April 4, 2024

What is the Method? - Following the Method

Blue Orchard Bee Resource

What is the Method? - Following the Method


A long-standing goal at the Blue Orchard Bee is to improve the accessibility of our resources for all of our listeners and readers. This year will are working toward this goal by republishing some of your favorite episodes with new, fully edited transcripts. Originally from the Spring 2020 series, we're re-releasing this interview with Dr. Carroll Smith with this new and fully-edited transcript. In this interview, Danielle Merritt-Sunseri and Dr. Smith discuss following Mason's method with atypical children.


The following video is a product of the Blue Orchard Bee and the Charlotte Mason Institute who hold a copyright. You are encouraged to share this file with your friends, family, and colleagues. Do not republish this information in any format, including electronic or digital, without permission from the Charlotte Mason Institute. Ideas suggested in these files do not necessarily reflect the views of the Blue Orchard Bee or the Charlotte Mason Institute. Information provided here is not to be perceived or construed as professional advice in matters of mental health. You are encouraged to work closely with a mental health professional provider that meets your needs.


This file comes from the Blue Orchard Bee. We ask you to respect the copyright of this file which belongs to the Charlotte Mason Institute, Andra Smith, and Danielle Merritt- Sunseri.

The file is for personal use only. You may share with family, friends and colleagues, but do not publish the material in any format, including in any electronic format such as website, blogs or otherwise, without permission from the Charlotte Mason Institute, Andra Smith, or Danielle Merritt- Sunseri. Please note the views expressed in these files do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charlotte Mason Institute, Andra Smith, or Danielle Merritt- Sunseri. It is important that you remember that information provided on this file is not intended to represent or to be construed or received as professional advice in matters of mental health. You are encouraged to work closely with a licensed mental health provider that fits your needs. Welcome to the Blue Orchard Bee.

We hope that you continue to stay safe during this pandemic and are very careful about your coming and going. In today's session, Danielle begins a conversation with me, Carroll Smith, about Mason's methods and their application in light of today's neuroscience discoveries and other research related to neuroatypical children. Do we follow the method with neuroatypical children in spite of their neurological needs? This conversation will happen over the next several weeks and possibly into the autumn. You can join the conversation on the Pollinator. If you wish to join the Pollinator, go to the CMI website, click on resources and then click on the Blue Orchard Bee. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will see information about the Pollinator. At the end of that, you will find a link to join. Now, let's listen as Danielle explores our topic for today with Carroll Smith.


Danielle: Carroll, we've been talking a lot this term about issues that people with neurotypical families, neurodiverse families have when they have issues like ADHD or dyslexia in their school rooms. I thought maybe it would be a good time for us to talk about what is it that we value so much about Mason? Why is it, even when we are having these struggles that we are so committed to this paradigm, what makes a Mason education anyway? Before we jump into that conversation, I imagine that we have some listeners who are wondering why we even need to be having this conversation.

So to think about that and talk about that, I just wanted to kind of talk about that question. This idea that caregivers with neuroatypical children are really in a position where they can't simply 'trust the method.' And Andy's done a really wonderful job this term explaining that in her Stewardship series. Yet, we yearn for Mason's approach. Why?

Why is that? What is it that makes her approach so unique and so necessary? And if we can't abide by every last word that she said, because we have some kids whose brains work a little bit differently.

And some of what she said was really relevant to the Victorians. Which ones should guide us? How do we know which ones we should be clinging to? So as we continue to work out application in our current place and time, which includes now all that we know about these neuroatypical kids, we really have to, I think, be able to think about those questions and really be able to articulate what is it that draws us to Mason?

What is it that we can cling to so that we can confidently use these profound gifts that she left for us? So I was hoping you might have some thoughts on that.

Carroll: I do. And thank you for asking me to answer this. I appreciate it. I appreciate being able to talk about Mason's paradigm of education, because I think it is exquisite. And it is so exquisite and so beautiful that it deserves to be given to all children, not just the 'normal' child. Now, you know, Mason mentions a number of times throughout her volumes that she is writing for the 'normal' child. She makes no bones about that, so to speak.

She's very clear about that. And I think that was because in her day, there was a set of children referred to often as 'backward' children, or actually they use the word idiot. But these children, they didn't know what to do with. And I think as science has progressed since her day, we have learned much more about how to educate these children. So, and let me, I want to start with the whole idea that Mason was adamant. If you read throughout her work, she was adamant that we stay tuned in to the science of our day. Now, that doesn't mean that we believe every little thing that science says, but it does mean that true science, and I think she was right in this, true science is a revelation from God for human kind.

