Why CM Appeals to Homeschoolers

Dear Reader,

I’ve decided I would like to know more about how Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy gels (or doesn’t) with the thinking of the reformers (eg. Luther, Calvin; I have written a little on CM and the Puritans here). I hope to blog on the specifics as I get further along.

Though I am only beginning this process, I have had one insight already. In reading about Martin Luther’s thoughts on education, I am struck more than anything by the fact that he and Charlotte come to their views from very different places. Luther was concerned with overall trends (a tendency to abandon education as being too Catholic) and his arguments are aimed at the leaders of a community, whether civil or ecclesiastical. Because of this, the goals he lists for education are societal – educated people make for a better society, a better church, and the spread of the gospel. It is not that he doesn’t care for the individual, but that is not his focus.

With Charlotte Mason it is different. Her background is in education. She herself was a teacher and she struggled with all she saw her students learning – and not learning (Towards a Philosophy of Education, pp.9ff). She starts, then, from the individual, and I think we see this in her principles and her goal. The first of Charlotte’s 20 Principles is “Children are Born Persons.” The importance of the individual is right there from the beginning. And though she does at times speak of the benefit to society,** her main goal is again focused on the benefit to the individual student. We probably all know that oft quoted passage in which she says we must ask “not how much they know, but how much they care.” This “caring” is not as I think it can be used today, primarily about our stewardship of the world around us. She goes on to ask “how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” And again:

“ . . .but how good would it be if we could devise an education which should be not only serviecable in making a living, but should enable young people to realise, use, and enjoy fulness of life!: (Formation of Character, p. 189)

The benefit to society is almost a bi-product, but the main goal is for the individual – that his (or her) life might be enjoyable and full.

This, I think, is a large part of why Charlotte Mason’s writings appeal so much to us as homeschooling moms. We too start with the individual – our own children. Very few, if any, people start homeschooling in order to make the world a better place. Our focus is smaller – not just the individual in abstract, but specific individuals.


**Charlotte, like many of her contemporaries, seems to have turned to education as a solution after the First World War. In her 6th volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education, she speaks more of the societal benefits of education (see this post).

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