Ask Art #2 – What Happened?

Ask Art #2 – What Happened?

From time to time, people ask, “What happened to the PNEU?” There is usually more than just idle curiosity behind the question. The asker is often wondering, “If the Charlotte Mason method is so great, why didn’t the PNEU just keep growing and growing?” Or some wonder if there is an active PNEU somewhere in the world today that might help us all better understand and apply the method.

I’ve been on a quest to answer this question. In today’s podcast episode, Ashley Olander and I discuss my findings. Drawing from rare documents found in the Armitt Library, we trace the history of the PNEU. But we don’t only trace the history; we also explore the causes behind what happened. And most importantly, we discuss the lessons we can learn from this history. If you have any interest in the story of the Charlotte Mason movement and where it is headed today, you don’t want to miss this episode.


Ask Art #1 – Creative Writing

The Idyll Challenge

Charlotte Mason’s Will

The Armitt Museum and Library

Fairfield School

For the Children’s Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

L’Umile Pianta

Education for the Kingdom, by Dr. Benjamin Bernier

Charlotte Mason Timeline

Give to the Armitt Museum


The Parents’ Review, volumes 1–77, 1890–1966

The PNEU Journal, volumes 1–13, 1966–1978

The PNEU/WES Journal, volumes 13–22, 1978–1987


Charlotte Mason (1842–1923)
Founder, PNEU

Elsie Kitching (1870–1955)
Director, Parents’ Union School, 1923–1948
Editor, Parents’ Review, 1923–1949

Elizabeth L. Molyneux (1906–1957)
Director, Parents’ Union School, 1948–1957
Editor, Parents’ Review, 1949–1957

Joan L. Molyneux (1908–1986)
Principal, PNEU School, 1966–1974
Editor, PNEU Journal, 1966–1974

Hugh Boulter
Director, PNEU, 1980–1989


PNEU: Parents’ National Educational Union

WES: World-Wide-Education Service

CMT: Charlotte Mason Teacher

13 Replies to “Ask Art #2 – What Happened?”

  1. I have read bits and pieces of this story, but once again thank you for this well researched and fabulous explaination. I think a third question behind the question is “Where can I go to become equipped for this enormous task?” While I absolutely think it true that the volumes contain all one needs to implement the method well, there is something significantly empowering to belong to a broader organization with training, mentoring, and a personal connection. I think there is certainly a longing for training, support and regular assurances from home schooling families using CM’s method in their independent home schools (beyond even a retreat)… especially when modern-day pressures mount, and the responsibility weighs heavy. It seems so unfortunate that Mr. Boulder did not catch a vision for how Mason’s faith and principles could work for all cultures and times, as we see it obviously can. God is sovereign, however, and the thread does continue. I am truly grateful for Susan Schaefer Macaulay, and others, along with those at Charlotte Mason Poetry for taking up that baton.

    1. Anne,

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment. I am all for organizations that train, mentor, and help others with the Charlotte Mason method. But now I rejoice that we are free to have many such organizations, rather than just one institution of the method for the entire world.


      1. Yes, very true. I rejoice in that as well. I hope many such organizations continue to develop and flourish. Thank you again, Art!

  2. February 1987 was the month and year I was born! I was born the year PNEU went to die! 🙁 But I too am so grateful for all of us who long to carry Charlotte’s torch and stay true to all the truth of her philosophy. And I so appreciate your perspective Art that we can “rejoice that we are free to have many organizations” now.
    Thanks to you CMPoetry, a staple in my life, of which I am so grateful for.

  3. Thanks for this history! In addition to all you’ve shared, can you shed any light on the organization of Ambleside schools? I’ve recently been approached by someone starting one in our area, but it’s existence, overall, is new to me!

  4. Fascinating conversation! One thing you didn’t touch on is how the House of Education/Charlotte Mason College changed over the decades, and whether that had any influence on the PNEU. I know that sometime around the 60s other universities started accrediting the college’s courses. It’s been a while since I read it, but I believe The Story of Charlotte Mason talks about how Charlotte Mason was apprehensive about this and never followed through with accreditation herself, since it would have compromised her philosophy.

    Her fear came true, because I notice on the UoCumbria website that the college stopped teaching Charlotte Mason’s books in the 60s as well. They also started placing trainee teachers in local authority schools which would perhaps explain the need to adjust to the national curriculum. So as the PNEU declines, the numbers of teachers trained in the Charlotte Mason method, who could otherwise have been ambassadors of the method, would have been dropping. The college would also have been becoming progressively more intertwined with the national political agenda for education (and reliant on that as a source of funding). I’m curious to know if the PNEU became completely divorced from the college at some point, and the consequences of that.

    1. Amy,

      Thank you for raising this important question. Your question is a major focus of Dr. Jack Beckman’s dissertation, which is aptly titled Lessons to Learn—Charlotte Mason’s House of Education And Resistance to Taxonomic Drift (1892-1960). He speaks directly to your question on page 26:

      Continuing the difficult work of van Straubenzee was Miss Mary Hardcastle who became Principal of the College in 1954 and remained in her position until the spring of 1962. Miss Hardcastle concluded the transition of the College in its permanent association with the University of Manchester and the Westmorland LEA. The distinctive applied philosophy manifest in Mason’s written works and the affiliated practices of the realised pedagogy as the focal point of the training since 1892 were incompatible with the State and University’s methods and objectives, and thus were discarded in the midst of negotiations with the Charlotte Mason Foundation. With this a corner had been turned and there was no going back.

      You raise a good point that the demise of the House of Education must have dealt a severe blow to the PNEU. That being said, I do believe my general hypothesis also applies to the case of the House of Education, but of course specific issues like standardization were the more proximate causes.


      1. Thanks so much for your reply. I worked for University of Cumbria for a few years, and left just as I was learning about the Charlotte Mason philosophy. After seeing it ‘on the inside’ I’ve wondered for a while what happened to the House of Education over the years. Is that dissertation available to read anywhere?

  5. This was a fascinating talk. Thanks, all of you. Thank you for helping us sift through all the puzzle pieces of this great education. Very exciting!

  6. Art,

    Thanks for this talk and detailed information. You did answer some of my questions on this subjet.
    A sidenote, the WES is apparently still active, at They write : “The World-wide Education Service (WES) was founded as the PNEU (Parents National Educational Union) by the educationalist, Charlotte Mason (1 January 1842 – 16 January 1923), who believed in parents playing an active part in their children’s education.”
    I’m not sure whether they still apply the Charlotte Mason philosophy, though.

    1. Julia,

      Thank you for this comment. I do think 1989 is generally considered to be the last year of the PNEU. See for example this timeline. I have a copy of a primary source document which announces the merger of the WES with the Bell Educational Trust that year. That same document also indicates that the existing PNEU schools left the umbrella of the WES at that time.

      It is fascinating that the WES does still operate, but their web site indicates that their programme follows the National Curriculum of England and is “consistent with the best current educational practices and developments,” suggesting that there is no longer any formal link to Charlotte Mason or the PNEU.


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