16 Aug 2013

Warning: I am a CM purist

The reader will say with truth,––"I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles"; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not 'more or less,' but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated. I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon's antiseptic treatment; that is from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied for the rather casual 'more or less' methods of earlier days.

Whether the way I have sketched out is the right and the only way remains to be tested still more widely than in the thousands of cases in which it has been successful; but assuredly education is slack and uncertain for the lack of sound principles exactly applied.

Charlotte Mason Towards a Philosophy of Education p20-21
Earlier this week I admitted on a CM social media group that I am a CM purist.  I felt a bit silly at the time - stuck up, pious and inflexible, because even though it was a CM group, it seems that I was the only one, and I felt strange, as if being a purist was somehow a bad thing, and something to be ashamed of.  Now the fact I choose to homeschool this way did not mean that I was saying that all the other mothers were wrong - no siree.  It is not up to me to tell them how to educate their children.  I will say, though, that there comes a point when it is no longer a CM education, but an unschooling education, or a child-led one, or a unit studies education.  Using a list of living books does not a CM education make.  Nor does nature study and classical music and tea time.

I am a purist because in my experience, the closer I adhere to CM's philosophy, the better it works.  Now this does not mean that I teach a curriculum.  Not at all.  I teach my child.  The beautiful, smart, strong-willed, sassy Jemimah.  But I teach her using CM's methods as well as I can.

During past weeks I've been travelling around America visiting members of AO's Advisory and Auxiliary.  All of these families would be considered CM purists, I guess.  And there are some things that make the families very similar.  All are conservative Christian (although not all CM families are.) All have wonderful bookshelves filled with delicious living books on a wide variety of subjects.  All use AO - duh.  What I did not find, though, was a collection of Jemimah clones.  She was fairly similar in many ways to E-Age-11, and in other ways to Miss M. ( Interestingly, I don't think E-Age-11 and Miss M are alike at all.  Jemimah just fits bang in the middle.) She had a similar sense of humour to M2 and G2, and found a BFF in Riley. Some of the kids were bookish; others not so much.  Some loved the outdoors; others preferred the indoors.  Some watched telly, some enjoyed Minecraft, some played piano, some loved silly songs.  Some were gifted, others were not.

And do you know, a CM education will look different for every one of these children.  Brandy talks a bit about this in her family here, when she looks at how to modify AO for her less bookish second child.
I would remark on the evenness with which the power of children in dealing with books is developed. We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his duller comrade but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers.

The surprises afforded by the dull and even the 'backward' children are encouraging and illuminating. We think we know that man is an educable being, but when we afford to children all that they want we discover how straitened were our views, how poor and narrow the education we offered. Even in so-called deficient children we perceive,––

"What a piece of work is man . . . In apprehension, how like a god!"

Charlotte Mason Towards a Philosophy of Education p 182-3
Miss Mason talks here about exposing children to a great feast of ideas, and how each child will assimilate what he is able.  All true, but when there are only one or two guests at a table, the feast will look quite different from the feast at a table for 10.  In similar ways, the feast Tammy spreads before her  daughter with autism will be quite different from the feast I spread for Jemimah, or from the one spread for Miss M, or the one spread for Riley.  At yet all of us are CM purists.  Charlotte Mason's methods don't just work for some children - they work for all.  It is how the feast is presented that differs, that is the key.

Some of the things I am able to do with Jemimah are not up to CM's standards.  You know the struggle that we have with spelling for example, and so I am continually modifying how we do things here.  But I don't move away from CM - I look for ways that allow me to incorporate her methods.  I am thankful that poor spelling doesn't mean poor other things like it would if she were in school.  I am thankful that Jemimah's spelling does not hold her back.  Other kids are slow learning to read.  CM works for them too.  It works for Tammy's daughter.

I am so grateful that I found CM at the beginning of my daughter's journey.  I am so thankful that I was able to make this gentle, rigorous, liberal, Christian, academic education ours.  Our CM might not look like your CM, but her methods do work for children of all shapes and sizes.  The creed and the colour and the name don't matter.

My name is Jeanne, and I am a CM purist.  And I'm glad.


  1. This was really interesting to read Jeanne, in helping me understand your perspective a little more. I am left wondering, however, why it is so imperative to NOT use any other method than CM to help Jemimah grasp a concept? If it works, why is it wrong (for you) to use it? (Remember that I'm a baby CMer, so please help me understand the underlying reasons. ;))

  2. Thank you for the reminder that CM methods do work! While I am more or less sold on the fact that they do, sometimes it can be really hard to be a lone-ranger in using them, when the voices around me say that our homeschool really ought to look more like "school", lest I mess up my children. Appreciated the encouragement today.

  3. We need CM purists. Folks need to see that it does truly work with all kinds of children.

    I'm not a CM purist and mostly because when I started homeschooling I couldn't find a single person who was using it in the way you and Brandy are. I found a lot of buffet type CMers whose children didn't know grammar and where rigor was not to be found. That scared me to death and sent me in the direction of classical education. When I finally read CM's books, I realized that what I had seen wasn't CM at all.

    So preach on! I hope to see many more purists in the future.

  4. You say this:
    Using a list of living books does not a CM education make. Nor does nature study and classical music and tea time.
    But what I'm wondering is: what does? I'm reading the books, listening on the forums and scanning the blogs, but I can't seem to find that one little snippet of information that I'm looking for. What is the difference between a CM purist and me?
    I'm not saying I would change if I knew what it was, nor that I wouldn't change, but I really would like to know what it is. :)

  5. Jeanne
    Been meaning to ask you, have you found Cindy's blog ordo Amoris? http://www.ordo-amoris.com/

    recently discovered it myself and loving it.

