The Story of School Education

The Story of School Education

Charlotte Mason had just completed her November 1896 dedication of Parents and Children when she began exploring other topics in The Parents’ Review, the monthly journal of the Parents’ National Educational Union. First on her list was an exposition of “Docility and Authority,” which she published in two parts, in the March and May issues of the 1897 Review.

May was also an important month because that was when the first ever PNEU Conference was held. At the conference, Mason presented three papers, each covering a specific dimension of “PNEU teaching”: ethical, moral, and religious. Unfortunately, the “the report of the [first] lecture … [was] too imperfect for publication,”[1] but the second two were published in the July issue of the Parents’ Review. After the conference, she covered the “physical” and “mental” dimensions of PNEU teaching (published in June and August respectively).

That busy year was culminated by yet another two-part series. In these articles, published in November and December, Mason introduced a new phrase to the PNEU vocabulary: “Masterly Inactivity.” This concept and phrase were so important that she added the term to the Fourth Edition of Home Education, the edition of volume 1 that we know and use today.

In the following year, 1898, one of Mason’s major projects was the second annual PNEU conference. For this event she prepared a massive set of lectures entitled “PNEU Psychology in Relation to Current Thought.” These landmark presentations were especially significant because Mason used them to reveal yet another new phrase to the PNEU: “Education is the Science of Relations.” She first explained this important new principle in the following words:

We consider that, Education is the Science of Relations, or, more fully, that Education considers what relations are proper to a human being; and in what ways these several relations can best be established; that a human being comes into the world with capacity for many relations; and that we, for our part, have two chief concerns—first, to put him in the way of forming these relations by presenting the right idea at the right time and by forming the right habit upon the right idea; and, secondly, by not getting in the way and so preventing the establishment of the very relations we seek to form.[2]

The full set of these 1898 lectures was published in the July Parents’ Review of that year.

For the fourth annual PNEU conference, Mason’s chosen topic was “School Books and How They Make for Education.” She explored this topic in great detail, so that when the paper was published in the July 1900 issue of The Parent’s Review, it spanned 16 pages.[3] Her topic was somewhat similar the following year, and the paper entitled “Education is a Life” was published in July 1901.

Charlotte Mason’s conference presentation for 1902 returned to her 1898 theme of “Education is the Science of Relations.” To illustrate this principle, she explored the actual childhood education of two important men: William Wordsworth and John Ruskin. The subtitle of her lengthy paper was “We are Educated by our Intimacies,” and it was published in the July 1902 Parents’ Review.

In 1903, “the seventh annual conference was postponed” from the usual May “until October.”[4] That did not deter Mason from sharing her most substantial annual update to date. She had prepared an enormous “PNEU Manifesto” and was able to have it read at a “conversazione at Kensington Town Hall on 8 June 1903.”[5] When it was finally published four months later, it spanned forty pages of The Parents’ Review. This monumental piece included a clear declaration and defense of many PNEU principles, several examples of actual student work, and a list of expected student attainments by age 14. The conclusion of the PNEU Manifesto featured two extraordinary statements by Miss Mason:

I think you 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.[6]

If conviction has indeed reached us, the Magna Carta of children’s intellectual liberty is before us.[7]

The sheer size of the PNEU Manifesto may have been one of the many reasons Mason wanted to write a more concise synopsis. She did so in the form of 18 principles which were approved by the PNEU Executive Committee in early 1904.

Now it was time to gather into one book all of these materials from seven years of conferences and journals. Mason decided to call the book School Education. It was assembled as follows:

  • The two 1897 articles “Docility and Authority” became chapters 1 and 2.
  • The two 1897 articles “Masterly Inactivity” became chapters 3 and 4.
  • Mason’s 1898 conference addresses “PNEU Psychology in Relation to Current Thought” formed chapters 5–8.
  • Mason’s 1897 series on PNEU training (physical, intellectual, moral, and religious) became chapters 10–13.
  • Chapter 14 reprinted Mason’s 1901 PNEU Conference paper “Education is a Life.”
  • Mason’s 1900 conference paper on schoolbooks became chapters 15 and 16.
  • Mason’s 1902 conference study of Wordsworth and Ruskin became chapters 17–19.
  • The massive 1903 “PNEU Manifesto” was rearranged and slightly expanded to form chapters 20–22, along with appendices II and III.

