Charlotte Mason envisioned, advocated for and in many ways accomplished a revolution of the educational *system* of her day. Her ideas were for a cohesive movement away from a system of marks, prizes, and places, towards a holistic philosophy of living knowledge and inspired personal pursuit.
Those of us who have embraced her philosophy face a conundrum. Though we have seen the truth of her methods in the bright and engaged students it has produced, we are operating in and expected to represent ourselves to a failed education system.
(If only we could change the system. In daring to dream it for even a moment we see what a courageous visionary Ms. Mason was.)
As I talk to parents of children in the upper forms, the biggest intimidation I hear of is the daunting task of somehow quantifying the education they have facilitated for grades and transcripts. At the end of the day – the system wants to see something they recognize. While more and more colleges are waking to the idea that a score is not an accurate predictor of success… we still have to plug something into those blanks on the transcripts. But what?
Since Red-Brick Academy offers full credit classes at the High School level we have to send home a “recommended” grade for each class. Because of this, this is question I have thought long and hard about. How can I offer grades that stay faithful to Ms. Mason’s philosophy and vision? Are grades the bad guys or is it how traditional education has weaponized them? Can grade evaluation be harnessed as part of the larger goal of self-education and character development? These are some of the things I have been wrestling with over the last couple of years.
I have wondered if we can give an accurate grade evaluation that doesn’t become a prize or a punishment, that doesn’t become an end in and of itself. I have tried to wrap my mind around how to do this without wrapping the education I am offering around such an insignificant necessity.
No conversation about evaluating student work in the Charlotte Mason context can begin without first checking out “The Exam Planner” from "A Delectable Education". They have beautifully compiled the relevant and necessary details in such an approachable way that Ms. Mason’s vision is clearly represented and easily applied. Among a myriad of amazing resources, in my opinion, this is the best and one of the most practical things ADE has offered the CM community. Plus, the single purchase is relevant for grades 1–12. This is a must have - go and buy it!
As amazing as the Exam Planner is – it is what Ms. Mason did in her time. (I understand ADE's mission to be to accurately preserve the original application of the philosophy so that the standard doesn't become lost in modifications.) This amazing glimpse and tool is of immeasurable importance for your perspective and works beautifully for home use. But at the end of the day, I still didn’t have percentages or letter grades like I needed for High School!
Without a good long porch sit it is impossible for me to convey to you all that I have hashed through on this topic and how it relates to various subjects. Suffice to say – it is somewhat fluid and maybe even a bit subjective (but so is any attempt to quantify knowledge!). Each subject is different, and each student is a born person; and yes, there is a place for “academics” but there is a higher place for character and personal initiative.
We all know “intelligent” people who have no character and have flopped. On the other hand, we also know of “average Joes” who were people of integrity and rose to the top. These are some of the goals of Charlotte Mason’s education and I have come to believe that grades can help us facilitate them when used properly; they can become a means of feedback for the student, accountability without nagging. They can be used as tools to mold character traits that are too pivotally important to leave them to be gathered alone when the consequences are not as forgiving. Grades are not the bad guys at the High School level, like so many practical how-tos – I believe they can be used to lay down rails of habit in thought and doing in these higher forms.
This is part of my excitement for the 4 Years of High School English I will begin releasing this year – there is a system for grading that honors the personhood of the student, develops personal application, and yet runs so silently throughout that it protects against becoming the goal and clouding the real prize of knowledge herself. Almost as an add-on, since it ultimately pales in significance, it also offers a percentage for those intimidating blank spaces on the transcript.
Once you’ve used it, I think you will see many ways to apply the ideas to other subjects. Once you see it- you see it. I’ve seen it – and want to share it.
P.S. This conversation about grades is relevant to High School ONLY! (9th -12th) And even here I tread lightly. Attempting to use grades in the lower forms would damage any attempt at an authentic Charlotte Mason education. DO NOT FALL INTO THAT TRAP. In the end a grade is nothing – we are only having this conversation due to transcripts and GPAs in High School. A tool we are required to use – we should use well and use towards higher ends.
P.S.S. I'm not joking - go buy the Exam Planner from A Delectable Education! Click here for a shortcut!