This was my first year attending the Childlight Conference. It was an amazing experience and there is much to tell, but for this post, I must tell you some of what Carroll Smith said on Thursday morning in discussing A Framework for a Mason Curriculum. I am hoping they will make the mp3 available immediately so you can listen to his talk for yourself - it gave voice to many truths about our children and education and I really wish more people could have heard it.
Gardner Webb University Campus, location of Childlight Conference 2010
As a side note, as you may or may not know, Childlight has a team of people working on developing a Charlotte Mason curriculum. While many of us are anxious to learn more about this curriculum, my understanding is that there are many considerations in coming up with it because it is intended for use as a Charter School curriculum, which, as you can imagine, has its implications. As Smith said, "You can not put Mason in an old box, it is like putting new wine in an old wine skin." And therein, I believe, lies some of the challenge. As a homeschooler, I am immensely grateful for the freedom I am afforded in implementing a CM education outside the classroom.
But back to my intended purpose for this post; I want to tell you about an "awakening" of sorts I had myself as I read through my notes from Smith's talk on the plane ride home. He started by reading this section from the preface to Mason's volume 6:
It would seem a far cry from Undine [read Undine online] to a 'liberal education' but there is a point of contact between the two; a soul awoke within a water-sprite at the touch of love; so, I have to tell of the awakening of a 'general soul' at the touch of knowledge. (Text and links from AO)
She's saying that, similar to Undine (a character in a story you may or may not be familiar with, see the link above), whose soul awoke at the touch of love, so Mason has to tell us of the awakening of a 'general soul' at the touch of knowledge. She is, of course, speaking of the soul of children she has herself observed awakened at the touch of knowledge through a CM education.
...It may be that the souls of all children are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful living.
This is where we begin in a CM education. We begin with the child, the learner, in mind. An 'awakening', defined by Smith as: "to become fully aware, conscious of, alive to." We awaken them to truth and knowledge. Contrast that to the public school or other types of education we know of where the material to be learned (the three Rs, dates and facts, etc.) is the starting point.
Begin with the nature of the child in mind - seems completely obvious doesn't it? The problem, Smith says, is that we have been so programmed with a materialistic view that even parents simply can not imagine education any other way.
It is why Mason's ideas might at times be looked upon as radical.
So the purpose of education, Smith says is a turning of the mind toward truth; to awaken our children to the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man, the knowledge of the universe.
Contrast that with the idea of 'covering all the material' or making sure we 'get it all in'.
We begin with the child, the learner, a living organic soul, created in the image of God. Hungry to learn from inception, awakening to all that is around them. There is the physical aspect of a child, and the spiritual (speaking here not of the religious, but the non-physical: emotions, ideas, etc.). The physical and the spiritual can not be divorced, the child must be seen as a whole.
Smith gave the example of water. Water is H2O and has three physical states: water, solid, and vapor. And yet water is so much more. It is more in our relationship with it: it pulls us in the current of an ocean wave, it cleans us after we get dirty from play, we see how it revives our wilted plants in the garden, we feel its presence in the humid air, or in the early morning grass. Smith particularly liked how refreshing it is in an ice cold glass of Southern tea.
Everything in the physical world has its spiritual component and it is this consideration that is one of the things that differentiates a CM education. Physical things matter not only in and of themselves but also in our relation to them.
The last point in Mason's 'Short Synopsis', also in the preface to Vol.6 states:
20. We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.
So when we teach Phonics, the goal is not to get them to learn their ABC's for the sake of learning them, it is for the sake of meaning making. So they can make meaning themselves and relate with others who have made meaning with their words.
And nature study is not to get the kids to be able to learn and classify every order of thing, but to begin a love relationship between the child and nature as a way to awaken the child to the universe.
And so Smith rightly states that a CM curriculum is beyond the walls of a school room.
And it is the breadth and method of a CM education that provides for engagement.
There is so much more he said, and I'm sure I'm butchering and inaccurately filtering some of what he did say so please do contact Childlight to tell them you want to hear this talk asap. It is full of truth and good things for us all to understand in implementing a CM education.
Interestingly enough, when I spoke with him briefly afterward, he said he'd been studying Mason for years and had read those words before, but this time, there they were plainly, right in the preface, and he hadn't seen it until now... isn't that just how it often is? A testament that our awakening truly is guided by the Divine spirit!