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"For the Children's Sake" (Boys Included!)

There has been some discussion within the homeschooling community about whether or not a Charlotte Mason Education is more suited to the female student than the male. Some of this comes from references in her books that seem to assume female students. Part of this is due to the fact that, at the time, in England, it was the tradition to send boys away for schooling at a certain level. Because of this the upper forms were mostly female students.

Even with this consideration the question remains - is a Charlotte Mason Education better suited to the fairer sex? We have come too far to assume intellectual superiority by one sex or the other so I can only assume this question arises from a generalization of some of the behavioral needs and tendencies of boys. That is what I would like to address here.

Currently we are reading a biography* on Theodore Roosevelt. As we read, I am continually struck by the way his lifestyle and the life he created for his family echo Charlotte Mason and her philosophy. Was it something that was in the air at the time? Did he read her books?

Reading about this man makes me wonder- Why, in our time, do we equate a liberal arts education as something less than masculine? Here is a person, a male no less, who epitomized what Charlotte Mason taught. He was a voracious reader on an amazingly wide range of subjects. He would have “experts” on a subject as dinner guests and invariably know more about their topic than they did! Self-Education.

He had a passion for the natural world that moved him to action in preserving our natural wildernesses for posterity and cultivated this love in his own children through diligent attention. Nature Study.

He was famously called the “Apostle of the Strenuous Life” as he refused to accept the limitations he was born with and rose above them by an act of his will. The Way of the Will.

He was a devoted husband and father prioritizing his children above other obligations. I ought. I will.

On top of all of that add a strong sense of justice and duty, a flair for poetry and art, big game hunting and a fair fight or two and you have our 26th president!

Of course he wasn’t perfect, he was flawed like us all- BUT fully engaged in the world he found himself in- the feast of life around him. Isn’t that what we want for our kids? Isn’t that why we are drawn to Charlotte Mason? A classic and broad education such as Charlotte Mason proposes is not tame and subdued- or shouldn’t be. So why do we ask, is this a good fit for a rambunctious boy?

I believe one piece of the puzzle lies in the way we have interpreted Charlotte Mason. We have attempted to translate not only her ideas- but also her time period and culture into our lives. On one level this is harmless, many of us were first attracted to Charlotte Mason because of her old fashioned, idyllic charm. Karen Anderola’s sweet black and white drawings spoke to something deep inside us. The modern hustle and bustle of our world makes us long for slow hours outside, kids in nature diligently capturing their interactions in journals. Sitting around a fire reading and narrating, gathering in the mornings for folk songs and hymns (where everyone participates heartily), picture studies and museum visits. Afternoons spent quietly knitting over hot tea and milk punctuated by a vibrant recitation of some recently discovered poem. All is peaceful and quiet, subdued and well...old fashioned!

I’m not poking fun- I’m really not, in fact many of these things play out just like this at my house-- but I am a girl mom! Four to be exact- my own living breathing troupe of little women! But I am sympathetic to my friends who are boy moms and feel like they are failing when their boys do everything but sit still during a reading, couldn’t care less about the journaling side of nature study and for whom the typical quiet afternoon occupations sound like a torturous way to extend the school day! (short lessons- hmph!)

Boy moms feel like they’ve chosen the wrong route when their homeschool experience doesn’t look like the “typical CM” pictures posted on Instagram. I think that when most of us envision Charlotte Mason, we picture her in her setting of time and place and try to recreate it. We like it, but do our boys? And more than that, is that fair to her philosophy?

This is where it can become damaging to equate Charlotte Mason with turn-of-the-century England. She was far more than her place and time. Her ideas scaffolded off of some of the greatest minds in human history and developed them in ways that were approachable to all people in all times.

When she developed her ideas- she was thinking of more than just the immediate population around her. She quite literally advocated a revolution in education- but a revolution that would be sustainable. Because she was no armchair philosopher- she not only had ideas but fleshed them out in tangible ways. She was passionate about finding out what worked in real life application. It is amazing that we have access to the records of how she applied her philosophy at Ambleside and through the PNEU schools, but we must not get stuck on that, she wouldn’t have.

