Charlotte Mason Institute Blog

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  • 11 Dec 2016 12:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    If you are like many Charlotte Mason devotees, you may have felt as if you had come home when you discovered Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. Perhaps you thrilled to the idea of home education built around living books, poetry, nature study, narrations, short lessons, composer and picture study. But then this enterprise became a bit daunting as you bought, begged or borrowed the books you needed to start and planned a working schedule.  Providentially, you had a friend or two, or you found kindred spirits in an online community.

    But an online community is no substitute for the real thing – likeminded moms who live nearby who also follow or are at least interested in following Mason’s philosophy in home educating their children.

    Charlotte’s principles were to be lived out in community. Her teachers lived together at Scale How, learning from one another, encouraging one another. When her students left for teaching positions or to start their families, the newsletter L’Umile Pianta (literally The Humble Plant) served as a golden thread to keep the community connected with encouraging advice, humorous anecdotes and inspiring articles. The PNEU was an encouragement to many parents in the British empire who yearned to give their children an excellent upbringing.

    Here are a few snippets from Parent’s Review, the magazine of the PNEU which highlighted some thoughts on the importance of community. First, from the Saint George Guild, a community begun by John Ruskin in response to an increasingly industrialized and fragmented society, comes an exhortation to divide the workload and share the beauty.

    It is obvious that, without any profession of socialism or communism, the dividing of work amongst all, and the consequent spreading over the whole community of the culture derived from literature, art, and nature (all requiring leisure) is a noble piece of just legislation, promoting social life of a beautiful kind, and enabling people to enjoy in common all that the everlasting inequalities of mind and capacity will allow.

    Firth, J. (1891/1892). St. George’s guild, Paper II. On the education of the children. Parents’ Review, 2. pp. 276-282.

    Next, Professor Eric Barnes who formerly headed up the Education Department at Stanford University in California, became a popular speaker in England under the patronage of the Marchioness of Aberdeen.

    The man and woman of the coming generation must be able to enter into long, living, vital, strong, working relations with the democracy of the forces around him; he must be able to come into vital touch with them through his own spiritual life. One of the best things to make him do this is, it seems to me, the contact of individual groups of children, and so I should say in sitting down, the greatest problem he has to meet is the gaining for individuals living under isolated conditions, the benefit that comes from the contact with large numbers of one's fellows.

    Barnes, E. (1900).  Conversazion, held at St. Martin’s Town Hall. Parents’ Review, 11. pp. 486-496.

    Here we see the recognition of the benefit of social interaction. The last thing we want to do is to isolate ourselves and our children into a Charlotte Mason ivory tower.

    And lastly, from one of the teachers at a school where Charlotte trained, the delights of friendship which is a byproduct of co-operative home education.

    Friendship is the cordial of life, the lenitive of sorrow, the multiplier of joy, the source at once of animation and repose. Friendship is one of the purest productions of the human soul; without it the man most richly endowed by Nature and Fortune, though armed with power and surrounded by admirers, has no resting-place. No course of moral instruction is complete that does not survey the duties of friendship, as disinterestedness, forbearance, &c. The teacher will not merely lead the children to distinguish between friendly and unfriendly acts; she will treat any real attachment between them with observance and regard. She knows that no provision for a child’s moral training is complete till he has found congenial friends—first in the family, then in the school. Let us then not overlook the goodness of our all-wise and gracious Creator in making this provision for the happiness and welfare of His creatures. The life of the hermit is as little in harmony with His will as that of him who cannot live out of a crowd. That man should find satisfaction in something beyond himself – in the family, the tribe, the community – is His design Who would have that satisfaction culminate in the Communion of Saints – the General Assembly of the Firstborn of God.

    Dunning, R. (1891).  Characteristics of Childhood. Parents’ Review, 2. pp. 619-621.

    Why would you want to start a CM-inspired community? Here are a few reasons that come to mind.

    • It is as easy to teach a small class as to teach your own children and it will keep you accountable for those classes you might be tempted to skip.

    • Benefit of other students’ input – your children may just rise to the occasion and enjoy some healthy competition.

    • Mutual encouragement of moms – something we all need!

    • Utilization of the knowledge and skills of others – We cannot all be experts in every topic but we can share what we know or help find those people who love sharing what they know with our children.

    Charlotte Mason in community can take shape in a myriad of ways. If there are a number of like-minded homeschool families in your area, you could get together weekly or twice a month to share lessons that lend themselves well to small group interaction. Examples would be group singing of hymns and folksongs, poetry and other memory work, recitations, picture study, nature notebook entries, composer study, science classes or foreign language.

    You really only need one other family with a child or children close to yours in age to form a co-op. The smaller the group, the more flexible you can be. For the past two years, I have met two days a month with a mom who also has one boy in Ambleside Online year 8. Our boys who have known each other all their lives and are both the youngest ones still at home, enjoy sharing the reading of Shakespeare, picture study, composer study, presentation of current events, a nature hike, and a handicraft. In years past I have been part of a much larger group of CM families in various co-ops.

    But say that you know of no other families in your area that use Charlotte Mason.  What to do? You might consider picking a topic that is of general interest such as nature study/walks or art/music appreciation (composer and picture study) or handicrafts. You can call it enrichment classes or give it a winsome title. Then send out an invite to your homeschool community. Be sure to specify ages or age range that you are targeting. If you are doing this with only one of your children, I would suggest you keep it one year below and above your child’s age. If you want to include several of your own children, then make the range close to the youngest and oldest child. These kinds of topics, which my friend rightly calls “the riches” often are relegated to “the extras.” Although most homeschool moms love the idea of exposing their children to nature, art, music, handicrafts, too often it falls by the wayside. What a service you will be providing to other moms to offer these classes at your home or at a central location. You will be a blessing and you will be blessed.  Who knows, you might even inspire some to begin their own study of Mason’s philosophy.

    To find an existing community in your area, to add yours to the list, or for a wonderful collection of resources for CM communities including upcoming conferences, our thanks go to Jenn Stec for this helpful website:


    Please feel free to add any questions you might have in the comments. What a joy to be on this journey together!

    © 2016 by Jeannette Tulis

  • 26 Nov 2016 9:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    (Adapted from the German by Rudolf Baumbach)

    (Parents' Review, vol. 3, pp 773-778)

    For this blog a story of the Christmas Rose from the Parents' Review to begin this Advent Season.

    HAVE you ever seen the wild Christmas rose, children? It is seldom to be found in flat countries, but every child who lives among the hills must know it well. Some people call it the snow-flower, botanists have named it helleborus niger, but it is generally known as the Christmas rose, because it blooms at that time of the year when, with joy and thanksgiving, we celebrate the birth of our Saviour. This plant bears a blossom that is white and beautiful, but sometimes the whiteness of the petals is faintly tinged with pink. I am about to tell you the story of the first Christmas-rose that ever grew, for there was a time long ago when this pretty shrub was quite unknown. 

    In a valley in the Alps once stood a little village through which flowed a river; into this river in the springtime the melting glaciers on the mountains poured their foaming torrents. On a hill above the village stood a mighty castle with a tower; holy monks had built a monastery and a church by the banks of the river near the village, and between the castle and the monastery lay a farm. All this was in times long since gone by; the castle is now a heap of ruins, the village has grown into a large town, but the monastery still stands just as it was at the time of which I am writing. 

    It was Christmas Eve, and the quiet valley was even more quiet and peaceful than usual, for all the men of the village had gone to Italy with the Count, who lived in the great castle, to help him fight his enemies. The farmer, whose farm lay between the monastery and the castle, had been obliged to go with the others; he went unwillingly, for although was a brave man, and feared not the battle—indeed, I think he enjoyed it—yet it grieved him much, and made him very sad of heart to leave his wife and his little three-year-old daughter, Hilda. 

    As I have before, it was Christmas Eve. In the farmhouse was much bustle and preparation going on; all the maids were busy making cakes and other good things to be eaten the next day, which would be a holiday for every one in the country. But the mistress of the house, Frau Walpurga, was, for once,not at work with her servants; and one of the holy monks from the monastery, Father Celestin by name, were in a bedroom with her little daughter, for the child was very ill; they feared that she was sick even unto death. Father Celestin was a tall. grey-bearded man; he was very clever, and knew much of the science of healing. He was now preparing some medicine for the little girl, which he hoped would drive away the cruel fever that was burning up her very life. While he was thus employed there came into the room a coarsely dressed old man; he was the shepherd who looked after Frau Walpurga’s sheep. In his left hand he carried his hat; in his right a little lamb that he had carved out of wood; its eyes he had painted black, and had stained its lips red with the juice of some berry. This he gave to the little girl, but she took no notice either of him or of the toy, and he left the room again as quietly as possible. The monk also departed, after Hilda had taken the draught he had made up for her, and the mother and child were left alone. The medicine seemed to have done the little one good, for she fell asleep, and for some time slept quietly; but at sunset she awoke, and tossed uneasily on her bed; her forehead was burning, and her eyes were bright with fever. Suddenly she raised herself on her arm and cried: 

    “Oh, mother, mother! look at the lovely little children and the beautiful lady! And see, mother! the lady is giving me white flowers—white roses!” 

    Then she lay back upon her pillows, and soon after was again asleep. But Frau Walpurga fell upon her knees and wept bitterly. 

    “The child will die,” she moaned; “yes, she must certainly die, for she has seen the bright angels of heaven.” 

    Not for long, however, did the mother waste time in weeping. She determined to send some one at once to the monastery to bring Father Celestin again to the farm; and leaving the sleeping child, she went to the great hall to find a messenger. The hall was almost empty; only one lame woman was sitting there, for all the other farm servants, men and maids, had gone already to the church to hear the evening service, The lame woman had been left in charge of the fire; but Frau Walpurga, desiring her to let it out and go and watch by the side of the sick child, put on her cloak and herself started in search of the holy Father. 

    The sun had just set; the peaks of the mountains still shone with the golden glory of the passing day, but in the valley the grey mist of twilight was drawn as a curtain over the snow covered ground. Not a sound was to be heard, nor a living creature to be seen; the silence was intense. Far away, seen dimly through the mist, gleamed a light; it came from the windows of the monastery, and towards that beacon, the mother, her heart breaking with sorrow, directed her steps across the snow. Suddenly she stopped, and drew in her breath with a frightened gasp. For out of the forest that skirted the foot of the hill appeared a tall and beautiful woman clothed in long and trailing robes, and following her a train of pale-faced children, clad in shining garments of white.

    Frau Walpurga, trembling she knew not why at this strange sight, concealed herself behind a tree, while the procession passed by. But one of the white-robed children followed far behind her companions; she could not keep up with them because her garment was so long that she constantly trod upon it, and each time was obliged to stop and gather it up in her hands lest she should catch her foot in it and fall. Frau Walpurga, in her desire to help this little maiden, quite forgot her fear, and, stepping forth from her hiding place, she tucked up the little frock in such a way as to enable its owner to keep in rank with the other children without any difficulty. The beautiful lady saw this little deed of kindness, and, turning to the sad-hearted mother, smiled graciously upon her and pointed to the ground at her feet; her face seemed to shine with a heavenly light. 

    Just at this moment the monastery bells rang out their musical chimes upon the silent night, and behold, Frau Walpurga found herself standing quite alone beneath the trees, all the wonderful beings who had a moment before been near her appeared to have melted into air. She went slowly and hesitatingly to the spot at which the fair woman of her vision had pointed, and there, out of the snow she saw growing a bush covered with green leaves, and bearing flowers of spotless purity. Her heart bounded for joy. 

    “These,” she cried, “must be the flowers of my darling’s dream.” 

    Three of them she plucked, and in her eagerness to give them to her little daughter, and see what effect they would have upon her, she quite gave up all thought of going to ask the help of Father Celestin, and hurried home. Sitting with Hilda she found, not only the lame woman whom she had left in charge, but also the old shepherd. He had but small opinion of the knowledge of the monks regarding the proper medicines for the healing of different diseases, and, therefore, in the absence of the mother, had himself concocted and given to the child a drink made of the juice of crushed juniper-berries, which was, he said, a certain cure for fever. Frau Walpurga, breathless with her hurried walk, and quite unable to speak in her excitement, went up to the bedside, and placed upon the coverlid the newly discovered flowers. The little invalid seized them in both hands, smiled faintly, held them long to her face, and sneezed. 

    “God bless her!” cried the mother, the maid, and the shepherd, at the same moment. 

    Then the child turned to them, asked for a drink, and having had it, fell into a quiet sleep; the fever had left her, her forehead no longer burned as if there were a raging fire within, and her little hands were quite cool. 

    “But where,” asked the shepherd of his mistress, “did you find those wonderful blossoms?” 

    Frau Walpurga told him of all that she had seen.

