(This blog was published on the original CMER site in October 2015. It is has been slightly modified.)
I hope I don’t come across as picking on parents and teachers, but I guess I am. I know our children can be lazy; I know our children can be stubborn. We are just going to set that aside for now and focus on ourselves. A main emphasis of the Charlotte Mason Educational Retreat is Self-Education. As we learn more about MIss Mason’s educational philosophies and apply them, the natural, beautiful overflow is going to be into the lives of our children.
Have you ever lost your patience with a child during a narration? Have you ever been discouraged because the narration didn’t seem good enough…too short, too long, too many missing “important” details, too many mispronunciations, or maybe a complete inability to narrate? Have you ever been tempted to “help” your child along, knowing you were violating some of Miss Mason’s principles, but, really, “just this once (or twice) it is going to be OK because we are going to LEARN from it.” I have, and I have a feeling I’m not alone.
Let me start with an extreme example. Sadly, I think all of my children have been driven by their mother (ahem…me) to the point of tears during a narration. It can happen like this:
Mom: Tell me what you heard.
Child: I don’t remember anything.
Mom: What do you mean you don’t remember anything? Weren’t you listening?
Child: I just can’t remember anything.
Mom: Nothing? Really? Just tell me one thing, anything.
Child: I can’t. I don’t remember.
Mom: (getting impatient) Seriously, how could you not remember anything? I’m not going to read this book again. You are completely wasting my time.
Child: (starting to cry) Mom, I just can’t remember.
Mom: (slamming book shut) Well, that is just something you will never know then.
Lovely. Whose fault is this, anyway? Obviously the child did not listen; obviously the child was not attending to the information. Forget the fact that there were many warning signs leading up to this particular narration. It was the end of a long day. The child was tired. I was tired. Some stressful life situation, having nothing to do with school, was happening, sucking up the bandwidth in the back of my mind. But I was going to squeeze in one more reading, one more narration, because, by golly, we were not going to fall further behind, and if I had to shame the child to get the result I thought I needed, so be it.
(This child just walked into the room as I was writing this. “Do you remember those times I made you cry during narrations?” I asked. Yes,” was the reply. I continued, “Why do you think you cried? What happened?” I really wanted to get the child’s perspective. “Well,” the child thought and then answered, “I couldn’t remember what you read, and I knew you were going to get mad because I couldn’t remember, and you did.” She smiled at me and skipped back out of the room.)
Another example which comes to mind is struggling through Poor Richard with a child. This was a tough book for us. Let me correct that. In hindsight, this was a tough book for me. There were times when my child loved the book, and there were other times when the book was hated. As I stopped and reflected on the situation, I came to realize the book was not the problem; I was. The book was loved when I handled the narrations well; the book was hated when I handled the narrations poorly. I wanted my child to get more out of the book, and I felt like so much was being left out of narrations. I felt it was my job to make sure nothing was missed and to force the connections I thought needed to be made. When details were left out of narrations, it was my duty to explain and explain and explain. We soon both grew very weary of this and rightly so. Whose fault is this, anyway?
I came across the following quote that was written in 1925 by Mr. H. W. Household, secretary for education in the English county of Gloucestershire, in a pamphlet published after a summer conference for teachers on P.N.E.U methods.
It should be said at once that no teacher can hope to get out of the programmes and the method all that can be got, unless he reads and re-reads what Miss Mason herself has said about them. As I have said before, a copy of School Education or Home Education should be in every school, and should be in constant use. There should be no member of the staff who has not read it. Where I see wrong methods being employed–excessive explanation, excessive questioning, interruption of reading or narration–it is almost always found that the teacher does not know what Miss Mason taught, and has therefore no grasp of the principles that underlie the method that he is supposed to be employing.
Mr. Household is telling us that if our narrations are not going well it is because we don’t know what Miss Mason has taught. Whose fault is this, anyway? Mine.
A Charlotte Mason education is not going to magically happen; narrations are not going to become a pleasant daily activity left to themselves. To bring the beauty of a Charlotte Mason education, including narration, into my home, I must first and foremost invest in myself. I must read her words; I must read what others have written who are ahead of me in this journey; I must seek help when I struggle; I must seek out relationships with like-minded people. At no point is this going to look perfect, and at no point will I know everything. I must be thankful for the knowledge I know today and do the best I can to apply it. But I may not settle there, and I must press on. Weekly, if not daily, in some small way, I need to be making progress in my own self-education. Miss Mason said,
Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a [mother’s] nature. (Volume 6, p. 240)
I do not want veneer on the surface of my nature. Veneer leads to frustration, stress, and tears. I do not think you want it, either. Let’s agree to encourage one another and continue to make progress on this journey.