Is This the Story of a Charlotte Mason Purist?

Is This the Story of a Charlotte Mason Purist?

© Lisa Osika 2017

I’ve noticed the term purist surfacing frequently in the Charlotte Mason educational world. And it has me wondering –

Am I a Charlotte Mason purist?

What does the home-learning life of a Charlotte Mason purist look like?

My mind wanders back over ten years of homeschooling my four children. I, who knew absolutely nothing of a Living Education from my childhood, have been able to find, learn, and implement an education for my children that will bring them into the world of ideas and relations. At the beginning, I only knew how to cook and serve melted Velveeta and potato chips, but can now serve an educational meal that is well-rounded and nourishing. Thanks to God for his mercies!

But also in looking back, I see I’ve made some errors in philosophy and method. Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of my own poor habits, I have missed quite a few Charlotte Mason hallmarks. Would a purist have these blunders and missteps? With these errors and shortcomings, I just might be disqualified as a Charlotte Mason purist.

I definitely have not always treated the child as a person when in my tired weakness, I badgered them over some insignificant trifle.

I have not always had the atmosphere I say I follow – an atmosphere of loving learning. It has not always been the joyous hours of a Charlotte Mason life. Complaining happens, myself included.

Out of ignorance, I have not always given my kids living books. I didn’t understand what a living book was for so long. To read in Charlotte’s volumes that I should be using living books was like telling me to serve cabbage when the only food I had eaten was noodles. I had never seen cabbage, tasted cabbage, smelled cabbage, or felt cabbage. My quest for living books went on for years with trial and error. And then I found a cabbage. It took a lot of tasting, trying, feeling, smelling. It took years of shifting my thinking and finding reliable, true, purist sources to point me to the cabbages.

The same was true of Charlotte’s term The Science of Relations. I read her words on this over and over and over. It didn’t make sense to me. I had not had relations with the things I studied in my education. I couldn’t understand it until I saw the relations with nature that my children were building.

And then there was the Friday spelling quiz we used to do because that’s what I did as a child. And my nemesis – math. How to find math that is living? How to find a way to teach it when all I know is drill and kill? I still wonder. And geography. I haven’t landed on what I think fits the living definition for that yet either. And Latin. We still aren’t doing it. I’m waiting for some CM answer to strike me. And PE. Someday we’ll get it in formally. Someday I won’t send the children out, I’ll go with them. Someday I’ll nature journal, but I keep having babies who eat the watercolors and chew on the brushes. It’s all I can do to keep the toddler away from the other children painting. I’ve recently learned that painting really isn’t the essence of nature journaling anyway. We’ve been doing that wrong. Euclid is approaching fast on the horizon. I don’t know how to tackle Euclid.

Does this sound like a purist? Wouldn’t a purist have these things sorted out by now? After this many years of homeschooling with Charlotte Mason, and all this fumbling around…

Learning along the way – day after day, month after month, year after year.
Slow, so slow.
But steady.

I learn the method gradually and implement what I can a little at a time. I juggle babies. I redo and redo the schedule, searching for one that works and incorporates as many subjects as I am ready to implement in CM fashion, yet a schedule that can actually be accomplished including potty training. In ten years of using Charlotte Mason I’m still missing pieces. I’ve found cabbages. I’m still looking for some cabbages.

At times I’ve panicked. Composition. When my oldest daughter reached age 10, I worried, I fretted, I asked other people. Some educators, who were Charlotte Mason in name but not in understanding, said a composition program needed to be started at this age. I tried some curriculum that was advertised as Charlotte Mason friendly. It lasted one month. This was not it. For us it turned writing into a task, a system with an artificial product. I knew from the philosophy, this could not be the Charlotte Mason way. But what was?

Would a purist be swayed by the panic of meeting expectations missing what is in the volumes?

Learning along the way – day after day, month after month, year after year.
Slow, so slow.
But steady.

I learned that not all that is touted as Charlotte Mason is Charlotte Mason. Finally, I went to the volumes. It is very clear in volume 6:

Form II (A and B), (ages 9-12) … But let me again say there must be no attempt to teach composition. (p. 192)

And in case I missed it, she says it again on p. 274:

Let me repeat that what is called ‘composition’ is an inevitable consequence of this free yet exact use of books and requires no special attention until the pupil is old enough to take naturally a critical interest in the use of words.