    “That beautiful lady with the children must certainly have been Frau Berchta," said he. “From Christmas to Twelfth Night she may be seen every evening as she goes about with her attendant spirits and blesses the earth. But at no other time of the year does she allow mortal eyes to behold her face. My father saw her once when he was a boy. She is a kind and gracious lady, and never allows those who have helped her in any way to depart from her presence unrewarded. It was well for you that you fastened up the little frock.”

    He went on to relate all the legends of Frau Berchta, and her wonderful doings that he had ever heard; they were many and long, and I really think he would have talked all night had not his mistress, with much difficulty, coaxed him to leave the room. She also dismissed the maid, and she and her little Hilda were once more left alone. Only once did the child move in her sleep, and that was when from the monastery came the faint sounds of the organ, and of the voices of the monks as they chanted their Christmas hymn of praise. “Gloria in Excelsis” they sang; “Gloria in Excelsis, et in terra pax” (Glory in the Highest, and on earth peace).

    Frau Walpurga fell upon her knees, and with all her heart and soul thanked the dear Lord for His great goodness. All through the night little Hilda slept peacefully, holding in her hands her precious roses—the flowers of her dream; and next day, when Father Celestin came to see his little patient, he found her sitting up in bed playing with the wooden lamb the old shepherd had given her the day before. 

    “Frau Walpurga,” said he, greatly delighted at this marvellous improvement; “your child will now recover quickly, for the fever has quite left her. It is entirely owing to the draught I prepared for her yesterday.” 

    Frau Walpurga, however, thought differently, so she told him in confidence of all that she had seen last evening, and also of the wondrous shrub that had grown in a moment through the thick snow that lay upon the ground. At first he did not believe her story. 

    “You must certainly have been dreaming,” said he, “or perhaps the snow dazzled your eyes, and made you imagine that you saw all these things. Be careful, do not let others hear this foolish story, or it will be said that you are mad.” 

    To convince him of the truth she showed him the white roses, and he, although he was a great botanist, and knew the name of almost every flower that grows, was obliged to admit that blos- soms like these he had never seen before. She also repeated to him what the shepherd had said concerning Frau Berchta, but of that he did not at all approve. 

    He thought the matter over for some time, and finally explained it in this way. 

    “Woman,” said he, “you have been greatly honoured, for you have been allowed, with your bodily eyes, to see Mary, the Mother of the dear Lord, the Queen of Heaven, and also the holy angels, who bear her company. She it was who caused this plant to grow and bring forth blossom as a sign to you that your child should not die, but should recover. As for Berchta, think no more of her; her supposed appearance at Christmas is but a fable, unworthy of belief.” 

    The shepherd, however, always maintained that it was his draught, made of the juice of the crushed juniper berries, that had cured the little girl, and his mistress gave him a grand gift. He quite refused, too, to give up his belief in Frau Berchta, and to his dying day declared that it was she and none other whom Frau Walpurga had seen that memorable Christmas Eve. 

    Whether it was after all Frau Berchta, or whether the monk was right in saying that it was the Virgin Mary, I cannot tell you, but this I know: the bush, that sprang at her command from beneath the snow, whose blossoms brought healing to little Hilda, and much joy to her mother, bore seed and multiplied greatly, until now it may be found in every hilly place. Many people say that its flowers still possess marvellous healing powers and tell of many wonderful cures that they have worked. 

    © 2016 Charlotte Mason Institute

  • 19 Nov 2016 2:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I have two fledgling birds about to fly the nest. And I am so proud. We have worked hard, failed big, learned much and lived well. Their big adventure is no longer waiting on the horizon, it is now. And they are going to continue to do beautifully. I am confident.

    Of course, all that means my role is changing; as it has been since the day they were born. I remember back to when I was their only sustenance. Little by little, they grew and looked outward. I set the table for them. They learned to feed themselves, heaping their plates full with great ideas. I was their companion and guide. I will always be that. But, soon a host of other influences and activities will attract their attention and fill most of their moments.

    And they will fly. 

    This is just as it should be. 

    Even so, it is stretching. And a little scary. And teary.

    When I look at these men, I remember my babies. I know them so well. 

    How will we navigate these unfamiliar waters? 

    In some ways, it feels rather similar to what we’re experiencing as a nation. Things are about to change. It feels a little unsettling because we don’t know how it will go. But we love our country. We’ve come so far. We have worked hard, failed big, learned much and lived well. Our big adventure is no longer waiting on the horizon, it is now. And we are fully capable of doing beautifully. I am confident. 

    In order to secure success, there are some things we must not forget. Nations and sons alike. 

    So today, with much to sum up in just a few words, I’ve chosen these:

    To my Sons (and Fellow Citizens):

    Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all you do be done in love.  1 Corinthians 16:13-14

    Be watchful.

    Look for your Savior to save you every. single. day.

    Stay awake - watch and pray.

    Be on your guard to resist the flesh and the prowling devil that would devour.

    Look for opportunities to do right, to be kind and to serve.

    Stand firm in the faith. 

    Hold fast to the One at whose word even the wind and the sea obey.

    Obey that voice, and love it, for He is your life and length of days.*

    Strive side by side with one mind.* Remember freedom.*

    Do not waver.

    Act like men, be strong.

    Here is an idea that may benefit from some expansion. When you think strong, what do you think of? You may at first envision biceps and sit-ups and being the winning buck of any contest. You are young men, after all.* But is that what it is to act like men? To be strong?

    First of all, I can generously and safely assume the apostle is not being sexist because I know that God is not; and Paul is speaking for God here. He is applying to our knowledge of the nature of things and what we tend to think of (or at least traditionally thought) when we think of the role of men. Neither is he speaking of bodily strength only, which has some value. He is asking men, who are image-bearers, to be like God; to be strong.* The strong bear with the weak* and overcome evil. In this sense, the same goes for women also.

    Sons of my heart and fellow Americans, it requires great courage, with a steady strength of character and of will, to remain watchful, full of faith, strong and in all things loving. This is my expectation for you. To be. To act. Let these be characteristic of all your dealings - as under authority, with your King, with yourself, with your closest ones and with the world at large. 

    Be strong and of good courage. You are never alone.*

    Let all you do be done in love.

    In all that you do, love. Rather a sweeping statement, no? A charge with such magnitude and scope will require special attention and much care. We were made to love, but we have been bent and broken by sin. When we want to do right, evil lies close at hand.* We have made and will make mistakes, but love seeks to covers offenses and in so doing, a multitude of sins.* If we live by the Spirit, let’s walk with Him in love. We can do nothing otherwise.*

    Love; because even if I am ever watchful and faithful and strong but have not love… I am nothing, neither gain anything. Love generously, deeply, sympathetically, courageously and gladly. It is the greatest of all. While it will often require the momentary pain of self-denial, an inconvenient cross-bearing or perhaps long-suffering, it is a life-saving and worthy endeavor in which you and I can expect full success.

    But how good and pleasant it is to know that at the heart of all things is our God, who wills the good and right behaviour of every creature in His universe, and who enables us all for right doing, for that fulfilling of His law in which all things work together for good! Our little lives are no longer small and poor when we think of the great things of the world. They are a necessary part of the great whole, ordered under law, fulfilling His will, and singing as the morning stars in the gladness of obedience.     Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 124.

    The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.*


    A loving mother

    P.S. May I make a reading recommendation for all Sons and Citizens in these turbulant days? Love really is the greatest of all. It is what the world needs more than ever. Our knowledge and experience of love began with God and it falls to us to continue to reflect this to the world. In these days, while the love of many will continue to grow cold, as a body, we are to continue to grow, being built up in love. In addition to the Bible texts that hold love on high, Charlotte Mason has written such sweet words of help in her book, Ourselves. I have found much consolation and conviction, over the past several weeks, especially in regard to the recent political climate, in Part III, The House of Heart, Lords of the Heart: Love (Chapters I - XI): The Ways of Love and Love’s Lords in Waiting: Pity, Benevolence, Sympathy, Kindness, Generosity, Gratitude, Courage, Loyalty, Humility, Gladness.

    Have you ever thrown a stone into the water and watched the circles about it spread? As a matter of fact, they spread to the very shores of the pond or lake or sea into which you have thrown the stone; more, they affect the land on the further side. But those distant circles become so faint that they are imperceptible, while those nearest the point where you have thrown in the stone are clearly marked. So it is with our Love. It is as if, in the first place, our home were the stone thrown in to move our being; and from that central point the circle of our love widens until it embraces all men.   Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 82.

    *1 Jn 2:14, Deut 30:20, Galatians 5:1, Phil 1:27, Eph 6:10, Rom 15:1, Deut 31:6, Rom 7:21, Pv 10:12 & 1 Pet 4:8, John 15:5, 1 Corinthians 16:23-24

    Amy Tuttle blogs at  http://fisheracademy.blogspot.com.

    © 2016 Amy Tuttle

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

    I didn't plan to be reading Richard III during this election season.  But, since we're here, it's hard not to draw parallels and comparisons to the current political climate. Richard is a master of spin.  Shakespeare presents this amazing ability of Richard's and we can hardly believe it ourselves -- how does he do this?  We watch as Richard woos Lady Anne after murdering her father-in-law and husband.  How does he get people to buy into his schemes?  Such a fascinating lesson for all of us, I think. And we're only on Act II. It's interesting to ask the students what they think of Richard and to hear their opinions as they watch the crazy spin of the current candidates.

    Well-thought-out opinions are a major theme in a Mason education.  This whole process produces discerning, informed, and humble citizens which are rather important in any day and age.  I remember the first time I read that she thought having a just opinion was akin to saving a life.  She said, "The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he helped to save a life."  The culture today doesn't reflect this sentiment very well with anyone and everyone spouting off how they feel or what they think about any given situation.

    Voting is a right.  But before that comes our duty to work out just opinions. This is where the real work lies.

    In Charlotte Mason’s fabulous chapter "Opinions: Justice in Thought," you will find an outline* for forming opinions which I have found helpful to think through when asked my opinion by others or when talking to my children.  It is especially helpful if one of them throws out strong opinions (as teenagers are wont to do) that aren't solidly based.

    First of all, you have to have previously thought about the subject and collected some knowledge about it.

    Second, it really needs to be our own opinion and not the repeating of a Facebook meme or some other person's popular article.

    Third, we need to at least try hard to look at it objectively. 

    Whew.  That sounds like a lot of work and it is. But whether talking politics, personal relationships, or even working through matters of faith, we need to have those well-thought-out opinions.  It's a critical skill we need, as well as our children.

    Here are Mason’s own words on the subject:

    *An Opinion Worth Having

    We may gather three rules, then, as to an opinion that is worth the having. We must have thought about the subject and know something about it, as a gardener does about the weather; it must be our own opinion, and not caught up as a parrot catches up its phrases; and lastly, it must be disinterested, that is, it must not be influenced by our inclination. (Ourselves, Book II, page 180)

    Nancy Kelly writes about her experiences living and teaching the Charlotte Mason philosophy and method at her blog, Sage Parnassus.

    © 2016 by Nancy Kelly

  • 22 Oct 2016 8:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In the introduction of An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason describes her journey of establishing a working philosophy of education. She provides the reader a narrative of the circumstances, thinkers, and writings that led to the educational principles that she is now known for. She could have just solely put forth the conclusions she arrived at, but she chose to present a narrative account and include the reader in her thought processes, her observations, and her questions. She chose to not just tell us, but to show us.  

    Narrative can simply be defined as a real or fictional story that has a sequenced order of events and includes setting, action or plot and character.  The narrative form invites the reader inside the story where one can weave in and out as both a spectator and a participant. Narrative is universal and emerges early in the communicative development of children. Narrative is also a tool that helps us make sense of the world, make sense of our experiences, and make sense of others.

    In the Bible, we are not presented with a theological outline of who God is and a list of dos and don’ts we should live by. Narrative is the dominant form of the Bible as evidenced by the use of stories, poetry, visions and letters.  Leland Ryken asserts that the Bible joins two characteristics of narrative that have strong appeal to humans. These characteristics are realism that appeals to our sense of reason and mystery that appeals to our imagination. He asserts, “The stories of the Bible nourish our need for both down-to-earth reality and the more-than-earthly . . . .  Truth is more than propositional, and the Bible implicitly acknowledges this by giving us truth partly in a literary medium” (1992, p.39).  The narratives of the Bible allow us to imaginatively participate and experience truth at a level that engages both our minds and our hearts.

     Mason understood the appeal that narratives have to children. She writes, “As for the question of literary form, many circumstances and considerations which it would take too long to describe brought me to perceive that delight in literary form is native to us all until we are ‘educated’ out of it” (1925/2015, p.13). Her thoughts about the power of narratives are echoed in the writings of many modern writers who view narratives as an essential way of understanding reality and our experiences as humans. One of those modern writers was Arthur Applebee who spent years studying the way children of different ages understand the elements and structures of stories. He views children’s lack of ability to sort out what is real versus what is make-believe as an asset and not something to fret about. Applebee writes,  “The stories they hear help them to acquire expectations about what the world is like—its vocabulary and syntax as well as its people and places—without the distracting pressure of separating the real from the make-believe. And though they will eventually learn that some of this world is only fiction, it is specific characters and specific events which will be rejected; the recurrent patterns of value, the stable expectations about the roles and relationships which are part of their culture, will remain” (1978, p. 52).

