Last 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 go over every single assigned book in this post. Instead, we’re going to focus on the broad, general outline of the plan.
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As I mentioned before, the original course lasted three years, and it was later cut down to two. There were four subjects studied (which we’ll cover shortly), and the first thing that might interest you is that all four subjects were studied each consecutive year. So, whereas if you were taking a correspondence or online course today, you’d “finish” one class before moving on to another, this course maintained the four strands, and simply deepened the understanding with each passing year.
I loved this because it seems so classically Charlotte Mason to me. You don’t finish subjects in a real education. You simply deepen. The course was designed in this way.
So, what are the four areas of study?
I’m glad you asked.
- Physiology and health (with an emphasis on caring for children)
- Mental and moral science and education
- Nature lore and the elements of science
I did not invent these categories; this is how they appear in the syllabus.
Some Brief Descriptions of These Areas of Study
The focus seems to have been on having a basic working theological and biblical knowledge, as well as some historical understanding. For example, there was a book assigned that answered the question of how the English got their Bible. There were commentaries on the Bible, and books that explained the historical background of Biblical time periods. There were also books on passing on the faith — on catechism, religious training of children, how to use the prayer book, and so on.
Physiology and health
There were a few books on hygiene. We don’t really use the term in this way anymore. I’ve looked up some books on this subject from the time period, and they cover things like natural lighting, ventilation and fresh air, heating, eye health, ear health, spinal defects to watch for, proper singing technique so that vocal chords are not damaged (in my opinion, very needed today since improper singing technique is so popular), and so on. Other books covered the importance of cleanliness, bathing, temperance, and basics of disease prevention.
Mental and moral science and education
This is where Miss Mason’s own volumes were assigned (not all of them, but some). Other books covered neurological development (my guess is they discussed the impact of habit on neural tissue). There was basic psychology. There were books on teaching and books on educational philosophy; books on ethics and books on character development. She was even sure to include some Plato for good measure.
Nature lore and the elements of science
In the first year, the mothers began with basic botany, wildflower identification, astronomy, geology, and books on nature study. The next year there was more wildflower identification and more astronomy and even more geology, plus they added field, garden, birds, fruits, and leaves. In the final year there was modern botany, seashore information, animal life, more astronomy, and field geology.
Applying the MEC to Today
When I’ve shared this list with others, it’s both answered and raised a lot of questions. On the one hand, this shows us her priorities. What does a mother need to know? She needs to understand how best to care for the bodies and souls of her children. She needs to understand some basic philosophy. And she needs to know about the world around her.
This list is both a tall order as well as a really simplified approach. It’s a lot, and yet we can think of so much more that we think we need to add.
The questions that are raised deserve to be asked. Miss Mason was, we suppose, trying to educate the deficits of the mothers she encountered, as well as put them in touch with the living, captain thoughts of their own day. So do we today have the same deficits? Or do we have different ones? If we were to design an MEC for ourselves, ought we to choose these same subject areas? Do we need more areas? Or different areas?
This is where it gets tricky, for we’re not talking about this as an academic exercise. We’re looking into our own continuing self-education and getting some inspiration and practical ideas.
Over at AmblesideOnline, I’ve been working with a team of women to help design a “modern equivalent” of the MEC. This is going to take some time, of course, but we’re all hoping for something great. It might not be perfect for every single mother — in fact, I know it won’t be — but it will offer a good starting place and a picture of what an MEC might look like in today’s world.
In other words, it’ll be an option. And because it’s from AmblesideOnline, it’ll be free of charge. Yet another gift to you and the rest of mankind.
Because we love you, and all that.
Next in this series, we’ll be talking about Mother Culture.
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