A Revolution in Methods

A Revolution in Methods

In 1923, Horace West Household (1870-1954) wrote in memoriam about Charlotte Mason:

“If [parents] observe the progress of their children, and compare the education which they are receiving, with the education which they had themselves, gratitude to the illustrious lady who worked such a revolution in methods and results, should move them to do what in them lies to extend such benefits to all.”

Household was the Secretary for Education of Gloucestershire County in 1916 when he first encountered Charlotte Mason’s theory of education, and he quickly became an “ardent disciple” of Mason (Margaret Coombs, Charlotte Mason: Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence). Interestingly, Household’s “discipleship” extended even to his claims that Mason was a revolutionary: it turns out that she herself had already said the same.

In fact, Mason actually used the word “revolution” in conjunction with at least half of her 20 principles.

Principle 1: Mason’s self-concept as a revolutionary began with her first principle. She wrote, “the ‘Child a Person’ will be the very crux for our Crusade” (from her landmark paper entitled “Children Are Born Persons”). In this paper, Mason wrote:

“I believe that the first article of a valid educational creed — ‘children are born persons’ — is of a revolutionary character; for what is a revolution but a complete reversal of attitude? And by the time, say, in another decade or two, that we have taken in this single idea, we shall find that we have turned round, reversed our attitude towards children not only in a few particulars, but completely.”

In this paper, Mason linked her revolutionary view of the child as person to the teachings of Christ in the Gospels.

Principle 7: When speaking of education as a “discipline,” Mason wrote:

“we are in the throes of an educational revolution… we are beginning to recognise that education is the applied science of life, and that we really have existing material in the philosophy of the ages and the science of the day to formulate an educational code whereby we may order the lives of our children and regulate our own.” (Parents and Children, p. 119)

(I have written an article which explores in detail what Mason meant by “the philosophy of the ages.”)

Principles 9, 10: Mason rejected any attempt to divide the person into compartments or faculties. In the words of Dr. Stephanie Spencer (University of Winchester):

“Mason frequently conflated intellectual, spiritual and physical requirements and undermined any concept of a mind / body dualism. She clearly linked the intellectual with the spiritual when she rewrote Matthew Arnold’s definition of religion (religion is morality touched with emotion): ‘Knowledge is information touched with emotion: feeling must be stirred, imagination must picture, reason must consider, nay conscience must pronounce on the information we offer before it becomes mindstuff’. Her choice of ‘mindstuff’ as analogous to foodstuff is unlikely to have been accidental as it is a theme to which she continually returns. She also worked to change ideas that reason, a characteristic primarily associated with men was not compatible with emotion, a traditionally female characteristic.”

Mason believed that this rejection of dualism would result in a revolution in education:

“I think we should have a great educational revolution once we ceased to regard ourselves as assortments of so-called faculties and realised ourselves as persons whose great business it is to get in touch with other persons of all sorts and conditions, of all countries and climes, of all times, past and present.” (School Education, pp. 82-83)

Principles 11-15: Mason advocated an extremely broad curriculum that contrasted sharply with the classical focus on the seven liberal arts. Mason considered this switch to a broad curriculum to be revolutionary:

“I add appendices to show, (a) how a wide curriculum and the use of many books work in the Parents’ Review School; (b) what progress a pupil of twelve should have made under such conditions; and (c) what use is made of oral lessons. Should the reader consider that the children in question prove their right of entry to several fields of knowledge, that they show a distinct appetite for such knowledge, that thought and power of mind develop upon the books we read, as they do not and cannot upon the lectures we hear; should he indeed be convinced of the truth of what I have advanced, I think he will see that, not an educational reform here and there, but an EDUCATIONAL REVOLUTION is before us to which every one of us is bound to put his hand.” (School Education, pp. 246-247)

Principle 20: Mason said that the “great recognition which the educator is called upon to make” is that “God, the Holy Spirit, is Himself the supreme Educator of mankind.” Mason believed that if educational methods were reworked in a way that aligned with the life-giving ministry of the Holy Spirit, education would be revolutionized:

“What a revolution should we have in our methods of education if we could once conceive that dry-as-dust subjects like grammar and arithmetic should come to children, living with the life of the Holy Spirit, who, we are told, ‘shall teach you all things.’” (School Education, p. 118)

Mason asserted that these ideas must be revolutionary since they are derived from recent discoveries:

“our conception of the aims and methods of education is new, only made possible within the late decades of the last century; because it rests one foot upon the latest advances in the science of Biology and the other upon the potent secret of these latter days, that matter is the all-serviceable agent of spirit, and that spirit forms, moulds, is absolute lord, over matter, as capable of affecting the material convolutions of the brain as of influencing what used to be called the heart.” (Parents and Children, p. 254)

When Household attributed to Mason “a revolution in methods and results,” he was not using hyperbole. Rather, he was being faithful to Mason’s own testimony. If contemporary readers of Mason depart from Household and assert that Mason overstated her claim to be revolutionary, I would suggest that perhaps such readers have not fully grasped the radical nature of what Mason proposed.

One Reply to “A Revolution in Methods”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *