Category Archives: Nuggets from the Armitt

Nuggets from the Armitt #4

When I started this little series, my only thought was to share some of the bits of things I encountered while fossicking in the beautiful Armitt Library. I didn’t intend to hone in on a single  conference, but as it happens, that how it turned out. Today’s post, once again, grew out of something that occurred at the 1909 (got the date!—notice the “Gibson Girl” silhouettes) conference at Ambleside. A few very specific details—like the number of attendees—are included here, but mostly it is one person’s impression. One of the attendees wrote this “narration” of the week in verse form, and it was published in the L’Umile Pianta for everyone to enjoy, along with the illustration. Definitely eye-catching! (Especially since most pages are blocks of solid text.)  First, I’ll share the poem, and then I’ll share my thoughts.


“At Ambleside in Westmorland, Scale How all tranquil lay,
When a murmur like a tidal wave came booming from far away,
Bright young students by the score, we have sighted fifty-four;
They are swarming up the drive, brains alert and minds alive.
Cram the class room full of chairs—some must sit upon the floor.

Then spake Miss Parish gently, “I know you will forgive me
If I say a word in season our exuberance to still.
We are not rowdy boys that we should make a noise—
To let no Amblesider have a reason to deride her
Is the student’s obvious duty, and she can, she ought, she will!”

A student then inquired if it was to be desired
That a pupil should be punished who objected to obey.
But all decided promptly that to punish was a weakness—
To keep a child from sinning you should have her from the beginning,
When others had not had a chance to spoil her well before.
—Here another spoke with meekness

“But I have from the beginning, tried to keep my child from sinning
And I cannot find a way to teach her to obey.”
Then spoke Miss Kitching (W.) “The child would never trouble you
Had you had her as a baby ere her mother had a chance,
But the lady interrupted with a most pathetic glance:
“But I am the infant’s mother. I have trained her, and no other!”
Here the students feelings carried them away.

And the days flew by, as they used to fly, in the dear old time of yore,
And never a moment the fervour waned, of the blissful fifty-four.
Day after day the whole week through, they came to discuss and to hear.
Day after day, the business done, they turned their thoughts to good cheer.

And some they walked, and some they talked until they could talk no more,
In all our annals was ever a conference like this in the world before?
And the days flew by, and the week was done, did ever week go so fast?
but the bountiful inspiration it brought is a thing that is going to last;
And far away now from dear Scale How, our hearts are rooted there still,
And we vow (if allowed) to return in a crowd—a vow which we mean to fulfil.” —L.M.G.


First of all, yes, I know it’s not great poetry. This was a generation brought up to immortalize things in verse, and so they did. It’s the spiritual equivalent of an Instagram post or a Tweet—a snapshot that shares one person’s thoughts for everyone to enjoy (including us, now!).

What got my attention the first time I read this was the discussion about teaching children to obey. Just think about it. All these young women (some of them now married with children of their own, but not all) had trained at Ambleside under the direct tutelage of a living Charlotte Mason. When the question of obedience came up, their answers were textbook—habit training from the beginning is the key. But this young mother had had the same teaching as the rest and found it difficult to implement with her own young child. The governesses and teachers could shake their heads and lament, “If only we could train the children from the beginning before their mothers spoil them!” But this honest young mother acknowledged that it was easier said than done! “But I am the infant’s mother! I have trained her, and no other.” My only point being—don’t be too hard on yourself. This young mother was Charlotte Mason trained before ever she had her first child, and she wasn’t able to achieve perfect results. They are likely beyond our reach, and we can only do the best we can. Notice how it caused an uproar, but no one seemed to have any practical advice to offer after that?

When I went back over this poem to prepare for this post, a different line caught my attention, and I think this one is my favorite. “They are swarming up the drive, brains alert and minds alive.” I have seen this with my own eyes, and it is a beautiful thing. It has been my privilege to attend and to speak at a number of difference Charlotte Mason conferences or gatherings, and “brains alert and minds alive” is exactly what I have met at every single one of them. “Was there ever a conference like this in the world before?” Not then, perhaps, but now there is an abundance and an embarrassment of riches. If you’ve ever had the privilege of attending a conference of any size (they numbered 54!), I think you will probably agree. It is a delight to meet and share with fellow Charlotte Mason educators. Notice how eager they were to repeat the experience!

