Archive for December 13th, 2006

Charlotte Mason on Nourishing the Mind

December 13, 2006 @ 1:27 pm | Filed under:

Ooh, I’m so happy y’all are up for this conversation!

I thought it worthwhile to post a few short excerpts from TOWARDS A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION to whet our appetites…emphasis is mine.

We want an education which shall nourish the mind while not
neglecting either physical or vocational training; in short, we want a
working philosophy of education. I think that we of the P.N.E.U. have
arrived at such a body of theory, tested and corrected by some thirty
years of successful practice with thousands of children. This theory
has already been set forth in volumes [The Home Education
published at intervals during the last thirty-five
years; so I shall indicate here only a few salient points which seem to
me to differ from general theory and practice,––

(a) The children, not the teachers, are the responsible persons;
they do the work by self-effort.

(b) The teachers give sympathy and occasionally elucidate, sum up or
enlarge, but the actual work is done by the scholars.

(c) These read in a term one, or two, or three thousand pages,
according to their age, school and Form, in a large number of set
books. The quantity set for each lesson allows of only a single
reading; but the reading is tested by narration, or by writing on a
test passage. When the terminal examination is at hand so much ground
has been covered that revision is out of the question; what the
children have read they know, and write on any part of it with ease and
fluency, in vigorous English; they usually spell well.

—Volume 6, page 6

There is, of course, much more to the Charlotte Mason method than the simple plan laid out in paragraph (c), but that’s her nutshell explanation. You select a number of excellent books, have the student read them slowly over the course of the term or semester, and expect clear and thorough narrations either orally or on paper for each book, each chapter or passage, as the student makes his way through them.

By "no time for revision," she means no time for review, no ‘going over it again’ at a later date to make sure the student still remembers it. Miss Mason’s assertion is that the student who narrates WILL remember, without note-taking, cramming, or second reads. I’ve been familiar with this assertion of hers for almost a decade now, and it still shocks me when I take the time to think about it. Can you imagine if we all possessed this ability? A skill she takes for granted as the product of her educational method?

The unusual interest children show in their work, their power of
concentration, their wide, and as far as it goes, accurate knowledge of
historical, literary and some scientific subjects, has challenged
attention and the general conclusion is that these are the children of
educated and cultivated parents. It was vain to urge that the home
schoolroom does not usually produce remarkable educational results; but
the way is opening to prove that the power these children show is
common to all children
; at last there is hope that the offspring of
working-class parents may be led into the wide pastures of a liberal

Vol. 6, p. 8.

She wrote A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION after thirty years of putting her ideas to the test in Parents’ National Education Union Schools. (The PNEU you always see in connection with CM.) She saw these results time and time again, across the board, with the students in PNEU home and cottage schools—rich kids, poor kids, kids whose parents were highly educated, kids whose parents were not. There are many examples of their work in Vol. 6. The end-of-term essays will knock your socks off.

Doesn’t it make you wonder what happened? If her method is so successful, why didn’t it make it into any public school model in, say, the United States? John Taylor Gatto has a theory about that…

But of course Mason’s ideas are being put into practice in many homeschools nowadays. I will be interested to see if a time comes that she makes her way into the mainstream.

As I said yesterday, the Charlotte Mason method isn’t just about training the mind’s powers of attention and memory; it isn’t all about intellect. There is so much more to what she meant by "an educated person." For the more complete picture, her "20 Principles" are the place to begin. These are laid out in the preface to Volume Six. The commentary provided at this link is particularly useful.  Just a little something for you to chew on during the holidays…