Charlotte Mason, British educator (1842-1923)
Providence bases important aspects of its educational philosophy and pedagogical methods, particularly in the lower class levels, on the theories and
practices of British educator Charlotte Mason (1842-1923). Miss Mason, a renowned “teacher of teachers,” founded a number of grammar schools and a college to train teachers in her philosophy and practices. The elements of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy that have been incorporated into that of Providence are the following:
- Parents are the primary influence in their children’s lives, and they must accept and fulfill this responsibility—it cannot be delegated. In Mason’s words: “More than anything else it is the home influences brought to bear upon the child that determine the character and career of the future man or woman.”
- Children are born as individuals of worth—as “persons,” in Mason’s terminology—and, as such, should be valued and respected. Curriculum for children, therefore, should reflect their value and potential as human beings and should never be “dumbed down.” Rather, the curriculum must be full of books and experiences that exemplify and teach truth, beauty, and goodness. In particular, a school’s curriculum should be filled with “living books” and not simply textbooks, graded readers, and vapid works of the sort Mason termed “twaddle” (that is, works lacking in depth, breadth, and literary quality).
- The teaching and reinforcing of mental and moral habits help students automatically learn to do what is right and will aid them in their future development. Charlotte Mason believed children should be “taught what they ought, not what they want.”
The elements of Charlotte Mason’s educational practices that have been incorporated into those of Providence are, most notably, these:
- Nature study should be an integral part of children’s grammar school years. The study of nature allows children to develop all of their senses and trains them to observe, count, classify, interpret, draw, and record. Nature study helps children love and appreciate the magnificence of God as the Creator of all. Moreover, nature study is foundational to developing skills in inquiry, observation, and analysis that are integral not only to scientific investigation, but also to fields as diverse as the study of history and of the visual arts.
- The use of “picture studies” helps students recognize, respond to, and appreciate art. Picture studies are done on a regular basis both for art appreciation and for their language-eliciting capability. Picture studies develop students’ memory skills and speaking ability as they study the history, style, and unique qualities of great works of art and the lives of the artists who created these works.
- The use of oral and written narration develops students’ overall language skills. Students tell back or “narrate” a story they have heard or read. They retell, as much as possible, word for word. As students narrate, they learn good writing style, as they often recite or write in the same style as the author. Narration also strengthens and develops vocabulary and memory skills. Karen Andreola, a prominent teacher of Charlotte Mason’s methods, declares that “knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced. . . . [narration] increases the mind’s ability to remember.”
Just as one learns to distinguish counterfeit from real currency by studying authentic currency, one learns to distinguish good language from poor by imitating good writing and speaking. Narration enhances comprehension skills and fills the mind with rich ideas that inspire, and thus students expand their learning. If one cannot retell a passage, one does not know and fully “own” the ideas expressed in the material. The person who can retell it does own it.