You’ve heard things about this Charlotte Mason method, and the more you read the more it sounds like exactly what your family is looking for.
But there’s one problem: you keep seeing on blogs and Facebook groups that Charlotte Mason is for Christians only, and can’t be used by those who aren’t.
But you’re not Christian.
Do you need to leave this method behind and look for another that will welcome non-Christians? Does Charlotte Mason’s method of education really only work for those who have committed themselves to her god? Is there something different about the biology and brain of children of Christian parents that makes this method unsuitable for those of us that aren’t?
Of course not!
Charlotte Mason was Christian
Let’s get this out of the way right now — Charlotte Mason was Christian. More specifically, Anglican. In the U.S., this is the modern Episcopalian Church. Her worldview was saturated with it, and she couldn’t conceive of any other religion being ‘right’, just as many modern-day Christians can’t.
However, she also taught Jewish students, and had friends and close co-workers who were Jewish. Nowhere in her writings have I found where she said that Jewish or any other religions should not use her method. On the contrary, she says that her method works with all children. Are we to believe that her ‘all children’ actually means only Christian children, and that children are biologically different depending on what religion their parents follow?
I don’t think so.
How to bring your own beliefs to a CM education
With the proliferation of Christian curricula where the entire thing seems to be saturated with a certain brand of Christianity, and the inclusion of generally Young Earth resources in these, you’d think that Charlotte Mason held those same views.
Her programmes (from the PNEU) are filled with books that are only mildly Christian or that are outright secular. She used books that taught current scientific theory (Darwin), and she says in Volume 1 concerning which Bible commentaries to use: “Mr. Smyth brings both modern criticism and research to bear, so that children taught from his little manuals will not be startled to be told that the world was not made in six days; and, at the same time, they will be very sure that the world was made by God.”
So what do we as non-Christians, or Christians whose beliefs don’t follow other curricula, do?
First, “We must teach only what we know.”
What does this mean? It was actually this singular passage that brought me back to my non-Christian beliefs. I was trying to raise my daughter with Christian materials, because that was all that was available 15 years ago. I read this passage, and realized that I didn’t believe what I was trying to teach my daughter.
“In the first place, we must teach that which we know, know by the life of the soul, not with any mere knowledge of the mind. Now, of the vast mass of the doctrines and the precepts of religion, we shall find that there are only a few vital truths that we have so taken into our being that we live upon them––this person, these; that person, those; some of us, not more than a single one. One or more, these are the truths we must teach the children, because these will come straight out of our hearts with the enthusiasm of conviction which rarely fails to carry its own idea into the spiritual life of another.” (Home Education p 347)
What are the core beliefs that you carry in your soul? These may or may not align with the religion that you belong to. However, these core beliefs are the only ones you can teach.
How do you make this into a curriculum?
The easiest way is to use a curriculum that aligns fairly closely with what you already believe, and then tweak from there.
The great thing about Charlotte Mason’s curriculum as found in the PNEU programmes is that there are few religious books outside the Bible portions, so it’s easy to take a curriculum that is modeled after these programs and tweak it to fit your own worldview.
Tweaking curriculum for your views
Wildwood Curriculum is a strict Charlotte Mason curriculum, but without religious dogma. It is easily customized to fit your own beliefs.
If you belong to an organized religion with educational materials for your religion, just put those in in place of World Religions/Philosophy. Easy peasy.
If you don’t have such a simple option, it will take a bit more work.
Take a few days to think about what ideas form your spiritual beliefs or core values. Besides those, what knowledge (spiritual or mindfulness) do you think is important to have? What qualities and morals do you want to cultivate in your children?
If you’re a visual person, you might find an outline or a mind map helpful to organize your thoughts. Don’t rush it. It will be a work in progress. Here’s a copy of mine so you can see where I’m coming from.
After you’ve figured out what ideas you want covered, use that as your guide when planning your year. What resources are available to you to convey these ideas to your children? Think outside the box — they don’t need to be books; they can be experiences or you modeling actions. At the same time, they can be books.
Hang with people going through the same thing
Finally, consider joining Facebook homeschool groups that reflect your spiritual views, especially if you can find ones that follow Charlotte Mason.
I prefer groups that embrace both religious and non-religious viewpoints. Here are a few resources:
Charlotte Mason Secular Homeschoolers
Wildwood Curriculum (this is the link to the homepage. If you are planning to use the curriculum, there’s an active Facebook group, too)
Charlotte Mason Plenary
Up Above the Rowan Tree
Charlotte Mason’s method is for everyone, no matter your religious beliefs (or lack of them!)