Characteristics of a PNEU School

Characteristics of a PNEU School

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Editor’s Note: Charlotte Mason defined her Short Synopsis in 1904. We typically refer to it today as her “Twenty Principles.” Sixty years later, some in the PNEU were thinking that this synopsis was no longer the most accessible “elevator pitch” for the Charlotte Mason method:

For some time it has been thought that The Synopsis was not the most suitable pamphlet to give to parents interested in P.N.E.U. Schools, and as a result Characteristics of a P.N.E.U. School by Miss E. [Mary] Till (C.M.T.) has been published.

Mary Till graduated from the House of Education in 1928. Just five years after the founder’s death, Mason-stalwart E. A. Parish was still the principal of the college. Ms. Till learned the Charlotte Mason method from the people who had worked with Mason herself and who were dedicated to faithfully propagating the message. She was the one chosen to write the new “elevator pitch” in 1965. Her credentials were impeccable.

As you read or listen to Till’s paper, see how many of Mason’s twenty principles you can recognize. And then be sure to note the last paragraph, where Till gives her final assessment of Mason: “Finally, we should remember that Charlotte Mason was a progressive thinker who devoted her life to children.”

Only a few years later, in the early 1970’s, Douglas Wilson would stumble across a 1947 essay by Dorothy Sayers entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” With that, the modern classical education movement was born. Why did Wilson look to Sayers instead of Mason? I think Till has the answer. Wilson was looking for answers from the teachers of the classical past. The “progressive” Charlotte Mason, on the other hand, was looking for answers from the children of the living present.

We don’t share Till’s article as the final, definitive interpretation of Charlotte Mason. But we do think it is quite helpful to hear how a 1928 graduate of the House of Education summarized the method in the tumultuous 1960’s. Till knew that Mason was not a classical thinker. Faithful interpreters of Charlotte Mason know it too.

– Art

By E. M. Till
The Parents’ Review, 1965, pp. 35-37

A P.N.E.U. School is one in which the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, the founder of the Parents’ National Educational Union, is followed, and where programmes of work planned in accordance with certain principles which express the educational aspects of her thought are used.

The general school life is based on the recognition that ‘a child is born a person’, and that while recognising the part played by authority it should also be realised that this personality ‘must not be encroached upon whether by fear or love, suggestion or influence, or undue play upon any one natural desire’. Miss Mason often quoted Wordsworth’s words—

‘We live by admiration, hope and love,
And even as those are well and wisely fixed
In dignity of being, we ascend.’

The acceptance of these ideas by those in authority frees the children from emotional stress, gives a sense of security, freedom in which to grow, and the assurance that each one is treated individually, with a considerate appreciation of his talents, his ability and his needs.

A study of the P.N.E.U. methods will reveal to the teaching staff that authority ‘should be maintained and exercised solely for the advantage of the children’, and is vested, not in themselves, but in the guiding principles that govern the life of the school. Their rôle is to present the content of the programmes in an interesting manner and to give the children opportunities to incorporate that content and make it their own. Scope should be provided for creative work in prose, poetry, art and handicrafts and time allowed for outdoor activities, nature study, physical exercises and games. The staff also exercise a certain amount of masterly inactivity, having confidence in the children and becoming friends who are at hand if needed and who are ready when the occasion demands to encourage, and, where necessary, to learn and discover by the side of the children themselves.

The discipline of the school lies in allotting to each subject on the time-table its correct place and time, so that the curriculum can be carried out in a well-balanced manner, the lessons being arranged in such a way that the change from one to another gives mental refreshment, and at times, relaxation. There is also day by day training in simple habits, and in the observation of the school rules, which cover problems created by the geographical or structural plan of the school.

These should be as few as possible. Class discipline in literary subjects is reduced to a minimum by using a single reading followed by narration. This quickens the attention, arouses interest and, over a given period of time, forms a habit of concentration which becomes the natural attitude of the children to their work. Miss Mason wrote ‘The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be felt in every school’.