“The bountiful inspiration it brought is a thing that is going to last.” It’s true! But the inspiration has to come day by day, just as we must breathe new air each day. Charlotte Mason herself found that she needed to read and reread and keep her thoughts focused on the big picture. From a letter she wrote to the students after one conference:

A man does not inspire once in a lifetime or once in a day. He keeps himself alive by regular acts of inspiration. You have come here now, no doubt, for a little of the old mountain air, for a revival of the old impressions and aspirations. But we must draw from our sources at all times. Your definite and distinct code of educational principles must be kept fresh in your minds by reading and re-reading your books and pamphlets and reports. It really is not an easy thing to keep the whole in mind. I often forget myself, and have to go through a laborious course of thought to find why it is best to do this rather than the other.

Did you catch that? Charlotte Mason said, “I often forget myself!” Small wonder that we do the same. I was fascinated to read Charlotte Mason’s declaration: “Your definite and distinct code of educational principles must be kept fresh in your minds.” It doesn’t do to read once and then go on. We really do need to keep those principles in mind, as a whole, as best we can. It’s one reason I went outside my comfort zone and created a visual for the principles that we can keep nearby for inspiration! Brains alert and minds alive—never stop learning.


While I could keep going with this series, this post marks fourteen weeks in a row in which I have posted something new to this blog, which is probably some kind of record (for me). I’m going to stop here and devote some time to other projects, including the newsletter I meant to start in January! I have future blog series planned, so I’ll be back when I’ve got something to share. If you haven’t already signed up for my newsletter, please do! You’ll get original content, early news of upcoming projects, and a free printable of the twenty principles in a short form, which makes a handy reference bookmark for In Vital Harmony or any other Charlotte Mason book you might be reading.

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As I prepared for this series,  I visited the Armitt website and discovered that the enforced closure is hurting them very much. They rely on visitor ticket sales to fund the museum, and during the closure, they have nothing except any donations they might receive. My goal with this series was merely to offer some light-hearted and interesting tidbits I gleaned during my visits, but I’m going to add here that if you enjoy this series and the virtual visit to the Armitt, please consider sending them a small donation—their link will explain how you can do that.

Nuggets from the Armitt #3

Have you ever disagreed with a fellow Charlotte Mason educator? Have you ever had a lively discussion on some point of contention? Have you held your own opinion about something while others proffered different opinions?

Welcome to the PNEU. During the same conference I mentioned in the last post, a group of at least seven (unmarried!) teachers got together and had a tussle over the best way for parents (!) to deal with questionable reading material for their children. I have seen this exact discussion reenacted (by actual parents) more times than I can remember in email groups, forums, and social media sites. For some reason, this particular discussion was immortalized by publication in one of the PNEU periodicals. Someone  was keeping the minutes in good old-fashioned form, and it was printed that way. I’ve reproduced it for you here (in black) and added a few imaginative touches (in blue) because these were real folks, and as I said, I’ve heard this discussion before. I’ve given it a title:


Miss Allen Disagreed

Discussion centred on Miss Pennethorne’s views with regard to books read by children.

[Miss Pennethorne apparently expressed the opinion that parents should not be too quick to confiscate a book from a child, even if the book might contain something “undesirable.”]

Miss Allen disagreed with Miss Pennethorne’s opinion that a child reading an undesirable book should not be disturbed, or the book taken away directly. Evil might be done in a few minutes. [Miss Allen was appalled! “If you don’t snatch the book away immediately, who knows what the kid might see? Better not to take chances.”]

Miss Hertzel said that the treatment should depend on the temperment of the child, as the very fact of calling attention to the evil might open their eyes to it. [Miss Hertzel—a little savvier than most—tried to diffuse the heat a bit by pointing out that all children are different. Some of them might not really notice anything amiss, but if the book were confiscated, it might create a sort of “Aha!” moment and they’d realize more was going on than they’d thought.]

Miss Wilkinson asked if the child could not be prevented from ever obtaining an undesirable book. [Miss Wilkinson pointed out, with a bit of self-righteous satisfaction, that careful parents could probably make sure that children never had a chance to even start reading an undesirable book. “Why would they have any books like that where children could get them, hmmm?”]

Miss Lawrence suggested that the children should always submit their books to the scrutiny of their parents before reading them. [“Mothers and Fathers should just have a rule. They must make it a rule that their children always have to ask them before they read anything.” That’ll fix it.]

Miss Drury raised the question, as parallel with this, of how to keep children from harm in newspaper reading. [“You know these kids have newspapers delivered to their houses every day, and their parents sit there reading them during breakfast. How is anyone supposed to keep children from reading suggestive headlines two inches tall?”]