If you follow many CM groups you know there are certain “Charlotte Mason” books we all covet! (Not her volumes- but actual schoolbooks.) This is wrong- and I have to remind myself of it! Any good book can be the curriculum- her philosophy is more of a why than a what. We must remind ourselves that while we think of her as quaint and old fashioned- she was on the cutting edge for her day and making every effort to stay there. Her book choices were never stagnant but fluid.

Charlotte Mason did not prescribe a curriculum- but rather, articulated a method. That method or philosophy is included in the front of all of her books in the form of her 20 Principles. The 20 Principles are THE definition of a Charlotte Mason Education. They are the standard- the Volumes explore application. Applications may change- standards don’t. Her applications even changed to some degree as she worked with the born persons in front of her and saw what worked and what didn’t over the course of her life- but the 20 Principles remained.

What does this mean for us in the 21st century? This- a Charlotte Mason Education rests on the 20 Principles, not tea parties or specific booklists, specific Afternoon Occupations or Handicrafts. The thought to ponder is this: What was the principle behind those choices for those kids and how can we adapt that to the born person in front of us today?

Take for instance, Afternoon Occupations and Handicrafts. They were not an end in themselves and they certainly weren’t busywork! They were a focused time to develop relevant and useful skills. Some of those skills might look differently in 2020 than they did in 1920.

I have a friend whose son is of a very mechanical turn of mind, by Junior High he knew he wanted to be an Engineer and has his schools scoped out. Does he sound like an unlikely candidate for a Charlotte Mason Education? Not at all! My friend told me that most of their handicraft time involved taking apart household appliances and putting them back together again! Here is an example of a boy mom, successfully living the life who knows we must be actively engaged with this method- not passively following. It’s not “typical”, but definitely Charlotte Mason.

As another example, consider Artist study. It looks differently today than it did then thanks to the huge cultural upheavals of the 20th century. We never neglect the masters- but now we have modern art to contend with - and attempt to understand! Again- Composer study will always include the historical greats, but we have composers composing music today- sometimes in the form of movie scores. Are we missing a modern day Beethoven as we gaze longingly at the past?

Charles Dickens seems ancient to us and an obvious choice for classic literature- but for Ms. Mason he was a contemporary that she included in the curriculum. My point is this- we don’t have to give an old fashioned education for it to be Charlotte Mason.

What does this mean for boy families and rough-and-tumble girl families? This- if you are under the impression that Charlotte Mason is suited to only certain genders, or specific personality types, or those kinds of families- you may have a misunderstanding. I would encourage you to diligently study the 20 Principles. Ask yourself which one *doesn’t* apply to your child. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. The Principles aren’t gender specific- they are universal and apply to all born persons in all of their unique-nesses. They are loose, yes; they are not a concrete plan, that is the point! That is why she wrote the Volumes. Her Volumes are a conversation about the Principles.

Study the principles, study your children. Become a student of both. Study what you are doing in light of those things and then go to the Volumes. Only then will they create the liberating revolution they were intended to. Not the ball and chain some people have experienced.

Under these terms you will be one educator working alongside another as you both explore what application of the Principles looks like for your family.

Charlotte Mason was a product of her time- but her ideas were timeless and universal because they were firmly rooted in the Christian faith.

A Charlotte Mason Education is relevant in our century; girls & boys, city & country, low tech or high tech, gifted or challenged.

Boy Moms take heart! A Charlotte Mason Education is within your reach- just make sure you are not reaching for “typical”.

S. Timothy 2020

*”The Roosevelt Family of Sagamore Hill” by Hermann Hagedorn has been one of our favorite family reads this year. We highly recommend it.

P.S. Another book I would recommend for the male species (probably High School level) is “Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self” by Stephen Mansfield. It is as good as its title is quirky! The chapter on Self Education is SO CM. If you have a man, or budding man, in your life who needs a little CM style inspiration from a more masculine source- this is the book. (And of course there is a chapter on Teddy Roosevelt!)

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