    Mason used narratives for both her curriculum (living books) and her instruction (narration). In Mason’s time, many educationalists promoted a theory of education designed to exercise the mind, as if it was a muscle, by promoting a school culture of monotonous drills, harsh discipline and mindless verbatim recitation. While others in her day were advocating for mental gymnastics that would produce the faculties of the mind, Mason knew that children’s minds had all they needed  (attention, imagination, curiosity, reflection) and our goal as teachers was to provide the proper nourishment to feed it.

    In a Parent’s Review article, Miss Pennethorne also comments about the depth that narratives provide as opposed to simply filling children’s minds with facts.  She writes, “We want the children to learn their history lessons, not ‘William the Conqueror, 1066,’ but God’s dealings with humanity, the sequence of cause and effect; we want to train their moral judgment, that they may put the motive before the deed, nor dub all men with neat little labels of good or bad. In short, we want them to see peering out through the mists of long past times ‘the purpose that is purposed upon the earth,’ so that they may bear their part in forwarding, and not retarding, the ultimate development of God’s world” (1899, p. 549).

    Narratives are part of every subject even if the material is not presented in a narrative manner. Behind every scientific principle or mathematical theorem is an interesting story.  Mason writes, “How interesting arithmetic and geometry might be if we gave a short history of their principal theorems; if the child were mentally present at the labours of Pythagoras, a Plato, a Euclid. Great theories, instead of being lifeless and anonymous abstractions, would become human, living truths, each with its own history, like a statue by Michelangelo, or like a painting by Raphael” (1989b,p. 128). These discoveries were not made in a vacuum and knowing the context, the culture and the worldview of historical figures may illuminate one’s understanding and appreciation for their contribution.

     Mason observed that children had a proclivity to tell narratives and therefore used narration as an instructional tool where children tell back what they have read or heard allowing room for originality, interpretation and opinion.  “Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education” (1989a, p. 231).

      Facts such as “William the Conqueror 1066” may count as cultural literacy to some, but that statement has a starting point and an ending point. It does not appeal to the emotions, or allow a student to connect to the stories that are beyond that statement.  Only by getting to the narratives can one enter the story that comes before that statement, and the story that follows that statement. In fact, without the story, there is nothing to think about or allow us to internalize or wonder about. Narratives allow everyone an entry point into the story. Everyone is coming to the story with different background knowledge, different experiences and different levels of understanding. It is through narratives that people come to define who they are and what kind of person they want to be. A transmission model of education is satisfied with inputting knowledge into children’s minds and viewing events as an end result. But if we practice the art of standing aside, we allow the students to form their opinions of the material from the place where they are. Each individual has an opportunity to engage with the narrative at their level by offering up their own narration that allows their mind to deal with the knowledge through their own self-effort.

    Narratives can also be found outside of the living books that we read. Narratives are found in the folk songs and hymns we sing, the story portrayed through a composer’s music, and the narrative depicted in the paintings we observe.   The notebooks that are vital to a Mason education such as a commonplace book, book of centuries and nature journal can also contain a narrative of the ideas that impacted a child throughout his school years. Narratives are found in nature as we follow the seasons of the year or even in our own personal experiences in nature as we build relationships with living things.  

    The other week, our homeschool community group was hiking in a local forest preserve with our nature journals in tow. As we came to an area with a fallen tree, the children threw off their backpacks and started crawling along the massive trunk like a row of marching ants.  When a younger child fell, my son who was right behind him lost his footing as well. To avoid the younger child, my son rolled into a patch of Greater Burdock.  When he got up he realized he was covered in burrs from head to toe.  He didn’t have to look for something to paint that day, the object found him. Now every time he looks at that painting in his journal, that humorous story of picking burrs out of his hair and clothing will come to mind and create a memory of his time in nature. These positive memories in nature will contribute to his relationship with nature and hopefully be a foundation of a lifetime of outside adventures.

    Narratives can help scaffold our learning. Narratives include more descriptive figures of speech such as image, metaphor and simile which can help us understand new ideas and establish similarity between two concepts.  Psalm 119:105 reads, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Those metaphors create images in our minds and help the abstract concepts to become more understandable and experiential. Ryken asserts these figures of speech “possess arresting strangeness that both captures a reader’s initial attention and makes a statement memorable (1986, p.168). In the Storybook of Science, Jean-Henri Fabre, uses cows, udders, milk, and pastures as a metaphors to explain how ants get their nourishment from the tubes of plant-lice and even create a sort of enclosure for them to be contained. By using familiar concepts that children would understand, Fabre allows the children to make images and transfer their knowledge of cows providing milk to man to the new concept of plant-lice providing sweet liquid to ants.

    The narratives that our children encounter as well as the narratives they tell will help shape their thoughts, their expectations and the choices they make. Narratives for both curriculum and instruction are a wonderful meaning-making tool that will affect children’s lives way beyond their school years.


    Applebee, A. (1978). A child’s story of concept. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

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

    Mason, C. M. (2015).  An essay towards a philosophy of education. Pennsylvania: Riverbend Press. (Original work published in 1925).

    Pennethorne, R.A. (1899). P.N.E.U. principles as illustrated by teaching.
    The Parent’s Review, 10, 545-555.

    Ryken, Leland. (1992) Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

  • 08 Oct 2016 2:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This is the second of the articles written by Henrietta Franklin for the Parents’ Review on the home education of children.   Henrietta Franklin was the Organizing Secretary of the Parents' National Educational Union.

    This article can be found in Volume XX, Page  20. of the Parents' Review.  The first article in this series was posted here on 13 August 2016.

    Class Ib—Children averaging from seven and a half to nine. Here the same timetable is used, but the reading lessons are less frequent, and are taken out of such books as Old Tales from British History, Tales from Westminster Abbey, Lambs Tales from Shakespeare, The Heroes of Asgard. 

    In the various other subjects more difficult work is taken. In geography the children are led up from the plan of the schoolroom and the immediate environs of the house to the use of a map. When the child can picture to himself the physical features of a country and the kind of life led in it, and when he knows how to use a map, he has pretty well mastered the knowledge of this subject, which will lead him to further study, and we need not quarrel with the Public Schools for not giving definite instruction in geography. The doors have been opened in the earlier days, and the habits of finding out, of learning, and of work formed, we can leave the rest to life. What about the practical, everyday knowledge of capes, bays, and ports, of exports and imports that we are supposed to need? I contend that if a child has learnt to use a map, and if his lessons up to thirteen and fourteen help him to picture the physical features of a country, he would make a better list of the necessary imports and exports, etc., than the child who had directly committed these to memory.

    Class II.—Children averaging nine to eleven. (Probably at ten boys would be sent to an ordinary Preparatory School.) 

    Here the new subjects are Latin, English Grammar, French History, and Composition, whilst the other subjects naturally increase in difficulty.

    As regards Latin, alterations in the timetable may be needed to suit individual cases. The boy who goes to a Preparatory School at ten may be required to know some Latin, but there is an increasing number of schoolmasters who prefer that no Latin shall be taught till the boys come to them at ten or even eleven. Even those who looked with apprehension on the “backward” boy, and feared that the few remaining years before he would have to enter a Public School would be insufficient to teach him what was required, have been induced to confess that their fears were unfounded. The intelligent, well-trained child, with good habits of work and keen interest therein, will learn quickly and thoroughly, and the preparatory schoolmaster, being freed from the onerous task of teaching how to learn, can look for steady and satisfactory progress. 

    English grammar is taught with the sentence as a basis, and not by commencing with separate words. 

    Periods of French history contemporaneous with the period of English history—form material for reading lessons. The timetable does not allow of definite instruction in universal history, but in this way and by the careful use of charts, children can gain an intelligent view of the history of the world and the interlacing of events. Such books as Southey's Life of Nelson, With Kitchener to Khartoum, The Monk of Fife, etc. (according to the period), would be the kind of books recommended for outside reading to the children in this class. In the “Children’s Hour” they might be introduced to Scott’s, C. Kingsley’s, and Bulwer Lytton’s novels, and Shakespeare’s plays, judiciously chosen, which will add interest to their history lessons. 

    English History, Roman and Greek History, In the English History lessons use is made of chronicles (Bede’s Froissart, Freeman’s Old English History), and the children are encouraged to use their books themselves. The lessons are taken as much as possible from a contemporary standpoint, the teacher choosing such passages as will leave with the children a true and just idea of the spirit of the times.  “We want the children’s imagination to be kindled by vivid pictures of the times; we want them to learn God’s dealings with humanity, the sequence of cause and effect, and to train their moral judgment. Dates need not be omitted, and are welcomed as fixing the period dealt within the world’s history. In Plutarch’s Greek and Roman Lives we find a storehouse of ideas, and great examples of man’s power for good or evil in moulding the world.” Moreover, by making use of a good translation (North’s for example), the children’s literary sense is fostered. 

    In their Geography lessons the children in this class make memory maps and otherwise are taken further afield. 

    Dictation is now definitely commenced, though the ground has been previously prepared for it. Here the object aimed at is to let the child get a correct picture of the word, and the passages to be dictated (not words without their context) are therefore carefully prepared, so that no misspelt word shall leave its impress on the brain. 

    Composition also now appears in the timetable, but unless the child writes with very great facility, it should still take the form of narrating the substance of books read or lessons received, varied occasionally by an original story, so that the habit of imagining and expressing is not lost through want of exercise. No definite teaching of Composition is advocated in the School. 

    In Handwork either cardboard slöjd, wood slöjd, or bent ironwork is taken. Where it is possible they attend to their gardens with a certain amount of definite help and instruction. Gardening can be made a medium of much educational training, but the interest in it, except in special cases, is lost through the absence of a little judicious encouragement and supervision. 

    And now the boy will probably leave the home schoolroom for the Preparatory School, either day or boarding, and as I am dealing with the early training of children,, I will not follow the timetables of the home schoolroom through Classes III (eleven to fourteen or fifteen) and IV (fourteen to sixteen or seventeen). Must the entrance to the Preparatory School mean the abandonment of many of these subjects, and the teaching on quite other lines? I do not believe that this is in any way necessary. I have not been dealing with any special system nor advocating any special fad. I have tried to lay down certain more or less accepted educational principles, and have tried to show how these should be carried out from infancy up to the home school room, and thence up to the Preparatory School. These principles are briefly the furnishing of the mind with living ideas on which to grow and develop, instead of trusting to the memory to assimilate only a daily pabulum of facts; the offering of opportunity to the mind to exercise itself in various directions, the formation of good habits which will go towards the building up of character, and the belief in the intrinsic interest to furnish the necessary stimulus for learning.

    Many Preparatory Schoolmasters are shortening the hours of work, and are including in their curriculum nature lore, handicrafts, art teaching, and better methods of language teaching. Some only are making use of the books recommended in the programmes of the Parents’ Union School and enrolling themselves on the P.N.E.U. School Register (2). That the reform is not more rapid, is, I believe, due to the fact that such methods of teaching are not calculated to inspire confidence in the parents, who may not have had the opportunity of studying educational problems. More showy and more direct results are often demanded, and hence the true educationalist is hampered. 

    We cannot, moreover, hope for satisfactory results in the four years, which the boys usually spend at their Preparatory School, unless the ground has been well prepared, and not in a slovenly, amateurish manner. Just as the best teachers are required in the bottom of the school, so parents must prepare themselves for the training of character, the formation of habits, and the inspiration of ideas, and must be willing to seek out and to pay adequately nurses and governesses who are trained to cope with the real needs of the children. We have almost forgotten the days when through ignorance of the laws of health the children's bodies were under-nourished and otherwise neglected. We may hope that the days are also rapidly passing away when “lessons at home with a governess” means mind and soul starvation. With reform in the foundation we may hope for some reform and progress all the way up the educational ladder. 

    It has been pointed out by more than one schoolmaster that the continued setting of home lessons, to be done in the evening hours when the brain should be at rest, is, to a great extent, due to the parents. When parents realize the importance of giving the children leisure and growing time, when they assist the masters of day schools in the correlation of home and school, when they prove by their early training of the children that they know true educational principles, then a public opinion of parents will have been formed which will lead to true co-operation between school and home. There are no better friends to the cause of the Parents' Union and the Parents' Union School than the public schoolmasters, who are more and more appreciating the work done and are more and more asking for the intelligent co-operation of parents. 

    N.B.  For books and timetables now in use in the Parents’ Union School see current programmes of work and timetable for the five classes.

