CM defines method as a series of well-thought-out principles, while she calls a system a watered-down, legalistic step-by-step process undertaken toward some calculable results.
Method implies a way to an end and a step-by-step progress in that direction. It also implies that there is a goal at which to arrive. What kind of effect do you want education to have on your child?
Ooh, good question. I want my kids to be godly first of all. Then I want them to be literate, clear thinking, able to understand a great many things, to be able to vote intelligently and express their opinions with grace and clarity. I want them to have respect for others, great love for their husbands and children, and be able to make proper decisions in a timely manner. I want them to be able to handle a budget and other financial responsibilities without it becoming a major stressor. And I want them to have joy in their lives, and for them to be a joy to others.
Hee hee. I just want the moon. That's all. If I can only have one thing, though, it is that they grow up to be women who rejoice in the Lord, who enjoy participation in God's kingdom, and who glorify Him in the way they live. Oops, that's still three things.
Method is gentle, yielding and natural, yet compelling and ever-present. With method and an end in mind, the most unlikely situations and objects come into use as part of a child's education; but it is effortless, like the sun rising or the wind blowing. The parent who understands the method and sees the goal will make use of every circumstance of the child's life almost without effort to educate the child.
There is always the danger that a bona fide method will degenerate into a system.
The kindergarten method was indeed a method, but in ignorant hands it becomes a mere system. It's like when people don't understand but they go through the motions anyway-- like cutting off the end of the roast. Montessori felt that her method degenerated into a system in ignorant hands as well. When I was a nanny in college, my employer talked of her daughter's former Montessori school that just didn't "Montessori" well enough, although they had all the trappings. This must be what the AO Advisory means when they say that without studying CM, Ambleside Online becomes just another booklist.
It's important not to get stuck on this point, however. I know that in my efforts to employ method rather than system, I have a tendency to overcompensate and get nitpicky. I'm learning that it is best to evaluate how we are doing only every couple of months. I now remind myself of the goal, make a plan, then work the plan for awhile without judging whether it is effective or not. After all, the watched pot doesn't boil. It only took years and years of people trying to communicate this truth to me before I finally internalized it, lol. I have a thick head, I guess. I'll probably need reminders this year, too, but hopefully I have made *some* progress.
A system of education is more alluring than a method because it is more easy to measure results. "By means of a system, certain developments may be brought about through the observance of given rules. Shorthand, dancing, how to pass examinations, how to become a good accountant, or a woman of society, may all be learned upon systems." --CM
I think this quote shows that CM did advocate systems for certain things-- I know learning math, typing, music theory and test-taking skills are all more easily assimilated when taught systematically. Not everything, though.
A system is alluring, especially because it promises more palpable results, things that can be tested and proven to be there. In fact, it gives such wonderfully exact results that it is not surprising to find people would like the whole of education to be reduced to some system, ie., "Do thus-and-so; you will get a godly, well-rounded and intelligent child." This would work if we were dealing with robots. But we are not.
We are dealing with living, breathing human beings, complete with latent capacities for good and evil; and it is our job to develop the good and dissipate the evil so that when the child is grown, she is prepared to take her place in the world with every capacity for good working at its best.
Although systems can be useful in education, the problem with them is that systems produce methanical action rather than "vital growth and movement of a living being."