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    Home Education

    Myth: Real CM/PNEU families all had servants and governesses, so a modern mom can’t do what they did.

    October 5, 2014 by Brandy Vencel


    First, I have to say that I don’t think mothers should compare ourselves to anyone else, at any time. We are all individuals, and our burdens and strengths are all different. No one is in exactly the same situation as anyone else.

    But then, I often “hear” (online) mothers saying that we modern homeschooling moms can’t do a full Charlotte Mason style education, learn about “all those subjects,” or get outside, or [insert obstacle here], because Charlotte Mason lived in Victorian times, when everyone had servants and governesses. And it’s true: the idea of spreading as wide an educational feast as Charlotte Mason described is daunting. However, the idea that it’s only possible with a household staff of maid, cook, and governess is a myth.

    Charlotte Mason’s ideas are timeless; they’re not stuck just in one time period or social class. Remember she wanted an education for all. For me, personally, the myth of the Victorian lady sitting and doing needlework while the governess educated her children was blown away by one little account in the book In Memoriam, that was collected when Charlotte Mason died. Even though I had read so much of what she wrote directly to mothers about educating our own children, it was this story that opened my eyes.

    A little background: this mother started teaching her little ones in 1904 or 1905, so, yes, it was just a few years after the Victorian era, if someone really wants to quibble. She had a total of six children, if I’m reading her story right. Teaching her children was, for her, “such an impossible task.” This little bit was what caught my interest in what she wrote:

    Housekeeping had to be done by 10 o’clock, for my bell rang then and my small people had to leave the garden for their work till one, with a short break in the middle of the morning.

    This mother also had to get her housework done in and around teaching her children! Then she says:

    Others will write of Miss Mason’s work from the point of view of the trained teacher, but how much greater is the debt of the mother who without any training at all, could teach her children through the method that Miss Mason had worked out. It was she who made the impossible possible, who shewed us term by term what books to use and how to use them, who taught us to take the children straight to the fountain head and let them learn from the books themselves. It was she who realised what home education might become, who changed the whole atmosphere of the home schoolroom, who inspired us for our work and gave us the power to carry it out; a pioneer who blazed the trail that many of us followed with keen enjoyment and grateful hearts.

    So, Charlotte Mason “made the impossible” — that is the lovely wide feast of education spread by a humble mother — “possible,” by teaching us how to do it.

    Impossible … yes, it seems that way.

    But we really can do it, with a lot of work and strength from the Holy Spirit. And Charlotte Mason “changed the whole atmosphere of the home schoolroom,” which is led by the home’s mother.

    There are also many places in Charlotte Mason’s series where she called mothers to educate their children; her words were not just for governesses and highly trained teachers. They were also for average mothers, mothers just like us. Charlotte Mason believed that “mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them” (Home Education, p. 44). She said “a good mother is the best home-ruler” (School Education, p. 23), not a governess. Again, “it is the mothers who have the sole direction of the children’s early, most impressible years” (Home Education, p. 2). That’s probably enough with the quotes. I realize they don’t completely cut out the possibility of a governess or other help for mothers of olden times, but they might begin to show that Charlotte Mason knew what she was asking, and of whom.

    Another perspective from others that I have read online is that our modern conveniences replace the household staff of earlier years. That could very well be true. I don’t know which is harder, running a household of electronic “slaves” (washing machine, vacuum, crockpot) and other conveniences, or human servants? It seems like a valid point to me, though. Victorian life may have been simpler than life today … and more complex. They had servants; we have modern conveniences.

    So, while we don’t compare amongst ourselves and feel bad, let’s also not compare ourselves to that imaginary Victorian lady, who was an early follower of Charlotte Mason. She can’t be our excuse!

    Phyllis Hunsucker homeschools her four children in Ukraine. They are ages 10, 9, 6 and 3 right now. She’s also part of AmblesideOnline Auxiliary and really enjoys helping behind the scenes there. Phyllis blogs about her busy life at Хансакерська Хата. Even though she always wants to, she rarely writes about her educational adventures. Maybe someday?

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