Recipe vs. Thought (Planning Post)

Method not system, living not dead, spirit not letter, thought not recipes - all these things should be kept in mind as we prepare for the upcoming school year. Normally we think of recipes as a good thing - something that you must keep in order to achieve the desired outcome.  Not so in this instance, not so with a Charlotte Mason education.

Have you begun your planning yet? I will soon - I love planning - I'm on my 23rd year of it! And planning your Charlotte Mason homeschool year should be a thoughtful and peaceful process, I think. Part of the key for me is described in the following excellent article that I can't wait to share with you!  It's by Essex Cholmondeley (pronounced "Chumley” - keep reading to see how I know this), author of The Story of Charlotte Mason and was first published in the Parents' Review no. 36 (1925). There is a bit of British humor sprinkled in there, especially when describing the recipes.  I have transcribed the entire article in the last section of this post.

There are three important points that I want to draw out here. First, you must do the thinking. Sure, it's convenient to use someone else's schedules or experiences (recipes) when planning school. But in Religion as well as Education we must act according to the spirit and not by the letter. Essex says,
Useful though this power of storing up and handing on experiences may be, the recipe-habit of mind is a dangerous one.  Is it, perhaps, of the nature of the leaven of the Pharisees, a trust in the letter which killeth as opposed to the spirit which giveth life? Beware of the leaven! To live by recipe is a great temptation in this efficient and hurried age, it saves time and trouble, it entirely does away with the arduous task of thinking. There are two fields in which we many not yield an inch to this temptation, the green fields of Religion and of her handmaid Education. Beware of listening to the cry for educational recipes; answer it with the clarion of revealed educational truths.
Second, you need to always go back to the principles and not just others' practices. Often times, parents want a quick answer to their particular dilemma.  It's not that easy! I try and help them get down to the bottom of the issue by identifying the principle involved.
The simplest answer to the question "What should I do when my child ---" is "We do ---" but such an answer merely records a practice, maybe an unwise practice under the special circumstances. A wise answer would show a principle at stake and would indicate a general line of action.
Therefore, you need to know the principles so you can figure out your particular dilemma. Obviously you can't go back to the principles if you don't know what they are. They are included at the beginning of each volume as the Twenty Principles and explained in detail throughout the volumes.
"May we do it?" cannot be decided by imagining or remembering what will probably follow if we do; this is merely 'looking after." It is the underlying principle, brought to mind and carefully held in view ---"looking before" ---which should give the final word of permission. Miss Mason left no recipes behind her. She believed in thinking persons, therefore she bequeathed certain principles based upon truth itself. Every parent and teacher is free to apply these principles in ever fresh practice according as new needs and difficulties arise.
I am reminded of that great line I came across in  the Armitt in the L'Umile Pianta (April 1909) which states, "In our training at Scale How, we have absolute freedom while in absolute subjection to principle." Once you understand this, countless possibilities open up for your school, home, teaching, and life! It is one of the reasons  our TBG Community has been so successful as we have applied her principles "as new needs and difficulties arise!" It is why getting together with others walking this path is so important as we can see and hear about the creative ways her principles can be applied.  It is why no two CM homeschools will look alike.

Of course it is helpful to see how others do things. True CM curricula are also a boon for the busy parent - just like the PNEU was for mothers 100 years ago. No one would deny that! But our thought needs to come into play in how we apply them to our own families. Don't miss the humorous history lesson by recipe or the question about whether oral lessons are permissible! And the last paragraph of the article is priceless.  Please read the article and share below if you have a favorite line for your commonplace book.

As you plan your upcoming year, pray and work alongside the Holy Spirit so that your school will truly be a life-breathing, knowledge-getting atmosphere for your family.