    1. Reprinted from Vol. VI of “Special Reports on Educational Subjects,” issued by the Board of Education.  Reprints of this article can be had, price 3d., from the P.N.E.U. Office, 26, Victoria Street, S.W.

    2. For particulars of the Parents’ Union School apply to Miss Mason, House of Education, Ambleside.

    ©  2016 Charlotte Mason Institute

  • 24 Sep 2016 4:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For some time now I have been reading the blog posts of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  Rabbi Sacks stepped down as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth in 2013.  He lives in the UK.  You can learn more about him at this link.  His recent blog post on The Greatness of Humility has echoes of Charlotte Mason's views on humility.  I thought the Mason community would enjoy hearing the same ideas from a different writer.  CMI republishes it here with permission.


    Carroll Smith

    At a dinner to celebrate the work of a communal leader, the guest speaker paid tribute to his many qualities: his dedication, hard work and foresight. As he sat down the leader leaned over and said, “You forget to mention one thing.” “What was that?” asked the speaker. The leader replied, “My humility.”

    Quite so. Great leaders have many qualities, but humility is usually not one of them. With rare exceptions they tend to be ambitious, with a high measure of self regard. They expect to be obeyed, honoured, respected, even feared. They may wear their superiority effortlessly – Eleanor Roosevelt called this “wearing an invisible crown” – but there is a difference between this and humility.

    This makes one provision in our parsha unexpected and powerful. The Torah is speaking about a king. Knowing, as Lord Acton put it, that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, it specifies three temptations to which a king in ancient times was exposed. A king, it says, should not accumulate many horses or wives or wealth – the three traps into which, centuries later, King Solomon eventually fell.

    Then it adds:

    When [the king] is established on his royal throne, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this Torah … It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to be in awe of the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not feel superior to his brethren or turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time in the midst of Israel. (Deut. 17:18-20)

    If a king, whom all are bound to honour, is commanded to be humble – “not feel superior to his brethren” –  how much more so the rest of us. Moses, the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had, was “very humble, more so than anyone on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). Was it that he was great because he was humble, or humble because he was great? Either way, as R. Johanan said of God himself, “Wherever you find his greatness there you find his humility.”1

    This is one of the genuine revolutions Judaism brought about in the history of spirituality. The idea that a king in the ancient world should be humble would have seemed farcical. We can still today see, in the ruins and relics of Mesopotamia and Egypt, an almost endless series of vanity projects created by rulers in honour of themselves. Ramses II had four statues of himself and two of Queen Nefertiti placed on the front of the Temple at Abu Simbel. At 33 feet high, they are almost twice the height of Lincoln’s statue in Washington.

    Aristotle would not have understood the idea that humility is a virtue. For him the megalopsychos, the great-souled man, was an aristocrat, conscious of his superiority to the mass of humankind. Humility, along with obedience, servitude and self-abasement, was for the lower orders, those who had been born not to rule but to be ruled. The idea that a king should be humble was a radically new idea introduced by Judaism and later adopted by Christianity.

    This is a clear example of how spirituality makes a difference to the way we act, feel and think. Believing that there is a God in whose presence we stand means that we are not the centre of our world. God is. “I am dust and ashes,” said Abraham, the father of faith. “Who am I?” said Moses, the greatest of the prophets. This did not render them servile or sycophantic. It was precisely at the moment Abraham called himself dust and ashes that he challenged God on the justice of His proposed punishment of Sodom and the cities of the plain. It was Moses, the humblest of men, who urged God to forgive the people, and if not, “Blot me out of the book You have written.” These were among the boldest spirits humanity has ever produced.

    There is a fundamental difference between two words in Hebrew: anivut, “humility”, and shiflut, “self-abasement”. So different are they that Maimonides defined humility as the middle path between shiflut and pride.2 Humility is not low self-regard. That is shiflut. Humility means that you are secure enough not to need to be reassured by others. It means that you don’t feel you have to prove yourself by showing that you are cleverer, smarter, more gifted or successful than others. You are secure because you live in God’s love. He has faith in you even if you do not. You do not need to compare yourself to others. You have your task, they have theirs, and that leads you to co-operate, not compete.

    This means that you can see other people and value them for what they are. They are not just a series of mirrors at which you look only to see your own reflection. Secure in yourself you can value others. Confident in your identity you can value the people not like you. Humility is the self turned outward. It is the understanding that “It’s not about you.”

    Already in 1979 the late Christopher Lasch published a book entitled The Culture of Narcissism, subtitled, American life in an age of diminished expectations. It was a prophetic work. In it he argued that the breakdown of family, community and faith had left us fundamentally insecure, deprived of the traditional supports of identity and worth. He did not live to see the age of the selfie, the Facebook profile, designer labels worn on the outside, and the many other forms of “advertisements for myself”, but he would not have been surprised. Narcissism, he argued, is a form of insecurity, needing constant reassurance and regular injections of self-esteem. It is, quite simply, not the best way to live.

    I sometimes think that narcissism and the loss of religious faith go hand in hand. When we lose faith in God, what is left at the centre of consciousness is the self. It is no coincidence that the greatest of modern atheists, Nietzsche, was the man who saw humility as a vice, not a virtue. He described it as the revenge of the weak against the strong. Nor is it accidental that one of his last works was entitled, “Why I am So Clever.”3 Shortly after writing it he descended into the madness that enveloped him for the last eleven years of his life.

    You do not have to be religious to understand the importance of humility. In 2014 the Harvard Business Review published the results of a survey that showed that “The best leaders are humble leaders.”4 They learn from criticism. They are confident enough to empower others and praise their contributions. They take personal risks for the sake of the greater good. They inspire loyalty and strong team spirit. And what applies to leaders applies to each of us as marriage partners, parents, fellow-workers, members of communities and friends.

    One of the most humble people I ever met was the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. There was nothing self-abasing about him. He carried himself with quiet dignity. He was self-confident and had an almost regal bearing. But when you were alone with him, he made you feel you were the most important person in the room. It was an extraordinary gift. It was “royalty without a crown.” It was “greatness in plain clothes.” It taught me that humility is not thinking you are small. It is thinking that other people have greatness within them.

    Ezra Taft Benson said that “pride is concerned with who is right; humility is concerned with what is right.” To serve God in love, said Maimonides, is to do what is truly right because it is truly right and for no other reason.5 Love is selfless. Forgiveness is selfless. So is altruism. When we place the self at the centre of our universe, we eventually turn everyone and everything into a means to our ends. That diminishes them, which diminishes us. Humility means living by the light of that-which-is-greater-than-me. When God is at the centre of our lives, we open ourselves up to the glory of creation and the beauty of other people. The smaller the self, the wider the radius of our world.

    Pesikta Zutrata, Ekev.

    2  Maimonides, Eight Chapters, ch. 4; Commentary to Avot, 4:4. In Hilkhot Teshuvah 9:1, he defines shiflut as the opposite of malkhut, sovereignty.

    3  Part of the work published as Ecce Homo.

    4  Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib, ‘The Best Leaders are Humble Leaders’, Harvard Business Review, 12 May 2014.

    5  Maimonides, Hilkhot Teshuva 10:2.

    To read more from Rabbi Sacks please visit www.rabbisacks.org. You can also follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

  • 17 Sep 2016 1:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Lady Isabel Margesson was known as Lady for good reason. She was the daughter of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, and in late Victorian England, she was not one to be trifled with. Lady Isabel was keen to educate her children in the most enlightened way possible, so she became conversant with the best ideas in education, old and new. When she discovered Charlotte Mason’s Parents’ National Educational Union (P.N.E.U.), she thought she had found a group of like-minded individuals. She thought she had found a cause worthy of her time, energy, and support.

    But had Lady Isabel really found what she was looking for? What did the P.N.E.U. really stand for, anyway? In June of 1892, Mason had published an article in the Parents’ Review answering that question. This article, entitled “P.N.E.U. Philosophy,” is where Mason first coined and described the term “The Great Recognition.” This groundbreaking article was later republished as Chapter 22 of Parents and Children under the title “A Catechism Of Educational Theory.” This article is the earliest definitive expression of Mason’s full theory of education. But Lady Isabel apparently either did not read Mason’s “P.N.E.U. Philosophy,” or she did not consider it to be definitive. Instead, Lady Isabel wrote up her own description of the P.N.E.U. she thought she had joined. In her zeal, she published her write-up in a pamphlet entitled “What is the Parents’ National Educational Union?”

    A comparison of Lady Isabel’s document to Mason’s document shows that the two women had quite different understandings of P.N.E.U philosophy. In what ways were their understandings different? Stay tuned — I will explain the most important difference at the end of this article. (Hint: Lady Isabel’s pamphlet includes an important reference to Plato.) First, however, I will trace the exciting story of how Lady Isabel's pamphlet set in motion division over unity.

    The story begins with the P.N.E.U.’s Executive Committee. This was an exclusive and elite set of P.N.E.U leaders who met on a monthly basis to govern and direct the Union. The most famous member of the Executive Committee was the P.N.E.U. founder herself, Miss Charlotte Mason. However, whether by virtue of class, energy, talent, or a combination of the three, Lady Isabel also managed to join the Executive Committee. She attended her first meeting on December 9, 1892.

    Less than a year after Lady Isabel joined the Executive Committee, Mason contracted some kind of illness. Due to her health, Mason was unable to attend the December 18, 1893 meeting. With all due Victorian courtesy, the Executive Committee kindly “desired the Sec[retary] to express to Miss Mason their regret at learning of her indisposition and their wishes for her speedy recovery.” In Mason’s absence, the Executive Committee discussed Lady Isabel’s pamphlet — the one entitled “What is the Parents’ National Educational Union?” The minutes of the meeting record the surprisingly enthusiastic outcome of their discussion:

    The Sec[retary] was desired to convey to Miss Mason the opinion of the Com[mittee] that Lady Isabel Margesson’s pamphlet ‘What is the P.N.E.U.’ should appear in the Parents’ Review in place of an adv[ertisement] which now appears on the front page.

    So they wanted Mason’s approval to have Lady Isabel’s pamphlet appear in the opening pages of each issue of the Parents’ Review . . . .   How would Mason respond to such a request? Did Mason support what was in the pamphlet? Did the pamphlet accurately convey “P.N.E.U. Philosophy”? Did it accurately describe the organization that Mason founded?

    The Executive Committee would have to wait in suspense for an answer. Mason had chosen a typical Victorian remedy for her “indisposition”:  travel. Mason had gone off to Italy. Sometime in the winter or early spring of 1894, she found herself in the Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. With her 1892 “Great Recognition” fresh in her mind, Mason was surprised and gratified to discover a fresco that seemed to illustrate a key element of the truth she had uncovered. It was a momentous event in the history of Mason’s theory of education. But it didn’t address the immediate question of Lady Isabel’s pamphlet.

    When the Executive Committee met four months later on April 18, 1894, Mason was apparently still in Italy. The Executive Committee was getting impatient, and Lady Isabel’s pamphlet was discussed again (now recast as a leaflet). Lady Isabel seemed to have a sense of urgency. The minutes summarize her remarks and the resulting action:

    The draft of proposed new leaflet for distribution & advertisement in Parents Review was submitted, Lady Isabel Margesson suggesting that some more definite statement of principles was necessary to meet such objections as had been made at Cardiff & elsewhere — The leaflet was read aloud & passed & the Secretary instructed to send it to the printer forthwith.

    So Lady Isabel thought that “some more definite statement of principles was necessary.” Had she not read Mason’s “P.N.E.U. Philosophy”? It would be hard to imagine a more definite statement than that! But again, the Executive Committee made a resolution. This time, however, the Secretary was not instructed to send Lady Isabel’s leaflet to Mason. This time the Secretary was instructed to send it to the printer for inclusion in the Parents’ Review!

    In the month of May, Mason (apparently) returned from Italy and had a heart-to-heart with Lady Isabel. This discussion made it absolutely clear to Mason that the two of them had incompatible views of P.N.E.U. philosophy. Shockingly, however, Mason missed the next Executive Committee meeting, on June 6, 1894. Not surprisingly, Lady Isabel’s leaflet was discussed, but this time, the members of the Executive Committee knew Mason’s stance. In a classic example of Victorian understatement, the secretary reported on the committee’s discussion:

    The question of the recent advertisement in Parents' Review & Leaflet in latent circulation was brought up & the paragraph therein dealing with the ‘Objects’ of the P.N.E.U. was discussed with some warmth & finally adjourned for decision by a future Committee, the Secretary being instructed to give due notice of the same.

