For a Great Door is Opened
The legacy of Charlotte Mason, prolific educational pioneer.
For a great door for effective work has opened to me.
—I Corinthians 16:91
Sometimes, very rarely, we are gripped by an unforeseen encounter with a compelling person, provocative idea, or challenging experience, and the rush of life suddenly stills; our equipoise is regained only as we internalize the possible meaning and implications of the occurrence. For a time, we are on sacred ground—a great door into a large room has been opened for us. Whether through a conversation, print or digital media, or a personal or shared experience, we find ourselves examining the numinous encounter again and again.
Charlotte Mason, a nineteenth century British educator, was one of these singular encounters for me. She has attracted and kept my attention these many years as I've been a parent, high school teacher, and university educator. I met her following the 1995 Christmas holiday when my oldest child dropped out of kindergarten. In the midst of this very personal (what does one do with a five-year-old dropout?) and professional (my career teaching high school was well established) epistemic and pedagogical angst, a friend2 shared Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's 1984 book, For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School. I have never been the same.
Here, I'd like to peek through that great door at Mason's legacy. I will begin with a brief overview of Mason's impressive and lasting organizational accomplishments, then share some of her most compelling and essential ideas, and I conclude with a few thoughts on whether her design for education warrants our continued attention in twenty-first century education.3