The programmes of work are sent out termly, and examination questions on the term’s work are received by the school at the end of term. These programmes and examinations are planned by the staff at the Ambleside headquarters, and they are able to judge the success or otherwise of any selected book by observing the answers sent in by a large number of children. The curriculum is a wide one, which covers the requirements of children throughout their school life. Guides to modern teaching methods are suggested. The teaching of science, languages and mathematics is kept up to date, and in literary subjects, books of lasting value are chosen. The programmes also provide a sense of continuity, preventing the work of the school from being affected by staff changes.

The planning of the programmes is based on the threefold division, knowledge of God, knowledge of man, and knowledge of the universe. The study of the Old and New Testaments, narrated directly from the Bible, provides four weekly lessons which give the children a growing awareness of the manifold purposes of God. Miss Mason, in her synopsis also says—

‘We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and spiritual life of children; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.’

A knowledge of world history from the beginning of time is gradually built up, and where possible, this is linked with the creative work, in original and unabridged books, art or music, of the period studied, and story books illustrating the life and environment of the people are also suggested. The study of human lives helps to develop a sense of character, while Citizenship provides an interest in the welfare of other people. Knowledge of the universe is found in the study of world geography, and by regular lessons in science, and constant observation of the stars and the vegetable and animal kingdom. From an early age the children are encouraged to speak other languages and, at a later date, to study the grammar and literature. Mathematics play their usual part in the curriculum and individual work in this subject and in languages provides stability unaffected by absence from school. The works of an artist are studied each term and the children listen to the music of a great composer.

To Charlotte Mason knowledge was bound up with living. ‘It is not instruction, information, nor even a well-stored memory. It is a state out of which people may pass and into which they may return. Matthew Arnold said “Knowledge is information touched with emotion”. Therefore, textbooks must be replaced by books into the writing of which the writer has put his heart as well as a highly-trained mind. We try to use living books.’ Thus the children form relationships with the minds of great men through the works they have left behind.

Narration, or the recollected re-telling of a passage immediately after the reading, helps the children to digest the meaning, or re-live the story, and by recreating it in their own language, they make it their own. Not only does this unconsciously increase their vocabulary, but it makes revision before examinations superfluous.

In a P.N.E.U. School the children work because they are interested and they do not need marks, rewards or prizes to encourage them. No lists of class places are published, and this results in a spirit of co-operation and harmony among the children themselves.

The P.N.E.U. has always recognised that parents should play their part in school life. In a P.N.E.U. School, informal contacts between them and the staff are welcomed. Some schools have Parents’ Associations, others arrange Parents’ Meetings, and close co-operation with the parents can benefit the life of the school in many ways and bring pleasure to both children and adults.

Each P.N.E.U. School will possess the advantages and limitations of its own environment. Each will, of necessity, have to consider the child’s place in the society in which it lives, and give due attention to the examinations that are necessary to lead on to the most suitable senior school, or, in the case of older children, a career. But in a P.N.E.U. School, though specific training may have to be given at the appropriate time, the experience provided by having used the programmes will stand the children in good stead, and they will leave school knowing that the pursuit of many interests is open to them.

Finally, we should remember that Charlotte Mason was a progressive thinker who devoted her life to children, and who believed that to be adequate, a method of education should ‘touch at all points the living thought of the age’. Therefore a P.N.E.U. School should be alive to modern trends in education and the developments in psychology that affect the well-being of young people.

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20 Replies to “Characteristics of a PNEU School”

  1. Thank you! I love this line, especially: “To Charlotte Mason knowledge was bound up with living. ‘It is not instruction, information, nor even a well-stored memory. It is a state out of which people may pass and into which they may return.”

  2. Thankyou so much Art for restoring this article. Considering what we’re having to produce for the government here,the article provides a strong compass amidst a very strong current which provides direction and comfort in establishing Charlotte Mason College in Australia.

    1. I am so glad that this article from 1965 will be beneficial to your school. I am very thankful for the team of volunteer typists and editors who enable us to bring these buried treasures back to life!

  3. Oh Art, as usual, thank you for being such an amazing resource for Charlotte Mason Brasil! We will add this one to our translation list for the near future for sure!

