Method not system, living not dead, spirit not letter, thought not recipes – all these things should be kept in mind as we prepare for the upcoming school year. Normally we think of recipes as a good thing – something that you must keep in order to achieve the desired outcome. Not so in this instance, not so with a Charlotte Mason education.
Have you begun your planning yet? I will soon – I love planning – I’m on my 23rd year of it! And planning your Charlotte Mason homeschool year should be a thoughtful and peaceful process, I think. Part of the key for me is described in the following excellent article that I can’t wait to share with you! It’s by Essex Cholmondeley (pronounced “Chumley” – keep reading to see how I know this), author of The Story of Charlotte Mason and was first published in the Parents’ Review no. 36 (1925). There is a bit of British humor sprinkled in there, especially when describing the recipes. I have transcribed the entire article in the last section of this post.
There are three important points that I want to draw out here. First, you must do the thinking. Sure, it’s convenient to use someone else’s schedules or experiences (recipes) when planning school. But in Religion as well as Education we must act according to the spirit and not by the letter. Essex says,
Useful though this power of storing up and handing on experiences may be, the recipe-habit of mind is a dangerous one. Is it, perhaps, of the nature of the leaven of the Pharisees, a trust in the letter which killeth as opposed to the spirit which giveth life? Beware of the leaven! To live by recipe is a great temptation in this efficient and hurried age, it saves time and trouble, it entirely does away with the arduous task of thinking. There are two fields in which we many not yield an inch to this temptation, the green fields of Religion and of her handmaid Education. Beware of listening to the cry for educational recipes; answer it with the clarion of revealed educational truths.
Second, you need to always go back to the principles and not just others’ practices. Often times, parents want a quick answer to their particular dilemma. It’s not that easy! I try and help them get down to the bottom of the issue by identifying the principle involved.
The simplest answer to the question “What should I do when my child —” is “We do —” but such an answer merely records a practice, maybe an unwise practice under the special circumstances. A wise answer would show a principle at stake and would indicate a general line of action.
Therefore, you need to know the principles so you can figure out your particular dilemma. Obviously you can’t go back to the principles if you don’t know what they are. They are included at the beginning of each volume as the Twenty Principles and explained in detail throughout the volumes.
“May we do it?” cannot be decided by imagining or remembering what will probably follow if we do; this is merely ‘looking after.” It is the underlying principle, brought to mind and carefully held in view —“looking before” —which should give the final word of permission. Miss Mason left no recipes behind her. She believed in thinking persons, therefore she bequeathed certain principles based upon truth itself. Every parent and teacher is free to apply these principles in ever fresh practice according as new needs and difficulties arise.
I am reminded of that great line I came across in the Armitt in the L’Umile Pianta (April 1909) which states, “In our training at Scale How, we have absolute freedom while in absolute subjection to principle.” Once you understand this, countless possibilities open up for your school, home, teaching, and life! It is one of the reasons our TBG Community has been so successful as we have applied her principles “as new needs and difficulties arise!” It is why getting together with others walking this path is so important as we can see and hear about the creative ways her principles can be applied. It is why no two CM homeschools will look alike.
Of course it is helpful to see how others do things. True CM curricula are also a boon for the busy parent – just like the PNEU was for mothers 100 years ago. No one would deny that! But our thought needs to come into play in how we apply them to our own families. Don’t miss the humorous history lesson by recipe or the question about whether oral lessons are permissible! And the last paragraph of the article is priceless. Please read the article and share below if you have a favorite line for your commonplace book.
As you plan your upcoming year, pray and work alongside the Holy Spirit so that your school will truly be a life-breathing, knowledge-getting atmosphere for your family.
Teaching from Peace,
Here are some previous planning posts you might enjoy:
be said of those books of crystallised experience, the Recipe books. The making
of these did not begin with the scribes of ancient Egypt nor will it end with
the printing press. The number of recipes exceeds the orange skins on the sea
shore for multitude just as the green fruit on the tree exceeds the ripe fruit
in the market.
recipes! Some are complete, some still in the making; a few are encyclopaedic,
the majority are concerned with two or three interests only. The content of
each of these books gives the history of a lifetime. A great part of everyday
life is lived according to recipes – helpful or hindering formulas obtained at
second hand from successful people and carried out according to the
intelligence, capacity or material resources available. It cannot well be
otherwise in such a perplexing world of unstable opinion and fluctuating occupation.
