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Mason's Philosophy of Education
With a Foreword
Foreword - As the
founder of Keeping It Catholic, as
the publisher of the magazine (now out of print) credited
below, and as the Catholic author who later researched
and revealed in great detail
philosophy of Charlotte Mason in my Keeping It Catholic Home
Education Guide, Volume I,
is imperative that I explain why the following article
appears on the Keeping It Catholic
First, I wish to say that the following article, "Upon
a Basis of Natural Law: Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of
Education" was published in my magazine, The Catholic
Family's Magnificat, but it was a mistake on my part to
allow it. To say this is not a judgment call on anyone,
especially the article's author; it's simply an admission
that I, as a publisher, made an error in judgment because I
was ignorant of Charlotte Mason. My specialty was English,
and so (at the time) I was not very familiar with the likes
of so-called "educators" and alleged "great" thinkers and
philosophers like Dewey, Locke, Ruskin, etc. If I knew then what I
know now, I would have immediately recognized that the
following article is a waving Red Flag.
In early 1994 (the year the following article was published),
I had not even heard the name of Charlotte Mason (aka
"CM"). When approached by the article's author (at that
time, a recent convert to Catholicism), I made the usual
"publisher" inquiries. Since I knew nothing of the subject
matter, and since I took my job to ensure
Magnificat's Catholic content very
seriously, I had my doubts. (It was my "sensus Catholicus"
warning me that something was seriously amiss, but I didn't
know it.) My first inclination was to refuse the article;
and to this day, I regret that I did not stick with that
inclination. For that decision, I profusely apologize to all
those who may have thought I had, at any time, endorsed
Charlotte Mason. Such was never the case. My usual rule of
thumb has always been the old standby maxim, "When in doubt,
don't." With the 1994 "CM" article, I didn't follow that
When I expressed my doubts to the author, she assured
me that Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy was based
upon "natural law" and a love of classical books - and so
her method should be a "refreshing" breath of air for
Catholics. That sounded "reasonable" and a bit compelling. But she
was mistaken - and so was I for publishing the article.
course, I did not realize my mistake until five years later,
when I began a thorough study of Charlotte Mason. In the
years between, I had studied many Church documents (pre- and
post-Vatican II). It was only after reading Charlotte
Mason's works that I understood the true nature of the CM
philosophy - one of cleverly extolled heresy
hidden behind a facade known as the "gentle art" of
As a a result, I have decided to keep the article,
"Upon a Basis of Natural Law: Charlotte Mason's
Philosophy of Education" on the KIC site as an
example of how we
be lead astray, even by a "love of learning." How do we know
this to be true? Instructed by Our Lady , St. Ignatius of
in turn taught that the devil can take
any one of our good inclinations (for example, even the
simple desire to "do good") and then search for a small
"chink" in our armor with which to injure us. He only
needs one chink.
So, for example, if we "love" books and
we "love to learn," the devil himself can use that tendency
to mislead us. When it comes to Charlotte Mason, the danger
is the attractiveness with which with her philosophy and
methods are made to appear. (Bet that apple in Eden
looked good, too!)
After all, the persuasiveness of heretical thought
is its apparent ease, and
Charlotte Mason makes homeschooling very easy. In fact,
its ease is in opposition to the revelation made by Fr. John Hardon,
who often said, "In case you don't know it, when you
choose Catholic homeschooling, you choose the Cross."
[Sadly, since first
publishing this update in 2004, unkind
and even malicious remarks have been made by other
Catholic homeschoolers on the Net, who favor the
heretical Charlotte Mason in lieu of the Church's doctrine
on education. Unfortunately, in order to
defend their Protestant and liberal-minded (but
long-deceased) mentor, these same Catholic individuals have
gone so far as to scoff at and cunningly
reinterpret the comparison made by the
now-deceased Fr. Hardon between
homeschooling and the Cross. How so? With artful
statements about Our Lord's "joy" upon the Cross which, at
the least, expose their ignorance of the interior
life and, at the worse, border on
blasphemy. Such are the fruits of "New Church,"
leaving too many Catholics infected with modernism to
wrongly think themselves free to
create "new paradigms," embark on
spiritual "journeys" of
discovery to "seek the Truth"
(although Truth is found in God's Divine
Revelation within both Tradition and Scripture) or
engage in endless "dialogs" to acquire
a "deeper understanding" of
novelties and heresies. As one can see, "New Church" and its
adherents are fond of buzz words and phrases, and both
are willing to accept anything at face value except the
Truth of the Church's doctrinal
teachings. I am sure Fr. Hardon
would forgive them their coy insults; let us do the same and
ask God to have mercy on them for their irreverent remarks
about Our Lord's Cross and against Our Lord's
priests. To continue...]
Let us ponder that truth for a
moment (that is, Fr. Hardon's words:
"In case you don't know it, when
you choose Catholic homeschooling, you choose the
and compare the
Cross (the narrow road to heaven, of which Our Lord
spoke, and upon which lies that same Cross that He asks us
to pick up and then follow Him) to the "wide"
road, decorated with the deadly flowers of
Whether or not Charlotte
Mason realized her great error is now irrelevant.
