just see it.”   

“See what?” he said.

It's mushroom season in our front garden. 
“I can see this classroom busy-work, marketed to homeschoolers, leading to burn-out in Mother and tedium in student - if followed exactly as the course objectives advise,” I said, eyes widening. 

“And conscientious moms wanting the best for their children, who’ve just spent 300 dollars on it, might do just that – attempt to do it all

If all her courses are the biggest and best, the family will be doing “school” ‘till 5 o’clock. (I almost said “midnight," which on second thought, might not have been too inaccurate.)  

“So . . . this kit has all the earmarks of what Charlotte Mason advised NOT to do?” the Man-of-the-House asked, knowing the answer.

“Yup,” I said, emptying the sink of the last fork. I rinsed the sink of all its suds and squeezed out the dishcloth with unusual vigor.

When I finally turned around, I saw the Man-of-the-House squinting down at the books and rubbing his beard. He, too, was impressed with the pictures. He said, “A committee of Ph.Ds wrote this course, you know.”

I made a little face. 

He missed this. He was still reading. “Hmm . . . it’s as if the writing has no voice. It’s impersonal. Like a computer wrote it . . . not a person enthused with his subject.” He paused while he drew his conclusion. “It requires a gallon of teaching, doesn’t it?” He smiled at me.

“Yup,” I said, smiling back. Hanging up the tea towel for the night it struck me how glad I was for a husband who understood. Softened by this thought, I put a hand on his arm. 

“Okay. That’s that,” he said. 

There was one thing left to do. 

Knowing how much I disliked cardboard boxes strewn about the place, he carried the impressive-looking course to the basement. 

There it sat. Until it was given away with boxes of other material that had had their turn at cluttering up our keeping-room that year – our last year of writing catalog reviews.

Young George Herbert (Christian Poet) and Mother. Painting by Charles West Cope
A Different Story
One day, Charlotte Mason observed a PNEU class of girls, age 13, read an essay on George Herbert with 3 or 4 poems included. None of the girls had read either the essay or the poems before. They narrated in full paragraphs. 

“No point made by the poet was omitted and his exact words were used pretty freely,” Miss Mason says. “The teacher made comments upon one or two unusual words and that was all. To explain or enforce (other than by a reverently sympathetic manner, the glance and words that showed that she too, cared), would have been impertinent.”
“It is an interesting thing,” she says, “that hundreds of children of the same age [following the PNEU syllabus] . . . scattered over the world, read and narrated the same essay and no doubt paraphrased the verses with equal ease. I felt humbled before the children knowing myself incapable of such immediate and rapid apprehension of several pages of new matter . . . In such ways, the great thoughts of great thinkers illuminate children and they grow in knowledge, chiefly the knowledge of God.”

Yet usually, the work of education, she says, “is drowned in torrents of talk, in tedious repetition, . . . in every sort of way in which the mind may be bored and the affections deadened.” *1
Read the living book. Narrate. This is mostly what’s necessary. But it’s a BIG necessary. Children are brought up acquiring powers of self-education, by this method. They want opportunity and direction. Not mental gymnastics for storing information. Rather, their mind comes alive when it ponders ideas conveyed in literary language. Are the children free to make their own associations, follow a train-of-thought, draw conclusions? This is how persons truly become knowledgeable. By it, they enter a state of knowledge, like friendship.

Dean fondly remembers "Stones & Minerals" from his boyhood.

Example: “Tell (or add to your notebook) what you’ve learned about Australia’s amazing kangaroo from its birth to adulthood. Draw a series of 3-4 illustrations for it.” An ounce of teaching, for a gallon of learning. Not the other way around.

Today, some call this “minimalist-homeschooling.” Call it what you like. I call it “The Gentle Art of Learning.”
Label stitched to back of quilt written in fine point laundry marker. 

End Notes
For preparation for year-end tests children need to be familiar with multiple-choice. Sample test-booklets are available and can be worked a month or two before the test, 10 minutes a day. But mostly, multiple choice can take a back seat.  

*1 Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, pages 64-65 (Italics mine)

Comments are Welcome,
Karen Andreola

(I'm working on the log-cabin table runner at present. Nice to have you for a visit.) 


  1. So glad I had some early Mother Culture with you this morning Karen. You are just delightful to spend time with and your blog entries are such a treat for this mom. You are a blessing!

