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  • 19 Nov 2017 6:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

                Narration or retelling is an essential part of a Charlotte Mason education. In some ways, it seems so simple that we may wonder if we should add more to make sure our students are really learning. However, the danger of adding more is that the students may actually be learning less. If the teacher is the one asking the questions, lecturing about the topic or summarizing the text, the students are not actively involved in assimilating the information to become their own knowledge that is personal, meaningful and a springboard for further thought and action. Mason understands that people may be skeptical about the perceived simplicity of narration and states, “This, of telling again, sounds very simple but it is really a magical creative process by means of which the narrator sees what he has conceived, so definite and so impressive is the act of narrating that which has been read only once” (Vol. 6, p.261).  The word “magical” can be defined as “beautiful or delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life.” On the surface narration may seem simple, but beneath the surface lies a method that transforms the learner intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I want to talk about the following three ways that I see narration as a “magical” educational practice: it values the role of the reader, it utilizes oral language and it leads to long-term memory.

                Narration values the role of the reader and what they bring to the reading process. Most of reading comprehension instruction throughout history has focused on comprehension-as-outcome (looking for the standard interpretation) or comprehension-as-procedure (mastering reading strategies) (Aukerman, 2013). These methods of reading instruction promote uniformity and finding the one correct answer the teacher is looking for, while narration promotes originality and allows students’ unique backgrounds, and idiosyncrasies of their thoughts and attitudes to shape their understanding of a text.  When children feel that their narrations are not being critically judged against some standard, they can feel free to enjoy narration as a chance to be a storyteller, or an artist or an actor. Certain readings will cause my children to want to act it out or even sing a song about it. I treasure those moments when their personality can really shine through.

                Mason did not want children’s narrations to be exact replicas of the text or to be overly focused on using the author’s language. Mason states, “He will recast, condense, illustrate, or narrate with vividness and with freedom the arrangement of his words. The child who has got only information will write and speak in the stereotyped phrases of his text-book, or will mangle in his notes the words of his teacher” (Vol. 3, p. 225). This ability to create a new, original narration shows that true learning has occurred. Meaning is not written straight from the text onto the blank slate of his mind. The text is not doing the meaning, the child is bringing his life knowledge to the piece. That is why we cannot interpret or narrate for them. Their background knowledge and experiences are different from ours and they can only make meaning from their perspective.  We cannot expect them to think about things or pick out the same ideas that adults would. Only this method of reading comprehension allows them to enter where they are. Comprehension questions do not allow any room for this individual meaning to take place. Mason consistently emphasized the fact that narrations were to be a reflection of the individual child and should reflect “a certain spirit and coloring which express the narrator.” She continued, “By the way, it is very important that children should be allowed to narrate in their own way, and should not be pulled up or helped with words and expressions from the text” (Vol. 1, p. 289).  Narration treats the child as a person and allows reading to be a relational, meaningful activity.

                The second way that narration is “magical” is that it utilizes oral language in the formation of cognitive development.  Everyone knows that children need many opportunities to talk in order to learn. However, most talk in classrooms or homeschools is geared around the IRE conversation which stands for Initiation, Response and Evaluation. The teacher initiates the question, the student responds and then the teacher evaluates the answer and states whether it is right or wrong. The questions are directed questions that the teacher already knows the answer to. The students are expected to answer in what has been called “final draft talk.” They are expected to have a polished answer where they show that they have already come to some conclusion about what they understood about that topic. It is mostly just repeating back exactly what was written in the book or what the teacher just said.

                The opposite of final draft talk is “exploratory talk” where talking is used as a means for coming to know or understand something (Barnes, 1992). This is where students do not have to have a polished answer before talking. They feel free to use language as a means for knowledge building. Narrating is a perfect example of this exploratory talk. When a student tells back, they are creating their narration “on the spot” and not expected to have this polished answer. Sometimes it may sound kind of rough to us with all the ums and run-on sentences. However, we want to encourage our children to talk freely and not interrupt them or judge them.  All these opportunities for language are building up their composition skills, their reasoning skills, their public speaking skills and incorporating new vocabulary into their language. Giving them a simple fact to recite or having them answer a comprehension question would take away all those opportunities for learning and growing. 

                This aspect of narration as a way of coming to understand a text is not emphasized as much as narration being a way to communicate what you know about a text.  However, I think this is an important facet of narration. When I asked my 11-year-old daughter about narration to get a child’s perspective, she said that when she reads something or listens aloud to something that is a little more challenging, for example Plutarch or ancient history, she is sometimes unsure whether she is understanding the passage during the reading process. But when she narrates and puts those ideas in her own words, she says that retelling helps her come to understand the text and make sense of it. When she first told me that, I was intrigued by that insight and had not thought of narration in that way.  Then I came across this quote from Mason, “But, it will be said, reading or hearing various books read, chapter by chapter, and then narrating or writing what has been read or some part of it, ––all this is mere memory work. . . he will find that in the act of narrating every power of his mind comes into play, that points and bearings which he had not observed are brought out” (Vol. 6, p. 16). Learning is happening at this unconscious level and it is brought out through narration.

                Narration is a “magical” process because it allows short-term memory to become long-term memory. The aim of all instruction is to alter long-term memory. If nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned. So how do we get information from the short- term memory to the long-term memory?  There needs to be a “dialogue” between those two kinds of memories. Even if a student is listening or reading attentively and thinks they have comprehended what they read, most of their thinking is in the short-term memory which will soon decay and is lost.  What is important is to actively and consciously reach into long-term memory through short-term memory to retrieve and think about and process the reading. The more we process and think about something new to the learned, the more enduring and retrievable the memories become. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham (2008) makes the simple but profound statement, "Memory is the residue of thought."  He continues, “What remains in your memory from an experience depends mostly on what you thought about during the experience . . . Students have to be given a specific task that will force them to think about meaning” (p. 20). Willingham does not mention narration, but narration sounds like the ideal way to implement that understanding of memory making. We cannot tell kids to just think about something because what does that mean? There has to be some kind of action going on, a turning over of information in their mind. Through narration you are naturally synthesizing, evaluating, and sequencing. Because you have the goal in mind of narrating, you are attending to the material before you. It is not questions set by a teacher that causes this deep thinking because a lot of questions, especially direct questions, do not require a lot of thinking. Direct questions already pull out specific facts for the student. It is the students asking themselves the questions that engages them in thinking.  Is not that the way Mason described the process of narration?  She said, “The mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself” (Vol. 6, p. 16).

                This idea of linking new knowledge to old happens naturally during narration because students are drawing on their previous readings from that text and adding new ideas and details they learned in the present reading. They are also drawing on experiences, vocabulary knowledge, understanding of characters, plots, human nature, other events that connect to this the new information. What is left over after thinking and reflecting or creating interaction between short-term and long-term memory is the stuff of learning.

                 In a Parent’s Review article, the Emily Miall talks about this idea of linking old to new. She writes, “This mental digestion is not a rapid process; gradually fresh facts sink into the mind, associating themselves to facts already there, pictured in the imagination, weighed and accepted by reason, brooded over and developed; slowly new ideas take root, finding through many channels a resting-place in the intelligence, and mysteriously cherished till the day comes when they shall bear fruit. This operation cannot be hurried; every child, every youth and maiden will digest their knowledge in their own way and at their own pace; all that is wanted is leisure and rest. Knowledge acquired in any other way is absolutely worthless and temporary; it leads nowhere and to nothing; it is much unassimilated mental food doomed to be rejected.

    (Vol. 3, p. 362). Those words should inspire us all to press on and realize that through the um’s, hesitations, and run-on sentences of oral narration, magic is taking place.


    Aukerman, M. (2013). Rereading comprehension pedagogies: Toward a dialogic teaching ethic that honors student sensemaking. Dialogic Pedagogy Journal, 1(1), A1-A31.

    Barnes, D. (1992). From Communication to Curriculum. Michigan: Boynton/Cook Publishers.

    Mason, C. M. (1989a).  Home Education. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original  work published in 1925).

    Mason, C. M. (1989b).  Parents and Children. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.   (Original work published in 1925).

    Mason, C. M. (1989c).  Philosophy of Education. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.   (Original work published in 1925).

    Miall, Emily (1892). There is no necessity for it. The Parent’s Review, 3(5), 362-364.

    Willingham, D. (2008) What will improve a student’s memory? American Educator, Winter  2008-2009.

