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The Life of Education: Reintroducing Charlotte Mason to Elementary Students at Covenant College by Dr. Jack Beckman

Sometimes it takes a catalyst to get a good thing going.  Having shelved the EDU 350 course entitled “The Educational Thought and Practice of Charlotte Mason” many years ago; it took one student spearheading a movement to resurrect Charlotte at Covenant College – that student being HollyAnne Dobbins.  Originally designed by Dr. Steve Kauffman, the course languished after being taught only once about ten years ago.  However after numerous conversations and meetings, HollyAnne became convinced she could gather a group of interested and likeminded students to make the course a go – again.  I challenged her to deluge the Education Department Chair with requests.  Several weeks later he came by my office and asked for me to stop having students bother him, and that the course would be in the next catalog framed for Spring 2013. Thus, ten or so students will begin a journey into the life and work of Charlotte Mason for college credit – a first, I think in this current age.

The original syllabus was lost long ago, and even though I had begun one afresh about five years ago, I left it by the wayside as I had no “official” students to make it happen.  At that time I was having students in my home in small groups to informally discuss Mason’s books and to dream, and because of this grassroots approach saw no need to put much effort into finishing the work… until HollyAnne.  At present I am completing the final draft of the course syllabus and I must say that it is a joy to do this kind of design work – immersed in Mason’s books, ideas, and practices for the sole purpose of meaningfully engaging students of a new generation with “the wide room” of learning.  

I would never hazard myself as standing in the place of an FCA Williams, Elsie Kitching, or even Charlotte Mason as they purported the 21 Principles, Educational Manifesto, or Four Pillars of Education with teachers in training.  Yet, this course gives me the very real opportunity to exercise those muscles of instructional practice without apology or in diluted form.  

In my research of teachers who were trained in Ambleside, the one pedagogical construct that resonated essentially was the principle of “teachers doing what students do” as preservice trainees worked through their course of study.  Thus as opposed to learning that teachers do “to” students, we see another idea altogether – that of teachers learning “with” students by living the principles and practices alongside children.  In this, if students are going to narrate living books, then, so too, do teachers.  The full range of the “realized pedagogy” becomes available to preservice teachers – nature study, picture talks, Book of Centuries, musical appreciation, Shakespeare – as living books and ideas. 

Right now I am gathering my resources and deciding upon the course readings and particular books/selections students will read and narrate.  Much of what they will do will find its way into a sketchbook that will eventually contain their reading and listening narrations, nature studies, picture and musical appreciation, and Book of Centuries – a copybook of sorts that helps make their growing thinking visible.  As a culminating activity, each student will decide upon and research one major aspect of Mason’s thought and practice in order to become “expert” in it and then to teach it to their colleagues.

In all of the courses I teach, you would find elements of Mason’s principles embedded in various ways as informing ideas – some more explicit than others as in Educational Psychology – but now I have the freedom to engage and explore with a small group of students what many of us have embraced as a normal course of life.

Thanks, HollyAnne…

Copyright Dr. Jack Beckman 2012









This entry was posted in: Philosophy


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. I love to hear the good news about the college providing this course to teachers in training. I would love to be a fly on the wall for your course! I will be praying that this is the beginning of Mason’s ideas spreading further and deeper on the collegiate level. May truth prevail!

  2. Dr. Beckman!! How thrilling is this? May this course begin a change in the minds and hearts of teachers! It is so gratifying that you get to teach this course and see the fruit of your many years of research and study into the work of Charlotte Mason. Oh, the change these ideas will cause in the lives of young people. What a privilege it would be to get to sit in class with you if just for a day! Blessings on this effort!

    And a huge thank you to you, HollyAnne for your ability to convince the administration and hopefully this will begin a new tradition in the Teacher Education Program at Covenant College!

  3. Dear Dr. Beckman,
    As a longtime proponent and believer in Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, it is thrilling to know it will have an opportunity to impact a new generation of teachers, especially at Covenant College. My son-in-law graduated from Covenant and pursued his Phd at Edinburgh, which he just received last June. While I’m sure you have a plethora of “living books” for your syllabus, if any of the Beautiful Feet Books might enrich your syllabus I’d be delighted to send you them. Thank you so much for this wonderful post!
    Rea Berg
    Beautiful Feet Books

  4. Jeannette says

    wondering how I might finagle auditing this course next year. . . am seriously envious of the students who will be taking this class. Wonderful news for Covenant College.

  5. Everyone needs a HollyAnne in their life! I’m now wondering if the study group in my town might benefit from living it out in addition to talking about the current volume. Thank you for a new and challenging idea!

  6. How excited I am for the students who will be a part of such an opportunity. I, like Melissa, wonder also about the possibility of an online course becoming a reality. If not that, perhaps sharing the syllabus so we could pursue such an education for ourselves? Blessings:)

  7. HollyAnne says

    Dr. Beckman, I am so excited about this course and feel abundantly blessed that it is being offered again so that I can continue my Mason education!

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