What does matter is her legacy of
heresy and whether or not living Catholic parents and
teachers will choose to follow her "ideas" - or the Church's
teachings on education. As the Church has taught for 2,000
years, the wide and easy road is always the path to
perdition. We have been warned.
To ironically borrow a favorite
"CM-type" phrase - it is "for the children's sake"
that I earnestly alert other
Catholic parents who desire to be
obedient to God and His One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic
Church that the Charlotte Mason philosophy and
pedagogy of education is replete with heretical ideas and the
"methods" with which to enforce them.
In the event the gentle reader requires more
information after perusing the persuasive article below, included on this site is an
excerpt from one of my books, providing a overview
addressing the moral
impossibility of "Catholicizing" Charlotte
In the love of Christ and His Virgin Mother,
Author, The Keeping It
Catholic Home Education Guides and founder of the
Keeping It Catholic Network
The Original Article: Upon a Basis of Natural
~by L. Reynolds
article (not including the Foreword above) originally
appeared in the premiere issue of The Catholic Family's
Magnificat! Magazine. Copyright 1994. All Rights
Having been pointed toward Charlotte Mason 23
years ago, and having benefited from her influence for that
length of time, it is pleasing to me to see her name
appearing regularly these days in homeschool literature. Her
works are being republished and made available to more
Miss Mason had a prophet's vision. Rightly are
her books considered seminal - although for many years they
seemed almost totally forgotten and therefore without
effect. Educational pioneers contemporary with her, like
Dewey and Montessori, are well known.
However, it is only since the homeschool
movement caught on that she is finally extending her
influence beyond the bounds of England. It's worth taking a
look at her ideas from the Catholic
homeschooler's point of view.
For those who have not yet encountered her, Miss
Mason was an Englishwoman active in the late 19th and 20th
century. She established an approach to education much
influenced by her experience teaching children in private
homes. She founded a training college for teachers, which
included those who should work with parents instructing
their own children. She wrote books and started a journal as
practical help for parents. She lectured, and she left a
flourishing work behind her, called the parents' National
Educational Union. For Catholics, keenly aware that the
responsibility of educating children rests primarily with
the parent, there could hardly be a more sympathetic
In the first place, Charlotte Mason's view of
human relation and of the task of education flows from her
Christian views. She was a devout Anglican Church woman. In
contrast with humanistic thinkers like Dewy, she understood
the adults' part in education to be a
mirror the the divine initiative of God toward man:
authority, operating with a deep respect for the free will
of the person; parental authority, always derived from God's authority and
responsible to Him. She saw that a child's ultimate
freedom depends on his learning to obey the rightful
authority of his parents.
"Education is the science of relations," she
started. She was eager to put children in relation to
"living ideas." Hand in hand with (and fundamental to the
training of the intellect) goes the
training of the will. For this all important and
delicate task she offered a multitude of wise and practical
In a synopsis of her principles, she begins with
the axiom, "children are born
persons." Her keen sense of this personhood of the
child runs through every page she wrote.
Because we respect the child's
soul, we take pains to engage his will freely and to
train him in habits of obedience.
Miss Mason loved truth in all its forms and knew
that all truth comes from God. "The
medieval Church," she notes, "recognized this great truth...(that)
the 'Captain Figures,' the inventors, as it were, of grammar
and music, astronomy and geometry, arithmetic an logic, all
spoke that which was in them under the direct outpouring of
the Holy Spirit, even though none of
them had any such revelation of the true God as we
Citing the prayer of St.
Chrysostom, "Grant us in this
world knowledge of Thy truth," she observed that "by
degrees, children get that knowledge from God...and all
other knowledge which they obtain gathers round and
illuminates this. " Miss Mason is a mentor that Catholic
parents can respect and with whom they can share a common
Like John Henry Newman, she fought for the value
of a liberal arts education. All children, she insisted,
were born with an appetite to learn. Our
job is to bring them into relation with their rightful
inheritance of knowledge. If this is an arduous task,
some of its rewards are also immediate.
Children fed "living ideas" from "living books"
will delight in their nourishing fare. Learning is give and
take; the adult must observe and encourage the unique
affinities emerging in each child. Miss Mason campaigned to
extend this liberal arts education, including literature, history, and art, for
children in the mining towns and also for adults with
limited formal schooling. Her favoring setting for learning,
however, was the home.
In the home setting, the simplicity and
flexibility of her methods shine. Provide living books and
ensure a child's understanding by combining reading with
narration. This means the child is to tell, in his own
words, what he has heard or read. As he becomes able, the
child does this in written form. No rereading of a book to
do this, according to Miss Mason, thus the memory and the
intellect are forced to grow. Allow for plenty of time spent
in firsthand nature observation when possible, as well as
opportunities for physical and manual development.
