The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A New Educational Departure.

Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 69

"Just before the summer holidays this year, a few persons met in a neighbouring drawing-room to discuss a scheme for a Parents' Educational Union. There were only about a dozen present, and of these all were not clear as to what was intended. Had the scheme anything to do with refuge work, or was it intended to better the teaching in elementary schools, or to supplement the good work done in the cause of secondary education, are questions that appeared to be simmering in the minds of some of those present. It was hazarded that the education of parents was the object of the society, a suggestion which did more than touch the truth, but which met with a disclaimer all the same; because a proposal to educate parents sounds a little like an offer to teach the doctors--to the non-parent, at any rate, who has a great respect for parents, per se.

"In the course of discussion it became clear that the object of the society was the study of the Laws of Education, as they bear on the bodily development, the moral training, the intellectual work, and the religious bringing up of children. The phrase 'Laws of Education' probably struck some of us as a mere fa¸on de parler, but it passed without question.

"Next, the conditions of membership were discussed. Parents, of whatever class, should be eligible as members. This was an improvement on the original idea, which included mothers only; but a father amongst us exclaimed against this: fathers, he said, must share with mothers the responsibility of bringing up children, and what is to be of use to the one should help the other also. Certainly, the society must gain in vigour and power by the inclusion of fathers, so the suggestion was adopted joyfully. The most desirable members are young, earnest-minded people, full of purpose for their children. These are, no doubt, the very persons most likely to bring up their children well; but it is a case of 'Unto him that hath shall be given'; and in an attempt to educate public opinion, one of the objects of the society, it is a great thing to have the best on our side. The practical wisdom of experienced parents, on the other hand, should be of the greatest service to the rest; and, besides parents, other persons interested in education should be useful allies, if only on the principle that lookers on see much of the game. An important section of the society includes parents of the artisan class. Here we want, not the comfortable dames who have time to attend Mothers' Meetings because their children are out of hand, but young people with their children about them, of intelligence enough from their school training to profit by some insight into the principles of education. We should hope to touch less capable parents indirectly; there is a good deal of community in cottage life, and one carefully brought-up family in a row of houses must have its effect on the rest.

"The next point raised some discussion:- Should, or should not, young unmarried people be admitted as members? It was objected that these, while at home, occupy the status of children, and that to admit them into a parliament of parents might create unpleasant situations. Young people are lynx-eyed in spying inconsistencies, and might be quick to think, if they did not say, that theory and practice failed to jump together. But after all, that parents should hear and assent to, and even volunteer counsels of perfection at an educational meeting, and that there should then, in spite of effort and intention, be some failures in the home practice, is no more than happens to all of us when we go to church. The young people are the parents of the future, and to get them to consider the nature of the responsibilities they will one day assume should be a good work for our educational society.

"Admission to the Parents' Educational Union should be easy, but not too easy; nomination by two existing members should be a condition, and the payment of an annual fee of five shillings, to cover expenses of printing, &c. In the artisan sections no fee should be exacted.

"After these preliminary details, some of us were still in the condition of little Peterkin in the poem, we wondered 'what 'twas all about'--what practical work for our society to accomplish?

Bearing in mind that our object is to bring common thought on the subject of education to the level of scientific research, the question is, how to give parents grip of the enormous leverage offered by some half-dozen physiological and psychological truths.

"To this end we propose to hold meetings--say four--during the winter session, with a definite programme of subjects for discussion; if the four parts of education--physical, mental, moral, and religious--can be taken up consecutively, so much the better; the topic for the day to be ventilated by means of an original paper or the other reading, to be followed by discussion. And because these are topics in which every one present will have a vivid personal interest, and upon which every thinking person must at some time have thought, we expect such discussion to be both lively and profitable.

"It would be a hopeful sign for the usefulness of the Union if parents sent in queries, with or without signatures, to the secretary, dealing with practical difficulties as they come up--'How would you deal with a greedy or a sullen child, or a child with a too active brain? How would you treat a boy who says "I shan't"? &c. The secretary would pass on beforehand one such query to a capable member, whose answer at the meeting would open the way for general discussion. One or two drawing-room meetings especially for mothers will be arranged for. Here we have a modest programme of work for the winter meetings of the Union.

"A little Parents' Educational Union work remains to be done in the summer months. Children under nine should get the more valuable part of their education in the open air. They should be on speaking terms with every sort of natural object to be met within miles of their homes. Scientific knowledge is not wanted at this stage, but what Professor Huxley calls 'common information,' which, by the way, is not too common. It is from his parents the child must get this real knowledge. We all know how eagerly every child takes to the lore of the fields--but how shall we tell what we don't know, and do we not all wish we knew more of this sort of thing? Here is more work for the society, A couple of field excursions every year under the lead of a naturalist, with opportunities for asking questions, note-book and blotting-pads for specimens, should give us at least a score or two of new acquaintances every year, and, what is more should initiate us into the art of seeing--both communicable possessions, to be passed on to the children.

