Ambleside, Art, Christianity, Philosophy, Travel
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An Authentic Life, A Byproduct of a Charlotte Mason Education By Gladys Schaefer

The philosophy of Charlotte Mason offers more than an excellent method of education for children.  It has proven to lead to a more authentic life, one full of the love of learning, the best of books and a spiritual path to the Creator of the Universe.  Allow me to illustrate this truth.

The Love of Learning
Last week I taught a short class on drawing to a group of educators.  The amazing thing about that fact is that a year ago, I knew very little about the subject.  Then I took a class, and that changed everything.

What made me, as a parent/teacher/wife/church committee leader, desire to learn anything new?  Wasn’t my life busy enough?  Yet, for some reason, I was drawn to a class offering instruction on creating an illustrated journal.  I am a traveler and I was struck by the promise that I might be able to learn how to actually draw the stepping-stones in Ambleside, England next time I was there, instead of just taking a photograph.  Was I skeptical?  Yes.  Was I willing to give it a try? Absolutely.

The Learning Process

By training, I am an accountant.  I received a BA in that field quite a few years ago.  I worked for the government in fact.  My brain was wired by my twelve years of public school and my university experience to classify everything into a debit or a credit.  There it was, black or white.   No mixing the paint to find the perfect shade of grey.  That was neither allowed nor encouraged by others, or indeed, even by my own heart.

Things began to change for me when we started homeschooling our children over fifteen years ago.  That path led me to Charlotte Mason and the amazing work she began in England and spread across the world.   As I slowly explored her writings and began using her philosophy, my methods of teaching changed.  A slow evolution took over.  Homeschooling at times morphed into classroom settings with other students and then ebbed again into a one on one relationship with my individual children.  My students and I have found such richness and life in Mason’s ideas.  I simply was unaware how very much those ideas were changing my inner landscape. I’ve found that I desire a more authentic life; a life lived with openness to new things, with a thirst for more.

Sketched from my photograph of William Wordsworth's stepping stones near Ambleside, England

The Best of Books

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This quote sums up one of the most valuable points in a Charlotte Mason education, that of living books.   She states on page 299 in her book, Formation of Character, “Every intimate and penetrating book has something of the nature of an autobiography.  If it do(es) not tell us what happened to the writer in the actual circumstances, it reveals what, in his idea, would have come to pass under such and such conditions.”   To be joined, mind connected to mind, with the great authors of the world, is a valuable education.

If the students can walk away from their school years with an inner desire and love for the best books, they have received a most excellent gift.  Our toil has fallen on good ground and their lives will bring forth a long harvest of good things.

As an adult, I find I am drawn to connect on this level.  Twaddle bores me and I long to spend time with authors of value, from Jane Austen to Wendell Berry.  Presently, most days include a phase of reading poetry written by Mary Oliver.  I am drawn to her work and the words she chooses spark a light deep in my soul.   Two of my favorites right now are “The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church: The Eucharist” and “Praying.”

Of course, Mason authors some of the most “living” books I own.  Her six-volume set on Education is priceless to me.  How glad I am that she was not just a doer of the word, but also a writer.

A Spiritual Path to the Creator of the Universe

Of course, the greatest living book is the Bible. “But what sort of approaches do we prepare for children towards the God whom they need, the Saviour in Whom is all help, the King Who affords all delight, commands all adoration and loyalty?  Any words or thoughts of ours are poor and insufficient, but we have a treasury of divine words which they read and know with satisfying pleasure and tell with singular beauty and fitness.  ‘The Bible is the most interesting book I know,’ said a young person of ten who had read a good many books and knew her Bible.  By degrees children get that knowledge of God which is the object of the final daily prayer in our beautiful liturgy – the prayer of St. Chrysostom – “Grant us in this world knowledge of Thy truth,” and all other knowledge which they obtain gathers round and illuminates this.” (A Philosophy of Education page 64)

Mason also wrote a series of meditations on the gospels entitled Saviour of the World.  It is so obvious from her words and her life that she had a deep and intimate kinship with her God.  Paul shared a thought with us in I Corinthians 11:1, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  The life work of Mason encourages us to continue on the path to God, to pursue Him at all costs.

The twentieth principle in her “Short Synopsis of the Educational Philosophy advanced in this volume,” Volume 6, page xxviii is “We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual Helper in all their interests, duties and joys of life.”

This one thought has given me such peace in the field of education.  It bears fruit whether I am teaching the college class at church or I am in the kitchen sharing supper duty with my fifteen year old.   I can trust the Lord to care for my students and I can trust Him to care for me.  An authentic life, one that is full of peace and full of joy.  Thank you, Charlotte; you have been a friend indeed.

© Gladys Shaeffer 2010

This entry was posted in: Ambleside, Art, Christianity, Philosophy, Travel


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. blue j says

    What a beautiful post. You so eloquently put to words some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve been mulling over recently. Thank you.

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