10 Important Things in Mason Education
1. Teach using Living books
Mason believed children should be taught with Living Books. Living books are unabridged books that teach children through the lives of characters in the book.
…well-written, engaging, and invite the reader inside – [they] teach not through dull imparting of facts but through the lives and events of the characters. They include genres such as historical fiction, nature books, and twaddle-free fiction stories such as those of Holling C. Holling. [The Homeschool Mom]
2. Gentle learning with education a way of life rather than a curriculum
Charlotte believed learning should be gentler and it should be a way of life rather than a rigid curriculum. Classical schools in Mason’s time were not usually fun places. As Christine Miller said:
The picture is presented of schools which resemble more military camps, teachers strict to the point of cruelty, rote memorization and drill which crowds out all love of learning or joy of discovery. Long hours were spent at desk[s] and over books. The phrase, "Children should be seen and not heard" was common of this time, and indicates how adults and society as a whole often viewed children. All these factors rolled together [and] made school a dreaded chore for most children.
The literacy level of those days far outstrips our own…Unlike so many today, those completing a basic education could make their verbs agree with their nouns, and their pronouns with their antecedents. Logic and Latin were unquestioned core components of both public and private school curriculum. [Christine Miller]
You can get a lot done in a short amount of time if the student has the habit of paying attention and doing his best. The young student is required to pay attention for the whole lesson, but his efforts are not overtaxed by long lessons. Short lessons help him get the habit established; once that habit is in place, lesson times are lengthened for older students.
[D]oing a few minutes of drill every day will not make their whole educational experience a drudge, but not only will it help them remember and recall important information, it will help them learn that in life we do the things we must [do] as well as the things we want [to do].
It is common sense to have shorter subjects and more play the younger a child is, but to help children mature, it is necessary to help them develop a sustained attention span, to help them grow into being able to study a single subject for a sustained time period.
After listening to a story (often read by parents), children have to orally relate what they have just heard.
Narration helps children learn how to think and express themselves clearly without the added confusion of handwriting:
Up until the age of 10 or 11, Charlotte advises teachers to use mainly oral narration with a child. After listening to a short passage of a book, the child will tell back, in his or her own words, important aspects of the story.
Narration also serves as a low-pressure way to evaluate a child’s understanding of a subject.
Charlotte recommends using inspiring quotations or Scripture for dictation. The child studies the passage until they are certain of the spelling and punctuation. Then the teacher dictates the passage slowly while the child writes it down. [SimpleHomeschool.Net]
Can someone answer a question, I have been told by a resource place for homeschoolers in my area that CM is very un-religious and I should refrain from using it. That she has odd philosophies. Just wondered if I could get some input. I want all our curriculum to be Christ-based and not taken from some other form…I haven’t made that purchase yet because of this concern! I guess the remark was she was very liberal. [SimplyCharlotteMason.Com]
This was also my initial concern, but having investigated CM more closely, I’ve become convinced she was actually a very godly woman.
Perhaps it is more that when secular people use Mason’s ideas, she gets labelled as secular herself. As one Mum put it:
I have heard of people who try to make a Charlotte Mason education completely secular, but I think that it would be hard to do her philosophy justice without religion… She constantly refers to Christ and scripture in her writings. She is full of love for Christ and all her philosophy leads back to worshipping God. She often had the children reading from both the Old and New Testaments and talks about how math and science both prove that there is a Creator.
Mason was against removing references to God in her curriculum and developed studies in nature which pointed to the glory of God.
Furthermore, her method of education tried to develop a good, Christian character in her students. Here is Mason herself writing about it:
A Disciplined Will [is] necessary to Heroic Christian Character.––Once again, though a disciplined will is not a necessary condition of the Christian life, it is necessary to the development of the heroic Christian character. A Gordon, a Havelock, a Florence Nightingale, a St. Paul, could not be other than a person of vigorous will. In this respect, as in all others, Christianity reaches the feeblest souls. There is a wonderful Guido [Guido Reni] 'Magdalen' in the Louvre, with a mouth which has plainly never been set to any resolve for good or ill––a lower face moulded by the helpless following of the inclination of the moment; but you look up to the eyes, which are raised to meet the gaze of eyes not shown in the picture, and the countenance is transfigured, the whole face is aglow with a passion of service, love, and self-surrender. All this the divine grace may accomplish in weak unwilling souls, and then they will do what they can; but their power of service is limited by their past. Not so the child of the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train him for the Christian life. When he wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, she would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty in training––a man of war from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His good pleasure.
The part about CM being liberal is true, but not in the modern political sense. Charlotte Mason advocated for a “liberal education” for all children. In her time (late 1800s, early 1900s) poor children often got no education at all, and if they did it was often very limited. Liberal in the CM sense implies a generous and broad curriculum for all children, regardless of social class. She wanted to inspire the minds of all children to their maximum potential, not turn them into political automatons. [SimplyCharlotteMason.Com]
Charlotte Mason had a theory about children’s will and desires; she thought children are ‘persons of good will, with honest desires toward right thinking and right living.’
In this, Mason seems to say that children see the right thing to do and children have a desire to do it.
This goes against my experience of children.
My experience of children is that they push boundaries and often do not have good will towards those around them, especially a sibling who might irritate them.
I can’t say they have desires towards right living when I see this.
When children gravitate towards unlimited quantities of chocolate biscuits and unlimited hours on computer games, I can’t say this is a desire towards right thinking.
Christine Miller from ClassicalHomeschooling.Org put it like this:
[W]e need a proper view of children. Not the romantic view in which childhood is idealized as the most innocent and good natured of times, because as anyone with children knows, children have a natural tendency to sin. They also dwell in a natural state of foolishness and selfishness, out of which they must be led.
Conclusion: Would I do Charlotte Mason?
Personally, I’m a massive fan of Classical Education.
But, Classical Education lacks a little freedom which Charlotte Mason has in spades.
Many Christians seem to do a mix of Charlotte Mason and Classical Education. This is what I will be choosing.
I think this mix will enable a huge love of learning, while giving children a good foundation in the Classics which have informed great minds for centuries.
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