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    Educational Philosophy

    Myth: Charlotte Mason is a method and not a curriculum.

    October 15, 2014 by Brandy Vencel


    The most helpful way of investigating if Charlotte Mason is a method, curriculum, both or none, is to let her talk and explain. She addressed the concept of method in her Volume 1, entitled Home Education. Surprisingly, she is addressing the parent, not the teacher, and talking in the context of the home, not the school. She compels parents to think about the method, since bringing our children up is the beginning of educating them. We all have a method (and an atmosphere, and habits), whether we reflect and work on those or not. In page 8 of Vol. 1 she writes Method a Way to an End,

    Method implies two things — a way to an end, and step-by-step progress in that way. Further, the following of a method implies an idea, a mental image, of the end or object to be arrived at. What do you propose that education shall effect in and for your child? Again, method is natural; easy, yielding, unobtrusive, simply as the ways of Nature herself; yet, watchful, careful, all-pervading, all-compelling.

    She contrasts method to system. A system is easier, she says. A system is just a set of steps aimed to elicit a result. A system is mechanical, (think about a system when learning dance steps, sports, etc.). Surely any method will include systems or systematic tasks, but “a ‘system of education’ is mischievous, as producing only mechanical action instead of the vital growth and movement of a living being.”

    In the same volume, on page 169, she writes about lessons as instruments of education:

    Parents must reflect on the Subject-matter of Instruction. … [T]he parent, also, should have thought out this subject, and even when he does not profess to teach his children, should have his own carefully formed opinions as to the subject-matter and the method of their intellectual education.

    Three Questions for the Mother. … She must ask herself seriously, Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? And, How should they learn it? If she take the trouble to find a definite and thoughtful answer to each of these three queries, she will be in a position to direct her children’s studies; and will, at the same time, be surprised to find that three-fourths of the time and labour ordinarily spent by the child at his lessons is lost time and wasted energy.

    Charlotte Mason states her case for the need of every parent to mind and think carefully about their method. These three question are not theoretical question, but vital and pressing ones.

    Volume 1 focuses on the early years, and that is where she situates the curriculum. She talks about out of door life for the children, out of door geography, the child and mother nature, out of door games, habit is ten natures, physical exercises, habits of the mind, moral habits, the matter and method of lessons. She then considers the kindergarten, talks about reading, recitation, narrating, writing, spelling and dictation, composition, bible lessons, arithmetic, natural philosophy, geography, grammar, French, pictorial art, etc. . The book culminates with a thought provoking reflection on the divine life in the child, the will, and the conscience.

    Moving on to School Education (her third volume), she writes now in the context of school age children, expanding on docility and authority, masterly inactivity, the children as persons; she proposes an adequate theory of education, talks about some proper relations to a child, paints a picture of the great educationalist, on training (physical, intellectual, moral, and religious) and tells us how to use school-books. Right after the school books, she hits at education as the science of relations, and ends with her suggestions towards a curriculum.

    Doesn’t a method beg for a curriculum?

    Remember that she wrote, Method implies two things — a way to an end, and step-by-step progress, and that step by step progress has to be aided by a curriculum. In the early years, the method lays the rails of a child’s education, and the curriculum is simply life at home. (Yes, we do not need any boxed curriculum for the first 6 years. The mother and the home are the curriculum and could not be more appropriate and serious than it is for Charlotte Mason and her proposed “method.”)

    The Question of a Curriculum. … Perhaps the main part of a child’s education should be concerned with the great human relationships. History, literature, art, languages (whether ancient or modern), travel — all of these are the record or expression of persons; so is science, so far as it is the history of discoveries, the record of observations, that is, so far as it is to be got out of books. … Before all these ranks Religion, including our relations of worship, loyalty, love and service to God; and next in order, perhaps, the intimate interpersonal relations implied in such terms as self-knowledge, self-control. …

    This is the whole picture of the content, or curriculum, of what a child’s education should be concerned with, and Religion is the first in rank followed by all the others.

    School Education, p. 234

    Now what we typically understand by curriculum comes into play. (I am thinking about the disciplines to be taught, at what age, schedules to fit those disciplines in, and the books, materials, and practices that those disciplines require.) How can we buy and commit to any packaged curriculum, guide, text book, or even plan of studies out there, when we do not have a guiding method and any idea of why, what, and how our children should learn?

