Is Charlotte Mason education rigorous enough?

From time to time I receive emails that go something like this…

“I wish I could do Living Books, but my husband says it’s not rigorous enough. He wants me to do Classical instead.”

Do you think that? Learn why CM is not only rigorous, it also operates according to how children actually learn.

A parent new to Charlotte Mason’s ideas and reared in a traditional schooling system often sees all “those books” as merely reading for enjoyment and not “real learning.” They might even say it’s not rigorous enough.

This misunderstanding arises from their own experience with workbooks and textbooks, which are still the primary tools of learning in public education. As new parents, or at least new to CM, they want the best for their children and tend to default to what they know.

It’s an easy mistake to make….trying to do school better than school to prove a point. I did it. Many of my readers have done it. It wasn’t until I read Miss Mason’s book Home Education that I realized my mistake. realized what real learning was.

In Home Education I read about all the things I longed for–high quality literature which revealed a shimmering world of ideas, respect for the person, a gentle, graceful atmosphere in which to learn, time spent outdoors learning from nature, a day organized around joyful learning rather than “getting through” the material, character as a natural outgrowth of reflecting on the good, the true, and the beautiful. This is what we are meant be like and our children after us.

As I began to apply Miss Mason’s ideas I understood that this is real learning…not workbooks, textbooks, rote memorization, form writing, facts without the context.

But, what about rigor?I believe this idea came from people who do not understand what a rigorous curriculum actually is. Most think rigorous equals hard. If it’s hard it must be good. I have seen parents happy to have their children struggling and grim with their studies.This is the antithesis of Charlotte Mason education.

First, a definition of rigorous:

Extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate: as in, “the rigorous testing of students”. Or, strictly applied or adhered to, as in “a rigorous system of laws.”

Anyone who uses a well laid-out CM curriculum knows it is rigorous in the best sense of the word–exhaustive, thorough, and precise about each subject. As with any method there is a way to teach and a way not to teach. Most often it is a matter of being consistent with the plan. If CM methods are applied consistently the results are far beyond traditional schooling.

A caution…you cannot do a “little Charlotte Mason” and expect the results of a parent who has given it their whole heart. You will always get back what you put into something. If it’s a little then that is what comes back.

A child who uses a CM curriculum for his elementary years will enter high school writing and reading at the college level, able to think clearly about what is right and good. He will be well-spoken and expressive, understand how to learn any subject, have a clear understanding of the major ideas of history and philosophy, and have a working knowledge of the areas of science, math, and social studies required by most colleges.

Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions. Just because someone says it’s “not rigorous” doesn’t make it so. I encourage you to dig deeper into Miss Mason’s writings and you will discover a rigor far beyond that offered from a classical curriculum.

Watch for my next blog post where I answer the question: What markers can we use to evaluate a curriculum–any curriculum–if it is rigorous?