EDUCATIONAL DISTINCTIVES & PRIORITIES
Every school holds particular values and priorities in a unique balance, thus creating a distinctive culture. The following priorities shape teaching and learning at CMC.
A knowledge-rich education
Children are naturally hungry for knowledge. Our education program, therefore, aspires to be intellectually stimulating, delivering substantial content across every subject area. The breadth of learning is important, because by age 16 young people should have developed many interests and competencies. This is what it means to be well educated, and it is the basis of intelligent citizenship. We prioritise classic material that has proven itself over time and that exposes pupils to some of the main strands of our western cultural inheritance.
The purpose of such a curriculum is to help a pupil establish relationships with as many enriching activities and fields of knowledge as possible: with nature, with history, with great literature, art, music, and so on. Why does this matter? Because as we do this, we grow as people. We understand ourselves better. We reach out of ourselves and appreciate more about others and the world around us. We develop the skills, understanding and insight that can help us live well and be meaningful contributors to society.
Personal growth only takes place when a child engages for himself or herself; it cannot be forced. Assimilation and internalisation of knowledge requires a pupil to be proactive; the resistant or passive person learns nothing. This means that ‘teaching to the test’ or ‘spoon feeding’ is a short-sighted distortion of real education, because it fosters dependence rather than the independence of thought and action that is a hallmark of a mature person.
We place a high priority upon each child assuming increasing ownership for his or her own learning. We do not make use of merit systems. Instead, we simply get on with teaching and learning, allowing a stimulating learning program to serve as its own reward. The importance of self-education also has implications for the teacher’s role. He or she is not the ‘showman of the universe’, or the fount of knowledge, but a mentor or guide whose role is to help pupils engage with the curriculum for themselves. It is the content which satisfies.
The educational atmosphere has two aspects that are extremely important for quality learning to take place: the atmosphere provided by the physical environment of the classroom or home learning centre, and the social-emotional atmosphere.
Regarding the physical atmosphere: The learning environment needs to be a clean, well lit, and airy place of quiet order and aesthetic beauty for optimal learning to take place. Research studies have shown that children can become unsettled, agitated, distracted and even physically sick if the classroom or home-learning environment is cluttered and chaotic.
Regarding the social-emotional atmosphere we aim for our classrooms and home-learning centres to provide a warm, loving, personable atmosphere where each child is cared for – relaxed and productive at the same time. If children are in an environment of threats and harsh discipline, they won’t be able to relax enough to truly learn anything. On the other hand, a lackadaisical approach only breeds chaos and poor character. A middle ground maintains order through diligent habit training, expressed in a warm friendly manner, with natural consequences for poor behaviour. The atmosphere in the classroom or home-learning environment is absolutely vital. It is as indispensable as the air we breathe – and it is primarily the teacher and parents who are responsible for keeping the atmosphere positive.
So, in our school and homes we model enthusiasm for learning in an atmosphere of awe and wonder about the world we live in – and the students catch the atmosphere of the home or learning centre – they breathe it in, as we maintain the discipline of the habit of focusing on the true, the beautiful, the honourable, things worthy of good report. As we are modelling a love of learning, the children absorb our enthusiasm, and the school and families together become a ‘learning community’.
The importance of books
We consider it essential for every child to enjoy books, whole books (not just extracts) – and lots of them. Why? Because the most careful thinking the world possesses is found in books, and books are the best tool for self-education in adult life. We consider it essential that a child develop the patience to engage with a sustained argument or narrative, if he or she would become a careful thinker. Our digital age, by contrast, is characterised by distraction. Universities are increasingly commenting upon their students’ limited attention spans and inability to read whole books. Pupils who are brought up in a culture that prizes books and who are confident and capable readers will stand out.
‘Practical experiential learning’
Charlotte Mason wasn’t just about books she was also interested in students learning about things by: seeing them, touching them and exploring them for themselves.
“Children can be most fitly educated on Things and Books.
i. Natural obstacles for physical contention, climbing, swimming, walking, etc.
ii. Material to work in––wood, leather, clay, etc.
iii. Natural objects in situ––birds, plants, streams, stones, etc,
iv. Objects of art.
v. Scientific apparatus, etc.”
(From Charlotte Mason’s Education Manifesto)
Therefore, as well as quality literature, we use practical experiential learning activities to help students to engage. Whenever possible, teachers, tutors and parents aim to reinforce topics of study by utilising ‘The Five D’s of Learning’, which are:
Do hands-on activities to capture the child’s interest through his God-given senses. Learning can (and should) be fun.
Discover to develop an enquiring mind, wherever possible, allow the child to explore and discover concepts first-hand, rather than merely telling them the facts, or just using texts and workbooks which tell you everything that you should think and believe about a topic.
Dramatise the people and situations that you are learning about, whenever appropriate. This gives the child more empathy with a character or concept as they become immersed in the topic.
Discuss all that you have learnt together. This helps the children to gather their thoughts and express themselves, and also allows you opportunity to work through difficult issues, beliefs and concepts. Talking things over helps them to internalise truths, while strengthening family relationships.
Drill by practicing skills and applying knowledge.
The Discipline of Habit Training
Charlotte Mason said: “Habits are to life as rails are to a train”. A habit is a propensity to respond to a given situation in a certain way. The more deeply ingrained the habit, the more consistent will be the response. We tend to do that which we have always done. And this can work for or against us.
One of the things Charlotte Mason pondered as a young teacher was – How do we lift children above their nature? She found the answer was not through either punishment or reward; but simply through the discipline of habit training. Specific habits include focussed attention, neat and accurate work, courtesy and respect, and emotionally staying your best self. Therefore, we assist the children to develop new habits that will positively form their character, so they can be more successful in life.
Attentive Listening, Narration & Socratic Discussion
Another special emphasis at CMC is upon what we call ‘narration’, as a comprehension tool, which we make extensive use of in our Primary and Middle Schools. The idea is that a teacher reads aloud from an engaging text, such as a narrative history, a Bible story, a biography, or from their literature text. Pupils are then invited to retell orally, point by point, what was just read aloud, having heard it only once. As pupils get older, they will write their own narrations. The primary purpose of narration is to encourage the habit of attentive listening. Verbalising what was heard makes the knowledge ‘stick’ and encourages discussion. It also encourages effective, organised writing.
A time of attentive listening and narration is followed by a Socratic style discussion, where the student’s thoughts are drawn out through a series of open questions to fully discuss and/or debate the topic.
Picture Study uses similar skills. It involves looking with concentrated attention at a reproduction of a great painting. The painting is then turned over and its details are described from memory. A retelling of the picture is followed by brief discussion. In this way children will get to know many great artists – one each term – which greatly increases their pleasure when they see the originals and real-size prints, at the Museum or Art Gallery.
The efficiency of this method is another important advantage: it helps us deliver lessons that are short and to the point, which is a key to enjoyment in learning.
Enjoyment of nature
At CMC our Primary and Middle school children go on Nature Walks every week or fortnight. Their purpose is to encourage detailed observation and identification of ‘ordinary’ natural phenomena such as local wildlife, flowers, plants and trees. We hope our pupils will be attentive to nature and its wonders, an endless source of fascination and pleasure. Detailed interest and close observation are also key skills in Science.
Students keep a Nature Notebook where what was observed is identified and painted using water colours. Nature Study encourages children to have ‘seeing eyes’. Charlotte Mason wrote: ‘Eyes and No Eyes go for a walk. No Eyes comes home bored. He has seen nothing, been interested in nothing, while Eyes is all agog to discuss a hundred things that interest him.’