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    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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  • Reply Kaleigh Reed November 22, 2023 at 2:34 pm

    Is there any article of how Charlotte Mason broke down the MEC. Perhaps a timetable or something if the sort so that we can see how the readings were broken down per week.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 24, 2023 at 11:02 am

      I did a lot of research on the program back around the time I wrote this article, and I never saw a time table. She seems to have been a big believer in the ability of women to figure it out. I think that is the same reason why she didn’t make specific assignments to her classroom teachers — she told them to cover so many pages of each book in a term and left them to schedule it as they saw fit, using only a general outline of how many times per week they should work on the subjects they covered. The one guideline I recall was about 25 pages per week per subject — making 100 pages total per week.

      I have a friend who reads 3 pages per day in a number of subjects and this, interestingly enough, works out to be almost the same pacing!

  • Reply Melissa Greene October 14, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    The history and timing of the Mother’s Education Course was very interesting Brandy!! Thanks for sharing your research.

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