This blog is part of a Mason's Alveary Blog Carnival, hosted by Marcia Mattern of "I Wonder Why."
Please visit her blog to read more posts describing people's experiences this year using Mason's Alveary.
It was about that time when the Charlotte Mason Institute decided to develop a curriculum that could be used in both schools and homeschools. The board asked me to lead the endeavor, since I had experience with using Mason with children of all ages and since my degree is in curriculum development. I did always love curriculum work; it was my favorite part of running a school. The thought of getting paid for poring over books was, admittedly, very attractive. But I think the thing that most intrigued me about this project was the challenge to use the precedents set by Mason's PNEU to create something that is relevant to our own time and place. That juxtaposition was so interesting to me, and it was something that I felt was needed in the Mason community. Plus, it would have me living at the intersection of research, analysis, synthesis, and creativity that is, for me, the professional sweet spot. There was no question that I had to do it.
I have loved every minute of working on this project. But like so many creative endeavors, sometimes you don't really know what you have created until it is finished and shared with others. Only after seeing the results of the pilot year did I understand that the curriculum was a very small part it--significant, but small nonetheless. There was an issue that I have always been aware of, but I didn't know at the time that the Alveary was going to address it:
When people first come to Mason, they are tasked with making an enormous paradigm shift, figuring out Mason's philosophy and methods, and implementing the model all at the same time. It can take four or five years for even the most committed educator to complete the paradigm shift and get most things figured out, so that they feel comfortable that they are at least in the ballpark of giving their kids a living education. That's a third of a child's school years. Even then, though, most individuals have a difficult time with something, whether it is nature study or solfege or Latin or modern languages. Those things tend to either get dropped or the parents fall back on a product that they know is probably not in line with Mason, but it's the best they can do in that moment. It's frustrating, but it is many a homeschooler's (or classroom teacher's) reality.
What I found during the pilot year of Mason's Alveary was that having the daily lesson plans with detailed directions helped parents who had been struggling, because it took the burden of decision-making off them. They no longer had to research curriculum materials and wonder if what they were getting was in line with Mason. That freed up brain space for them to dig into the volumes and educate themselves in the philosophy. And since the implementation part was organized for them, they were able to see the philosophy play out in their homes much more quickly, shortening the learning curve time. Over time, many of them gained enough confidence to lean less heavily on the lesson plans. The patterns became habit, so they found they only needed to check in occasionally to assess their pacing.
But it wasn't only Mason newbies who benefited. Lots of our pilot members were seasoned Mason educators. They were quite capable of choosing books for themselves, and they didn't really need the hand-holding that the daily lesson plans provided. Those people got the support they needed in order to do the difficult subjects, like solfege and languages, more successfully than they had in the past. Many of them had never given exams, which were an integral part of Mason's model, and some were skeptical at first. It was a lot of fun to watch them discover the value of exam week and begin to reflect on their own practices so that they could grow even stronger.
I won't kid you and say that the pilot experience was a cake walk. I spent a fair amount of time, especially in the first term, trying to talk people down when they were confronted with the full scope of what Mason expected from those using her model. A few people left the pilot early after sending negative feedback. That was a bit discouraging, even though I knew going in that it would inevitably happen. But the rest of us stuck it out, taking the crooked with the straight, challenging each other, falling down and getting back up. In the end, we all grew. And now there is this beautiful thing that we created together. Not perfect, but beautiful in its imperfection. We have a community that has embraced digging deeply into primary source documents and becoming citizen scholars. Many have also taken to the idea of "action research." This means that, as we make new discoveries together about what Mason was doing and why, we are eager to try them out to see what happens and then share our experiences with others, so that we are all constantly learning and improving our practice. And having such an organic curriculum model allows us to make changes as needed in order to better align with Mason.
This has been a very special year for me. I am very grateful for the relationships that have developed and for the support and positive attitudes that our members have displayed, even when I dropped the ball or had to come up with a quick solution for a problem I did not anticipate. I have received wise counsel and great suggestions from this group of people that will only make the Alveary better in the coming years. But mostly I'm grateful for the opportunity to lead the project and to learn that Mason still has plenty to teach me.