I do not remember any teaching that related to Citizenship during my school days in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. In fact, back when I was in the ninth grade, I found myself sitting in the oak-laden, century-old auditorium at the end-of-the-year awards assembly. For the final presentation, the principal approached the podium. He then went on to announce the award for Citizenship and called my name. My friend nudged me, and I went up to receive my certificate. I went home—puzzled at what had just happened—and placed the award in my scrapbook box. To this day, I still have that certificate and have no idea why I received it.
When you think of the school subject of Citizenship, what sort of thoughts come to mind? Perhaps images of your country’s flag? Voting booths? Children picking up trash in a neglected part of town? Building houses for the needy? These are all good things, but the late British educationalist Charlotte Mason had something more in mind when she included Citizenship as a subject in her curriculum. The model Mason proposed and practiced 100 years ago included inspiring readings; but more importantly, it was concerned with character and moral development of the student. In our day of moral relativity, her thoughts are surprisingly fresh and her model more comprehensive than the usual Citizenship or character curriculum.
Charlotte Mason’s Curriculum Choices
Observing how Mason’s PNEU. schools situated Citizenship in the curriculum and which books they used for the Citizenship readings reveals the direction of character development in a relational education. This is, however, only the beginning, as any method can offer a stellar reading list. Books are just one part of the Citizenship equation; the other areas involved will be explored after we look at the curriculum.
Citizenship falls under the heading of “The Knowledge of Man” and the subheading of “Morals and Economics.” It is also sometimes referred to on the programs as “Everyday Morals,” “Civics,” and “Greek and Roman Lives.” It is inextricably linked to History, but also to Literature, Current Events, Character Formation, Physical Education and more. In a Parents’ Review article from 1900, Professor Laurie describes this symbiotic relationship:
When we contemplate the close relationship that exists between history, geography, literature, civil relations and ethics, we see how one subject of study, properly taught, aids and confirms the acquisition of knowledge in other departments—indeed, cannot be taught according to sound method without doing so.
Mason said, “The extraordinary interest children take in Citizenship should fit them well when they are older, to take their share in grappling with problems of national importance.” She also talks about a thinking, balanced patriotism that these studies will produce. “By patriotism I do not mean Jingoism, but what I mean by patriotism is an intelligent appreciation of all things noble in the romances, in the literature and in the history of one’s own country” (Mason, 1925/1989, p. 126). That is a wonderful definition of patriotism—“an intelligent appreciation of all things noble.”
Mason (1925/1989) approached most of her subjects by using living ideas presented in literary form. The following quote reminds one of this key part of her method:
The mind rejects insipid, dry, and unsavoury food…its pabulum should be presented in literary form. . . it is nourished upon ideas and absorbs facts only as these are connected with the living ideas upon which they hang. Children educated upon some such lines as these respond in a surprising way, developing capacity, character, countenance, initiative and a sense of responsibility. They are, in fact, even as children, good and thoughtful citizens. (p. 20)
I have a collection of vintage Citizenship textbooks from the 20th century. Most of them comprise equal parts on good hygiene tips and the branches of government—“insipid, dry, and unsavoury.” Not only are they outdated, they are nothing like what was used in the PNEU schools.
Grades 1-3: Secret Resolves and Dreamy Eyes
For the youngest student (grades 1–3), tales, fables, and heroic biographies combine to allow him to start gathering details and drawing conclusions as to the life of a healthy individual and community. Such stories inspire the young student to great thoughts of heroism found in “the stirring tales of service rendered to their several countries by great citizens throughout the ages. No boy reads ‘How Horatius kept the bridge in the brave days of old’ without secret resolves and dreamy eyes.” (Mason, 1923, p. 011, as cited in In Memoriam)
Grades 4-6: Inspiration of Citizenship
For grades 4–6, Citizenship becomes a definite subject on the timetable. It is to be approached more from an “inspiration of citizenship” angle than from “the knowledge proper to a citizen,” meaning that the intention was to inspire the children’s view of citizenship, rather than to require them to memorize facts or read texts that are mere outlines of government, laws, and duties. Mason does state that those facts are not neglected and are picked up by the students. Stories from the History of Rome by Beesly, The Complete Citizen by Wilson, and The Citizen Reader by Arnold-Forster are a few of the titles used in the PNEU schools.