    © 2017 Shannon Whiteside

  • 13 Nov 2017 5:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Last week I encountered a young woman weeping in – of all places – the entry area of the girls’ bathroom our university education department shares with the elementary school to which we are attached. I had never seen her before; it is my guess she sought out this place to cry because it is at the periphery of the school and only used by children coming to or from the school gymnasium. I could have just walked by and pretended not to notice, which is perhaps my natural inclination. Instead, I stopped and asked if she was all right. I thought she might turn away or otherwise indicate it was none of my business, but she did not. Rather, she continued to stem the flow of tears with the tissue in her hand and shared briefly. I still do not know her name or exactly what her job is at the school, but she told me she was crying because of what she had just learned about one of her young students. My impression is that this child has been abused or neglected or treated in some abhorrent way. The last thing she said was, “You just wish you could take them home with you.” Not just him or her – but other children she knows also have difficult lives.

    I live and work primarily in the world of American public education. Much of my time is spent on tasks required to teach future elementary, secondary, and special educators; some of these tasks keep me in my office or in a university classroom, but others send me into general and special education schoolrooms attended by K-12 learners at all levels. I can say without exaggerating that every time I visit a school I hear of increasing concerns about the life circumstances of students and the behaviors they exhibit as a result.

    Just as our fall university term was starting in late August, I found myself spending one day in an educational setting with a manifestly different atmosphere. Melissa Deane had invited me to be one of the speakers at Charlotte Mason Connection3, the third annual conference planned and presented by the Mason group in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, area. It was a wonderful day. When I think back, two lasting impressions immediately come to mind: the tables full of living books used in the homeschools represented by the organizers and the wonderful young people – children of those organizers – who facilitated the event in many ways such as helping in the kitchen and running the technology. The schools represented at this conference contrast in diverse ways to typical American public schools. These Charlotte Mason educated students and their families are truly blessed.

    Mason’s statement that “education is the science of relations” is one of the principles that accounts for the effectiveness and – I would say – peacefulness of her educational approach. This principle is similar to the principle “children are born persons” in that there are layers of meaning and manifold applications of each. In conjunction with each other, these two principles are foundational to implementing an educational process that leads to more than “college and career readiness.”

    College and career readiness is a phrase that can be found many times on the website of the Common Core State Standards (Common Core State Standards, 2017), mission statements of many public schools, in promotional materials for textbooks, and throughout the current educational milieu. If promoters of college and career readiness are to be believed, the goal of an education is utilitarian only and content taught and tested is limited to that aligned to state standards, primarily in mathematics, English language arts, and to a lesser degree science. The South Dakota Kindergarten English language arts (ELA) Standards document for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language is 41 pages in length; for first graders, there are 46 pages of standards. Subjects other than the three tested receive scant attention in any amount that would allow a child to develop a relationship with them.  

    Outside of school, parents often tend to encourage a child to pursue a single interest such as music or sports, for example, based on the family situation or on cultural trends. Many opportunities, ideas, creative pursuits, and interests are not noticed, acknowledged, or explored. Recently I attended a theatrical production on our campus. One of the talented actors is in his junior year; his major area of study, however, is not related to the affinity for the theatre he has recently realized. When I talked to him after the final curtain call, he sounded regretful and said it was “too late” to change his mind about his future. In Charlotte Mason terms, an aspect of his personhood was somehow not recognized earlier on, and he did not have the opportunity to develop wide relationships that would have allowed him to lay hold of his affinity for theatre.

    However much I sometimes desire to be more directly involved in learning and teaching the Charlotte Mason way, I am grateful for the online Study and Facebook groups, the Connection3 Conference, the Living Education Retreat, and other opportunities that remind me that education is a life. I can continue to apply Mason principles in my current setting while being watchful for “Mason sightings,” inadvertent application of Mason principles in current educational practice. Two such trends that may warrant examining are project-based learning (PBL) and gentle teaching.

    Problem (or project) based learning has been used in K-12 schools for close to a quarter century.  “In problem-based learning courses, students work with classmates to solve complex and authentic problems that help develop content knowledge as well as problem-solving, reasoning, communication, and self-assessment skills” (Problem Based Learning, 1994).  In the instances I am familiar with, some of the concerns related to teaching based on multiple overly-focused content standards are set aside as a real-life problem is addressed, using content from whatever subject or skill area becomes needful. Once the problem is solved or the project completed, the teacher analyzes which standards have been met. There are many iterations of this model, and in some cases, the teaching and learning may recognize both the personhood of the learners and relationships to a wide variety of ideas and content.

    Just recently, one of my students made me aware of gentle teaching, an approach to teaching children and supporting adults with special needs that seems to focus more on relationships and less on modifying behaviors and developing functional skills. There does not seem to be much literature as yet about gentle teaching. Both gentle teaching and PBL need to be considered carefully before any claim can be made that they implement Mason principles and contribute to understanding of the way knowledge is related to the world, to others, and to God’s truth.

    In Parents and Children, Mason writes about Wisdom, the Recognition of Relations:

    It is curious how the philosophy of the Bible is always well in advance of our latest thought. ‘He grew in wisdom and in stature,’ we are told. Now what is wisdom, philosophy? Is it not the recognition of relations? First, we have to understand relations of time and space and matter, the natural philosophy which made up so much of the wisdom of Solomon; then, by slow degrees, and more and more, we learn that moral philosophy which determines our relations of love and justice and duty to each other: later, perhaps, we investigate the profound and puzzling subject of the inter-relations of our own most composite being, mental philosophy.  And in all these and beyond all these we apprehend, slowly and feebly, the highest relation of all, the relation to God, which we call religion. In this science of the relations of things consists what we call wisdom, and wisdom is not born in any man,––apparently not even in the Son of man Himself.

    Wisdom increases; Intelligence does not––He grew in wisdom, in the sweet gradual apprehension of all the relations of life: but the power of apprehending, the strong, subtle, discerning spirit, whose function it is to grasp and understand, appropriate and use, all the relations which bind all things to all other things––this was not given to Him by measure; nor, we may reverently believe, is it so given to us. (p. 258-59)

                      Mason encourages us to continue to pursue the science of relations and grow in wisdom in all our lives and circumstances. There is much to be gained in settings that fully apply Mason principles. There are also blessings in places that may not know of Charlotte Mason, but through the Holy Spirit and common grace, exemplify relational concern for children and teaching that recognizes the personhood of each learner.  The young woman I met that day last week was truly saddened by the plight of a misused child and through her tears, meant to be private, expressed “relations of love and justice and duty to each other” as well as care and wisdom that will inform her relationship with that child.   


    Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/

    Gentle Teaching. (2013). In Gentle Teaching Netherlands. Retrieved from

    Mason, C. M. (1989). Parents and children (Vol. 2). Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1925)

    Problem Based Learning. (Winter, 1994). Speaking of Teaching. Stanford University Newsletter on Teaching 5(2): 1-3.

  • 07 Oct 2017 7:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At the Institute conferences we have the Eve Anderson Nature Study Tea and the Eve Anderson Nature Study Lecture.  Why?  Who is Eve Anderson and why are these two events named in her honour?  To answer these questions, first, let me tell you how I met Eve and give you a bit of a description of her.  Second, what role did she play in the Mason movement in the US?  And finally, why did the Institute name a lecture and social gathering at our conferences in her honour?

    To my best recollection Eve and I first met through something we no longer do—hand written letters.  The first letter I still have is dated 23 May 1997.  She discusses in this letter her planned activities for her trip to the states.  Rosemary Moore, who had sought Eve’s help on starting a PNEU type school in the states, was the first to invite Eve to come to the states.  Eve assisted Rosemary Moore in setting up a school here like her PNEU school in Windsor, England.  She went on from there to help other schools by visiting classrooms, training teachers, informing parents about Charlotte Mason, and to generally act as a “consultant” to help schools understand more about Mason.  She generally stayed a month and travelled from school to school.  I wrote her apparently in May 1997 and invited her to visit Andy and me in Roanoke, VA which was where we were living at the time.  Eve planned her flight for the following October on her US visit to schools by arriving first at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, where I picked her up and drove her to Roanoke.  She stayed with us for two nights.  Andy drove her to Charlotte, NC where she then flew on to, I believe, Atlanta or Dallas.  

    I don’t mean this to stereotype Brits, there’s one in my family, but Eve was the quintessential Brit—no nonsense, straight to the point, that’s how it is and get on with it without any fuss—kind of person.  We loved her and enjoyed her visits with us.  The October 1997 visit was the first of several visits.  Below is a picture of Eve, Andy, Corban and Anna in 1999 at the Charlotte Mason conference held at the Charlotte Mason College in Ambleside, UK by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and Elaine Cooper.  

