The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
P.N.E.U. Conference--Conversazione

Countess Aberdeen
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 586-590

At 8 p.m., the Conversazione took place in the Large Hall of the Portman Rooms. The chair was taken by The Countess of Aberdeen, who said: Ladies and gentlemen, We have received letters of apology and regret from Canon Lyttelton, headmaster of Haileybury; Mr. Sadler, our constant friend and supporter; Madame Reppman, of Moscow, whom we welcomed here last year, and who sends for insertion in the Parents' Review a long account of the impression made on her by last year's Conference; Mrs. Little, of Salem, Massachusetts, who says, "I am glad your magazine has begun to come to America: I wish I were near enough to attend the Conference." Also from the Secretary of the Society in Copenhagen with which we are affiliated, who sends best greetings and good wishes, and hopes to send a delegate next year. In addition to these messages I have one from our founder, Miss Charlotte Mason, who we so deeply regret cannot be with us at this time. She writes:

The House of Education,
May 14th, 1901.

Dear Lady Aberdeen,--It gives me very great pleasure to know that you and Lord Aberdeen are once more presiding at the Conference of the P.N.E.U. You gave us fostering care in early days that I do not forget.

It is a grief to me not to be at the Conference, and to be unable through illness to do any of the organizing or lecturing work of the Society, but I feel that the good hand of our God is upon us, and that the cause that I have at heart does not suffer in the least through my enforced absence. We are happy in an able, wise and devoted Committee, and our acting Hon. Organizing Secretary, upon whom much of the organizing and directing work necessarily falls, is indeed a tower of strength to us, not only because of her great devotion to the work and her unusual organizing power, but because she has such a perfect intellectual grasp of and adherence to the special teaching of the P.N.E.U.

I think we feel more strongly every year that we exist to advance a definite programme of educational thought--that which is summed up in our motto, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." It is remarkable what a vivifying effect this teaching has upon us, and how it saves us from one-sidedness and from educational fads, and keeps us working steadily, in simplicity and humility, towards a higher aim.

Aunt Mai's withdrawal (we hope temporarily) from her work with the children, and Miss Blogg's from her work as Secretary (with a view to her marriage), are the two great losses we have sustained during the year. The College is working well, Miss F.C.A. Williams, the Vice-Principal, being entirely sympathetic with our teaching. Indeed, all the branches of our work are becoming more and more definitely united and earnest. I do not apologize, dear Lady Aberdeen, for writing at length to you, for I am sure you will care to hear my impressions of the work during the last year.

I am, very truly yours,
Charlotte M. Mason.

