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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Review by Victor H. Allemandy
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 961-964


Home Education, by C. M. Mason

Miss C. M. Mason, the principal of the House of Education, Ambleside, is so well known to readers of the Parents' Review that no further introduction is here necessary.

The book which we are considering this month was primarily a course of lectures to ladies, delivered with the idea of popularizing and amplifying "the valuable educational hints contained in some two or three chapters of Dr. Carpenter's Mental Physiology." "My attempt is," says the authoress in her preface, "to suggest a method of education resting upon a basis of natural law; and to touch, in this connection, upon the mother's duties to her children in the three stages of life during which they fall under her personal training—childhood, school-life and young maidenhood; I say maidenhood, because the youth is, earlier than the girl, necessarily left to the education of circumstances, and his training falls less within the mother's province."

When commencing to review the book I sat down as is my wont with my note-book by the side of me. I read on and on, but instead of jotting down notes for my guidance when writing this article I kept reading extracts to my wife, to the disadvantage of my notes. I hope my readers will pardon this digression; but, in my opinion, no greater praise can be given to a book of this nature. There are three main sections:—(1) "The Education of Children under Nine Years of Age"; (2) "The Home Education of the Schoolboy and Schoolgirl"; and (3) "The Training of the Young Maidens at Home." The titles of the lectures are as follows:—"Some Preliminary Considerations," "Out-of-door Life for the Children," "Habit is Ten Natures," "Some Habits of Mind," "Lessons as Instruments of Education," "The Will—the Conscience—the Divine Life in the Child," "The Relations between School Life and Home Life," "Young Maidenhood—The Formation of Character and Opinions."

In order to promote a healthy brain-activity, strict attention must be given to such essential principles as exercise, rest and change of occupation, nourishment, pure air, sunshine and free perspiration. These important hygienic principles are fully explained.

The chapter devoted to "Out-of-door Life for the Children" is probably the most important in the book. The claims of Nature are being gradually but very slowly recognized. "For we are an over-wrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself . . . Never be within doors when you can rightly be without." "Sight-seeing" and "Picture-painting" are admirably described. "In the course of this 'sight-seeing' and 'picture-painting' opportunities will occur to make the children familiar with rural objects and employments. If there are farm-lands within reach, they should know meadow and pasture, clover, turnip and corn field, under every aspect, from the ploughing of the land to the getting in of the crops."

"The power to classify, discriminate, distinguish between things that differ is amongst the highest faculties of the human intellect, and no opportunity to cultivate it should be let slip; but a classification got out of books, that the child does not make for himself and is not able to verify for himself, cultivates no power but that of verbal memory, and a phrase or two of 'Tamul' or other unknown tongue, learnt off, would serve that purpose just as well." Following this quotation, Miss Mason gives a useful list of several books on botanical, zoological and geological subjects for the beneft of her readers.

A timely word is put in on over-pressure, which has been much discussed of late. "A great deal has been said lately about the danger of over-pressure, of requiring too much mental work from a child of tender years. The danger exists, but lies, not in giving the child too much, but in giving him the wrong thing to do, the sort of work for which the present state of his mental development does not fit him."

The chapter dealing with "Habit" is one of the most complete chapters generally found on this subject except in books on Ethics. The subject is here taken in its entirety: its growth, its meaning, the lines along which "habit" may be trained, the physiology of "habit," the formation of a habit, and good and bad habits. This is amplified in the succeeding chapter on "Some Habits of the Mind," in which the following points are lucidly explained: the habit of attention, the habit of application, the habit of thinking, the habit of remembering, and the habit of imagining.

"Lessons as Instruments" forms the topic of the next chapter. Here kindergarten games and occupations, reading, writing, arithmetic, natural philosophy, geography, history and grammar are each discussed in turn. Dealing with geography, Miss Mason writes: "Geography is, to my mind, a subject of high educational value: and this is not because it affords the means of scientific training. Geography does present its problems, and these of the most interesting, and does afford materials for classification; but it is physical geography only which falls within the definition of a science, and even that is rather a compendium of the results of several sciences than a science itself. But the peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures. Herein lies the educational value of geography." "History," she says, "is a subject which should be to the child an inexhaustible storehouse of ideas, should enrich the chambers of his House Beautiful with a thousand tableaux, pathetic and heroic, and should form in him, insensibly, principles whereby he will hereafter judge of the behaviour of nations and will rule his own conduct as one of a nation."

Coming to the second section of the book on "The Home Education of the Schoolboy and Schoolgirl," [this section is now part of Volume 5, Formation of Character] we are given some valuable remarks on a variety of topics, among which may be mentioned examinations, the playground, school government, girls' schools, home training-physical, intellectual, religious and moral, the awkward age, home culture—books, poetry, table talk, and others. From such multitudinous subjects, all interesting and instructive, it is extremely difficult to cull quotations—there are so many and space is so short. Useful advice is given on books and the value of reading. Owing to the present rush of life and the endeavours made to keep abreast of the times, little leisure is left for reading standard or classical literature. This sentiment is voiced in the following words: "It is hopeless and unnecessary to attempt to keep up with current literature. Hereafter it may be necessary to make some struggle to keep abreast of the new books as they pour from the press; but let some of the leisure of youth be spent upon 'standard' authors that have lived through, at least, twenty years of praise and blame."

The final chapter on "Young Maidenhood" should prove of great interest to all mothers. One quotation in this section is of extreme importance: "The girl wants a career, a distinct path of life for her own feet to tread, quite as much as does the boy. But the girl will be provided for, it is said, while the boy must be made able to support himself and a family by his labour of head or hands. That is not the point: people are beginning to find out that happiness depends fully as much upon work as on wages. It is work, work of her very own, that the girl wants; and to keep her at home waiting for a career which may come to her or may not, but which it is hardly becoming in her to look forward to, is, to say the least of it, not quite fair. The weak girl mopes and grows hysterical; the strong-minded girl strikes out erratic lines for herself; the good girl makes the most of such employments as are specially hers; but often with great cravings for more definite, recognised work."

Every statement in this book is utterly sensible and entirely free from fads. I note that Miss Mason's Home Education is frequently taken as a subject for discussion at the various P.N.E.U. meetings, and am very glad to know that this book, full of wisdom, full of advice especially to mothers, and full of practical suggestions, is being read and pondered over in various parts of the country, and the more widespread the knowledge of the contents the better educators will mothers be. In the above review, adequate justice has not been done. There were so many quotations which I should have liked to have made, but the exigencies of space imposed a limit.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, Feb 2009