I don't find time often enough to sit down and blog, but this morning I received a Facebook message from a new friend whom I met at the English retreat and who lives in Australia, saying that she had come across my name while looking for research on narration. She wanted to know what areas of research I thought were still needed with regards to Mason's philosophy and/or methods. I had an hour in the car to think about it, and I thought it would be great if more than just one person could get a response to that question. So this one's for you, Catherine!
Now before you begin skimming or close your browser because the topic is research, hear me out for just a minute. First, I would like the opportunity to clear something up. Having a doctorate and sharing research can put one in the rather bizarre position within the education community (from homeschoolers to public school teachers) of being somewhat of a celebrity to some while being a total pariah to others. I have to say, I don't understand it. I have seen forums referring to "those" PhDs in their ivory towers, totally irrelevant to "us" simple, everyday practitioners. Conversely, I have also seen some people with terminal degrees look down their noses at "those" practitioners who just won't change their practices to reflect current research. If you are in one of those camps, I can sort of get where you're coming from, but it's not really helpful. I know it can be frustrating either way. But it doesn't have to be! I believe the best research comes from two places. One is a truly symbiotic relationship between the researcher(s) and practitioner(s), in which the researcher listens open-mindedly to the practitioner and the practitioner uses what comes out of the research to improve his/her practice. The other is the researcher-practitioner--one who has both boots on the ground and head in the books. These people are constantly reading, looking for ways to improve their practice, and trying things to get the best results. And guess what? I would be willing to wager that most of the people reading this blog are researcher-practitioners. Guess what else? The day you became a Charlotte Mason teacher, whether at home or at a school, you became a research-based practitioner.
Mason's ideas are so heavily supported by current research it is almost funny. Through the 1980's and 1990's, "retelling" (a.k.a, "narration") was a very popular research topic. You know what they found? It works better than comprehension questions. When I was doing my doctoral research on writing development, I thought it might be an area that was not supported by research. But I found two meta-analyses (where someone looks at all of the research that has been done on a topic and looks for patterns) that said that kids learn to write by reading--not by being taught writing skills or grammar skills or spelling skills, or even by writing practice--and that the better books they read, the better writers they became. There is a plethora of research out there about how math should be taught conceptually, how starting school too early is damaging to children, how keeping kids outside is healthy and testing them to death is unhealthy, how vocabulary and spelling are learned through many encounters in context and not through lists, how relational approaches to discipline work better than the tradition rewards and punishments schemes,...the list goes on and on. So if you are a Mason teacher, you follow research-based practices. And if you read articles that come your way on Facebook or books on brain development and allow them to help you improve your daily practice, then congratulations! You are a researcher-practitioner! As far as why these practices don't make it into mainstream schools, I think the ideas of standardization and empiricism will have to be let go of first.
In answer to your question, Catherine, what I see as the most needed area for us researcher-practitioners to tackle is actually not outside validation. We already have that. What we need is to take advantage of all of the primary resource documents that we now have access to, which we have only had in limited quantities before. Sure, we may have read the volumes, but when you start using what you know from those books and juxtaposing it with the programmes we have available on the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection, Parents Review articles, the L'Umile Pianta, and even letters and manuscripts from the archives, you find very quickly that they help interpret one another. We were missing pieces of the puzzle all along, and we didn't even know it! Since I started doing this, there have been many things I thought I knew from the volumes that I have had to change in my practice, because other sources showed in better detail how the principles were actually put into practice in the PNEU schools and homeschools. There is a lot of work to be done there, and we, as researcher-practitioners, should be digging hard and publishing our findings to help others and ourselves improve our practice.
By the way, the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection is easier to use than ever now. I know lots of people were frustrated with it at first. But they have moved the whole thing to WorldCat, and it works brilliantly. Just go to the WorldCat website and preface your search with "cmdc" (e.g., "cmdc narration").
Thanks for your question, Catherine, and I hope you have a g'day, mate!