    Mason acted upon this “due notice.” Less than three weeks later, on June 24, 1894, the Executive Committee met again. This time Mason was present. She brought along a new friend — Henrietta Franklin, who joined the Executive Committee on June 8. This was Franklin’s first meeting. The chairman of the Committee, Dr. Albert Schofield, had also acted upon this “due notice.” He used the three-week window to obtain legal advice. The minutes describe what happened at the meeting:

    Dr. Schofield then read a legal opinion he had received on the point as to how far this Executive Committee had powers to alter the Rule 3 as stated in the published Report, & giving it that the Executive had no such power, & that therefore the discussion of the question was out of order.

    Dr. Schofield expressed the opinion that the Executive Committee did not have the authority to approve of Lady Isabel’s leaflet. In light of the legal opinion, Dr. Schofield made a motion that Lady Isabel’s leaflet be withdrawn from circulation. His motion was seconded by none other than Henrietta Franklin. A vote was taken...

    . . . regarding this Leaflet, which is to be withdrawn from circulation.’ This was put to the meeting & lost by a minority of one vote.

    Dr. Schofield’s motion lost by a single vote! The majority believed that Lady Isabel’s leaflet made claims that were perfectly compatible with P.NE.U. Philosophy. According to the majority, this leaflet was nothing to divide over.

    Empowered by this victory, Mr. A.F. Shand put forth his own motion. He moved that Lady Isabel’s leaflet be broadened:

    Mr. Margesson “That after the names Pestalozzi, Herbert Spencer & Froebel, the words be added ‘and other educational philosophers.”    

    Shand’s motion was seconded by Lady Isabel’s husband (!) Mr. Margesson. Now Shand’s motion went up for voting:

    “Mr. Shand’s amendment was then put & carried by a majority of 9 to 6.”

    Shane’s motion won! The Executive Committee had determined that the P.N.E.U. stood for a broad arc of educational tradition that also encompassed Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827), Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), and other educational philosophers.

    Mason lost. So what? Did it really matter? With so many problems in Victorian education, why nitpick? Lady Isabel had written that all these educational philosophers recognized “that as a child’s nature is threefold: physical, intellectual, and ethical, so all true education must deal with those three sides of his nature, to the exclusion of none.” Why not unite with other energetic educationalists concerned about educating the whole child? Why not identify with all life-giving educational philosophers? Perhaps now was the time for Mason to show her ecumenical colors and to make it clear to the world that she embraced a broad tradition of educational theory.

    Or perhaps not. Less than three weeks after losing her vote, Mason took dramatic, stunning, courageous, and unilateral action. On July 9, 1894 Mason circulated a new leaflet. In her leaflet she included legal testimony from an attorney:

    She made it clear what P.N.E.U. Philosophy is really about. It is not about some broad tradition that enlightened educational philosophers have known from ancient times. It is not a broad conglomeration of ideas that educate the whole child. Rather, it is something new. Brand new:

    Lady Isabel had said that “some more definitive statement of principles was necessary.” Mason vigorously denied this charge, doubtless recalling her own revolutionary article of June, 1892 which decisively outlined “P.N.E.U. Philosophy.” 

    After Mason circulated her dramatic leaflet, what was Lady Isabel to do? After all, Mason was the founder of the P.N.E.U and the originator of its ideals. . . .

    The Executive Committee met again, less than two weeks later, on July 18, 1894. For the second time in a row now, Mason was present. Also present was her new and committed ally, Mrs. Franklin. Dr. Schofield submitted a motion about Lady Isabel’s leaflet — essentially the same motion that had been defeated on June 24. This time his motion was seconded by Ada Ballin. And then he called for a vote. The minutes say the motion carried “nem con,” which means “without anyone in the group disagreeing.” What? No one disagreed? How could that be?

    This was put to the meeting without discussion & carried nem: con:
    Mr. Macneill [sic] then explained his feelings of those members of the Committee who had abstained from voting with regard to Miss Mason’s circular and tendered the resignations of his wife & himself, of Mr. & the Lady Isabel Margesson, Mr. Gurney . . . .

    The motion carried without disagreement because half of the Executive Committee resigned rather than vote. Immediately after the motion carried, Mr. McNeill indicated that he, the Margesson’s, and others were resigning from the P.N.E.U. He then read a prepared letter of resignation in which the group (Lady Isabel included) cited “serious difference of opinion.”

    One week later, on July 25, Lady Isabel prepared a written resignation letter. She left a sting, reiterating her April assertion that “some more definitive statement of principles was necessary.” She said Mason would have none of that. She said that Mason wanted “old vagueness . . . to prevail.”

    Miss Mason on the contrary desired the old vagueness still to prevail.

    But Mason did not want “vagueness” she wanted the crisp originality of her own P.N.E.U. philosophy. Ten years later, Mason was still reflecting on these words from Lady Isabel. In 1903, Mason took her original 1892 “P.N.E.U. Philosophy” and condensed it still further to a “Short Synopsis” — the famous twenty principles found in the opening pages of her volumes today. In a letter to Franklin, Mason described her twenty principles with a direct reference to the 1894 controversy:

    So it seems to me well to draw even an inadequate statement of what we teach and also it seems necessary that this teaching must be protected by the name of the originator, or everyone who speaks for P.N.E.U. has a right to say, ‘I think’ and call it, ‘P.N.E.U. Teaching’ and this must result in the ‘absolute vagueness’ we deprecate.

    By saying, “this teaching must be protected by the name of the originator,” Mason paved the way for future generations to refer to this philosophy as a “Charlotte Mason method.”

    Mason’s later testimony also indicates that her conflict with Lady Isabel was not her only struggle in the development and promotion of her theory of education. She wrote to Franklin on March 9, 1900, stating: 

    . . . remembering that I have had to fight every inch of the way we have come and that, though I am resting in much ease and content, chiefly because of that intellectual fealty that I have spoken of, I sit like Botticelli’s Fortitude, sword in [hand] . . .

    Mason’s reference to Botticelli’s “Fortitude” is particularly striking when we reflect on what she wrote about this painting in Ourselves:

    Fortitude by Sandro Botticelli

    “Botticelli's picture of Fortitude, and Ruskin's interpretation of it, are among the lessons which Conscience should get by heart. This ‘Fortitude’ is no colossal figure, standing stark, bristling with combative energy. Noble in stature, she yet sits, weary after long-sustained effort; wistful, too, as who should say, ‘How long?’ But, though resting, she is wary and alert, still grasping the unsheathed sword which lies across her knees. She is engaged in a warfare whose end is not within sight; but hers is not the joy of attack. She is weary indeed, yet neither sorry for herself nor pleased with herself; her regard is simple. She has the ‘single eye’ which looks upon the thing to be done, not upon herself as the doer — the thing to be borne, rather, for Fortitude suffers.”

    What was Mason’s battle that she would evoke such language? What was her “thing to be done” to which she looked with a “single eye”? Was it (as some have said), “her desire to be inspired and guided by the principles of the past”? Was it that she “went looking into the past and drew an older conception of education into the present”?

    To answer this question, I will finally reveal the important paragraph of Lady Isabel’s pamphlet. This is the paragraph that mentions Plato, and I believe it is key to understanding the claim of unity that ultimately divided the P.N.E.U.:

    “A reproach is leveled against the Parents’ Union that it claims to have made a discovery, and to call ‘new’ things that were known long ago! This is a misunderstanding. The so-called ‘New Education’ is only a recognition of the fact that as a child’s nature is threefold: physical, intellectual, and ethical, so all true education must deal with those three sides of his nature, to the exclusion of none. The ‘New Education’ further recognizes that without the understanding, supervision, and guidance of his parents, the child’s education will lack harmony and adaptability to its individual requirements. All this was, of course, understood by the gifted few, the wisest and best parents and teachers from Plato downwards. But now it is made known, so that those who run may read, so that none can plead ignorance as an excuse for not learning.”

    Lady Isabel said that what the P.N.E.U. propagated was not really new. It had always been “understood by the gifted few, the wisest and best parents and teachers from Plato downwards.” Lady Isabel saw an arc of enlightened educationalists beginning with Plato and continuing unbroken to the present. Lady Isabel’s concept is of a classical tradition of education beginning with Plato. Her concept sounds eerily similar to what we hear today from those who wish to submerge Mason’s theory of education into Christian Classical Education.

    But If Mason’s aim was unity with Plato and enlightened thinkers across the centuries, then she and Lady Isabel were unified in their aim. If Mason’s aim was unity with all who wished to educate the whole child, then she and Lady Isabel were unified in their aim. If Mason discovered principles that had been articulated before, then Mason and Lady Isabel were unified in their aim.

    Instead, Mason divided over unity. She divided because she had discovered a set of “principles not worked on before.” She divided because she had found something Plato did not have. She divided because she had found a Code of Education in the Gospels.

    © 2016 by Art Middlekauff

  • 27 Aug 2016 11:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This blog post is a continuation from the previous post by Art Middlekauff.

    2. The purpose of education

    Hicks (1981/1999) explains that in classical education, “. . . the end of education is not thinking; it is acting” (p. vi). The kind of acting that Hicks (1981/1999) has in mind is virtue: “the formation of virtue that is the highest end of education” (p. 99). However, Hicks follows the ancients in characterizing virtue not simply as moral excellence but rather a broader self-perfection. For example, Hicks (1981/1999) writes:

    . . . we mean by virtue all that the Greek aerte expresses: the life that knows and reveres, speculates and acts upon the Good, that loves and re-produces the beautiful, and that pursues excellence and moderation in all things. This vision of life dedicated to perfecting the self . . .  (p. 21)

    In summary, Hicks (1981/1999) notes that “The greatest part of education is instilling in the young the desire to be good” (p. 98).

    In contrast to this, Mason warns of the danger of centering on “the desire to be good.” She (1905) writes:

    One caution I should like to offer. A child’s whole notion of religion is ‘being good.’ It is well that he should know that being good is not his whole duty to God, although it is so much of it; that the relationship of love and personal service, which he owes as a child to his Father, as a subject to his King, is even more than the ‘being good’ which gives our Almighty Father such pleasure in His children. (p. 136)

    For Mason, the “greatest part of education” is not “being good.” Rather, it is cultivating a personal relationship with the living God. For Mason, this is foundational to human life and hence to education. She (1886/1989a) writes:

    The Essence of Christianity is Loyalty to a Person. – Christ our King. Here is a thought to unseal the fountains of love and loyalty, the treasures of faith and imagination, bound up in the child. The very essence of Christianity is personal loyalty, passionate loyalty to our adorable Chief. We have laid other foundations – regeneration, sacraments, justification, works, faith, the Bible – any one of which, however necessary to salvation in its due place and proportion may become a religion about Christ and without Christ. (p. 350)

    Indeed, Mason’s warning here seems to be almost directly aimed at the approach proposed by Hicks (1981/1999):

    Why should the student seek to perfect himself? It was the will of God that all men should model themselves after the person of Christ, the perfect work of art, God planted in the flesh. The love of this work of art, because it was incontestably both perfect and transcendent, empowered man to satisfy the demands of conscience, while relieving him through grade of the anxiety of conscience. (p. 95)

    Hicks characterizes Christ as a “work of art,” something to be imitated “to satisfy the demands of conscience,” but not a Person to be loved and adored.

    Indeed, for Mason, the aim of every element of education is to bring persons into more intimate knowledge of and relationship with God. She (1925/1954) writes:

    By degrees children get that knowledge of God which is the object of the final daily prayer in our beautiful liturgythe prayer of St Chrysostom ‘Grant us in this world knowledge of Thy truth,’ and all other knowledge which they obtain gathers round and illuminates this. (p. 64)

    3. The curriculum

    Hicks advocates a curriculum with a focus on depth rather than breadth. He (1981/1999) explains:

    . . . better to teach a few subjects thoroughly than to force a child to be a mediocrity in many subjects. . . . The school is not preeminently a place where the child is exposed to a kaleidoscope of new ideas, but where he is given the direction, the discipline, and the methods to master basic ideas and where art, science, and letters are studied with the intention of forming the student’s conscience and style. (pp. 127-128)

    Hicks (1981/1999) points to a classical precedent for this where “At Vittorino da Feller’s school in Mantua, for instance, the education of the youngest scholars was based on only four authors: Virgil, Homer, Cicero, and Demosthenes” (p. 133). Hicks clearly prefers this to modern school. He (1981/1999) writes, “By contrast, from the eclectic curriculum of the modern school flows an ocean one inch deep. There seems no end to the diversity of the modern school's course offerings . . .” (p. 131).

    Interestingly, there seems no end to the diversity of subjects in a Charlotte Mason education. In direct contrast to Hicks, Mason advocated breadth rather than depth. Mason (1925/1954) writes:

    We labour under the mistake of supposing that there is no natural law or inherent principle according to which a child’s course of studies should be regulated; . . . . But what if in the very nature of things we find a complete curriculum suggested? the answer depends on a survey of the composite whole we sum up as ‘human nature,’ a whole whose possibilities are infinite and various… It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man; . . . . We may not even make choice between science and the ‘humanities.’ Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him. (pp. 156-157)

    For Mason, education is a rich banquet, not a tightly-controlled diet. The curriculum was to offer abundance, because the goal is to sustain a life, not to force compliance to a norm. Mason (1925/1954) writes, “[The child] 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” (p. 109).

