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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."
The Mother's Educational Course

by Mrs. Anson
Volume 8, no. 7, 1897, pgs. 463-

MRS. ANSON read a paper on "The Mother's Educational Course":--

The subject which I have been asked to bring before the Conference is that of the "Mother's Educational Course." By this we mean a course of reading, lasting three years, on subjects which are of vital importance to mothers. I am very glad to have the opportunity of speaking about it, for although it is regularly advertised in the pages of the Parents' Review, and is known as one of the agencies by which the Union works, I do not think its usefulness has yet been thoroughly realised by our members.

The course of reading extends, as I have said, over a period of not less than three years; papers being issued at the beginning of each year giving the names of the books which are to be read; and at the end of each half-year, a paper of questions is sent to the students. Four subjects have been chosen for study. It is not necessary to take up all the four at once; some mothers have taken up two only. But these four have been chosen as being the all-important subjects to which mothers ought to turn their attention. For, while many topics are interesting, and it is good to learn about anything which lifts us to a higher level, these four are really indispensable for every mother who wishes to be thoroughly equipped for her work. They are thus described in the syllabus:--

Firstly. Divinity. "To help mothers to give their children such teaching as should confirm them in the Christian religion."

Secondly. Physiology and Health. "To give the knowledge necessary for the care and development of children in sickness and health."

Thirdly. Mental and Moral Science and Education. "To show the principles of education, and methods based on these principles.

Fourthly. Nature Lore and the Elements of Science. "To enable mothers to awaken their children's interest in Nature, and to give them their first ideas."

Divinity includes (a) the study of portions of the Old and New Testaments; (b) books illustrating the Old Testament from the results of modern research; and (c) books containing practical teaching with regard to the religious life.

Physiology and Health includes books on the organs of the body, the laws of health, the care of the sick and of infant children.

The sub-divisions of the third subject are Mental Physiology, Ethics, the Theory of Education, and Methods of Instruction.

Under Nature Lore (the fourth subject), elementary books are given on Botany, Geology, Astronomy, and the study of animal life.

It is by this course that Miss Mason carries further that system of training which she has planned to help the generation which is now growing up for, as you will hear Friday at this Conference, Teachers are being trained for work in home schoolrooms at the House of Education in Ambleside. Children (who are taught at home) are being brought directly under the guidance of the Ambleside centre through the Parents' Review School, with its syllabus of work and regular system of examinations. And, finally, Miss Mason has realized how the Union can best help Mothers.

If it is true, as has been said, that "a mother is only a woman, but that she needs the love of Jacob, the patience of Job, the wisdom of Moses, the foresight of Joseph, and the firmness of Daniel," we mothers are greatly in need of support; and I hope to show that, small as the means may seem, yet this course of reading really does give most efficient help to mothers who wish to reach forward to their high vocation.

One of the greatest difficulties of women living at home is that of securing consecutive hours of work; for our lives (especially lives lived in towns) are very full of interruptions and conflicting duties. Now the Union offers us the compelling force of new interests awakened by this course of reading, and the spur of the half-yearly examinations as a help in securing that each week and each month shall have some definite task. If this definite task is achieved, the seed sown can hardly fail to bear some definite fruit, and our reward will be that we shall be better prepared to guide and to join in the life or interests of our boys and girls as they grow older.

It is true that our reading is for a time fettered if we join the course; the amount of work to be got through being so large that there is but little time for other reading. The gain, however, if the knowledge is acquired, far outweighs an disadvantage of being thus for three years in leading strings.

Probably some who hear of this course of study will say that life itself gives a mother the experience she needs, and that a sensible woman can learn enough from the traditions of her own childhood, corrected by her present circumstances, to guide the lives of her children without undertaking a course of special study, and furthermore that she "cannot bring up her children by books."

But there is another point of view worth considering, namely, that a mother's reading in this course will make her much more observant, more able to appreciate and use the experience which life brings to her, and more quick to adapt herself to the varying circumstances of her children's lives.

I will give some instances of points in which I think the reading of this course will make a mother more able to do her duty by her children.

In the Bible reading, which I suppose most of us try to take daily with our children, we can no doubt explain the text (all but the most difficult passages) after a fashion, without preparation. But after reading Dr. [Edwin] Abbott's Bible Lessons, or Clews to Holy Writ [Carus-Wilson] (two books belonging to the Course), our lessons cannot fail to be more enthusiastic, and we must have more real interest in the characters and in the precepts which the Bible brings before us. Again, in watching the varying conditions of her children as they develop, whether in sickness or in health, how much more intelligently could a mother make her own observations, and how much more accurately could she describe the conditions (if necessary ) to a doctor, if she had read the books on the nature and construction of the body which form part of this course. Or in the many perplexing questions which arise as to dealing with children's tendencies and habits, in our wish to find out the interest which will awaken the dormant faculties of the so-called stupid child, or when our guidance is needed as to help some instruction given in the home schoolroom, what a help it will be to have the books of the third subject to turn to.

