One of the many interesting things included in In Memoriam is material from the “Draft Proof” that was drawn up when the PNEU was founded. The principles hadn’t been fully articulated at that time, although you can see the seeds of them in an earlier form.
However, the thing that caught my attention from the Draft Proof—which I assume was largely authored by Charlotte Mason—was her focus on the importance of community, and common labor under common interests, as a means of enriching all.
The PNEU was not a group of parents just following Charlotte Mason’s philosophy without the opportunity to grow and explore in their own directions. One of the things they appreciated about her was having the space for everyone to apply the philosophy and methods under their own judgment, in their own circumstances.
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.(Clifford Allbutt, Regius Professer of Physics, Cambridge)
I’ll be addressing this idea in more detail next week, but I think it’s valuable to include this perspective here, because it makes so clear the fact that everyone didn’t have to be doing things exactly the same way in order to be faithful to the principles. The common effort and common interests were focused on the principles, not the practices. In fact, while she was alive, Miss Mason knew that practices were in danger of becoming “shibboleths” (a mere distinguishing custom) and she hated the idea.
Miss Mason always dreaded lest the P.N.E.U. should suffer by the repetition of the shibboleths and it is well to consider the position she gives to Attention in mental training lest the method of narration should become a shibboleth. (Elsie Kitching)
But those common principles were solid—founded upon universal truths—and the value of a community to deepen mutual understanding of those principles, and to explore ways of realizing them in practice was part of the reason the PNEU was founded.
Individual parents could and did learn and grow, but collectively, they could share their wisdom and perhaps inspire each other to do better and better. That was Miss Mason’s hope.
The strength of our position lies in the word body. The good and great amongst us show what great things individual parents have done and are doing. But the duty of even the best parents does not end with their own children; there are certain duties of fellowship of calling, recognized, perhaps, in every vocation but that of the parent. (From the Draft Proof)
The tendency for each family to keep to itself and muddle along as best they could was understandable, but the attitude that “I have nothing to give and nothing to get” did not sit well with Mason. She saw that collective effort among other groups—doctors, clergyman, the military—equipped each to do their job better, and she wanted that for parents.
We are waking up to the fact that, by his exclusion and seclusion we sustain a great national and personal loss; we lose much of the enthusiasm which kindles with the consciousness that many are striving together in a great cause. (From the Draft Proof)
I’ve enjoyed this kind of fellowship with other CM-enthusiasts for all the twenty years and more that I’ve been reading and learning about education. It has enriched my homeschool, encouraged me to persevere through difficulties, and reinforced the truth of the principles I am implementing. That is what I would wish for every homeschool mom. I care about school teachers and their needs as well, but homeschooling—parenting—is a long marathon of a task. If you have only one child, it’s a commitment to 12 or 13 years, and that’s the minimum. If you have a number of children who span 8 or 10 or more years, that minimum quickly becomes 15 or 20. This fall marks the beginning of my 23rd year of homeschooling, and my last remaining student is in 7th grade, so I still have a long way to go. With a task of that magnitude, good fellowship may make the difference between keeping on or giving up.
When I blogged at the CMI website earlier this year, I wrote: “I would encourage us to look for our common ground—it’s not that hard to find—and stand there together.…enjoy the common ground you share, and talk about nature notebooks, or narration, or picture study. Watch your children forming relationships with knowledge. Share the books you are reading and the things you are learning. Encourage each other in this venture, and build each other up. Wouldn’t you consider that the best tribute to Charlotte Mason that we could offer?” I maintain that encouraging each other in our work is exactly what she would want us to do. Fellowship over our common principles is something that Miss Mason urged us to be a part of.
The PNEU was a national organization (that’s what the “N” stands for), but there were local branches all over England, and they had their own meetings, arranged for their own speakers, and then shared their thoughts with the national group through the Parents’ Review magazine. Everyone who participated in the community in a great or small way benefited from it. We don’t have one national organization like the PNEU, but that doesn’t matter. We can still function in much the same way by being a part of our local and online CM communities and find the same reward that they did.
It is no arbitrary reward which is attached to the assembling of two or three together; we warm ourselves at each others’ fires, and glow with the heat we get. Let but the heads of two or three families meet together to talk over the bringing up of their children, and the best and wisest parents will go home with new insight, renewed purpose, and warmer zeal.
That’s how Charlotte Mason described the fellowship we ought to have. May it ever be so.
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.