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

    Continued from the previous blog post by Karen Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This is the beginning of the catechism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Character and Disposition.

    Origin of Conduct––What is character?

    The resultant or residuum of conduct.

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

    How does conduct itself originate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    © 2017 by Karen Glass

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Just by way of a single example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Along the same lines, she writes elsewhere: 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Lessons in Humility

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

    Charlotte Mason warns:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    © 2017 by Karen Glass


    Continued into the next blog post--Part II

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

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

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

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

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

    “No, Phronsie. Not this time.”

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

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

    “Not really,” they said.

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

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

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

    Dr. Johnson,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    © 2016 by Liz Cottrill

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

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

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


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


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

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

    Good size room to contain everyone

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

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

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

    A clear cookie sheet, tray or cardboard

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 

  • 17 Dec 2016 11:28 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Thank you, Kathy, for this interesting question which I have puzzled over for a long time. In spite of her frailty, Charlotte Mason possessed an amazing ability to gather supportive friends around her who enabled her to uphold her authority as Principal of the House of Education in Ambleside.

    Did Charlotte suffer from lifelong physical ill-health caused by heart disease?  Or were her symptoms primarily psychosomatic, rooted in the stresses and anxiety arising from the challenges of her earlier life?  Various theories have been proposed, as I have noted in my biography, Charlotte Mason Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence. For example, Elsie Kitching, the devoted friend who lived and worked with Charlotte Mason from 1893 to 1923, recalled:

     In spite of frail health and much suffering for thirty years, Miss Mason led the life of a fully occupied woman. Only a week before she passed she said.” It is so difficult to get into invalid ways.” She never thought of herself as an invalid and planned  her life and work  without thought of any  personal handicap but that of physical inactivity....She never worked out of hours nor let herself think of problems at night......She never let herself be ”anxious”[1].

    Belief in the somatic aetiology of Miss Mason’s chronic heart trouble was inseparable from PNEU reverence for the acknowledged Founder and Principal of the House of Education [2]. For Victorian gentlewomen, invalidism was sometimes viewed as a sign of spirituality, associated with likely proximity to the next world, although fainting fits might be caused by tight corsets and voluminous skirts!  The writers of The Story of Charlotte Mason went to some pains to portray Miss Mason as a fragile heroine, comparable to the mythic Lady of the Lamp; however, their studied phraseology suggests awareness of an uncertain diagnosis.

     Lack of stable health frequently interrupted the course of daily life, though few of those who lived with Miss Mason realised her constant courage [3].  

    The early nineteenth-century concept of the perfect Victorian lady, the angel in the house, was ‘set up as an ideal of femininity . . . in spite of its distance from the objective situations of countless women’ [4].   Nineteenth century cardiac and psychiatric diagnoses were primitive by modern standards. For example, in 1867, Joshua Mason’s brother-in-law, William R Leckey, was recorded as dying of ‘gout in the heart’ after half an hour!’ Many patriarchal doctors held that excessive book-learning was gravely injurious to women’s health and beauty. That was the ideology. Yet as the century progressed, intelligent women found ways of gaining access to higher education and advancement despite these prevailing opinions. As the self-appointed principal of her prestigious House of Education in Ambleside, Charlotte Mason epitomised the Angel in the House, lying swathed in rugs on the blue sofa in the drawing-room, albeit with no lessening of her intellectual powers. A remote, yet influential, maternal, figure to generations of her bairns/students, Miss Mason always spoke quietly and gently, although she eschewed the wearing of the archly feminine lace caps, favoured by Queen Victoria, Miss Buss and Miss Beale! 

    Nothing is known for certain about Charlotte’s health in childhood. To be appointed as a pupil-teacher in Birkenhead in 1854, she had presumably passed the rigorous health checks listed in my book [5]. The devastating loss of both parents and one of the teachers between 1857 and 1859 must have shaken her to the core. Although she passed the Queen’s scholarship examination for entry to the Home and Colonial Teacher Training College in London, her college friend, Lizzie, later Mrs Groveham, told Elsie Kitching that she was often ill. Did she find the competitive ethos hard to take? Charlotte collapsed during her criticism lesson delivered before the staff and her fellow-students. The training master, Mr Dunning, adhered to the old-fashioned view that study could seriously harm women. He was so perturbed by her symptoms that he sent her a letter, indicating that she might not live long [6]. She kept his letter for life.  

    Teaching was believed to be less arduous than study! Accordingly, the College Authorities immediately arranged a post for Charlotte as Mistress of the busy Davison Infantine School in Worthing.  The fresh sea air must have been beneficial. The school Log Book recorded only three absences from teaching, ostensibly because of illness, between1861 and  1873. Although Mrs Groveham believed Charlotte had chronically poor health, no written evidence of any heart disease has been found.

    Charlotte Mason suddenly left her next post as lecturer at the Bishop Otter Training College in Chichester for gentlewomen, after only four years. Her letters suggest that she was depressed and exhausted after being gravely overworked, due to staff shortages and other tensions [7]. Early in 1878, Charlotte was assessed by a college friend’s husband, Dr Coleman, who took her to see Professor Balthazar Foster in Birmingham. His diagnostic note, which Charlotte also kept for life, made no mention of heart disease or depressive illness, but simply stated that he could not sanction her doing any educational work for the present. She was suffering from overwork and needed absolute rest for some months.  However rest was also the usual remedy for Victorian heart trouble [8]. Miss Brandreth, a prestigious friend from Worthing, cosseted Charlotte for a while. She took her to France and Switzerland to recuperate. In 1879, Charlotte moved to Bradford to live and work with Mrs Groveham in her Ladies Seminar until 1891.

