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  • 19 Feb 2017 1:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It is a happy thing that the ‘difficult’ children who are the readiest to resist a direct command are often the quickest to respond to the stimulus of an idea.” 1

     — Charlotte Mason


                One day, I noticed a dad hanging around with his toddler on a sidewalk. The little tot, about 18 months old, had her face set like flint in one direction. The dad, towering over her, was looking down at her and moving right in front of her each time she tried to go that direction.

                She would move to go around him, and he would step over to block her way, over and over. No words were being exchanged. She had no understanding of why her dad was preventing her from going that way. Dad was making no effort to explain the situation to her. His mind seemed to be elsewhere.

                Naturally, the little girl was getting a fiercely outraged look on her face. Maybe she was too young to understand why she couldn’t go there, though she probably was not. It wasn’t really explanations that were needed, however.

                Another time, I observed a mom with her toddler of about the same age. The little guy wanted to get into the cat’s food. The mom was telling him, No, James, you can’t get into the cat’s food!” She would pull him away repeatedly and say, No, James!” and he would go for it again. They stayed there by the cat dish, battling it out, his will against hers.

                Again, no explanations were given. This little guy was probably even less interested in explanations than the little girl with her dad had been. Like the little girl, he just needed a diversion, a distraction, a redirection, a gentle change of thinking from what he was trying to do. He needed an action from Mom that showed she was serious.

                The girl needed Dad to pick her up, talk to her, maybe show her something interesting in another direction. Engage her, give her some attention, understand her, entertain her, treat her like a person. An explanation probably wouldn’t have hurt, but wasn’t essential.

                The same applies to James’ mom. Pick up the child, go into the other room and show him a car driving by out the window or a picture on the wall, or a toy. Give him something more compelling to think about. Surely the cat itself would be more interesting than the cat food. Bring up a subject he likes to talk about. Then the problem dissolves, the battle’s over, and everybody’s happy.

                Little ones are easily distracted. Leverage it. Yes, kids need to learn to mind you, but there is more than one way to accomplish that goal. Going head-to-head isn’t always necessary. A change in thinking changes behavior.

    The distracted child

                Dr. Benjamin Spock, in speaking of How to Manage One-Year-Olds” in Dr. Spock on Parenting (1988), recommends telling a one-year-old no” in combination with brisk removal” of the object or the child. In classically perfect Dr. Spock parenting advice, he advocates saying no whenever it’s called for, but without anger. The child will be better able to accept” the lesson when it’s given calmly and gently.Isn’t that the truth for any size human?

                Noting that physical punishment is neither needed nor really effective, Spock explains that “prompt, firm removal is the most convincing method. After a while the child learns that you mean what you say, and then ‘No, no’ becomes a sufficient reminder.”

                Combining a clear “no” with physical separation makes it clear to a child that she can’t have what she wants. Giving her something else to think about helps make that denial a painless pill to swallow.

                “Distraction is the most effective way of getting your one-year-old’s mind off a forbidden object or forbidden action,” Dr. Spock advises.  Many a dangerously boring situation has been saved by a few everyday objects to occupy a little one.

                Dr. Spock tells the story of how, when he had a one-year-old, he set out to see how long he could occupy and interest the little guy with just a pair of cufflinks. Twenty minutes later, Dr. Spock was the only one who was tired of the experiment.

                In the same way, if your high schooler is asking to take the car on a long weekend with friends and your inner alarm is screaming against it, you can say no and explain your objections clearly and briefly. If your teen wants to keep arguing, express your empathy for his disappointment, then just cut it off and change the subject. Make it clear you mean what you say.

                Exceedingly little actual punishment is necessary where children are brought up with care,” Miss Mason writes. The need for punishment is mostly preventable.”3

                If you have to take your child to wait with you in some office, go prepared. Bring a few books and toys to keep him entertained and head off misbehavior at the pass. Don’t get angry with your child for clambering around the waiting room when you’ve set him up to misbehave. Don’t expect your baby to behave like a grownup and watch talk shows and read magazines in the waiting room and then get all hateful and shaming if he doesn’t.

                Walk him around and show him whatever there is to see. Talk to him so he’s not bored. Play with him; he’s a baby. Come prepared with a snack if it’s snack time. Don’t end up buying your baby a candy bar out of the vending machines because he’s bored and hungry in the waiting room.

                Little peeps just like messing with stuff. It’s not a weakness to be despised. Play is how they learn. Youngsters, from infancy through teenage, need to be kept busy. They will be busy, for better or worse. It’s up to us parents to decide how they’ll keep busy, for their benefit or their detriment.

                Many a battle on the changing table and smacking of baby thighs could be averted by giving the baby something interesting to hold while he lies there. Instead of trying to habituate our children to boredom, why not give them something their busy little minds and fingers can work on? 

                Creating such a diversion is a parenting technique Miss Mason recommended some 100 years ago. Far beyond age one, children respond as readily to thoughts that capture their fancy as a baby who latches onto an interesting object.

                This way of changing children’s thoughts,” as Miss Mason calls it, lets a child save face without a parent giving in. It avoids unnecessary battles, anger on either side, and punishments.

                Where [the parent] cannot yield, she diverts, she does not crush with a sledgehammer,”4 writes Miss Mason. Helping children make constructive changes is always a matter of changing their thoughts, changing their minds, not just coercing them to do what you want.              

                Whether it’s the thinking of the moment or the habits of thinking that need to be changed, a compelling idea will move a child in the right direction. Whatever the age of your child, when you make up your mind to keep your wandering lamb in the pasture, your motivation and knowledge of your own child will lead you to the way to reach that aim.


    1 School Education 23

    2 215

    3 Home Education 148

    4 School Education 23


    Anna Migeon is the author of The Happy Dinner Table: The Path to Healthy, Harmonious Family Meals (2016), available on Amazon, of which this article is an excerpt. Anna’s children were born in France, where she was inspired by the strong food traditions, delicious dishes and healthy attitudes toward eating. Her children also attended Charlotte Mason schools, where Anna learned more about raising kids who love what’s good for them.  She has conducted workshops and coached parents and about how to get picky kids to eat better according to Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. Anna is also an award-winning cook (her chocolate truffles won a red ribbon at the Gillespie County Fair in 2005, even though they melted into one blob in the Texas heat). She and her French husband, Gérard, share an empty nest in San Antonio. 

  • 11 Feb 2017 8:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For the past six months I have been contemplating the subject of service as a family and have entertained many questions along the way. One such question came while traveling home from holiday with family. I had taken the wrong exit in a complicated maize of highway and found myself going the opposite direction of what I had intended. I was nearly out of fuel and feeling peevishly annoyed at an extended family member for a personal slight. Complaining words of frustration seeped out of me as I pulled into a gas station.  While I fueled the car in the biting northern air, a homeless man approached me and asked for money for food and water. Because we were traveling long distance I had plenty of food with me and was able to give him a bag of jerky, snacks and water and his gratitude was deeply touching. Why wasn't I always prepared to serve in this way?  It would be easy to keep shelf stable food in my van for moments like this. My oldest son observed that we probably didn't accidentally take the wrong exit, rather someone needed something which we had and God sent us a couple miles off our intended route to meet his need. After this incident, hours of travel in unusual quiet lay before me, each child was either asleep or enjoying an audio book and my thoughts were free to roam. Instead, they kept circling back to the missed road, the homeless man and my self-centeredness. Earlier in the week I read these striking words from Mason:

    "A nation is probably only as healthy as how many proper outlets it has--how many colonies and dependents that it tries to include in its national life. And the miniature nation--the family--is the same way. Struggling families at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, orphanages, missions, people whose paths we cross who have needs, all help to sustain the family's higher life.

    But it isn't enough for the family commune to be on friendly terms with its neighbors and strangers that cross its path. The nation is constructed of family units. The nation, like the human body, is an organic, living whole body, made up of lots of smaller living cellular organisms. The family life is only complete when it meets its obligation of contributing to the health of the whole body. The family needs to share in public interests, help with public works, and value what's good for the public. If the family isn't participating in the life of the nation, then it's no longer a vital part of the living whole organism. In fact, it becomes harmful, like decayed tissue in a human body."  Vol.2 pg.5&6

    The family must serve. It must contribute. This may not be a radical overhaul of life, but it is a call to be aware and actively participating in the world around us.  In October 2016, Liz Cottril spoke at a retreat in Ashville and mentioned recent research that homeschooled children were found to be the most self-involved and unaware or indifferent to social issues and needs. I found this sobering and deeply disturbing. Our commitment to our children must never unwittingly make them feel that they are the center of the universe.

    "'Every man for himself and Heaven for all' is another fallacy that shuts up lives in narrow rooms.  Man is not for himself, and to get out of ourselves and into the wide current of human life, of all sorts and conditions, is our wisdom and should be our care.   Vol.4/Book 1 pg.107

    "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets"  Matt 22:37:40 KJV.

    What does it look like to love our neighbor, our nation and our world? Do we discredit small acts because we think we can't do the big things? A generous heart leads us into involvement with others who live differently than ourselves. This human connection, when led by Christ's love, will result in acts of kindness and service.  It is true that our lives have many seasons and what is possible at one time is far beyond reach at another time. I will share a bit of my own journey hoping that you will see how different various seasons have been for us.

    Before I married, I was deeply involved in inner city work with young children, this ministry became my life and I was star dusted with dreams of full time ministry. A few short years later I had three little boys under 4, and I was no longer searching for outside ministry opportunities. I have distinct memories of praying in desperation that someone might come and minister to me. Living far from family, many days found me overwhelmed with caring for the endless needs of my young children. I barely had time to take care of my own personal needs and my husband usually came home to an exhausted wife.  If you are a mother of young children, especially multiple babies and toddlers, then you must find peace and joy in pouring out for those little lives placed directly under your care.  I believe Jen Willkin said it beautifully when she wrote,  “Because if children are people, then they are also our neighbors. This means that every scriptural imperative that speaks to loving our neighbor as we love ourselves suddenly comes to bear on how we parent. Every command to love preferentially at great cost, with great effort, and with godly wisdom becomes not just a command to love the people in my workplace or the people in my church or the people at my hair salon or the people on my street or the people in the homeless shelter. It becomes a command to love the people under my own roof, no matter how small. If children are people, then our own children are our very closest neighbors. No other neighbor lives closer or needs our self-sacrificing love more.

    I do not believe that our immediate family and those beyond our homes create two conflicting obligations, rather our path lies between the tension of these two important truths. Miss Mason said that, "It is usually in our way, and not by going out of our way, that we shall find the particular piece of brotherly work appointed for us to do" Vol.4/ Book 2 pg.105.  You will find things that you can do along the way. Words of kindness and living with a generous spirit will bless and minister in ways you may never know. This is not beyond your reach even while your hands are full and you are not able to engage frequently outside the home. Your children are watching as you live generously and these things are no small part of creating a healthy whole body. It is also helpful to remember that what we pour out in those few short years will lay the foundation for leading our children into more ministry in the future years. Keep the vision burning and hold an open home and heart.

    As my children grew older the dynamics shifted and our family enjoyed serving together at a rescue mission. Here our lives touched the lives of those just coming out of drug and alcohol treatment centers or prison. During this stage of our life we also spent a great deal of time inviting others into our home for a shared meal and lively discussions. Then came a season of great darkness and turmoil and a valiant struggle to survive.  Life seemed nearly impossible, and moving through each day was a testimony to the strength and grace of God.  Tears well in my eyes as I type this, though three years have now passed since God closed that difficult chapter of our lives. We spent a year of quietness and healing and then an opportunity for me to touch the lives of displaced children in a nearby shelter opened up and I spent the next year investing much time in this ministry until, those doors shut  Now, I find myself  mostly facilitating my teenagers involvement in outside ministries.  They have helped to feed the homeless in our city through Street Side Ministries and spend hours at the local community operated food bank sorting and stocking and delivering food to those less fortunate in our community.  These ministries do not allow young children to serve and so I stay at home with my youngest, who is not old enough to join.  I have a few things I am actively involved in, but again I must remind myself that those things appointed for me will be there in my path, if I have eyes to see.  Living intentionally with eyes wide open remains a journey. I have to fight my addiction to busyness and practice being fully present.  

