Timetables, Principles, and Brains

Charlotte Mason: brilliant educator in England around the turn of the last century, author of several books, creator of the Parent’s National Education Union promoting her ideas about education (living books, treat children with respect, narration, nature study, include music and pictures and poetry, etc, etc). She also started a teacher training school where she taught future teachers and governesses her methods, which they implemented in the local school Miss Mason established for the practical implantation of her methods and to give her students at the Ambleside House of Education a place to put their learning into practice.

P.U.S. —a rather oozy acronym standing for Parents’ Union Schools

L’Umile Pianta- a little journal put out by graduates of her training program who wrote to discuss how to implement her ideas practically in the schools and homes where they worked.

Mason’s methods are firmly based in certain principles found in the front of each of her six volume set on education. She also had various practices, most of which illustrate the principles but are not, in general, to be mistaken for the principles. One was a requirement, the other an expedient.

One of those tools was a timetable, which was put together for the P.U.S. to follow. But sometimes, they struggled with that:

On the Possibility of Doing P.U.S. Work While Keeping Strictly to the Time-Tables. This was originally published in L’umile Pianta. It is written by a teacher in a PNEU school who has some frustrations with attempting to implement the timetables as written. You really must read it all, it is delicious and everybody who feels like a failure for not keeping perfectly to Mason’s timetables will feel much better.

From the final paragraph:

“I will refrain from enlarging upon the involved state of affairs when there are children working partly in one class and partly in another; nor will I discuss what happens when one has a child of 10 who cannot read. Suffice it to say that one is inclined to wish that either he would go away or else that every other child would vanish into empty air, leading one free to follow absolutely strictly one of the ideal timetables to which have been so cleverly, so thoughtfully, and so comprehensively drawn up.”

Even when Miss Mason was alive, it seems, teachers struggled to make the timetables fit the children they actually had, and it didn’t always work.

It is important to remember that while the timetables are very helpful because they illustrate some principles, they are not the principles.

And if you have not read Brandy’s post on sabotaging your homeschool, which I linked to previously, you really should. It is also very helpful.

In the comments there, somebody shared this quote from the book In Memoriam (a hagiographic little biography published after Miss Mason’s death):

“Perhaps this principle was specially evident during Criticism lessons on Thursday mornings when Miss Mason would criticise a student for doing what was, apparently, precisely the thing another student has been criticised for not doing the previous Thursday, thus reducing us to despair. For what were we to do? and when we asked for the precise recipe we were told to “mix it with brains.” Every lesson needs a special giving and the method is based upon broad principles which leave the teacher all the exercise of her own ingenuity.”

Learn as much as you can, work out your philosophy of education, understand what Miss Mason did, and more importantly why. Once you have established this foundation, all of us have to mix it with brains, dearies. Mix it with brains.

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