    In Bradford, we glimpse the picture of a frenetically busy, high achiever who periodically collapsed into exhaustion, perceived as illness.  Concerned for her wellbeing, Mrs Groveham enabled Charlotte to have plenty of time off. Charlotte energetically put this time to great effect. Her first school books were  published, followed by her 'Lectures to Ladies on Home Education', which provided the impetus for founding the P(N)EU with Mrs Steinthal in 1887. Propaganda and committee work, founding and editing the Parents’ Review journal and her key education projects, including the House of Education kept her exceptionally busy. Relief came after settling her staff team and student/bairns into the Scale How mansion in Ambleside early in 1895.

    At Scale How, everyone knew that Miss Mason suffered from ‘heart trouble’. Having assembled a competent staff team and supported by especial friends, she was frequently ill, for example, during the winter of 1893 she travelled to Florence with Mrs Firth for recuperation and inspiration, after the manner of wealthier Victorians. In 1897, recovery from ‘serious illness’ was enhanced by a tour of the northern European Capitals with Sophia Armitt. In 1898, she wrote ‘Dr Oldham pledges me to invalidism- that is a comfortable position-least possible work...Given a regime of quietness and stillness, I may be quite well before May.’ The 1898 London PNEU Conference would be the last one she attended in person [9].

    In 1898, Dr Helen Webb arranged for Charlotte to have a six-week course of specialist heart treatment in London; thereafter, with Elsie Kitching’s support, she conducted her most of her work, lying on the blue couch in the drawing-room.  Carried up and downstairs in a basket chair, she sat up in a chair at dinner with the students and when taking their Criticism lessons, but usually only walked as far as the dining room or to her Victoria carriage, where Barrow was waiting to take her for her daily afternoon drive. It was highly regulated lifestyle aimed at protecting her from exhaustion, but surely also from anxiety and stress as well as from things she did not want to do, such as facing the PNEU London conferences in person or meeting critical parents from the PNEU branches. She obviously loved taking criticism lessons and Sunday Meditations, where she was in control.  Sometimes she broke her own rules, despite Elsie’s fierce protection.

    At an early stage in my researches, I was introduced to Lt. Col. Dr Courtenay Walton MB FRCP, Path., the husband of Mrs Geraldine Walton (CMC 1928) who was very knowledgeable about Victorian medicine. He studied copies of Miss Mason’s few English and German prescriptions, all written in Latin, and left for posterity, in the PNEU archive. He also explored her pulse tracings and bath charts recorded from 1898-1914 by doctors at Bad Nauheim, in Germany, where she took the medicinal baths for her heart condition. From 1915-1922, she took similar baths in Wales.

    Significantly, Dr Walton found no evidence of diagnosed heart trouble. Only one prescription, for a strychnine tonic, could have been for heart treatment. Otherwise, Miss Mason was prescribed medicine for minor complaints: indigestion, wind, lack of appetite, a cough or constipation. Dr Walton said cardiac and psychiatric diagnoses were rudimentary during the Victorian age; rest was the catch-all cure, leaving patients feeling weak and faint from the consequent loss of muscular strength. He remarked that when Charlotte Mason died in 1923 Morbus Cordis (weak heart), should not have been certified as the first cause of death as the stroke, Cerebral Thrombosis, placed second, had clearly ended her life. We concluded Miss Mason could have had a minor symptom, such as an insignificant heart murmur, which was taken more seriously at the time [10].

    I came to the conclusion that Charlotte Mason believed she had a life-long heart condition and adjusted her lifestyle to it, as advised by her various doctors.  Comfortable cosseting by her close friends protected her from the undue anxiety, depression and exhaustion that had plagued her more active early years. Victorian style ill health brought stimulating European travel and did not prevent her from doing what she wished to do. The success of the liberal education for all movement, which took Mason educational methods into state schools from 1914, re-energised her. As an Old Student’ observed.  ‘In spite of her frail body- which, indeed, had grown a little stronger of late years- she seemed to have perennial youth and the keenness and vigour of her mind were unimpaired [11].   

    I have placed Dr Walton’s report and our correspondence in the PNEU archive at the Armitt Library.                 

    © 2016 by Margaret Coombs


    1.  Elsie Kitching, ‘The Day’s Work’ , In Memoriam Charlotte M.Mason (1923) pp. 67,71

    2.  Dorothy Cooke (CMC1913) talking to author in 1985.

    3 . Essex Cholmondeley, ‘The Story of Charlotte Mason ‘(1960) p.59

    4. Introduction to ed. Martha Vicinus,’ Suffer and be Still; Women in the Victorian Age’ p. x London, Methuen & Co 1972.

    5 Margaret A Coombs, ‘Charlotte Mason: Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence’ (2015) Lutterworth Press.pp.72-73.

    6. Ibidem pp.90-91, 94-96.

    7. Ibidem  Mason’s Letter to Mrs Groveham p 132.

    8. Ibidem, p134.

    9.  Ibidem pp 197.

    10. Ibidem pp199-202.

    11. Ibidem quoted on p 247. 

  • 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


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