    Eve loved nature and when she stayed with us she enjoyed walking and seeing the natural environment she was in.  She stayed with us in South Carolina where we lived when I became an assistant professor of education.  She loved viewing the North Carolina mountains which could be seen beyond the lake that was across the road in front of our house.  We enjoyed outdoor picnics sometimes just so she could enjoy the view.

    Eve was a lovely person, always interested in nature and people.  She enjoyed her dog, Jim and frequently in her letters mentions taking him for walks.  She loved the school, Eton End, (https://www.etonend.org) where she was headmistress for 28 years and where she had many friends.  Her love of nature inspired many of us to rekindle our interest in nature which had slowly died since our childhoods.  She took her nature notebook with her everywhere and I have included some samples from it here.

    Eve was an important link following the publication of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s book For the Children’s Sake. As a former student at Mason’s House of Education which by Eve’s time was called the Charlotte Mason College, she was the last remaining Mason trained teacher running a PNEU school when she retired from Eton End.  Thus, by coming to the states she provided a vital link between Charlotte Mason and the schools and parents here in the states trying to implement Mason’s work.  Her role was crucial.  It was also sacrificial.  In her retirement she could have done other fun things rather than spend her time here helping schools.  But isn’t curious to watch how God provides the support we need in the most unexpected ways. Eve was one of those ways and she chose to help and thus she provided a link that helped to carry the educational theories and practices of Mason into the US which is still slowly and steadily growing today.  

    Images of Eve Anderson's Nature Notebook provided by The Armitt Trust

    Because she played such a vital link that carried Mason’s ideas into homes and schools here in the US, the Institute chose to name our Thursday afternoon lecture in her honour.  And, to further honour her, the Institute decided to make that yearly lecture about nature study, her beloved subject.  To Eve we give our thanks for supporting so many of us as we deepened our understanding of Mason’s methods.

    This past spring while speaking with one of our friends out west about the western CMI conference, I mentioned that maybe we should name the Thursday afternoon lecture after something or someone more western.  To my surprise the response was no, we want the Eve Anderson Tea and Nature Study Lecture.  I was thrilled to further the memory of a person who has had such a profound effect on the Mason movement in the US and Canada.  Eve Anderson was a Charlotte Mason trained teacher and she ran a PNEU school for years.  What a joy and privilege to know and work with someone who cared enough for the Mason movement in North America, to share her knowledge and experience with us.  

    We look forward to many more years of the Eve Anderson Teas and Nature Study Lectures.

    We are indebted to the Armitt Trust for providing the pictures of Eve Anderson's Nature Notebook.

    Come join us in 2018 at Roanoke College, Salem, VA  and University of Redlands, Redlands, CA for our next CMI Charlotte Mason Education Conferences.  The dates are:

    Roanoke College, Salem, VA - 13, 14, 15, and 16 June 2018

    University of Redlands, CA - 25, 26, 27, and 28 July 2018

    And—be on the look out.  There may be one coming closer to you!

    © 2017 Charlotte Mason Institute

  • 29 Jul 2017 9:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Again––except for the fine power of resistance possessed by the human mind, which secures that most persons who go through examination grind come out as they went in, absolutely unbiased towards any intellectual pursuits whatever––except for this, the tendency of the grind is to imperil that individuality which is the one incomparably precious birthright of each of us.  (Parents and Children, p. 216)

    An Examination-ridden Empire––Probably the world has never seen a finer body of educationalists than those who at the present moment man our schools, both Boys' and Girls'. But the originality, the fine initiative, of these most able men and women is practically lost. The schools are examination-ridden, and the heads can strike out no important new lines. Let us begin our efforts by believing in one another, parents in teachers and teachers in parents. Both parents and teachers have the one desire, the advance of the child along the lines of character. Both groan equally under the limitations of the present system. Let us have courage, and united and concerted action will overthrow this Juggernaut that we have made.  (Parents and Children, p. 224)

    Examinations seem the epitome of everything Mason thought wrong with the school system of her day: students motivated by marks and rewards, bogged down by the grind, reduced to their quantitative score in math and Latin (this was no humanist scheme!), forced into a year's cram that injured soul and body for the sake of praise and social advancement.  It is no wonder she was critical.

    And yet she still assigned term exams in her schools, and the exams carried great weight for the PNEU, its students, and Mason herself. Consider these fond reminiscences of Mason's personal enthusiasm for the process:

    Perhaps the work for a fortnight or more would be the children's written examination papers, each of which she would consider before she signed the report, sometimes modifying or adding to the report herself. How she loved the papers! 'I am always happy when I am reading these,' she would say, 'Just see how these children take pleasure in their work!’  (In Memoriam, p. 68)

    The little note in her own handwriting on every examination mark sheet was an eagerly looked-for joy even to those of us who had never been privileged to see or know her more intimately. (In Memoriam, p. 49)

    There are many more comments in the same vein, enough to show that Mason considered examinations not merely a necessary evil, or even a matter of course, but a joy.

    How can we explain this dichotomy?  In this process-focused, Spirit-led philosophy of education, concerned more with the development of character than information learned or skills gained, what role can examinations have to play?  And how can they bring joy to our homes and classrooms?

    The answer lies in the kind of exams her schools employed. Besides being vastly different from the common exams of her time (and ours), they provide a beautiful vision of what assessment looks like in a model that genuinely values students and respects their mind-work.

    These are exams that cover all areas of the curriculum, from history to drawing, from mathematics to sewing, because all branches of knowledge are valuable. These are exams in which each answer will look slightly different from every other because personality has a chance to shine through, from the little sketches that might accompany a Form I student's dictated narration to a précis (short essay) on a topic of personal interest from a Form V student.  They ask not for students to parrot back the opinions of their schoolmaster or even of the "minds" they have met in their schoolbooks, but for original thought. They look "not for repetition or feats of memory but for evidence of interest, experience, involvement in the subject, not as an academic exercise but as an eager sharing of a universal human inheritance" (Stephens, p. 3). They do not aim to ferret out what a student has not learned, but to provide him the space to demonstrate what he has: "Its purpose for the pupil is to give him an opportunity to show what he has learnt and what progress has been made" ("The PNEU Schoolteacher's Handbook," p. 25). These are exams where all the students in a classroom can potentially get full marks—and that would be a sign of a successful exam, not one that needed to be made more difficult to allow for curves and rankings. These are exams in which the atmosphere is as important as the questions asked or answers given: “there is a warm feeling in the class—the eagerness that belongs in a well-told story, or to the mastery of some point of syntax or of science” (Chief Examiner, p. 9).  They benefit from the sense of delighted accomplishment, shared enthusiasm, and calm interest that they create. They acknowledge the whole student, who knows his work will be judged not just on “right or wrong,” but from a holistic perspective that considers all progress made that term, in and out of the classroom.

    The exams she insisted upon were an extension of her philosophy. They highlighted respect for children as persons, camaraderie among peers, sympathy between teacher and student, the generous feast, an atmosphere conducive to learning.

    But even with this vision for the examination process before us, sometimes it is hard to see their value for us as Mason educators.  In so many ways, we are long-game teachers. We trust in short, consistent calls to attention over long stretches of time; we sow seeds for fruit that will be borne perhaps years from now; we wait on our students to make the connections and stand aside while they do the mind-work. Teaching is a delicate art in the Mason model, and we are constantly assessing. We quietly consider our students as they narrate, keep, comment, question. We watch and listen. Is attention waning? Are narrations showing engagement with the text? How can we better scaffold? Where do our students need our support and where do they need to move toward independence? How can we better model the learning process?  Is it time to step in, or ought we to be masterly inactive at a given moment? 

    When we are at our best as educators, we're assessing in small ways daily, even hourly.  This two-fold requirement of patience in seeing results and mindful engagement with our students seems to leave very little need for term-end reviews. Perhaps this is why exams are not more often practiced by Mason families. But the truth is that Mason saw them both as "best practice" (the most effective way to make sure the student, the teacher, the programme, and the schools were all on the right track) and as a delightful routine worth a precious week of classroom time. 

    So how does this kind of assessment benefit teacher and taught?