  6. I have noticed that, in my faith and in my educational beliefs and in my understanding of autism, I am drawn to people who think in broad, life-giving principles. It is hard to find a specific thing that qualifies one as a purist. For me, it is to attempt to see education in terms of principles and live it out in the methods Mason outlined. And, where there are gaps (such as how it is applied to autism), thinking through the principles has been quite effective. It has helped me rule out therapy options (and not waste valuable money and time) and embrace others (Relationship Development Intervention). Seeking a snippet to discern what is purist is taking a parts approach. I believe Mason was looking at the whole picture and that does not mesh with a replaceable parts approach.

  7. So it's not so much "what" you do, as "why" you do what you do?

  8. A bit of both. CM is not a curriculum - it's a philosophy, taking 6 volumes to explain. There are notable characteristics, like good books and nature study, but it is what you do with the books or the nature that matter. Reading a book, telling it back and assimilating the author's message is CM. Reading the same book with a study guide and answering questions is probably not. Listening to a lecture about an animal is not CM, observing it and learning about it on your own is. Learning how to copy a picture is not CM, looking at how the light strikes the face probably is.

  9. Ok. That makes sense. I don't think I will ever have the temerity to claim to be a purist... we are much too relaxed for that. I don't like study guides and lectures, but I struggle with "a book not narrated is a book wasted" because I (and my kids) enjoy reading for pleasure too much.
    The spreading of the feast is something I can do, but the rigor is something I will always fail at, I'm afraid.
    Thank you for answering my questions and not taking offence. I'm hesitant to ask because I simply feel inadequate here. I am very impressed by your method of educating your daughter, Jeanne, (and you, too, Brandy, your kids), I wish I had been educated this way.

  10. Four Little Penguins - that is the exact question I am trying to ask but dont have the right words for.

    Please Jeanne, keep telling what CM is, contrasted to what it is not, so I can understand better.

  11. If it is all in the manner that a resource is used then I am more CM than I thought but could not say I am purist, but I am glad others are because I can learn from you. I enjoy the freedom to explore other ideas, although I always return to CM. I'm afraid it is perhaps the rigor I have issues with not the spreading of the feast. There is a place for us all. Growing & learning is dynamic and there is room for that if we let it. I continue to draw from CM as my mainstay. I just think it is all so much fun.

  12. By all means keep asking curly questions, Jessthewise and FLP. I'll do my best to answer. :)

  13. I think the emphasis is on process and the thinking that goes into it, not the product.

  14. And your delightful daughter is the proof that it's working brilliantly!!!

  15. I agree with you completely! The more I adhere to her ways, the better my children seem to do! I have found this true SO many times when I felt my "institutionalized taught ways" creep back in, only to fail! the realize what God has called me to do AND HOW He has called me to do it using Charlotte's philosophies. UH!! I just could not agree with you more!

  16. Does anyone say 'a book not narrated is a book wasted?' I mean, AO has all those free reads, and CM had 'Sunday reading' - reading for pleasure *is* CM - isn't it?

  17. I think maybe it is more accurate to say "a school book not narrated is a school book wasted." ?? Jeanne what do you think?

  18. I agree with a school book not narrated is a school book wasted. :) Fellow CM purist here or at least always striving to be.

  19. Another striving purist saying thank you for this post. :)

  20. Beautifully said. I am a purist too and I thank you for expressing so well what being a purist means, nothing like intransigent or judgmental, simply adhering to CM the best we can.


  21. Regarding book narrations: if we consider that it is narration that cements the facts of a reading into a reader's mind, then I would feel it necessary to be narrating each reading where you wish to remember what you've read. To me, that's all school books. It is not books read for pleasure and relaxation. Reading for pleasure alone is CM!

  22. This is really funny to me because I recently applied to work at a CM school and the question of being a purist came up. I said I was not a purist, basically because I don't think Miss Mason was a purist either! She was always digging and scuttling around, finding what new ideas worked and what old ones did not. Her volumes reflect the alterations she made between her fresh, young ideas and her seasoned older ones. I do adhere fairly religiously to what Tammy was speaking of above -- the looking at ideas, people, and subjects from a whole perspective rather than tidying them up in neat little parcels. But something else I see as crucial to a CM education has to do with gentleness and time. I feel that our best CM moments have always happened off the beaten path. They were filled with aha's and sighs and simple joys and are treasured recollections. Once we chucked our schedule for the day and went for a drive and found the crunchiest piles of leaves we could and jumped in them. They happened to be beside the local library, so I'm sure we put on quite a show. There was no workbook page to fill out with analysis of the crispness, color, or what have you of said leaves. We noted what type of trees they were from, knelt down to see what creepy crawlies were messing around beneath them, took a couple home to cherish, and that was that. Life is full of joy and sorrow. Treasuring joy, or learning how to help our kids treasure it -- especially with so much bad news shot at us all day -- is part of my idea of a CM education. As is the slower pace and the deeper study we get through reading and cherishing whole books together.

    I also see our work as twofold. We have content and we have skills. CM works for both, but I use it differently for content than for skills. If you are a purist with studied dictation, copy work, short lessons, narration, and the habit of attention, your child will have strong skills, I think, in the long run. But if that is ALL you are a purist at, there will be much depth missed. It's about the ideas, the noble thoughts of great men of old, the learning how to view the world as marvelous and filled with wonder.

    Okay, I'll stop here. I feel a blog of my own coming on!!! :D


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