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My Only "Beef" with Charlotte Mason

I love the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling. The turn-of-the-19th-century educational guru was really on to something.

I say yes to educating the whole person, yes to the three-pronged concept that “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life,” yes to literature-based learning using “living books,” yes to verbal and written narrations, yes to spending time outdoors, yes to a wide variety of experiences and exposures, yes to modeling how to give your best effort and your full attention.

And yes to high expectations and high aspirations for our children.

I just have one wee little beef with her education philosophy that I’m sure will offend Charlotte Mason fans and stoke fires of indignation among veteran homeschoolers everywhere.

I believe there’s a place for twaddle.

There, I said (wrote) it.

Perhaps you’re new to the Charlotte Mason world and are unfamiliar with this term. Mirriam-Webster defines the word “twaddle” as silly talk or something that is insignificant or worthless. In the world of CM, it refers to books that could be likened to “junk food for the mind.” They may have little or no literary value. They may be silly, nonsensical books that do nothing to further the intellect or well-being of your child.

So why on earth would I, someone who highly esteems education to the point where I have treated every back-to-school day like a national holiday since 1976, concede to the concept of twaddle?

It’s the same reason I indulge in an ice cream cone once in awhile or laugh at a pointless joke or watch a light-hearted romantic comedy or read a book “just for fun.” This world is full of serious. It’s full of kids who feel the weight of their parents’ worries, the pressure to perform, and the fear of what could happen in an insecure world.

So let’s all take time to PLAY just for the sake of playing. That chocolate ice cream cone contains nothing of nutritional value for me, but I enjoy it simply because it tickles my taste buds with its creamy chocolateness. Why not eat nutritious foods and enjoy a treat just for fun?

When our boys were tweens, it was not unusual for them to go to bed with an encyclopedia (or a history reference book) and a Spongebob book. They giggled at Spongebob and then filled their voracious minds with as much “real” knowledge as they could until they drifted off to sleep. And although our daughter was enthralled by some goofy character named Jellaby for her nightly reading, she followed it with “How the Body Works” or some other biology book - “just for fun.”

What ensued in the cognitive and emotional development of our children was a passion for learning concepts that were intellectually nourishing as well as an ability to not take themselves and others too seriously all the time. One minute the kids would engage in quizzing each other on the chronology of the U.S. Presidents or stating yet another “fun fact” about human genetics and the next minute someone was showing off that they could stick a Cheetoh up their nose just far enough so it wouldn’t fall out (not that I would recommend that, BTW).

Did we ever censor their reading? Yes, when we needed to. When literature crossed the line of light-hearted, harmless fun and entered the realm of glorifying evil or promoting cruelty and disrespect for self and others, it was a “no go” and we would lovingly explain why. Some books were in a “gray area.” In those instances, we let the children read it and asked them to pick out parts of the book they felt good about and parts they were unsure about or to identify instances where they agreed or disagreed with the character’s words and actions. By taking some ownership on their discernment of literature, they were able to apply more discernment in other areas of their lives as well.

I’m happy to report that our adult children are intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally grounded and have a terrific sense of humor. We still laugh together at Spongebob references just because they’re so silly and meaningless. And in today’s world, where it is so easy to feel uncertainty and fear, laughter and light-heartedness is good medicine.

A life that’s filled only with meaningless twaddle is a meaningless life. However, a life with purpose and meaning can also include a healthy dose of utterly frivolous (aka "junk foody") laughter.

One wonders if the following twaddle-referenced joke would elicit a guffaw from Charlotte Mason herself:

Spongebob: Patrick, you’re a genius!

Patrick: Yeah, I get called that a lot.

Spongebob: What? A genius?

Patrick: No, Patrick.

I say yes to a little twaddle.

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