    Blessing others isn't always physical or financial.  Sometimes it may be encouraging words about the worth we see in others, actively building them up. Do my children see me doing this inside and outside my home?  This is always within my reach, and possible in every stage of life.  Further, I believe these blessings stretch beyond words to encompass all sorts of random acts of magnanimity. Even seemingly insignificant things like holding a door, standing so someone else can sit, picking up litter that someone thoughtlessly dropped, warm and caring eye contact, and lending a helping hand where needed. Are these small generous acts of national purport?  I don't know.  Are they? I can't help but think of the Aesop fable "The Lion and the Mouse" and the closing line, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  When we realize that poverty is so much more than material, then these small acts may, in fact, target the area of greatest need within the impoverished soul sending ripples of healing in concentric circles far beyond our short-sighted eyes. Recently, there was a very thought provoking article in the Wall Street Journal which quoted Chris Arnade as saying, "The front row, needs to learn two things. 'One is how much the rest of the country is hurting. It’s not just economic pain, it’s a deep feeling of meaninglessness, of humiliation, of not being wanted.”   

     It seem that often we end up focused primarily on the material needs and we miss the deeper human personal need or make it worse through our own ignorance and/or pride.

    “Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do more harm than good. I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. I am not okay, and you are not okay. But Jesus can fix us both.”  -Steve Corbett

    This is a call to humility and a heart that is willing to learn outside our comfort zone, even to admit that we may at times be serving ourselves while engaged in serving others.  As we reach out, pouring into national and community efforts, our lives expand and it is through true humanness that we are kept from being shut into narrow little rooms of self absorption and we will find ourselves truly within a wide room.

    "Let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18 NASB).


    Mason, C. M. (1989). Parents and children. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925).  Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio Copyright © 2003 Ambleside Online.

    Wilkens, J. (17 Sept. 2015). Your child Is your neighbor, (Web blog post). The Gospel Coalition, Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/your-child-is-your-neighbor.

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

    Aesop (1919, 1947) The Aesop for children: Checkerboard Press.

    Noonan, P. (2016). Shining a light on 'back row' AmericaWall Street Journal. 29 December 2016.

    Corbett, S. & Fikkart, B. (2009).  When helping hurts. Chicago, IL: Moody Publisher.

  • 05 Feb 2017 11:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    How do we deal with failure? I have to say that I’m not aware of much reference to failure in Charlotte Mason’s writings, except that she attributes it to methods of teaching, and I am sure there is much truth in that. But there are other factors, and it is something that interests me, because as a primary (elementary) school child I failed a lot. Maybe it was good for me. It didn’t seem so at the time. Looking back now I can see some humour in the situations that I still remember so vividly, but they were not funny then. The events were mainly quite insignificant in the general scheme of things, but they did not seem so to me at the time. I don’t think my primary school friends Wally Rhodes and Cyril Clark were worried at all by their failures, even though they failed in all sorts of ways and neither of them progressed very far with reading and writing in the primary school. Maybe it was something in me; in fact I’m sure it was. So here is some of the sad story of my failures . . . .

    I enjoyed Mrs Barton’s class, as most of us did. Everything was orderly, we filed into the classroom and out again by rows, we did things at the same time every day, and everything, including us, smelled of carbolic soap because we had to wash our hands three times every day. The big clock on the wall ticked away the minutes of every day, and most of them we heard because Mrs Barton’s class was a calm, quiet place.

    But while I was still in Mrs Barton’s class a cloud began to appear on my horizon. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons the girls from the Mr Hirst’s top class (Mr Hirst was the headmaster) came to join the girls from Mrs Barton’s class to do needlework, and the boys from Mrs Barton’s class went to join the boys from Mr Hirst’s class to do art and craft. Art and craft were never my forte, but they were Mr Hirst’s forte. The very first of these lessons exposed my grave inadequacies. I was put in a double desk with my elder brother David, who was already in Mr Hirst’s class, presumably for him to act as my mentor. Mr Hirst gave us each a sheet of paper covered in small faint blue squares (what I later knew as graph-paper) and told us to cover it with a pattern, any pattern, in black and white, using just a soft black lead pencil to fill in the squares. He briefly showed us an example that he had prepared beforehand, quite a complicated and beautiful pattern that was certainly way beyond me. We set to work. David worked steadily on a simple pattern of rows of alternating large black and white rectangles. Being utterly lacking in any ideas I thought it best to copy as exactly as I could what David was doing. I found that the blocks of dense black produced by the soft lead pencil tended to come off on my sweaty little hands and then smear themselves on the rest of the paper. After three quarters of an hour or so Mr Hirst, who had been busy counting dinner money and doing other administrative tasks, told us all to display our work so far. I held up a scruffy and besmirched sheet, though still recognisably a pretty exact copy of what David had produced. I was duly reprimanded, not only for copying David’s work but also for making such a mess. I was told to go immediately and get my hands washed before I smeared lead pencil on anything else. I had not made a good first impression on the headmaster.

    And I never did. I went up to his class when I was eight. Gone were the comforting Nelson Arithmetic books with all the sums sensibly laid out. Gone were the writing books with three widely-spaced guidelines on which we had constructed large, round letters. Any writing now had to be done on single lines, with nowhere near enough space between them. My carefully formed but slow and laborious large writing deteriorated into a squashed scrawl, still just as slowly and laboriously produced. So while others wrote a page or two I laboured to complete five or six lines. I never remember actually finishing any written exercise; the end of a lesson frequently found me mid-sentence and still on the first paragraph.

    My memories of Mr Hirst’s class are almost entirely of depressing failure. The first Christmas Mr Hirst decided that we were each going to make a booklet of our favourite carols, a perfectly sensible educational project. First we had to make the booklet. Mr Hirst offered us different ways of making the booklet: we could have it stapled, ring-bound, or stitched, and there would be one group of children for each method. For some reason that I later regretted I opted for the stitched version – though I would probably have made just as much of a mess of the other two. So each of my group was given a nice coloured sheet of thick paper for the cover of the booklet and three sheets of white paper for the inside pages. All we had to do was to fold them in the middle and then stitch them together. Why I found this so impossibly difficult I don’t know. My pals Cyril Clark and Wally Rhodes, neither of them with great intellectual pretentions, did the job very effectively. I could not get the four pieces of paper to stay aligned, and my stitches went anywhere except along the fold. The finished product would neither close nor open straight. It was so bad that it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be able to write anything in it. Mr Hirst quietly made me another one in two minutes flat. And of course I didn’t get to fill it with carols. I managed a few verses of one carol before the Christmas holidays brought a merciful release from arts and crafts and writing.

    We did a project on coinage. The idea was that we would carefully observe the coins of the realm, draw and colour some of them and write about the designs, as well as doing some practical mathematics about coinage and their values. All good stuff for primary education, one might think. The first task was careful observation. I was called upon to go to the front of the class, which always made me nervous, and to identify and describe some of the motifs on the coins that Mr Hirst was holding up for all to see. Doubtless Mr Hirst thought that this was a simple enough task, well within my limited capabilities. Now I had a slight stammer, nothing really serious, but enough to make me tongue-tied if I was flustered, especially in front of Mr Hirst. The first coin I was asked to describe was a threepenny bit. The obverse was of course the king’s head; that was OK. But what was this funny plant thing on the reverse? To me it looked like the flower that onions produce when they go to seed, like I had seen in Uncle Jim’s garden down at Waterside. But why on earth would anybody be so daft as to put a picture of onions going to seed on the back of a coin? I had of course seen threepenny bits hundreds of times, but it had never occurred to me to question what the plants were. I did not want to appear a fool and say that they were onions gone to seed, so I just stood there speechless. Others were asked to contribute. ‘It’s a flower,’ shouted Wally Rhodes. ‘That’s right,’ said Mr Hirst encouragingly. Well I could have said that – but I didn’t! Next coin was a half-crown. What was this thing on the reverse? I had no idea. It looked to me like a medal of some kind, because I noticed, for the first time ever, that it was hanging from some sort of ribbon at the top (I have since checked with pictures on the internet – we no longer use half-crowns; it is hanging from some sort of ribbon at the top). I tried to get out the word ‘medal’, but nothing would come. The problem was put to the rest of the class. ‘It looks like a shield,’ offered Margery. ‘Yes, it is a kind of shield,’ Mr Hirst confirmed. ‘It is the royal shield, the royal coat of arms.’ Then what’s it doing hanging from a flimsy bit of ribbon, I wondered, but I was too humiliated to ask.

    And there were other occasions, too numerous to catalogue them all in detail, when my lack of understanding and my inability to ask sensible questions simply confirmed my dullness. There was the maths project based on the knock-out system in the Football Association Cup. Of course everybody knew how the FA Cup knock-out system worked – all except me! It had somehow passed me by, so I didn’t understand what it was all about, and of course I didn’t ask. Maths anyway had become a dark area for me. We didn’t do Nelson Arithmetic, we did ‘problems’, where I could rarely see how you got from the ‘problem’ to a nice simple sum. Then we were taught how to use the telephone, with large black telephones with dials and buttons set up in our classroom and in the room we used as a school hall. Of course none of us had telephones in our houses in those days, so we had no experience of actually using them, and for me, a stammerer, the whole thing was a humiliating disaster. And there were the constant craft lessons, often with raffia when for me (why only me?) the strands of the infernal stuff were constantly breaking, shredding or getting tangled or covered in glue. In the run-up to Christmas I was always in the group that made paper chains – you can’t go too far wrong sticking strips of paper together. I spent whole afternoons making yards of paper chains, while most of the others made more exciting decorations with shiny gold, red and green paper, card, raffia, tinsel, and cotton wool, and Christmas crackers that actually worked. Mr Hirst was of course a specialist in art and craft; I was one of his disappointments.

    On one occasion all the class had to do an ‘official’ reading test. I was eight or nine at the time, and despite my lack of practical skills I was at least a reasonably competent reader. We had to go out of our classroom to the room next door where a young woman we had never seen before was sitting at a desk with a clip-board. She asked us to read out the words on a card. They started very easy, ‘was’, ‘into’ and such, but then they got progressively more difficult as you read further down the page. Around half-way down was the word ‘parlour’. I had never seen the word before, and we certainly didn’t have one in our house, and I pronounced it as something like ‘par-lower’. On the next line was the word ‘melon’. Again I had no idea what it meant (I had of course never seen a melon; this was just after World War II, and we didn’t have melons in England), and I pronounced it ‘mee-lon’. The woman stopped me at that point. She said, ‘Thank you. Please ask the next person to come in,’ and that was that. Apparently it wasn’t relevant that I could read most of the words on the rest of the card. I discovered, much later as a teacher myself, that the rule of the game in this kind of test was that once a pupil had failed to read two words correctly that was the end of the test and the score was then worked out from the point that the second error was made. I suspect that my reading age was a year or two below my chronological age on this 1930s test, which was clearly constructed with the affluent middle classes in mind.