I learned to go to the volumes.

Even deeper, I learned that I had to trust. I had to trust the method. There was no living proof around me that I could look to for assurance seeing that Charlotte Mason had worked for them and it could work for me too. It was sheer faith in the unseen. It still is, although after these years, I now can see glimpses that we are gaining the desired benefit of a Living Education. There is some proof of the unseen coming to light. There has been so much darkness, so much wondering, but so much hope.

At one point I gave up reading the volumes. I slapped them shut with force. The pieces didn’t fit, things were not living. It was drudgery, life was drudgery. It wasn’t working. I had tried and it was not bringing the promised results. There was no joy in learning, there were no connections being made. For a while I quit my study of Charlotte Mason and stalled. I felt betrayed. Had I been duped? Was this just a frilly dream world for the early years that led to a dead end? Did I need to abandon Charlotte Mason and resort to comprehension questions and memory work and tell my kids to grin and bear it – like I had done as a child, like others around me were doing?

Would a purist question and falter to this point?

Learning along the way – day after day, month after month, year after year.
Slow, so slow.
But steady.

After many, many months of leaving my kids in this deformed Charlotte Mason, learning-deficient state, I decided I had to be either in or out. Time was not waiting for me. I had to find what was wrong with my Charlotte Mason methods or move to a different system. I didn’t want to give up on a Charlotte Mason education, but I did not understand what to change. Not knowing what I was searching for, but knowing I was not finding what I needed within myself, I traveled out of state to a group who was doing a Living Education Community together. And there it was before my eyes. A real and true Living Education! It was not some dream fantasy. I was not betrayed. I was missing pieces, large pieces. But it was real and I went home to find the pieces and put them in. I’m still putting them in.

Could this be the story of a Charlotte Mason purist?

With all these shortcomings – how could I possibly be a purist?

Often I have wondered if Charlotte Mason walked into my home whether she would disown me because of the miserable representation of her work that I am displaying.

Am I a purist?


Have I always been a purist?


I was a purist when I implemented the methods inadequately, I was a purist when I panicked listening to those who weren’t sound in their advice, I was a purist when I challenged the whole method. I’m still a purist though I fall short of properly applying all of the method and living the philosophy. I have had shortcomings, but not failures.


A purist finds their errors by coming back to the unaltered philosophy. A purist keeps fine-tuning the method without supplements. A purist keeps chiseling away at their blind spots until the light shines. They wait and hope for the fruit of a Living Education to ripen. The desire of the purist is to live, implement, and promote only the pure method and philosophy knowing it is better than all other methods and philosophies. The purist knows nothing needs to be added to this philosophy, but the alterations that are needed are in our thinking and application. Despite questions and faltering, a purist longs to see the method work and produce its fruit. A purist is cheering for the method to rise above the mire of our imperfections and shortfalls and see it succeed and flourish in its true form as its recipients partake of the glorious fruit of a full life. One can be a Charlotte Mason educator, a purist even, without having all the pieces together, because the method, like the Holy Spirit Teacher it relies on, extends patience and grace. A purist hopes with anticipation for perfection to arrive one day, knowing that there is an awful lot to learn along the way.

So what would I have done if Charlotte Mason had walked into my home – into the shambles of her method and philosophy that I have served on some days? Probably hang my head and brace myself for the disapproval and critiquing to come blaring forth. But, in reality, I don’t think criticism would come. Not at all. I think she would smile, guide me to a chair to sit and breathe, take my hand and after a moment say, “You are growing, you are learning, you are becoming a mother and teacher learning how to feed their minds and souls. This is purity.”

18 Replies to “Is This the Story of a Charlotte Mason Purist?”

  1. Love! Love! Brilliant!

    “One can be a Charlotte Mason educator, a purist even, without having all the pieces together, because the method, like the Holy Spirit Teacher it relies on, extends patience and grace.”

  2. I know I am going to be the lone voice… but I don’t think I agree with the conclusion.
    Can someone claim to be vegetarian if they eat meat? Maybe they didn’t WANT to eat the meat, but oh bacon is so irresistible and they can’t resist.
    Similarly, I fail to see how someone can claim they are a purist simply based on volition and not on actual action.
    It’s more honest to say they want to be a purist even though they aren’t.

