The Labor of Sisyphus

Sisyphus by Titian (1548)
We had a Charlotte Mason support group meeting last night. I never know what we should call ourselves!  "Support group" sounds like we all have a problem and need help.  Sometimes I say "PMEU" for Parent's Midwest Education Union, but then NOBODY knows what it is we do.  "Book discussion group" is probably the safest bet.  Sigh.

We talked about the fact that Mason says that the teacher, who is often willing to "lay down his life" for the student, still cries out in frustration at trying to teach the students.

"But how?" cries the teacher, whose life is spent in the labour of Sisyphus." (Vol. 6. p. 240)

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus spent his life tricking the gods.  In his afterlife, he was doomed to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down once he reached the top.  The term "labor of Sisyphus"  refers to a fruitless task that is perpetually repeated.

In Mason's day, she was lamenting the teacher's improper view of the child, which resulted, among other things, in teaching methods that didn't teach the child much at all.  Indeed, she thought that self-education was the only true education, so despite the "teaching, talk and tale, however lucid or fascinating, effect nothing until self-activity be set up."  In effect, the teaching becomes a labor of Sisyphus, doomed to frustrating repetition.

We had in attendance a college professor, private school teachers, homeschool parents and concerned grandparents.  Not only did we talk about many of the same issues that Mason saw in her day, but we added a host of other reasons teaching can be a labor of Sisyphus.  Add to Mason's list standardized testing, textbooks, disconnected subjects, inconsistent home life  and textbooks.  Did I mention textbooks?

I think we have chanced on a way that, at any rate, works to admiration, the principles and practice of which I am anxious to bring before you...and it remains with the reader to determine each with himself whether that solution which I here propose is or is not worth a trial. (Vol. 6, p. 249)

Every year, little by little, more of us graduate students educated according to Mason's principles and practice.  The trial that was successful 100 years ago is proving to be successful today.  More and more schools are opening, one by one.  I know that I have more confidence with my remaining students than I did with the first two.  It's exciting to know that so many others are now giving her methods a trial.


  1. Good thoughts. Now to flesh it out.

    For your group, how about:
    round table, conference, forum, panel, assembly, gathering, huddle, council, session, parent union, break out, club........
    Mason connection, Mason meet-up, Mason talk...
    Headquarters, Mason H.Q., Study Group... ??

  2. What a great gathering, Nancy! Support group does sound funny though I have to admit being addicted to CM's writings. There, I feel better already.

    I was once at a Visual Thinking Strategies workshop (akin to CM's picture appreciation) and some teachers in attendance could not fathom "not teaching" the children, not being the "sage on the stage" that tells the point, the moral, or the main idea. Could one actually enjoy the labor of Sisyphus?

  3. Richele,
    GREAT point and YES, there definitely are teachers of every sort that do enjoy the labor of Sisyphus. Something to think about...
    Sursum Corda,

  4. Christie G. in Jax., FLApril 14, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    Nancy, we're starting our CM study group here in Jax, FL. I wanted something other than CM Study/Support Group. I liked Karen Andreola's idea of Mother Culture, but that term is trademarked (or whatever) to her. I came up with Learning with Charlotte as I felt it accurately conveyed what we're trying to do in a pleasant way. Just a thought.

  5. Just a toss up for your group, C. M. I. Group, Charlotte Mason Incentive Group. Incentive means a thing that urges people on, encouraging, etc
    When we all attend these types of groups that's what we are looking for, encouragement, new ideas to give us a boost.
    Just a thought

  6. Nancy, and how inspiring that fact of graduating children according to Mason´s principles. Good for you and for this reunion.

  7. Many adults silently thank teachers with whom the did not want to work at all and had problems. It is impossible to weight the importance of the teachers who have been teachers instead of "colleagues" or "friends" of their pupils. Time, maturity, balances everything in life, making justice. Education is not different. Most adults acknowledge good teachers notwithstanding they did not love or respect them. Only adults feel gratitude (and shame) when they think on teachers who did a good job with them meanwhile they were only offering problems and fight. Their point of view, their perception of the reality, has changed. As kids are just kids, they are not capable to take decisions on the education that they need, deserve and can have. The world today has nothing to do with the 18th century theories. The association of the concept of innocence, or just childhood, with the concept of intelligence, is dangerous and to be worried. Only God knows.