And I think that's important to acknowledge it. So, I want to start with a comment that she, that I read in a letter that she wrote in 1920 to Henrietta Franklin. And the comment was this, it was at the end of her letter, she'd written this nice little letter to Henrietta, who she wrote quite frequently, by the way. Henrietta Franklin was a Jewish lady who lived in London, and she was the president, the leader of the PNEU for years and years, and was quite the comrade and friend and companion, not companion, but a really good friend of Charlotte Mason. And she says, and Mason says in this letter to Henrietta at the end, 'I emphasized habit too much in Home Education.

What I urge there is true enough, but unnecessary.' So what I, what, what's happening in my head to, to Mason's thinking is that there is a crack in the wall about her thoughts from the previous years about the habit formation and what that looked like and how important it was or was not. So we see a little crack there.

she was paying attention to what was going on in her day

That crack gets even a little wider because in, I think it was the fall of 19, I think I have that letter somewhere. She wrote another letter in Henrietta Franklin saying that science had not proven the, the issues related to habits and that she would emphasize mind more than habits. So what's important about that isn't that she may have gotten something wrong, but what's important about that is she was paying attention to what was going on in her day, but she was also, and which I think is one of the brilliant things about Mason, she was so in tune to children and so understood them that she could see intuitively, I think, that there was something off with a very strong emphasis on habit. So it seems as though the science that had come from William Carpenter at the time was pushing her in one direction, but her intuition was pushing her in another direction.

Or maybe we could say it's the guidance from the Holy Spirit was pushing her in another direction. So it's really important that we today, if we say that we are going to do Mason, that we stay in touch with what's going on in science, particularly neuroscience for education.

That has all come about in the last 25, 30, 40, 50 years. That is just way beyond what Mason knew in her time. So there are issues with the method, as we refer to it often, for neuroatypical children.

And I think if that is true, then does that mean we either trust or don't trust the method? It presents some problems for us, particularly as it relates to neuroatypical children. I think we need to remember that there is so much that can be said about this topic that you and I will not be able to cover today or in the future as we talk about this topic. But there are some key ideas that I think we want to cover.

And I'm sure that those who are listening to this probably can think of some ideas themselves that are related to this. And as you said, Andy has done a good job of explicating the whole issue of stewarding our own neurochemistry, which is our responsibility to do. But as you said, for these children who have some of these neuroatypical needs, we still desire that exquisite education for them. And we have to really think about that. Or we're not following her first principle. In fact, I think what I would like to say is the opposite of what I've just said. And I've just said that there may be time and we may have to adjust the method because there are problems with the method for some neuroatypical children. Now I'm going to say we must always follow the method. So I think there are probably people out there that go, stop playing with my mind.

Why are you saying this? You've just said you can't always follow the method with neuroatypical children. Now you're turning around and saying, follow the method. And I think what's key here is in Mason's method, and I think it's brilliant. And I don't think we even have begun to realize the brilliance of it, is that her first principle is the guiding principle for everything. So what that means is if science has revealed to us issues, like ADHD or dyslexia or issues with depression or anxiety or autism all these things that it has revealed to that we now have to look at those through that principle, which means we're still following the method and that principle is the for the are not whole of Mason's method. Therefore, if we don't make adjustments to meet the needs of these children who are also persons, then we are not following Mason's method. Does that make sense?

Danielle: Yeah, I have thought at times that we throw the word method around and we're not always talking about the same thing.

Carroll: I would agree with you. And I think frequently when people say 'just follow the method,' they are meaning narration and a few of the essential things that Mason talked about. But I think it's really important that we understand that we cannot give up the idea of the child as a person. We just cannot give up that idea. Because if we do, to me, it's sort of like giving up the idea of the truth of the resurrection.

If you give that up, well, you might as well give up your beliefs in Christianity.

And in Mason's paradigm, the idea that the child is a person cannot and must never be given up. It is her forming foundational principle and we have to stand on it.

As a result, she wanted children to have self-agency. If you look through her writing, she's constantly talking about a self-directed child, a self-reflection, self, she refers to these things a lot. And so this is part of our image.