Miss Allen then gave the idea of teaching children to respect their own minds, and of their own accord to stop reading anything that “soiled their minds.” [Miss Allen—so obviously a “Miss” and not a parent—thought children might be mature enough to just stop reading anything that would “soil their mind.” Although they don’t seem to mind soiling their hands, shoes, and clothes, she thought they could just police themselves and stop reading if they encountered anything that would cause a smudge on their pristine thoughts. Everyone in the room looked at her as if she were out of her mind.]

Miss R. Williams thought it a better plan for children to ask an elder whether a book would prove interesting, rather than raise the question of “may” or “may not.” [Miss Williams was a little worried that anything forbidden would just seem more desirable because of that, so she thought the whole question of getting permission to read something could just be circumvented by telling children they shouldn’t read anything without first getting an adult perspective on whether or not it would be interesting for them. She could see the danger of “forbidden fruit,” but it seems a bit naive to think that children are going to rely on adults to tell them what might be interesting. They’d rather find out for themselves.]

Resolution was moved by Miss Wilkinson and amended by Miss Allen [!] that:

“Parents or those in authority should, as far as possible, exercise supervision over the books allowed to fall into children’s hands, but there should be no restriction to their power of taking away at once an undesirable book.”

[Wasn’t that nice of these conscientious teachers? They aren’t going to place limitations on parents about how they should deal with a child who happens to be reading an undesirable book, although they can’t resist including a suggestion that parents should exercise a little gumption and supervise what “falls into” a child’s hands]

The amended resolution was seconded by Miss Lawrence, and carried unanimously.

[And I’m sure they all felt much better with that accomplished. But feelings were still running a bit high, so…]

Further discussion followed. [Somewhat loudly.]

Miss Lawrence objected to Miss Pennethorne’s proposal to supply books of horrors to children. Imaginary horrors in adventure stories she considered injurious to children; but if horrors are necessary, let them be of the sufferings of real people. [Miss Lawrence has a horror of horrors. Let’s face it, she’s squeamish, and because she is, she doesn’t want poor, innocent children to read about imaginary horrors like fire-breathing dragons who destroy villages or giants who threaten “fee fi fo fum” because then they won’t be able to sleep at night for fear of the monsters under the bed. It would be much better, she thinks, for them to read about the sufferings of real people. Like martyrs who were beheaded and burned at the stake, maybe?]

Miss Allen asked for advice how to treat historical horrors and the fascination they have for some children, but asked if the unpleasant details could not be avoided. [“Oh, that’s true. Real stories might be too graphic for children. What are we supposed to do about that?” She’s clueless, but give her a minute and she’ll have the solution.]

Miss Hertzel agreed that details were better avoided, as children were more apt to gloat over them than realize the pathos. [Miss Hertzel teaches a houseful of bloodthirsty little boys who get into daily fist fights, whack each other with sticks,  and hide garter snakes and spiders in her desk. She no longer has many illusions about “innocent” little children. She just wants to avoid books of horrors because she doesn’t want to give them any new ideas.]

Miss Drury reminded the students present that children, like nations, must pass through a stage when horrors are not so horrible to them as to more advanced minds. [This is a really interesting observation and might have been a more fruitful discussion than the minutia about how parents should deal with their children and reading material, but everyone is bored and getting hungry and they are ready to be done with this, so…]

[The intrepid] Miss Allen proposed the following resolution:

“Stories of hardships endured through devotion or patriotism are suitable for children, but books of horrors as such, whether historical or imaginary, should be avoided.” [You just knew she was going to come up with something.]

The motion was seconded by Miss Hertzel [who just wanted to go get a sandwich], and carried unanimously [because everyone was so tired of arguing].

[But Miss Allen couldn’t let everyone go without having the last word, so even though she’d started the whole thing by disagreeing with Miss Pennethorne in the first place…]

Miss Allen rose [casting a disdainful glance at squeamish Miss Lawrence] to defend Miss Pennethorne’s doctrine of horrors as a fight against “missishness.”

[Well, okay then.]


Well, I hope you enjoyed that. I could say, “wouldn’t you have loved to have been a fly on the wall and seen the actual discussion?” But, if you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you already have (probably many times over).

