CM 3 #2 Math in the Charlotte Mason Homeschool with Amy Fischer
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CM EP 2
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Math and the Charlotte Mason Homeschool
By Amy Fisher, from AroundTheThickett.com
How do you do math the Charlotte Mason way? Math and the Charlotte Mason homeschool can feel like an outlier. You may not use beautiful living books. There might even be worksheets. It can be difficult to understand how to bring what is often seen as a dry systematic subject into the full vibrant life that we expect from our literature and history homeschool lessons.
If we happen to have negative experiences with math as children ourselves, this is doubly challenging. But while we may feel discord between math and the rest of our Charlotte Mason homeschool, Charlotte Mason herself did not view math as a separate, unfortunately necessary, subject. And while she did not write nearly as much about math as about other subjects, there is much more in her writing that unifies math with the rest of the curriculum than defines it.
In this audio blog, I have attempted to draw together these unifying ideas about math in the Charlotte Mason homeschool. When we understand the principles, it is easier to understand why and how to teach math in our homeschools.
So, what does Charlotte Mason say about math? Well, Charlotte Mason makes several mentions of math throughout her publishes volumes. There are two places where she talks about the subject at length. In her first published work, she includes a chapter named, Arithmetic, where she explores why children should learn math and how it should be taught in the earlier years of formal schooling.
In her sixth and final published book, Charlotte Mason includes a section on mathematics in the chapter, The Knowledge of the Universe. As in her first volume, Charlotte Mason considers why mathematics should have a place in the curriculum. From these two chapters, we can start to put together the key principles behind teaching math in the Charlotte Mason homeschool. These principles show us the similarities between math and other subjects we teach, which is encouraging and helpful if we don't feel confident, or if we're unsure where to begin.
I'd like to share three of the most important principles that Charlotte Mason gives us for teaching math.
Principle one. We should study math because it is beautiful and true. I spent a couple of semesters at college as a math education major. In one class, I distinctly remember a professor asking why children should learn math. I promptly replied, so they can learn logical thinking and reasoning skills, or something to that effect, at least.
In Home Education, Charlotte Mason says something similar. Math contributes to our reasoning skills. However, by the time she published Philosophy of Education, her thinking had shifted. Math is not a utilitarian subject. It's not something to study because it will make us smarter or more logical, or get us ahead in life. We study math because it is beautiful and true, and because the subject is yet another avenue towards the knowledge of God, the most important knowledge we could possibly have.
Math is lawful and ordered. God is lawful and ordered. Charlotte Mason writes, in Philosophy of Education, that it is a great thing to be brought into the presence of a law, of a whole system of laws, that exist without our concurrence. That two straight lines cannot enclose a space is a fact which we can perceive, state, and act upon, but cannot in any wise alter, should give to children the sense of limitation which is wholesome for all of us, and inspire that Sursum Corda which we should hear in all natural law.
The study of mathematics gives us a special opportunity to come and touch with the unchangeable character of God. This is why we study math. And in fact, why we study any subject at all. Because, as we grow in the knowledge of the good, true, and the beautiful, we grow in the knowledge of God. This principle shows us our purpose in teaching math.
Principle two. Mathematics is a living subject and is taught through the presentation of living ideas. Even as a math major, I would never have said that math classes were life-giving, or even the most interesting classes I took. I definitely had math classes that were straight-up boring. Was this your experience in math? Maybe you could work the problems and pass the class, but, the subject held no special interest and you were glad to be done with it. Charlotte Mason believed that mathematics has the power to capture our children's interest. In this, it is very similar to any other subject we include in our curriculum. She wrote, in her second volume, that all the thought we offer to our children shall be living thought, no mere dry summaries of facts will do, given the vitalizing idea children will readily hang the mere facts upon the idea as upon the peg, capable of sustaining all that is needful to retain.
While Charlotte Mason goes on to write that the teacher is responsible for presenting the living ideas of mathematics to the student, rather than reading from a book, there is otherwise no distinction between this subject and any other included in a Charlotte Mason curriculum. There is no place for what she calls the dry as dust, whether we are teaching history, geography, math, or any other subject. This principle shows us the means of teaching math. The thoughtful presentation of living ideas.
Principle three. Math is one part of a wide curriculum. Charlotte Mason's writing on mathematics is only a small fraction of her writing overall. It's easy to fall into thinking that she simply didn't think the subject was that important. I don't believe this was the case. Instead, I think she minimized her attention on the subject because, culturally, it was receiving too much attention. She wrote in her volumes that it was easy to examine in mathematics and that students often crammed in mathematics in order to pass university entrance exams.
Times have not actually changed much. Mathematics is still a highly tested, highly compared field of study with international league tables and student success rates computed and analyzed to the detriment of the students.
So as much as we can relate to Charlotte Mason's lack of writing on this subject, we still should pay attention to and benefit from what she did write. Far from believing that math isn't as important as other literature-based subjects, Charlotte Mason wrote that education is the science of proportion. Math has a rightful place in the curriculum, but only so much of a place. It is neither better nor worse than other subjects. We should not hang too much store by it, a child can be very logical in solving math problems and find that the mental ability doesn't translate well to other areas of study or even to life in general.
However, we should not limit our children's opportunity of expanding their knowledge in this area and thereby cut off an avenue toward the knowledge of God. I think Charlotte Mason would have had strong opinions against any curriculum that holds up certain subjects as more useful or more worthwhile than another. We need to aim for proportion in our curriculum.
I hope these principles give you a sense that mathematics is not that different to the other subjects we teach in our Charlotte Mason homeschools. We ask our kids to study math in a living way in its appropriate proportion because it leads us Godward.
This audio blog is taken from my complete guide to Charlotte Mason math. To read more, please visit AroundTheThickett.com/math.
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