    In the case of the student, exams don't just measure engagement with the topic studied; they actually require the student to engage in a new way. If, as E.K. Manders says, "we narrate and then we know," then perhaps we might also say "we take an exam and then we know more, better, differently." At the same time, the process fine-tunes the habit of attention. If the responsibility to narrate after the reading makes the brain attend more carefully, the responsibility to recall at the end of the term also calls the brain to heightened attention. The student realizes that these are ideas the teacher will expect her student to ponder for weeks and years to come.  So the exam is in itself an act of learning, and a particularly valuable one at that. Students learn more about the material by forging new connections and re-visualizing what they have studied.  They learn to be more attentive and give their studies due value. And more than that: they also learn more about themselves. Exams are, at their heart, a moral action. As Elsie Kitching reminds us, "the examination must offer moral training to the pupils, and should be conducted with absolute probity." (p. 26) Because in the end, "Every real examination is a test not of memory but of ourselves, of our whole response to a problem" (G.H.A.S., p. 10). The exam is educative in the fullest sense of the word.

    As for the parent-teacher, the benefits are myriad. When we carefully consider our students' responses, we are able to assess "the degree of success achieved to date in teaching, any set-backs or inadequacies, where methods have succeeded or failed, whether teacher-pupil relationships in the schoolroom are satisfactory, comments on classroom organisation, whether lesson preparation is adequate" and more ("The PNEU School Teacher's Handbook," p. 27).  If we truly sit down and mine the exam results for feedback, we find they elucidate both the trouble spots and the real strengths of our teaching in ways a daily assessment can not. Perhaps we were not scaffolding a book well enough for it to "stick"; the student was relying on his strong memory for daily narrations but when exam time comes, we find he remembers little. Perhaps we accepted vague answers during the term as a sign of understanding, but exams lay bare that only tenuous connections have been made. Perhaps there were a series of "lucky guesses" during a week's lesson and we mistakenly moved on; exams show those areas of weakness when we circle back around.  They show which lessons we have not been consistent with and where we can improve.  They also show where we have been successful in modeling good habits of learning, where we have chosen worthy books that our students have genuinely engaged with, and where our students really shine and might be ready for more independence.  This advantage is partly thanks to the unique qualities of the exam experience, which provides us different kinds of feedback than our regular classroom experience.  And it is partly thanks to the time we take to sit down and focus when we commit to an Exam Week, time we may not take often enough. If we are intentional about it, then it can be "a unique opportunity to sit back and think about how the term has gone. The mere fact of writing down the comments about teaching will in itself be beneficial" ("The PNEU School Teacher's Handbook," p. 26).

    But perhaps the greatest value for the teacher is in the way exams expose our students to us. Alongside the exam responses, PNEU parents or teachers submitted a short vignette of each student to examiners, describing his interests and activities, mitigating factors for that term, and so on.  The goal was for the examiner to arrive at a picture of the child "in the round," because, as Stephens puts it, "it is in the child as a person that we are interested" (p.3).  For fair assessment, rather than simply stark (and false) objectivity, the examiners were aiming at an understanding of the child as a whole: "This is the close watch over each child individually and his or her development from term to term in mind and body--and one might well add in spirit, for parents and teachers are expected to report on such matters as responsibility, help in the home, and leadership in the school" (The Parents' Union School, p. 5).  If we do the same, if we sit down, make thoughtful notes on our children, and carefully consider their exam responses, I think we could get at the heart of what the teachers and parents of the PNEU found in exams:  encouragement. As the Chief Examiner puts it, "It can be very rewarding to the parent/teacher to have to pause and look at all sides of the child—at interests and responsibilities that compensate perhaps for poor bookwork; and to be glad after all that he is not the exasperating failure he sometimes seems to be" (The Parents' Union School, p. 6).  Once again, Examiner Stephens sums it up well:  "From the beginning examinations have been an important part of our work, not with the intention of criticizing or grading, but as a means of encouraging and helping both teacher and taught" (p. 1).

    The truth is that unless we are perfect educators (and I think that we "humble plants" all acknowledge there are places we can grow as teachers!), there is room for assessment of ourselves: our practices, our philosophy, how well we are living out the day to day. And unless we are perfect parents (and I doubt any of us would claim that either!), there is room for us to know our children better.  I have never ended an Exam Week in my home without seeing areas in which my methods could be better implemented, my curriculum choices might be tweaked for relationship, or our atmosphere could be more conducive to learning. I also have never ended an Exam Week without a clearer view of my children, a more thorough understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and a clue to how I might better meet their needs.

    It is in this combined benefit--the self-assessment of the educator and the educative qualities of the process for the student—that exams have their power and value.

    I want to share one last quote from Mason herself, in which she laments that in the grind-school of her day, the student learns only what prepares him for his impending public examinations:

    Again, the routine of school-work becomes, at the same time, so mechanical and so incessant, there is so much hurry to get over the ground, so little leisure, so little opportunity for the master to bring himself en rapport with his pupil, to feel, as it were, the moulding of the boy's character under his fingers, that there is no space for the more delicate moral training, the refining touch, which a man of superior parts should bestow upon his pupil. The work, the routine itself, affords bracing moral training. Diligence, exactness, persistence, steady concentrated effort, are not to be despised; but something more is wanted, not easy to define, to be got only in sympathetic intercourse with our betters, morally and mentally, and this something is being pushed out in the press of work.  (Formation of Character, p. 184)

    In the Mason paradigm, exams give us exactly that which she struggles to name: that delicate moral training, that refining touch, that sympathetic intercourse that affects the moral and the mental, and the "more" that results. Exams have the power to mould character, to create rapport between master and pupil. And this happens through diligent, exact, persistent, concentrated work, which does not "press" but rather dignifies the student as he brings his will and mind to bear on the task at hand.  May we all find that "something more" through our Exam Weeks ahead!

    References for Articles and Pamphlets

    G.H.A. Stephens, "Examinations in the PNEU School and Schools Affiliated" - http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/2nd-CM-Briefcase/Box17/cmc115/i1p1-i3p19cmc115.pdf

    "The PNEU School Teacher's Handbook" - http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/2nd-CM-Briefcase/Box16/cmc110/i2p01-p30cmc110I.pdf

    The Chief Examiner, "The Parents' Union School" - http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/Box48/cmc363A/p01-p18cmc363A.pdf

    E.K. Manders, "We Narrate and Then We Know" - https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PRx02p170WeNarrateKnow.shtml

    E. Kitching, "Children Up to School Age and Beyond" - http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/Box48/cmc370/i2cmc370-p28cmc370.pdf

    G.H.A.S., "Confidences of an Examiner" - http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/Box48/cmc363A/p01-p18cmc363A.pdf

    Parents' Union School, "Rules and Examination Regulations" - http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/Box48/cmc367/i01p1-i07cmc367.pdf

    © 2017 by Celeste Cruz

  • 24 Jul 2017 12:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I am ridiculously in love with teaching Plutarch.  Honestly, it’s a little bit weird.  My husband affectionately (albeit a little jealously) refers to him as “my boyfriend.”  “Hey how was your day?  Oh never mind, you’re with him again.”  It is truly a labor of love, because there is nothing about teaching Plutarch that could be termed “instant gratification,” at least not for me.  It is absolutely unglamorous and humbling.  But I love it nonetheless.  

    Often, I will ask what I think is a fantastic open-ended question, and as I scan the faces in our group all eyes lower and I am left with the sound of crickets chirping.  What went wrong?  Was it a poor question?  Now I am perfectly capable of asking ineffective questions, and frequently do, but maybe my question just needs time to germinate?  As a dutiful CMer I know on one level it’s the latter, but the longer I facilitate the Plutarch conversation the more I “know” it’s the latter.  “We feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function” (Mason, 1989/1925, p. 26).  So I let them digest their food.

    I have realized I think of each child as possessing keys.  I get a glimpse of the germination process when one of the questions becomes a door whose lock fits a key someone already has in their possession.  It’s electric when a few of them realize they have a key to the same door.  These are inner “fist-pumping” moments.  I play it cool, but I really want to run around the room jumping, screaming, and laughing.  Plutarch is shaping them!  I cannot measure how much, but that’s not the point, is it?!?  According to Adler (1940), Plutarch’s “original intention in writing had been to instruct others, he said, but in the course of the work he discovered that more and more it was he himself who was deriving profit and stimulation from ‘lodging these men one after the other in his house.’” (p. 246).  Personally, I also find that this is happening for me – that I am deriving profit and stimulation from lodging these men in my house.  This has made me realize I am also a host.  I invite these children and these “lives” into our space and I mix and mingle with them both, making introductions and leaving them to hopefully forge a relationship.  “Hey, have you met so-and-so, you should really get to know him.  I think you’ll find him interesting.”  This is a science of relations education.  Watching these young people create these new relationships is so exciting and in-the-core-of-my-soul-gratifying to me.  I think the reason I love facilitating Plutarch so much is that I get to participate with the Holy Spirit in the process of equipping the 10 to 16 year olds in our co-op group.  Watching them think deeply and draw conclusions about life, man, free will and its outcomes, and their contribution as citizens truly feeds my soul.  