I told you they were all real people just like us. As I leafed through the book (I think it was the L’Umile Pianta), I ran across this discussion printed just like this (just the black words, remember), without heading, explanation, or embellishments. I read through it, photographed it, and forgot about it until I was looking at my Armitt research recently. I read it again and again, and the personalities began to emerge. One wonders if Miss Pennethorne was present at all—she contributes nothing to the discussion except her initial thoughts, which might have been in the form of a paper read to everyone. Or maybe she was the one playing secretary? Miss Allen clearly dominates the discussion, while timid Miss Williams only pipes up once. Miss Lawrence is a bit “missish.” Miss Hertzel is the most sensible of the bunch, but doesn’t have the energy to keep engaging with Miss Allen. Does anyone think real parents are going to take the advice of these unmarried governesses on how to deal with children and “horrors” in books? Does anyone think there is one right resolution that applies to all families in all circumstances, or is this one of those things where they might concede that parents can best decide how to manage with their own children? (Miss Allen probably wouldn’t think so.)

I have no wisdom to offer and find no great insight here. This was just for fun! And yet…I am mindful that this little discussion was a tiny part of the conference and the shared interests of these young women. They wrote glowing reports of their time together—it was refreshing and heavenly. They put this in in the magazine with the other info about the conference so non-attenders could feel as if they were there. Yeah, sure, they disagreed about some little things, but it did not shake their convictions about the principles they shared and their desire to keep on building each other up and encouraging each other in their common labor. But that’s not speculation on my part. This is what one of them wrote about it:

If I could make you feel the love that was there! If I could tell you of the joy of being in touch with power—the power we felt among us that that made it impossible to fail! If I could show you the simplicity that knows the few things that matter, then indeed you would know what such a week meant to those who lived it.


As I prepared for this series,  I visited the Armitt website and discovered that the enforced closure is hurting them very much. They rely on visitor ticket sales to fund the museum, and during the closure, they have nothing except any donations they might receive. My goal with this series was merely to offer some light-hearted and interesting tidbits I gleaned during my visits, but I’m going to add here that if you enjoy this series and the virtual visit to the Armitt, please consider sending them a small donation—their link will explain how you can do that.

Nuggets from the Armitt #2

Have you ever complained about your Charlotte Mason curriculum? “There’s too much reading.” “This is too hard for my student.” “We can’t get this done in the allotted time.”

If you’ve ever felt like that, join the club. Charlotte Mason teachers have been feeling that way from the beginning. During the conferences where the teachers met together, a great deal of discussion on all kinds of topics took place, and this was all reported in some detail in the PNEU publications, for the benefit of all. One year (and I apologize for my failure to document everything fully—this might have been 1905), one of the topics on the table was math. The teachers had a number of issues with certain books in certain classes, as well as complaints that they needed more time for math. They drafted their complaints as resolutions, and listed them carefully:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They had a delicious advantage that we can never have. They were able to share their concerns directly with Charlotte Mason and get some feedback, which is exactly what they did. Her responses were included a few pages later in the report from this conference, and you should really take a close look at how she responded, especially if you’ve had similar issues.

The first complaint was that too much work was being set for classes III and IV. Miss Mason’s response was that if they had used the assigned book in classes I and II, it wasn’t too much. If you find that response unhelpful, I confess that I do, too. Perhaps these students hadn’t used the PNEU for the earlier classes. For whatever reason, a number of students were having problems getting through the set work (or they wouldn’t have passed this resolution), and no suggestions are offered to them. Miss Mason had to think about the PNEU programmes as a whole, and assign the work appropriate for the greatest number of students. We know from information elsewhere that individual teachers were invited to adapt as needed, but Miss Mason wasn’t going to alter the program for them.

The second complaint was about the math book used in class III, and Miss Mason offered to consider making a change there. The third complaint was that, in both classes III and IV,  more time was needed for arithmetic lessons, and Miss Mason simply said no. She was not going to let arithmetic take away time the students needed to explore “many fields of knowledge.”

What can we glean from this? First—if something in your Charlotte Mason curriculum isn’t working perfectly, try to pinpoint the exact issue, as these teachers did. But here’s the good part! Charlotte Mason had to consider the program as a whole and make it suit the largest number of students possible. You don’t! You only have to consider your home, and your school, and your student. Don’t ignore the principle that guided Charlotte Mason’s answer to complaint #3—math is only a part of larger program. But if you need a little more time for individual math lessons, consider having longer math lessons three days per week instead of shorter ones every day. Obviously, if a given book isn’t right for you, find another one. Slow down if you need to.

I didn’t share the problems they were having with too much work in geography and natural history, but if you look past the answers to the math questions, you’ll see that Miss Mason “consented to lessen the amount of Geography set for a term’s work in Class II, and of Natural History in Class III.”

