Tuesday, January 16, 2007


You must have your old Bunny!" she said. "Fancy all that fuss for a toy!"

The Boy sat up in bed and stretched out his hands.

"Give me my Bunny!" he said. "You mustn't say that. He isn't a toy. He's REAL!"

When the little Rabbit heard that he was happy, for he knew that what the Skin Horse had said was true at last. The nursery magic had happened to him, and he was a toy no longer. He was Real. The Boy himself had said it.

Lately I have been pondering what makes a Real Charlotte Mason education. We are reading Volume 1 of CMSeries and in the very first chapter that sweet spinster lady steps all over my toes with her talk about methods degenerating into systems and systems never quite making it to methods.
...method is natural; easy, yielding, unobtrusive, simple as the ways of Nature herself; yet, watchful, careful, all pervading, all compelling. Method, with the end of education in view, presses the most unlikely matters into service to bring about that end; but with no more tiresome mechanism than the sun employs when it makes the winds to blow and the waters to flow only by shining. The parent who sees his way––that is, the exact force of method––to educate his child, will make use of every circumstance of the child's life almost without intention on his own part, so easy and spontaneous is a method of education based upon Natural Law. Does the child eat or drink, does he come, or go, or play––all the time he is being educated, though he is as little aware of it as he is of the act of breathing. There is always the danger that a method, a bona fide method, should degenerate into a mere system. --CMSeries Vol. 1 p. 8

This does not take place at our house with a lot of regularity. I occasionally see glimpses of the gentle art, but often my own fears regarding possible shortcomings in the kids' education prod me to make sure we are "doing it right."

Doing it right in my mind includes all the trappings; setting out a piece of artwork, maps hanging on the wall, narrations by the children beautifully typewritten, and my kids building a ship in the yard so they can sail like Jason and the Argonauts.

But I think what Miss Mason is saying when she contrasts method and system is that while some of these things can be true necessities and outcroppings of her method, they can also be simply the trappings garnered by an anxious teacher who wants to appear to be "doing it right"-- a simple system put into place in order to "appear CM" about educating kids and turn out model CM children.

If a human being were a machine, education could do no more for him than to set him in action in prescribed ways, and the work of the educator would be simply to adopt a good working system or set of systems.

But the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being, and his business is to guide, and assist in, the production of the latent good in that being, the dissipation of the latent evil, the preparation of the child to take his place in the world at his best, with every capacity for good that is in him developed into a power. --CMSeries Vol. 1 p. 9

In The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams tells the tale of a bunny who goes from a simple stuffed toy to a Real Live Rabbit. Here is the process of becoming Real as explained by the Skin Horse:

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

It happens bit by bit. And things may not always "look right."

At the beginning of our journey to educate the kids, I came across an analogy that I really liked. It soothed my soul. It compared the homeschooling environment to a garden in which the gardener plans, plants, prunes and harvests. Very often a garden has periods of shabby appearance, but a lot is happening beneath the surface. As Dickon says, "It's wick-- as live as you or me."

When we began AO two years ago, I saw some amazing changes in a short time. But now that we have done this awhile, I am beginning to get antsy. There isn't enough quantifiable evidence that my kids are being educated. But so much of what is going on isn't quantifiable because it is still rising inside of them, simmering and blending into something that won't necessarily be ready for some time.

If I can be patient and understand that my job is the presenting of the feast and the training of the habits, then will we fall into method and leave system behind. But it is a process.

And sometimes the magic of it does not occur until you have been dedicated and worked and loved and stood by and waited-- and it seems all hope is lost.

"Little Rabbit," she said, "don't you know who I am?"

The Rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to him that he had seen her face before, but he couldn't think where.

"I am the nursery magic Fairy," she said. "I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don't need them any more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real."

"Wasn't I Real before?" asked the little Rabbit.

"You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one."


athenainaminivan said...

Katie, what a heart for your children you have. Just the fact that you notice this in your home is amirable. If you didn't even realize it then their might be a problem.

I have to remind myself that I do not need benchmark tests and TAKS tests and the like to know my children are achieving and learning. How wonderful to know my children are becoming "real" people instead of "pseudo" or "fake" humans.

Bless you in your journey!!

beth said...

Thank you for this encouraging word. I hopped over here from Leslie's blog, and am glad I did. Right now especially I've been struggling with these feelings, yet *again*! LOL