In Memoriam #3–Let’s do things Charlotte Mason’s way

In Memoriam includes many testimonials from people who knew Charlotte Mason personally, but also from people who were associated with her  professionally—whose contact with her touched upon the subject that was her life’s work: education.

I wrote earlier this year about how the principles Mason gave us are meant to be flexible, and it was wonderful to read how her colleagues spoke warmly, with one voice, to attest to this very thing.

She gave her teachers a firm foundation in the principles, but she expected them to keep on learning and growing when they went away from Scale How. She wasn’t giving them a strict list of guidelines, but a solid foundation of principles that would guide their work as they learned more.

Miss Mason ever looked ahead. One of the striking characteristics of teachers trained by her is that they too move forward on their own in after life; realising that they must teach from a flowing stream, not from a stagnant pool.

She knew that even a lovely method could degenerate into a mechanical system, and that was something she abhorred.

Miss Mason’s life was one long struggle against mechanism. She distrusted organisation and standardisation.

The younger teachers in training were much like us. They wanted clear-cut guidelines for everything, but “standardisation” was antithetical to Mason’s innate principles.

One of Miss Mason’s principles is that method rather than system should be our way to our end, accordingly there was a great elasticity about the conduct of the college, and all the fortunes and misfortunes of daily life were woven in as so many opportunities.

There is probably no more valuable skill than the ability to adapt a set of principles to any given situation. As a teacher of teachers, Mason tried to impart this to her pupils.

Perhaps this principle was specially evident during Criticism lessons on Thursday mornings when Miss Mason would criticize a student for doing what was, apparently, precisely the thing another student has been criticized for not doing the previous Thursday, thus reducing us to despair. For what were we to do? And when we asked for the precise recipe we were told to “mix it with brains.” Every lesson needs a special giving and the method is based upon broad principles which leave the teacher all the exercise of her own ingenuity.

It is all too easy to want a simple list of things to check off, to long for the comfort of knowing that doing this or that thing is a guarantee that something will work. But people have different needs, and being able to count on solid principles while adjusting practices for our specific needs is the way to get the best of both worlds–unchanging principles and flexible practices.

Finally some valuable remarks sent by Miss Clough are quoted,–“The work should be done locally as much as possible. Different localities have to be approached in different ways. The smaller the area, the more quietly and effectually the work can be done.”

CM founded a national group, but she she knew that the best work would be done on a smaller scale—within families, or small local groups, or a lively school, each one intimately acquainted with  the needs of the children and families in their own sphere. She gave the pupils of the PUS a common curriculum, and she trained her teachers in her methods, but part of her method was the ability to adapt each lesson as needed, and not to approach things as matters of rigidity.

Yet she was no bureaucrat; her practice was as various and elastic as her principles were constant; there was the method and even the letter, but above all the spirit.

I really don’t have much more to say about this, except that I was struck, again and again as I read, that this was understood by those who knew her to be a part of Charlotte Mason’s character. She had thought and read a great deal about education. She had taught children herself, and observed how effective her methods could be. But she did not assume that everyone had to do things exactly the same way in order for the methods to work. They were “various and elastic” and she allowed others the same liberty to think, read, observe, and adapt.

Henrietta Franklin was a close friend and associate of Mason’s through all the years of the PNEU. Her son grew up knowing  Charlotte Mason and her work as one would know a dear aunt. This is his admonition:

And as she was humble, let us be humble–for she never thought her way was the way but only a way–as she was strong and upright, so let us be strong and upright and let us remember her as a teacher, a philosopher and a friend.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take Michael Franklin’s suggestion to heart? As she was humble, let us be humble. Our way of implementing Mason’s principles is a way, but not the way (even if we are doing exactly what she did to the last jot and tittle). We cannot claim with Michael Franklin that Charlotte Mason was our friend, but if we can learn this from her, we can join him in remembering her as a teacher and philosopher who taught us how to teach, and how to live.

If you are interested in reading In Memoriam for yourself—and I hope you are!—you can read the text for free. (That’s where I read it.)

I’m also excited to share that Brandy at Afterthoughts has made a clean, good-quality physical copy available, and included some additional material that will make it more useful for study. I’ll be adding this one to my library! If you want a copy of In Memoriam: A Tribute to Charlotte Mason in your hands, this is the one.



(aff. links)

2 thoughts on “In Memoriam #3–Let’s do things Charlotte Mason’s way

  1. Thank you so much for this reminder! I definitely need elasticity. And I love the encouragement to “mix it with brains.”

    The way I’ve been beginning to think about the principles is like a living tree, similar to a living stream. The principles, being universal and true, have life flowing through them. Because they are living, they will continue to produce new branches and fruit after their own kind. I think some people follow Miss Mason’s principles down one branch, but there may be other branches one could follow that still produce the desired fruit and are connected to the main trunk!

    1. I love that way of picturing the principles!–A solid, living, well-rooted support for branches that reach out in different directions. And yet…part of the same tree, bearing the same fruit. Nice!

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