I think a good place to start this conversation might be with a celebration. Look at how far we have come as a community! We owe so much to the pioneers of the 1980s and 1990s. Starting basically from scratch, people like Susan Macaulay, Karen Andreola and the ladies at Ambleside Online built the foundation we are all standing on now, and most of these incredible people continue their efforts today. They republished the original volumes so we could read them, went to the Armitt Museum and Library to learn from the archives and transcribe things so we could have access to original documents, and developed curriculum. They essentially figured out how to homeschool and then shared their knowledge freely with the rest of us. What a gift!
There were other results of the volumes being republished, too. A few brave souls took Mason's model of education into the classroom and started Charlotte Mason schools. Others wrote theses and dissertations to try to learn more. Nonprofit organizations like ChildlightUSA (Now The Charlotte Mason Institute) hosted conferences that brought all kinds of people together and served as a catalyst for so many individuals and groups to host their own regional conferences and retreats. Their national conference still serves as a spring from which many leaders of the CM community come each year to drink deeply.
At the same time these people were working in America, Dr. John Thorley was finishing out his tenure as the last principal of Charlotte Mason College in Ambleside. He went through every single item in the Mason archive, organized the boxes, and made a catalog of their contents. This catalog was essential when Dr. Deani Van Pelt obtained a grant to digitize the archive, which we can all freely use now without having to travel to the UK. Another tremendous gift!
Are you feeling good about us as a dynamic community yet? If not, you should! Because of these contributions, our understanding of Mason is in a time of exponential growth. We can now see more of the original programmes than we could before. We can see examples of notebooks. We can examine how Mason taught students at the teacher college, mothers at home, and students in the practicing school. These documents are helping us all fill in the gaps in our knowledge. There are lots of incredibly brilliant people using the archive for a wide variety of things, and we are all benefitting from their work. Hooray! Aren't we lucky to have such a wealth of resources?!
Now, with growth sometimes come growing pains. This is certainly happening within the Mason community, and many feel very uncomfortable with it. But let's take a step back, try to see the whole landscape for a minute, and think about what that really means. First, it is important to keep in mind that every single person who is doing any kind of work to try to understand Mason's ideas and articulate them to others is doing so from a place of conviction. And where there is conviction, there is the Holy Spirit.
That recognition should give us all pause.
So if the Holy Spirit is working through individuals, why do those individuals sometimes disagree? Well, first of all, let's get some perspective. How much do they actually disagree about? This is impossible to quantify, but my estimation is very little. While twenty years ago, CM leaders were working to construct understanding, today we are refining understanding. We have the big ideas and principles; now we are working out the nuance. It is actually an indicator of just how far we have come as a community, and that is another thing we should celebrate!
Next, we must understand that we are still in the early days of having so many primary sources to read and analyze. No one has read everything there is to read, and those who are reading have different backgrounds and different areas of focus. This is going to naturally cause people to develop differing opinions on specific topics. (But remember, we are talking about nuance here. It is not a gaping chasm; it's more like a crack in the sidewalk. Can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that we are all on the same sidewalk?) We are still very much in exploratory mode. In research, being in exploratory mode means that you go down as many trails as possible. Your work develops branches, and all of those branches develop their own branches. The network of ideas grows so large it seems as though it will become unmanageable. But then, after a while, patterns start to emerge and the work starts to take on a more focused shape. You begin to get brief and elusive glimpses of the something you really did not know you were searching for. And then, at last, the something starts to come into focus, and all (or at least most) of the pieces seem to fall into place. Just knowing that this is what is happening should make us feel like we are moving together in a positive direction, even when it seems like we are moving apart. The process is not personal, and it does not have to cause divisiveness or strife. It is just the process.
I think one of the most critical things we need to acknowledge is that we are no where near the end of the process, and, therefore, no one person or group has the final word on Mason, who herself said that there is no final word on education (see School Education, pp. 45-46). The best that any of us can hope to do is to look at the information we have at hand and draw on our backgrounds to find something that might add to the conversation and move our collective knowledge forward. Mason was ok with that, and we must be, too.
I hope this discussion has shown at least a little bit of light on what I think is happening in our community and why. We have so many tremendous resources at our fingertips and so many committed people who are doing so much hard work. It is a good thing to give them our thanks, our trust, and our respect, and it is a kind thing to acknowledge that we are all mere humans who will sometimes get things right and sometimes get things wrong. It is well for us all to remember that it takes tremendous courage to step out and say anything publicly, so let's take a few moments to applaud the people who do. To the authors, bloggers, curriculum writers, teacher trainers, podcasters, and community supporters of all kinds, thank you for being willing to risk something for an idea that you know resonates with Truth. I join in with the CM community in being grateful for your continued efforts. May we all continue to walk forward together in grace and humility.
Next time: Observations From the Ivory Tower
What is the current "temperature" of the CM community regarding research? And, more importantly, what are the potential opportunities for our community and the potential pitfalls we can avoid through the responsible use of research?