Miss Mason regarded education not as a separate compartment, but as being as much a part of life as birth or growth, marriage or work;…And so it followed that many young women who went to the House of Education to learn the art of teaching, found that as well, they were learning the art of living, and of living fully. E.A. Parrish, Principal of the House of Education (Scale How)
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to explore with you some thoughts in regards to Miss Mason’s personal schedule at Ambleside (Part I). Hers was a working philosophy and in order to gain a better understanding myself, I’ve enjoyed looking to her life to observe that philosophy in action. We learned that although Mason was limited by chronic poor health, among other limitations—lack of family and finances—her closest friends attest that she accepted these limitations. She lived a life that was, for her, just as full as it needs to be. In other words, she lived well within her limitations, with vitality and growth. I suggested in my last post that in order for each of us to live a full life, we need to let go those yardsticks that we construct as we compare ourselves and our home schools with others. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I did so by offering Miss Mason’s personal schedule for our consideration. However, I don’t suggest anyone adopt her schedule as her own. Rather, we ought to know our own limitations and lacks and craft a personal schedule in such a way that we, too, can live vitally and fully within them. The question then becomes: How does a Charlotte Mason education particularly afford us this goal? And, specifically, for this series, what gems might we find in Mason’s personal schedule to help us learn the art of living?
Miss Parrish tells an interesting story from her days as a teacher-in-training at Scale How. On Thursday mornings, the student teachers would take turns leading lessons at the practicing school. These lessons were observed by the other students and faculty alike, including Miss Mason. Following the lessons, the teacher and the lesson itself were critiqued by all.
Miss Mason would criticize a student for doing what was, apparently, the thing another student has been criticized for not doing the previous Thursday, thus reducing us to despair. For what were we to do? And when we asked for the precise recipe we were told to “mix it with brains.” (emphasis mine)
One of Miss Mason’s principles is that method rather than system be our way to our end, accordingly there was a great elasticity about the conduct of the college, and all the fortunes and misfortunes of daily life were woven in as so many opportunities.” Parrish
This elasticity should be a comfort and help to us. It should help our efforts accommodate our limitations, and our limitations (opportunities) shape our work. There is a tension at work that goes in both directions and this tension is a help, not a hindrance. When we acknowledge, accept and then work within our limitations, we can be surprisingly productive.
“Her work had many sides. She edited a magazine, she wrote books, she founded the House of Education, the P.N.E.U. and the P.U.S. which [at the time of Miss Mason’s death] numbered 40,000 pupils.” Hon. Mrs. Franklin
A look at Mason’s schedule reveals how she allotted her hours each day, apportioning a time for all that was needful, and it reveals the kind of activities that she deemed important enough to earn a place in her daily schedule. There is variety. There is balance. Despite the pressures on her that surely must have existed to meet the needs of so many others, she respected the duty she had to herself to sustain her own life of the mind. It was not leisure time in the sense that it could be dispensed with when other ‘more important’ matters were at hand; it was leisure in that it afforded her that personal vitality that sustained and supported those other efforts. It was, therefore, every bit as important, if not more.
In a letter to PUS students, Miss Mason wrote the following:
“There is a saying of King Alfred’s that I like to apply to our School,—‘I have found a door,’ he says. That is just what I hope your School is to you—a door opening into a great palace of art and knowledge in which there are chambers all opening into gardens or field paths, forest or hills. I hope you will go in and out and live there all your lives. For the really rich people are they who never let King Alfred’s ‘Door’ rust on its hinges, no, not all through their lives, even when they are very old people.” (emphasis mine)
Coming to a Charlotte Mason education nearly fourteen years ago was like a breath of fresh air for me. But the extent of it crept on me unawares. I was intentionally attending to their education but my hinges were getting a workout. I was the one learning, learning how to live. Now, after exposure to life-giving oxygen I don’t think I could go back to stale, stagnant air. However, it is not always graceful or easy, even now to attend to my own rusty hinges. I have to consider the limitations of my self, my home and my family. I have to cultivate the attitude that my days are filled with so many opportunities (not the distraction, interruption and complete derailing that I am prone to consider them.) I must exercise an elasticity that in all things considers the personality. I have a duty to give my time to that which rightfully has a claim to it. Fully engaged.
While Miss Mason’s life does not offer up a recipe or blueprint that can be copied, her life with its limitations and its duties gives me hope that it is indeed within my grasp.