I recently finished Laurie Bestvater’s The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason, and I loved it. I bought it based on Brandy’s reviews, and I’m glad I made the leap-of-faith, even though I am only a Charlotte Mason admirer and not a strict adherer. I think this book, with the history behind commonplace books and Mason’s implementation of it, demonstrates more clearly than ever that Charlotte Mason was not an innovator, but was making methods and practices based soundly upon the classical tradition that had gone before.
Keeping a Commonplace is a Liturgy
Although this book outlines more notebook types that just a commonplace book, it is the cornerstone and the most likely to actually become a lifelong practice (as it has for so many throughout time). Here and there, what Bestvater often only hints at, is that keeping a commonplace notebook will make you a different sort of person: a Keeper, a noticer, a thought-connector.
So copying from the rich banquet Mason spreads through all the “subjects” is much more than an efficient method of teaching handwriting; it is a daily posture of reception and response.
Bestvater continually calls this activity a posture; it is a liturgy: it gives space, perception, identity, and meaning.
As an idea is spiritual, it needs a place to intersect with the student’s own spirit, in this case, in the slowly emerging text of the meditative copy work.
I have been a copier, a Keeper, as long as I can remember. I have a vague memory of reading of a character in a book keeping a commonplace book, I think in late middle school, and I immediately had to have one. I am much more of a copier and note-taker than true Keeper, though, because though I’ve copied many passages, made many summaries, and jotted down many notes, I haven’t actually kept any of them, though now many evolve into blog posts and sometimes even make it to getting scanned or copied again into Evernote.
But the process itself of copying is invaluable, I find, more so than having filled out pages shelved on the bookcase. The act of copying is meditative and contemplative, and it makes the thought grow in you just a little more. Bestvater seems to agree:
Invariably, what is drawn from these few phrases is that the notebooks Mason favors are all highly personal, as all learning is highly personal. […] the notebooks are tools for supporting the learning process of persons rather than products in and of themselves. […] our goal is not beautiful notebooks. The emphasis is not on the product but the formative process.
This is a vision of education as reading broadly, copying down the sentences that call out to you, slowing down and contemplating as well as collecting and analyzing. Charlotte Mason didn’t make this up. She observed that this is what interested, educated people do; so, she says, let’s introduce children to this practice and see if they don’t remain interested and become educated thereby.
By reading in such a broad and connected way, we begin to perceive Glory. […] In just such a way, Mason would have the children outgrow the tight skin of the parochial or handed-down worldview, the dogmatic, or even nationalistic stance, and with their own keen minds (and lives) apply moral wisdom in their own day.
What captures my imagination most is that this is simply the good life, not schooling, and we can all live it together. Can we all have notebooking time? I would be the first to volunteer for it. Here is a practice I’d be happy to model all the live-long day. Let’s become a scriptorium.