    A cloud of gloom hung over going to school. I even had nightmares about it, in which I often just curled up on my fold-up desk seat and went to sleep to avoid being compelled to do something I knew I couldn’t do. I had plenty of friends at school; that was not the problem. It was simply the constant reminder of things that I could not do. I could not draw; I could not make things; I could not write quickly enough; I was confused by maths; I could not play games very well; I could not skip with a rope; I could not go down the icy slides that more competent boys made every winter down the front school yard; and I could not answer questions in class without stammering. My nightmares were always about being compelled to do things I couldn’t do and failing abjectly. Mr Hirst was in no way antagonistic towards me, in fact he often tried to help me, but we were just not on the same wavelength . . .

    I suppose a good child psychologist today would say that I was suffering from depression, and from some lack of physical coordination, and of course from a slight stammer, but in those days there were no child psychologists and depression in children was unheard of – good heavens, we had just survived a war! As it happened, things for me changed quite radically at school, and by the end of my primary school years I was a happy child – and my stammer disappeared.

    Looking back now as an educator I wonder what went wrong for those two years. It’s true, art and craft were a bit of a problem, but for my friends Wally and Cyril most things were a problem, and it didn’t seem to worry them one bit. So what is failure? And why does it affect us differently? And as teachers what do we do about it?

  • 28 Jan 2017 11:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “This isn’t enough.”

    I can still remember playing this phrase over in my mind, again and again.  Our church was hosting its monthly pot luck style meal, open to the community.  The tables were set and families were beginning to arrive.  From where I was standing, the table designated for casseroles and crock pots didn’t seem quite full enough when I looked around at the room full of people.  The meal hadn’t even begun, but my mind had already raced ahead to a scene where the whole evening was falling apart - not enough food and everyone looking at me with disappointment on their faces.

    A few minutes later, I was frantically whispering in my husband’s ear, “Honey, there’s no way we have enough here.  We have to do something - right now, I think.”  What could we do? There was only one thing I could think of; order up the quickest, cheapest  solution available.  “Jason, quick…order ten pizzas.  It’ll only take twenty minutes for them to get here.  Then we’ll be fine.”  And so he did.  Twenty minutes later, the delivery man walked in with a stack of pizza boxes.

    But guess what? No one ate those pizzas.  Over the course of those twenty minutes, it all just worked out on its own.  What I had perceived as a problem wasn’t a problem at all.  A few more dishes had arrived, a prayer had been said, and everyone had gone through the line, filling their plates and finding their seats.  The room was buzzing with laughter and conversation, and I was writing a check for a stack of pizzas that we didn’t even need.

    As a Mason educator, have you ever been there?  You’re looking around at your feasting table and in a moment of panic, you feel utterly convinced that it just isn’t enough.  Or, perhaps you’re not even looking at your own table, you’re online looking at everyone else’s.

    This fall, I was privileged to take part in an online CM class where we took extended time to soak in small sections of Mason’s writing and really talk them through, relating them back to her twenty principles.  One passage in particular from An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education had a profound impact on me, even though I had read it many times before:

    “Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. Urgency on our part annoys him. He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food. What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though, while every detail of the story is remembered, its application may pass and leave no trace. We, too, must take this risk” [emphasis mine] (109).

    There is so much contained in this short section.  First, Mason is reminding us of our connection to God - that He is the source of all ideas and also that He created us to take in those ideas in a certain way.  She goes on to speak of the unique personhood of our children, as well as our role as teachers.  And finally, she acknowledges the risk of teaching through story, using Christ Himself as an example, saying that we must do as He did.

    I had never before thought of embracing a living education as risky.  I began to consider that perhaps not acknowledging the risk was the reason I found myself unprepared to deal with the moments of doubt and uncertainty along the way.  Though the church pot luck story I just shared is rather comical and had a happy ending, the truth is that I’m often plagued by a tendency to convince myself of so many other “not enough’s” in my life.  Many of these are directly related to home educating my children.  

    “What I’m teaching isn’t enough.” 

    “I don’t own enough books.”  

    “My kids aren’t learning enough.”

    “What we’re doing isn’t enough.”

    “I don’t have enough time.”

    “I’m not enough.”

    The triggers for these doubts can vary.  It might be a child struggling through a particular lesson, or a conversation with another parent.  It might be scrolling through Instagram, or even catching up on a favorite CM podcast.   But the panicky feeling is the same every time, and my knee-jerk reaction is usually the same as well.  I end up making hasty decisions in a mad rush to remedy the situation. In the end, I usually find I’m holding a stack of pizza boxes (or books, or curriculum) that I never needed in the first place.

    I remember once sitting in on a group discussion about co-ops at a CM retreat.  The room was packed with moms, seeking advice and encouragement about moving forward with their own CM communities back home.  Many of them were there because their particular groups were struggling.  The person facilitating that discussion, a dear friend and CM mentor, said something I will never forget.  Before beginning to share her wisdom, she said to us, “You need to know that when I share advice or ideas, I always do it with the assumption that each of you, first and foremost, are praying.”

    If I truly believe, as Mason states in the quote above, that God Himself is the divine source of all that I seek to teach my children, that He created them (and me) uniquely as persons, that His Holy Spirit is our Divine Teacher in all things, shouldn’t my first response in my moments of doubt be to go directly to Him?  To truly embrace a Mason education for my children, with all of its beauty and all of its risk, I need to remember one of the key principles she built her philosophy on, that “the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”

    There is a deep mystery to the role of the Holy Spirit as teacher that cannot be packaged or marketed.  I’m learning that to embrace it requires faith and a willingness to commit to a long walk in the same direction.  Are there times to step back and reassess, to make an adjustment or a change?  Absolutely.  But I do best to make those decisions only after I’ve taken the time to bring my concerns to the Lord Himself.  As we in the Mason Community continue to support each other, share ideas, grow together, and risk together, let’s also remember that our ultimate hope is not in a curriculum, or a book list, or even in Mason’s philosophy, but rather in Almighty God, who is always enough.

    © 2017 by Amy Fiedler

  • 22 Jan 2017 8:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Continued from the previous blog post by Karen Glass

    As we near the end of my response, I would like to share one part of Mr. Middlekauff’s critique about my ideas which is correct. I genuinely wish he had been as accurate in describing all my ideas as he is in this one instance. It is much more interesting to have a discussion about the actual ideas in question than to be called upon to correct mis-statements. He writes:

    Glass (2014a) repeatedly states that the purpose of education is virtue – right behavior. For example, she quotes David Hicks as saying, “The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows” (as cited on p. 18). She also asserts that in the classical model, “education was intended to result in right action,” and “all areas of education were brought into service for this single goal—to teach children to think and actrightly” (p. 19, emphasis added). Glass (2014a) is clear that the aim of education is “most importantly—bringing that knowledge to bear on actual conduct” (p. 20, emphasis added).

    According to Glass (2014a), this motivation for the classical educators includes all types of academic study: “They pursued all areas of knowledge—even arithmetic or grammar—as a part of the process that would lead to wisdom, and ultimately, character and virtue” (p. 23, emphasis added). Glass (2014a) attempts to show that Mason also believed that the purpose of education is right action. Quoting Mason, she writes that “[the formation of character is] the ultimate object of education” (as cited on p. 24). The problem with this quotation is that the full context of Mason’s (1989b) statement is: “Suppose the parent see that the formation of character is the ultimate object of education” (p. 83, emphasis added). In other words, the sentence is hypothetical and not a definitive statement of Mason’s official statement on the goal of education.

    There’s no need to fact-check this bit. This is a reasonable assertion of my first premise about the classical tradition of education—that it aimed to effect right conduct on the basis of right thinking.

    However, earlier in his critique, Mr. Middlekauff also said this:

    But in order for Glass to claim this, she must completely ignore Mason’s educational catechism (found in Parents and Children). It is not surprising that Glass’s book never mentions this catechism. In this catechism especially, Mason (1989b) casts aside all notions of a classical system in favor of the powerful Person of Jesus Christ . . . .

    Mr. Middlekauff has my thanks for drawing my attention to this catechism. I’m not sure why he finds it “not surprising” that I neglected to mention it, or why he thinks I would be in the least disturbed by it, but he has my assurance that if the occasion ever arises to produce a second edition of Consider This, I will most definitely mention it, and more. It’s almost as if Charlotte Mason had set out on purpose to articulate my exact premise, as described above.

    This is the beginning of the catechism:

    Character an Achievement––As the philosophy which underlies any educational or social scheme is really the vital part of that scheme, it may be well to set forth, however meagrely, some fragments of the thought on which we found our teaching. We believe––

    That disposition, intellect, genius, come pretty much by nature.

    That character is an achievement, the one practical achievement possible to us for ourselves and for our children.

    That all real advance, in family or individual or nation, is along the lines of character.

    That, therefore, to direct and assist the evolution of character is the chief office of education. [Emphasis mine]

    But perhaps we shall clear the ground better by throwing a little of the teaching of the Union into categorical form:––

    Character and Disposition.

    Origin of Conduct––What is character?

    The resultant or residuum of conduct.

    That is to say, a man is what he has made himself by the thoughts which he has allowed himself, the words he has spoken, the deeds he has done.

    How does conduct itself originate?

    Commonly, in our habitual modes of thought. We think as we are accustomed to think, and, therefore, act as we are accustomed to act.” (Parents and Children, p. 233-34)

    This is such a tidy summation of my thesis, you might imagine I had made my beginning here, but that is not the case, although I could have. I went to have a special look at the catechism because of Mr. Middlekauff’s comment, and this is what I found. It is very difficult for me to understand how a person who read this would not see the obvious connection to my ideas as described above. Observe the relationships:

    “We think as we are accustomed to think, and, therefore act as we are accustomed to act.”  Our actions begin with our thoughts; our conduct arises out of our manner of thinking. The residuum of our conduct is character, which we produce with our thoughts, words, and deeds. And Charlotte Mason says, “To direct and assist the evolution of character is the chief office of education.” This assertion is consistent with my premise that the classical goal of education is virtue or character, and I think it is a “definitive statement of Mason’s official statement on the goal of education.”  She uses the term “chief office of education” to indicate its primary place.

    This is remarkably similar to my quote from David Hicks above. “The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” Whatever else Charlotte Mason says (and she says plenty—there is a lot in those six volumes of hers), this is her very catechism, her philosophy in its essence, the “vital part” of the whole thing—and she begins it by essentially articulating my description of the first vital element of the classical tradition. I invite you to read chapter three of Consider This.

    This understanding of the relationship between thoughts, actions, and character is one of those “natural laws” of mind and morals that Charlotte Mason talks about in her “preliminary considerations.” These are some of the “universal truths” that I refer to, which were articulated by educators throughout history. My claim for Charlotte Mason is not that she based all her ideas on the educators of the past, but that she shares some of the same vital ideas that others have articulated before her, from within the classical tradition, again and again, and that she was aware of those connections.

    The connection is even stronger when you look at the next part of the catechism, about habit; however, there is no more space for that discussion right now. Those who are interested can follow it up if they choose. One thing only I will point out. Charlotte Mason quotes and names Thomas à Kempis as she points out “one habit overcometh another.” As much as her specific ideas about habit are founded in contemporary science, their role in education is not at all new, and she chooses to link the idea to the past as well.

    A little further into the catechism, we find this statement: “It is time we reverted to the teaching of Socrates. ‘Know thyself,’ exhorted the wise man, in season and out of season; and it will be well with us when we understand that to acquaint a child with himself—what he is as a human being—is a great part of education.” I’m not really sure a catechism which suggests that it is time to “revert” to the teaching of Socrates can be described as one which “casts aside all notions of a classical system.”

    These repeated references to thinkers and ideas from the past are just the sort of thing I have in mind when I claim that Charlotte Mason “links her ideas to the ideas of the past.” For all the claims she makes about her ideas being new and progressive (and I don’t discount that aspect of her philosophy), she makes other claims as well, and she herself chooses to call attention to the fact that her ideas align with the ideas of earlier thinkers. Draw your own conclusions. Mine is that, while she intends to be progressive and forward-thinking, she wants to make it clear that her ideas are anchored to the solid ideas in the “philosophy of the ages.” Even Plato’s. A correct understanding of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy must allow for the inclusion of all that she has said.


