Living out a ‘living education’

Two truths: homeschooling isn’t for everyone; also, Charlotte Mason’s method fits us well.

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” My friend had Charlotte Mason’s quote up in her dining room and I read it as a working mom and thought: “Well, that’s a pretty saying.” I think I even said so. “Pretty.” But meaningless. Devoid of meaning for me, because my kids’ education was likely to involve something less, uh, lofty.

But that phrase wouldn’t let me go.

What if our kids could learn at home? I asked my husband, and he laughed. “No.” What if our kids could study masters’ paintings and hear the classics for music, and sing folk songs and hymns? “No.”

His “no” wasn’t unkind, but it was firm: we were a two-parent working family with debt, a house payment, a Target addiction and a dog who went to the vet for random barfing episodes.

But that phrase wouldn’t let me go.

And you know? I wanted to give up everything to find that peace.

I gave up Target, world. Target. The Lord knows when I need a pair of pants,  and it’s a lot less often than I’d thought. When I did need one, Goodwill came through in the clutch with Target brand clothes, price tags still on them. The Lord provides.

That phrase. It sank into me like a barb. “A life”? Why would anyone call education a life? That sounds so … lofty. So impossible.

Even after I quit my job and we moved, I was non-committal. But … reading Charlotte Mason’s works makes me long for something really idealistic. Really … possible.

Charlotte Mason, as I’ve been finding as I’m reading through her series, is an educator whose focus on relations shines light on how people — and children are people — learn and grow and thrive. She advocated “living books,” across all topics in education. These are books written with literary quality; books that tell a story.  Science is learned through seeing, and spending time in nature. Nothing’s watered down. We’ve weeded out the TV, weeded out the twaddle. 

Short lessons fill the morning and early afternoon, and comprise more than a dozen subjects (not in kindergarten, though). Plenty of free time is left for nature walks, handicrafts or free play.

“A life.”

Education can be, is beautiful, and I am so peaceably ready for first grade … and I have enough exposure to other homeschoolers’ journeys to know that my peace of mind is rare.

I found for us a philosophy that wasn’t about the perfect textbooks; that wasn’t about whether they put dinosaurs before or after Genesis (an argument I’ve never been so aware of until I started homeschooling — that question is a minefield! I think an enemy deliberately planted that argument in Christians’ minds to divide us), that wasn’t about whether literature used “off message” books — but about whether the curriculum treated the children as persons born with an innate curiosity about the world around them.

I’ve only just begun, and I expect my philosophy to change, as her opinions did, with use.  After first grade, I’ll re-evaluate. I have no long-term visions about home education — we have goals, and we plan to frequently re-evaluate. I just feel this is right for us now, and I feel it’s a blessing that so much of our day makes room for God in what we’re reading and listening to and doing, and not because we’re even mentioning Him at all. Just in each other’s company.

{Which is sometimes messy and full of bickering and not my best parenting, and not their best habits, and I’m no poster child. Remind me to tell my journal about that time — so anti “education is an atmosphere” — that I had two children crying in time out so I could practice some French with the other one … but isn’t that real life? And aren’t we always in progress? I am. We move forward.}

That’s hospitality. Every day, we choose to spend our day together and share what we read and do and listen to, and we help each other and sometimes we trip over each other, too. I don’t want to miss this — It would be so easy to cast this aside and focus on something else and that something else might be any number of rights or wrongs.

But for us? I feel I’ve stumbled upon something really good, and I want to share that with people, starting with my three kids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *