Who is Charlotte Mason?

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If you are new to Charlotte Mason, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, most of her life was lived more than 100 years ago, during the reign of Queen Victoria!

What may surprise you is that her insights, and the philosophies and methods she developed in the field of education, were refreshing and revolutionary both in her time, and in ours. In fact, at Everything Charlotte Mason, we assert that Charlotte Mason is the only educational style that affirms the humanity of each child in a world becoming increasingly oriented to machines and data.

So who was Charlotte Mason? We’ll begin with an excerpt of her biography from the folks at Great River Learning in Cincinnati:

Charlotte M. Mason, 1842-1923, was a British educator who established a teachers’ college in the Lake District of England at Ambleside … A single woman from a underclass background, Charlotte distinguished herself as an experienced, extremely wide-read, and very articulate educator whose influence on infant school education was felt well into the mid twentieth century in England.

Her educational beliefs and practices grew out of her Anglican faith, as she believed all children, no matter their social class, to be “born persons,” bearing the image of God as early as infancy. Because of that, she taught that students of all ages should be respected in the way they were taught, not manipulated into appearing to know a great deal through memorization. Manipulations through either shame or reward aside, the only valid means left by which to educate, she believed, were DISCIPLINE, ATMOSHPERE, and LIFE. Through the establishment of habits in an atmosphere of love and respect and the feeding of the mind with living ideas, children of any class and ability could live abundant lives in happy relationship with themselves, each other, the world around them, and their Creator.

This tells you about Charlotte Mason, but to understand what makes her way of teaching  and learning so attractive — and so different from traditional, “factory” schools — requires a little more explanation. Sonya Shafer, founder of Simply Charlotte Mason, shares the basic and important academic differences. (Notations in parentheses refer to the The Original Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Series, by Charlotte Mason.):

  • Living Books instead of Textbooks —Charlotte believed that education is “a life”—that we should nourish the child’s mind upon ideas, not just dry facts. Therefore she used books that touched the imagination and emotions, that made the subject come alive to the student.“They will plod on obediently over any of the hundreds of dry-as-dust volumes issued by the publishers under the heading of ‘School Books,’ or of ‘Education,’ they keep all such books in the outer court, and allow them no access to their minds. A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader” (Vol. 3, p. 228).
  • Narration instead of Direct Questions — Charlotte also defined education as “the science of relations.” She wanted the children to form relations with God, with mankind, and with the universe around them. By asking the children to retell in their own words, and with their own opinions and personality involved (narrate), she was inviting them to share those relations they had formed. And forming personal relations is a completely different concept from recalling information that someone else tells you is necessary.“It cannot be too often said that information is not education. You may answer an examination question about the position of the Seychelles and the Comoro Islands without having been anywise nourished by the fact of these island groups existing in such and such latitudes and longitudes; but if you follow Bullen in The Cruise of the Cachelot the names excite that little mental stir which indicates the reception of real knowledge” (Vol. 3, p. 169).

As well, Charlotte Mason focused on habits, building in children the ability to respect themselves, others and the world around them through self-discipline. In fact, Charlotte Mason went so far as to say that a child’s habits must be formed in a gentle, respectful way before academics can commence, since they “lay down the rails” for joyful learning.  These habits, as paraphrased by Dolly Freeman at The Charlotte Mason Way are: obedience, attentiveness, observation, routines, and excellence. Dolly also includes in the list the habits of reading, handicrafts, and free time  — or as Charlotte Mason called it, “masterly inactivity” — vital elements of a fully-dimensional life that have been greatly reduced or eliminated in our modern society.

Because Charlotte Mason methods are child-centered without being indulgent, and academically excellent without being test-oriented, they have become more popular than ever. The number of schools employing the Charlotte-Mason philosophy and methods is experiencing double-digit growth in the United States, and literally millions of homeschool educators and students around the world have used (or are using) Charlotte Mason methods in whole or in part.

So now you have at least some knowledge about Charlotte Mason, her methods and philosophies, and why they are so beloved by modern educators. You will find much, much more in the countless blog postings by parent educators and Charlotte Mason influencers linked from this site, and by perusing the curriculum and guides available to both home educators and schools also here at Everything Charlotte Mason. We also highly recommend reading Charlotte Mason herself, in The Original Homeschooling Series.

Want to learn more about a Charlotte Mason education, perhaps along with other parents? Visit Charlotte Mason in Community, where you can investigate a program of discussion group readings, to  help get oriented to her methods and philosophies. Ready for a more detailed biography of Charlotte Mason? Then head over to this one at AmblesideOnline.

Have more questions about Charlotte Mason you’d like answered here? Contact us!

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