    I said earlier that a part is only a part, and should not be mistaken for the whole, and while writing this response, and looking closely at what Mr. Middlekauff wrote, I came to what I think is an understanding of his position. I believe he conflates Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education with her religion or theology. Indeed, she makes it all too easy to do that. Nevertheless, there is a distinction, a definite line, which must be drawn. Charlotte Mason drew it for us in her preliminary considerations in Home Education. I quoted it earlier, but I repeat it here:

    Parents must acquaint themselves with the Principles of Physiology and Moral Science.––Now, believing parents have no right to lay up this crucial difficulty for their children. They have no right, for instance, to pray that their children may be made truthful, diligent, upright, and at the same time neglect to acquaint themselves with those principles of moral science the observance of which will guide into truthfulness, diligence, and uprightness of character. For this, also, is the law of God. Observe, not into the knowledge of God, the thing best worth living for: no mental science, and no moral science, is pledged to reveal that. What I contend for is, that these sciences have their part to play in the education of the human race, and that the parent may not disregard them with impunity. (Home Education, p. 40-41, emphasis mine)

    Do you see the fine line? The principles of moral science will give us the character which is the object of education—truthfulness, diligence, uprightness—but they stop short of giving us the knowledge of God himself. Yet Charlotte Mason tells us these things have “a part to play in the education of the human race,” and it is this part (which is also not the whole) which I have focused on in Consider This. Charlotte Mason calls education the “handmaid of religion,” and I think that description is an important one to recall if you want to keep the fine line of distinction in mind. A handmaid is a servant to someone more important, but a distinct and different personage at the same time. Mr. Middlekauff is correct in placing Christ above the classical tradition of education, as a lady is above her handmaid, but it is the distinct handmaid with which we have to deal in the education of our children. Properly understood, she will do her duty and prepare and lead our children to their own service of our Savior, but, as Charlotte Mason says, for that final step, no moral science will be enough.

    Now, having made this distinction for us, Charlotte Mason is very cavalier about it, and but rarely makes reference to it in all her six volumes. I fault no one for conflating her philosophy of education with her religion, as her discussion romps freely from one side of the line to the other, trampling it into obscurity; but it is there just the same. She knew it. It may be that the only way to understand my discussion of Charlotte Mason and her connection to the classical tradition is to remember that that line is there. The classical tradition—or in fact, any educational philosophy—will take us just so far and no further. The personal knowledge of God, “the best thing worth living for,” is simply beyond its grasp.

    It may well be that my response to Mr. Middlekauff will not be enough to convince anyone that Charlotte Mason has any connection whatsoever with the educational traditions of the past. So be it. This is the closest I will ever come to writing anything with the object of convincing someone, already staunchly opposed to the idea, that she does. I have done this much only because the actual ideas in my book were so extensively misrepresented.

    I have no fears whatsoever of the truth, in any guise, but untruth I cannot abide, and that is why I felt compelled to respond to Mr. Middlekauff’s invitation and to write this corrective to his critique. Anyone is welcome to disagree with me, but you can only disagree effectively if you disagree with what I actually have said, not an incorrect presentation of my ideas. However, beside the stark categories of “true” and “untrue,” there is another category of thought. There are opinions. One of the most valuable abilities we can cultivate is the ability to recognize the difference between an opinion and an absolute truth.

    For example, in my earlier discussion of Charlotte Mason’s Plutarch quote, about philosophy and religion, Mr. Middlekauff and I reached different conclusions. He considered her remark as a contrast, while I considered it rather as a comparison (Miss Mason compared the educational role of religion to the similar educational role of philosophy in ancient Greece). Both of those ideas are opinions—his, and mine. She is not here to elucidate for us. You can read the passage for yourself and form your own opinion. Opinions can be correct or incorrect (obviously, I think mine is more correct in this instance), but in neither case should they be mistaken for absolute truth.

    I said earlier that I quoted Charlotte Mason who was quoting Plato, but I did not share the quote. I find it interesting that that quote contains a reference to this very thing. 

    She makes the very bold claim that her educational theory can meet any rational demand, and would stand up even to the severest criterion set forth by Plato because it is able to ‘run the gauntlet of objections, and is ready to disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth.’” (Consider This, p. 1)

    Ultimately, whether you think Charlotte Mason has a connection to the classical tradition, or you do not, that is an opinion which will be shaped by how you define that tradition. Evidence may be brought in to support an opinion, as I have given you some of mine in this long piece, and some opinions are indeed more credible than others. But our opinions are never going to become absolute truth. For one thing, the classical tradition involves 2000 years and more of Great Conversation, and pinning it down to a simplistic, comprehensive, concrete definition is impossible. Opinions about that definition vary widely, and are constantly being refined as one reads and considers more of that Conversation. My understanding of the classical tradition is based upon more than 15 years of reading authors like Quintilian, Plato, Montaigne, Erasmus, Augustine, and many others, with the occasional contemporary book to balance things a bit. I’m still refining that understanding.

    I think, however, for those of us who embrace Charlotte Mason’s educational methods, this concept of whether or not she is part of the classical tradition should be relegated to a place of secondary importance. Whether or not we share the same opinion of classical education is fairly insignificant beside the fact that we do share the opinion that Charlotte Mason was a brilliant educational philosopher and her methods some of the most effective that have ever been proposed. If you feel that one’s opinion of the classical tradition is a matter for contention, worthy of endless dispute, I can only politely say that that, too, is an opinion, and one which I cannot share.

    I would encourage us to look for our common ground—it’s not that hard to find—and stand there together. If you meet a fellow Charlotte-Mason-enthusiast who has a different opinion than your own about whether or not she is part of the classical tradition, have a little grace and remember that opinions are not absolute truth. Many are still learning and refining their opinions, and one of the most gracious examples that Charlotte Mason has left us is her willingness to allow others to take their time in that journey of learning and understanding without pressure.

    In the meantime, enjoy the common ground you share, and talk about nature notebooks, or narration, or picture study. Watch your children forming relationships with knowledge. Share the books you are reading and the things you are learning. Encourage each other in this venture, and build each other up. Wouldn’t you consider that the best tribute to Charlotte Mason that we could offer?

    © 2017 by Karen Glass

  • 22 Jan 2017 8:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Personal information: Karen Glass is one of the founders of AmblesideOnline (www.amblesideonline.org ), a free curriculum based on Charlotte Mason’s methods of education. Since 1994, she has homeschooled her four children according to Mason’s philosophy, and three of them have graduated. She is also the author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition, published in 2014.


    In May 2016,  the Charlotte Mason Institute published Art Middlekauff’s critique of my book, Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. For personal reasons, I have not been in a hurry to respond, though I felt a response was warranted, not because I want to argue about the ideas in my book, but because the ideas were so terribly misrepresented. When it was pointed out to Mr. Middlekauff that this was the case, he responded in the comments section of his article, “You said that my post misrepresents Consider This. If I have done so, I would like to correct my article. All I can ask is that you show me my specific errors and provide supporting evidence.”

    This I have undertaken to do, at least in part, and I appreciate CMI permitting this response to be posted here, in the spirit of open discussion. Since the critique has been posted, I have sensed tension in our Charlotte Mason community, and I would like to do my part to ease that somewhat. We may disagree over secondary ideas while yet enjoying our common enthusiasm for the philosophy of Charlotte Mason. Mr. Middlekauff summarized his intent this way: “I am personally committed to showing respect for all people, and I believe that this can be done while also being faithful to the pursuit of truth. I ask the reader to join me in respecting others while at the same time evaluating evidence, interpretations, and ideas.” My intent is the same, and it is for the sake of truth that I provide this corrective.

    I would have been delighted if someone else had taken on the task of pointing out some of the specific errors in Mr. Middlekauff’s critique, but it seems to have fallen to me. I suppose, in the end, no one else can articulate a more correct presentation of my ideas than I can myself, so what I have to offer you is a cozy chat while we talk things over, a small stack of books at hand. As I wrote to the readers of Consider This: “if we had the opportunity to sit down comfortably and chat over a cup of coffee, [this] is what I would share with you.” I mean to be conversational, and I thank you for reading.


    What would you think of an educator who described a child in this way?

    In the first place, whether you choose or no to take any trouble about the formation of habits, it is habit, all the same, which will govern ninety-nine one-hundredths of the child’s life; he is the mere automaton you describe.

    You might think this: What? 99/100ths!!! The child is an automaton? Ruled by habits, as a computer is ruled by its programming? This is a narrow, incomplete, behavioristic, claustrophobic view which we can only reject. We’re not going to listen to anyone who views children as automatons!

    And yet, this is said by Charlotte Mason (Home Education, p. 110).

    Wrenched from its context and offered without the balance of so many other things she says, it presents an unappealing picture. It would, in fact, be very unjust to base your ideas about Charlotte Mason’s view of a person, or a child, on this paragraph. You would have quite a wrong impression of what she actually thinks. It would be even worse if I decided to summarize the whole thing this way, and present this partial assertion as if it were the whole: Mason insists that a child is a “mere automaton.”

    Yet my critic has found it acceptable, repeatedly, to do this very thing to me. He asserts “Glass insists this...” and “Glass claims that...” with a word or snippet lifted from my text. He rarely quotes as much as a whole sentence, or provides context, or observes that one remark is qualified or balanced by another. A half-sentence here, or a few words there—he quotes and cites as if they stand alone for much more complex ideas, as if they were my complete thoughts, rather than mere fragments of fragments. So little attempt at a comprehensive presentation is offered that I’m not sure you can even tell from this critique what Consider This is actually about. If you read the critique of Consider This, but you did not read Consider This, then you have quite a wrong impression of what I actually think.

    This reductionism is no way to do justice to an author’s intent; it is not scholarship, or even intellectual integrity; and ultimately, this makes my critic’s statements essentially not true. “Mason insists that a child is a mere automaton”  is less than half a truth—really, completely inaccurate, even though she did say the exact words “he is the mere automaton.”

    All the arguments and charts I might martial to refute this offensive claim, that children are mere automatons, would be no more than straw-man arguments, because they are aimed at a false idea. No one ever actually “insists that children are mere automatons,” so the arguments against it are...irrelevant. Mr. Middlekauff writes:

    Glass (2014a) claims that Mason’s educational theory is a ‘particular implementation’ of a ‘classical education’ (p. 125).

    This is a subtle misrepresentation, and all the more difficult to untangle because of that. However, this is just as true as declaring that “Mason claims that children are mere automatons.” By which I mean, it isn’t accurate, but rather a distorted presentation of some words I happened to use.

    In this presentation, the suggestion is made that I claim all of Charlotte Mason’s theory of education is (equal to, the same as, with no qualifications) an implementation of classical education. That is not what I said; let me be explicit: this is not what I think, and it is not the premise of Consider This. What I said was, 

    Those for whom all philosophies will be held up to the Bible for inspection, to determine their rightness and validity, might be interested to know to what degree this [i.e., my] concept of classical education, and Charlotte Mason’s particular implementation of it, is consistent with a Biblical understanding of knowledge. (Consider This, p. 125)

    In this sentence (which appears in the Afterword, after a great deal of other discussion), the point of reference is my personal concept of classical education as presented in Consider This, and the sentence is worded to suggest that Charlotte Mason’s philosophy contains or includes an implementation of it (this is implied by the possessive form: Charlotte Mason’s). Not is. In other words, Charlotte Mason has implemented the ideas I have elaborated on, but it is not stated or implied that they represent the whole of her educational philosophy, or that her philosophy is nothing but an attempt to reproduce a form of classical education. I did not say that, and I do not think that. So far as I can tell, Mr. Middlekauff never addresses the actual premise of Consider This, but only this distorted one.