"The programme for working men and their wives is the same in principle. The schoolroom or cottage meetings must be fewer, because these are the less 'leisured' members. We should have two winter meetings, with addresses or papers dealing in a practical popular way with some topic connected with sanitation, morals, the religious bringing up of children. Here we shall, doubtless, get very practical discussion of the paper, and knotty questions may be raised which should tax the wits of some of us to answer. One or two mothers' cottage meetings also will be arranged for, and we hope to achieve at least one 'cottage' field excursion.

"This is, roughly, our programme for our first year. We may see our way to more work than we pledge ourselves to. For instance, we may set on foot work under an examination scheme, in the case of parents or others being found willing to undertake a definite course of reading in education and its kindred sciences with a view to examination. Further delightful visions loom in the distance--hardly yet within measurable distance. We may live as a society to see ourselves possessed of an educational lending library; may see the issue of an educational magazine, which should make our work easier; and who knows but what some mothers amongst us may live to engage nurses from a training-home, where women of some cultivation are taught the natural laws in obedience to which a child grows up healthy, happy, intelligent, and good? More, may we hope to see the day when no mother will engage a nursery governess, however 'nice,' or however accomplished, who has not been duly trained in the art and instructed in the science of education. We commend the society to you, with every hope that it will thrive. That such a society should be of use goes without saying--therefore we believe it will be fostered, for most of us are of Matthew Arnold's mind, that the thing best worth living for is 'to be of use.' No doubt the working of the society will demand some power, moral and intellectual, as well as goodwill; but happily, there is no lack of power amongst us, so that need be no stumbling-block.

"May I propose to you two ideas to the working out of which it seems to me well worth while that our society should devote itself: (a) That the forming of habits is nine-tenths of education; (b) that body, mind, soul, and spirit, equally, live upon food, and perish of famine; all four require daily bread; all thrive as they work, and degenerate in idleness. That I am using a popular rather than a scientific description of man does not matter; we all know that our needs and our activities are of (at least) four sorts, and this is enough for our present purpose.

"Very likely it may not be possible to get papers in the consecutive order suggested in the syllabus, but if we have the idea of the four necessary parts of education underlying our work, there is little doubt, but that, either in incidental remarks or complete papers, we shall get what will help us in all four 'branches of education'--time honoured phrase, which we may use in a new sense.

"Whose we are and Whom we serve. Here we have at once the motive and the safeguard of parents. An attempt to bring up children on scientific principles alone may produce splendid results in literature, science, even in virtue; but by and bye, there is evidence of a leak somewhere, threatening to sink the ship. Startling illustrations will occur to us all. On the other hand, who wilfully ignores the laws which regulate activity and development in every part of our being, is like him who puts to sea without rudder or compass, trusting to the winds of heaven to carry him where he would go. Whose we are--let us make the most and best of our children; Whom we serve--in order that their service may be of the worthiest."

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The above is part of a paper read in the autumn of 1887 before an assembly met to consider the propriety of establishing a society of parents, to be called the Parents' Educational Union. The idea jumped with popular feeling; was, so to speak, in the air. The Parents' Educational Union is already the Parents' National Educational Union, a vigorous society which bids fair, shortly, to justify its name even in the sense that the whole nation is included in the network of its branches. But this is a large hope, and these are early days.

The scope and methods of the union remain, practically, as in the original forecast. The question of the inclusion of young unmarried people has been tacitly decided in the negative; that of the inclusion of fathers has met with a strong and decided affirmative. The society is deeply indebted to the sound judgement and earnest efforts of men of thought and culture.

The question of "class legislation" caused some perplexity in the first instance. It was felt that, while here was common ground on which rich and poor should meet together, yet, on the other hand, the details of home training and culture are not the same for people who have nurseries and artistic surroundings and for those whose lot is cast within narrower lines. But the difficulty settled itself: it was found that, to meet the artisan class, it is desirable to go to their usual places of meeting, and to work through existing organisations rather than to press another society on their attention. Work in mothers' unions, guilds, temperance halls, &c. is incumbent on every branch.

The Parents' Review, conceived originally in the interests of the Parents' National Educational Union, while it looks for a wider circle of readers than the society offers, must ever aim at furthering what should be the most important of all educational organisations.

Some of this is included in the book "In Memoriam," written on the occasion of Charlotte Mason's death.)

Typed by Clare McCaughren, August 2015.