Charlotte Mason and Tests


Many people believe a CM education to be a test free, assignment free education. Consulting our field guide to a CM education- Miss Mason’s own writings about her principles of education- we discover otherwise. Just as we identify the Cardinal by certain marks that tell us he is a cardinal, so we can identify the Charlotte Mason education by its adherence to certain principles Miss Mason believed were necessary to her method.

I will be upfront here and say this is one area where I fall consistantly short of where I want to be. This is my goal, it is not where I am. I could make myself feel better about this by insisting that exams are not important in a CM education, but, given my fetish for accuracy, that actually would not make me feel better because it would not be true, and I know it would not be true. I do not feel that ‘I fall short’ because Miss Mason said something and I am not doing it. I feel I fall short because I agree with her that something would be good to do, and I am not doing what I think would be good to do. It’s not that Miss Mason said it, it’s that I think it is right.

Miss Mason was, IMO a brilliant woman. However, she is not a minor deity to me (or anybody else I know). I like her principles, I respect her incredible mind, and I usually find that when I think I disagree with her, if I read more carefully and study a bit deeper I either misunderstood her or I agree with her. When I don’t, I do not feel the slightest bit of guilt or compunction about it. Her disciplinary methods and my own, for instance, part company at certain points. I can deviate from her approach without feeling guilty. While I think she is incredibly brilliant and very accurate in her understanding of children and how they learn, I do not put her up on so high a pedestal that I have to sanctify everything we do in our homeschool by labeling it Charlotte Mason when it isn’t.

So I have seldom found time to do exams, and this is not CM. This is why (some of you have already seen the rough draft of this because I sloppily left it attached to a previous post):

Far from being forbidden to test or to use the books in any other way but narrations, Term exams are mentioned frequently. Examples of exam questions are included in at least two volumes, and the exam questions are not just narrations.
Miss Mason’s students had term exams regularly; Charlotte insisted on them (see page 272, probably volume 6). The examinations lasted a week; the children covered from 20 to 60 sheets of paper with their answers (page 241). In addition to the pages of exam questions given in volume six on pages 220-222, other questions are sprinkled throughout the book. The exams had questions such as:

‘The people sat in darkness…I am the Light of the world.’ Shew as far as you can the meaning of these statements.
Write an essay or a poem on the Bread of Life.
Describe the condition of the a. the clergy, b. the army, c. the navy, d. the general public in and about 1685
Trace the rise of Prussia before Frederick the Great
What theories of government were held by Louis XIV? Give some account of his great ministers.
Describe the rise of Russia and its condition at the opening of the eighteenth century.
Suppose Evelyn or Pepys in counsel at the League of Nations, write his diary for three days.
Sketch the character and manners of Addison. How does he appear in Esmond?
What do you know of A. County Councils, B. District Councils C. Parish Councils?
Write twelve lines (which must scan) on Sir Henry Lee or Cordelia or Pericles or Livingstone, or discuss Lord Derby’s Scheme. How is it working? Or write an essay on “The new army in the making, shewing what some of the difficulties have been and what has been achieved.
Write some lines in blank verse that must scan on one of the following: Scylla and Charybdis, the White Lady of Avenel, or the Prince of Wales in India.
Write in Ballad Metre some lines on Armistice Day or Echo.
Write thirty lines of blank verse on A Spring Morning or Pegasus…
Write some verses in the metre of Pope’s Essay on Man on the meeting of the League of Nations.
Gather up in blank verse the impressions you have received from your reading of Tennyson’s poems.
Write a letter in the manner of Gray on any Modern Topic.
Sketch a scene between Mr. Woodhouse of today and a neighbor of his.
Write some lines on ‘spring’ in the metre of Allegro.
Describe, with study in sepia, Corot’s ‘Evening.’
When reading Plutarch’s Lives the children learn to answer such questions as “In what ways did Pericles make Athens beautiful? How did he persuade the people to help him?” How did Pericles manage the people in time of war lest they should force him to act against his own judgment? (Page 186)
The children answer such questions as “Tell about the meeting of Ulysses and Telemachus, about Jason and Hera. Tell how Christian and hopeful met with Giant Despair or about the Shining Ones….
They will tell in their examinations about the Feeding of the Four Thousand, about the Building of the Tabernacle, how Doubting Castle was demolished, about the burning of Old St. Paul’s, How we know that the world is round…
Make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names of the plants you would expect to find.”
Write notes with drawings of the special study you have made this term.
What do you understand by calyx, corolla, stamen, pistil?
In what ways are flowers fertilised?
How would you find the Pole Star?
Mention six other stars and say in what constellations they occur.”
How would you distinguish between Early, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic? Give drawings.
What lands form the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean?
What countries are washed by the Baltic?
Between what parallels does Europe extend?
What part of Belgium does the Scheldt drain?
Name ten famous places in its basin.

Children 9-12 are said to have ‘more delightful subjects for composition’ which implies that composition was assigned, does it not?
In addition to exams, Exercises in scansion are necessary in English and Latin verse (page 193), They have innumerable subjects for short essays or short sets of verses of a more abstract nature. They are asked to write on subjects which have interested them keenly (this is during the term, not for term exams).

In addition to reading and narrating, in a term a class (depending on which level) might be asked to write a good précis, letters to The Times on topics of the day, notes on a picture study, dialogues between characters occurring in the literature and history studies, ballads on current events; essays on events and questions of the day, a patriotic play in verse or prose, write a paean rhymed or in blank verse, on the Prince of Wales’ tour in the Dominions, as essay, dated 1930 on the imagined work of the League of Nations by then, write a woeful ballad touching the condition of Ireland, a poem on the King’s garden party to the VCS. An essay on the present condition of England, an essay on President Wilson. (Page 194)
The students illustrate favourite scenes and passages in the books read during the term (page 216)
Before reading a lesson children have to find the places mentioned in that lesson on a map
The children were also expected to know where they are, relative to other places, to given parallels, meridians (page 224)

As a cursory glance through volume 6 would indicate it was not, in fact, exams that Miss Mason objected to, or she wouldn’t have included so many exam questions nor so frequently given to her students essay exams. She objected to education being regulated by exams or replaced by exams, which produced teaching to the test rather than teaching to ‘awaken a sense of awe…’ Page 231

Which is kind of what we have today, isn’t it?

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