Charlotte Mason and Classical Education: Enemies or Friends?
Let me begin speaking on classical and Charlotte Mason methodologies by prefacing, I am not a purist. I will probably never be a purist. My belief is that we should all do what is best for our families, at any given time. That said, I will admit I draw from these two approaches, and want to explain how they are connected, not antithetical, to each other.
Many people who are new to homeschooling might believe that Charlotte Mason and classical methods are two dichotomous entities. This would be incorrect! There are some preconceived notions about each of these methodologies (I have heard a few). If you are newer to homeschool education, you might realize that the two methodologies seem to have some things in common, but you cannot quite put your finger on them. I can relate.
Author Karen Glass does a beautiful job explaining how Charlotte Mason looked to the classical thinking and education methods of the past to inform her own philosophy of teaching. Glass asserts in her 2014 work, Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition, “She [Mason] and her methods do not belong in one era, but take their place in a timeless tradition, of which we also may be partakers,” (p. 7). Glass goes on to say,
The principles and methods Charlotte Mason advocated, however, were not of her own invention. She herself said that she and her colleagues had ‘discovered’ them, because they represent universal truths about education that have their roots in the classical world (Consider This, p.9).
Therefore, Charlotte Mason is rooted in classical educational philosophy. Charlotte did not look merely to the classical practices to see “what they did”. Rather, she sought the reason behind what they did. In other words, she was not going to take the old practices and imitate them blindly. It would be good to take her lead here. Obviously, Charlotte was a product of her time, Victorian era England. The things being “pushed” in the educational realm were “science”, and institutionalized learning was veering off the path of the traditional liberal arts education (with divine truth at its center) and taking a more godless path. Glass affirms that, “modern education has been plagued by utilitarianism for a very long time, and both teachers and students have come to think that schools should teach only what will be useful in the pursuit of a career,” (p. 17).
Do not for a second think that Charlotte Mason undervalued career or higher education! I do not know why some people assume this. In actuality, let’s consider Charlotte’s time. She lived in the 1800s and early 1900s, in an industrialized country. Commonly referred to as “the grind”, the methods institutionalized education espoused in the industrial era were linked to utilitarian thought. Plenty of its remnants remain in our schools to this day! Charlotte was trying to reform the common thought of her time, yet she was not coming up with completely original ideas, since she drew from the classical methods of the past. She stressed that learning is a lifelong pursuit.
Also, consider her audience. Charlotte Mason taught children. So, while most of Charlotte’s methods are intended to be implemented from the early school years (age six in her day), up to and throughout the teen years, this does not mean that she believed learning stops or is irrelevant to older teens and young adults! Quite the opposite is true of her thinking. “She [Mason] knew that most children would not be able to attend school once they reached an age when they could earn wages, so she outlined a course of work that would lay the foundation for a lifelong education,” (Glass, 2014, p. 58). Charlotte Mason valued education beyond the childhood and teen years.
If you consider what a classical liberal arts education used to be, could one who undergoes a lifetime of learning in this method benefit immensely and find a good career for himself/herself and the family?
Simply Charlotte Mason Homeschooling
If I have ever stumbled upon something good, this has been it. My search to educate myself about Charlotte Mason and her methods brought me to the Simply Charlotte Mason website, along with their podcast, Simply Charlotte Mason Homeschooling. As I type this, they have a total of 285 episodes, uploading a new one each week. Some of my favorite episodes have been focused on organizing the homeschool. I like how the podcast’s hostess Sonya Shafer weaves in fundamental Charlotte Mason concepts she has gleaned from Charlotte’s Home Education volumes.
Some of my favorite episodes, found in both audio and audiovisual formats:
Charlotte Mason Book Club
A few gals and I like to meet monthly as we go through Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion. While getting a chance to chat with Karen Andreola herself, she told me that her book is the culmination of many years of notetaking, experience, and study. I love how the chapters are not all uniform in style. For instance, one chapter is entitled “A Page From My Journal”, and gives one a glimpse into her life and innermost thoughts regarding what she was doing with her family homeschool. The chapter is in bullet-point format and gives a task-like flair to the book. Other chapters are essay format, and cover basic elements of a CM education. If you are wanting to know what it would look like to homeschool this way, I recommend the book. I think it is perfect for a book club!
We talk about personal life, as well as the Charlotte Mason literature. Nonetheless, it is a very healthy thing for me to be able to break away and talk about something I am passionate about. My friends are so wise, and we need each other! I would likewise encourage you to find a community, whether physical or virtual, to provide ideas and encouragement for your homeschool. Not everyone will be like you, and of course a big pitfall is comparison (don’t give in to that!). But it is a great thing to see which elements of your own homeschool have been tried before and how others may have done things differently, if they could do a re-do. It is also a joy to just sit down and talk about these ideas. Do we all agree with Charlotte on everything? No, we do not, and that is ok! A book club is for more than likeminded, unanimous concurrence. It is for mother culture. It is for scholé, a pursuit found in leisure of meaning, ideas, philosophy, and education. It is for us, but it is also for our families. Now, who wants to read Mother Culture with me?