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Charlotte Mason: High School & Beyond!

Is Charlotte Mason "enough" for high school?Does this type of education prepare students for modern expectations?

They are legitimate questions. In turning away from the educational norms of our day- are we in turn handicapping our children? Will they be relevant and functional in a system that caters to the test? What about the ACT and SAT? What about college? These are questions that haunted me as my eldest approached 9th grade.

We who are drawn to a Charlotte Mason Education feel the truth inherent in its foundational beliefs, the personhood of children, the power of ideas. We are confident in our choice throughout elementary and even Jr. High. But as the years roll on and High School, transcripts and graduation loom on the horizon, I think it is fair to say that even the most stout hearted among us have felt pressure to move to a more traditional approach. The nagging thought that- while all of those decadent morsels did indeed feed mind and soul in the younger years- perhaps it is time they give way to more “real life” preparations. I know I felt it.

Coming to Charlotte Mason later in the game, I felt like we were just hitting our stride during Jr. High when it began to seem like the prudent thing to begin checking off the traditional boxes. I’ll admit, I caved. And after a year away, we came back. Here are some of the things that pushed me away from CM for High School; and some of the things that brought me back.

A Charlotte Mason Education is too Soft… or it it?

First, I would like to clear up a misconception. Charlotte Mason's philosophy sits neatly in an in-between place that is easy to misunderstand. Many Traditional Schoolers, and those in a particular interpretation of Classical, see Charlotte Mason as a soft education. All of the talk about, “allowing children to take what they need” - “narrating to find out what they know rather than what they don’t” can sound a bit lackadaisical to people who aren’t familiar with the entire philosophy. To these, Charlotte Mason is just a step up from Unschooling. (Which to them is definitely not a good thing!)

On the other hand- people who are attracted to the Unschooling approach see Charlotte Mason as a rigid education. The emphasis on times and schedules, training the habit of attention, languages and various streams of History and Science seem unnecessary and over the top. For them Charlotte Mason is just undercover Classical. (Again, from their perspective, a bad thing!) I am not here to judge one method better than another, every family is different and I love that the homeschooling world offers such a wide variety of options. I am merely stating that Charlotte Mason is misunderstood by extremes.

What I have found is that a Charlotte Mason education is a world between worlds, contains elements of both and is uniquely suited to grow with a child throughout their school years. In the younger years there is a gentleness to it- but as the child matures so do the requirements. If the only experience you have with CM is in the early years, as I had- it would be a diligent parent who would be concerned for High School. Be assured- a Charlotte Mason education is thorough and rigorous. It will meet your child where they are and allow them to soar as high as their wings can take them.

High School is a Completely Different Animal… or is it?

Charlotte Mason’s first principle is that “Children are born persons.” This has huge implications for education; from how we present knowledge, to the kind of knowledge we present. So my question is: Are teenagers persons?

No- I am not asking a trick question!

If children are born persons- doesn’t it stand to reason that they are still ‘persons’ during their teen years? (hmmm…) Of course! So, why would we change approaches during High School? If the foundation of a Charlotte Mason education is that children are born persons and as such deserve an education that feeds the whole of what it means to be human- why would we strip the education we give our High Schoolers down to the bare bones at a time when they need ‘more’- more than ever?

In High School the temptation to quantify knowledge reaches a fever pitch. Suddenly "taking what each child needs" doesn’t seem like enough. It doesn’t feel solid. Do you know what I found out during my year away. EACH CHILD ONLY TAKES WHAT THEY NEED… regardless of what you use! That is how the brain works!

If you used a textbook with comprehension questions and quizzes, all you accomplished was this- you now have a piece of paper with a score on it. But just because they make A’s throughout the course doesn’t mean that they retain it. In fact, the odds are no longer in their favor. By moving away from Living Books and the ideas behind the facts you have merely removed the part that held any potential for connection.