    1. Jane,

      There is always willing happiness by me to hear the lone voice. Thanks for writing in. Many times it’s the lone voice that can help us think and sharpen. I seem to often be a lone voice!

      If I understand your ideas for a different conclusion… What I hear you saying is that if someone (me in this case) is not implementing correctly or fully (as I told about in the first part of the article) that would make them striving to be a purist but not there – not able to call themselves truthfully, honestly a purist. This would be because their (my) actions aren’t showing or demonstrating the pure or perfect method or philosophy.

      What I hoped to show was that in order to be a purist, one has the true, unaltered, unchanged pure method/philosophy in their sights, in their goal, in their heart. It is their desire from deep down. They are focused on the method or philosophy wholly, entirely, unswervingly in their heart and desires not necessarily in their actions (implementing the method). The catch is that I can’t do what I desire to do. Either out of my ignorance because it takes time to learn, or my laziness, or bad habits, or sinfulness (as much as it hurts to say that) the method won’t shine through as it should were I in my actions doing it perfectly. As a side, interesting how that plays out in many things in life as the Apostle Paul acknowledges also, “I don’t do what I do want to do…” as he talks about in Romans 7. Here with CM we also have the ignorance issue to add to the mix – not just our willfulness and sinfulness as to why the method/philosophy isn’t being applied as we’d like to perfection.

      I hoped to make a distinction between doing something to perfection in outward actions and having the desire of perfection. Having the desire of perfection, I hoped to show qualifies someone as a purist. Having the actions of perfection would be our ultimate hope and desire and goal – our ideal. As a purist, we (I) keep working toward that perfect implementation and my hope is to reach it. Another side note, without hope things become hopeless and our lives spiral to depression without hope. I just went on a big leap there – but I’ve been there – without hope. There must be hope. Again, interestingly, this is traceable to many references in the Bible. Psalm 33, Hebrews 6, He is our hope… If I have hope I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. If I have no hope, all is dark. I can claim to be a purist hoping for the perfection to come that I desire. I’m not, on the other hand, someone doing this perfectly or a perfectionist. The distinction I wanted to make was between someone with the desire (purist) vs. someone with the actions (doing it perfectly or perfectionist).

      I do hope to write on this more. I have ideas and words and definitions floating around in my head that need sorting through – so stay tuned! I truly do understand your point (or correct me if I’m off!) – Defining words and attributing life situations to those definitions are paramount and vitally important to understanding Charlotte Mason and other things in life and it is what keeps things pure.


      1. Thank you for this article and this response. It is helping me sort out my own thoughts and feelings towards the CM “purist”. I believe we should have faith and works, heart and practice…and lots of humility. I have experienced judgment and heard the harsh voices of some “purist” out there but I am reminded that you can be “pure” outwardly- in practice and action, but if you have a judgmental, arrogant heart you are not pure inwardly. This article helped me understand that being a true purist is trying to line up the inward and outward person. I was especially encouraged by the last sentence. Thanks again!

  3. This. Beautiful. He can take our messes and turn them into something marvelous. My friend Bridgett likes to say, “I have bought the whole hog but I’m not eating it all yet!”

  4. Lisa,

    Thank you for writing this. You are speaking into SUCH a need in the CM community right now. There is definitely a wave–a wonderful wave!–of mamas like me whose souls deeply resonate with Mason’s principles and method but sometimes feel secretly guilty that we are not doing it all, or doing it all RIGHT, straightaway. I think many of us are inwardly condemning ourselves and wanting to conceal the parts of the feast we haven’t added in yet in the pursuit of setting the table in a gradual, thoughtful manner. Thank you for extending grace for this. I love how you distinguish between goal and reality. We can be moving in the direction of something and still not be there yet–and yet still be right where we need to be. The process is just as important as the destination, isn’t it?

    I also feel like, as I was reading your article, that your words quite literally reflect the Science of Relations. The more we come to understand about CM, the more we CAN understand about it! Each new idea that seeps into our minds lays necessary scaffolding for the next concept. I’m not sure we CAN understand it all, all at once! That’s not the kind of learning we expect from our children; why do we pressure such learning from ourselves?

