Monday, October 19, 2015

Charlotte Mason is powerful (Part III)

by Anne White

In the book Marva Collins' Way, the first chapter begins with a description of the first day of school in Mrs. Collins' class, about forty years ago. She did not begin the school year with a game; she began with the words "The first thing we are going to do in here, children, is an awful lot of believing in ourselves." Then she handed out copies of Emerson's "Self-Reliance."

Now we may not all be great fans of Emerson, or think that his essays are an essential part of the second grade curriculum; but Marva Collins had a point. She also had something in common with Charlotte Mason, who insisted that true education was self-education. Self-reliance, strengthening the will, thinking independently (while still recognizing responsibility and duty); knowing that "I can": these were essential goals of a CM education.

Look at some of the goals given in the Notes of Lessons:

To train the pupils to think independently and to cultivate their constructive powers. 
To make the children think, by setting them questions which they cannot answer merely from their book
To increase the children's power of rapid mental work
To increase their power of reasoning and attention
To increase their power of observation
To exercise their reasoning powers
To increase their powers of narration & imagination
To increase their power of reflection by encouraging them to trace the Latin origin of words in our own language
To assist the cultivation of the pupils' mental habits [powers] of attention, promptness, and accuracy
To teach the girls self-reliance (through physical exercise)
To make the children use their common sense by giving approximate answers
To draw out their originality by letting them make designs for themselves.
To give the children exercise in judging various lengths and in drawing straight lines
To give practice in the choosing and laying on of colour 
To get the pupils to arrive at the rules by the investigation of examples
To improve E's reading [so he can do more for himself]
To enlarge his vocabulary [see above]
To increase the girls' knowledge of [the literary subject, Latin grammar, etc.]
To facilitate their translation [i.e. to give them more power in this]
To stimulate interest in algebra by showing how easily many problems may be solved.[i.e. showing them that they can solve problems]
To give the pupils an interest in Latin translation, and help them to attack it in the right way [similar to the previous goal] 
To give training to the ear
To draw from the children all that they have observed for themselves about [some aspect of nature] 
To give a greater appreciation of beauty
To help to train their hands in firmness and deftness
To teach him to use his fingers more easily, and be neater in his work
To enable the children to copy a basket by looking at it 
To establish relations with the past
To connect the past with the present.
To connect the lesson with the history they are doing.
To help the children look upon the separate battles as parts of one campaign
To help them to connect all the facts they know about [a historical figure]
To show how closely literature and history are linked together and how the one influences the other
To increase the girls' love of good literature [and their power to access it]
To inspire them with a desire to study zoology on their own account, both in books and from life
To paint berries.

There is much we could discuss about these, but much of it comes down to this: we want children to be able to. And to know that they are able to.

There are two children's books by Rumer least two...that relate to these ideas: The Fairy Doll, and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Both books deal with children who feel that they can't do things, don't fit in. Elizabeth in The Fairy Doll and Nona in Miss Happiness come out of their "stuck places" through acts of doing: making a fairy house out of a bicycle basket, building a house for two Japanese dolls. Elizabeth, in particular, suddenly sees "I can's" everywhere: she can suddenly remember her arithmetic, she learns to ride her bicycle, she stops being the child who holds everyone else up.

Even to know that you can paint berries...or make a fairy a place to start.

This series will be completed in Part IV.

You might also enjoy: Head First, first posted here in 2013.


  1. Wow! What a great list! Thank you. Looking forward to the next post.

  2. Found this in a PR: "Self-knowledge, self-reverence, self-control, these three alone lead life to sovereign power." The power conferred by self-control is no unconscious power. The man who is master of himself is conscious of the fact and walks with an erect head through life. It is impossible for him not o be a man of character, and it is impossible for him not to shew his character. "It is as easy for the strong man to be strong as for the weak to be weak." Self-control brings us self-reliance. Helps us to say, "I think," "I am," in the face of the world. I commend to those who do not know it Emerson's essay on "Self-reliance." "What I must do," he says "is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion, it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."