Mason’s program scaffolded relationship
Let us begin by thinking about how Mason’s program scaffolded relationship for her students:
|Wild flowers, fruits, twigs, birds, animals
|The Changing Year
|The Changing Year
|In Our World
|Special studies, esp. ecology
|The Changing Year
|Context of History
|Special studies/Outdoor work
|The Changing Year?
|Current Events and Culture
Mason’s advice encouraged the building of affections with Things from the earliest age – even before they began formal schooling. She considered this stage in the relationship with Things to be essential to all of their later work. The opportunities that she provided for inquiry beginning with the nature journal and expanding with the addition of general science in the world around them provided many opportunities to find friendship with those Things. Maintaining some flexibility with their afternoon occupations protects the time and space that they need to develop eros with some Thing. And ensuring that they are learning their structured scientific disciplines within the context of both science and society provides them the foundation needed for charity as a citizen and as a scientist.
It does not sound as though our case study, Michael, has had the time needed for much of this. He does seem to have some level of comfort and familiarity with the natural world. This is a critical start, but he has never connected nature with science and does not seem to consider it to be relevant to him personally. Michael may or may not get through chemistry with a passing grade this year. More importantly, however, jumping into the discipline without giving attention to the relationship will likely result in an even stronger aversion. Since Michael is attending a Charlotte Mason school, his teacher will hopefully plan for nature excursions that highlight chemistry in the natural world, thereby connecting the existing affection with the discipline. They could also plan for laboratory investigations that connect to sports or auto mechanics, demonstrating a place for friendship. With some encouragement, Michael will be able to share ideas for such investigations. Beyond this initial planning, the teacher will want to observe Michael to notice whether there are specific skills or activities that are obstacles for him. An occasional distaste for a subject or activity is natural. A challenge that the student shows determination and progress with is good. But when these are persistent and damage the student’s relationship with the subject, with those around them, or with themselves, then that student needs help in removing that obstacle. This continual practice of observing and reflecting is a critical part of assessing the student’s relationship, as well as whatever obstacles may be interfering.
Michael’s case brings several other issues to mind. In order to preserve Mason’s scaffolding for our 21st century students, we will have to address differences in our culture and our student population:
- The scientific disciplines of Mason’s time were Biology, Botany, Geology, and Astronomy. Chemistry, Physics, and Technology were brought in, but they were not studied yet as disciplines. Therefore, we would need to consider an appropriate scope, especially as students transition through form 3 and into high school.
- The disciplines of Mason’s time fall under the umbrella of Natural History and, as such, direct contact with the Things would have been largely observational. By contrast, our current disciplines are rooted in the observation of nature, but require more experience with laboratory investigation. Observation and the use of demonstrations still have their place, but we need to distinguish between these and true experimentation and we need to consider an appropriate balance.
- Mason is very clear that her curriculum was designed for the “normal” children of her time. Those that did not respond to habit-training were thought to be “feeble-minded” and did not attend school. We need to consider how to provide for all children along the continuum of abilities. This may require adjustments in some of her methods, which were designed for those “normal” children only.