Recently I bought the complete 6 volume series by Charlotte Mason. I had heard enough about her work, and read other authors (for example, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay) who had quoted and described her methodology that I thought it was time to get to the source, and read the original works for myself. I am aware it will take me some time to read and digest all that is there, so rather than writing a ‘book review’, I think I’ll share excerpts as I go along.
Firstly, you must bear in mind when these books were written. Charlotte Mason founded her ‘House of Education’ in Ambleside (the English Lake District, which is very beautiful if you ever have the chance to go there) in 1892. The preface of the edition I am reading was written in 1905. So I expected them to be somewhat difficult to read in both style and content.
Instead, having only reached about page seven, I feel as though I have met a wise older aunt with a very witty humour. Through beautiful, expressive language, several commonsense principles are made clearly, boldly, and I believe are entirely relevant to our families today.
On the second page, she introduces her considerations in writing her philosophy of education by stating, ‘as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children during the first six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own’. Compare this with the prevalent worldview today, that as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, in fact education of their own children is considered too trivial and somewhat undeserving of their intellect, skill and energy. A very sad contrast.
But it was the following paragraph which really made me laugh, but also consider how sadly values have changed over the century since the books were written. I’ll quote at reasonable length. Lamenting the lapses she was already noting in terms of discipline, Charlotte states, ‘For instance, according to the former code, a mother might use her slipper now and then, to good effect and without blame; but now, the person of the child is, whether rightly or wrongly, held sacred, and the infliction of pain for moral purposes is pretty generally disallowed....That children should be trained to endure hardness was a principle of the old regime. “I shall never make a sailor if I can’t face the wind and rain”, said a little fellow of five who was taken out on a bitter night to see a torchlight procession; and though shaking with cold, he declined the shelter of a shed. Nowadays, the shed is everything; the children must not be permitted to suffer cold or exposure. That children should do as they are bid, mind their books, and take pleasure as it offers when nothing stands in the way, sums up the old theory; now, the pleasures of children are apt to be made of more account than their duties. Formerly, they were brought up in subjection; now, the elders give place and the world is made for the children. English people rarely go so far as the parents of that story in French Home Life, who arrived late at a dinner party, because they had been desired by their girl of three to undress and go to bed when she did, and were able to steal away only when the child was asleep. We do not go so far, but that is the direction in which we are moving; and how far the new theories of education are wise and humane, the outcome of more widely spread physiological and psychological knowledge, and how far they just pander to the child-worship to which we are all succumbing is not a question to be answered off-hand’.
That was refreshing to me. But I’m afraid to say, I know many parents who do just the type of thing that is here mocked as being over the top. I know several parents who do tiptoe around for an hour after putting their children to bed, talking in whispers, getting very upset if the doorbell or phone rings. I know many Christian families who I believe are falling into the error of idolising their children, of indulging their every whim in misguided ‘love’. Charlotte Mason clearly loved children. She dedicated her life to providing a rich and full educational curriculum for them. In many ways she was revolutionary, establishing key principles, the first of which is that ‘Children are born persons’, and should be treated with gentle respect as they develop as individuals. She was not a harsh disciplinarian who believed that children should ‘be seen and not heard’, by any stretch of the imagination. She clearly saw defective child rearing around her (and I imagine would shudder to see how things are done today), and spoke out clearly, and in my view, wisely.
I’m already thirsty to read more, and as I said before, I am only on page seven. I hope that my musings and excerpts are an encouragement to you also!