“What must I do? How shall I do it?” “What shall I make? How shall I make it?”
we cry and then how gratefully we clutch at the floating driftwood ere we drown
in a sea of disastrous ignorance and how often we find a straw in our hands.
difficult lies in our power of discernment. For instance: —
stone the fruit; when the oranges are used remove pips, skin and white pith;
cut the fruit into pieces about the size of a Barcelona nut; 1 oz. of blanched
almonds cut up; cover with sugar and let it stand for a few hours. Add one
glass of liqueur and more sugar if desired.” Personal ideas may be vague
concerning the size of a Barcelona nut, no glass of liqueur may be at hand, yet
here a very hopeful dish is discernable whereas in the following the afflicted
householder can only discern an act of faith:—
cockroaches. Mix equal quantities of oatmeal and plaster of Paris; strew
upon the floor.”
swimming in deeper waters, the troubled seas of behaviour, the recipial
driftwood is still present:—To ensure
bed and early to rise
a man healthy, wealthy and wise,
healthy and wealthy.”
and ensure popularity
when you’re spoken to,
as you’re bid,
the door after you
not now considered useful for swimming purposes.
recipes wanting for those who desire to lead a religious life, who wish to
spend a happy holiday at a seaside resort, who seek health, who engage in a new
art of craft (even witchcraft— see Shakespeare) or who undertake the education
of children. There are recipes afloat
for all these things and many others, they may be still unpublished but that is
only because a large enough demand of them in print has not yet been voiced by
though this power of storing up and handing on experiences may be, the
recipe-habit of mind is dangerous one. Is it, perhaps, of the nature of the
leaven of the Pharisees, a trust in the letter which killeth as opposed to the
spirit with giveth life? Beware of the leaven! To live by recipe is a great
temptation in the efficient and hurried age, it saves time and trouble, it
entirely does away with the arduous task of thinking. There are two fields in
which we may not yield an inch to this temptation, the green fields of Religion
and of her handmaid Education. Certain it is that the true teacher, like the
man of true religion, should live by the spirit and not by the letter, by
principles, not by rules of practice, however faithfully applied. Beware of
listening to the cry for educational recipes; answer it with the clarion of
revealed educational truths.
parents and teachers frequently become members of an educational Society
thinking that from henceforth all their perplexities will be lightened for them
by a body or rules and dictums, unpublished perhaps, but extant in the minds of
the more prominent members of their Union. They are doomed to a merciful
questions can never be answered by an easily applied rule, the true answer
takes the form of a revealed principle upon which the member himself must act
intelligently. The simplest answer to the question “What should I do when my
child——“ is “We do——“ but such an answer merely records a practice, maybe an
unwise practice under the special circumstances. A wise answer would show a principle at stake
and would indicate a general line of action. In our own Union members ask “Why
do you do——? Is it P.N.E.U.?” “May we do this?” Thus assailed, the speaker
standing nervously behind the slight protection of a small table and a glass of
water is in danger of answering quickly and all too well. After the meeting, in
the quiet of the fireside, or the loneliness of the railway carriage, the answer
may be found to be a mere recipe, applicable only in certain circumstances, on
given material. How simple if, when asked “How should lessons be prepared” the
reply could be à la cookery book:—
lesson (old style). Take 12 suitable
pages of all History books obtainable . Skin and stone the facts; when
imaginative writing has been used remove the pips, skin and white pith of
redundant language; cut the information into pieces about the size of a small
printed paragraph; ½ dozen historical anecdotes; sugar with racy humour and
bright manner. Let the lesson lie dormant in the mind for a few hours. Add
personal charm and more humour if desired.” How excellent a historical salad
some teachers have produced according to this recipe and what indigestion
sometimes follows. It is perhaps a dish for which most of our members do not
again: —“How do you get rid of bad discipline at home?”
quantities of dignity and severity; strew upon the whole household.” Will
undesirable behavior then be as dead as the cockroaches in a former recipe?
Children’s Gathering at Canterbury the question arose: “May a P.N.E.U. teacher
make use of oral lessons? Is so, when?
