Enigmas on the Prairie

The weather was great, the prairie wasn't windy and things pretty much ran smoothly for our Living Education Retreat last weekend.  Oh, sure, there were those pesky flies, but no one seemed to mind.  How could you mind with a group of eighty educators from all walks and seven states with Dr. Jack Beckman sharing his expertise on Mason's educational philosophy?

From Enigma to Educationalist:  Timeless Truths and the Life and Work of Charlotte Mason was the title of his first plenary.  An appropriate title, as her beginnings have been shrouded in a bit of mystery but are slowly coming to light as research continues and new findings are made. We now know that she most likely was born in 1841 in Dublin, Ireland.  But questions still remain about her mysterious departure from Bishop Otter College in 1878 and what she did during the next seven years.  Conspiracy theories aside, she must have been thinking, writing and forming her philosophy which she would present as eight lectures in 1886.  These lectures are what we have in her first volume, Home Education.

Dr. Beckman  went on to trace Miss Mason's rise to success, setting the educational context out of which her philosophy emerged.  She squarely based her method in theology where she found the broadest and most cohesive framework for her ideas.  Terms such as "educational orthodoxy", "an educational faith" method, "canons" of pedagogy and "missionary zeal" were used in conjunction with her methods - terms usually reserved for ecclesiastical conversations. These terms were also used by the remaining Mason trained teachers in England whom Dr. Beckman interviewed while writing his dissertation.  He peppered his speeches with delightful and enlightening highlights from these interviews.

But the thought that has stuck with me stems from her seminal principle that children are born persons.  Mason said,

"But the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being, and his business is to guide, and assist in, the production of the latent good in that being, the dissipation of the latent evil, the preparation of the child to take his place in the world at his best..."
The child is self-acting and self-developing and our job as teachers is to guide and assist - not force and demand.  Their true learning and growth will happen on the inside, so how I teach needs to allow and encourage that self-developing  so the child will not just take his place in the world, but take his place at his best.  

There was much more to this talk, but in the end I was struck by the fact that principles do not change but the applications of principles can, and should, change.  A child is a person whether in New Zealand, Egypt, Japan or the United States.  Mason would have insisted on staying current with the times, but only without compromising the principles.   After all, we don't want to be educational Luddites. (!)


  1. Beautiful post...I'm very glad to hear you had an incredible time at the prairie retreat.

  2. I like your header phrase; it is foundational to how we teach and parent.

    Did Katie take the pictures? Whoever did has a unique eye for photography.

    Yes, isn't is wonderful that she used Christian terms and scripture and such in all her writings? I find it amazing that as we peel back the layers of who Charlotte is and what she was about; we are only more blessed at the depth of richness; and never disappointed.

    You did a great job inspiring. Almost as that Titus 2 woman. Do you have any more retreats coming up, or are you done for the year?

  3. Pam,
    The first 9 that you see up are by Bobby Jo Nickel. The rest were taken by Katie and a few by me. Do you have some you could add?

    Thank you for the kind words. Actually, the local school just asked for a lecture, but I don't have one prepared on the subject they wanted and they need it in 2 weeks. I had to say "I can't at this time." But aside from our support group meetings, I have no more conferences this year!

    I look forward to reading some of your reflections, too! We will need to build in even more time for discussion and reflection next time, so Karla and I can have more time to visit. It was great to meet Gayle and wonderful to see you and both your daughters. Make plans for next year!


  4. I agree- more time to process through the plenaries with others would be excellent.

    May I be nosy and ask what the topic was that you were asked to speak on?

    I completely agree. Children are born persons really stuck out to me too. And it affects EVERYTHING we do.

  5. Bobby Jo,
    You are never nosy! Narration. I can discuss it easily enough, but I don't have a formal presentation with student samples together yet. It certainly is on my very long "to-do" list!

  6. What an amazing opportunity. The fact that children are born persons is one of the first CM thoughts that stuck with me.

    I especially love how you pointed out in the end that as long as the principles stay the same it is OK for the application of those principles to reflect current norms. It's a discussion my husband and I have had many times about our own church and whether they do the things they do because it is tradition or Gospel. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

  7. Wonderful! I'd really love to go to one of these!