  2. Beautiful little quilt! I just started to reread Lessons from Blackberry Inn yesterday. I want to savor it,as usual!

    Would you share your preferred math curriculum?
    I just can't seem to make up my mind and have been all over the board! I am not good at math myself so this doesn't help!

    1. Hi Mrs. O.
      I used all kinds of resources in the old days. I kept changing year to year. My grandson is doing his math lessons mostly on computer with the interactive course by "Teaching Textbooks". It's going well. On the website of Simply Charlotte Mason you can find the resource "Charlotte Mason's Living Math" for sale. I am unfamiliar with it. But Cathy Duffy's description (on-line) sounded intriguing. I talk a little about math on the July 2012 blog post "Math Out-of-the-Ordinary."

  3. Woops.. Lessons AT Blackberry Inn! I knew that(smiles).

  4. Our sweet Monday morning piano teacher is here to give my children and a friend's four,lessons in the school room. Through the floor I hear the the delighted laughs and shouts of those awaiting their turn roller skating and playing "guess the animal" charades in the basement. Checking my e-mail, I am delighted to see I have a new blog to read from Moments With Mother Culture. I get a cup of pumpkin spice tea with honey and enjoy. Ah, bliss. Thank you, Karen, once again.

  5. Your star quilt is beautiful, Karen! Thank you for the inspiration! And thanks for the reminder that we don't have to jump through hoops to give our children an education!

  6. I love how you describe it as a Cadillac course. Very insightful. Your encouragement of gentle learning is much needed. Your quilts are lovely.

  7. Thank you for this informative and enlightening post. God Bless you and yours.

  8. I enjoyed this post. Very informative. Thank you for sharing the photos of your quilt. it is beautiful.

  9. Filled with wisdom and encouragement - for new and 'old' moms alike - as usual. Thank you for your seasoned knowledge, for sharing it, and sticking with what is pure and true. *michelle

  10. Karen, your quilt is perfectly, charmingly wonderful! Thank you for always sharing your projects with us.

    I am so grateful I ordered your Companion from CBD before I began homeschooling in 2002. I only knew a handful of homeschoolers and they were using boxed curriculum (i.e., textbooks and workbooks). I had never heard the term "living book" before but I could recognize one when I saw one because they are the kinds of books I checked out from the library as a child. In fact, the very first book I read to myself in kindergarten was a book about a raccoon family, told by the "little brother" raccoon. It was full of facts and black and white photographs, but presented in a friendly, conversational tone. Living books are a boon to those of us with a tight budget because library cards are free. It is such a natural and low-stress way to learn. Your Companion originally caught my eye because the cover is so pretty and I liked what the catalogue had to say about it. I know I was familiar with your names at that point but I'm not sure how. Maybe it was through those reviews! :-)

  11. Hi, Karen. I feel your sigh! Such dazzling promises rarely come to fruition, we have found.

    Years ago I read a comment (from a source I cannot remember) about the irony of deciding to homeschool and then re-creating the same setting, curriculum, and system that already exists at the local school. That particular author gave me great freedom, and I've always been grateful.


  12. Hi Karen,
    I really appreciate this article. I had just mentioned to another homeschooling mom a couple of weeks ago about this very thing. Her and I both purchased the same science curriculum and it was recommended as a CM friendly science, and there were some things I decided to take out the tests and just have my son read and do the experiments and add living books. My friend will add homework and testing and grading for her children. At first the old thought patterns came back into my head, (I wonder if I will be doing enough if I don't do it like she is going to do it?) Then I suddenly thought, yes I will be doing enough by letting my son enjoy learning instead of memorizing and testing. Thank you for sharing this. It puts things into perspective. :)

  13. Karen, your words of wisdom are treasures, as usual. Thanks for demonstrating the narrow road.

  14. Karen, as usual, you always come along at just the right time. This year, my fourteenth year of homeschooling, I feel like we are doing it right. All CM, taking it slow, and not feeling the need to race to the finish and cram in all we might "miss." It really takes the pressure off me and that takes the pressure of my children. Home educating can be delightful. We began homeschooling with a boxed curriculum in a "school" setting. After teaching for thirteen years in public school, it seemed the right way to teach and learn. Thankfully, the Lord began working in my heart and He led me to you and Miss Mason.
    Your quilt is beautiful. I am back to binding two of my three unfinished quilts.
    I hope this finds you well. We are enjoying a late summer here in Texas. I am looking forward to autumn.
    Take care,