If what you want are pieces of paper with scores- then switch, but I wanted more. I felt like we wasted our year. We had an A in Biology- but no knowledge of Biology! No care or interested in Biology. Teenagers are persons. They have the same requirements as our young ones, just at a higher level. Level up- but trust the philosophy.

But what about testing?

Another misconception concerning Charlotte Mason is that there is no questioning or testing of the student. This requires more time and attention then I will give it here. But I would like to offer a few snippets. First of all, there is a place for questioning in a Charlotte Mason education, it is the *kind* of questioning that is different than traditional education. In the PNEU schools, they had exams every 12 weeks. Far from being the dreaded event that traditional testing is today, if was the highlight of the term and looked forward to with anticipation. Obviously it was quite different then what most people are doing today. As you can see, with a good Charlotte Mason Education there is accountability and expectation.

It cannot be denied that a CM exam is not what your High Schooler will face on the SAT/ACT. When my first was ready to take the ACT, we did a local practice test, on a whim. Good thing- she even needed instruction on filling out the personal information! We were caught flat footed.

When we got the practice results back and had our consultation, they said that they had never seen such unusual results. They were confused because she had worked every problem perfectly up to a point and then missed them all! It made perfect sense to me. She had run out of time. We had taught for mastery and not time limit. We had taught for retention, not a test. (I don’t call my first my ‘guinea pig’ for nothing!) I’ll admit, I briefly panicked and reconsidered what we were doing! Seasons of doubt are good. They weed out what doesn’t work and solidify what does. Rather than dumping Charlotte Mason I came to the conclusion that I was giving my kids the better education. Teaching to a test is no education at all - but learning to take a test *is* part of a good education.

Some people call them test taking skills, I call them test taking tricks. Whatever you call them, they are a real thing. Choosing a strategy, knowing that you aren’t supposed to work all of the problems all the way through! These are tips you need to succeed. But rather than wrap your entire education around these, tack them onto the end. Put the ACT prep book on your schedule in High School, take some local prep classes. I promise that your CM kids are more relevant than you think. They just need to know how to communicate it in terms the testing culture understands. Learn the tricks- but don’t sacrifice their entire education on the altar of ‘the test’.

In the end- what matters?

As you may be able to pick up by reading between the lines, my first round with High School was far from confident. I spent quite a bit of time in mental anguish trying to decide if I was doing the right thing! Who wants to be the mom that messed up their child’s education! No one really understands the stress but another homeschool mom! This is why I am writing. To offer some perspective from the other side- to share things I couldn’t see at the time.

During this time, I came across an article in ‘World’ magazine. The article was about the rise of Christian schools in China. What was interesting to me was that these schools are not recognized or accredited by the government. Not illegal per se, but not sanctioned. The education these kids are receiving will never count as far as the government is concerned; not for graduation, not for college, not for anything - and yet these schools are experiencing tremendous growth. In a country like China, a country that places such a high emphasis on education and achievement, this is huge. These parents are quite literally ruining their children’s education on purpose! I was convicted. Here I am worrying over trifling details while these parents have seen the big picture- a picture that I had only glimpsed.

What really matters? In the end, what is education about? Is it about fitting into a culture we recognize as broken; trying to be as much like them as possible? Or is it about feeding and nourishing the hearts and minds of our children so that they can grow into well rounded, humane people?

We can look around and see the results of our broken system. Different results require different approaches. We need to be comfortable with being different. Be comfortable doing something different, because in the end we want something different. It is easy to get nervous, to get caught up in the ‘traditional high school path’ and lose focus. I am not saying higher education isn’t important; It can be - and I hope I have made the point that a Charlotte Mason education is more than enough to prepare your child for college. What I don’t want you to forget is that college is not the end game. Don’t lose sight of what is beyond that. Life, and beyond that- eternity.

Does a Charlotte Mason Education prepare one for modern expectations and tests?

It is a legitimate question. But I have another.

Do those skewed expectations prepare one for life?

I believe that a Charlotte Mason Education gives a resounding yes to both.

S.Timothy 2018

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