    Hicks (1981/1999) notes that “Deep down, perhaps, the ancients distrusted science” (p. 57). Given his reverence for the ancients, it is not surprising that his curriculum would reflect this diffidence towards science. He (1981/1999) writes, “Classical education, therefore, did not exclude science so much as it judged science of less significance than other branches of learning that promised knowledge . . . at higher levels of being” (p. 57). Hicks (1981/1999) finds “difficulty in assigning any transcendent values to science” (p. 58). He (1981/1999) further questions studies in technology by asking, “How can one argue that a training in technological science, in the means of manipulating nonliving matter, prepares a young person for the life of virtue. . . ?”  (p. 58). Since all elements of education must link to virtue, Hicks struggles to integrate science and technology into his educational program.

    By contrast, Mason does not face this challenge. Since she is not constrained by pagan philosophy, she is free to view science as a field that leads to the knowledge and adoration of God. Rather than being a lower form of study, science for Mason (1905/1924) is “a vast and joyous realm; for the people who walk therein are always discovering new things, and each new thing is a delight, because the things are not a medley, but each is a part of the great whole” (p. 35). Mason also had no trouble with technology, which she viewed as being received by revelation from God (Mason, 1905, p. 155).

    Furthermore, Hicks apparently follows Aristotle’s lead in devaluing work with the hands and with the earth. Hicks (1981/1999) writes that “Medieval man plowed his feudal fields in the certain knowledge that he toiled at the imperfect fringes of God’s handiwork” (p. 9). By contrast, Mason (1896/1989b) saw the farmer not on the “imperfect fringes” but rather in the center of God’s revelation, citing Isaiah 28:26 (p. 246). Albert Wolters (2005) would later write of this sacred place:

    This is not a teaching through the revelation of Moses and the Prophets, but a teaching through the revelation of creation – the soil, the seeds, and the tools of his daily experience. It is by listening to the voice of God in the work of his hands that the farmer finds the way of agricultural wisdom. (p. 28)

    Hicks supplies guidelines for the selection of texts for the classical curriculum. He (1981/1999) writes, “Whatever . . . book . . . enables the student to perceive, articulate, and comprehend reason at work best suits the classical curriculum” (p. 19). Hicks (1981/1999) further notes that “the normative character of great literature is emphatically preferred” (p. 98). Mason, however, declines to advocate a particular book because it is “great literature” or it manifests “reason at work.” Rather, Mason insists that living books must be selected for the curriculum. She insists on this for theological reasons. Mason (1896/1989b) explains, “We are told that the Spirit is life; therefore, that which is dead, dry as dust, mere bare bones, can have no affinity with Him, can do no other than smother and deaden his vitalising influences” (p. 277). For Mason, living books are books that cooperate with the educational ministry of Holy Spirit.

    Furthermore, according to Mason (1905), the expert cannot predict whether or not a book will prove to be living. The only definitive test is how the book is actually received:

    A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. The expert is not the person to choose; the children themselves are the experts in this case. A single page will elicit a verdict; but the unhappy thing is, this verdict is not betrayed; it is acted upon in the opening or closing of the door of the mind. (p. 228)

    Mason evokes the child-centered core of her theory when she writes that “the children themselves are the experts.” Her criteria for book selection includes an almost mystical dimension, which distinguishes her method from the “great books” program of classical education.

    The contrast in curriculum theory between Hicks and Mason is partially evidenced in the specific curriculum proposal articulated in chapter 9 of Norms & Nobility. Hicks follows his maxim that it is “better to teach a few subjects thoroughly,” so his curriculum does not include such items cherished by Mason as:

    • Nature study, natural history, and field study.
    • Handcrafts, gardening, and vocational work.
    • Geography and travelogues.
    •  Art and music appreciation, including hymns and folk music. For Fine Arts, Hicks (1981/1999) instead proposes “projects in music, drawing, painting, architecture” (p. 110).

    4. The nature of the child

    For Hicks, children are born “becoming.” He (1981/1999) writes approvingly that “Isokrates must have perceived childhood as a period of becoming rather than as a state of being” (p. 38). Hicks elaborates that Isokrates “ignored the ‘child’ and appealed directly to the ‘father of the man’ within his student.” Since children are “becoming” persons, the challenge of the educator is to transform them into the desired norm. The educator must know “exactly what kind of a person he wishe[s] to produce” (p. 39). Thus, “it is the challenge of learning to discipline the unruly and discursive mind, adjusting its disorderliness through rigorous study to the order of logical processes found outside it in the subject matter” (p. 38).

    By contrast, Mason asserts that children are born “persons.” They are appealed to directly as children, not as proto-adults. Mason (1925/1954) rejects the notion “that by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere a person is at last turned out according to the pattern the educator has in his mind” (p. 34). According to Mason (1925/1954), “the personality of children . . . must not be encroached upon, whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire” (p. xxix). Furthermore, Mason (1899) asserts that the individuality of children is sacred:

    Parents are very jealous over the individuality of their children; they mistrust the tendency to develop all on the same plan, and this instinctive jealousy is right, for supposing that education really did consist in systematized effort to draw out every power that is in children, all must needs develop on the same lines. Some of us have an uneasy sense that things are tending towards this deadly sameness. But, indeed, the fear is groundless. We may rest assured that the personality, the individuality of each of us is too dear to God, and too necessary to a complete humanity, to be left at the mercy of empirics. (p. 420)

    For Hicks, the emergence to personhood involves struggle. Hence he uses the language of struggle to describe the educational process: “An Ideal Type tyrannized classical education. The ancient schoolmaster . . . passed it on to his pupils by inviting them to share in his struggle for self-knowledge and self-mastery, the immature mind participating in the mature” (Hicks, 1981/1999, p. 43). But Mason describes education as joyous freedom, not painful tyranny. Mason (1925/1954) writes:

    . . . children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher. They do choose and are happy in their work, so there is little opportunity for coercion or for deadening, hortatory talk. (pp. 73-74)

    For Hicks (1981/1999), the student must learn to force himself to work; “So much in a classical education depends on the development of conscience: the student’s motivation to learn” (p. 69). By contrast, for Mason, children have an inherent love for knowledge which fuels them with ample motivation and enjoyment in learning. Mason does not use words such as “struggle” to describe the experience of education. Rather, studies are for delight, and the child’s inherent “Desire of Knowledge (Curiosity) was the chief instrument of education; that this desire might be paralysed or made powerless like an unused limb by encouraging other desires to intervene between a child and the knowledge proper for him” (Mason, 1925/1954, p. 11).

    Interestingly, this difference between the classical view and Mason’s view of the nature of the child has been highlighted by classical educators. For example, Aimee Natal (1999) writes:

    Classical educators may at first be attracted to Mason's advocacy for Great Books and the use of original sources, but to then proceed to buy into her educational methods, usually on the word of another, is folly. . . . It is folly because Mason assumes the child is born with a yearning for what is good, knowledge, and that that desire alone, along with good books, is all the child needs upon which to act, to learn.

    Hicks joins Natal in rejecting this view, and he prescribes various mechanisms to fortify the motivation and retention of the learner. Hicks (1981/1999) writes that “Study questions . . . press the student to attack his reading critically. They direct his note taking, furnish a basis for classroom discussion, and eventually provide him with a comprehensive means for reviewing for examinations” (p. 151). Yet Mason insists that such prods are counterproductive. Mason (1925/1954) writes, “Of the means we employ to hinder the growth of mind perhaps none is more subtle than the questionnaire” (p. 54). Mason (1912) even disclaims the need for “reviewing for examinations”:

    No effort is necessary to keep [the students’] attention by means of pleasing lessons; they attend for two reasons; first, because they care to know, and secondly, because they must know, the lesson in hand. It is not often necessary to enforce this “must”; it is in the air; there is the given work to be done in the given time, with the examination ahead at the end of the term. There are no prizes or place takings in the school; no honours lists, no marks to be gained or lost—for the children take pleasure in the work and in the examination to follow; for this no revision of passages out of the considerable number of books used in the term is usual. The teacher ascertains that they know each lesson or chapter, and it remains with them. (p. 807)

    Hicks (1981/1999) postulates various mechanisms by which knowledge can enter the child. He insists that dialectic is the primary means; he goes as far as to claim, “Man’s knowledge is without value to him unless he reaches it dialectically” (p. 70). Hicks (1981/1999) also differentiates between imagination and reason. For example, he writes, “The mythos represents man’s imaginative and, ultimately, spiritual effort to make this world intelligible; the logos sets forth his rational attempt to do the same” (p. 29).

    By contrast, Mason (1925/1954) sees the person as a “a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs” (p. xxx). Mason does not emphasize dialectic, mythos, or logos because she believes that the child as person is equipped by God with the ability to consume ideas. Thus she (1925/1954) conceives of a large part of education as “the presentation of living ideas” (p. xxix).

    Hicks (1981/1999) challenges educators to reflect on this question: “Are your students alive to their needs of poetic truth, as well as scientific truth, religious truth, and historical truth?” (p. 124). In so doing, Hicks posits multiple categories of truth, knowledge, and knowledge acquisition. By contrast, according to Dr. Stephanie Spencer (University of Winchester), Mason rejected such dichotomies. Spencer (2009) writes:

    Mason frequently conflated intellectual, spiritual and physical requirements and undermined any concept of a mind / body dualism. She clearly linked the intellectual with the spiritual when she rewrote Matthew Arnold’s definition of religion (religion is morality touched with emotion): “Knowledge is information touched with emotion: feeling must be stirred, imagination must picture, reason must consider, nay conscience must pronounce on the information we offer before it becomes mindstuff”. Her choice of “mindstuff” as analogous to foodstuff is unlikely to have been accidental as it is a theme to which she continually returns. She also worked to change ideas that reason, a characteristic primarily associated with men was not compatible with emotion, a traditionally female characteristic. (p. 118)

    For Mason, poetic knowledge is not “pre-rational.” Rather, poetic, scientific, religious, and historical truth are all co-rational and co-emotional. For Mason, a child is a person, a spiritual and physical unity, who cannot be divided into faculties or modes of thought. Mason (1925/1954) writes, “the mind is one and works all together; reason, imagination, reflection, judgment, what you please, are like ‘all hands’ summoned by the ‘heave-ho!’ of the boatswain” (p. 41).

    5. The role of the teacher

    Hicks (1981/1999) describes a revival of classical education that “reemphasizes the role of the teacher” (p. 147). Hicks (1981/1999) begins with the ancient model and observes: “Students become the disciples of their teacher, so to speak. . . . Teachers then exercised such a profound influence over their students that the charge against Socrates of corrupting youth was not at all an uncommon one” (p. 41). Mason (1925/1954) observes a similar pattern in the ancients and writes, “ever since the Greek youth hung about their masters in the walks of the Academy there have been teachers who have undermined the stability of the boys to whom they devoted themselves. Were his countrymen entirely wrong about Socrates?” (p. 49).