    But, it is slow going.  It is a lesson in both patience and delayed gratification for me.  It is the subject above all others that consistently reminds me that “there is no education but self-education” (Mason, 1989/1925, p. 26).  It is humbling, because I care so deeply about each of them and their growth, and I want the time to “feel” fruitful but it isn’t about me.  

    As I mentioned earlier oftentimes our time together is quiet, and that grand conversation that I was anticipating, sigh, there go those crickets again.  So I just let it lie and I wait.  Wait for the Holy Spirit to do what He does.  When it comes to the part I play in all this, I pray and ask Him to help me be a gracious host by leading me to the questions that will facilitate a connection between their minds and Plutarch’s, and ultimately the minds of the lives we are studying.  Then, casting out those seeds, I trust that what should take root, will take root . . . even if I will never get to see it.  

    Adler, M. J. (1940).  How to read a book.   NYC: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

    Mason, C. (1989). An essay towards a philosophy of education. Wheaton:  Tyndale House. (Original work published in 1925)

  • 02 Jul 2017 7:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    About a year ago, a discussion was opened on the comparison of Charlotte Mason’s educational method and philosophy with that of Classical Education. During the ensuing months, there have been scores of comments, some intellectually stimulating and some on more of an emotional level. There is at least one area that has not been addressed that in my opinion needs to be. I believe that at their fundamental core, CM and CE are vastly different in who they seek to educate, which is one more reason why they are not the same. I will seek to demonstrate this assertion.

    I think all would agree that Classical Education, no matter which variety, has its roots in the methods and philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Their goal was not to educate the masses in ancient Greece but to train up philosopher kings who would rule society. When the Romans took over as the predominant ruling culture, they often took as slaves, educated Greeks, who were then to be tutors for their own young men. Of course, these young men were the sons of the wealthy nobility.

    After the ascendancy of the church and progressing into the Middle Ages, classical methodology continued, but it was for the training of young men who were of noble birth or destined to be leaders in the church. Education was not for the masses. This model continued as the predominant philosophy, for the most part, until the 17th or 18th century. There is no exact time when classical began to fade in its importance, but certainly Rousseau brought a challenge to its preeminence and the walls began to crumble. Nevertheless, Classical Education did continue in the “public schools” (private or independent schools) of Great Britain, where the upper classes continued to be educated and groomed to lead the nation and through Britain’s domination, the world. Paralleling the growth of government, capitalism became stronger, and the elite also oversaw commerce as the captains of industry.

    Author David Hicks in Norms and Nobility writes the following: “The popular mind associates the idea of a classical education with the narrow and elitist schools of Victorian England. In fact, these schools perverted classical education by teaching in precept and in example a hereditary aristocratic ideal intended to serve the ambitions of Empire and to preserve the status quo.” (p. 17)

    On page 36 Hicks quotes Matthew Arnold in a positive light:

    Rigorous teachers seized my youth,

    And purged its faith and trimmed its fire,

    Showed me the high, white star of Truth,

    There bad[e] me gaze and there aspire.

    These "rigorous teachers" that Arnold and, by extension, Hicks speak of favorably are none other than the Victorian school masters who dominated British public school education, the very ones that Hicks earlier asserts on page 17 corrupted classical education. Nonetheless, these teachers were and are representative of Classical Education. Not only were their methods primarily didactic, but their audiences were the elite children (usually between 11 and 18 years of age) of the rich and aristocratic. They also were primarily male students. Although it can be argued that this was simply a sign of the times, it nevertheless represents the true roots of Classical Education. The methods were not carried into the schools that taught the poor, nor were girls allowed to benefit from their methods.

    In chapter one of his book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Douglas Wilson describes why he chose Classical Education as the model for his own children’s education. It was a direct reaction to the failure of the [American] public school system to adequately train and compete with the educational systems of the rest of the developed world. The failure of the U.S. to compete internationally in literacy and mathematics led him and two other families to start their own Classical School, Logos Academy. For him, after reading Dorothy Sayers’ essay The Lost Tools of Learning, he saw the classics as the only viable way to educate children and to instill a Christian worldview. Of note is the recurrent theme of putting learning into the child/student, not inspiring the child to learn for himself or herself. While not specifically directed at training up an elitist cadre of classically educated Christians to rule the world, his opening three examples to illustrate the problem are telling—a young man filling out a job application who cannot understand the instructions, a young mother who dropped out of school in the tenth grade who cannot read street signs, and a business executive who is frustrated by the high cost of remedial education to bring his work force up to speed. The apparent solution was to make students smarter.

    The problems present in the American educational system are self-evident and none of us would deny that measures such as “Outcome Based Education”, “No Child Left Behind”, SOLs, and “teaching to the test” are evidence of the continued failure to raise literate young people. However, it is a straw man fallacy to say that Classical Education is the only approach that offers a solution. Furthermore, I do not wish to confuse “elite” with “excellence” in education. There is nothing wrong with wanting children to learn the classics or to achieve academic excellence, but is filling students with more knowledge the same thing as instilling a love of learning?  

    Just to be clear, let me offer a definition of “elite”, one taken from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

    1a singular or plural in construction:  the choice part:  cream the elite of the entertainment world b singular or plural in construction:  the best of a class superachievers who dominate the computer elite — Marilyn Chase, c singular or plural in construction:  the socially superior part of society how the French-speaking elite … was changing — Economist, d:  a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence members of the ruling elite

    Definition “d” deems to best fit the present discussion, although “c” certainly gets at the concept as well.

    My wife and I have been home educators for over 30 years. During that time, we have explored and used virtually every curriculum category that is available. For me, as the father, I confess that for most of the early years, I looked on proudly as my wife did the lion’s share of the work and I wrote the checks for the curricula. I told everyone who would listen about our homeschool and just how much smarter our children were than public school-educated kids. In the late 1990’s, we acquired a copy of the Well-Trained Mind, and for a season, I was convinced that Classical Education would make my children smarter and brighter, and who would one day be fit to rule the world! Of course, I am engaging in a little hyperbole, but the point I want to make is this—I was drawn to Classical Education because of its perceived elitist position in educational circles.

    David Hicks observes that,

    Education in ancient times was aimed at a small elite, and classical education has never shaken the charge of being elitist. Its ideals are often said to be irrelevant to the conditions and requirements of life in an industrial democracy. A number of notable classical scholars…have complicated the issue by using Plato’s critique of democracy to support their case for the recognition and formation of educated elites. Democracy’s stampeding masses will destroy themselves and trample down their beloved liberties – so the argument goes – if they are not led by an elite of learned men and women.  These scholars build their argument for educating small elites on the same footing of social and political exigency as those who think all classical education an aristocratic impertinence.  (Norms and Nobility, p. 78)

    I am aware that my charges of elitism are generalized and there are exceptions. I will go so far as to provide two of them. In an article that Cindy Rollins wrote for CiRCE Institute in 2012, she described a classical school that her own father attended in Cincinnati that was aimed at “street urchins” and the fact that the two years he spent there were the greatest influence on his life.  Another example is one that received a lot of attention in the 1970’s. An inner-city Chicago woman named Marva Collins started a private academy (Westside Preparatory School) that targeted young inner city black students.  She utilized a classical curriculum with the result that their graduation rate was almost 100% and most of her students went on to college, something unheard of in that community.  Other examples undoubtedly exist as well. But the exceptions do not negate the principle that CE has historically been aimed at an elite body who would be prepared to one day govern the rest of society.

    In that same article, Cindy Rollins described the difference between CM and Classical Education:

    I must note one difference between a ‘classical education’ and a ‘Charlotte Mason education’ and here we may find the key to the problem. There is nothing elite about a CM education. Its first distinction is that ALL children are born persons and can be educated this way with some success. This kind of education is not only for Ivy League prep schools, middle class Christian schools and dedicated homeschools, it is also viable for those back corners of our society that long ago lost the idea of any kind of education. It is education for ALL and that makes it truly classical and truly Christian.

    Following are the words of Charlotte Mason herself, which she wrote in the preface to volume 6:

    I am unwilling to close what is probably the last preface I shall be called upon to write without a very grateful recognition of the co-operation of those friends who are working with me in what seems to us a great cause. The Parents' National Educational Union has fulfilled its mission, as declared in its first prospectus, nobly and generously. ‘The Union exists for the benefit of parents and teachers [and children] of all classes; . . . .’ ( Mason, 1989A, p. xxviii.)

    Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is perhaps best summarized in her 20-principle Short Synopsis found in the beginning of volume 6.  Principle #15 states:

    Acting upon these and some other points in the behavior of the mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment. Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes; thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behavior of the mind. (Mason, 1989A, pp. xxx-xxxi)

    For Charlotte Mason, the principles that she formulated were universal, intended for students of all classes. Her hallmark was “A Liberal Education for all.” It is well documented how her educational system was taken into the lower-class schools with the amazing result that the students flourished and grew to love knowledge as much as the upper-class students. On page 246 of volume 6 she makes the following statement:

    I have ventured to speak of the laws of the mind, or spirit, but indeed we can only make guesses here and there and follow with diffidence such light as we get from the teachings of the wise and from general experience, because peculiar experience is apt to be misleading; therefore, when I learned that long-tried principles and methods were capable of application to the whole of a class of forty children in the school of a mining village, I felt assured that we were following laws whose observance results in education of a satisfying kind. (Mason, 1989A)

    The appreciation for art and nature study by these lower-class children, heretofore reserved for upper class children was astounding. Take this example:

    It has come to us of the Parents’ Union School to discover great avidity for knowledge in children of all ages and of every class, together with an equally, remarkable power of attention, retention, and intellectual reaction upon the pabulum consumed.  The power which comes into play in the first place, is of course, attention, and every child of every age, even the so-called ‘backward’ child seems to have unlimited power of attention which acts without mark, prize, place, praise or blame. (Mason, 1989A, pp. 254 -255)

    Charlotte Mason, like CE, was committed to changing the world. The difference was that she did so from the ground up rather than from the top down. Her intent was to spread a love of learning through a love of God, rather than promoting some vague sense of virtue and then hoping it would become Christianized in the student.

    In Mason's 5th volume on page 213 she wrote:

    Moreover, it is not the sort of thing that the training of the schools commonly aims at; to turn out men and women with enough exact knowledge for the occasions of life, and with wits on the alert for chances of promotion, that is what most schools pretend to, and, indeed, do, accomplish. The contention of scholars is, that a classical education does more, turns out man with intellects cultivated and trained, who are awake to every refinement of thought, and yet ready for action. But the press and hurry of our times and the clamor for useful knowledge are driving classical culture out of the field; and parents will have to make up their minds, not only that they must supplement the moral training of the school, but must supply the intellectual culture, without which knowledge may be power, but is not pleasure, nor the means of pleasure. (Mason, 1989B)

    Even in Charlotte Mason’s day, she saw the elitist bent of Classical Education, to prepare children to succeed and armed with specific knowledge to be promoted to successful and prominent positions. She saw the irony that in drilling the facts of CE into students that we were driving “classical culture” out of them.  Charlotte Mason’s method gave the student a feast from which they can choose for themselves what they wish to learn, and to do so with passion. 

    My contention is that whichever form of CE one chooses there is a fundamental goal of training the brightest minds to gain entry into the best colleges and universities and to achieve leadership positions in business and government as a means of changing the world—from the top-down.  Historically, only the elite were allowed to govern and classicists have always believed that their children should be trained to be that ruling class.  They have done this because fundamentally their approach is rooted in the classicists such as Plato, Socrates, and the medieval church, who believed that education was only for the rich, the privileged, and the elite.

    For Charlotte Mason, education was finding the myriad associations between objects and ideas in God’s created world.  Making those associations is not something a teacher can do for students but must be made by the children themselves.  That association can be made whether the child aspires to become a politician or a tradesman, a business professional or a stay-at-home wife and mother.  Charlotte Mason’s approach is for everyone, and society benefits because all are raised to a higher plane.  Each person grows to their capacity, recognizing that while all persons are different, at the same time they are all children of God with a unique place and position in God’s Kingdom.

    Classical Education cannot escape the accusation that at its core, it is an elitist philosophy while Charlotte Mason is all-inclusive.  There is one note of caution that I must interject, and that is the danger that we who are advocates of Charlotte Mason’s methodology, would become ensnared with the same pride and even arrogance that we accuse others of having.  It is a gift that Charlotte’s works have been rediscovered and that we are able to share in the renaissance of her ideas in our own time.


    Hicks, D. (1999).  Norms and nobility:  A treatise on education.  Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

    Mason, C. M. (1989A).  An essay towards a philosophy of education.  Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925)

    Mason, C. M. (1989B).  Formation of character.  Charlotte Mason Research and Supply.  (Original work published in 1925).

    Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  Retrieved from:  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elite.

    Rollins. C. (January 10, 2012).  Towards a defense of Charlotte Mason. Article. Retrieved from:  https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/towards-defense-charlotte-mason

    © 2017 by Scott Cottrill

  • 23 Jun 2017 4:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Again, we know that the human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handcrafts.  (Mason, 1989/1925A, p. 328-329)

    The architect is a man of poetic temperament, of creative imagination, and of artistic taste and judgment: coupled with seeing eyes and deft hands, he must have scientific accuracy and constructive power; he is at once a designer, a builder, a man of culture, and a man of business. (Robins, 1890) 

    How does using our hands and our creative imagination connect with teaching our students in this wide large room of knowledge?  Can we use arts and science to help stimulate our students to use their own creativity after main lessons?  How are we using the ideas from reading about architecture and engineering to learn a new skill, initiated by the biography we’ve read about the person in history, geography, science? How are we using the new skill, to teach our students to live happy, fully engaged, satisfying lives?  These are some of the questions that we can ask ourselves before diving into the world of architecture, engineering and craftsmanship studies. 

    As a teacher and parent, we do not know if our children will be architects, engineers, welders or carpenters.  They may pursue a field in chemistry, politics, social work, or business.   About half of a freshman class can easily change their major by their junior year in college.  Many students do not even use their degree they so painstakingly acquired in college when getting out into the workforce.  Many have a change of heart after working a few years in their chosen field of study, realizing that it is not something they want to pursue forever.  These scenarios are not mentioned because the students were in the wrong; it is just part of growth as a developing individual and alterations in our society over a period of time that can cause a change in plans.  Yet we would like our students to have some ideas, previously thought upon, that they can use to guide their decisions on what careers they would like to pursue in the future.  As our Charlotte reminds us, “It rests with parents not only to give their children birth into the life of intelligence and moral power, but to sustain the higher life which they have been borne.  Now that life, which we call education, receives only one kind of sustenance; it grows upon ideas. You may go through years of so-called 'education' without getting a single vital idea; and that is why many a well-fed body carries about a feeble, starved intelligence . . .” (Mason, 1989B, p. 33). As we provide our students with these vital ideas, many may use their hobbies to start their own businesses, becoming entrepreneurs--enjoying themselves more now, than when they were working for someone else in the corporate world.

    This reminds me of a short time ago, watching my husband over the course of several weekends; I realized how happy he is with his hammer, screw gun, wood and level.  He has always expressed his desire and a dream to own his own business, yet lack of assets has changed and altered his plans.  Using his skills, passed down from grandpa to dad to son, my husband is very content using his hands and mind to plan, build and carry out his ideas in his head for a fun family project in the backyard. 

    Gathering up the kids, rising early, he starts his work before the sun has time to peek out from behind the trees.   Even though it is hard, laborious work, we are all happily talking about how much supplies we will need to accomplish this sort of family project.  Will the project fit within the financial budget and time frame that was already discussed during our family meeting?  We pile out of the car at our local hardware store, with our list in hand, ready to accomplish the task of gathering supplies.  And later on in the day, as we build the structure, we start thinking aloud.  Who will be responsible for each of the different tasks needed to complete the project?  Can the sequence of steps to be done, affect the outcome and end result?  Who will measure to figure out the angles?  Who will use their geometry and math skills to double-check the measurements are correct?  What could we add onto it as to make good use of the space?  Will there be enough room to share the space with friends, neighbors and community?  How will we protect the tree with proper materials using the design thought upon?  How will we give the tree room to grow and sway in the wind, yet endure the weight of each person?   Hasn’t it been said, “The great secret to education is to combine mental and physical work so that one kind of exercise refreshes the other” (Larson, 1903, p. 10).

    As the days pass, we are seeing with our eyes something that is visual; something that is measurable as the end product.  We notice that our children enjoy the craftsmanship because it allows them to prove something to themselves.  They revel in the confidence that comes from participating and completing a project from start to finish.  And looking at my husband, I realized that this building project was likeable and enjoyable for him as well.  There was a part of him, which was playfully engaged in the task at hand.  He was using his mind and skills that took him beyond himself-- into a different world almost, that required of him to be fully engaged.  To use his mind and hands as he went along; he was figuring out how things worked so that the structure would be lasting and safe for the kids.  Besides thinking of safety, he wanted it to be aesthetically beautiful as well.  Creating something that can be used again (the reason for the screws, not nails), allowed him to be, not a consumer of stuff, but a creator of something beautiful, meaningful, useful and reusable.  I think these opportunities for him to teach skills to our children, give him some joy and light in a corporate world that can be dull at times for the human heart and mind. 