Three Classical Keys
Miss Mason speaks on her important "Three instruments of education" in the
"Our motto is 'education is an atmosphere, a
discipline, a life.' When we say that education is an
atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in
what may be called a 'child environment' specially adapted
and prepared, but that we should take
into account the educational value of his natural home
atmosphere both as regards persons and things and
should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It
stultifies a child to bring down his world to the 'child's
On education as a
"By this formula we mean the discipline of
habits definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or
body." (Among the habits she indicates as important are
attention, "fitting and ready expression," obedience, good
will and impersonal outlook; right-thinking and right-judging; neatness and order.)
On education as
"The mind...lives, grows, and is nourished upon
ideas only. 'What is an idea?' We all know how an idea
"strikes,' 'seizes,' 'catches hold of,' 'impresses' us and
at least, if it be big enough, 'possesses us.' Ideas are of
spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them
chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of
mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but
we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we
sustain his body with food. Probably he
will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer...our
business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and
his to take what he needs. Urgency on our part annoys
Do these last words means that Miss Mason didn't
care what ideas took hold in a young person's life? No, she
was very concerned about "right-thinking" and right-thinking
was to be attained through a process of presenting ideas to
the reasoning mind of the child - in an atmosphere of love,
respect, and order which would nourish that
She held that "children should be taught, as
they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that
the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is
the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this
choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range
of the knowledge fitted to them."
Because Miss Mason wanted children to be exposed
to the riches of our culture - and without excessive
imposition of the parents' personal prejudices - she urged
parents to distinguish between mere opinions they might hold
and essential convictions on matters. Educating one's
children, incidentally, educates the parent in
self-knowledge and self-restraint!
As to the form in which ideas could best be
presented, Miss Mason made it clear that children were not
prepared to handle "a naked generalization," but rather
wanted "an idea clothed upon with fact, history, and story."
Thus, "much and varied humane reading, as well as human
thought expressed in the forms of art, is not a luxury, a
tidbit, to be given to children now and then, but their very
bread of life."
As a good Victorian, Miss Mason often refers to
Coleridge, Dickens, the Greek tragedians, Macaulay, Ruskin,
and all the poets, thinkers, and first order historians one
might expect of her generations. She's not imposing a set
list (although she makes numerous curriculum suggestions
related to the educational subject matter under discussion
in her day); she is just illustrating her ideas from a world
of discourse that sounds quaint to modern ears, except when
we do not feel entirely put to shame by the precision of its
thought and the richness of its acquaintance!
We may be able to bring many a technical
addition and sophisticated insight to Charlotte Mason's
methods, based on the developed work of child psychology.
And, of course, we can sift and add to her book list. Except
for "practical sagacity" (as one commentator termed it), she
is hard to surpass.
What Charlotte Mason Overlooked
As to her principles - let their sanity probe
ours. Springing from her Christian world view, intellectual
development is wedded to moral and spiritual development.
Physical development has a fundamental interrelated place,
Happily, she spoke into a society in which an
appreciation for objective truth in moral and spiritual
realism could still be assumed.
Catholics looking at Miss Mason's Anglican perspective
will recognize one thing she
overlooked. And that is an understanding of the value of the Magisterium in helping us
to discern truth in relation to faith and morals.
However, her principles of
education, far from undermining the Catholic view of Tradition, will be
found to support it, as we present the "living ideas" of our
Faith in the context of lived out truth. Charlotte Mason
consciously built upon natural law.
Having referred to Charlotte Mason's practical
wisdom,without illustrating it in specific detail, I
encourage homeschooling readers, as yet unfamiliar with her
thought, to peruse any of her books, perhaps starting with
her book Home Education. This is
the first of her series of six volumes. The preface she
wrote to its Fourth Edition explains that she is suggesting
to parents and teachers "a method of
education resting upon a basis of natural law."
In her personalist emphasis, Miss Mason anticipates Pope
John Paul II. In her home orientation, she places learning
in a context divinely purposed. For Miss Mason, human
potential was always to be guided into a great and heavenly
purpose. This is one of the chief differences of emphasis
between her and Maria Montessori -- with whom on other
points she shares many insights.
Among a thousand and one stimulating ideas that
are currently floating around the homeschool movement, those
of Charlotte Mason are especially freshing and restful.
Why? Partly, because they are spoken with the voice of
one who lived two or three generations back . They do not
pressure us with the false immediacy of the present. What is
of permanent value in her thought speaks out in clear tones.
It reminds parents of the tools already in their hands. Her
philosophy is coherent as Christianity is coherent. Her
voices is of one who reverses and discerns and offers us the
experience of a lifetime. She rightly wins our confidence,
confiding in truth - and truth is restful.
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A KEEPING IT
revolutionaries, (Charlotte) Mason held tradition in contempt..."
KIC Home Education Guide, Volume I:
Catholic and Keep it Catholic.=========================================================
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