Nobody can get everything perfect every time. Adjust as needed—that’s what these teachers did—and Charlotte Mason as well—when they needed to. But it’s an interesting intellectual exercise. What principles guided Charlotte Mason’s answers to the teachers’ concerns? Would you give the exact same answers, and what principles would inform your suggestions?


As I prepared for this series,  I visited the Armitt website and discovered that the enforced closure is hurting them very much. They rely on visitor ticket sales to fund the museum, and during the closure, they have nothing except any donations they might receive. My goal with this series was merely to offer some light-hearted and interesting tidbits I gleaned during my visits, but I’m going to add here that if you enjoy this series and the virtual visit to the Armitt, please consider sending them a small donation—their link will explain how you can do that.

Nuggets from the Armitt #1

The Armitt Museum in Ambleside, England is very small in actual size. In fact, they describe themselves as “one of Britain’s rarest small museums.” The treasures within are all out of proportion to the humble little building they call home. Giants of intellect and art lived and worked nearby, and the Armitt faithfully preserves their relics and makes them available to visitors and researchers from all over the world. If you visit Ambleside, a visit to the Armitt is a must. I’ve been privileged to visit twice, and had a recent planned visit sidelined for the same reason everything else in the world from the Olympics to the Tour de France has been cancelled or postponed in the past few months.

But I have visited  and, partly as a consolation for the missed trip, I’ve been sifting through some of my take-aways from previous visits. A few of those tidbits are the subjects of this new, short series—Nuggets from the Armitt. We’re going to lighten up after our wrestling match with Coleridge, and for about a month of Mondays I’m going to share some little things—juicy little tidbits, if you will—that I bumped into while I was at the Armitt. I’m not going to give you anything earth-shattering, but I will be surprised if you don’t find a bit of new insight from these nuggets.

I got the idea for doing this after I shared a suggestive little paragraph from The Parents’ Review that indicates there might have been a PNEU meeting at Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey. I’m not going to repeat that one here, so if you haven’t seen it, you can check it out on my Facebook page or @karenglassreads on Instagram.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the L’Umile Pianta? It was a publication for the graduates of Charlotte Mason’s teaching school, so they could keep in touch with each other personally and also encourage and continue to equip each other professionally. They shared nature information, picture and composer study helps, suggestions for teaching various subjects, and so forth. One of the features of the magazine was the “Reading Page” or “Reading Club.” This page was dedicated to sharing reviews of books, along with a commonplace quote or two, that might be of interest to other readers. The editor of the magazine included this page in every issue, but sometimes, rather than book reviews or commonplace quotes, it was devoted to pleading for submissions. Even if there were a few suggestions, the editor was usually begging for more:

The smallest crumbs are gratefully received here and yet—this poor pauper starves.

The books they suggested ranged from poetry and novels to books about psychology or history. Pretty much anything that might be of use to a fellow former pupil in her task of feeding her own mind was fair game. In spite of the continual pleading, as I leafed through issue after issue, I found the poor editor almost at her wits’ end and shamelessly laying a guilt trip on everyone who wasn’t sending her a postcard!

Here you find her playing on their sympathy as she describes the condition of the “reading club.” It was “Starving. Empty. Forlorn. Pitiable.” And so she begs, “Oh all ye little students remember me, and drop me a post card crumb!”

You all know how much I admire Charlotte Mason. However, I think most of us will admit that her books can feel a bit daunting. She is strong-minded, and while she is always kind, she is also fairly relentless in presenting an ideal which she will not tarnish with wavering human nature. Reading L’Umile Pianta and The Parents’ Review is a different experience. There, we find a much more down-to-earth and humanizing presentation of the ideals as students and parents tried to live them out. They remind me of myself and all the homeschool moms and teachers I have known through the years. They were so much like us, and I’ll be showing you a bit more of that in the weeks to come.

That’s all I’ve got for today—as I said, these are just little nuggets of interest that I gleaned while delving into other serious topics. There is a lot of fun in these old publications, and one of my great regrets is that I will probably never get enough study hours in the Armitt to get through all the material available. But, we won’t let that deter us from enjoying what we can, right? If you were going to cave in to the editor’s pleading and send a postcard with a book suggestion, what would you suggest your fellow home teachers read?

 


As I prepared for this series,  I visited the Armitt website and discovered that the enforced closure is hurting them very much. They rely on visitor ticket sales to fund the museum, and during the closure, they have nothing except any donations they might receive. My goal with this series was merely to offer some light-hearted and interesting tidbits I gleaned during my visits, but I’m going to add here that if you enjoy this series and the virtual visit to the Armitt, please consider sending them a small donation—their link will explain how you can do that.