I started studying the educational method of Charlotte Mason about 8 years ago, primarily to assist my mother who had always wanted to read the educator’s own words but being blind had no accessible copy available to her. Neither Braille nor audio version existed and since she was (and still is) in the process of educating my younger brothers at home, in the manner Miss Mason laid out, I was keen to help. A secondary benefit to studying Mason’s method was as an aid to the 50 or so homeschooling families using the private lending library my mother and I had started. I tell you all this as a little background information and to set the stage for my own admiration of our great mentor’s ideas.
Until last April when I got married, I was a single woman, living at home with my parents and younger siblings, no children of my own, but surrounded by mothers asking my advice on educational materials for their children, listening to and receiving my recommendations for books, certainly, but also seeking insight into their struggles to educate their individual children. It was a humbling position to be in. Though I have much, much less experience educating children, I identified to a small degree with Miss Mason who spent her life devoted to other parents’ children. It hit a very personal nerve when I heard others discount her principles solely because “she had no children of her own, what could she possibly have to say about training and educating them?” I always wondered why the same inquiry wasn’t made of those government officials and school board members who set the academic standards that have our state school systems (and even homeschooling families) in their grasp, quaking with fear that their students won’t measure up. Does anyone question their parental status?
Though she never bore any children, she knew what they were like, because she had spent her life surrounded by them, observing their development, play, and studies. And I came to believe that God had specially gifted Charlotte Mason to bring forth her method at a time it was so desperately needed. Sometimes it takes an “outsider” to see clearly as parents can be blinded by their own children’s faults and talents, and even teachers can view their students through the very subjective lenses that their training gives them. Miss Mason reminds us instead to look at each child as a person—unique, individual, not to be undervalued.
As I read more and more of Miss Mason’s books, and saw the fruit of her ideas brought to bear in the lives of numerous children, I came to trust her wisdom and look forward to using her methods with my own children…someday. In the meantime, I read as much as I could about her method, attended the CMI conferences, taught seminars on her principles with my mom in and outside of our library, wrote a Picture Study curriculum that followed Mason’s as closely as I could understand it, and engaged in as many discussions about this way of learning with as many people as I could. You could say I was a Mason junkie. Yet all the while I wasn’t teaching any of my own children or students.
Lord willing, in less than a month, that will change. My husband and I are expecting our first child and as part of the anticipation of becoming parents we have been reading (he for the first time, me for the fifth) Home Education. We also just started Parents and Children. I am all the more struck by Mason’s insight into the estate of the family—the roles of parents and children in that “unit of the Nation.” It has sobered me and excited me over and over again at the great duty and responsibility we have in raising our children, and training them in the way they should go.
Throughout her 6 volumes Mason uses the names “parents” and “teachers” almost interchangeably. It is helpful to remember that her educational reformation in England began as a series of lectures to parents, and the PNEU that ultimately came into being as a result stood for “Parents’ National Education Union.” Concerned and involved parents were at the heart of Mason’s schools in her own day, and, I believe, still are today. Her advice and admonitions to mothers and parents also apply to every educator “co-operating with the Holy Spirit as Divine Teacher” of their students. Mason has much to say on the subject, and at the beginning of this new year it would serve you (and your students) well to revisit her words about the personhood of the child as well as the role of parents and teachers.
Here is one particularly inspiring passage for me as I look forward to these next years of “quiet growing time,” which reminds me that lofty ideals and sympathetic understanding meet in the wise words of Charlotte Mason:
“I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.” (Home Education, 1989, page 44)
It is indeed a wonderful and weighty responsibility to educate children, one that requires faith, diligence, and perseverance. And we do it not for us, but for our communities, countries, and future. And yet, we do not labor alone. Miss Mason was just a handmaiden of our Great Teacher, the Good Shepherd who alone is faithful to bring all he has begun to completion.
© 2014 Emily Cottrill Kiser