Heroic poetry is introduced at this point. Lays of Ancient Rome by Macauley is on the program. Heroic poetry can inspire students to noble thoughts and deeds in a way that prose does not. The beauty of heroic verse settles in the mind with carefully chosen words that express courage, bravery, respect, and devotion. Likewise, patriotic poetry can lift the heart towards proud citizenship. The preface to Lyra Heroica, a poetry anthology used by Mason, describes the place of heroic and patriotic poetry in the curriculum:
To set forth, as only art can, the beauty and the joy of living, the beauty and the blessedness of death, the glory of battle and adventure, the nobility of devotion—to a cause, an ideal, a passion even—the dignity of resistance, the sacred quality of patriotism, that is my ambition here. (Henley, 1920, p. vii)
An unusual distinctive in a Mason school is the introduction of Plutarch’s Lives in the fourth or fifth grade. Plutarch is rightly hailed as the “prince of biographers” by Boswell (1791/1987, p. 3). Many great writers have drawn from his well: William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Francis Bacon, Montaigne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, David Hume et al. The children in a relational school are put into direct contact with the moral biographer’s work. Plutarch tells delightfully descriptive stories of great men of the past. Even though he was not writing for children, his stories are well suited for them because he was concerned with families, education, and the responsibilities of citizens and statesmen. Through vivid and dramatic writings, Plutarch instructs students about friendship, obedience, self-control, justice, humility, and other characteristics of great citizens. No one inspires and instructs the children in the duties and difficulties of statesmanship in quite the same way as Plutarch. Mason (1925/1989) states:
We find Plutarch’s Lives exceedingly inspiring. These are read by the teacher (with suitable omissions) and narrated with great spirit by the children. They learn to answer such questions as,—”In what ways did Pericles make Athens beautiful? How did he persuade the people to help him?” And we may hope that the idea is engendered of preserving and increasing the beauty of their own neighbourhood without the staleness which comes of much exhortation. (p. 186)
Mason used North’s translation, an example of Elizabethan prose and the translation Shakespeare used for his historic plays. Three biographies of famous Greeks or Romans are read per year for a total of 15 lives over the course of five years. These stories are read by the teachers so omissions can be made of unsuitable sections, unless Blackie editions are used, in which case the student will have their own copy to follow along. (See “A Programme for Plutarch” for more information on this.) Plutarch quietly shows the student that character is of paramount importance and that the quality of his service to his country depends on that character. Citizenship’s aims of personal conduct, history and government are all met in Plutarch’s Lives. Mason (1925/1989) observes:
Again, they will answer,—“How did Pericles manage the people in time of war lest they should force him to act against his own judgment?” And from such knowledge as this we may suppose that the children begin to get a sympathetic view of the problems of statesmanship. Then, to come to our own time, they are enabled to answer,—“What do you know of (a) County Councils, (b) District Councils, (c) Parish Councils?”—knowledge which should make children perceive that they too are being prepared to become worthy citizens, each with his several duties. (p. 186)
Reading children’s versions of Plutarch or long commentaries is not advised. North’s is the recommended translation. While the text is challenging at first, the children soon adapt and do surprisingly well. The following is an observation of the accessibility of Plutarch to the children by H.W. Household, Secretary for Education, Gloucestershire:
We turn to Plutarch’s “Lives” in Thomas North’s Elizabethan version. I remember when teachers foretold that the children would not read him – themselves underrating the ability of the workers’ children. Triumphantly the children dispelled their unfounded pessimism. If there are two authors who have asserted and established their sovereignty in the elementary school, they are Shakespeare and Plutarch (as North rendered him), read without commentary, or any more explanation than the child itself demands. The half that the children take of themselves with joy, is far greater than the whole that ultra-conscientious teachers, stuffed with the notes of commentators would fain force upon them. (Household, c.a. 1953, p. 6)
Grades 7-12: Beautiful and Noble Possibilities
For the upper grades (7–12) Mason continues to spread the feast. There are titles on citizenship, industrial life, economics and more. The Socratic Dialogues are read, along with Ruskin’s autobiography, Praeterita. But beginning in seventh grade, a key piece of the Citizenship collage is added—Mason’s own book Ourselves.
In 1904, Mason wrote Ourselves, Our Souls and Bodies, which was to be used as a personal study of human nature and behavior. Ourselves presents moral training by way of the intellect. Mason (1905/1989) felt that some stories and songs being used for the purpose of moral training relied too heavily on an appeal to emotions and “emotional responses are short-lived . . . the response of the intellect to coherent and consecutive teaching appears, on the contrary, to be continuous and enduring” (Preface). She says:
A unique aid in helping the formation of character, Ourselves was used as an orderly presentation of moral training, encouraging children to be the best they can be by helping them understand all the glorious possibilities they could strive for and also have within themselves. The point of view taken in this volume is, that all beautiful and noble possibilities are present in every one; but that each person is subject to assaults and hindrances in various ways of which he should be aware in order that he may watch and pray. Hortatory teaching is apt to bore both young people and their elders; but an ordered presentation of the possibilities and powers that lie in human nature and of the risks that attend these, can hardly fail to have an enlightening and stimulating effect. (Mason, 1925/1989, p. 189)
Ourselves is comprised of Book 1 – Self Knowledge for ages 12 to 16 and Book 2 – Self Direction for ages 15 to 18. Mason (1905/1989) uses allusions and excerpts drawn from other books used in the curriculum because:
[T]he object is rather to arrest the attention of the reader, and fix it, for example, upon the teaching of Scott and Plutarch, than to suggest unknown sources of edification. We are all too well content to let alone that of which we do not already know something. (Preface)
The books mentioned previously are only a portion of all the books, notebooks, and activities used for Citizenship in Mason’s curriculum. I have listed a few from one term to give an idea of the variety and scope. For further titles, page counts, etc., please refer to the PNEU programs found at the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection at Redeemer University. If Citizenship were about the books only, it would seem that these titles would make for a strong character curriculum. But as previously stated, it is much more than that. In Part II, we will look at how magnanimity fits in.
P.N.E.U is an abbreviation for the Parents’ National Educational Union.
Boswell, J. (1987). Life of Samuel Johnson, ll.d.. Chicago, IL: Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc. (Original work published in 1791)
Henley, W.E. (1920). Lyra heroica. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Household, H.W. (c.a. 1953). P.N.E.U. methods of teaching: with special reference to the teaching of English. [eight-page pamphlet]. Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (call number ARMITT Box CM16, File CMC107, Items i1p1cmc107I-i4p19cmc107II). Redeemer University College, Ancaster, ON.
Mason, C. M. (1989). Ourselves. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1905)
Mason, C.M. (1923). In memoriam. Retrieved from: http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/InMemoriamI.html
Mason, C. M. (1989). A philosophy of education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925)
This edited article was first published in June 2015 by the Charlotte Mason Institute in Essays on the Life and Work of Charlotte Mason, Volume 2 under the title “Citizenship in the Curriculum: Mason, Magnanimity, and the Moral Life” published by Riverbend Press.