Saturday, March 18, 2017

Joy in Living

Last month, Celeste and I had the pleasure of seeing the first Charlotte Mason conference in Northern California come to fruition.  Thankfully, CM West :: Conference in the Redwoods was a definite success, as we've had many positive comments both during and after the conference.  I hope and pray that it will continue to be a positive influence and help for all the attendees into the future as well.

I wanted to share an expanded version of opening remarks for the conference, as I think they show what was (and is!) on my heart as I planned this conference, and as I move into planning other Charlotte Mason conferences as well.  I am considering a post on what goes into planning a conference, one that is a little more nuts and bolts focused, but I think it is vital to share the living idea behind the work of details.

My first experience meeting another CM educator in person was when Celeste and I met at a park about two and a half years ago.  We had a delightful visit, full of great conversation and watching our children joyfully romp together.  My next opportunity was about a year later, when I was able to attend the first Charlotte Mason conference on the West Coast, in Seattle, Washington.  This experience was an absolute delight, and I felt so encouraged by being around so many thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting women who shared my passion for Mason's Philosophy of Education.

I came home from this conference a changed person.  Being around this group of people who take Mason seriously encouraged me to take my role as a home educator, and particularly as a Mason educator, more seriously as well.  I realized that I, with two (now three!) children who aren't even school age yet, still have time to get good at this.  I also found a clear path forward in this, largely comprised of my own keeping (largely in my nature journal, commonplace, and Book of Centuries) and a commitment to the regular study of Mason's books (the Delectable Education podcast has also been a huge help, but obviously that came along a little later!).  I also saw how galvanizing it is to be around people who are trying to do the same thing I am, and it encouraged me to try to both find people at least somewhat near where I live, as well as work to create more of these conferences.

I find it challenging to be the only one who is educating in a model that is different from everyone else around.  Not only am I homeschooling, I am home educating in a way that is foreign to those around me.  I've been invited a few times over the years to get together at someone's house so we can "do school" together.  This seems to largely to consist of sitting the kids around a large table with their workbooks while the mothers visit and occasionally help a child who has a problem.  It is a welcome change for the kids and moms, but it is not something that is going to be successful for a Mason educator.  I've also had experiences where I've seen a little interest in Mason's ideas, only to have someone who has many years of homeschooling experience as well as graduates say, "oh, you don't need all those extras!  Just stick to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as learning about the faith, and your kids will be just fine."  And confronted with that sort of voice of wisdom and experience, what little interest there was quickly withers.

But as Mason said in her preface to her sixth volume, “we have no axe to grind”.  A little before this in her preface, she puts her finger on the difference between her method and the standard way of doing things.  “No doubt children are well taught and happy in their lessons as things are, and this was specially true of the school in question; yet both teachers and children find an immeasurable difference between the casual interest roused by marks, pleasing oral lessons and other school devices, and the sort of steady avidity for knowledge that comes with the awakened soul.”  (CM, Vol. 6, Preface)

Mason goes on to say just a little later in the Introduction to Vol. 6 -
But the people themselves begin to understand and to clamour for an education which shall qualify their children for life rather than for earning a living. As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans, or keeping books. The more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both fulfil his own life and serve society.
I think the fact that we had a full conference is a testimony to this!  When Celeste and I were first planning this conference, I was worried about getting 20 people - instead we sold almost 50 places in three weeks, and we ended up with another thirty plus people on the wait list.

Celeste and I wanted to offer a leading thought for the conference, and as I considered this, the phrase “opportunities for joy” came to mind.  As far as I know, it isn’t a phrase Mason uses, but I became curious how Mason used the word joy.  One phrase she does use is “joy in living” and I wanted share a quote where she uses that phrase.
We launch children upon too arid and confined a life. Now personal delight, joy in living, is a chief object of education; Socrates conceived that knowledge is for pleasure, in the sense, not that knowledge is one source, but is the source of pleasure. It is for their own sakes that children should get knowledge. (CM, Vol. 6, Section 3, Ch. 4)
We have the opportunity to help our children and ourselves discover this joy in living through the rich feast Mason helps us to place before our families. My hope is this is a phrase is one that is memorable to us all not only at a conference, but also that we can take this phrase into the day to day, to help us remember what we are doing in this educational journey we are offering our families and ourselves.

I originally wrote this a couple weeks ago, but hadn't been able to edit and post it until now.  I am glad though, because this reminder about why I work on these conferences is very timely!  Planning next year's conference became far more daunting last week when we found out that Presentation Center, the lovely location where we held the conference, is closing as of June 30th.  We were really looking forward to going back there, as well as not having to go through all the effort of finding a location.  We have started looking for another location, however, and we hope to find something soon.


  1. I was so blessed to be part of this conference. Then I came home to challenge after challenge after challenge that has made pursuing that joy and atmosphere almost impossible!! But I still have hope. Thank you for publishing your opening thoughts. As for a place, I know it's a little further south, but there are retreat centers in Palomar, Idyllwild, and Big Bear. Just to give you some places to check out. :) Looking forward to next year, wherever it may be!

    1. Yes, hope is so vital! I'm sorry that it has been so challenging since you've returned home. I hope things can settle down soon for you and your family.

      And thanks for the suggestions, but we're going to keep the conference in Northern CA since Celeste and I both live up here. And also, with the CMI Western Conference in Southern CA, it seems like it makes sense to spread the events out more both in terms of time of year and place.

  2. Oh that is sad! It was such a lovely location and seemed so perfect! ��

  3. I can't believe the center is closing! That is so sad! :(

  4. Oh that is sad news. The conference center was beautiful. Thank you (and Celeste) for all of your efforts. The conference was lovely!

  5. We have no ax to grind. Yes, yes, yes... I loved the conference, and I love your words here.