And it's part of what it means to be a person. She, because she wanted children to have self agency, she wanted them to know. And she wanted them to know truly and fully. And as I this, this sounds really bad, but she did not want them to have some flirty one-night stand with information. She wanted them to know and to know fully. So we have to have that conversation about how can a neuroatypical child know and know fully. And not just skip over and keep doing keep following the method while they are getting left behind and are not tracking with what's going on. Let me give an example. ADHD children, the research seems to indicate that they sometimes can have small or weak working memory. Now working memory is your ability we used to refer to it as short-term memory and I forget what how Mason referred to it she had a she had a phrase for it but in any case, the working memory is the idea that for the moment, you're going to hold in place information that you're going to use in a little bit. For example, in a Mason paradigm a child reads a book or is read a book is read to them whether it's history literature or science, whatever. And the child has to hold in mind what's being read to them, and then narrate it back. Well, if you have problems because of your neurological condition with working memory, then your parent or your teacher is going to have to pay close attention and do what you've talked about in your series. Some serious observations of the child to be able to understand how much that that child can handle in their working memory. For example, by form two and three Mason is expecting a child to be able to narrate a whole paragraph a whole chapter. Well, there are some neuroatypical children who may never be able to narrate a whole chapter, and to expect that of them as following the method is not respecting them as a person. So they the parent or the teacher really has to observe the child and follow the amount of reading based on what the child's working memory can handle, because, and I'm going to say something here that's just going to rattle cages for people.

But if a child has a very weak working memory, there may be times when the teacher or the parent has to reread a passage for the child to try to narrate or to give it back in some way. And for some people in the Mason movement that's heresy. But we're talking about children have neurological issues and we have to, if we're going to respect them as persons, we have to pay attention to that. We're not giving up the method in the sense of, yes, we're still reading with them or to them living books. We still are going to have them give it back, but their way of giving it back has to match their neurological need. So in that sense, we're still following the method, but we have to make sometimes accommodations for these children.

So, again, what would we say we would cherish as part of Mason's paradigm? We cannot violate the child as a person. And so what that means to me is that the method has to be nuanced sometimes to meet the need of the child. Am I making sense? Do you have any thoughts about what I just said?

Danielle: Yeah, I think that it's really easy for people to underestimate just how important that observation and reflection is on the part of the teacher to even recognize things that are impacting the child's ability to access whatever, you know, working memory or verbal ability that they have. For example, you know, they may do fine in one setting, but you may stick them into your co-op and without that observation and reflection, it may be really difficult to understand that, okay, well, in the presence of all of this other stuff going on, they can't do here what they were able to do at home one on one. You know, even things like that can be, I think, really hard for people to understand.

It can be really hard for the community even to understand, 'okay, your kid is doing this at home, why can't we co-op together? How can we work this out? We want you to come participate in this.' And it's really tempting think it’s always a moral issue. It can be a neurological issue. And it's also really hard for people to understand when that relationship and observation isn't there to grasp why exactly this child is having a hard time in those situations.

Carroll: And I think it's Andy talks about some, what could call some meltdowns and how to deal with those meltdowns. It's not always a moral issue. It can be a neurological issue. And here's another reason that I think this conversation is so important. If you look in Hosea chapter four verse six, it says, 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge because you have rejected knowledge' and he's talking to the priest. 'I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will forget your children.' We cannot set neuroatypical children outside the category of being a person and therefore having a right to an education. We can't place them outside of that because I think this scripture is making it very clear to us that a lack of knowledge is devastating.

And it's just as devastating to the neuroatypical child as it is to the typical child.

So we have a responsibility to think carefully about educating all children because they are persons.

We cannot neglect a child or a group of children or a category of children because every child has a right to knowledge as much as they can take in. So I think we really need to think about that this idea that God is saying in Hosea, 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.' And we need to take that seriously even with our atypical children, which sometimes it's so difficult. We can just kind of let them wander and not take it seriously in terms of educating them. What are your thoughts about that?

Danielle: When you were reading this passage from Hosea, the other thing that struck me is that it can be devastating to the neuroatypical child, but I also hear that this is devastating to the community. So there are reverberating effects there. And a lot of times we don't realize that until the damage is done.

Carroll: Yeah, exactly. Well, and I think it's a statement also about the type of paradigm we use for education because frequently we think, and I think I mentioned this in one of the other principles that we can't give up, but this whole idea of knowledge, and Mason was very clear, knowledge is not a well-stored memory.

It's a state of being and we can talk about that some more than under another principle of hers. But I think culturally and education for all children everywhere, we need to think seriously about what knowledge is and what it isn't. Because as it says here in Hosea, it is devastating when there's a generation of people who lack knowledge.

And then when it goes on for several generations, there are serious consequences for lack of knowledge. Anything else that you want to ask me that relates to this topic as to why we are doing this?

Danielle: I think you've covered it pretty well. I think that I think that we can wrap up that question and we can start thinking about the next one.

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