A Charlotte Mason Plenary: Why It's Totally Worth Checking Out

So if you’ve ever sat down to read Charlotte Mason*’s original writings, you may have quickly set it back down and chosen a digested version of her thoughts instead.  Her writing can be tough to read…especially for those of us that didn’t grow up in Victorian England.

*a note to the reader: Charlotte Mason was a British educator at the turn of the twentieth century.  She believed that education was “an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.”   She believed that children are born persons and each has a right to a wide and liberal education.  Her philosophy and methods have made a huge impact on the homeschooling community. *

I first heard of Charlotte Mason about ten years ago.  Joseph was still a wee little thing and I used those endless hours of baby napping to read any and everything I could about homeschooling.  Toward the beginning of my quest, I stumbled over a name I had never heard…Charlotte Mason.  Philosophy of Education courses were a requirement for my masters so I felt well-versed in famous education philosophers, yet her name did not ring any bells.  Her name popped up more and more often and I finally decided I had enough of second hand references, I needed to read her works myself.

I ordered her first volume, Home Education, and sat down with a pencil in my hand and began to read.  I didn’t make it far.  I got to the second page (which was no easy task as her writing requires one to be well-versed in reading classical literature which was a bit of a foreign language to me back then) and she stumped me by tossing out the name Pestalozzi and, it seemed by her manner of writing, that it was assumed I knew Pestalozzi.  I did not.  I stumbled on catching the gist of what she was saying but losing so much in the language and the references.  I made it to page 3 and now she referred to Herbert Spencer.  Again I was puzzled.  And now I was getting annoyed.  It was frustrating to have to stop every few paragraphs…this was pre-googling days so I just barreled on rather than looking up the references, hoping that the references weren’t important.  Add to that the fact that her writing was difficult for this untrained mind to read and I finally gave up.  I went back to reading predigested versions: Karen Andreola, Catherine Levison, Susan Schaeffer Macauley, Elizabeth Foss.

Years passed and I still loved what I knew about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy and methods.  I employed her methods as often as I could but I knew I wasn’t doing her justice as I was still applying predigested principles to my homeschool.  I tried a few more times to pick up her volume 1, but each time I ended up discouraged.  I needed support and an interpreter!

Last year I found support.  I joined a local Charlotte Mason mom’s group run by a lovely CM user named Rachel Lebowitz.  The group was working its way through Brandy Vencel’s Start Here and reading directly from Volume 6: A Philosophy of Education.  I was thrilled.  And I was overwhelmed.  But I refused to give up.  I bought a copy of her volume in modern language and read that alongside the original.  (In addition to that, I should add that I started working my way very slowly through a few classics each year a few years ago so my tolerance and understanding for more difficult writing had improved since my first attempt at reading CM’s works.)  Eventually, I was able to toss the modern language version and I could read her works directly (plus the accountability of having a group reading with me was so helpful!) but I still found myself annoyed that I had to stop so often to look up her references…I wished for an annotated version of her work!

Now that I have actually worked my way through two of CM’s original volumes, I cannot tell you how vital reading her original works are in properly applying the philosophy and understanding the basis for her methods.  I’m all about any company that strives to lead the reader on a journey that works through her original works.  Predigested blogs and books have their place but they should never replace CM’s original works.  I know her works are daunting.  Accountability and support are vital for any mom attempting to read her works!

a-charlotte-mason-plenary-review

Enter A Charlotte Mason Plenary.  There are quite a few companies out there today republishing CM’s original works and tons of bloggers and educators that write about and help out with applying CM’s methods so why out of all of them would I recommend A Charlotte Mason Plenary?  Because, dear readers, they offer online sessions to help guide you in reading CM’s original works and they guide their sessions using an annotated version of CM’s original works. And, included in the price for a session, you get access to a Facebook group where you can ask questions and get real-time support as you begin implementing Charlotte Mason’s beautiful philosophy and methods.

An online support group to help readers navigate the (often) difficult journey of reading her original words is an amazing opportunity especially for those of you who don’t have access to a local CM group (as I know many moms in other cities lack and have lamented over) .  That annotated version, in my opinion, is worth its weight in gold.   The annotated version comes as a PDF delivered right to your inbox and is included in the membership fee for joining the online support session.  Their version is a complete unabridged text that has been completely annotated and referenced with explanatory notes and I’m telling you, those notes are worth the price of admission!

The folks at A CM Plenary are offering what I wished I had access to 10 years ago.  Support, annotation, explanation, discussion. No predigestion over there.  No abridged versions.  Just CM in all her wise, original words.

The word plenary means “a meeting to be attended by all participants” and so with that word in the title, I gather that this is meant to be meeting place for all, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status aside.  I’m good with that.  As a Catholic CM user, I sometimes find myself a bit of a minority in an otherwise strongly Protestant following.  I like that in a group that considers itself open to all, we can get down to the business of applying her philosophy and methods without getting sidetracked with a conversation about some minute detail of religious disagreement.  Of course, CM taught from a very devout Anglican viewpoint, so while the discussion of God as a guide to educating our children cannot be avoided, I feel that when it’s done without a specific religious slant, it offers each of us an opportunity to apply CM’s thoughts to our own beliefs.  And as a CM follower, I believe CM would have wanted her works accessible to all who came to the table.  After all, that’s what she proposed in education…that a liberal and wide feast should be offered to ALL students regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status so the word plenary seems a perfectly fitting and well-thought out word choice.

