One of the most promising delights of studying the life and work of Charlotte M. Mason (1842-1923) is the hope her nineteenth century proposals hold for twenty-first century education. Her suggestions on why we educate, to what end we educate, and how we can therefore best educate, resonate enticingly for our consideration despite twelve decades having passed since she first shared her proposals. Another pleasure in closely investigating Mason and her legacy is that her organizational brilliance and leadership acumen remain remarkable not only for a woman of her times but also for any person of our day as well.
In the winter of 1885-86, Mason, an experienced educator, inspired by recent developments in psychology and mental physiology, gave a series of lectures on the education of children under nine years of age. In her lectures she sought to identity and to explain a new science of education which would include “knowledge of the general principles of education, founded upon the nature and the needs of all children” (Mason, 1896, p. vi). The talks were soon published under the title Home Education: A Course of Lectures to Ladies which was then followed by the enthusiastic establishment of a national, and later an international, network of parents, The Parents’ National Educational Union. Within five years of her giving these lectures, a monthly journal, Parents’ Review: A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, was created to sustain and promote conversation and sharing of educational ideas around her proposals. In her first editorial in the first volume of this journal Mason (1890) states “alas…we may not have an educational pope; we must think for ourselves as well as work out, those things that belong to the … upbringing of children” (p. 4). The following year she opened her House of Education and in January of 1892 the training of governesses (and shortly thereafter, teachers) began at this institution in Ambleside, England. These were the accomplishments of just the early years of Mason’s public life! Mason later wrote five more educational books, opened a Practicing School, established a network of schools, and throughout the rest of her life traveled extensively with colleagues both for refreshment and inspiration. Over the years, parents of numerous countries, education students, professional teachers in England and beyond as well as inspectors of British government schools continued to attend to her ideas.
As I reflect on Mason’s tremendous institutional and organizational accomplishments—some of which, such as her teacher training college, lasted for more than a century while others, such as the early twentieth century Children’s Quarterly, were abandoned after fewer than ten years—it seems to me that the Parent’s Review remains one of her more remarkable achievements.
This summer while working at the enjoyable activity of preparing search terms and keywords for each article in the first volume (1890) of the Parents’ Review, I am also preparing very brief summaries for each article. Our intention is that this might enhance searches of the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (CMDC) and reward the searcher with many results pertinent to the inquirer’s interest. While our first goal is to make images of all 964 pages in the first Parents’ Review volume available as soon as possible, as time, opportunity, and funding offer, we plan that all issues of the Parents’ Review—at least those published during Mason’s lifetime, that is volumes 1 to 33—will become available on the CMDC.
The individual issues of the Parents’ Review are bound together in annual volumes, 77 volumes in all, and today can fill an ordinary library shelving section of, say, six shelves, each several feet wide. An impressive public physical record of Mason’s accomplishments! When I read the articles in the first volume I’m filled with as much interest as I was a dozen years ago when I visited the Library of Congress in Washington to look at these volumes for the first time. The contents of the articles provide encouragement and support to offering an education focused on delight and character while the names of the authors of the articles provide a small window into the extent of the networks of educators and socio-cultural contributors with whom Mason was affiliated. Because of both the content and the authorship of these articles, readers must surely have been much encouraged to give close attention to the suggestions and the dialogue contained.
In my own experience with the journal, while reading the article, for example, on William of Wykeham (1324-1404) (Parents’ Review, 1890, p. 53-61), I became completely engaged by thinking of the contrast between Norman and Gothic cathedrals and found myself googling Winchester Cathedral, making a mental note that without doubt it should be included on a list of places to visit in the future. Would a random Wikipedia search landing on information about Wykeham have resulted in such an awakened desire? Similarly, when reading the short section by Mary Caumont (1890) in an article called By the Way ( p. 155), the French term, prévenance is winsomely recommended as one of the most important words in the French language as it conveys a sense of what it is to be truly polite, that of being carefully attentive to other people’s wishes, to smooth the way for others, to anticipate kindly. I turned to the next page with a sigh as a longing stirred within to become a person of prévenance. And just yesterday as I read one of the more lengthy articles in the volume, A Pedagogic Holiday, (Browning, 1890, p. 174-181) my dreams were kindled again for imagining a “good education”. I had a sudden impulse to learn more about the author as I was gripped by his reflections of a six month overseas study in which four students travel with a tutor, learn both German and Italian as well as keep up with their usual studies four hours a day, and then spent afternoons rambling about various places learning of local geography, culture, government and people. My google searches soon informed that not only was Oscar Browning the founder of the second ever teacher training college in England established in 1891, but that the first ever was founded only several years earlier in 1885. The first, it turns out, was founded by Dorothea Beale, an active women’s educational reformer and suffragist. She, I soon noted, had authored three articles in the first volume of the Parents’ Review (Beale, 1890, p. 117-121, 330-336, 641-651). Readers of Mason’s day surely would have noted well both the compelling content as well as the remarkable list of educational reformers with whom Mason was networking. Suddenly, through reading the Parents’ Review I noted that Mason’s 1892 establishment of a teacher training college seemed even more important and cutting edge than I’d previously realized. Not only was she leading in her ideas for the education of children, but she was leading in her ideas and practices for the education of teachers.
We read this week of dreadful social unrest in several of England’s cities and hear the pleading of her prime minister today (August 11, 2011) to consider that such unrest comes of pockets of poor raising of children and lack of attention to morals, and we are invited into his call for clearer codes of values and standards that we can be expected to live by. I wonder if Mason’s assertion in the first issue of the first volume of her journal that “we must think for ourselves as well as work out, those things that belong to the … upbringing of children” is as timely now as it was then. And perhaps as we in our times give more and more careful attention to how we can best raise and educate our children we would be wise to attend to the successes of exemplary educational leaders like Mason who built upon the best ideas of her times, articulated them clearly and consistently over decades through various media, reinforced them through drawing together vast networks of stakeholders from parents to teachers and from scholars to inspectors, and embodied them through institutional initiatives such journals, unions, schools and a college.
Beale, D. (March 1890). Parents’ Educational Union. Parents’ Review: A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, 1(2), 117-121.
Beale, D. (June 1890). Motives, or Rewards and Punishments. Parents’ Review: A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, 1(5), 330-?.
Beale, D. (November 1890). Lear and his Daughters. Parents’ Review: A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, 1(9), 641-?.
Browning, O. (April 1890). A Pedagogic Holiday. Parents’ Review: A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, 1(3), 174-181.
Caumont, M. (March 1890). By the Way. Parents’ Review: A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, 1(2), 154-156.
Editor. (February 1890). Hoc Fecit Wykeham. Parents’ Review: A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, 1(1), 53-61.
Mason, C.M. (1896). Home Education: A Course of Lectures to Ladies. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co. Ltd.
Mason, C.M. (February 1890). Editorial. Parents’ Review: A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture, 1(1), 1-4.
The Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (established 2009) can be viewed on the library website of Redeemer University College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Suggestions for improvement and queries regarding the CMDC are sincerely welcomed. The physical Charlotte Mason Collection can be viewed at the Armitt Library and Museum in Ambleside, Cumbria, England.
© Dr. Deani Van Pelt 2011
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