    Anyway, thank you for the grace. And thank you also for the firm commitment to the full feast, nothing added or removed, stance as well. Grace AND truth. Always a winning combination 🙂

    Jessica Becker

    1. Jessica, yes, that guilt feeling. It crops up and we know it doesn’t come from Him. The one who comes to steal and destroy knows guilt is a prime tool for discouragement and distraction, and he would like nothing better than to rob us and our children from learning as God intended for us to learn – to learn of His world, of Him, of ourselves, and mankind. As mothers and educators, we set our hearts on the true and pure, and we trust God to get us there on the path he has laid out for us – not always the path I’d prefer, but, this is how we learn to trust and grow to be like Him. Making us like Christ is God’s purpose.

      And great point – we can’t know it all at once or at any given point in time and each new understanding builds on the previous. If we are truly living and growing, as hopefully we will be all our lives, understanding will keep growing with us.

  5. Thank you everyone for writing in your thoughts and encouragements. It is meaningful for all of us to know there are other mothers out there rowing the same boat!

  6. That is an amazing piece. Whether you or I or anyone is a purist or not is only one item that was (very well) addressed. Some of the other points brought up were gems. We had a saying in the old days that you shouldn’t take “Charlotte Mason’s name in vain” … meaning, you shouldn’t slap her name on your newly created curriculum just to get it noticed. That saying was created by a very sweet CM purist. Another point I’d like to address is that one of picturing Charlotte Mason herself watching one of us homeschooling. I used to try to alleviate fears for parents that she was not going to be dropping by to check on you, and neither was I, and neither were the “The Charlotte Mason Police.”

    We HAVE to be individuals and accept our humanity. We have to make this very complete and beautiful method of education fit our children and our families.

    Your front door keys will not unlock my front door. We are all different. We should allow for that and for our children to be individuals as well.

    1. Catherine,
      Thank you for your thoughts.
      I think the phrase you mentioned is a very good one to remember – not taking Charlotte Mason’s name in vain (using her name for a self-serving purpose or profit). And so true – each child and family is unique. We can rest assured that as CM educators we have THE perfect method of education for individuality. A CM education celebrates individuality – that’s the very beauty of it. Narration is an example of one part of the method that highlights the uniqueness of each child – give 5 children the same book and you’ll get 5 different narrations. As each child is unique so each narration will be. Yes, our individuality – such a treasured part of a CM education.

  7. I like your definition of a CM purist, but I must admit that this is not the prevailing definition. I have graduated 3 children already with CM methods. Then I had a child with learning disabilities who did not want to be taught and who did not care and things started to fall apart. I had limited myself to thinking that AO was THE CM curriculum and that didn’t fit this child. I think your message is much needed in today’s CM community. We have to go back to being led by the Holy Spirit in fleshing out CM’s principles. Is the goal to truly be CM purists? Or is it to teach our children and teach them to care? Is it ok to combine my children and substitute books to make it work? Is being a CM purist more for me or for my child? Inadvertently, becoming a CM purist was a goal for my own ego and it became a man made yoke and burden and idol. I got fried and disillusioned. CM did not have to cook, clean, change diapers, nurse children, etc… She did use some books that were contemporary to her. The school went on even when she was in bed feeling ill. She did not have the responsibility of shepherding a child’s heart or disciplining them. So, after a few years of healing and taking a step back and being around others who took CM’s principles and fleshed them out in their own unique homes, I am able to come back to CM and appreciate her wisdom and to delve a little deeper into her methods so that I can begin again with my youngest child in a more healthy way. The methods are so rich that even after 17yrs of homeschooling, I am still learning! I pray I am learning in a more balanced way, secure in the Holy Spirit’s leading and keeping things in better perspective.

    1. Betty,

      Thank you for your willingness to share some of your story and your thoughts. I’m glad you resonated with this definition. Your journey – your questions, your struggles, your wisdom and your optimism – it is a story worth telling and worth hearing.

      Sometimes the path is messy and challenging. You paint a beautiful picture of a mother who has to regroup, rethink, and relearn when she is given that special challenge that God sees fit to give. Your openness to examine yourself and come at things with a different mind set is a good example for us all. Perfectionism has a way of creating those burdens and idols and robbing us of joy – the joy of being together. It is special to hear from a mother who has come down a path, had to swerve for a bump, and yet has continually been led by Him to where He wants her to be – growing and learning with clearer vision for the future. Thank you for sharing your heart.


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