Teaching from Peace,

Here are some previous planning posts you might enjoy:

-Time, Peace, and Creativity

I know that Cholmondeley is pronounced "Chumley" because I grew up eating this bread - 


“Of making many books there is no end.” How truly can this be said of those books of crystallised experience, the Recipe books. The making of these did not begin with the scribes of ancient Egypt nor will it end with the printing press. The number of recipes exceeds the orange skins on the sea shore for multitude just as the green fruit on the tree exceeds the ripe fruit in the market.
     So many minds are unpublished but potential books of recipes! Some are complete, some still in the making; a few are encyclopaedic, the majority are concerned with two or three interests only. The content of each of these books gives the history of a lifetime. A great part of everyday life is lived according to recipes – helpful or hindering formulas obtained at second hand from successful people and carried out according to the intelligence, capacity or material resources available. It cannot well be otherwise in such a perplexing world of unstable opinion and fluctuating occupation. “What must I do? How shall I do it?” “What shall I make? How shall I make it?” we cry and then how gratefully we clutch at the floating driftwood ere we drown in a sea of disastrous ignorance and how often we find a straw in our hands.
     Some recipes are not straws, they are veritable logs; the difficult lies in our power of discernment. For instance: —

     “Fruit Salad.  Take ¼ lb.of all fruit in season. Skin and stone the fruit; when the oranges are used remove pips, skin and white pith; cut the fruit into pieces about the size of a Barcelona nut; 1 oz. of blanched almonds cut up; cover with sugar and let it stand for a few hours. Add one glass of liqueur and more sugar if desired.” Personal ideas may be vague concerning the size of a Barcelona nut, no glass of liqueur may be at hand, yet here a very hopeful dish is discernable whereas in the following the afflicted householder can only discern an act of faith:—
      “To destroy cockroaches. Mix equal quantities of oatmeal and plaster of Paris; strew upon the floor.”
      When swimming in deeper waters, the troubled seas of behaviour, the recipial driftwood is still present:—To ensure success
                                “Early to bed and early to rise
                                Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,
                                Wise, healthy and wealthy.”
Or:—To avoid censure and ensure popularity
                                “Speak when you’re spoken to,
                                Do as you’re bid,
                                Shut the door after you
                                Never be chid.”
A former generation made and clung to these, but they are not now considered useful for swimming purposes.
      Nor are recipes wanting for those who desire to lead a religious life, who wish to spend a happy holiday at a seaside resort, who seek health, who engage in a new art of craft (even witchcraft— see Shakespeare) or who undertake the education of children.  There are recipes afloat for all these things and many others, they may be still unpublished but that is only because a large enough demand of them in print has not yet been voiced by the public.
      Useful though this power of storing up and handing on experiences may be, the recipe-habit of mind is dangerous one. Is it, perhaps, of the nature of the leaven of the Pharisees, a trust in the letter which killeth as opposed to the spirit with giveth life? Beware of the leaven! To live by recipe is a great temptation in the efficient and hurried age, it saves time and trouble, it entirely does away with the arduous task of thinking. There are two fields in which we may not yield an inch to this temptation, the green fields of Religion and of her handmaid Education. Certain it is that the true teacher, like the man of true religion, should live by the spirit and not by the letter, by principles, not by rules of practice, however faithfully applied. Beware of listening to the cry for educational recipes; answer it with the clarion of revealed educational truths.
       Hopeful parents and teachers frequently become members of an educational Society thinking that from henceforth all their perplexities will be lightened for them by a body or rules and dictums, unpublished perhaps, but extant in the minds of the more prominent members of their Union. They are doomed to a merciful disappointment.
        Their questions can never be answered by an easily applied rule, the true answer takes the form of a revealed principle upon which the member himself must act intelligently. The simplest answer to the question “What should I do when my child——“ is “We do——“ but such an answer merely records a practice, maybe an unwise practice under the special circumstances.  A wise answer would show a principle at stake and would indicate a general line of action. In our own Union members ask “Why do you do——? Is it P.N.E.U.?” “May we do this?” Thus assailed, the speaker standing nervously behind the slight protection of a small table and a glass of water is in danger of answering quickly and all too well. After the meeting, in the quiet of the fireside, or the loneliness of the railway carriage, the answer may be found to be a mere recipe, applicable only in certain circumstances, on given material. How simple if, when asked “How should lessons be prepared” the reply could be à la cookery book:—
      “To prepare a history lesson (old style).  Take 12 suitable pages of all History books obtainable . Skin and stone the facts; when imaginative writing has been used remove the pips, skin and white pith of redundant language; cut the information into pieces about the size of a small printed paragraph; ½ dozen historical anecdotes; sugar with racy humour and bright manner. Let the lesson lie dormant in the mind for a few hours. Add personal charm and more humour if desired.” How excellent a historical salad some teachers have produced according to this recipe and what indigestion sometimes follows. It is perhaps a dish for which most of our members do not ask.
     Or again: —“How do you get rid of bad discipline at home?”
     To destroy bad discipline. Mix equal quantities of dignity and severity; strew upon the whole household.” Will undesirable behavior then be as dead as the cockroaches in a former recipe?