  15. Hi Karen,

    Your blog is so calming as I try to navigate all of Charlotte Mason's ideas! I just finished "Lessons at Blackberry Inn" and wish there was a sequel! It was so inspiring and a lovely scene of a family navigating through a normal life while working on loving one another and slowly implementing Charlotte Mason's ideals. I have been so overwhelmed reading how other people schedule their CM days or add every single subject in. Having "permission" to work things in a bit at a time is so helpful. I'm in my 11th year of homeschooling, now several children, and I have read your book "A Charlotte Mason Home Companion" several times over the years, and implement a little more each time. I wish I had trusted the idea more along the years instead of having awful forays into packaged curricula that took me down just like the mother you describe in this blog post. Do you have other posts or hints for mothers homeschooling many children at many ages who want a simple way to ease into more of Charlotte's ideas, without complicated schedules that push us into checking off boxes? Thanks to your book, nearly every book in our large library is a living book and I am so, so grateful for that!

    1. Hi Carol, Thank you for sharing your story. Yes, implementing a little more each year sounds sensible. Your large library is probably a lovely one.

      For a growing family, what I can tell you is what you probably already know. Determine which lessons can be accomplished with combined ages. And which lessons are better accomplished separately. It often depends on how closely in age your children are. Bible, picture study, music appreciation, nature, handicrafts, singing, some read-alouds, narration, are usually what can more easily be combined. But not always. Math, penmanship, copy-work, written narration, grammar, spelling, some science and history and literature of the high grades, are more individual.

      I remember it took some weeks for a schedule to form. But it still seemed that no two weeks were exactly the same.

      Keeping a string of lessons going each morning, my children did fall into a pattern. They moved from one subject to the next - off at their own desks after a group-lesson around the kitchen table with me. One child had my personal attention while the others worked independently. I'd keep this going child-by-child on a rotating basis, listening to a young child read aloud, listening to an oral narration, reading through an older child's written narration, etc.

      Charlotte Mason tells us, “At first, a child wants the support of constant supervision, but, by degrees, he is left to do the thing he ought of his own accord.” School Education, pg 108

      Because home learning is such an efficient use of time and a child's attention can be so much more greatly focused than in a crowded classroom, it is a flexible method of educating. Some of our "subjects" became a way of life. For instance, my older students read in bed - good literature. In Maine dawn is quite early in summer. My children would read in bed every morning before breakfast and sometimes we'd talk about it. They had very little screen time. On their own initiative (when they were older) they'd play beautiful music in the house, listen to audio, draw, narrate to me informally, write skits and/or poems, and observe nature as a way of life, too.

      I did what I could do. Today, in retrospect I turn my thoughts from fretting about what I couldn't do. We did not study a different Shakespeare play each semester. Sometimes nature study waned. December I took the Christmas-y books out of the closet and into a basket by the sofa. So our schedule was tweaked. The children started making secret gifts, baking with me, practicing instruments for special musical events in December. They all have their favorite Christmas-y books to this day, (age 35,31,28) now in their own possession.

      Reading the old Parents' Review was inspiring and enlightening. But I knew I would never be able to live up the the high standards of the PNEU. I did not teach Latin, for instance. We did French. Also I believe Miss Mason would be astounded and happy to see the quantity of wonderful Landmark biographies (for example) good fiction and non-fiction, etc. available today in America. Because of this I chose not to rely as heavily upon Plutarch and The Greeks for heroes as was done in the PNEU 100 years ago. My children still read about heroes, some in church history, missionary stories, etc. that were not in print in olden days. Because of the incredible strides (and failures) of the 20th century there is much worth studying here, too.

      I believe it is possible to follow Miss Mason principles while working to make our homeschools the homeschools of our particular and personal dreams. This is an aspect that can only come from within the parents (it is between the parents and God) an aspect by which no one should encroach.

      I hope you don't mind a long answer. Yours, Karen A.