  4. This is such a great retelling of what the method is. It’s very concise, too. Which is something I find hard to do in explanation of her. This is a great synthesis of explaining ideology and what it looks like in action. So simple. So good.

  5. Is it possible to purchase the Home Education in the picture associated with this article. It’s lovely.

    1. Marlon,

      The Charlotte Mason Poetry edition of Home Education is a special reprint of the original 1886 version of volume 1, which differs in certain important ways from the 1905 version of Home Education that is in use today. Each copy of the CMP edition was individually assembled by a traditional hand bookbindery and is my small gift to members of the CMP team who so generously give of their time to develop content, run our web site, and maintain our social media presence.


  6. Has anyone identified the 20 principles sprinkled throughout the article? Our book discussion group just finished a study of them and we are going to use this article as a final review. I’d like to compare my findings with those of others. Thanks!

  7. I was a boarder at Brockwood Park PNEU school during the 1939 /45 war. The school had been evacuated from Temple Fortune Golders Green London. I was never happier, I was aged 7. Country walks, a fabulous cedar tree for climbing, warm friendly teachers.

    1. Surely someone else can remember Brockwood Park. Miss Lancaster was head. It was better than home. Thank you.

        1. My 93 y.o. father was a student of Miss Lancaster’s in the early 1930s, and has said she was phenomenal, “regardless if you were 6 or 16”. would love more info of the school or Miss lancaster!

      1. Upon further reading I am pretty confident my father and his sister were at the Temple Fortune school in Golders Green mentioned above. He would have left pre-WW2 (in 1935) for boarding school. Any ideas on the location in Golders Green?

        1. I was a pupil at PNEU Temple Fortune 1949-1953. The school was on the south-western side of Bridge Lane, roughly opposite the south-western end of Ashbourne Avenue. Unfortunately I have no record of the exact address. It was in a large semi-detached house (right-hand side viewed from the road) but there are several of these adjacent to each other.

          The head teacher was Miss Barton. Other teachers included Miss Price, in charge of the reception class (though I doubt it was called that) and Mrs Pike, whose speciality was arithmetic.

          In summer we would go Princes Park for rounders. I can remember an American boy called, I think, Russell, who was particularly good at this.

  8. My early years were spent at the kitchen table under the watchful eye of a disciplinary mother; the PNEU supplied my essential learning tools. I remember the content to this day with great joy. I was placed a year above my year group as a result when I finally was sent to boarding school. Charlotte Mason was years ahead of her time.

      1. Miss E M Till was my dad’s mum’s sister so my great aunt (Aunty Mary). I remember visiting her at her home in the grounds of the pneu school in Nottingham. She was a kind but matronly like lady who took an interest in me as I grew up. I would often sit with her at my Granny’s house and we would play card games such as happy families and patience. When others were often busy, she had time for me and would read me ‘Little grey rabbit’ and ‘Beatrix. Potter’ books. I often wrote her a post card when I went on holiday and I remember her once correcting my spelling mistakes of which there were many ! I remember her having concerns about the quality of writing and suitability of the popular Enid Blyton books, but that didn’t stop me reading them! She, together with her syblings had a love of the country side and natural history. Mary loved the Lake district where I believe she had studied. When I did art at uni, becoming a designer, and later a teacher, this pleased her and when she died I inherited a beautiful Heaton Cooper watercolour of a lake in the lake district. When I was young she sent my parents regular money to pay for guitar lessons, she wanted to encourage us all in our hobbies and studies and I know my cousins benefited too. Mary also posted me a cheque for £100 every term at uni which was much envied by my uni friends. Now I am 52 I wish I had asked her more about her life and philosophy of education, I had no idea she had been so involved. She was just Aunty Mary and the thought never occurred to me to ask. I was thinking about her this evening so decided to Google pneu Nottingham and see if she got a mention, that’s when I came across this article. I had no idea how forward thinking this approach to education was at the time and am proud of her for playing her part and championing a cause that matters to me too. I miss her and my Granny and wonder if anyone else remembers her.

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