      Miss Mason answered many questions in her life-time. It has been said by those who knew her that by her answers she revealed an underlying principle, she would never merely prescribe a course of action. In one of her letters to her students she admits that when a point of theory or practice is challenged, she finds it necessary to think out the matter down to its roots before the retort can be adequately discovered. A “large discourse, looking before and after” is wanted. “May we do it?” cannot be decided by imagining or remembering what will probably follow if we do; this is merely “looking after.” It is the underlying principle, brought to mind and carefully held  in view—“looking before” —which should give the final word of permission. Miss Mason left no recipes behind her. She believed in thinking persons, therefore she bequeathed certain principles based upon truth itself.  Every parent and teacher is free to apply these principles in ever fresh practice according as new needs and difficulties arise. If members fail to understand these principles and are content to act only according to advice—however sound,—they will make P.N.E.U. thought into a series of recipes which though useful at the moment, will be entirely inapplicable to the material of everyday life in another generation.
       At the Children’s Gathering at Canterbury the question arose: “May a P.N.E.U. teacher make use of oral lessons?  Is so, when? And to what extent?”
       “What does Miss Mason herself say about this?” is the first thought of the person who endeavours to find the reply. But the first thought may be the second duty; the first duty is the effort to arrive at the principals involved. A teacher may reflect thus:--
        Education is a Life. In order to have fullness of life, the mind like the body, needs food, exercise and rest. School life must present the best balanced supply of these three needs. Certain subjects such as mathematics and languages provide exercise. Granted that children do their own work by themselves to a large extent, oral lessons can be freely used in these subjects. Other subjects such as literature and history should supply the ideas upon which the mind must feed. May oral lessons be given in these subjects?  In science? In Geography? Our desire is that the children should grow in knowledge. What is knowledge, is it the same as information?
        “The distinction between knowledge and information is, I think, fundamental. Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc., whether in books or in the verbal memory of the individual; knowledge, it seems to me, implies the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it…The information acquired in the course of education is only by chance, and here and there, of practical value. Knowledge, on the other hand, this is, the product of the vital action of the mind on the material present to it, is power; as it implies an increase of intellectual aptitude in new directions, and an always new point of departure.” –(School Education).
         Information thus takes a second place but though knowledge be the first aim in view, cannot we devote time to the kind of lesson which does give information but does not bring knowledge? Is it not important to learn certain facts of history, natural history, geography, and should not time be given up to such learning? Time is short and very precious. In these subjects every lesson must intend knowledge, information must come incidentally and keep its “second place.” Children must study in order to know, for they know in order to live.
         Continuing his enquiry the teacher goes on: “How do people get knowledge?” Knowledge results when the mind has accepted and has worked upon the ideas presented to it. Literary form is the vehicle which carries an idea most surely to the mind and it is certain that the mind finds itself free to work delightfully upon those ideas which it meets through good literature and good art. Accordingly it would appear that, in subjects which provide food for the mind, each lesson must  
(1)    Present ideas in a suitable form (literary for preference)
(2)    Ensure “voluntary and delightful action of mind upon the material presented.”
     Can an oral lesson fulfil these obligations? If so, I may give them, if not I must forbear. It is necessary to be even more specific. Is the oral lesson which I have just prepared on “The Great Air Currents of the World” justified? I thought  it would be useful in clearing up a confusion which I find is prevalent in my class after the term’s reading. Is it justified by any original thought on my part,* by my vital interest which will enable my class to receive and use the ideas that I hope to set forth? Is it justified also by the opportunity which I shall give the class of doing individual work upon what they have heard? Or does this lesson consist of carefully got up information, or is it “a single grain of pure knowledge to a gallon of talk”? I wonder if it is only my manner which will hold the attention of the class and if the memorisation or tabulation of essential facts (with which I intend the children to finish the lesson) is merely a mental exercise?
      An honest answer must be given and the answer will permit or forbid the lesson in question. Perhaps even if he finds permission, the teacher will decide to attain his end by other means; but he has at least done his best to examine the truths upon which he intends to base his practice. He is ready to consult Miss Mason’s books and the advice given there concerning the use and misuse of oral lessons will not be used as a recipe but will be intelligently followed.
                It is a very much harder task to recollect and apply a principle than to follow a precept, hence all the recipe-activity in the world, but we are all born persons and the power to think is there in each one of us if we will but use it. To be a “member”—a living part of a living organism—implies and entails the duty of careful thought.  Members of the P.N.E.U. are fortunate in possessing Miss Mason’s books by which to attempt the answering of their own questions and by which to test their answers. Here can be found a clear exposition of those laws of mind, those central truths, upon which all P.N.E.U. method must be based. Here again, can be found sage advice. It is the part of every member to seek and find in his own mind the best means of applying those principles, that advice, to new occasions and to particular instances.  This is the contribution that each one of us can make to the Union, the only one worthy of a thinking person. We have no body of rules, no recipes. A few firmly rooted principles have been shown to us and in these consist the strength and usefulness of the Union. If in the study and expression of these principles we use our liberty, our best intelligence, our careful consideration and our honest labour, we shall find a steadily growing power of meeting new difficulties, not by recipes old or new, but by vital truths. It is possible to attain, as a society and as “persons” to that kind of knowledge which sets men and women free from mere theories of life, while enabling them to live wisely and choose well among the many new and distracting doctrines which daily come to light.

