Some homeschoolers are worried that if they were to use the Charlotte Mason approach, vital sequential skill development would get lost in the matrix of actually trying to DO her approach. For example, if a child were to try to learn the violin or piano by "wandering and wondering," he might not end up at the level of excellence of an Isaac Stern or an Arthur Rubenstein! Indeed, sometimes it takes a ruthless sequential tutor to get you there. A huge chasm begins to develop between Mason's lofty ideals and what actually happens in the home.
On the other hand, some parents worry that following a course of sequential academic skill development will lose some of Mason's "awe and wonder" development. Certainly, no devoted homeschool mom wants to lose that aspect, if there is some way to achieve it along the way. Bring ON the awe and wonder!
Considering the above two scenarios, let's look objectively at the strengths and weaknesses of Mason's method of elementary education, with an eye toward implementing what's good and discarding what's not so good.
By the way, interestingly, with only a little tweaking, "what's good" in the Charlotte Mason approach can all be applied to A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Education's curriculum) with less than half the effort and cost. For one thing, right out of the shoot, the parent doesn't have to spend the greater part of two decades hunting and shopping for the next "great book" (each child will need truckloads of those)—nor will she spend the exorbitant amounts of money to acquire that library. A.C.E. has already compiled over 15,000 “greatly written” concepts, much of it in story form, for you, and there is no lid on what your child can read in the evenings and weekends in the larger great books—without the have-to pressure for also doing that during your core academia in the day. Keep in mind that you'll be doing schooling for 12 looooooonnnnnggggg years in one form or another. What happens when the parent "tires"—then what? All theories look good on paper. What happens on Thursday mornings after mommy has been up all night with the baby? That is the "rub". What if we can't find a "great book" that day? And what of the daily development of math and writing skills? There is a lot more implementation complexity here for a homeschooler than meets the eye.
The strengths and weaknesses of Mason's core tenets:
Mason designed schools to implement her method. Being unmarried herself, she, no doubt, did not realize the value of the sheer holy voltaqge of what having one's own children at home produces over a lifetime. These educational setting choices are the difference between "home-centric" life and "peer-centric" life. The potential for unity, bonding, and spiritual influence (as a family) in the world is staggering if homeschooling is done "right". It is what Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were achieving through their dynasties.
In schools—yes, even in good private schools—the "curriculum" may become far more than a parent bargains for, while the child rubs shoulders with peers from broken homes, media-addicted homes, spiritually defunct homes, emotionally abandoned and preoccupied homes, twisted homes. The mandate in Deuteronomy 4-6 to educate one's own offspring at home primarily by adults is the most powerful means of discipling the next generation known to man. Other third graders simply does not have the experience base to mentor your third-grade child—but mentor them on the playground and in the restrooms, they will. The good can become the enemy of the best. Where education takes place needs to be a concern for any spiritually responsible parent.
Mason recommends having children read real literature (instead of instead of twaddle) from the get-go. Who could argue with this! We absolutely agree! Many nursery rhymes and fairy tales are straight from the pit of hell. Only the devil could have designed them to terrorize children so well. They cut their teeth on: "When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all." How lovely. And why we would ever teach that a fox eats your grandmother as per Little Red Riding Hood? Just what a child needs, don't you think?! Every single one of those rhymes and children's stories need to be evaluated biblically. What is to be drawn from this story anyway? And Mason would roll over in her grave if she saw what the media now adds to this collection of garbage. Even adults couldn't stand this parade of horror, grotesque creatures and violence that are now marketed to our children. We all can be agreed with Mason: jettison the reading junk—all of it.
Mason’s phrase "real literature" or "classical literature", however, is in great need of tweaking. One has only to read Kevin Swanson's book, Apostate: The men who destroyed the Christian West, to realize that classical literature can be from the pit of hell as well. Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, for example, leaves the adulteress with none of Christ's blood to draw from, and no law to understand her guilt by. There is no confession, and there is no redemption. Who wants to put that hopelessness and ambiguity down deep in a young adult's soul? Aristotle, Plato and Socrates were avowed atheists. Would we allow them through our front door in person, sitting our children at the feet of their long white robes, if given the choice? So, what is the solution here? We must hand-pick this "great" literature. The Apostle Paul later despised his worldly education, as did Augustine, both of whom were thoroughly educated in the "classics." For ideas, especially for young daughters, get Melanie's stellar highly screened booklist off our website; she (being a librarian from birth :) already did decades of screening homework for you in this area; her book selections are superb.