But the Conference will better understand what a real help the Mother's Educational Course has been, if I read the testimonies which have been written to me by those who have undertaken it, or are now engaged in it.

One student writes: --"It is a most useful form of self education and improvement. I do not regret the time spent in reading; on the contrary, the studies are most helpful and interesting."

Another who has only read the first year's work, says: "The whole year's reading has made me so much interested in all the subjects, that I feel sure I shall go on following up many of them long after the Course is over."

A mother, who after the first year took up only Physiology and Nature Lore, writes as follows:--"Both the subjects I took I found very useful. I was then teaching my eldest children, and the little I was able to tell them of the flowers and insects we met with interested them very much. Some of the books I keep as books of reference, and make frequent use of them. The books on Botany and Astronomy have given both to me and my children much pleasure."

Another mother, who has completed the Course, says: "I have found the Course a help in introducing me to a whole world of educational thought and practice of which I knew little or nothing; and thus it has given me self-confidence in directing the education of my children, in choosing teachers, schools, and so on for them, which I could not have felt before. I have found a great interest in the study of education for its own sake and I find that it gives me interests in common with other people with whom I should perhaps otherwise have no sympathies. In the second place, the course has given me a motive and a framework for systematic study, which it is always so hard to get into one's day. The sections I have found most interesting and useful are Divinity and Natural Science. I think in the section of Nature Lore the great advantage of the Course has been the impetus to outdoor observation for one's self, more than the study of any particular book."

To this I would myself add that the sections Divinity and Nature Lore seem to me to have this especial value, that they may be studied for the additional interest in life that they bring to ourselves, and not only from the "educational stand-point," from which some of us are inclined to view everything.

But I must now attack the point to which I wish to draw special attention, namely, that it is impossible to reap the full benefit of the course of training, unless it is accepted as a whole, that is, with its half-yearly examinations. Those only who have taken each examination in its turn know what definiteness is thus given to the study of the half-year, or how great is the help of knowing in which direction the weak point lies, and where progress has been made.

For the examinations are a reality. The questions, without being unduly severe, test thoroughly not merely the knowledge of the actual text-book, but the reader's grasp of the subject and true interest in it. And this true living interest is what we want to share with our children, with the aim of giving them an inspiration rather than with the expectation of being able to supply all the teaching they will need. Few mothers could qualify themselves to teach physiology, astronomy, botany, geology, and the knowledge of birds and insects; but all can learn enough of the alphabet of these subjects to answer intelligently the questions of young children, and to sympathize with the lessons of the older ones, or to work with them.

To reach, however, even this elementary amount of knowledge there must be definiteness of study, and here come in this all-important point of examinations.

We are told that the mind knows only that which it can put in the form of an answer to a question. If, then, we cannot answer questions on the subject we have been reading, it is open to doubt how much we really know about them. It is for this reason that Miss Mason wishes that all who attack the course of reading would also submit to the examination test.

The papers are writen at home; unlimited time is allowed; and, indeed, the only restriction is that no reference should be made to the text-books after the questions have been seen. It is not necessary to take the examination at the end of each half-year, nor to complete the course of reading in three years. The time may be prolonged; so if a student has for any reason been unable to prepare for the examination in six months, she may continue her reading for twelve months or more; and as the only object of the Course is to help mothers to grasp thoroughly the meaning of the books they are advised to read, it is far better to prolong the time spent on the books than to hurry through them.

My great hope in reading this paper is that I may attract more mothers to join this Course. I know what an immense help it has been to myself, chiefly perhaps by making me grapple with subjects which it seemed beforehand impossible to get hold of; and I would gladly persuade other members of our Union to give themselves the same help. It is in a sense a sacrifice, if that can be called a sacrifice, which is deeply interesting; but if it be a sacrifice, it brings an abundant and speedy reward.

For to be honestly pursuing a course of study, however simply, makes a mother feel that she is trying in some measure to live worthily of her calling. She will feel that she is doing her best to prepare herself for the bringing up and training of useful men and women, thoroughly developed in body, mind, and spirit, who may, by God's blessing, leave the world a little better than they found it.

Proofread by LNL, July 2020