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. (!)