Charlotte Mason Philosophy for Today

When it comes time to enroll in school, parents in Forsyth County have a daunting task ahead of them. There are many schools to consider, each with uniquely distinctive characteristics, not to mention a vibrant homeschool community. I’ve passed my share of playground visits talking to other parents about school choices, lotteries and waitlists, and I expect you have, too. With so many options, it is up to each family to determine what matters most, and for parents to help one another navigate this tricky landscape.

When I’m asked about our school choice – our children attend Redeemer School – my answer begins with the English educator and author Charlotte Mason (1842-1923), whose educational philosophy has strongly influenced Redeemer School. In a spirit of parent camaraderie, I’d like to introduce you to Miss Mason, whose thoughtful philosophy of education was transformative in England and around the world during her lifetime, and has since been rediscovered and cherished by a new generation.

Who was Charlotte Mason?

Mason was a teacher and a visionary. In 1800s England, education was offered based on social class. Poor children were taught a trade, while upper-class children were exposed to the arts and literature. Mason, who herself had been orphaned at age 16 and never enjoyed financial security, attended a teaching college and spent 10 years working in this class-based system. She dreamed of a generous and broad education for children regardless of social class. 

Working tirelessly from her belief in the limitless possibilities of children, Mason made her dream a reality for countless children of all walks of life. She opened schools in the industrial cities of Victorian England for children who lived in the slums, as well as educating children in the more well-to-do homes. Missionaries applied her philosophy in far-flung locations. Today, her philosophy influences homeschooling families and schools in the Charlotte Mason tradition.

What is Charlotte Mason’s Educational Philosophy?

Mason’s ideas are summarized in her motto, “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life, and a science of relationships.” These four concepts form the foundation of the Charlotte Mason method:

An Atmosphere

Atmosphere is the space in which the child breathes and learns; Mason called it the “thought-environment.” It is a combination of the physical surroundings and the quality of relationships with teachers, parents and others. Personal relationships are marked by gentleness and reverence, kindness and helpfulness. The physical environment need not be extravagant, but should be tidy and can include simple touches such as playing beautiful music, displaying excellent student work, art prints, class pets and flowers.

Redeemer School aims to achieve what Charlotte Mason called “an atmosphere of truth and sincerity in which there is the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class…creating a current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor.” The atmosphere is a spirit of cooperation, motivation to engage in learning fostered from a child’s own desire to know and delight in a job well done. Whenever possible, the child’s natural curiosity does the teaching.

A Discipline

Discipline is the purposeful development of good habits; specifically, habits of character. Mason believed that since children are created in the likeness of God, their possibilities are limitless. Good habits enable self-control and regulation. She used one of St. Augustine’s mottos to express this:

  • I am. We have the power of knowing ourselves.
  • I can. We are conscious of power to do what we perceive we ought to do.
  • I ought. We have within us a moral judge to whom we feel ourselves subject, who points out and requires of us our duty.
  • I will. We determine to exercise that power with a volition that is in itself a step in the execution of what we will.

At Redeemer School, teachers seek to introduce the child to what Mason called the “habits of a faithful learner.” The habits of attentiveness, thinking deeply, truthfulness, order, imagining, remembering and obedience, among others, are the building blocks that help a child develop understanding. Habits of responsibility, courtesy, punctuality and good temper help a child to grow in his or her social interactions with others.

A Life

Life is the academic portion of the education, and it represents the ideas, experiences and knowledge that are taken in by the child. Mason believed that the nature of knowledge begins with ideas, also called living thoughts, rather than predigested or dry facts. Examples include reading living books, narration or retelling what is learned, handwriting and spelling from dictation of great ideas, outdoor exploration, and artist and composer studies are completed with full attention and best effort. Mason encouraged what she called “masterly inactivity,” in which children can possess the same appetite for ideas as adults, and a teacher’s role is to guide the learning by providing the best resources and experiences. In this way, children learn to feed their own minds with the best intellectual food. 

“In saying that ‘education is a life,’ the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.” (A Philosophy of Education, p. xvii)

The Redeemer School curriculum focuses on the knowledge of God, knowledge of man and knowledge of the created universe. Teachers direct children first to God’s Word, which provides the meaning and purpose for life. The Redeemer classroom is filled with Scripture, great literature, works of art, music and excellent resources in math and science. We put them in touch with excellence of thought in any of the disciplines (philosophers, explorers, discoverers, writers, inventors, musical compositions and great works of art) so they might be inspired to the same depth of thought, process and creativity as those who have made impacts on the world in big and small ways.

A Science of Relationships 

The science of relationships describes the personal relationship a child has with what she is learning, as well as the relationships the child learns to identify between ideas on her own. To develop relationships, a child should be free to run and jump, climb and swim, lift and carry, touch and feel textures of many kinds, learn handicrafts and learn the names of many living things (cow and auk, herb and tree). Mason referred to this as being educated by “intimacies.” A child needs a living relationship with the present, its science, literature, art, music, as well as a historical flow of the past, its significant events, science, literature, art and music. 

There is a need for our children to have a growing awareness of how a period of time, the way of life and events of that time, relate to each other. The viewpoint should be a panoramic picture of the past and present brought to life by glimpses into the thought and culture of the time period being studied. “For it depends” Mason wrote, “not upon how much is learned, but upon how things are learned.” At Redeemer School, hands-on activities, real life experiences, keeping a timeline and reading original sources allow children to be active learners.

Charlotte Mason Today

Despite its Victorian roots, Mason’s philosophy is not stuck in the past, nor does it harken back to a “golden age” gone by; rather, the underlying framework of her ideas provides freedom to adapt them for different situations, times and cultures. As Susan Shaeffer Macauley wrote, “Charlotte Mason’s ideas are remarkable because all people in all times are alike in certain ways. The reality is that we all share the inner framework of truth. No race is ‘more human’ than another. No gender is higher than another. No culture is superior in itself.”

To read more about Charlotte Mason, I recommend the following resources:

  • Charlotte Mason’s Original Home Schooling Series, six volumes. Available at simplycharlottemason.com.
  • When Children Love to Learn, edited by Elaine Cooper, Crossway, 2004.
  • For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, Crossway, 1984.

BOX:

Learn more about Redeemer School and the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason, discover what it means to be part of a covenant school and tour our facilities at one of our Open House events. Join us Thursday, February 17, 2022 from 9:30-11:00am. Please RSVP online at redeemerschool.org/admissions or by phone at 336.724.9460.

Applications are now being accepted for TK-8th grade for the 2022-2023 school year. Apply online: redeemerschool.org/admissions.

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