    Precision of language is important, especially in discussions about abstract ideas. If my correction seems trivial to you, I invite you to ask any Bible scholar which of the following statements is true: “The Bible is the Word of God” or “The Bible contains the Word of God.” If words are pulled from their context, it is incumbent upon the writer to remain faithful to that context when they are presented. Mr. Middlekauff states the purpose of his paper thus: “The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that Charlotte Mason’s method is not merely a ‘particular implementation’ of a ‘classical education.’” All the arguments my critic might martial in opposition to that idea are largely irrelevant so far as they concern Consider This. Because, that is not what I said.


    When one sets out to write a book, as I did, it is necessary to define your audience. You might or might not state your audience outright, but I did, in the very introduction of

    Consider This. I wrote, “I assume that you are reading because, like me, you are interested in Charlotte Mason and the classical tradition.”  It is not a crime to make assumptions about your readers—every author does, including Charlotte Mason. Being nice and clear about it like that allows you to go on with your discussion. Everything, from that point forward, takes that assumption for granted, and it’s okay, because the reader knows.

    Astonishingly, my critic takes me to task for this, and scolds me for making what he calls a priori assumptions. However, there is nothing remarkable in what I have done, and I did it in the clear light of day—I tell you my assumption for my reader, and if you are not that person, then, in all fairness, I did not write my book for you. Would you blame the author of 50 Ways to Prepare Beef for making the a priori assumption that her readers were not vegetarians?

    I don’t mind saying that if you are an enthusiastic student of Charlotte Mason, and enjoy and practice her methods already, and could not care less whether she is “classical” or not, then Consider This might not be the book for you. I simply did not write Consider This to convince Charlotte-Mason-enthusiasts that she is classical, and that counts double for Charlotte-Mason-enthusiasts who are hostile to the idea of the classical tradition. I especially did not write my book for them, and so there is small wonder that I have failed to convince someone of that premise. I wasn’t trying to.

    Rather, in the cacophony of voices that vie for attention in the classical education community, I was trying to pour a calming draft of sweet oil over the turmoil; to draw attention away from Latin and stages and rigor; to hit “pause” and invite my reader to consider this: What really makes a classical education worth your time? What do you truly hope to achieve by following this path? Why are you doing this? And, if you have read Consider This, you know what I chose to focus on.

    And all the while, as I discuss some fundamental ideas that pertain to the classical tradition, I remind my readers— “Look, someone has already made a way, a very good way, to go about this. Charlotte Mason valued these things, too, and her methods will make this possible. You can do this.” In other words, my book is an invitation to someone, already interested in the classical tradition, to consider Charlotte Mason’s methods as a very valid way of working out the ideals of that tradition.

    And if you are one of the many readers who have said to me, “Your book helped me so much,” then please accept my gratitude and thanks. Those comments, every one, lifted my heart, and I say again, without regret, “I wrote my book for you, and I am so, so glad it made a difference to you.”

    I am at a bit of a loss to understand why I should be the object of criticism for clearly stating my audience, and then writing to that audience. Along the same line, my critic also objects to my placing the Biblical aspect of my discussion in an afterword, but I again refer to my stated audience: those interested in Charlotte Mason and the classical tradition. Within that category, there are many Christians, but there are others as well. I was writing to all of them. Charlotte Mason, in fact, made the a priori assumption that her readers were Christians. She takes that for granted (and I did not conceal her Christianity), but I live in a different time and place, and I cannot take that for granted. The afterword is for my fellow believers, whom I hoped would understand why I set it apart in that way.


    However, I must continue to address some of the many misrepresentations of my ideas. For example, my critic says:

    Drawing primarily on the classical tradition, she [Charlotte Mason] allegedly ‘developed a fresh presentation for some very old ideas. Having put those ideas into practice and found them effective, she began to speak and later write with confidence about what she had learned.’

    This is a perfect example of the way my critic quotes half a sentence, so that he can impose his own ideas onto mine. His sentence above begins “Drawing primarily on the classical tradition...,” thus implying that it is my assertion that the classical tradition is, not merely a source of inspiration for Charlotte Mason, but the primary one. I have neither implied nor said this. On the contrary, I have rather provided balance in my presentation, to make it clear that Charlotte Mason drew her ideas from a number of sources, and that she sometimes even differs from classical practices. Just as there is ample evidence in Charlotte Mason’s writing to help you understand that when she says a child is a “mere automation,” that does not mean she thinks that is all that he is, so there is ample evidence in Consider This to show that I do not think the classical past was the “primary” source for all of Charlotte Masons ideas. Reading the text with intellectual integrity will make that balance clear.

    Just by way of a single example:

    We have seen that she shared some important principles with the classical tradition, but from principles we have to develop practices. Every philosophical, educational concept has to be put to the test in a real classroom (home or school) with real children, and Charlotte Mason was also influenced by the scientific principles of evidence that drove her modern society. (Consider This, p. 61, emphasis added)

    But let’s look at something that appears to have a little more substance than these misrepresentations. This is one of those things that has apparently caused genuine confusion to at least some who have read the critique, though a careful reading of the chapter in question easily solves the difficulty. Mr. Middlekauff asserts that the Gospels are a primary source for Charlotte Mason’s theory of education, and quotes, in evidence of this, a passage from Home Education.

    Code of Education in the Gospels. – It may surprise parents who have not given much attention to the subject to discover also a code of education in the Gospels, expressly laid down by Christ. It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children: Take heed that ye OFFEND not – DESPISE not – HINDER not – one of these little ones. (Home Education, p. 12)

    Before we go any further, what do you think? How far could these commandments take you toward a positive and complete theory of education? Some little way, yes, but is there enough in these “don’ts,” even with the addition of a little brain research, to formulate a complete working philosophy of education?

    It is a myopic view of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy to suppose that finding this negative code in the Gospels completely excludes the possibility of finding educational truth and insight elsewhere. It is a starting place, not a stopping place, which becomes clear as we read the entire chapter, which is called “some preliminary considerations.” Pause for a moment to think about that, please. “Preliminary considerations” are a few things you need to think about before you proceed further . . . but further, you most definitely mean to go.

    In the very next paragraph, Charlotte Mason says, “Let us look upon these three great laws as prohibitive, in order to clear the ground for the consideration of a method of education . . . .”

    And I pause here, again, so we can think about that. This code of education in the Gospels—these negative injunctions which prohibit us from doing certain things—merely “clear the ground” for that further consideration of a more complete method of education. This is important work, and it is no small thing for the “code of education in the Gospels” to give a clear space on which to build, eliminating for us much of the rocks, weeds, and detritus of some educational practices. But it is a long way from the clear ground to a working method. Charlotte Mason spends a little time elaborating on the way “offend not, despise not, and hinder not” should guide our thinking (both negatively and positively), but then she moves on.

    Her “preliminary considerations” take into account a healthy life-style for children, and a bit of Augustinian insight into epistemology, and then she gives us the key to her search for a working method. After discussing the laws of health which cover body, and the brain as an organ of the body, she reminds us that just as there are “laws” in the realm of physiology, there are other “laws” also, and she makes a point of telling us that these laws are not necessarily found in the Bible. That code of education in the gospels is not the only source of wisdom.

    The reason why education effects so much less than it should effect is just this––that in nine cases out of ten, sensible good parents trust too much to their common sense and their good intentions, forgetting that common sense must be at the pains to instruct itself in the nature of the case, and that well-intended efforts come to little if they are not carried on in obedience to divine laws, to be read in many cases, not in the Bible, but in the facts of life. (Home Education, p. 38)

    Charlotte Mason tells us that “the universe of mind, as the universe of matter, is governed by unwritten laws of God.” Where then, if unwritten by God, can these laws of mind be discovered?  She is not explicit here, but “the facts of life” is a pretty broad field. I think she left it wide open on purpose, so that we are free to seek out these laws from a variety of sources.  She is clear about one thing: “it is possible to ascertain laws and keep laws without recognising the Lawgiver.” In other words, it is possible to find in the thoughts and ideas of even pagans some of these universal truths, or laws, which “inherit the blessings of obedience.” She compares it to a blind man who is warmed, though not lighted, by the sun—so those who do not see God or know Him are still warmed as they draw near to the laws of mind and morals which, though unwritten in the Bible, are still divine laws. She wanted to discern these natural laws so she could build an educational method upon them.

    Along the same lines, she writes elsewhere: 

    It is not sufficient to bring unaided common-sense and good intentions to this most delicate art of child-study. We cannot afford to discard the wisdom of the past and begin anew with the effort to collect and systematise, hoping to accomplish as much and more in our short span than the centuries have brought us. (Parents and Children, p. 205)

    Charlotte Mason actually has some hard words for people who refuse to look beyond the written laws of God to discover what those other laws are— “physical, mental, moral; all the laws of God  excepting those of the spiritual life . . . .” It is a sad thing when non-believing people lead better lives—more morally upright—by following the natural laws, rather than the spiritual ones. (Come to think of it, the Apostle Paul had some hard words to say on the same subject...)

    She concludes her “preliminary considerations” with a promise to lay out a method of education which is based upon “mental science” and “moral science”—natural law, which she acknowledges to be less than the highest thing, the knowledge of God—but still adequate to give children “truthfulness, diligence, and uprightness of character.”

    Parents must acquaint themselves with the Principles of Physiology and Moral Science.––Now, believing parents have no right to lay up this crucial difficulty for their children. They have no right, for instance, to pray that their children may be made truthful, diligent, upright, and at the same time neglect to acquaint themselves with those principles of moral science the observance of which will guide into truthfulness, diligence, and uprightness of character. For this, also, is the law of God. Observe, not into the knowledge of God, the thing best worth living for: no mental science, and no moral science, is pledged to reveal that. What I contend for is, that these sciences have their part to play in the education of the human race, and that the parent may not disregard them with impunity. My endeavour in this and the following volumes of the series will be to sketch out roughly a method of education which, as resting upon a basis of natural law, may look, without presumption, to inherit the Divine blessing. (Home Education, p. 40-41, emphasis mine)

    To return for a moment to my critic, who suggests that the code of education found in the gospels was somehow sufficient (with the addition of brain science, which concerns matter, not mind), I can only point out that Charlotte Mason thought otherwise. Her desire to seek out the natural laws of the mind  and incorporate them into a method of education does not diminish the importance of the ground-clearing work of that gospel “code of education,” but a part is a part only, and should not be mistaken for the whole.


    I enjoy that sort of thing—putting the pieces of a puzzle together, and refining my understanding of how the “code of education” found in the Gospels fits in the larger picture of Charlotte Mason’s educational ideas. I hope you found it interesting, too. However, the misrepresentations of my ideas persist.

    Mr. Middlekauff writes, “Nevertheless, Glass (2014a) insists Charlotte Mason was directed by ‘her desire to be inspired and guided by the principles of the past.’”

    I want to just lay it out as a truism that every time my critic says “Glass insists,” I probably didn’t. Certainly not in this instance.