Mason posits using narration (a verbal or written summary as a response to all verbal or written content shared with the child, as opposed to fill in the blanks). This is an excellent strategy. The brain works hard to cling to and refashion knowledge in order to make it one's own, via this process. But sometimes (oftentimes), Mom and Dad aren't around, or are preoccupied and cannot listen to the sheer amount of narration that eight children would require to do each day to process all information this way. Let us get some balance here. Fill in the blanks isn't akin to hell. It, too, is a way of processing information :). It can get the child educated, too! The solution? Use narration around the dinner table at night and every chance you get but spare yourself the rest of it through the day if you have to ALSO get the laundry done and dinner fixed! Using it as your highest trick in the bag, doesn't mean you have to use it unmitigatingly. Use it as a marvelous educational tool on your teacher's belt—one of many.
Mason puts forth having children take meandering nature walks, noting discoveries in a notebook, and drawing (and sometimes collecting what they see). Go for it! This is good stuff! But this nature emphasis doesn't have to limit or define the remainder of one's academics. It makes sense that this would be a wonderful childhood activity—especially to replace hours of media—but so is music practice—which builds virtuosos, and drawing skill—which builds real art ability (not the development of artistic abstractions), gymnastic skill, entrepreneurial endeavor (so your 13-year-old can completely run your apple orchard by himself, selling the produce, doing his own spreadsheets, etc., and your daughter can cook any gourmet meal to serve to 12 people, at the drop of a hat, no sweat! or vice/versa). Any open-ended real-life activity will accomplish "awe and wonder growth", sparing a child from hours and hours of childhood aimlessness. The strategy? Figure out what an adult is and incrementally get there, starting today while the person is a young child.
Mason recommends teaching grammar/writing skills off from the child's own written works. Yes and no. Sequentially teaching a child the ideal way to do his penmanship and cursive writing is not awful. In fact, for generations it has yielded legible handwriting. And teaching phonics sequentially will save you tons of academic heartache later. However, if a child still guesses at what he is reading through using comprehension clues, his reading will stay dwarfed. Wandering around in the alphabet might not "get you there". Reading doesn't have to be a hit or miss proposition. There is a known way, tired and true, to get this job done that takes the guesswork out of it for a lifetime.
On the other hand, Mason's dictation ideas are excellent. In fact, historically, taking down daily dictation was used by the French in their schools, to very good advantage. To see what actually makes it onto the child's page is a wonderful way to frequently and casually "test" him or her. Mason's focus here is great. We agree, wholeheartedly—but that doesn't preclude also teaching him writing skills, line upon line, to get him there.
An EASY Solution? Have your cake and eat it, too?! At a quite low financial cost?
Use A.C.E. as your track to ride on (very inexpensively) and have your child do narrations off that content, some days, if you wish. The content is there all gathered for you. You can just vary your teaching style around those 15,000 concepts that are already provided for you. Then have your child read recreationally the "great books" from your pre-screened list of excellent real books—i.e. all spiritually non-compromised great literature. Reading all of the available biographies of missionaries, for example, teaches your child selflessness like nothing else. All biography inspires, by reminding us that we each just have one life to live and to observe some heroes’ choices of a way to live. There. We just saved you hours and hours of shopping, anxiety, and oversight trauma—and your child will get educated. You can take that to the bank.
Finally: also teach your child the Bible by reading sequentially through Egermeier's Bible Story Book every night at bedtime. Do not skip this input. The years pass quickly, and what you didn't put in their spirit may not ever get put there. After a few times through the Egermeier edition you can switch to Arthur Maxwell's 10-volume set, The Bible Story; the pictures are exquisite. If you don't teach your child the Bible, you might as well scratch your influence in the world, no matter how well educated your child becomes in all the other areas. Sadly, it is possible to educate an intelligent murderer, you know. We must teach our children the why of life, not just the how. Live in and through and under the Bible, thoroughly. Then and only then will you have "educated" your child. God-speed.