Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason
January 1st, 1842
January 16th, 1923

     Charlotte Mason is my heroine. I stitched her name into an historic sampler a while ago and had it framed.

Charlotte Mason sampler
      As much as I’ve put pen to paper about her work, words faintly describe my admiration for her accomplishments - and her modesty. Have you noticed how little she talks about herself in her writings? Rather, the founder boasts of her findings for the children's sake. She was a Christian not merely by church association (the Anglican Church) but by her commitment to live for Christ. 

     Here is a photograph of my desk in the attic where I write to you. I made it tidy for the picture. On another wall (not shown) is an old bookshelf (painted pink for a young daughter) and the sewing machine - where I enjoyed making a pink cushion for a chair. The oil painting portrait of Charlotte Mason, commissioned for the cover of my purple book,  keeps me company.    

Charlotte Mason protrait

Idealism at Work
     At Charlotte Mason's memorial service a gentleman who gave the prayers and addresses said, “She was . . . the living example . . . that it is character that matters. She had a shrewd, saving north-country common sense which kept her idealism from ever becoming an unpractical fact.”*1 Reaching for ideals we labor to put into practice those things that inspire us. Instead of being frozen in our tracks - fretting about feeling inferior to the huge task before us, we get busy making mistakes. Consequently, by and by, we learn to do things better. A superior education is the result as we meet with success in odd hours. Out of love and duty we quietly seek to advance His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” How grateful this imperfect Christian is to know that when we yield to the Holy Spirit, the Divine Educator, He works in us and through us.

We Grow When Fed
     I fervently hope that my reader will take time for Mother Culture this year. One way is to feed her mind. This equips her for guiding her children. In the earliest years of my motherhood I was an eager, but slow, learner. The “slow” was leftover from my less-than-empowering youth. Nevertheless, I poured through articles and books. I read in fifteen-minute-snatches while my energetic children played in the afternoon. I read beside the sandbox or beside the puddle pool (where my pages and I survived splashes). I read on the edge of the hot drive while tricycles wheeled happily around in circles. I read on rainy days while children played inside the living-room tent (a blanket supported by kitchen chairs.) Does this give you any ideas?
     Fifteen minutes of reading now and again will do a mother a power of good. It takes two-to-three minutes to read a blog post. Perhaps in today’s on-line world fifteen minutes with a well-written book would be considered luxurious lingering, and not the quick “snatch” it once was.  

Harmony of Lifestyle
     Eventually I began to call the collection of Miss Mason's principles “The Gentle Art of Learning™.” They harmonize so well with the background of sane living that it becomes difficult to tell the two apart. The living books, narration, early hours, short lessons, the way of habit and reason, the picture study, music appreciation, nature study, love of God and service to others, etc., are pearls of great value. Parents reading about Miss Mason for the first time are struck with the sensibleness of it all. Their letters to me confirmed this. “This is what I’ve always thought education should be but haven’t been able to put into words.”

Not a Fad
     In these modern times we can glean from the same principles Miss Mason advocated in the 19th century because they are not a fad. They are fundamental, simple and straightforward. “Lifestyle” wasn’t a word in Miss Mason’s day. But the concept of a lifestyle of learning was what she strove to bring to our notice. And although we may say, “of course, this is the way to do it, this is what we want for our children,” little pearls of great value can be left undefined. On this blog and in my books I point out the pearls.

The Lake District of England
     Every once in awhile I am privy to someone, who with light-hearted anticipation, plans a trip to England’s Lake District - where Miss Mason lived and taught for a good part of her life. I am asked what to see. To the surprise of my questioner I respond curtly but politely. “I’ve never been. It’s Dean who’s been. In the 1980s he visited the (then) Charlotte Mason College,” I say. 

     I had the opportunity once. In the 1990s I was sent a formal invitation to take part in a reunion of PNEU teachers, the few remaining teachers who were trained decades prior at Miss Mason’s House of Education in Ambleside. It was a big deal to me. I felt honored. But I was exhausted from our recent household move, and not having the courage to hop on a jet plane by myself, to travel so far from my family, I gracefully declined. It is doubtful that I’ll ever get to the Lake District in my lifetime.

     That’s why some months ago, when asked by email, “What shall I see?” my closing remark surprised me. “Miss Mason is buried at St. Mary’s. If you visit her grave would you place a flower on it for me?” My eyes were wet with tears the instant I clicked “send” and caught up with what my fingers had so boldly requested. But I didn’t amend it. And, Lynnda (a friend from Maine who taught her four children K-12 treasuring a wide variety of living books) wrote back to say she would.

Mission Accomplished
     A few months passed. I heard from Lynnda again. With her email she attached these photographs her daughter had taken. I felt my heart move and thanked her most sincerely. And when I asked if I could share parts of her letters she said, “Certainly.”

"Dear Karen,
     . . . Our first view of St. Mary’s Parish Church in Ambleside was from a narrow, twisting lane that dropped steeply from the high fells overlooking Ambleside. I spotted the church steeple from this bird’s-eye view. It reminded me of looking down on Camden [Maine] from Mt. Battie.
     After a stop at a florist to select a flower, we proceeded to the churchyard. I was afraid it might take us quite a while to find Charlotte Mason’s grave since there are a considerable number of stones. Evidently there have been many people seeking out Miss Mason’s grave because there was a discreet sign pointing us to the right direction. I was curious to learn when the sign had been placed there, but no one I asked knew the answer.

     I was very pleased to be able to fulfill your request of laying a flower on Charlotte Mason’s grave. You’ll notice that the flower was red. I thought it a fitting choice since red seems to be a favorite of yours.

     The tag I attached to the stem was a last-minute thought, otherwise I would not have torn a page from my journal and written the first thing that came to mind. I wanted anyone who saw the flower to know it was from you, as you’ve done so much to bring Miss Mason’s teachings to light and make them accessible for so many grateful homeschoolers. I still remember how I devoured A Charlotte Mason Companion. It was such an encouragement for me to know that what I had been doing by gut feeling with my children was practiced by others, and that I wasn’t alone in what I felt education should be. Even if I had never met you, I’d feel like you were a cherished book friend. . .

      The Lake District is as picturesque as I could have imagined. I particularly enjoyed visiting Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top and seeing the places she painted in her little books. I do hope you’ll be able to make a visit there someday. . .”  Love Lynnda

End Notes
*1 Parents’ National Educational Union, In Memoriam – Charlotte M. Mason, page 223.
Photographs at St Mary’s are used with permission.

Thank you Lynnda for helping me honor Charlotte Mason today.

Happy New Year to all, 
Karen Andreola