Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason (1842-1923) was an educator, teacher trainer, author, and lecturer who made her home in Ambleside in the beautiful Lake District of Northern England. This stunning landscape was also home to Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth, and John Ruskin. Mason came to Ambleside at the age of 50 after spending many years teaching children and thinking about how to design a model of education that fit what she observed to be true: that children are born persons. She rejected the idea born out of the industrial age that the purpose of education is to fit children for a career or prepare them for examinations. Instead, she viewed education as a way of living. She also rejected the more classical idea that children are “empty vessels” to be filled with facts. She insisted that children, as Image-bearers, deserve the very best in literature, art, music, contemporary science, and mathematic concepts; they should be invited into mankind’s great conversation of ideas that transcend time and place. She also believed that children need close contact with creation–that is, an intimate knowledge of nature.
Mason worked from 1892 until her death in 1923 to educate parents, as the primary educators of their children, through lectures and through her six books entitled The Home Education Series. She also developed a broad, liberal curriculum that was used in home schools belonging to The Parent’s National Education Union (PNEU) and in the various Parents Union Schools (PUS) across the United Kingdom and the British Empire. Her House of Education, where she trained teachers in her methods, and its accompanying Practicing School were located in Ambleside and are now part of the University of Cumbria.
Mason’s work carried on after her death, and the PNEU existed into the 1960s. In 1984, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (daughter of theologian Francis Schaeffer) sparked a renewed interest in Charlotte Mason’s ideas, especially here in America, by publishing her book, For the Children’s Sake. Since that time, Mason’s work has been brought into many schools and home schools around the world.
(from Willow Tree Community School, Dr. Jen Spencer)