My venture into Charlotte Mason began with some quips and phrases I picked up along the way that were attributed to her, and sounded really good to me. I certainly didn't know anything about her, let alone her philosophy, but I did know she had a view of children and teaching that was traditional, in the sense that one would not find them put into practice in a modern classroom. Maybe traces of these ideas, at best, are used but certainly not fully known and practiced. Over the years, I've become a student of Ms. Mason and when I more fully knew and understood these principles, I realized I've held a Charlotte Mason philosophy without knowing it!
Charlotte Mason lived from 1842-1925 in England during a time when ideas of childhood were vastly different from what they are today. Wealthy children would have such little contact with their parents, being raised by a nanny, while poor children would begin working at an early age so to help support their families. Childhood for both classes barely existed because of the expectations and duties of each. Charlotte originally taught in a school but saw a need to educate not only teachers but nannies, or governesses, in order to prepare them for their work with children, particularly calling for parents' active role in their children's education. She began teacher schools called the Parents' National Education Union (P.N.E.U). Mason's views were informed by her experience and her Christian faith, working in and against a system with contrary views and beliefs in an effort to reform. Thanks to her and countless other child advocates, the view of children and the expectations placed on them changed by the end of the Victorian era.
As you read through these principles, keep in mind that they were not necessarily widely held views or practices in education at the time. They served as the rails for Charlotte and her teachers, defining her philosophy. As such, she was able to accept or reject new or renewed ideas in the area of education.
Children are born persons.
They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.
The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary, and fundamental; but---
These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.
Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments--the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."
When we say that education is an atmosphere, we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child-enviornment' especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child's level.
By education is a discipline, we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits. (She was a woman before her time!!)
In saying that education is a life, the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.
We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.
Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is 'what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.'