As for the ladies behind the Plenary, I can personally attest to their vast depth of knowledge on both CM’s original works as well as her programmes (including books she used and her timetables).  Rachel Lebowitz and Ruk Martin are the two women making all the magic over at the Plenary and while you may not have their phone numbers programmed in your cell phone, joining a Plenary session will be almost as good as they will offer real-time support to answer questions and provide guidance.  Seriously, that’s like having a well-versed CM friend right next door.  Trust me, when you finally read CM’s original works and you’re ready to dive in fully to her methods, there’s nothing better than having a friend close by to ask questions to.   When I finally read CM’s words and gained a deeper understanding of her principles and methods, I had tons of questions…all questions that my local CM group leader and now co-owner of A CM Plenary, Rachel Lebowitz, was able to answer.  It was lovely having her so accessible so I could ask a question and she quickly responded…it made applying CM in my home so much easier.  Real-time support through A CM Plenary offers you the same opportunity!  And these ladies know their stuff.  They have spent a collective 20 years diving deep into CM’s work and they use her methods and philosophy in their own home schools and local CM co-ops with beautiful success.

I’m signed up for the January 2018 Plenary session which will guide participants through Volume 1 over a 12 week period.  I cannot tell you what the online sessions are like as they haven’t begun, but I can tell you that I am loving that annotated version of the volume!  It’s so handy.  Now I can sit down, book in hand, without a phone to look up references and JUST READ.  On the couch, with a cup of tea.  Or on the beach with some lemonade.  Or in the car on the way to my parents.  I don’t need extra resources or gadgets to gain insight into CM’s comments…Rachel and Ruk have done that for me with all of those annotations.  Convenient and lovely, I tell you.  I am looking forward to a community of fellow educators all reading and studying CM’s words together…I imagine I will gain much insight and knowledge through others’ thoughts, questions and discussion which of course leaves me eager to begin, knowing my little domestic school will profit from my participation.

Also, a cool little tidbit and something different about their annotated version is that they have taken the questions from the Appendix in the original volume and put those questions at the end of each chapter where they belong.  Charlotte Mason actually started her career as an educator by lecturing to mothers and those lectures are what we read today all collected in her volume 1, Home Education.  As the lectures were meant as an educational course for mothers to school their own children, she included questions (in the Appendix) to help guide her blossoming educators.  I like that A CM Plenary has put those with each chapter rather than leaving them in the Appendix…a strategic little move, in my opinion, as they help you digest and understand the section you just finished reading.  (Truth be told: I never used those questions when I read Home Education the first time…I like that having them after each chapter is forcing me to reflect upon them.)

The only downside I should warn you of is that since the annotated version is a PDF version, it does require printing or, alternatively, you could read it on an e-reader.  As CM had a lot to say, if you like to hold a book in hand, that could conceivably annoy you if you don’t like to print long things out.  But as Rachel and Ruk have divided the volume into 6 parts (to follow CM’s original division), to be released separately over the course of the Plenary session, it may not be as overwhelming as you imagine.  Personally I like the idea of printing each section as we go so that I don’t find myself bogged down with the entirety of the volume…little chunks at a time trick my mind into thinking this is doable (which I promise…reading CM’s original works is not only doable but it is incredibly rewarding and enriching).

I am excited to watch over the next few months as A Charlotte Mason Plenary hits the ground and begins running.  Looking over their lovely website leaves me anxious to follow their progress.  They’ve got lots of good and beautiful things in the works including Plenary sessions on Volume 6 and CM’s 20 Principles in addition to sessions on Plutarch, Shakespeare and the Handbook of Nature Study (what average mom couldn’t use a little hand holding with some of those formidable topics?!)  Their website has lots of “coming soon” links and pages so I’ll be delighted to see those come to fruition.

Hope to see you in the January Plenary Session!

*I was given a free copy and admission to session 1 for an honest review of A Charlotte Mason Plenary.

5 thoughts on “A Charlotte Mason Plenary: Why It's Totally Worth Checking Out

  1. Excellent write up! I’m also signed up for the January 2018 session and can’t wait to begin! I was lucky enough to meet Rachel and Ruk two years ago when my kids were just starting school and without their guidance I’d have been lost and most likely not continued on with our Charlotte Mason education (or at least not be implementing it with the confidence that I do now). They are both so inspiring and have a genuine desire to help other parents because they’ve been there themselves. They are both vastly knowledgeable on all things CM and know just how to break it down for others to easily understand. This is a truly good thing for the growing CM global community and will help ensure that her methods are handed down unadulterated!

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  2. Great article! In the beginning of my homeschool journey, I remember reading about this method and loved the thought of it but kept with the standard school method. We were in a homeschool rut and we needed a change. I met Ruk and Rachel (about 3 years ago) and joined their co-op group and haven’t looked back. ☺️ They have helped me so much with all my questions and guided me to do the best I can. And I love how they take the time to help me understand and not be overwhelmed. Even though, I’ve been doing this method for some time, I signed up for this session and can’t wait to begin. I want the full CM experience. I’ve been breezin’ thru our CM journey with minimal reading here and there and taking the advice of Ruk and Rachel and going to our study groups. But with my little guy so curious about what big sister is up to, I need to brush up and keep my CM ways fresh. It’s just a great method, I wish I would have met them so much sooner! 🙂

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  3. Thank you ALL for the kind words! We are so excited about helping other moms learn more about CM. And we’ve been so overwhelmed by, and so grateful for, all the positive feedback we’ve been getting.

    Stacie, I just love how you worded what we aim to do at The Plenary: to “offer support, annotation, explanation, and discussion.” Thank you for believing in us enough to spread the word!

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  4. Pingback: Plutarch via The Charlotte Mason Plenary and Why It’s My Preferred Guide | Standing Over Running Water

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