    Hicks and Mason respond to this classical record, however, in very different ways. Hicks (1981/1999), advocates a return to the ancient model of teacher influence when he describes the modern reincarnation of classical education:

    The organization of the school of humane letters also fosters the ideal of a profound and intimate relationship between teacher and student wherein the student’s efforts are . . . personally rewarded. . . .  Only within the context of a profound and intimate teacher-student relationship can the school accomplish its normative purpose, joining the classroom to life and knowledge to responsibility. (p. 135)

    Hicks (1981/1999) encourages students to be motivated academically by a desire to earn their teacher’s approval: “Classical education challenges both teacher and pupils: the one to justify his superior wisdom and intellectual skill; the other to win his teacher’s praise by matching his performance” (p. 42). Hicks depicts a powerful relationship in which the teacher uses influence, approval, and rewards to control the student’s development. This form of teaching directly contradicts the fourth principle in Mason’s (1925/1954) synopsis of education:

    4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire. (p. xxix)

    Mason (1925/1954) links this rule to her conception of children as persons:

    Our business is to find out how great a mystery a person is quâ person. All action comes out of the ideas we hold and if we ponder duly upon personality we shall come to perceive that we cannot commit a greater offence than to maim or crush, or subvert any part of a person. (p. 80)

    Because of this, Mason flatly rejects the influence model that Hicks recovers from the ancients. Mason (1925/1954) warns: “A snare which attends the really brilliant teacher is the exhausting effect upon children of an overpowering personality” (p. 48). Mason (1925/1954) elaborates on this warning:

    Supineness before a single, steady, persistent influence is a different matter, and the schoolgirl who idolises her mistress, the boy who worships his master, is deprived of the chance of free and independent living. His personality fails to develop and he goes into the world as a parasitic plant, clinging ever to the support of some stronger character. (p. 83)

    One reason for Hicks’s emphasis on the role of the teacher is that for him, teachers are superior to the proto-persons that they are educating. He (1981/1999) writes that:

    . . . the activity of learning — gives teacher and student a common ground for friendship, while accentuating their unequal status. . . . Talk was freer, more intimate, and depended on the teacher’s lively intelligence and superior knowledge to keep it orbiting around essential concerns. (pp. 40-41)

    This notion of unequal status is utterly rejected by Mason. Mason (1925/1954) writes: “Teachers are apt to slight their high office and hinder the processes of education because they cherish two or three fallacies. They regard children as inferior, themselves as superior, beings; — why else their office?” (p. 75). To correct this fallacy, Mason (1925/1954) insists that “there is no great gulf fixed between teacher and taught” (p. 71). Cholmondeley (1960/2000) writes of the attitude inculcated by Mason in the House of Education:

    Teaching is not a technique exercised by the skilled on behalf of the unskilled. It is a sharing of the effort to know, using all that is best in the world of books, of music, of pictures, all that can be observed and cherished out of doors, all that hand and eye can make; all that religion, history, art, mathematics and science can reveal to the active mind. (p. 157)

    For Hicks (1981/1999), the teacher is the window to the universe for the child: “Responsible learning requires a profound and intimate teacher-pupil relationship. . . .  A personality that embodies and evokes paideia is a window on the world of arts and letters and sciences” (p. 128). Mason (1925/1954), however, insists that “we may not play Sir Oracle any more” (p. 76). She (1925/1954) writes, “We may not pose before children, nor pride ourselves on dutiful getting up of knowledge in order to deliver it as emanating from ourselves” (p. 78). For Mason (1905), such a tenet of classical education is a deadly error: “Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up” (p 188).

    According to Hicks, the teacher, as the window to the universe, relies primarily on oral methods. Like Hicks (1981/1999), “The ancients preferred oral teaching over the impersonal study of the written word” (p. 41). The teacher utilized “logical, probing, imaginative discourse” (p. 41) and “decided, therefore, to approach the question of virtue without a text” (p. 73). Such a classical program of oral structure is utterly rejected by Mason (1925/1954) who writes:

    This natural aptitude for literature, or, shall we say, rhetoric, which overcomes the disabilities of a poor vocabulary without effort, should direct the manner of instruction we give, ruling out the talky-talky of the oral lesson and the lecture; ruling out, equally, compilations and text-books; and placing books in the hands of children and only those which are more or less literary in character that is, which have the terseness and vividness proper to literary work. (pp. 90-91)

    What Hicks calls “imaginative discourse” is for Mason nothing more than “talky-talky.” According to Mason (1925/1954), “What [the children] want is knowledge conveyed in literary form and the talk of the facile teacher leaves them cold” (p. 53).

    Mason (1925/1954) warns that a school full of world-class lecturers would actually have a negative impact:

    . . . we cannot have a score of such [great] lecturers in every school, each to elucidate his own subject, nor, if we could, would it be good for the children. The personality of the teacher would influence them to distraction from the delight in knowledge which is itself a sufficient and compelling force to secure perfect attention, and seemly discipline. (pp. 78-79)

    For the classical educator, another important activity is to prepare the lessons. This is very important, according to Hicks (1981/1999), since “what really matters is not so much what is taught (although the normative character of great literature is emphatically preferred), but how it is taught” (p. 98). This statement by Hicks places him directly in the Herbartian tradition which was repudiated by Mason’s (1925/1954) tenth principle:

    Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher’s axiom is, “what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.” (p. xxx)

    Presumably Hicks follows Herbart because he believes that the faculties must be developed. For example, Hicks (1981/1999) writes, “The study of mathematics, the ancients believed, reinforces the mind’s powers of concentration, memory, and logical process” (p. 143). But Mason rejects this notion of “mental training.” Mason (1914) writes, “Urge the importance of quantity as food stuff for the mind. ‘Mental training’ is a fiction which has disappeared with the ‘faculties’.” Mason (1905) indicates that this rejection is fundamental to her hope for education:

    I think we should have a great educational revolution once we ceased to regard ourselves as assortments of so-called faculties and realised ourselves as persons whose great business it is to get in touch with other persons of all sorts and conditions, of all countries and climes, of all times, past and present. (pp. 82-83)

    When students produce written compositions, Hicks advises the teacher to correct them liberally. Hicks (1981/1999) expresses this advice in colorful terms: “The weekly essay ought to be carefully graded, with rivers of red ink running down the margins” (p. 150). In Mason’s method, however, “Teachers are relieved from much of the labour of corrections” (Mason, 1925/1954, p. 28). Mason (1925/1954) explains why:

    In [Forms V and VI] some definite teaching in the art of composition is advisable, but not too much, lest the young scholars be saddled with a stilted style which may encumber them for life. Perhaps the method of a University tutor is the best that can be adopted; that is, a point or two might be taken up in a given composition and suggestions or corrections made with little talk. Having been brought up so far upon stylists the pupils are almost certain to have formed a good style; because they have been thrown into the society of many great minds, they will not make a servile copy of any one but will shape an individual style out of the wealth of material they possess; and because they have matter in abundance and of the best they will not write mere verbiage. (pp. 194-195)

    Given the critical role of the teacher to the classical system, it is not surprising that Hicks (1981/1999) laments “the difficulty in obtaining teachers whose expectations and abilities coincide with the reforming vision” (p. 147). By contrast, Mason strives to eliminate this teacher-dependency: “it occurred to me that a series of curricula might be devised embodying sound principles and securing that children should be in a position of less dependence on their teacher than they then were” (Mason, 1925/1954, p. 28). Ney (1997) notes that Mason intended to design “a curriculum that would, in so far as possible, be teacher-proof” (p. 3). Teacher-proof, that is, except for the teacher who refuses to get out of the way: “we believe in self-education and it is not every teacher who can withhold himself and give the children scope” (Mason, 1922).


    In 1893, a school inspector named Mr. Rooper investigated Mason’s House of Education. He (1894) wrote, “The training which is given in the House of Education is a new departure in education” (p. 874). His evaluation stands to this day. David Hicks presents a powerful indictment of modern utilitarian education. He offers an alternative: classical education. Mason offers a second alternative: a new departure. To escape a modern utilitarian education, one may look to the code of education of the pagans, or one may look to the code of education in the Gospels. Hicks chose the former; Mason chose the latter.


    Cholmondley, E. (2000). The story of Charlotte Mason. London: Wadsworth and Co. (Original work published 1960)

    Gutek, G. (1995). A History of the western educational experience. (2nd ed.) Long Grove: Waveland Press.

    Hicks, D. (1999). Norms & nobility: a treatise on education. Lanham: University Press of America. (Original work published 1981)

    Mason, C.M. (1894). Pamphlet in the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (i2p3pneu36). Retrieved from http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/PNEU-Briefcase/PNEU-Box02C/pneu36/i2p1-p7pneu36.pdf

    Mason, C.M. (1895). P.N.E.U. principles. The Parents’ Review, 5, 426-431.

    Mason, C.M. (1899). The history and aims of the P.N.E.U. The Parents’ Review10, 411-434.

    Mason, C. M. (1905). School education. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.

    Mason, C.M. (1912).  Three educational idylls. The Parents’ Review, 23, 801-811.

    Mason, C.M. (1914). Letter in the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (i104p4cmc393). Retrieved from  http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/Box50/CMC393/i104p1-p8cmc393.pdf

    Mason, C.M. (1922). Letter in the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (i94p1cmc393). Retrieved from  http://charlottemason.redeemer.ca/Box50/CMC393/i081p1-i102cmc393.pdf

    Mason, C. M. (1989a). Home education: Training and educating children under nine. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1886)

    Mason, C. M. (1989b). Parents and children: The role of the parent in the education of the child. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1896)

    Mason, C. M. (1989c). Formation of character: Shaping the child’s personality. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. (Original work published 1906)

    Mason, C. M. (1924). Ourselves: Book I, self-knowledge. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. (Original work published 1905)

    Mason, C. M. (1954). An essay towards a philosophy of education. London: Lowe & Brydone. (Original work published 1925)

    Natal, A. R. (1999). Charlotte Mason: For whose sake? Retrieved from http://www.accsedu.org/filerequest/3281.pdf

    Ney, M. W. (1997). Charlotte Mason: ‘A pioneer of sane education’. Bramcote Hills: Educational Heretics Press.

    No King But Christ. (2007). Been there. Done that. Retrieved from  https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R19624749VLUYK/ref=cm_cr_getr_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0761814671 (accessed 7/24/16)

    Rooper, T.G. (1894). Our Work. The Parents’ Review4, 874.

    Spencer, S. (2009). Knowledge as the necessary food of the mind. In Women, education, and agency, 1600–2000. New York: Routledge.

    Wolters, A. (2005). Creation regained: Biblical basics for a reformational worldview. (2nd ed.).  Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Company.

    © 2016 by Art Middlekauff

    If you would like to post a comment about this blog post, please do so at www.charlottemasoninstitue.org

  • 27 Aug 2016 10:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Please note that Part I and Part II of this blog have been posted.

    Author’s note: I am a homeschooling father who has experienced a genuine awakening as a result of engaging with Charlotte Mason’s ideas. This is my second article for the Charlotte Mason Institute blog that describes the relationship between Charlotte Mason’s theory of education and the Christian classical model of education. In this article, I explore Charlotte Mason’s theory of education in light of David V. Hicks’s seminal work on classical education.

    In 1981, David V. Hicks first published his ground-breaking book entitled Norms & Nobility: A Treatise on Education. His (1981/1999) book “is about an ancient ideal expressed as ‘classical education’ against which the modern school is weighed and found wanting” (p. v). Hicks (1981/1999) describes the “modern school” as an institution dominated by “the aimless tyranny of a values-free analysis” (p. 85) where “all aims appear of equal value, and no aim can lay claim on the learner’s will” (p.84). Hicks (1981/1999) characterizes modern education as utilitarian: “Its utilitarian and nonnormative program of study stresses freedom at the expense of self-discipline and know-how at the expense of knowledge” (p. 11).

    Hicks’s critique of modern utilitarian education is not merely devastating; it is torturous. He distributes this criticism throughout the entire span of his book, providing a steady stream of endlessly inventive and sharply eloquent attacks. Bordering on ridicule, his insightful exposé is unanswerable. I join him in decisively rejecting a model of education where the only question that matters is, “How is this useful?”

    Hicks proposes classical education as an alternative to modern utilitarian education. In fact, he (1981/1999) indicates that classical education is the only alternative:

    Norms & Nobility presents . . . a theory of classical education. . . . These general principles — what I have called normative contextual learning — are, I believe, universal. Any school, to be effective and complete, must reflect them in its aims, organizations, traditions, methods, and most of all, in its teachers. (p. viii)

    For Hicks, classical education is rooted in the classical tradition which begins with Ancient Greece and Rome. He (1981/1999) asserts that this is the only model which can answer the need of our present day: “I believe that the dialectic between pagan humanism and Christianity must be revived in the classroom if education in the United States is going to fulfill its paideutic obligations toward the young” (p. 104).

    A casual reading of Norms & Nobility gives the impression that classical education is the only kind of education that existed in the Western world prior to the modern era. For example, Hicks (1981/1999) writes, “After World War II . . . education left the path of normative learning” (p. 108). If one accepts this notion that all education was classical until World War II, and that only classical education can resist modern utilitarian theory, then a Christian reader would naturally assume that any good method of education must be classical.

    But a careful reading of Norms & Nobility reveals that Hicks himself acknowledges that models other than classical education and modern utilitarian education exist. In one passage, Hicks paints the imaginative picture that all was not well before 1945. He (1981/1999) begins with the dramatic assertion that all things called classical are not actually classical:

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

    According to Hicks (1981/1999), “To [the average Englishman in 1867], classical education meant little more than a symbol of ruling class privilege and a study of Latin, with perhaps a smattering of Greek” (p. 17). Hicks cites no source for his assertions about this state of affairs in Victorian England. But he (1981/1999) describes one result of this alleged corruption of classical education: “By the turn of the century, a growing number of self-proclaimed progressives, desiring to democratize the school and mistaking what went on in Victorian schools with classical education, began to put forward their own theories on education” (p. 17).

    One such self-proclaimed progressive was Charlotte M. Mason (1842-1923). In 1895, Mason made her self-proclamation when she (1895) wrote, “We are progressive”:

    We cannot choose but profit by the work of the great educators. Such men as Locke and Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel, have left us an inheritance of educational thought which we must needs enter upon. Our work as a Society is chiefly selective, but not entirely so. We are progressive. We take what former thinkers have left us, and go on from there. (p. 426)

    Mason did not merely stand in the romantic tradition of “Rousseau [and] Pestalozzi.” Rather, with progressive zeal, she put forward her own “theories on education.”

