A Charlotte Mason Education, Art, Beauty, Books/Wide Reading, Childlight USA Conference, Mason for Boys, Music
Comments 11

Savage or Manly? by Art Middlekauff

A few years ago when I was preparing a presentation for a Charlotte Mason conference, I surveyed the covers of books about Charlotte Mason. Most of the covers had a picture of a woman teaching a girl – presumably a mother and a daughter. Some of the covers skipped the mother and only showed the girl. But I can only recall one book that had a male of any kind on the cover.

An early and well-known book about Charlotte Mason was subtitled, “Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning.” Judging these books by their covers, one might conclude that a Charlotte Mason education is a “soft” alternative to other forms of education, designed primarily for gentle mothers to teach gentle daughters. Now I have nothing against mothers and daughters – I am married to one and the father of the other – but what does that leave for me and my boys?

I was pleasantly surprised recently to find that this perception of a Charlotte Mason education is nothing new. It turns out that a small booklet was published in 1930 subtitled “Charlotte Mason’s Method of Education in a Boys’ Preparatory School.” In this booklet the author, A. V. C. Moore, made the following fascinating remark:

“Another mistaken notion is ‘that P.N.E.U. is only meant for girls, or for small boys up to the age of nine or ten, but after that age it is too soft: that boys need a real preparatory school to put some manhood into them in order to prepare them for the hard life of their public school.’”

How did this “mistaken notion” come about? And has any progress been made in the past 80 years to dispel this notion?

Mr. Moore was a teacher who taught in several preparatory schools. But he was discouraged by the apathy he saw in his students – boys – and the apathy he found in himself and the other teachers. And he was concerned about a general lack of results. But he was blessed to have a wife who was trained by Charlotte Mason herself at Ambleside. She inspired him to start a Charlotte Mason school for boys.

What would such a school look like? His standard for a Charlotte Mason education is as applicable today as it was in 1930: “a school governed as much as possible by Charlotte Mason’s method. By this method I mean her philosophy of Education as expounded in her books.” In other words, (as has already been emphasized by another writer in this blog), there is no substitute for reading Mason’s own words. Mr. Moore states it point blank: “To understand [Charlotte Mason’s philosophy] one must study her books carefully.” There is no shortcut.

But to advance his Charlotte Mason school for boys, Mr. Moore had to refute the misconception that a Charlotte Mason education is too “soft.” (Or shall we say, too “gentle”?) It is hard to improve on his refutation:

“I am unable to understand how a well-balanced mind, filled with real vigorous life and joy in knowledge, can do otherwise than produce manliness. A boy who grows up with a love for knowledge, for pictures, poetry or music may be less savage than he was before, but need not be less manly. Charlotte Mason’s method does not exclude games, physical training, boxing, etc. Her method embraces a profoundly deep training of body and mind, and does not in the least mean interference with the athletic training of a boy.”

I think it is a fair question to ask – must one be “savage” to be “manly”?

Moore goes on:

“What about beauty in the life of a small schoolboy? Is he to think only in terms of football matches, sweets, motor-cars, cinemas and jazz-bands? Is not the life of a child of two years’ old full of beauty and wonder? Is he to be starved of this beauty and wonder when he begins so-called ‘lessons’? What about the beauty of music, of pictures, of poetry, and the beauty of the earth and the heavens in the life of a schoolboy?”

If Moore were writing his article today, the particulars of his list would change, but the substance would be the same. Jazz-bands would give way to pop music and video games would creep into the list, but the basic idea is the same – if young men are not introduced to good music, pictures, poetry, and nature, then what will they fill their minds with? Moore writes:

“One has only to see the real joy of a child of two or three years’ old in wild flowers to realise the appeal that the beauty of the earth makes. Is all this love of beauty to be starved because a boy is at school? Charlotte Mason’s method of education includes all these things.”

At the ChildLight conference this year, I saw a wonderful example of the manly side of a Charlotte Mason education. Bobby Scott delivered a fantastic workshop on picture study. But these pictures were neither soft nor gentle. And they will probably not be featured on the covers of any Charlotte Mason books any time soon.

Bobby told the tale of Caravaggio, and in a way that would spark the interest and imagination of any man, young or old (it certainly sparked my interest!) Here are some excerpts from Bobby’s slides:

“Between 1600 and 1606 [Caravaggio’s] name appeared in police records no less than fourteen times.  Six of those occasions landed him in jail.  Many of these instances were for minor altercations including carrying arms without permission, throwing stones at an officer, and throwing a plate of artichokes at a waiter…

“In 1606, his lifestyle and propensity for fighting caught up with him, and caused a major life change. In what was set up to appear as a quarrel over a tennis match, a duel was arranged between Caravaggio and a man who claimed a personal insult from the painter. As a result Caravaggio was badly injured and his opponent, Ranuccio Tomassoni killed at his hand. Though wounded, Caravaggio became a fugitive…”

Now this is picture study! Insults, fights, duels, and fugitives…

And yet Caravaggio was not all savage. As Bobby showed us, this earthy man also had a remarkable gift for portraying the sacred. But even these sacred paintings are infused with a manly intensity. One of Bobby’s slides read:

“His pictures both embody and evoke an acute and piercing gaze. Caravaggio sees what he sees with such intensity … that he makes seeing itself seem a compulsive act. It is as if he feels at every moment that to see is also to possess and, potentially, to be possessed. This is why Caravaggio’s paintings have a destructive effect on pictures by other artists. They exert such a sensually charged, magnetic attraction that they seem almost as though backlit, or somehow illuminated from within, while the pictures around them … appear by comparison to recede, to retreat from the gaze.”

