As we explore different ideas for teaching our children, we weigh many factors in hope to bring the best to them. In looking at Miss Charlotte Mason and in reading her writings, we hear her speak of wanting for a "liberal education for all". But she understood (as we, to are to understand) that there is not enough time in the years we are given to educate our children to make a classics scholar of every pupil. It may not even be appropriate to make them such. (Pride of the mom and dad comethst before the fall, yes?) It just may not be suited for everyone and who needs that kind of pressure; parent or child. There is time, however, to do much more than the "three R's", which are no more than a utilitarian acquisition of basic skills. Instead Miss Mason desired just as we desire to give every student a rich feast of all the best knowledge the world has to offer: a liberal or better said, a generous education.
Miss Mason walked the streets of England during the nineteenth century with it's sweeping Victorian landscape. We view this time as we look back to it as a quaint time of refined sensibilities. A time of garden parties and copious amounts of fabric in dresses and gentlemanly behavior and the drinking of much tea from china tea sets, but the Victorians did not view themselves in that way at all. They saw themselves as modern, advanced, and forward-thinking. One of the questions of the time as the people desired to throw off the trappings of older thinking was, should education continue to focus on the classical languages and literature or should it become more scientific? In looking at our current educational system, we do not have to ask which side won because we live in the world, and were probably educated in the system, that grew out of the "science" side of the question.
Miss Mason was in these times and saw the beginning of the implantation of the changes to the more "science" of education and reacted to it. Although she was a minimally educated young woman, having only a basic education through high school and one year of teachers college, she was able to see the "big picture" and draw out common principles from various philosophies. This was her particular genius. We know by her own testimony that she began her teaching career with enthusiasm but great ignorance, and had certain ideas which she had to alter almost at once. The children themselves in whom she taught convinced her that their needs were greater than she had previously realized. She found that the modern theories she had learned were not adequate for her task. She needed something more to satisfy the eager minds of the children in her charge. Where was it to be found?
Well, Charlotte looked around and to the past. We can safely infer from her writings that she read and read, but with discernment. From Plato and Quintilian to Milton and Ascham who were equally dissatisfied and expressed their displeasure in the usual educational practices. They proposed reforms, and better methods based on sound principles. Charlotte Mason looked at the progressive practices of her time that made education utilitarian and mechanical, and the distortion of classical education as it was widely practiced was inadequate to meet the needs she saw in the children she taught.
One of her colleagues, a teacher and founding member of the Parents National Education Union (Charlotte Mason's association of parents and teachers who were interested in the educational welfare of children.) wrote:
Sound principles that are old may easily be laid on the shelf and forgotten, unless in each successive generation a few industrious people can be found who will take the trouble to draw them forth from the storehouse.
Charlotte Mason still finds willing hearers today. A second wave of parents have read the books she wrote, and fueled by the same desires as the parents of the PNEU, they wish to provide their own children with a liberal education based on excellent books. The principles and methods Charlotte Mason advocated, however, were not of her own invention. She herself said that she and her colleagues had "discovered" them, because they represent universal truths about education that have their roots in the classical world.
After reading this synopsis of Chapter One of "Consider This", what are your thoughts about educating your children? Take about 10 minutes to think of your desires in educating. If you feel so inclined, write it down in your planner or common place book so you can go back to it when you are feeling discouraged and want to run to your nearest school to drop off your children.
*The content of this work is a combination of Karen Glass's words and my own. Please see the content of "Consider This" for further insight. The credit for the origination of the thought process in this work goes to Mrs. Glass.