It is important to note that the assembling of School Education was also bound up in the process of revising the prior two volumes and forming the Home Education Series. For example, the original Parents and Children Chapter 21 (“Herbartian Pedagogics”) was moved to School Education as Chapter 9 and renamed “A Great Educationalist,” even though it was taken from an earlier Parents’ Review article from 1895. Essex Cholmondeley explains how the volumes were updated for the Home Education Series:

Now, in 1905, when a reprint of Parents and Children became necessary, she assembled her five books into the Home Education Series. The synopsis appeared at the beginning of each volume. At the same time Miss Mason prepared the tables of contents and paragraph headings ‘which shall guide people in their studies, that is, if anyone does study.’ (Letter to Mrs. Franklin.)[8]

Previously, her tables of contents generally only listed the chapter titles, and there were none of the characteristic bold-text paragraph openings that we see in the volumes today. Also, the newly-minted Synopsis only began to appear in the volumes printed after 1904. As far as I know, the first edition of School Education followed this new format. The Preface is dated November 1904, and the title page gives a publication date of 1905. Unlike the case of Home Education or Parents and Children, there is no indication that this 1905 version is anything other than the first edition. Also, as far as I know, there has never been a major revision of School Education.

Also new to this book is the first appendix, which contains questions about each chapter. Cholmondeley explains how this came to be:

The Mothers’ Education Course consisted of Syllabus I and II with examination papers for each. The questions for these papers still appear at the end of each volume of the Home Education Series as a help to study and to indicate points which the author considers significant.[9]

To round out School Education, two more appendices were included:

  • Appendix IV: a sample PNEU programme.
  • Appendix V: sample “Notes of Lessons” which had appeared in various issues of The Parents’ Review.

In her letter to Henrietta Franklin, Mason explained that she had included helps to “guide people in their studies, that is, if anyone does study.” More than a century after the publication of School Education, it is safe to say that many parents and teachers do study. In order to make it easier for us to continue our learning, the Charlotte Mason Poetry transcription team has made a new version available to the world. As with our editions of Home Education and Parents and Children, this new edition of School Education features several unique characteristics:

1. It is designed first and foremost for online viewing. Page numbers are consistent with contemporary published versions but are inserted inline with the text so as not to interrupt the reader. This allows the best in readability while still making it possible to share with others what page you are on.

2. It contains no editorial additions or clarifications. You only see what Charlotte Mason herself approved. Everything was transcribed directly from editions published in Mason’s lifetime.

3. It contains everything: All the front matter, the table of contents, and the appendices; everything that greeted the historical reader of these volumes.

4. It was developed using the Charlotte Mason Poetry transcription process which has proven to result in very high-quality transcriptions with very few errors. We wanted to create a text that you could copy and paste with confidence.

5. It incorporates the formatting of the original edition. This includes typeface alterations such as bold, italics, and small-caps. It also includes indentation and line spacing to match the original as closely as possible. Why did we follow this formatting so carefully? Because just as facial expression accompanies the spoken word and gives it shades of meaning, so do typeface customizations deliver a shade of meaning to the written word. Now you can see a transcribed version that has the formatting attributes that consistently match the original.

6. It supports direct hyperlinks to individual pages. Now you can email a friend or post in social media with a link to the exact page where you found a particular quote. Simply append the page number to the URL. For example, to share a link to page 117, append #p117 to the URL as follows:

7. It is absolutely free. By that we mean it is free for you to use in any way you want, with no strings attached. What do we mean by that? We mean that you can translate it, print it, and even publish it commercially. The text is our gift for the community. Charlotte Mason Poetry is a labor of love. Our goal is to promote Charlotte Mason’s ideas. And we hope that an absolutely free edition of School Education will go a long way to getting these words and ideas into the hands of more people.

If you do wish to study as Miss Mason wanted, read School Education at this link:


[1] The Parents’ Review, vol. 8, p. 432.
[2] The Parents’ Review, vol. 9, pp. 424–425.
[3] The Parents’ Review, vol. 11, pp. 448–463.
[4] Coombs, M. Charlotte Mason: Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence, p. 211.
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Parents’ Review, vol. 14, p. 758.
[7] The Parents’ Review, vol. 14, p. 759.
[8] Cholmondeley, E. The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 110.
[9] Ibid., p. 45.

2 Replies to “The Story of School Education”

  1. So thankful for the wonderful work of all of you at CM Poetry! Your labor of love inspires me to do the same for the CM Portuguese-speaking community!
    Thank you and I pray you all have a blessed 2021!

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