    In Philosophy of Education (Charlotte Mason’s sixth volume), we have a third and deeper visit of her ideas and concepts about curriculum. Self-education, children are born persons, authority and docility, the sacredness of personality, three instruments of education (education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life), how we make use of the mind, the way of the will, the way of the reason, and, voilà, “the curriculum.” Since education for Miss Mason covers three subjects (the knowledge of God, man, and His created Universe), she expands on how the different disciplines we see taught in schools fall into one of these three realms. And finally, attesting that Charlotte Mason shows good theories fit practice of those principles, part two is detailed and devoted to the Curriculum in Elementary Schools, and the Curriculum in Secondary Schools.

    Many homeschooling parents look at curriculum first, and try to wade the waters of catalogs. They get a bunch of ideas here and there and call it a method, copy and paste schedules, practices, and activities they see others doing, — I have been there myself — this overlooks and underestimates how much easier it is to start from the beginning and read, reflect upon, and commit to a method. Once we have a panoramic view of education, we will be well equipped to see if that curriculum and any materials we have chosen support our method, and prevent Charlotte Mason’s observation of some situations where three-fourths of the time and labour ordinarily spent by the child at his lessons is lost time and wasted energy.

    Silvia Cachia is the mom of two GRITS (Girls Raised In The South), who was born in Madrid. She found Charlotte Mason her last year of teaching in Texan public schools as a Kinder and 1st Grade teacher. She is a Charlotte Mason enthusiast, who has translated her Elementary Geography into Spanish, and the Charlotte Mason Made Easy course, written by Stephanie Walmsley. She writes at, and moderates at the AmblesideOnline Forum.

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  • Reply Lauren April 19, 2017 at 10:32 am

    My husband and I were just discussing something along these lines… Our thinking (limited as it is at this point–I’ve only read For the Children’s Sake, not the six volumes) has been that Charlotte Mason provided primarily a philosophy of education, and that the curriculum, while one has been suggested by Charlotte, is much more of an open-ended thing, meaning: find what works for your family in line with these CM principles/methods–and your own answers to the questions raised in this article.

    So we were chatting about philosophy vs. curriculum, thinking it was much more the former rather than the latter, especially when we think of “curriculum” these days as pre-packaged mass-produced books and activities.

    But what I’m reading here is that it IS a curriculum, just one that has a very broad and comprehensive philosophy/methodology behind it. And “curriculum” not in the sense of something you buy but rather a comprehensive course of study. Am I getting it?

    So…I suppose it’s possible for there to be people who follow her curriculum as closely to how it was prescribed as possible, but then others who are heavily influenced by her philosophy and methodology but who don’t necessarily follow her curriculum? Is there room for that? Should the distinction be made between WHAT she presented and HOW people today apply it?

    These are genuine questions as I want to make sure anything I say to others on the subject is accurate (especially before I know first-hand…her six volumes are on my to-read list). 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 19, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Personally, I like to think of the curriculum as a tool — the method *demands* a curriculum. The word curriculum comes from a Latin word meaning the race or course to run — so I think of this in terms of method. If a method is step-by-step progress toward an end, the curriculum is the map we hope to follow?

      It’s probably how we define curriculum, right? If we mean all the tiny details — do this subject at this time — we’re missing the point. But if we mean here are all the relationships and let’s cultivate them ALL as best as we can (which demands other things, like variety in book selection and short lessons), then I think we’ve got it. 🙂

      • Reply Lauren April 19, 2017 at 11:36 am

        Getting definitional is super helpful. 🙂 I’m actually giving a short talk on this tomorrow night at our non-method-specific homeschool group’s curriculum share–so defining “curriculum” in that context might be particularly important. Thanks!

  • Reply JennC June 21, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Yes, there should be a curriculum. Obviously. I don’t believe there is any myth associated with this. I saw the same post you may be referring to here. When the author wrote that the CM is a method rather than a curriculum, she wasn’t saying there is no curriculum required. Read it again.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 21, 2015 at 8:52 pm

      Silvia wasn’t responding to a particular post when she wrote this. She was responding to a writing assignment that I gave her due to what I have considered a myth within the CM community for many, many years. She didn’t touch on it in her post, but I think some of this comes from a misunderstanding of Charlotte Mason and what her job actually involved — many people do not know that she wrote curriculum every year for many, many years and that it was tested and refined in many schools with actual students.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 21, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      ps. Just to clarify: I don’t even know what post you are referring to here, so it definitely wasn’t in response to a particular post! This was written as part of a preplanned series back in October of last year. 🙂

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