I’ve written a bit about principles recently (here and here) because it’s so easy to get caught up in the “what” and the “how” of our day-to-day educational endeavors that we lose touch with that “why,” which is the living, life-giving touch that makes our busy-ness purposeful and meaningful.
I think most of us who have devoted years and years to educating children with Charlotte Mason’s methods know that just looking at the principles alone—laid out at the beginning of each of her volumes—isn’t going to give you any confidence or guidance about how to get started. It’s lovely that Charlotte Mason has, with the principles, identified the path— “this is the way”—but we are still in need of guidance to make it possible to “walk ye in it.”
Charlotte Mason knew that. I’m going to tell you something rather funny from the annals of modern “CM history,” but I hope you won’t laugh at us.
The CM series was republished (thanks to the Andreolas—we owe them much) in the pink volumes we all know so well in 1989. When I acquired my set in 1994, the internet was in its infancy. I found others who were interested in Charlotte Mason, and we plunged in and read the series together, but, as far as the community goes, no one I ever met had read more than one or two of the volumes. We read them together, and there was no one to tell us that volume 6, Philosophy of Education (such a daunting title compared to the friendlier, more accessible Home Education) was a good place to start, because no one had read that far! We observed that there were 18 principles listed at the beginning of each book. We talked about the “18 principles” and even worked systematically through a study of the “18 principles.”
I had been reading and studying about Charlotte Mason for some years before I got to Volume 6, and noticed the difference there—20 principles! There were two new ones? No, there were three new ones, because Charlotte Mason had combined two of the earlier principles into one. I got out my books, and compared them side by side.
The next generation of younger CM educators knows that there are 20 principles, and probably can’t imagine how we missed that for so long, but that’s how it was. Thank goodness we kept on learning and studying, and didn’t stop after Home Education.
Do you know which of the 20 principles are the “new ones,” that CM added later in her life, after many, many years of experience?
I’m giving them in shortened form for the sake of space, but you can find them in full here.
13. In devising a SYLLABUS (I think we might say “curriculum”) for a normal child, three points must be considered:—
(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food.
(b) The knowledge should be various.
(c) Knowledge should be conveyed in literary form.
14. As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part.
15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising, and the like.
Thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.
If you look carefully at these added principles, you will realize, as I did, that they are not just abstract principles in the nature of “Children are born persons”—rather, they are explicit descriptions of the practices that are indispensable to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. These are the practices Charlotte Mason included in her appeal to the wider British public to adopt.
These vital practices are the ones that should shape our Charlotte Mason homeschools and classrooms. There are some important “dos” embedded in there, as well as a few prohibited “don’ts.”
I was interested to find in The Story of Charlotte Mason, by Essex Cholmondeley, a brief explanation of these additional principles:
Miss Mason added the following paragraphs for the use of teachers when the ‘liberal education for all’ movement was active. [emphasis added]
The other principles were expressed with parents in mind, parents who were bringing up their children, but not necessarily attending to their “school” education (although they are applicable in that setting). These additional practical principles are the ones that were given to those of us actively engaged in teaching. They bear a closer look, and that’s what we’ll do over the next few days (there are five parts in the series).
(Pictures are used with permission and are found on Instagram in the community @charlottemasonirl [Charlotte Mason In Real Life]. I’m sure they’d love to have you join in.
This blog series is now available as a short digital book in the “Encore” series for Kindle. The original material from the series, plus bonus content, is collected in one place where you can easily refer to it. Read the Kindle version of Some Practices are Principles or purchase an epub version to read on a platform of your choice.