After Charlotte Mason had published her Home Education she was approached by earnest-minded parents and asked to form the Parents’ National Educational Union. Sixty years ago there were no magazine articles, lectures or radio talks to help those in whose hands was the training and teaching of the child. ‘How shall we order the child?’ was echoed along the ages in many a mother’s heart since Manoah first uttered the cry. Many mistakes were made, battles of will, nagging, spoiling (which can be brought about by over-severity as well as over-indulgence) were all too usual in spite of love and earnest endeavour. Charlotte Mason put the psychological teaching of the day, often to be found only in heavy and difficult tomes, into language which all could understand, and added her own interpretation of the laws of habit formation, inspiration of ideas, and the ways of reason and of will.
Three years after the Union was formed Charlotte Mason founded the ‘Parents’ Review School’, as it was then called. She felt, and parents felt, that they needed additional help in the training and teaching of their children according to the methods and principles of education that she was spreading far and wide through the P.N.E.U. Many British children were being taught in their homes but their schoolroom life was not always happy. Most mothers seldom attempted to do more than teach the three ‘R’s and governesses, being untrained and often with little understanding or love for children, became bad-tempered, objected to being asked questions and, even when taking children for walks, were known to make the children keep in step with them, so little did they realise the needs of childhood.
Charlotte Mason had a deeply-rooted love for children. In her personal relations with her friends’ children and those she met in the village there was a reverence and courtesy which one recalls as one of the most beautiful experiences in life. Her sense of humour, too, helped her to understand children and she knew that if they were to grow and develop all their innate powers they must be given ideas to nourish their minds as food nourished their bodies. They must, as she said, establish relations with God and man, the past and present, with science, art, music and nature: they must run and skip and swim and play and all these ‘musts’ she taught the parents through her writings and lectures. She gave parents the beautiful motto: ‘Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,’ and to the children their inspiring challenge: ‘I am, I can, I ought, I will,’ which my readers know so well.
Hers was a unique school, Miss Mason herself was the principal, and the teachers were parent, aunt, friend or governess.The pupils very soon numbered thousands, working in schoolrooms differing much from each other, in rectories, in farmhouses, in country houses scattered all over Great Britain and Ireland, in the Dominions and in the Embassies all over the world. These children learnt to feel that they were part of a big school united by the best foundation for friendship—a mutual approach to what is most worthwhile in life, a kindred appreciation of the beautiful and true in literature, science, nature, art and music. What a delightful programme! No more dull text-books, no more lists of capes and bays and rivers, no more rows of dates and words to spell. When Miss Mason was herself a child she learned geography out of a book called Cornwall’s Geography; I had that book, too—full of lists and facts, but at the bottom of each page in tiny print were notes on the character of the country, flora, fauna, etc. Miss Mason determined to give her pupils books written by men and women who knew these countries, who in fact put the notes at the top and made one live in one’s imagination in the countries described; then the names of the rivers and bays would fall naturally into place. Similarly a delightful approach was suggested to other subjects through books of literary value which were arresting and stimulating. Thus she opened the door and windows to realms of knowledge through which the children could wander, then and now and forever. Of her methods of using such books and the consequent training in concentration and attention this is not the place to speak.
She showed the parents how they could give the children the joy of creation, of making things, of painting, of listening to good music, of wandering out and learning the secrets of nature. This was unusual sixty years ago. Her influence has permeated thought, and bird-watching and flower-hunting are now a universal joy. The happiness of achievement came to parents and teachers and children alike when at the end of the term the examination papers arrived with questions set to find out what the children knew, not what they did not know, and the task of answering was a pleasant, not a dreaded one.
Charlotte Mason eliminated from the first the spirit of competition: the marks and remarks on the answers sent up showed a relation to the standard set not as between one child and another. Later on when schools of various kinds became members of the P.U.S. her influence inspired teachers with the confidence that children would form habits of work without the stimulus of marks, places and prizes. She taught us that one natural desire replaced another and that the desire of excelling could not be co-existent with the desire for knowledge.
There was great satisfaction, too, for the anxious pioneer parents when boys entering their prep. and public schools did as well as their fellows, showing powers of attention and concentration that helped them all through life. We were told by one public schoolmaster that he could pick out a P.N.E.U. boy right through his school life. Such encouragement was very helpful at the beginning of our movement.
The home-schoolroom naturally lacked much that the well-equipped school possessed, but Miss Mason helped parents to fill many such deficiencies. She introduced ball-drill and skipping on the programmes and later, when Sir Robert Baden-Powell brought out his book on Scouting for Soldiers, she, ever on the look-out for the best for her pupils, put this book on the programme.
Before I leave the home-schoolroom I must not forget to emphasise what so many parents felt, and still feel, namely, that through its medium their children’s inner thoughts were often revealed to them and real friendship established. Who, indeed, are our friends? Not necessarily the people who agree with us but those who care for the same things, who have similar tastes. As the parents travelled with their children in the realms of history and literature, art and science, they grew to understand one another. Family reading, so much encouraged in the P.U.S., leads to talks on many subjects which should be discussed between parents and children, but shyness or difficulty in beginning has often prevented it. I hope it is not forgotten that our Union is a parents’, not a mothers,’ union and that many fathers have helped in the teaching of their children and often shared the joy of entering a new field of knowledge. I can recall being told by one father that he had continued the study of geology and become a real enthusiast after having been introduced to the subject by reading with his little boy the P.U.S. book on fossils and shells.
En passant, were you, my younger readers, not thrilled and proud when His Majesty the King in his Christmas broadcast referred to The Pilgrim’s Progress and deplored how few read that great classic now. We are not among those to whom it is unknown—it is one of the school books in Form I.
The P.U.S. was not to remain only in home-schoolrooms. In 1892 I started the first class for children. I wrote a letter to The Parents’ Review emphasising the fact that, though we all valued the programme, examination papers and guidance of the P.U.S., still children needed companionship, and asking for names of those who would like to join a P.U.S. school if we founded one. We had a gymnasium built in Linden Gardens, and Miss E. C. Allen, the first teacher, needs no introduction to any of you. Then came Miss Faunce’s first class at my sister’s house, leading to the great school which she, and now Miss Lambert, have run for over forty years.
Before this, two Quaker ladies, the MIsses Gardner of Yorkshire, having admitted to their school girls who had been taught in home-schoolrooms of the P.U.S. and, being impressed by their habits of work, powers of concentration and love of knowledge, asked to be allowed to enrol their school in the P.U.S. They later moved on to Buckhurst Hill, Essex, where Miss Wakefield’s successful school is their descendant.
So far the P.U.S. methods were considered suitable for girls, but people wondered about boys. A friend of mine, Mr. Underhill, who was about to start a school in Kent and who had always been rather suspicious with regard to Charlotte Mason’s teaching as presented to him through me, was persuaded to come to hear her speak at a meeting organised at my parents’ house in Kensington Palace Gardens. As he came away, . . . . to be continued next week.
This article is dedicated to Eve Anderson who gave me the magazine from which it came.
Franklin, H. (1951). The Parents’ Union School. In PUS Diamond Jubilee 1891-1951. Ambleside: PUS.
Mrs. Henriette Franklin was the Hon. Secretary of the P.N.E.U. and Chairman of Charlotte Mason Foundation.
Appreciation also goes to the Armitt Trust.