Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason, was a British educator born January 1, 1842. She was orphaned at 17, and trained as teacher. In her years of teaching she developed a concept of education that she expressed as “liberal education for all,” by which she meant an education that was broad and deep enough curriculum to be suitable for all children. While teaching at the Bishop Otter Teaching Training College, she also saw a use for parent education in child rearing, which she presented as a series of lectures that were later published with the name Home Education.
Her next career move was the establishment, in 1891, of the House of Education, when she trained governesses and others who interact with young children. The next year saw the addition of the National Parents’ Education Union, where young children were taught according to Mason’s approach. She continued to publish expressions of her methods and philosophy, and other schools began adopting her approach. Her school was renamed Charlotte Mason College after her death in 1923, and after several mergers, has ceased to exist.
A Summary of Some Key Charlotte Mason Method Points
Here are some key points from the Charlotte Mason method, along with some critiques that have been made about them. As many people use the method is a personalized way, this may help you to not only get the gist of the method but also determine some adaptations that you might wish to consider.
Charlotte Mason recommended that whole, living books be used instead of textbooks. The meaning is that the excerpts and “talking about” in textbooks and anthologies be replaced with firsthand accounts of subjects by compelling expert accounts. This approach may be harder to follow for more complex subjects or subjects that are not easily conveyed in narrative. She also encourages letting the child interact with books without too much teacher talk. It can sound as if she is giving the book priority over the teacher in the child’s education, and while this may be appropriate in some cases, it may not be so universally.
Charlotte Mason recommends short, planned lessons in the morning and leaving the afternoon free for independent exploration, but the time limits she suggests may have the side-effect of preventing certain types of interactions and learning from taking place by cutting off classes before these types of interactions can come to fruition. She also recommends a very late beginning for original writing, building towards it with narrative, reading quality books, and dictation, all of which she seems to think will naturally promote good writing. It is not clear if she recognizes the sometimes substantial differences between oral and written prose or the fact that explicit instruction in grammar and usage can have many benefits, not the least of which is assisting the student in learning a foreign language.
Because her science method relies on nature walks, it would seem that her method would require adaptation in order to accommodate instruction in sciences that cannot be drawn out of natural observation.
Charlotte Mason Method Today
In the twenty-first century, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and methods are conveyed in three way. First, Charlotte’s own writings like A Philosophy of Education, Formation of Character, Ourselves: Our Souls and Bodies, Parents and Children, School Education, and The Original Home Schooling Series are still available and still read. She is also known through several interpreters who have adapted or explained her methods in their own works. Catherine Levison and Karen Andreola are two whose names come up frequently.