    Although educational romantics and progressives such as Rousseau and Pestalozzi lived well before World War II, Hicks did not include them under the classical umbrella. Rather, Hicks (1981/1999) writes:

    The modern era suffers in two extremes over the nature of assumptions. The first extreme is born of an attitude contemptuous of the past and its unscientific ways. It expects to unearth an original set of assumptions upon which to construct the modern school. This extreme may be said to represent the sanguine position of the educational romantics and progressives. (p. 126)

    Hicks (1981/1999) explicitly classifies Rousseau in this romantic and non-classical school when he writes, “Isokrates had little in common with the modern teacher who fantasizes an ideal child and bases his child-centered learning on the nostalgic writings of Rousseau” (p. 38). For Hicks, child-centered learning is inherently non-classical. He (1981/1999) writes, “Child-centered learning is a high-sounding euphemism for his refusal to admit a connection between what makes a person virtuous and what constitutes an educated person” (p. 39).

    And yet Marian Wallace Ney (1997) describes Charlotte Mason’s theory of education as the only model offering a truly child-centered education:

    Most contemporary plans for education make some, (often, a great deal of), obeisance to the notion of the child as individual, and vast educational impedimenta have been constructed in the name of child-centeredness. But it is solely in the PNEU that I find the curriculum to be designed not only to suit any and all, but each and every. (p. 19)

    Ney (1923-1991) documented this conclusion in her 1981 thesis for Hofstra University. This work was the culmination of her study of Charlotte Mason’s theory of education, which included completing the PNEU Study Course with First Class Honors.

    Hicks highlights a second major distinction between the romantic model and the classical model when he (1981/1999) writes, “Let us not, pleads the romantic, force a child into the drudgery of scholarship before he has outlived his playful, innocent youth” (p. 37). Here again, Mason fits squarely in the non-classical model. First, she (1886/1989a) wrote that children should in fact be free from scholarship:

    . . . the chief function of the child . . . during the first six or seven years of his life––is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; . . . in fact, the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power, because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature in the evolution of the complete human being. (p. 96-97)

    Once in school, “Studies serve for Delight” (Mason, 1905, p. 214) and not drudgery. Finally, only after the fifteenth year should “drudgery” (“the classical and mathematical grind”) be permitted (Mason, 1906/1989c, p. 381).

    Finally, Hicks notes with disdain that “self-proclaimed progressives” of the Victorian era believed their ideas would change the world. He (1981/1999) writes, “The popular imagination . . . keeps the nineteenth-century ideologies with their Utopian prognostications alive” (p. 60). As with other progressives, Mason made her own Utopian prognostications. In 1912, she wrote:

    We of the P.N.E.U., if we be minded to advance in our thousands with one heart and one purpose, are strong enough to bring about a Twentieth Century Renascence, more glorious and permanent than that of the Middle Age, because its ultimate source shall be a profound Christianity, in lieu of the poisoned springs of Paganism. We have the one thing to offer which the whole world wants, an absolutely effective system of education covering the whole nature of a child, the whole life of man. (p. 811)

    In writing this, Mason falls squarely under the condemnation of Hicks, who writes of how, “with revolutionary fervor, the social scientist affirms the world-transforming benefits of his ‘new’ methods” (Hicks, 1981/1999, p. 5).

    Mason’s revolutionary, child-centered beliefs are summarized in a claim that would be anathema to Hicks:

    Should the reader . . . be convinced of the truth of what I have advanced, I think he will see that, not an educational reform here and there, but an EDUCATIONAL REVOLUTION is before us to which every one of us is bound to put his hand. . . .  If conviction has indeed reached us, the Magna Carta of children’s intellectual liberty is before us. (Mason, 1905, pp. 247-248)

    Nevertheless, Mason and other progressives rejected utilitarian education with a vehemence equal to Hicks. For example, Gerald Gutek (1995) writes of educational progressive Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827):

    Fearing the harmful effects of industrial specialization, Pestalozzi cultivated the model of the generally educated person. Despite some methodological eccentricities that crept into his work, he never lost sight of his vision of the generally educated natural human being. Basically, Pestalozzi was a humanitarian. “Love” was the center of his educational theory and practice. “Mother love,” “the loving home circle,” “love of man and of God,” were persistent Pestalozzian themes. (p. 251)

    Similarly, Mason (1905) writes:

    I should be inclined to say of education, as Mr. Lecky says of morals, that ‘the Utilitarian theory is profoundly immoral.’ To educate children for any immediate end – towards commercial or manufacturing aptitude, for example – is to put a premium upon general ignorance with a view to such special aptitude. (pp. 240-241)

    Although Norms & Nobility is primarily a contrast between utilitarian education and classical education, Hicks implicitly acknowledges that there is a third way. Mason (1925/1954) herself enumerates these three models in one sentence: “We must have some measure of a child's requirements, not based upon his uses to society, nor upon the standard [norms] of the world he lives in, but upon his own capacity and needs” (pp. 65-66). Mason’s model is neither utilitarian (based on “uses to society”) nor classical (based on norms or “standards”). Rather, Mason’s model is centered on the person of the child, upon “his own capacity and needs.”

    Given that Mason’s theory of education was not classical, one would expect to find many theoretical and practical differences between her model and Hicks’s classical model. For convenience, the many differences may be grouped into five separate categories:

    1. The source of guidance for the method
    2. The purpose of education
    3. The curriculum
    4. The nature of the child
    5. The role of the teacher
    The remainder of this article will briefly explore these five categories.

    1. The source of guidance for the method

    Hicks (1981/1999) explains that “Classical education refreshes itself at cisterns of learning dug long ago” (p. 14). He (1981/1999) looks to the ancient world for a theory of education, explaining, “I have tried to be faithful in presenting what I believe would be an ancient’s insight into our modern dilemma” (p. vii). This ancient insight begins with Plato and Aristotle; indeed, “Aristotle is our best introduction to the idea of a classical education” (Hicks, 1981/1999, p. 19).

    From the ancients, Hicks (1981/1999) retrieves and apparently defends such pagan ideas as “Plato’s ‘theory of innate ideas’” (p. 24). He (1981/1999) notes that “down to the present day, men have sought and found reasons for believing in innate ideas” (p. 25). He (1981/1999) also sympathetically explores the dualistic worldview of Platonic philosophy: “[The word] clings to the normative essentials underlying the flux of appearances, thereby saving the appearances. . . . words disclose the transcendent order of meaning and value behind the curtain of a transient world” (p. 35).

    Furthermore, Hicks traces every key idea in his theory of education back to the ancients. Indeed, he calls his method “classical” precisely because it is derived from ancient sources. In fact, it is not until Chapter 8 of the book that Hicks even discloses to the reader that he is advocating a Christian form of classical education. This led one reviewer to write:

    Hicks does a great job describing Greek classical education. However, the manner in which he does often sounds prescriptive. . . . Thankfully, he later addresses how Christianity supplied the missing pieces. However, rather than describe Christianity as “crowning” classical education I would say Christianity provided the foundation upon which the honorable aspects of classical education was set. In any event, it was only upon reading this section that I realized Hicks was advocating a redeemed form of classical education. . . . Hicks uses pagan Greek language to describe Christian concepts, which concerns me. (No King But Christ, 2007)

    This reviewer accurately notes that Hicks presents Christianity as the crown and not the foundation of classical education. Hicks (1981/1999) writes on p. 91:

    Modern classical education . . . is (or ought to be) grounded on a dialectic between pagan humanism and Christianity. . . . The creative tension between pagan humanism and Christianity animates normative education and promises to lift the student to a level of understanding above reason in an experience of faith.

    In a startling passage, Hicks (1981/1999) claims that Christianity is a kind of “reward” for classical thought: “Christianity injected a hopeful note and rewarded the classical tradition’s strivings for a link between right thinking and right acting” (p. 96).

    Hicks (1981/1999) sees Christianity in its best form as a fulfilment of classical education: “According to Saint Paul, Christian paideia realized the transcendent objectives of classical education by offering access to the source of truth through prayer” (p. 101). But Hicks (1981/1999) actually sees Christianity in its other forms acting in direct opposition to the preferred ideals of classical education:

    By formalizing the Ideal within ecclesiastical dogma, the Church at Rome and the schoolmen in Paris reduced the Ideal to a ritual and a creed, while refusing to permit the laity to challenge its part in the life of faith. On a practical level, the teaching of the Ideal by example suffered for lack of a reliable high-quality mythos. The rich, ancient mythos of Greece and Rome was lost or bowdlerized, and the simple Christian mythos had been plastered over with popular, irrelevant, and usually outlandish legends of the saints. (p. 48)

    Hicks (1981/1999) further describes the destructive impact of the Christian Church on classical educational theory on page 66:

    During the Middle Ages, the trivium was generally taught first, with logic taking the place of dialectic. This substitution was not accidental. For an age that possessed the Truth, the dialectical search for truth was a fruitless and even frivolous, irreverent endeavor. When one knows the truth, one has no need for dialectic — all one needs is logic. Yet to an age like ours, lacking the confidence (some would say the complacency) of the early Christian era, the dialectic holds out a serious method of study imbued with a noble purpose.

    Hicks proposes to counter modern utilitarian education not with revelation but with dialectic. He (1981/1999) writes, “But all of this misplaced use of analysis is precisely why the dialectical must wrest control of our schools from the analytical” (p. 72). Given Hicks’s absolute dependence on the classical tradition and his view of Christianity as a fulfilment of that tradition, it is not surprising that he views modern Christian classical education as a “dialectic between pagan humanism and Christianity” (Hicks, 1981/1999, p. 91).

    In contrast to this classical model, Mason begins not with Aristotle but with Christ. Mason first unveiled her theory of education in a series of lectures in 1885. The first lecture began with an exposition of specific teachings of Christ. In that way, she began her method both chronologically and structurally on the teachings of Christ. These lectures are captured in Volume 1 of the Home Education Series. Pages 12-20 contain her exposition of the key Gospel passages that are foundational to her entire theory of education. She (1886/1989a) began this exposition by saying that she had “discover[ed] . . . a code of education in the Gospels, expressly laid down by Christ” (p. 12).

    Rather than seeing education as a “dialectic between pagan humanism and Christianity,” she (1912) worked towards “a profound Christianity, in lieu of the poisoned springs of Paganism” (p. 811). Mason found in pagan philosophy not an inspiring source but a dismal dead end. She (1925/1954) wrote:

    Human nature has not failed; what has failed us is philosophy, and that applied philosophy which is called education. Philosophy, all the philosophies, old and new, land us on the horns of a dilemma; either we do well by ourselves and seek our own perfection of nature or condition, or we do well by others to our own loss or deterioration. If there is a mean, philosophy does not declare it. (p. 335)

    Since Mason rejected pagan philosophy, she also rejected the notion that science is necessary merely for “saving the appearances” and as a way to “disclose the transcendent order of meaning and value behind the curtain of a transient world.” Instead, she (1886/1989a) wrote of the sacred nature of science:

    Years hence, when the children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred and demands some sacrifices, all the ‘common information’ they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form a capital groundwork for a scientific education. (p. 63)

    Given Mason’s high regard for science, she appealed to its discoveries as an authoritative basis for her method of education. In doing so, she fell under Hicks’s condemnation, who explains that “the social scientist affirms the world-transforming benefits of his ‘new’ methods” (Hicks, 1981/1999, p. 5). Standing with the scientists, Mason (1894) writes:

    Within our own time the science of Education has been absolutely revolutionised, not by educationalists, but by Physiologists, who have made the brain their specialty. Any real education depends upon the possibility of setting up good records, obliterating evil records, in the physical substance of the brain.

    Mason’s third major source of guidance for her theory of education was her own personal observation of children. Mason described her effort as follows:

    For between thirty and forty years I have laboured without pause to establish a working and philosophic theory of education; and each article of the educational faith I offer has been arrived at by inductive processes, and has, I think, been verified by a long and wide series of experiments. (Cholmondeley, 1960/2000, p. 201)

    This reliance on observation and experimentation falls outside of the scope of authority permitted by Hicks. Hicks (1981/1999) disdains this methodological approach: “The expert’s total reliance upon the methods of science renders him incapable of learning from his forebears anyway, for they cannot provide him with the hard statistical and clinical data alone with which he can work” (p. 2). In offering this condemnation, he implicitly condemns Mason’s theory of education.

    Hicks cites the ancients as his primary source of guidance, and therefore his theory of education is classical. By contrast, Mason points to the authority of the Gospels, discoveries in science, and her own personal observations of children. Therefore, her theory of education is not to be considered classical.

    Part II can be read in the subsequent blog post.

    © 2016 by Art Middlekauff

    If you would like to post a comment about this blog post, please do so at www.charlottemasoninstitue.org


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