    2. Thank you, Karen! It's so thoughtful of you to respond right away and with so much encouragement. That was exactly what I needed to hear. I am going to show this to my husband, and no doubt he will tell me to print it so I can refer back to it... daily, if needed! I really do have you to thank for opening my eyes to what living books are, and in that area we have done so much and it's been tremendous to watch my older children grow because of them. Right now I am finally, for the first time, reading "Home Education" and trying to remind myself to absorb what is inspiring and implement it bit-by-bit! I have a friend who is overseas and we are doing a little book study together over the phone of "Home Education." So far it's been delightful, but as mothers I know we always want to give our children the very best, and this can be our Achilles' heel! Thank you again for responding and for all your writing and encouragement for homeschool moms. I'm sure at the next stage you are now able to see the fruit of that labor of love and enjoy your family so much more for it! God bless you, Carol

    3. You're welcome, Carol. I'm happy to know I've been of some help. I do see fruit in our adult children. I am grateful God is using the little seeds I had sown.

      You are blessed to have a reading-companion for "Home Education". Sophia is reading "Home Education" too.

  16. I agree with Carol. There are many different approaches to Charlotte Mason learning, and many of them do not seem to be a "gentle art." To perfectly reproduce a PNEU school seems to me a burdensome thing. There is a particular podcast I listen to during my night job (cleaning) and I am glad I have some experience behind me so that I can take away what will help and leave what would burdensome. In the early years I think I would have either tried to do it all... or felt discouraged and disqualified to home educate. The comparison between Plutarch's 'Lives' and the Landmark biographies is an excellent example. We can and should custom fit to our own time, location, family situation, etc. Isn't that part of why we do this?
    Karen has the best circle of blog readers. :-)

  17. I suspect that I share a similar thought every time I visit your comment box, but regardless . . .

    Karen, each one of your posts is rich with wisdom and ideas and food for thought! No wonder you have been a help to so many people!

    I think the "Cadillac courses" rob many homeschool moms of joy. Early in my homeschool experience, I was given wise advice about charting my own path and not feeling as if I needed to do everything that Mr. or Mrs. Curriculum Writer suggested that I (or my students) do. How grateful I am for that advice!

    Even so, last year (my 26th year of homeschooling) found my one remaining student and me, her teacher, bored with a text book that we were reading through together. I had a "light bulb moment" one morning as I was drying my hair. "No!," I said to myself. We will find something better. We found some living books to learn the same material, and joy returned!

    Don't stop reminding us, the newbies as well as us oldies, of these simple principles of learning!

  18. Cathy D. You wrote asking about a curriculum. I checked your link. But I no nothing about it. Sorry. Karen A.

  19. Dear Karen, how is the Charlotte Mason method used with High School kids? How did you do it with your kids?

    1. Hi Jackie M. On page of 6 of Miss Mason's "Philosophy of Education" we find these two sentences which help us see that her method is one of self-education. It is the aim of the teacher to guide her student over the years, toward this aim. Therefore, by the time the student is in high school he is doing a quantity of reading and writing on his own.

      "A)The children, not the teachers, are the responsible persons; they do the work by self-effort.
      B)The teachers give sympathy and occasionally elucidate, sump up or enlarge, but the actual work is done by the scholars."

      Here's a tip. I was told that a ten-page paper on a subject is one way to achieve a grade for the semester. I tried this with my first student. She was acclimated to years of oral and then written narration. Therefore, it was not a burden to read various books on a subject, keep a notebook of hand-written narrations of her reading, and a record of books and page numbers whenever she quoted directly. After months of this narrating she typed up her notes into a ten-page paper. (inch by inch it's a cinch) I saw how dealing with good books the narrating in the lower grades came in handy for the higher grades. I remember I gave her a choice on what to write about for science. She chose "agriculture" - gardening and small farming. She had interviewed a dairy farmer for part of her paper. Learning how to write an essay is a skill to learn, too.

      Here's a blog post I wrote on high school. It is not a definitive answer to your question but hopefully will offer some direction and encouragement for what you would "like" to accomplish in your high school.

    2. If the link doesn't work try typing into the Search Bar (top left) "High School". Thanks, Jackie. High school is the icing on the cake.

  20. Thanks for sharing so much and keep up the good work! And that's a very lovely quilt ^^

  21. As a Homeschool Oldie, I have somehow gotten myself in a Cadillac Class. I needed to read this today. It is robbing us a joy. Trying to figure out how to get off this train.