    First I quote Charlotte Mason, who is quoting Plato. And then, this is what I actually said:

    This reference to Plato, set forth at the beginning of her last, most thorough and mature book, seems to indicate her desire to be inspired and guided by the principles of the past. She cites no contemporary authority of her own as her standard, but rather hearkens back to one of the oldest writings on education available to us. She links her ideas with the ideas of the classical past, but intentionally brings them into the present. (Consider This, p. 2)

    I invite you to use your own judgment. Do you think that my “seems to indicate” is justly portrayed by “insists?”  Does “Charlotte Mason was directed” properly convey the idea that I merely suggest she took guidance and inspiration from the past? (Particularly when we remember that she herself says, “We cannot afford to discard the wisdom of the past.”)  My critic has a tendency to do this throughout his text—to alter the nature of my statements so that, in the end, they aren’t really my statements at all. More often than not, I simply did not say what he says that I did. We’re going to look at a particularly egregious one:

    Glass (2014a) insists that the teacher must provide ‘Lessons in Humility’ (p. 27). Glass (2014a) introduces this topic on page 28 by supplying a warning from Mason (1989b): ‘The note of childhood is, before all things, humility’ (p. 282). But this quote does not support the idea of ‘lessons in humility.’ Mason’s point is that the child is a natural model of humility. The context (Parents and Children, page 282) says, ‘A child is humble’ (emphasis added). It is the ‘note of childhood’, because it is exhibited by children, not taught to children.

    I’ll be honest with you—this particular claim, among the many mis-statements in my critic’s thesis, disconcerted me. You see, I know that I don’t think teachers should “provide lessons in humility.” I could not imagine what I had said to give him this impression. As it happens, the only words that truly belong to me are “lessons in humility.” This is the subheading for the final section of a chapter about humility, and the role it plays in education. The section contains lessons in humility of various sorts—many from Charlotte Mason—from which the reader/teacher is invited to learn. I will give you a substantial part of that material from Consider This.

    Lessons in Humility

    Discerning how to remain humble, teachable, even after the acquirement of some academic credentials—even after earning a PhD!—is a matter for serious reflection by those who would follow the classical traditions of education. Neither children nor their teachers are immune to intellectual pride, and if our goal is the classical goal—wisdom and virtue—we must take care to avoid that ever-present danger and “barrier to all improvement.

    Charlotte Mason warns:

    It may be worth while to characterise two or three of the landmarks of this child’s estate; for how shall we safeguard that which we do not recognise, and how recognise that to which we have failed to give deliberate attention? The note of childhood is, before all things, humility. (Parents and Children, p. 282)

    She may have gleaned this idea from an author she admired, John Ruskin, who writes:

    The first character of right childhood is that it is Modest. A well-bred child does not think it can teach its parents, or that it knows everything. It may think its father and mother know everything,—perhaps that all grown-up people know everything; very certainly it is sure that it does not. And it is always asking questions, and wanting to know more. Well, that is the first character of a good and wise man at his work. To know that he knows very little;—to perceive that there are many above him wiser than he; and to be always asking questions, wanting to learn, not to teach. (John Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive)

    Sometimes we consider humility a spiritual virtue, but it is an intellectual virtue as well. Children know that they do not know everything and have much to learn. The mature disciples of Christ needed not only to become as children, but to realize that they could learn something, even from a child. This fundamental understanding—that everyone, everywhere might be able to teach us something—is the keynote of humility.

    Our common notion of humility is inaccurate. We regard it as a relative quality. We humble ourselves to this one and that, bow to the prince and lord it over the peasant…but this misconception confuses our thought on an important subject. For humility is absolute, not relative. It is by no means a taking of our place among our fellows according to a given scale, some being above us by many grades and others as far below. There is no reference to above or below in the humble soul, which is equally humble before an infant, a primrose, a worm, a beggar, a prince. (Parents and Children, p. 283)

    It is a valuable thing to be able to approach every person or object or book with a view to learning something from them. What might we learn from an infant? From a primrose or other flower? What does a worm have to teach us, or a homeless man in the street? This we will never find out, unless we place ourselves in that attitude of teachableness which makes learning possible.” (Consider This, p. 27-29)

    Having read the section, can you agree with my critic’s statement that, “Glass insists that the teacher must provide ‘Lessons in Humility’”?

    This was one of the most faulty assertions in the critique, particularly in need of a corrective. Once we understand what I actually was saying, it might be interesting to discuss what happens to the humble little child to turn him into the not-humble adult. When is the humility replaced by something else? Humility is probably the note of childhood for a child of three...or maybe five...but would you consider humility to be naturally present in the average ten-year-old today? Up there in the passage from my book, there is a quote from Charlotte Mason about “safeguarding” this happy state in children, which is, alas, far from enduring. It would be interesting to explore this idea, but I regret to say that this probably isn’t the time for that discussion.

    My critic has gone repeatedly astray in his arguments, as I have tried to demonstrate with a few clear examples. I will not try your patience by undertaking to correct every single one of the misrepresentations which essentially render his whole treatise untenable. I have counted approximately thirty instances of these misrepresentations of my ideas (not counting the straw-man arguments arrayed against them). If Mr. Middlekauff truly desires to correct them, as he stated in his comment, it is his own responsibility. So unreliable are his presentations of my ideas, I can only recommend that they be disregarded unless they are fact-checked with a copy of Consider This. They are suspect, every one.


    Apart from addressing the misrepresentations, I will respond to just a few other things.

    Mr. Middlekauff says, “Glass (2014a) describes a model of education that includes elements from Charlotte Mason’s theory and from the classical tradition. The result is a hybrid that is not compatible with either.”

    To this suggestion that I have created a hybrid—that I have combined two things, and produced a new thing—I categorically state, I have not done this. Charlotte Mason needs nothing added to her. Her method is complete as it stands, and the correct understanding of my proposal is that following her method exactly as she presents it is a valid way of implementing the vital elements of the classical tradition, because her principles intersect and echo some of the important principles of that tradition. That is, in fact, the very premise of Consider This.

    But there are other things to consider. Mr. Middlekauff writes:

    On page 23, Glass (2014a) quotes Mason (1989c) as saying: ‘The functions which Plutarch claims for philosophy we ascribe to religion, and by so doing, we place life on a higher level. There is this fundamental difference between the two: while philosophy instructs, religion both instructs and enables’ (p. 385). This shows Mason contrasting herself from the classical tradition, rather than aligning herself with it. According to Mason, the classical tradition offered philosophy. But Mason’s model of education replaces philosophy with religion, and by so doing enables life on a ‘higher level’ than that available to the classical teachers.

    This paragraph from my critic’s lengthy treatise deserves thoughtful treatment, although it will take a little time to clarify the issue. I have been misrepresented throughout the critique, but here I believe we find Charlotte Mason herself being misrepresented. It may be that my critic misrepresents because he misunderstands. He chooses to interpret her statement as a contrast, but that’s not what it is, at all. This will be easier to see if we look at the full passage in Formation of Character. From pages 383-85, we find this (most of it is an extensive quote from Plutarch):

    [The Greeks] seem to have held that, along with gymnastic and music, philosophy is the chief concern of every youth. "A freeborn boy," says Plutarch, "must neglect no part of the cycle of knowledge, but he must run through one (subject) after another, so that he may get a taste of each of them––for to be perfect in all is impossible––but philosophy he must pursue in earnest. I can make this clear by a figure. it is delightful and entertaining to travel through many cities, but only profitable to linger in the best.

    The philosopher, Bion, has well said: 'As the suitors of Penelope, when they could not obtain her, made free use of all that belonged to her, so also they who find philosophy too hard occupy themselves with other branches of knowledge, worth nothing by comparison. For this reason, philosophy must be put first in all education.

    For the nurture and development of the body men have invented two instruments, the study of medicine and gymnastic, of which one makes for the health of the body, the other for its strength. But for the sicknesses and sorrows of the soul, philosophy is the only cure.

    Through philosophy, man arrives at the knowledge of what is good and what is bad, what is just and what is unjust; most especially he learns what he should endeavour after, and what he should avoid; how he should order himself towards God, towards father and mother, towards his elders, towards the laws, towards strangers and superiors, towards his friends, towards wife and child and slave. She teaches humility towards God, reverence for parents, respect for the aged, obedience to law; to be in submission to authority, to love friends, to be chaste towards women. She teaches tenderness towards children and gentleness towards slaves; she exhibits to us the highest good, that in happiness our joy be measured, and in misfortune our grief restrained; in order that we be not as the beasts, unrestrained in desire as in rage. These are, I hold, some of the benefits we owe to the teaching of philosophy. For to be modest in good fortune, to be without envy, gentle in mind, to know how to extinguish evil desires, is wisdom; and the ruling of an angry spirit is the sign of no common understanding.

    Directly following this lengthy quote of an ancient educator, which is full of truly good and rich ideas, we have the paragraph quoted above, which I quote again here with some additions:

    The [exact same] functions [which we also consider very important and want to achieve for our children] which Plutarch claims for philosophy we ascribe to religion [reread the previous passage and substitute “religion” for “philosophy”], and by so doing, we place life on a higher level. There is this fundamental difference between the two: while philosophy instructs [teaches you these good things], religion both instructs [teaches you these same good things] and enables [gives you the power to do them]. Or, it could be summarized this way: “We should try to do the exact same thing the Greeks were doing, and we have a more effective tool at our disposal.”

    It’s a real stretch to imagine that Charlotte Mason quoted all that if she intends only to tell you to toss it out. Her point rather, is that the Greeks gave their youth clear, intentional instruction in life and morals, and she wishes modern Christian parents to do the same, more especially because they have a stronger foundation. But the pedagogy, if you will, is the same, and this truly cannot be misunderstood when you realize that this entire section is headed by the definite statement: “In some ways the Greeks had a more adequate view of education than ourselves.”

    Having read the passage for yourself, can you agree with my critic’s conclusion? “This shows Mason contrasting herself from the classical tradition, rather than aligning herself with it.” Is that understanding of the text consistent with Charlotte Mason’s claim that the Greek view of education was more adequate? I believe her lengthy quote is not meant to be discarded, but emulated, in the light of clearer revelation.

    © 2017 by Karen Glass


    Continued into the next blog post--Part II

  • 07 Jan 2017 8:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Every fall semester I teach a children’s literature course to university freshman and sophomores. I love teaching the course. Some of my students dislike taking it. And some seem to enjoy it.

    Let’s start with me. For the past few years one of the five books everyone in the class has been assigned to read is Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (2011). I’m not sure when I first read the book, and I don’t necessarily read all the shared books I assign each time I teach the course. This past fall, however, I did reread Okay for Now. Some of my students find this book to be a slow starter, but I know it’s worth hanging in there for all the good stuff that’s ahead. So I was just clipping along until a passage I had forgotten about on page 66 stopped me in my tracks. Here’s what it says:

    Mrs. Daugherty met me at the back door. Five kids watched through the screen while she inspected the ice cream straight off.

    “Did the ice cream melt again?” the littlest one asked her mother.

    “No, Phronsie. Not this time.”

    “That’s good,” Phronise said to me. “Because if was melted, then Ben and Joel and Davie said they were going to have to kill you.”

    I looked at the three boys. They smiled at me.

    “Not really,” they said.

    Big sister Polly Daugherty is not mentioned in this passage by name, but she does appear elsewhere in the story; thus, each of the five Daugherty children is named after one of The Five Little Peppers from the series written by Margaret Sidney in the late 1800s. I loved those books growing up and still do. I guess maybe Gary Schmidt does, too. One of the characteristics of a “well-written” book according to Children’s Literature, Briefly (Tunnell, Jacobs, Young, & Bryan, 2011), the text we use in our class, is that it includes unexpected insights. I’m sure the text-to-text connection about the five little Peppers goes unnoticed by my 20-something students, but it has twice provided me with an unexpected insight into Gary Schmidt’s background, reading memories, and mischievousness.

