One of the things that I always wondered (but never had the time or energy to investigate while running a school) was how Mason's programmes fit into the P.U.S. schedules. At Willow Tree, I felt like our curriculum was well-aligned with Mason's programmes, but we had a difficult time fitting everything in, even when our school days were longer than the P.U.S schools', and the trying kept us feeling as though we were rushing through a checklist. Add to that the idea that there were no evening lessons (homework) because afternoons should be free for other endeavors, and it made for a seemingly impossible timetable that frequently frustrated both the students and the teachers. There was very little time for "grand conversations," which we all valued, and some of the more contemplative subjects and activities, and those which required astute observation, were often thwarted by children whose primary interest was in talking to their friends and playing. At the time, I chalked it up to just being one of the "cons" of teaching in a school environment (of which, of course, there are also many "pros").
But now that I have the time and a reason to delve into this problem, I have been juxtaposing and cross-referencing the programmes with the timetable published in 1908. What I found came as a surprise to me, which is why I am sharing it with you now. When I plugged the subjects into their respective times on the schedule, there was a lot left over. Not just that, but some of what was left over were things I would consider "core" parts of the curriculum, like the reading of history, citizenship, and literature, picture study, music and music appreciation (composer study), and nature study*. I was less surprised to see things like handcrafts, reading the newspaper, and transcription, but it still came as a bit of a shock to me that students were doing so many of their subjects at home. All this time, I had misinterpreted what Mason meant when she said that afternoons and evenings were left free for other pursuits, and I don't think I am alone.
Obviously, it makes one wonder why she would have structured things this way. Several possible reasons come to mind. In volume 4, Mason writes, "It is a bad thing to think that time is our own to do what we like with....To use time is a duty" (p. 173). Then, in volume 6, she writes that there are no evening lessons (as in teacher-directed activities), so that students had time for "vocational work, interests, and hobbies" (p. 9). But what were my students going home to when I left their evenings completely free, except for reading a little? The answer was mostly screen time. I think Mason left those subjects for the afternoons and evenings to help her students develop the habit of the constructive and productive use of their leisure time--to keep them from running towards being slothful. It also made them less dependent on a teacher while reading, gave them time to write narrations without the pressure of trying to finish with everyone else, and allowed them to go outside and really observe nature and think without distraction. It supported the idea that education is an atmosphere--something in the air we breathe--just what people do--rather than a checklist of things to get done during set hours (and years) that have little to do with real life.
I have no doubt that homeschool families have less trouble with this issue than schools, although I know that some co-ops choose to do some of the more contemplative subjects, like nature study, as a group. It may be worth re-thinking. If Mason left certain subjects for afternoons and holidays, then those subjects are likely to be better suited for individual pursuit. I don't know what the answer is for schools, where parents and students are used to attending for certain hours of the day and then being done, but I think it warrants serious contemplation and a different kind of partnership between school and home.
Thanks for reading! Now go enjoy a cuppa, and be sure to leave a comment to keep the conversation going. Blessings on your day!
* I think it is important to note that subjects that required heavy scaffolding from a teacher, such as math, geography, and languages, were always finished during the school day, so resist the temptation to interpret this piece as permission to give homework in those areas.