Now I think Charlotte Mason was a brilliant educator, and I espouse her philosophy of education along with her teaching methods in our homeschool, but I do not slavishly follow her every word, thought and command. Some of her beliefs are merely a reflection of the time in which she lived - her comments about evolution, for example: as a deeply Christian woman in her words and actions, I do not believe that she would hold those same beliefs in 2009 herself. In other areas I just don't agree - I do not always follow Miss Mason's methods of discipline, as a case in point. Often I do, but not always.
Total disagreement between Miss Mason's writings and my own opinion is rare. Sometimes I will object to something on first reading only to discover that on reflection or after further study that I agree after all. If I don't, it is no big deal.
That said, it surprises me that when people who do claim to follow Charlotte Mason's educational methods go on to say that they don't believe in examinations or even say that they believe that a Charlotte Mason education is a test-free one. Even a cursory reading of her volumes shows that to be untrue:
The terminal examinations are of great importance. They are not merely and chiefly tests of knowledge but records which are likely to be permanent.What Miss Mason did object to was "learning that we may know, not that we may grow" and therefore the parrot-like saying of lessons, the cramming of ill-digested facts for examinations and all the ways of taking in knowledge that the mind does not assimilate. (summarised from Charlotte Mason Home Education p172)
Charlotte Mason Towards a Philosophy of Education p 272
She would not have been surprised by this comment of Winston Churchill's:
I had scarcely passed my twelfth birthday when I entered the inhospitable regions of examinations, through which for the next seven years I was destined to journey. These examinations were a great trial to me. The subjects which were dearest to the examiners were almost invariably those I fancied least. I would have liked to have been examined in history, poetry and writing essays. The examiners, on the other hand, were partial to Latin and mathematics. And their will prevailed. Moreover, the questions which they asked on both these subjects were almost invariably those to which I was unable to suggest a satisfactory answer. I should have liked to be asked to say what I knew. They always tried to ask what I did not know. When I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to expose my ignorance. This sort of treatment had only one result: I did not do well in examinations.Students in Miss Mason's schools had examinations that lasted a week, and the children covered from 20 to 60 sheets of paper with their answers. Surely she would not have 'wasted' this amount of time had she not found the outcomes of the experience worthwhile!
Winston Churchill My Early Life 1923 p 156
Of children in Jemimah's age group (Form Ib - 7-8 year olds) she say this:
The children narrate their...answers to the examination questions. They appear to enjoy doing this; indeed, the examinations which come at the end of each term are a pleasure; the only difficulty is that small children want to go on 'telling.' Their words are taken down literally. One is struck by the correctness and copiousness of the language used; but young children delight in words, and often surprise their elders by their free and correct use of 'dictionary words.' One notices the verve with which the children tell the tale, the orderly sequence of events, the correctness and fullness of detail, the accuracy of names. These things are natural to children until they are schooled out of them.Certainly this experience has been true for us. We love examination week. I am constantly amazed at the quality of the answers my 7 year old brings forth on books she studied almost 3 months prior. Obviously she is better at retelling some books than others - in fact it is often at exam time that I discover whether a certain book choice was in fact a Living Book or not. It is next to impossible to accurately retell a book if it is not 'Living', with Miss Mason's definition of the word. As in the quotation above, my only complaint is the length of some of the narrations...I have to type them, and I am not a touch-typist!! A narration of an A4 page or more of type is not unusual!!
Charlotte Mason School Education p 276
If you've not yet found the time or inclination to attempt examinations in your Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool I would encourage you to do so. You may be pleasantly surprised.
For examples of Charlotte Mason styled examination questions that we have used with our Australianised version of the Ambleside Online curriculum, see here. If you look down the page you'll find exams for terms 1-3 of AO1 and terms 1 and 2 of AO2. If you click on Examinations under Categories in the right sidebar you'll find examples of Jemimah's answers to many questions as well.
We finished Term 3 of AO2 on Friday, and the exams for this term will be up in the next day or so.
Just as soon as I stop think about exams and start writing it instead!!