A new school year is beginning, and lots of new families have taken up Charlotte Mason’s methods for their families. Maybe you are new, and maybe you’re a veteran with two, or five, or fifteen years of Charlotte Mason teaching behind you. Either way, you may very well want to connect with others who share your enthusiasm for Charlotte Mason’s teaching methods. This is a great time to begin looking, and to exercise grace.
I want to share part of a letter written by Elsie Kitching, Charlotte Mason’s long-time faithful secretary and helper. During her lifetime, Miss Mason carried on a great deal of correspondence, and Miss Kitching kept up the practice in her stead. This was written not long after Miss Mason’s death, and published in the Parent’s Review for everyone to read, not just the recipient, because what Miss Kitching had to say has a wide application which reaches us today in the 21st century.
I am quite sure that the visitors you have had at various times have been full of admiration of the work of your children. Mr. Y also wrote to me saying how much impressed he was by it, and I should not like to apply your word “unpermissible” to what you have considered it well to do in your school. Miss Mason would not have used the word herself, but in her work with those with whom she came most into contact here she always took any debated point back to the principle at issue, and made us decide whether or not a certain practice could bear the final test of the principle. No doubt able and thoughtful teachers will always interpret Miss Mason’s writings in their own way; but this should not prevent close cooperation between those who are immediately concerned in carrying out a trust which has been left to them, and those who are endeavouring to carry out Miss Mason’s Method in wider fields of action from their reading of her books.
This was written, as you can see, in response to a letter/question. Someone was asking, in effect, “is this practice unpermissible?” Miss Kitching’s reply is significant to me, in several ways.
First, “Miss Mason would not have used that word.” Ponder that long. Next, she points out that the principles are the guide—consider your practices in light of the principles. Is the principle supported or compromised by any given practice? You must decide this for yourself. It’s perfectly possible that one person could follow a practice without violating a principle, while the same practice would be a stumbling block to another. I have seen this, specifically with memorization. Some people manage to make it fun and part of a life-giving education, while for others it becomes a deadening, dreadful chore.
Then, I’m going to repeat this: “No doubt able and thoughtful teachers will always interpret Miss Mason’s writings in their own way; but this should not prevent close cooperation between those who are immediately concerned in carrying out a trust which has been left to them, and those who are endeavouring to carry out Miss Mason’s Method in wider fields of action from their reading of her books.”
This is my take-away from this, and this is what has stuck with me since I read it, and what I think is very relevant as there are more and more Charlotte Mason educators who are seeking to join forces for co-ops, and book studies, and other community-based activities that will enhance their children’s education. “Able and thoughtful teachers will always interpret Miss Mason’s writings in their own way.” Full stop there. Take a moment to think about that sentence. Because that is us—all of us, without exception, reading and learning from Charlotte Mason in the 21st century. I don’t care who you are or how faithful you think you are, or how correct you imagine your personal interpretation is, this is where you are, and where I am: we are interpreting Miss Mason’s writings in our own way. That matters, in light of the next sentence, in which Miss Kitching refers to “those who are immediately concerned in carrying out a trust which has been left to them.” That was herself, her colleagues, the PNEU. No matter how much we might want to be them, the ones with the special trust, we are not. And again, full stop. And I just want to point out that within 50 years of her death, Charlotte Mason’s influence was greatly diminished in her own organization. I have a PNEU teacher’s manual from the 1970’s, in which parents and teachers are urged to praise their students—I cringe every time I read it, knowing how much CM objected to praise as an educational motivation.
So—the PNEU and its special trust are gone. As much as one might like to, we cannot recover close personal association with Charlotte Mason. We—the ones reading and interpreting her writings—are all that is left.
However, even at that moment in time—when Elsie Kitching was still alive and the PNEU still holding true to Miss Mason’s principles—Miss Kitching said that such variations should not prevent close cooperation between those with the special trust and those “who are endeavouring to carry out Miss Mason’s Method in wider fields of action from their reading of her books.”
In view of that, I can think of nothing further from the practice and principles of Charlotte Mason and the PNEU than jostling for position and staking out of territory, and claims of greater purity, authenticity, and superiority. If the PNEU itself was prepared to cooperate closely with those “endeavouring to carry out Miss Mason’s Method in wider field of action from their reading of her books,” even if their practices were a little different, why should those of us who fall into that category—and again, that’s all of us—do any less?
I encourage you to reach out to other Charlotte Mason educators and find community. Be kind to each other. If Charlotte Mason would not have have said that a practice was “unpermissible,” then why should we? Let’s read Charlotte Mason’s works together, and think, and learn, and grow, and build each other up. I have said before, and I stand by those words—that’s the best tribute we could pay to her for all that she has given us.
Copyright Karen Glass 2018
Quote taken from this article: https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR39p…tion.shtml