And to what extent?”
does Miss Mason herself say about this?” is the first thought of the person who
endeavours to find the reply. But the first thought
may be the second duty; the first
duty is the effort to arrive at the principals involved. A teacher may reflect
fullness of life, the mind like the body, needs food, exercise and rest. School
life must present the best balanced supply of these three needs. Certain
subjects such as mathematics and languages provide exercise. Granted that
children do their own work by themselves to a large extent, oral lessons can be
freely used in these subjects. Other subjects such as literature and history
should supply the ideas upon which the mind must feed. May oral lessons be
given in these subjects? In science? In
Geography? Our desire is that the children should grow in knowledge. What is knowledge, is it the same as
distinction between knowledge and information is, I think, fundamental.
Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc., whether in
books or in the verbal memory of the individual; knowledge, it seems to me,
implies the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the
material presented to it…The information acquired in the course of education is
only by chance, and here and there, of practical value. Knowledge, on the other
hand, this is, the product of the vital action of the mind on the material
present to it, is power; as it implies an increase of intellectual aptitude in
new directions, and an always new point of departure.” –(School Education).
thus takes a second place but though knowledge be the first aim in view, cannot
we devote time to the kind of lesson which does give information but does not
bring knowledge? Is it not important to learn certain facts of history, natural
history, geography, and should not time be given up to such learning? Time is
short and very precious. In these subjects every lesson must intend knowledge,
information must come incidentally and keep its “second place.” Children must
study in order to know, for they know in order to live.
his enquiry the teacher goes on: “How do people get knowledge?” Knowledge
results when the mind has accepted and has worked upon the ideas presented to
it. Literary form is the vehicle which carries an idea most surely to the mind
and it is certain that the mind finds itself free to work delightfully upon
those ideas which it meets through good literature and good art. Accordingly it
would appear that, in subjects which provide food for the mind, each lesson
Present ideas in a suitable form (literary for
Ensure “voluntary and delightful action of mind
upon the material presented.”
give them, if not I must forbear. It is necessary to be even more specific. Is
the oral lesson which I have just prepared on “The Great Air Currents of the
World” justified? I thought it would be
useful in clearing up a confusion which I find is prevalent in my class after
the term’s reading. Is it justified by any original thought on my part,* by my
vital interest which will enable my class to receive and use the ideas that I
hope to set forth? Is it justified also by the opportunity which I shall give
the class of doing individual work upon what they have heard? Or does this
lesson consist of carefully got up information, or is it “a single grain of
pure knowledge to a gallon of talk”? I wonder if it is only my manner which
will hold the attention of the class and if the memorisation or tabulation of
essential facts (with which I intend the children to finish the lesson) is merely
a mental exercise?
honest answer must be given and the answer will permit or forbid the lesson in
question. Perhaps even if he finds permission, the teacher will decide to
attain his end by other means; but he has at least done his best to examine the
truths upon which he intends to base his practice. He is ready to consult Miss
Mason’s books and the advice given there concerning the use and misuse of oral
lessons will not be used as a recipe but will be intelligently followed.
very much harder task to recollect and apply a principle than to follow a
precept, hence all the recipe-activity in the world, but we are all born
persons and the power to think is there in each one of us if we will but use
it. To be a “member”—a living part of a living organism—implies and entails the
duty of careful thought. Members of the
P.N.E.U. are fortunate in possessing Miss Mason’s books by which to attempt the
answering of their own questions and by which to test their answers. Here can
be found a clear exposition of those laws of mind, those central truths, upon
which all P.N.E.U. method must be based. Here again, can be found sage advice.
It is the part of every member to seek and find in his own mind the best means
of applying those principles, that advice, to new occasions and to particular
instances. This is the contribution that
each one of us can make to the Union, the only one worthy of a thinking person.
We have no body of rules, no recipes. A few firmly rooted principles have been
shown to us and in these consist the strength and usefulness of the Union. If
in the study and expression of these principles we use our liberty, our best
intelligence, our careful consideration and our honest labour, we shall find a
steadily growing power of meeting new difficulties, not by recipes old or new,
but by vital truths. It is possible to attain, as a society and as “persons” to
that kind of knowledge which sets men and women free from mere theories of life,
while enabling them to live wisely and choose well among the many new and
distracting doctrines which daily come to light.
but can the teacher have vital interest, therefore original thought on many
subjects?” (MISS MASON).