    There are many reasons to love Okay for Now: it is primarily the story of protagonist Doug Sweiteck’s journey from hapless, troubled teen to hopeful, flourishing young man. Doug’s transformation is powerfully supported by his discovery of the collection of John James Audubon’s 435 life-sized Birds of America watercolors at the local public library in his new hometown. The story is historical fiction set in 1968; it also references Jane Eyre, the Vietnam War, Joe Pepitone, baseball in general, and the Apollo moon landing. It’s not a good story because of the setting, characters, and events; it’s a good story because of the way it is presented. We get to know Doug – at least as much as he wants us to know – as he narrates the story in his laid-back, sometimes cynical voice. It is a truly well written living book; as explained by Tunnell et al., again in our course text, “the words between the covers are arranged in almost magical patterns that stir deep emotional responses in readers” (p. 29).

    Once they get past the slow start, the majority of my students come to appreciate Okay for Now. For most of them it’s more about Doug’s dysfunctional family and his relationship with newfound (girl)friend, sassy Lil Spicer, but they also grasp the theme of the transforming power of art in both its literary and painterly forms. In an entry in the Readers Notebook the students maintain during the course, one of my students wrote:

    Dr. Johnson,

    The story that we read for Literature Circle, Okay for Now, is probably my all-time favorite book. I couldn’t get into the book right away and even reread the first chapter to see if maybe I just missed something. However, the book got a whole lot better and definitely did not disappoint. I think my favorite part about the book was how relatable it is to people. Many people go through tough times in life, such as moving. However, if you make the most of a situation, it might turn out okay. (M. B., personal communication, November 2016)

                Another student favored one of our other shared reads, Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012). She wrote:

                  We recently read Wonder in class. This book was very eye-opening. . . . It made me cry. I think it probably made a lot of people cry. Especially the Halloween chapter. How hurtful it must have been for Auggie to find out one of his close friends was just fake. Then there was the issue with one of the moms saying that Auggie never should have been let into the school in the first place. Like how dare she? Just because Auggie looks different does not mean he cannot do just as well as the other students! (M. S., personal communication, November 2016)

                Our fifth and final shared assigned book is Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1988). On the course final exam, a student wrote that this was her favorite chapter book of the semester with these words:

                  My favorite book through the semester was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. When I was younger, I disliked reading a lot. My mom couldn’t get me to read anything! However, right before Christmas one year my mother gave it her last try. The book she gave me was called The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  I fell in love with the story and read it over and over. I couldn’t believe the Herdmans were so horrible and how in the end they changed. From that point on, I started to read again. I loved to read! (E. H., personal communication, December 15, 2016)

                On the course final exam, I also ask the students to write what they learn about becoming an effective teacher from Miss Agnes, the main character in a book I read aloud to them chapter by chapter during the course of the semester. The book, The Year of Miss Agnes (Kirkpatrick, 2002), is historical fiction set in an Athabaskan village on the Alaskan frontier in 1948. Specifically, the exam question asks my students to visualize their picture of Mrs. Agnes’s classroom, her students, and her pedagogy, and then write about what they “see.” This year for the first time, I included the option of either writing a paragraph or drawing a visual representation that conveyed the picture that came to mind.

    All but one chose to write. The drawing that one student (E. Hanson, reprinted with permission, 2016) created in the limited time she had during the exam includes labels that indicate Miss Agnes’s teaching beliefs and practices. For instance, Miss Agnes boxed up and put into storage the set of Dick and Jane beginning readers which depicted a way of life that was meaningless to her native Alaskan students. She also “spread an abundant and delicate feast” (Mason, Vol. 6, p. 183) by displaying a huge world map, reading classic literature such as Robin Hood, and playing recordings of classical music. 



    Miss Hanson’s drawing and the Readers Notebook entries shared above come from students who enjoyed reading at the time they enrolled in the course. But what about those who began the class as infrequent, reluctant readers? Students write about their history as readers early on in the class and also respond to this prompt on the final exam:

    12. Thomas Carlyle said, “What we become depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is the collection of books.”  If Carlyle is correct, think about your reading habits and describe the teacher you intend to be five years into your career.

    Here are excerpts from recent responses to the Carlyle prompt that validate the truth of Mason’s assertion that “the most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading” (Mason, Vol 1., p. 227). Not just in her day, but in ours as well.

    ·       Thinking about my reading habits in the past . . . I should probably try to start reading more. I have never been an avid reader. I just don’t enjoy reading books.

    ·       As I grew up I was forced to read by teachers and half the time I never liked what I was reading. There was no passion to read as the teacher assigned me books to finish, and I could never get into them.

    ·       When I was younger I hated reading. I had a teacher that made reading so forced and unnecessary. All she ever said was, “Don’t make me make you go read.” She made it a punishment. I will never make reading . . . some kind of punishment. Reading is not supposed to be something you have to do when you’re in trouble.

    But all is not lost. For some of my students the tide has begun to turn.

    ·       I believe this means I have to get it together and start buying lot more children’s books and a lot less sneakers. I need to become a better reader. I don’t think I have ever read just for fun. I need to change that. I want to be the teacher that provides anything I can for my students; this means not only providing reading materials, but also a burning passion to pick up those materials.

    ·       I certainly plan on reading more. Right now I don’t read much. .  . [and] say I don’t have time, but this is probably untrue; I could make time. Five years into my teaching career I would love to be a reading lover. I hope that I can love books so that the kids in my classes will want to read just as much as I do.

    ·       Currently I have horrible reading habits and only read when I have to. When I was younger I loved reading, but high school ruined it for me. I intend to be the best teacher I can be, so I will have to start to gain back my love to read.

    ·       My reading habits have gotten better after this year, and I seem to be reading more than I usually have. The teacher I want to be in the next five years is the one to make reading fun. I never had many teachers that did that for me, but am learning on my own to love reading.

    ·        I feel like my book choices are changing. I didn't really like reading when I was younger. I am finding more enjoyment in reading all the time. I am wanting to buy books for myself, so I can add them to my future classroom book collection.

    Mason (Vol 1, p. 153) gives us much to reflect on when she discusses the habit of imagining. Stories that are either completely nonsense or too everyday are to be avoided. Rather:

           The children should have the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times––a delightful double existence; and this joy they will find, for the most part, in their story books. Their lessons, too, history and geography, should cultivate their conceptive powers. If the child do not live in the times of his history lesson, be not at home in the climes of his geography book describes, why, these lessons will fail of their purpose. But let lessons do their best, and the picture gallery of the imagination is poorly hung if the child have not found his way into the realms of fancy.

          As my students enter “the realms of fancy”  and live the lives of Doug Sweiteck, Auggie Pullman, Miss Agnes, and the Herdman kids, may they find joy and passion they will pass on as they share living books with their students in the future.


    Hanson, E. (2016). Miss Agnes’s schoolroom [Drawing]. Mitchell, SD: EDU 224 final exam.

    Hill, K. (2002). The year of Miss Agnes.  New York, New York: Aladdin Publishing.

    Mason, C. M. (1989).  A philosophy of education (Vol. 6). Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1925)

    Mason, C. M. (1989). Home education (Vol. 1). Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1925)

    Palacio, R. J. (2012). Wonder. New York, New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers.

    Robinson, B. (1988). The best Christmas pageant ever. New York, New York: Harper Collins.

    Schmidt, G. (2011). Okay for now. New York, NY: Clarion Books.

    Tunnell, M.O., Jacobs, J.S., Young, T.A., & Bryan, G. (2011). Children’s literature, briefly, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


  • 31 Dec 2016 6:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Another year is nearly gone. During this past year, I have spent a great deal of time and energy thinking, reading, writing, and teaching others about Charlotte Mason. Her life work has become mine, and her thinking, reading, writing, and teaching has shaped mine.

    It has been a year in which the Mason community has expanded. New books, podcasts, conferences, and curricula have emerged. These new opportunities have increased interest in her teaching method, and increased confusion and perplexity, too. Many I speak with feel tossed this way and that, and are frustrated by constant and contradictory opinions and advice about spreading the wide and generous feast. They want to know how and where to begin, what to study, how to teach, or how to blend various programs with Mason. Many don’t understand enough about Mason to comprehend that other approaches work against hers.

    I suppose this is only to be expected in a time of instant communication and access to information. Opinions, ideas, impressions, thoughts, fads, viewpoints, arguments on silly and serious matters spread like epidemics, and opinions on Mason are no exception. All of us are accustomed to this phenomenon, but when it comes time to discover the truth about anything, which voice do we listen to? Whom do we believe? How can we sift fact from opinion, hearsay, myth? Which opinions are trustworthy? Is it important to practice Mason’s methods as she did, or has the ensuing century rendered her ideas archaic? Her volumes of writing are daunting to the average busy mom, so going to the source seems hopeless.

    I understand. It is true that her method is simple, but because of its living quality, reducing it to a few basic rules or booklet of advice is not. If I could produce such a treasure, however, would that not just be my opinions about Mason, just one more voice crying in the wilderness: this is the way, walk in it?

    Perhaps the constant clamor of varying opinions contributes to our tolerance of any and all of them, or dulls our desire to form our own individual position on a subject. One of my daughters once asked me in sincerity if it was okay to not like people who don’t have opinions. I wish I had read enough Mason at that time to tell her Mason’s opinion on the question. For years since then, I have read and reread Mason’s books and have become well acquainted with her, though I am sure I will never completely know her amazing mind. Although Mason comments on opinions throughout her writings, I’d like to summarize her own discussion of opinion.

    In Ourselves, chapter XVIII, “Opinions: Justice in Thought,” she acknowledges that, as persons, we cannot get away from thinking, no matter how we try, whether we speak of the weather, or a person, or something we wish to do, because “the thought we have about a person or thing is our opinion” (p. 179). In fact, opinion means, “a thinking.” Opinions, however, are not always valuable. If we are simply expressing what we have heard or voicing other people’s opinions—borrowing, so to speak, the opinions of others and passing them on without having thought much about them—they are worthless. They can even be unsafe if the opinion expressed springs from the other person’s desires or what they simply wish to believe is true or best, and not on sound judgment. But, she offers a few guidelines to help us know the worth of opinions:

    • 1.     We must have thought about the subject and know something about it;
    • 2.     The opinion must be our own and not the parroting of another; 
    • 3.     Opinions must be disinterested, not influenced by our inclinations. (p. 180)

     Why are opinions important, she asks? “Just because we are persons. Every person has many opinions, either his own, honestly thought out, or picked up from his pet newspaper, or from his favourite companion. The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he helped to save a life. There is no more or less about duty; and it is a great part of our work in life to do our duty in our thoughts and form just opinions" (180-181).

    This seems rather strong; is it really a matter of life and death? The trustworthiness of Mason’s method, in my opinion, is because it is soundly rooted in the gospel of Christ. Even in the realm of opinion, our first concern must be toward loving God and honoring our neighbor as ourself. The ideas she shares throughout her writings always are founded on fulfilling these two great commandments—on any subject. Justice in thought is right thinking about our neighbor, his rights as a person to receive our right thinking and action toward him. Thinking becomes action. In this realm of opinion, she appeals to the necessity of submitting our thoughts to conscience to know the right or wrong of an opinion before uttering it. Always, opinions of others must be just (p. 181).

    She says we must know our opinion on every subject—our country, other countries, occupations, amusements, books, persons we read or hear about, pictures, characters in stories—“In fact,” she says, “there is nothing which passes before our minds about which it is not our business to form just and reasonable opinions.” This is the purpose, by the way, that she includes so many varied subjects within her curriculum—that while there is time to read, study, mark and learn, children will grow up forming just opinions on all things that come before them, if engaged in an active and not passive method of learning. “The lectures we hear, the books we read, are of no use to us except as they make us think” (p. 182). For it is the thinking person whose opinions are worthwhile. Furthermore,  the extent to which a person cares about what is being learned is the one who has the right to give opinions.