    As I am gazing at the finished product, I see how the success of the project was more than just a lesson on the skills of building.  It also was a lesson on creating something, being involved in finishing a task, and being happy during the challenge of a goal.  I start to think of the builders and engineers that we have read about this past year.  Their inspiring work of planning towns, inventing concrete, building aqueducts, plumbing bath houses--these Romans gave us many enjoyable afternoons of drawing floor plans and townscapes; building with mud, sticks and stone; using modeling materials or blocks and bricks to simulate what these old Romans built so long ago in the ancient days.  This is one of the many reasons why I embraced and dove into the ideas of our mentor Charlotte Mason.  This way of living is to “Make it your goal to live a quiet life; minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before” (I Thessalonians 4:11, New Living Translation).

    Many educators think that our philosophy of education is just an overabundance of reading.  It is quite a bit of reading, yet it is also conversation and opportunities to use of our hands.  The readings in history, literature, geography, science, architecture and engineering are invigorating!  They touch on and lay the foundation of independent thought.  They provide us with daily conversations about duty, citizenship and patriotism.  While our reading is wide, generous and varied, we are also allowing our students to use their hands in the afternoons, evenings and weekends. 

    Many times, especially with the little ones, this type of work is play.  It is natural with no preplanning on the teacher’s part to encourage the students.  With the older elementary, middle and higher forms, a bit of planning of some choices of projects are offered, only if the student cannot come up with a design on their own.  Study in perspective and scale drawing is continued to aid in using their mind for their creations.  Different materials are offered to the older students to use for their 2D plan to become a 3D model.  Verbal and written narrations and essays are still used; yet we also include renderings of architectural designs from the readings, building with blocks, constructing with branches using pioneering skills with knots, or compass drawings are just a few examples.

    During our afternoon session, we are first reading about the architect or engineer, who is the chief builder, the designer. We then choose an idea from the story that inspires each individual student.  Whether it be through using wood and hand tools, forming sculptures with plaster of Paris, or materials from nature, using clay for monuments, drawing in our architecture and engineering journals, using leather or other fabrics--we let the student decide what project they will create while using their mind and imagination. 

    As we read, we are also aware that there are more people in the story besides just one maker.  We see that there are a variety of professions of people.  There may be apprentices, assistants or journeymen, using their talents and ideas to help with the end result.  We are also engaged with learning about people that create things using their own craft.  We learn about the professionals in the trades that are becoming lost skills in the modern world.  We look at the architect or engineer-- yet we also look to the sculptor, the blacksmith, the glassmaker, the wood worker (carpenter), the tinsmith, the potter, and so many more.  All these amazing skills that could be the one skill your students use throughout their life to enrich and understand their own humanity.  

    Recently, we spent the afternoon talking with a print maker as we were experiencing the colonial life in Williamsburg, Virginia.  As he shook the ink that was to be applied to the moveable metal letters, he talked about the invention of printing.  Showing our small group the metal and how it was cut and prepared to become the moveable type cast.  Then he showed us how the metal was pieced and puzzled together to form a mirror, upside down image.  Placing the paper, pressing the lever, he showed us the end result of the page that was circulated around the first colonies in this great land.  Did you know that the printing press helped start the American Revolution by the passing of ideas on paper, in a fast, more frequent way to mass amounts of people?  These ideas and stories, which were exchanged on paper, provided unity among the colonies.  This unity was a new idea.  These ideas shared in the pamphlets and newspapers connected the people in a meaningful way and were the heart of the Revolution.  By listening to one tradesman talk about his craft, we are educating our students to use learning as a way to seize upon this life, just as our forefathers. The world becomes more tangible--and a thing of beauty, when we use our hands and minds.

    We need to provide our students with experiences in which they have the opportunities to make, to build, to create.  We know that wrestling and struggling with a problem builds the heart and mind muscle needed for character to develop. It is the experience of empowerment over being able to solve a problem that is needed to fulfill the soul.  Let us guide our students to a more fulfilled and engaged life.  The world is not abstract or distant--it is full of opportunities to learn, stretching our minds and using our hands.

    It is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans, or keeping books. The more of a person we suceed in making a child, the better will he both fulfill his own life and serve society.  (Mason, 1989A, p. 3)


    Burkeman, O. (7 May 2010). Working with your hands: The secret to happiness? The Guardian. Retrieved from:  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/may/08/working-hands-happiness-burkeman.

    Crawford, M. (21 May 2009). The case for working with your hands. The New York Times. Retrieved from


    Crawford, M. (2010). Shop class as soulcraft:  An inquiry into the value of work. NYC: Penguin Group.

    Csikscentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity:  Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. NYC:  Harper Perennial.  

    Korn, P. (2013). How we make things and why it matters:  The education of a craftsman.  Jaffrey, New Hampshire:  David R. Godine, Publisher.

    Larsson, G. (1902). Sloyd. Boston:  Sloyd Training School.

    Mason, C.M. (1989A). An essay towards a philosophy of education. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925)

    Mason, C. M. (1989B). Parents and children. Charlotte Mason Research and Supply. (Original work published in 1925)

    Rebanks, J. (2015). The shepherds’ life:  Modern dispatches from an ancient landscape. NYC:  Flatiron Books.

    Robins, E.E. (1890). Our Sons:  The Profession of Architecture. Parents’ Review, 1, Issue 1, pp 17-21. Retrieved from The Charlotte Mason Digital Collection http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/ParentsReview/ParentsReviewV1/PDFs/n1/p017-21PRv1n1.pdf

    © 2017 Kerstin McClintic

  • 25 May 2017 11:34 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Charlotte Mason Community School began as Ambleside Community School in Detroit in 2002, with 18 students. The founders first spent a few years studying Charlotte Mason and researching how to start a school. This fall, God willing, we will begin a new school year, with 70+ students, in a building that we lease from a church in Detroit. Attrition, from teachers who are choosing to stay home with new babies, and from retirement, has thinned our ranks, and we hope to hire new teachers who will join with us in this mission work in Detroit. It will be my pleasure to train and oversee the new teachers. 

    Therefore, I recently set myself the task of reading Towards a Philosophy of Education once more, from the beginning.  I thought I would be going over familiar territory, not realizing that I most often refer to some well-read pages in this volume, and have not read it from cover to cover in some time.

     The first topic that caught my attention was Mason’s reference to the Great War. She reflects in the Introduction about how Germany came to be in the place in which they would allow what she calls a “breakdown in character and conduct.” The reason soon follows:

    “the symptoms have been duly traced to their cause in the thoughts the people have been taught to think during three or four generations (p.1).”

    Our school in Detroit is adjacent to Wayne State University, my alma mater, where I truly hope great thoughts are still encouraged and expected. However, surrounding us are casinos and sports venues that won huge tax concessions from the city so that they could be built. At the same time, funding for the education of the minds and souls of the children of this city is in question. Give us three or four generations more of these sad priorities and injustices, and where will we be?  Not being a public school, our school must charge tuition or close our doors, but we depend on every dollar given to us to make up for the tuition fees the parents cannot in any way afford to pay. The public schools are similarly endangered.

    The bright spot in all of this worry: our present students are being allowed to think, to question, to delve into great works, and not only that, but to become persons, because Mason also says in this Introduction,

    “the more of a person we succeed in making a child, the better will he both fulfill his own life and serve society (p.3).”

    A few years ago, I took a few days off from school to visit my son and daughter-in-law in Oakland, California, as they were moving from a loft apartment into a tiny house that they had purchased. Oakland is a city undergoing many changes. The homeless gather in parks and under highway bypasses, even as young people, like my son, are moving into their neighborhoods and bringing with them the usual gentrification signs: bike lanes and coffee shops.

    I stepped outside their loft apartment one morning, waiting for them to come down, when suddenly I felt a person touching me, surrounding me from the back. I turned quickly, and a tall man was behind me. He never spoke, but followed me as I backed away.  I headed for the front door of the building to be let back in. I felt threatened, but I wasn’t hurt. My son said, when I pointed him out, that he most certainly was a heroin user, because of the telltale signs on his face. I kept thinking of the man, wondering how he came to be homeless, and whether anyone had ever shown him kindness or opened up the world to him as a child.  When I returned to Detroit, Evelyn, our principal, told me that a woman was asking if we would take her son as a student. It was March, and late in the year to be taking new students.  She said the woman was a bus driver who drove past our school every day, and wanted something better for her son. He was being bullied at school and was behind in reading. I thought of the homeless man, and told Evelyn: we must take him.

