Mother's Education

A Brief History of Charlotte Mason’s Mothers’ Education Course

June 23, 2014 by Brandy Vencel
a brief history of Charlotte Mason's Mothers' Education Course

For those of you who are just joining us, you should know that we’ve lately taken a journey. We’re looking at all the different aspects of teacher education that we can find in Charlotte Mason’s world. We began by examining her personal schedules and how she educated her teachers (among other things). I plan for us to go through the content of the Mothers’ Education Course (which we’ll often refer to by the initials MEC), but before that happens, it helps to know something about the history of the course, and that’s what we’re talking about today.


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Let’s begin with some words of encouragement from our dear friend Charlotte:

I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them. (Vol. 1, p. 44)

This pretty much encapsulates what I love about Charlotte Mason. She believes in us! The context of this quote is Miss Mason’s assertion that children should be outside, in the country, for many long hours. But we see this attitude toward mothers so often from Miss Mason, that I’m applying it here as well. It is easy to look at something like the MEC and think, Well who has time for that?

And, you know what? You might not.

You really might not have time for it.

But then again, there is Miss Mason with her wise smile telling you she really thinks you can do it. It will be a wonder, but she still thinks you can.

She thinks you’re capable of wonders!

There is something really precious about that.

Development of Charlotte Mason’s Mother’s Education Course

According to Essex Cholmondeley in The Story of Charlotte Mason, the MEC was mentioned in the Parents’ Review (a magazine edited by Miss Mason herself) as early as 1891. If you recall, the Parents’ Review was the publishing arm of the PNEU (the Parents’ National Education Union) — the aim of all of this was to educate parents, that they might better direct the education of their children.

With that said, the Mothers’ Education Course seems to have been something of a work in progress.

When I dug through the Redeemer archives, what I found was that Miss Mason at least toyed with idea of changing the name from Mothers’ Education Course to The PNEU Home Training Educational Course. I know this because the name on at least one of the syllabi was crossed out and replaced. There is no notation of why this was done, but I think we can imagine that she wanted the course to appeal also to governesses or fathers.

Another thing that changed over the years was that Miss Mason at least attempted to decrease the course from a three-year course to a two-year course. Again, I only know this from looking at the archives, and so I don’t know exactly why this was done. This must have actually happened, however, because Essex Cholmondeley says,

The Mothers’ Education Course consisted of Syllabus I and II with examination papers for each.

I have three years worth of syllabi that I downloaded to my computer to study, and a couple of them are marked up in order to reduce the course load. But exactly what the final product looked like is a mystery to me.

Purpose of Charlotte Mason’s Mother’s Education Course

A great question to ask at this point is, What is the purpose of the MEC? Cholmondeley quotes Charlotte Mason:

[E]ducation demands more than mere reading. You read an article and forget it; you study a subject, and either reject, or make your own, a life possession, the thought of the author, with its practical bearings.

The examination questions help make sure that what happened was actual study and not just “reading.”

Chomondeley adds,

It is hard to realize in our day of a popular press how difficult it was for parents to come by practice advice on educational matters.

In our day, the “difficulty” is exactly the opposite — with all the blogs and books, it is hard to wade through and identify what is worth our time to study!

Within the syllabi, we see these purposes listed:

  • To help mothers to give such teaching as should confirm their children in the Christian religion.
  • To give the knowledge necessary for the care and development of children in sickness and health.
  • To show the principles of education and methods based on these principles.
  • To awaken their children’s interest in nature and to give them their first ideas.

This knowledge was not to just enrich the personal life of the mother. Miss Mason meant for it to be passed on — for the growth of the mother’s soul to be a direct blessing to others. Remember: Miss Mason was a leader (if not the leader) of the Liberal Education for All movement. Her goal was not just educated children or educated mothers — it was an educated populace, a glorious culture. Cholmondeley tells us that Miss Mason wrote to the mothers in the MEC:

Will the mothers who are doing this course make it their duty to pass on the knowledge they get, as they get it, to mothers of the artisan class, whether in the way of asking a few mothers to tea and chat, or in talk with a single mother in the course of cottage visits, or in mothers’ meetings; anyway will they make “pass on” their watchword.

She does not see study as a private endeavor, but as a means to bless the world around us.

What Happened to the Mother’s Education Course?

This is the most obvious question. While certain aspects of Miss Mason’s work outlived Miss Mason herself, the MEC seems to slip quietly away.

The truth is that it lasted just under a quarter of a century. The MEC, you see, was another tragic fatality of World War I. Cholmondeley reports simply:

The MEC continued usefully for twenty-three years. It came to an end with the war difficulties of 1915, when mothers had no leisure for study.

In the future, we’ll discuss the content of the MEC. But today, I’m pondering why peacetime is so important to the development of a healthy culture.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Mothers' Education Course: Summer 2019 | Afterthoughts May 14, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    […] But … for those of you up for the challenge, let me briefly explain the Mothers’ Education Course. The MEC was a three-year (and later a two-year) program Charlotte Mason put together to educate moms. (If you want a more detailed history of the program, read this.) […]

  • Reply SS #12: Close Encounters of the Other Kind (with Kathy Wickward) | Scholé Sisters December 17, 2018 at 11:26 am

    […] A Brief History of Charlotte Mason’s Mothers’ Education Course […]

  • Reply Charlotte Mason's Mothers' Education Course: The Content | Afterthoughts July 25, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    […] time, we discussed the history and purpose of the MEC. This time, we’re going to discuss the content. Now, I’m not going to mention every […]

  • Reply Mothers' Education Course: Summer 2017 | Afterthoughts July 25, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    […] And this wasn’t just for the sake of the children — Charlotte Mason once explained that she hoped that the mothers who were able to do the course shared their wealth of knowledge with othe…. This self-education can spill over — be passed on — to many and not just our […]

  • Reply On Mother Culture | Afterthoughts July 24, 2018 at 7:32 am

    […] talked about Miss Mason’s continuing self-education and how she educated her teachers, the Mothers’ Education Course, and more! If we’re going to be thorough, we simply must touch on Mother […]

  • Reply SS #12: Close Encounters of the Other Kind | Scholé Sisters October 7, 2016 at 2:02 am

    […] A Brief History of Charlotte Mason’s Mothers’ Education Course […]

  • Reply What is to be said for a ‘wise passiveness’? | Living Stones Academy March 9, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    […] these questions. It turns out I was wrong. Those questions were meant for mothers taking her Mother’s Education Course, which another blogger has expounded on very well. Which helped me see them in a whole new light. And also made me wish that course still existed. […]

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