Bobby ended his workshop with a dramatic picture study of Caravaggio’s famous painting of the Apostle Thomas with the risen Christ. Bobby showed how Thomas’s encounter with Christ is symbolic of a Charlotte Mason education. Just as Christ gently guides Thomas’s finger to the hole in His side, so Christ gently guides every boy and man to Himself. Thomas’s intense gaze is emblematic of the hunger for knowledge in every human soul. The gentle touch of Christ may make boys less savage. But it will never make them less manly.

© Art Middlekauff 2012


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. creativepowerhouse says

    Fabulous, Art! This is an area we have struggled with personally in our homeschool journey. It’s tough to find high school boys who are still being educated this way in our town. I believe our local Charlotte Mason school has had a lopsided populace as well. I remember a few years ago they advertised scholarships for boys who might play football for their team in an effort to brng in more young men! Bravo for pointing out the manliness in a CM curriculum. And Bobby’s lecture=fantastic!


  2. carrotqueen says

    Love this. I do get a bit annoyed with the girlie (and Victorian) aura that tends to cling to Charlotte Mason, when it is really about universal principles. I have two boys and two girls and so far it seems quite appropriate for both.
    My father is a reserved man, an engineer by trade and a farmer by avocation, a very hard worker and highly competitive. He also loves mountain climbing. Once I was on a long hike he was leading and as we crossed over into a sweeping valley of alpine flowers, and I saw his face and heard the few words he said and realized that it was sheer love of beauty that drew him up into the mountains. Beauty and truth and living ideas are not a female thing–they are a human thing.

  3. Amber says

    Excellent post, thank you. I know two men in their 20’s who were raised with a Charlotte Mason education at home and they are two of the most amazing young men I know. They have a firm appreciation for beauty and a strong desire to do good and worthy work, but they are in no way “girly” or lacking in manliness. I have three boys myself and I firmly believe this education will be excellent for them. Thank you for the encouragement.

  4. James Schorr says

    Thank you for this article. Our son, Jacob, was raised with a Charlotte Mason education, and I honestly can’t think of a better example of this. He’s gentle with others, yet as strong as a rock in his convictions. Over the years, he’s become quite the leader and is often looked up to as a protector and example of Christlikeness by his peers. While God certainly gets the credit, the freedom that he was given to experience Him in the everyday things of life and the ability to recognize and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation has taught him to respect and honor those around him. Tara and I look forward to where his adventure with God will take him.

  5. Great post, Art. As a CM mom of guys and only one daughter, most of them grown adults, I competely agree. After a lifetime of CM / liberal arts education, all of our grown children know beauty when they see it, and are not timid amongst the rugged places-but energized by them! Conversely, they also appreciate great or simple works of art, music, architecture, literature, and feel no shame for expressions of these things. The guys and our daughter are at home in the wilderness, backpacking, cycle-racing, weight lifting, axe-slinging, digging in the dirt, or in the symphony hall, cathedral, or museum–either here or abroad.

    I expect you will get many more comments similar to mine, those of us who are finished or almost finished with “schooling at home,” where learning truly never ends!


  6. I have often thought that the CM education seems to be distinctly geared toward boys with the short lessons, a lot of time out of doors, and the history readings full of battles, wars, and strong male role models. I don’t have any girls but my boy loves it.

  7. As a mom of 4 sons, I agree with you Art and Rebecca. CM’s short lessons saved me in those early years and nature study. I tried many things from Home Ed. like measuring the driveway with their feet! ( today the oldest two wear size 15 and 14!) One son who played basketball on the national level also loved to go to find those great artists in museums. I have no doubts that it was from this kind of education that bore fruit in his life.

  8. Stephanie says

    Art, you are very much appreciated in the CM circles. It’s nice to have your –a man’s –perspective. I read the same brochure/article in the Redeemer archives not long ago. I wondered why we don’t hear more from men in CM circles. I wish there was more written by males who used the CM method in during Mason’s time. They have so much to add to the conversation, and the CM picture is more balanced with them on the scene, in my opinion. Thanks for all you do.

  9. Art, there is absolutely no reason why boys should not enjoy nature study, picture study, reading & all the other elements of a PUS education, but historically Home Education was directed at girls of all ages and boys up to the age of eight with evening readings, good picture in the home, music and table talk recommened for when they were at home from school.

    Charlotte Mason would be pleased to know her methods had universal application.

    However, Charlotte Mason did not have much ( if any direct experience of older boys). At Worthing, she taught infants & girls up to the age of c 8 or 10. The definitive Anglo- indian Brandreth children were under the age of 8 when she knew them. Staying in Bradford with Mrs Groveham, their were 3 daughters in the family & the school was for girls. She trained only women at Chichester and Ambleside. Fathers were fairly peripheral in the PNEU at a time when the pressure was on for men to be successful at work & the elite classes attended the public schools ( such as Eton) where they studied the classics.

    She certainly believed the public schools made men of them, fit to serve the British Empire and fight for their country when the time came. She had a great respect for educated gentlemen, who were of course mainly classicists !

    Margaret Coombs

  10. I forgot to add that people may wish to look again at Michael Franklin’s article in In Memoriam Charlotte M. Mason pp 213-217 ” What the Parents’ Union School did for me” Born in 1903, the youngest of the Hon Mrs Henrietta’s Franklin’s six children .He was educated in the PUS from 6-11, when he followed his 3 brothers to Bedales progressive co -educational school although he did not enjoy it very much!

    Margaret Coombs

  11. Pingback: Seven Quick Takes on Fire TV Stick, Tag Clouds, Handwriting Scripture, and More! | Afterthoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s