*”Original thought justifies an oral lesson or a lecture, but can the teacher have vital interest, therefore original thought on many subjects?” (MISS MASON).




Thoughts from the LER: Learning for a Lifetime (A Guest Post)

Jeannette Tulis shares her thoughts on the 2017 LER and the audio of her plenary!

I have wanted to attend a Living Education Retreat ever since Nancy Kelly and Karla Taber started the lovely tradition 12 years ago. It usually falls on the same weekend as our big home education expo here in Chattanooga, for which I am one of the organizers, so in many of the past years, it has not been an option for me to consider attending. But this year, providence smiled as it was earlier than in other years, our expo was a bit later in the month than previous years, and I had the impetus of long lost cousins who live in Minneapolis. I lost my dad 4 years ago and since then have wanted to connect with cousins on his side of the family. What a gift to connect with cousins and go to the LER on the same trip.

From the moment I arrived, I was made to feel welcome. Heidi Jahnke gave me an enthusiastic greeting and a lovely card and a package awaited each guest on their cot. No comment on the rustic nature of the cabins which of course is part of the charm, bugs and all, right? The feeling of welcome continued into the dinner time when I saw several familiar faces from other CM gatherings. The first talk by Nancy, the Conversazione, set the tone with the theme of simplicity, a single eye, and humility. It included one of my favorite activities - a picture study - by one of my favorite artists - Botticelli's stunning work Fortitude

My cabin mates encouraged me to attend Morning Meditiations at the cross by the lake and may I say it was well worth the early hour with which one's alarm must be set!  Nancy led the Friday a.m. meds with favorite readings from children's books and worthy devotionals. A perfect way to start the day.

Immersions and workshops that day included one on the Vaulted Book about the Great Recognition led by Steve Mattern which seriously was the next best thing to an actual visit to the Spanish Chapel of the Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence, Italy. In the afternoon I chose a Nature Immersion with Sally Almodovar in which we found all kinds of treasures hiding in the duckweed of Lake Okoboji. I now have a new fondness for the caddis fly larvae thanks to Sally's excellent immersion and a delightful chapter on that creature in Among the Pond People by Clara Dillingham Pierson. I have since downloaded that book for free on my Kindle. the book discussion that night on our chosen retreat read, You Are What You Love was well attended and full of rich insights into human nature and God's grace. After dinner, I was able to corner a local gal who led me on a nature walk and told me the names of all the wildflowers I did not know. White Campion is a new friend to me.

Saturday's morning meditations were a gift of song and worship led by the talented Tyson Suemnicht and caused our hearts to soar over the sunrise on the lake. Thoughts from the Scholars was a most encouraging glimpse into the education journeys of several CM educated high schoolers. They all made their parents very proud, which might have gone against the theme of humility, but there it is!  The Poetry Immersion led by Karla Taber showed us how a truly living book about Longfellow by Catherine Peare lent itself well to narration and we delighted in his early boyhood poems. The narration workshop by Donna Johnson introduced me to a lovely book about Bonhoeffer by Patrick McCormick.