    Regarding the books, she says that the books worth thinking about deserve our attention; they contain “the best thought of the writer, and we can only get at his meaning by serious thinking” (p. 183).  May I suggest this is true of Mason’s books as well? She was a careful thinker, even a formidable thinker, in my opinion. After years of reading, and years of observation of her thoughts being twisted and warped and watered down in the public arena, I am of the opinion that only in the consistent and persistent reading of her writings is true understanding of her method possible. I know time is scarce, but five to ten minutes a day, as little as one to three pages a day, will carry you through one of her volumes in a season. Read her writing, and read other great thinkers in other fields. As she notes here, " . . . the books that make us think, the poems that make us ponder, the men whose lives we consider are of more value than volumes of good counsel.” And, “. . . it seems to be a law in the things of life and mind that we do not get anything for our own unless we work for it. It is a case of lightly come, lightly go. That is why we are told of our Lord that ‘without a parable spake He not unto them.’ He told the people stories which they might allow to pass lightly through their minds as an interest of the moment, or which they might think upon, form opinions upon, and find in them a guide to the meaning of their lives” (p. 183).

    Of course, forming good and right and just opinions takes time. As our minds grow and our thinking deepens, our opinions inevitably change. Study does not make us arrogant, then, but humble as we discover we must adjust our opinions. We need humility to know our opinions will sometimes be wrong and that reading and thinking and knowing more will force us to correct formerly strongly held opinions. "Indeed, no wise person, however old, is sure of his opinions. He holds them fast, but he holds them modestly; and, . . . [if] convinced that the opinion of others is more sound than his own, why, he has no shame in what we call 'changing his mind'" (p. 184).

    Mason sums her thoughts about our responsibility to form just opinions with this list:

    1.     We must have 'a thinking' about an immense number of things. So we must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest; must listen and consider, being sure that one of the purposes we are in the world for is, to form right opinions about all matters that come in our way . . . .

    2.     We must avoid the short road to opinions; we must not pick them up readymade at any street-corner . . . .

    3.     We must learn––and this is truly difficult, a matter that takes us all our lives to recognise a fallacy, that is, an argument which appears sound but does not bear examination…popular cries, whether in the school or the country, very often rest upon fallacies or false judgments. So we must look all round the notions we take up.

    4.     Before forming an opinion about anyone in place and power, we must try to realise and understand that person's position and all that belongs to it.

    5.     When we have arrived at an opinion we must remember that it is only 'a thinking,' and must hold it with diffidence; but because it is our thinking, our very own property that has come to us through pondering, we must hold it firmly, unless we are convinced that another view is sounder than our own (p. 185-186).

    These principles for forming just opinions will keep us steady as we grow in knowledge of Mason’s method. She insisted it was essential to have a philosophy of education, that the broad feast was the means for becoming the most wise, generous, and just person for the world. Don’t simply take my word for it, though. Conscientiously read, study, think, and understand Mason yourself in order to have wise judgment about her method, as you read others’ opinions in blogs, books, and the chatter on social media, and especially before expressing opinions to others. What we think and the opinions we hold do matter.

    © 2016 by Liz Cottrill

  • 22 Dec 2016 5:29 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As families gather this weekend to celebrate Christmas and other holidays around this time, I want to share a game that all ages can play, from great grandparents to babies.  It has brought us much merriment over the decades.   At this time when we all think of the Babe who came to bring us abundant life, let us ponder how much abundance is tied to relationship.  Hopefully the game I will describe here will help us chisel away at the amount of time people spend relating to screen rather than to one another.  I offer this game in hopes that in some small way it helps people come together for common experiences of hilarity and cheer.

    The game has no proper name, only “The Game.” Over the decades when we gather at my sister-in-law’s with family and friends, the children now always ask, “When are we going to play “The Game,” Aint Andy (aint being their southern pronunciation for aunt)?


    The game is a variation of a scavenger hunt, with items coming ONLY from what people are wearing or carrying in their purses; nothing is collected from the surroundings.  The Judge, who has a list of 30+ items, calls for one item at a time, and teams then scramble to find that item amongst their personal belongings, hand it to their “placer” who quickly plops it on the tray. The team who gets the item there first gets a point and the team with the most points wins. 


    At least 2 teams but works best with 3 teams or more

    Minimum 4  people per team but half of team should have purses. 

    Good size room to contain everyone

    List of 30 personal “on body” or “with body” items

    Judge/caller--a jovial person good with people and directing group tone

    A placer for each team--people with quick and agile movement

    A clear cookie sheet, tray or cardboard

    Pieces of tape to mark placers’ positions on carpet (blue carpenter or magic work well)


    Assign teams before everyone gathers in big room.  I try to evenly distribute ages, quickness, competitiveness and availability of purses and also get input from the moms of which kids need to be on separate teams to keep the squabbling down.  People sit with their teams--typically the elders, who in the Smith clan are affectionately called “the low energy group,” sit on the comfortable chairs and sofas while the rest, “the high energy group,” sit on the floor. Teams are in different corners or furniture groupings around the room, within easy reach of their placers who are poised to receive the team’s item and quickly place it on the tray/cookie sheet.  The position of each team’s placer is measured equidistance from judge and marked on floor with tape.  Placers must remain behind tape except when putting an item on the tray.  Teams choose their placers; kids do really well here, many times slamming their whole body down as they reach to the tray.


    Below is a list with typical kinds of items to use as a springboard to fit your time and family. Since the Smith clan has boys whose favorite items involve body pieces, I’ve included those but feel free to modify to suit your family’s sensibilities.  When an item is called for, team members may empty contents of pockets or purses on floor.  However, before next item is called, any emptied contents and removed items (shoes, socks, etc.) must be put back in place or on the body. The game moves fast and can stop anywhere along the list.

    • 1.     Sock with stripes
    • 2.     1999 coin
    • 3.     Something with blue on it
    • 4.     Key with a number on it
    • 5.     Something that Grandma or Auntie Sue would say is (nasty, yucky, dirty, etc.)
    • 6.     Something with a picture of a kid
    • 7.     Pencil with a usable eraser on it
    • 8.     Something folded
    • 9.     A grey hair longer than my index finger
    • 10.  2 different colored shoe laces tied together
    • 11.  Something that sparkles
    • 12.  Watch
    • 13.  Something with non-English words on it
    • 14.  Something with green and red
    • 15.  Nickel from 1980s
    • 16.  Eyebrow hair
    • 17.  Cap to a pen
    • 18.  Something stinky
    • 19.  Something with a date before 1960 (or dates family elders would have on license)
    • 20.  2 hairs tied together in a knot
    • 21.  Buckle
    • 22.  Something very rough
    • 23.  Something that Grandpa or Uncle Al would blow his nose on
    • 24.  Zipper
    • 25.  Something (name of family baby or toddler) could play with safely
    • 26.  Comb
    • 27.  Something containing instructions
    • 28.  Something with a school logo on it
    • 29.  Toe jam
    • 30.  Something with flowers on it
    • 31.  Something with gold and silver on it.
    • 32.  Coins to equal 67 cents
    • 33.  Something torn.
    • 34.  Pen with blue ink
    • 35.  Something Grandma would wear and people would say she looks silly.
    • 36.  Receipt
    • 37.  Something that smells good.
    • 38.  2 different colored socks tied together
    • 39.  Something curly
    • 40.  Something with letters W, X, Y, Z on it.
    • 41.  Circle
    • 42.  Something ladies use to be beautiful.
    • 43.  Belly button fuzz
    • 44.  Something lighter (green, blue, purple, etc.) than the shirt I’m wearing.
    • 45.  Ribbon
    • 46.  Something fuzzy.
    • 47.  three pennies from 1990s
    • 48.  A joke to make Grandma/Grandpa/Auntie Sue laugh.  (Judge indicates this is not judged on speed of putting on tray first, but on if it makes Grandma laugh.)
    • 49.  Something with polka dots (or diamonds, squares, etc.)
    • 50.  Finger print
    • 51.  Something smaller than my watch (judge holds up watch)
    • 52.  Finger nail piece
    • 53.  Something that makes noise when you shake it
    • 54.  Piece of thread
    • 55.  Something edible
    • 56.  Something stretchy
    • 57.  Hair longer than my hand (judge shows open palm vertical)
    • 58.  Something metal
    • 59.  A quarter from 21st century
    • 60.  Something broken
    • 61.  Something (family youngster’s name) can read
    • 62.  Piece of dry skin
    • 63.   Something with colored (can specify which color) writing on it.
    • 64.  Picture of a leaf
    • 65.  Something purple
    • 66.  Whisker
    • 67.  Something you can wrap around your neck
    • 68.  Something Mom or Dad should throw out
    • 69.  Leg hair
    • 70.  Ear wax

    • Generates the list ahead of arrival so requested items are chosen before seeing what people will be wearing.
    •  Ensures placers remain behind their marked spots on floor.
    • Once item is called for, judge identifies which team wins point. Sometimes it is very close, so judge must watch tray carefully to determine which placer has item on tray first.  May call a tie and give two teams the point.
    •  Manages and directs the tone by jovially identifying what responses are not acceptable.  If you have some very competitive family members, arguing can erupt quickly (and not just among the kids!) “No way they were first.  We got it there before them,” or “Wait, you asked for blue and that is purple--no way that is blue!”  (That’s why “The Judge” developed.) The Judge makes comments like:  “The judge doesn’t want to find you out of order and dock the team for unruly behavior.”  “The judge has spoken; arguing with the judge carries a two point team fine. If, however, the team’s representative would like to approach the bench with a persuasive argument, the judge will be happy to listen.” Some times the judge can say, “Young man, the judge finds that action (for example, badmouthing your team member) unacceptable and if it happens again, the judge will fine your team a point.”


    One year when we had only teens and adults gathered, I enlisted our teenage niece to help with a prank.  I told her I would up the stakes at the end by offering the last item to be a 5 pointer (or whatever amount needed for one team to beat the other)--“a pair of pants,” and would she please be prepared to give hers.  What others didn’t know is that she would wear a long shirt with shorts underneath.  Needless to say, after I had hyped up the game nearing its end, then added the caveat that any team could still win because I had a big point item.  Of course the item was a pair of pants.  When I required a pair of pants, everyone starts looking from one to the other.  Our niece jumps up and wiggles out of her pants and yells, “Take these!”  The old people didn’t know whether or not to look at her.  Everyone’s jaws dropped until they realized it was a joke. Then the laughter roared.  That was decades ago and we still talk about it.  I wouldn’t try it now though, because some of the grandnephews might really do it.

    Playing “The Game” over the years has provided many memories of intergenerational hilarity: Uncle Steve upon arrival proudly announcing that, if belly button fuzz was called for, he had not washed his belly button so he would be prepared; Grandpa scurrying to remove his undershirt for “something stinky”; the baby being lifted and placed on the tray because her outfit had the requested colored stripes; elderly Mrs. M. sitting on the sofa, her shoulders shaking as she kept laughing quietly to herself.

    Christmas is a time to celebrate the coming of our Hope!  To celebrate this time, not only can we attend Christmas Eve services and all the other activities centered on this time, but plain old fun can be a part of this time as well.  Our wish for you is a joyful and hopeful—and fun—holyday.

  • 22 Dec 2016 9:55 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Adoration of the Shepherds by a pupil of Rembrandt
    National Gallery, London

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 


The Institute wishes to support a robust conversation about the educational philosophy and pedagogy of Charlotte Mason. Although all blog posts are invited, a writer’s comments made in these blog posts do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, views or positions of the Charlotte Mason Institute. Statements by those responding to a blog post deemed to be derogatory to people or organisations, slanderous, vulgar or containing advertising and/or links will not be approved. All statements to a writer’s blog post are subject to administrator approval prior to being posted--this may take up to 48 hours.


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