    Our little child, we saw immediately, needed all of the nurturing and care we could give him. We provided an atmosphere that fosters growth as persons. We provided the discipline of habits, formed “definitely and thoughtfully”. We provided life: “intellectual and moral, as well as physical, sustenance”. (Preface)

    These three educational instruments are the backbone of the methods we employ to teach students to think, to narrate back what they read and hear, and to make connections and form relationships with the world around them. We will continue our commitment to help them become persons who will both fulfill their own lives and serve society. If we are diligent, perhaps there will be future generations in this city and this country who will be thinking great thoughts about the problems of society, whose characters and conduct reflect the great minds and hearts of our most admired leaders, not the wishes of those who would prey upon the weaknesses of others.

    I am going to continue my re-reading of Towards a Philosophy of Education, but I am amazed at what I have already gained from the first few pages.

    ©  2017 by Therese Racklyeft

  • 13 May 2017 6:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I have been working with a group of people just starting out on their Charlotte Mason journey.  It has given me the opportunity to see with fresh eyes the awakening that happens as one is first touched by this whole new way of living.  I am amazed at how far things have come, and how much richer it has grown over the years.  As I peer through Mason's Alveary, it makes me wish I could start all over.  I can only imagine enjoying the richness of learning together without all the time eaten away by research and study that was necessary in the early years.  There is so much more access and support available now.  I’m awed by the fact that truth really is eternal as the same enriching and inspiration I received washes over the hearts and faces of those first becoming acquainted with Mason’s feast.

    I feel like a “Selah” is in order to stop and really consider all that God has done.  I am so grateful for all the people that have sacrificed and contributed over the years.  The maturity and depth has only continued to increase, and so much has been firmly established.  I believe the hardest work has already been completed and there is a momentum that will give an easier path and an acceleration for the things ahead.  For all those that gave so selflessly and suffered to get us here, and for all that has been achieved, truly celebration is in order!  

    It seems like we, as a movement, are at the top of a mountain.  I can look back and see the challenges of the climb and the exhilaration of having arrived at the top.  The view all around is breathtaking.  I can also look ahead and see the path moving forward into new territory, with gravity working for us on this next part.

    I believe we are at a divine moment in time where there is hunger for what we have to offer.  I also see things orchestrating incredible opportunities for us to do just that.  I’m referring to political shifts that have taken place in a couple countries, and a longing for truth stirring amongst people unlike I have seen in many decades.  There are also four additional countries where people have reached out for help in starting schools in the future.  It certainly appears to be time to advance!

    The potential for what this can impact is tremendous.  In other countries there is a desperate need for justice amongst the poor, and education can help provide that.  The girls are the ones  where this is realized the greatest.  A woman without an education is vulnerable to slavery, abuses of every kind, and oftentimes murder.  I attended a lecture on Women: Survival and Empowerment given by Dr. Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate, that addressed the oppression of women in undeveloped countries.  His number one answer to combat it was education.  

    Other significant changes needed are the ability to think logically, understand the worldview behind ideas being promoted, and the ability to discern truth—especially the truth of the Gospel.  I’m sure every one of us has had moments in the last year where we wondered if the world has lost its minds as we’ve watched the news!  The susceptibility of people to be swayed by sound bites and distorted news-reporting is a result of an education system that I daresay has failed, but at the very least is in great need of reform.

    If we can see that these things are established, we will see nations affected in one generation.  Give that a moment to sink in, because the power of that is beyond comprehension.  

    In light of all of this, there are several things I am praying for.  First, I want to see cross-cultural communicators who can instill in the business community the vision and importance of funding transformational education.  Secondly, I would like to see a wave of Charlotte Mason schools started.  Lastly, I would like to see teacher training colleges and universities established, especially in other countries.  

    I’m dreaming with God for this to leave the nations with a legacy.  Will you stand on this mountaintop and dream with me?  Will you join me in praying and networking with others unto the advancement of this precious movement that has so enriched our lives, so that others can share in the abundance of life it has provided us?  

    © 2017 by Tara Schorr

  • 07 May 2017 4:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be at the House of Education in Ambleside as a student teacher? Here are the requirements:

        Prospective candidates, who were not admitted under the age of 18, entered the House of Education in January. Each must have had a sound education and had taken an entrance exam in order to be educated to become a Primary Governess (not primary care, but rather the teaching of 6 – 10 year olds) or for a  Secondary Governess (upper grades: 10 – 17 or 18 years old) or to be Mistresses of the PUS schools or classes, and Mistresses in Secondary Schools. In becoming a primary or secondary governess, past certificates of attainments would determine which you qualified for. The course of study was for two years. Each of the two years consisted of three terms and three vacations. Seniors spent a summer in probationary teaching and Juniors were expected to spend some weeks in France. At the end, the student sat for the House of Education Certificate, which may be first, second, or third class. This certified teaching 6 year olds to 17 or 18, depending on Primary or Secondary levels. The student teacher also showed an enthusiasm for childhood to receive the certificate. In Charlotte’s words, this showed the work and training as heart-felt service to God.

         During the course of study, the students were required to write three papers, dealing with the history of education, practical methods, and theory of education. The final certificate depended on these papers. The aim of education, as presented to the students, is to produce a human being at his best—physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually quickened by religion, and with some knowledge of nature, art, literature, and manual work. Each student teacher undergoes Criticism Lessons and a lesson that is examined by an Inspector. On Thursday mornings, two or three students give Lessons for Criticism before the other students and staff. Miss Mason calls upon those present to criticise the lessons, finally summing them each up herself. The marks went towards the final certificate. On every Tuesday evening,  one of the students reads a paper dealing with a given author or composer, illustrated by readings or performances from his works. These evenings are known as "Scale How Tuesdays.” Some of these are in the Parent’s Review, labeled “Scale How Tuesdays.” Also, students took weekly charge, two at a time, of the girls (classroom pupils) who boarded while in the Practising School.

          They learned all subjects from learning to play the piano to great pains taken for elementary Greek, Latin, French, German, and Italian for excellent accents and fluency. This was tested orally.  Every student was required to keep a Nature Notebook and a Nature Lore Certificate assured the knowledge which should enable the teacher to gratify the intelligent curiosity of children, and to introduce her older pupils to the delightful pursuits of the field naturalist. This nature study is supplemented by definite scientific teaching in botany, biology, geology, astronomy, etc.

         There were difficulties, which a former H.E. student, Miss O’Ferrall, wrote in 1922: 

    I believe that two of the difficulties of many parents who teach or have their children taught at home are (1) the choice of books, and (2) the fact that they don't know how their children stand with regard to other children of their own age. She presented the curriculum which was sent out as one joined the PNEU and how to do it (The Work and Aim of the Parents’ Union School link listed below). None of us can study at  the House of Education today but as Miss O’Ferrall encourages us from 1922: It must not be imagined from this that Scale How Students are the only people allowed to teach on this method. This is far from the case. Many parents have a governess who has studied the methods under Miss Mason herself, but a great many do not, for the demand for students far exceeds the supply, and there are hundreds of mothers and other people using the method who have never had the opportunity of Ambleside training. 

         Miss O’Ferrall  concludes with these words which we should take to heart: 

    I can only say that the more I know of these ideals the more wonderful I find them to be and the more you study them the more you will realise the truth of our motto: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

          Can you  imagine being at Scale How with Charlotte Mason observing your teaching in a Criticism Lesson or asking her all your questions? Read about one of her student’s experience in the Parents’ Review:  Miss Mason of the House of Education by R.A.Pennethorne Volume 34, 1923, pgs.73-77.  ( https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR34p073InMemoriam.shtml)

    From these Parents’ Reviews:

    - The House of Education by Charlotte Mason (London: PNEU, 1921?), 1921?, pgs. 61-66 https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR32p066HofEd.shtml

    - The Work and Aims of the Parents' Union School  by Miss O'Ferrall (Ex-student H.E.) Volume 33, no. 11, November 1922, pgs. 777-787 https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR33p777WorkAimsofPUS.shtml

    - Training Lessons to Mothers by The Lady Isabel Margesson Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 17-24  https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR04p017LessonsMothers.shtml

    © 2017 Bonnie Buckingham

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