But the real fun happened after the conference when we gathered for an impromptu dry brush notebooking lesson and I saw all the talent in this group of moms, new talent as well as watercolor skills honed in months or years of practice. This was followed by a rollicking session of show and gloat, er, tell with everyone bringing their book finds from Jan Wright's amazing pop-up bookshop Books of Yesterday which was set up in the lower conference room.

I came away from the 2017 LER with a list of books I coveted, some new wildflower friends, lots of new kindred spirits, and a full heart. I may or may not have stopped at nearly every antique store on the way home in hopes of snagging some book treasures. I did make a stop in Mankato to see the Betsy-Tacy neighborhood. The museum was closed but the stop and the town were lovely and picturesque, evoking the fondest memories of the Lovelace series of books.

Learning for a Lifetime: Perks for the CM Teacher
My dad was a toastmaster and I fear he would have been very critical of all the "umms” in my talk. Still I do believe I was able to impart some of the gracious adventures God has seen fit to give me in my homeschooling journey of self education. One thing I forgot to say was that it is a good thing for your children to see you learning, whether reading, keeping journals, taking notes on nature walks or anything else you do to further your understanding.
I hope to add some more links to which I referred in my talk later this week when I can organize them. They will be added to this post.

Jeannette Tulis, Living Education Retreat 2017

Conversazione 2017 - Simplicity (with audios)

Sandro Botticelli's Fortitude

Conversazione is an Italian word.  It is defined as a scholarly or formal gathering where something related to literature or the arts is discussed. The PNEU held these talks in order to drum up interest in the organization, often times with Miss Mason as the speaker.  Each LER begins with a conversazione where I try to share something on my heart that is related to the theme. Each year the Lord brings the elements together in what is, to me, such a surprising way.

The 2017 LER is now over. At least the actual event is over, but I suspect that we will all be thinking about the  many truths shared over the course of the weekend.  So here is the audio of my speech.  Please enjoy listening to it and do let me know your thoughts! I have posted the picture for the picture study and the poem by Mason from The Saviour of the World. Please have those ready when you listen so that you can participate in the immersions and thereby engage in the fullness of the talk. Also, see the link for Highest Thinking and Simplist Living by Mary Beuving at the end.

Teaching from Peace,


You might also enjoy Mary Beuving's workshop on Highest Thinking and Simplist Living!

Here is a post I wrote about The Single Eye.

Please note that the correct reference for the Fortitude section by Mason that I read in the speech is Ourselves, Book 2, p. 41.

Contrived Atmospheres

Recently, my friend AnnMarie told me an interesting, humorous, and instructive story. She and her husband decided it was high time that they taught their young children about hard work. As he had been raised on a farm, he came to the conclusion that taking care of animals was how he learned how to work hard. While they did not live on a farm now, they could still use animals to teach this valuable life lesson.

They hired someone to build a chicken coop and eagerly purchased some adorable little chicks. At first, taking care of them was all fun and games but as the year went by and the weather started to turn colder, their enthusiasm waned. That hard work ethic they were so desperately looking for didn't materialize. The chickens had stopped laying eggs. It was easier to run to Costco to get the eggs, which they regularly did. The experiment was a failure.

What went wrong?  Well, first of all, the husband grew up poor and  in rural Michigan.  If nobody got out of bed to chop the firewood for the stove or feed the chickens, there would be no warmth in the house or eggs for breakfast. However, with their recent  chicken experiment, if nobody gathered the eggs and they went bad, they simply went to the grocery store. Second, it turned out the husband actually hated chicken chores and anytime he worked on the chickens with the children it was clear that it was not his favorite thing to do. It was his father who had a passion for taking care of animals, not him. In hindsight, they realized that the children could see that there was no real need for chickens and that they had fabricated a situation to teach them a lesson. In other words, it was fake!

The Nortons have since learned that contriving an atmosphere doesn't work. Life's natural circumstances are all that is needed to teach the lessons God wants us to learn. Also, the parents' attitude towards circumstances impacts the atmosphere greatly. Charlotte Mason warns us about carefully constructed circumstances that are not natural and reassures us of what is truly needed:

"What if parents and teachers in their zeal misread the schedule of their duties, magnified their office unduly and encroached upon the personality of children? It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us. It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense. We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby's needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges." Vol. 6, p. 96

Teaching from Peace,