The PNEU school that i attended as a child was built on the principles of Charlotte Mason, a Victorian who studied and practised the education of children throughout her life. Not that I knew this at the time, I simply knew I was in a place where my interests were valid, where there was time for me to follow a project, read faster than some, learn my tables slower than others, do country dancing, nature study, poetry and story writing alongside history, maths and and bible study.
It would be fair to say that the lessons I knew were considered important at my PNEU are the ones I think of as being important as we start our home education experience. For my own reasons, I can see the value of my children unlocking the secret of reading early on, I can see that knowing my tables backwards, forwards and inside out has been vital in my ability to quickly compute numbers in everyday life and be able to appear bright and able at times it is necessary. There are parts of the CM method which I wish had continued to be so simple and faithful in my life; growing up through senior school I missed the unblinking bible study that had been a part of my life, it left a hole I was unable to fill. There is a value in knowing well the details of a subject that fascinates you; these are the things you remember and make you be remembered. There is a value is understanding the world from your own perspective first, before you try to encompass other peoples’ views. There was value in the emphasis in neatness and method that they aimed to teach us, even if it never quite became part of me.
Most of all, my PNEU taught me how to learn and discover, a far greater skill than many of the facts I rote learned later on in senior school, which I have never used again. PNEU taught me history as fascinating people stories, exciting, mind grabbing adventures that I wanted to know, not lists of acts so dry and dull, dictated at high speed; PNEU taught me science in a tiny classroom by a teacher who remembered each week that I loved to collect the chemical symbols of each substance we used, she had them for just me, each week, to copy into the back of my science book.What a shame my senior school, with its emphasis on results, taught me I was no good at science and flushed out my creativity with an endless onslaught of resented essays. PNEU taught me to write stories for joy, while my senior school made me rewrite a huge, carefully constructed diary I had loving constructed over a weekend because I had not written on the top line of my exercise book. PNEU taught me that it was good to want to go quietly to the library and hunt for fiction that would really grab me, it taught me that to decide to do nature study, not on England’s wildlife but on that of South America, because I liked the colours, was fine. I went on weekly walks that included saying hello to Henry the swan, served dinner to my peers and learned the responsibility of being head of the table. I played daisy chains with the nursery babies, and probably got the bug for being a mother on their little lawn, I dug dens in the rough ground and discovered a leaf stays green and soft longer under earth than over it. I remember the odd satisfaction of writing practice, copying long strings of patterns and letters, maths with Cuisenaire rods and I wrote a years worth of short stories about two small mice and was never told to move on to something “more worthwhile”. These were educators who knew the value of an individuals rhythm in education.
It would be wrong to describe it as simply an idyll, I was badly bullied while I was there and it made me a person who could be bullied until long into adulthood, but as an education, I wish in retrospect that I could have continued in that vein for longer. It is the good in the time we had to explore and expand every opportunity that I want to give my children. I want them to have the chance to rest in one spot until they can move on from it, not move with a pace that suits few and harms some. Senior education seems to have been a rush of disjointed experiences for me, despite being taught by clever, motivated people in a place that few would fault. It is sad to have few recollections of topics I loved from 11 onwards and most of the things I did love were not considered worthwhile. It seems to me possible that a child of mine who became fascinated by embroidery through the ages might learn more history than one hastened through a constructed chapter in a school book designed to teach facts to the least interested. In fact, it is that very thought which, as we come to the start of our first “official” home educated year, drives me back to the arms of my Charlotte Mason junior school. The best education searched out and bought for me by my parents was not the one that resulted in much vaunted A levels, it was the place they carefully found for me that “taught” me little more than how to be me and so gave me the opportunity to have everything.