I asked the Conference yesterday to allow me to send a message of affectionate and grateful remembrance to Miss Mason, and should like to ask the audience to emphasise that message now. May I also again express my own sense of the very great privilege it is to me to occupy this chair. I feel deeply the very great responsibility that rests upon me as your president, and am only too conscious of my own inadequacy to fill the post as I should wish. But, as president, will you allow me to say, on behalf of the Council, how rejoiced we are to see all those who are gathered together for this deeply interesting and helpful Conference. We welcome them from our hearts, and believe that there are great potentialities in these Conference days. Perhaps those who are in direct touch with the work of the Union will forgive me if I speak rather more to outside friends, who may not know as much of the work as they do. We are very often met by questions as to what the P.N.E.U. really is, and "What is the good of it?" Is it of any use? or is it only adding one more to the many organizations already burdening us? Its beginning was certainly small and effected with difficulty. Looking back, I feel the debt of gratitude we all owe to Miss Mason. There she was, one single-minded woman who felt the great need that existed, and persisted in carrying on her work in the face of difficulty and opposition. The chief difficulty was the suspicion of any organization which attempted to deal with parents, or rather to interfere with parents. There is always in this country a great fear of any interference between parents and children. We have seen this in the opposition shown to the formation of such societies as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. There was somewhat of the same feeling about the formation of our Union--the fear of interference with the home, and the fear of even co-operating with one another lest we might interfere with other parents. There is a very strong feeling that "an Englishman's house is his castle," that he has a right to do what he will with his own, and also that parents have no need of training or education, but know by instinct what is best for their own children! The result of that great dread of interference was simply that the great majority of well-meaning parents, wishing to do the best for their children, blundered on the principle of "what was good enough for us will surely do for them," then, fearing that they were not doing quite all they might to ensure their children getting on in the world, the moment came when the children were sent to school, or handed over to a governess with a sense of relief. The parents thus divested themselves of responsibility, and the holidays were looked forward to as seasons of mingled joy and anxiety. Let the children have good reports, let them win prizes, and above all make a good show at games, and all was well; but taking any personal share in directing their education, or trying to get in touch with the methods of the schools was not to be thought of. And even now the parents of boys at public schools are not very ready to co-operate with regard to any changes they may desire. We believe in the public schools of England being one of Britain's bulwarks, and I can gladly testify myself to the good gained at these schools by our own boys; but still we do hear a good many grumbles about the results of public school teaching, of boys knowing less after a few years at one of the public schools than when they went there, of their getting the idea that at least half a man's life should be given to play or sport; and we are not always satisfied with their management in other ways. We do not always approve of the "tuck shop,"* the arrangements for care during illness may be inadequate; we are not always sure that the education they are receiving prepares them as it might for a life of business and work. But what do we do? As individual mothers, perhaps, we go down and pester the headmasters; but how much better that we should co-operate with other parents when we wish some changes made, that we should try to understand the system and go hand-in-hand with the masters in the education of our boys. The parents of children attending Board Schools have a voice in the education of their children, and we blame them if they do not take an interest in School Board elections; but for us, all that is expected is that we shall pay the school fees and be thankful that our boys are public-school boys. I do not wish to dwell on this, except as an illustration of the fact that parents dread to interfere, though the P.N.E.U. is doing much to break down this dread. It is doing the great work of driving home the sense of the responsibility of parents themselves as regards the education of their children, as well on fathers as on mothers. If only that one thing could be done! If the parents of all classes could be made to feel that the education of this country really rests in their hands, and not in the hands of teachers or officials. This Union is trying to make parents realise that the responsibility rests with them; if only they would take it up and believe that it is upon their shoulders it really rests, more interest in the subject would be shown. We are always so apt to put this responsibility upon others, upon Boards and Councils, and teachers, or upon the Government--upon anyone save ourselves, and so it comes about that so feeble an interest is taken by the public in education, that lack of interest manifested so sadly in Parliament whenever educational subjects come up. This should not be, as we can alter all this if we can but press home this sense of responsibility on the parents themselves. With the first dawn of that sense of responsibility parents perhaps feel anxious, worried, and distrustful of all systems, and this is where the P.N.E.U. comes in with its various agencies to help parents to discharge the responsibilities which they now desire to take upon themselves. It gives them ideas according to their needs, it attracts various minds and helps parents of most varied opinions. And having given the ideas, it gives practical illustrations of how to carry them out, as we heard yesterday; so that even children, who are being educated at home, may have the advantages of a definite system.

* [A tuck shop was like a small camper's convenience store in boarding schools where students could relieve themselves of spending money.]

Again, you will notice the opportunities given to mothers in the Mothers' Educational Course, which enables mothers wishing to study the subject carefully to have the advantage of systematic guidance. And again, the House of Education for the training of teachers in the principles of the Union, is doing great work for parents. (I think the illustrations given yesterday by the students of the House of Education were sufficient testimony to the value of its training.) And besides all that there is the magazine! How can we express our gratitude for this? There are those who cannot go meetings or attend lectures, but they can always take the magazine, and there is never a number without papers of great interest and suggestiveness to those who will read and think over it. All this and much more is being done in connection with the various branches, and not only in this country but also in various parts of the Empire, in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and our work is being sympathetically watched on the continent and in America.

I should like to refer to the many delightful papers we have already heard during this Conference, but time will not permit of my doing so. I cannot, however, pass over that on "Hero-worship as a Factor in Education," read to us by Miss L.H. Montagu. It is a paper that needs thinking over in silence, and probably the greatest tribute we can pay it for the present is to say but little, but to go home and act upon it.

As we look at the work that the Union is doing, I think we may thank God and take courage. We must all feel that our work to-day is more difficult than that of our forefathers. There are so many outside interests that it is more difficult for the home to retain the paramount influence at the present time, but we parents must not abdicate our God-given throne in the home. That country cannot prosper where the home is not first and foremost, and so we must all feel grateful for the formation of this Union, which gives us the opportunity of enabling us to fit ourselves to be to our children more what we were meant to be, and to understand truly the meaning of the great work of education. It is indeed a national work of the first and greatest importance, and, if we believe this for ourselves, we ought to go further and show ourselves possessed with the missionary spirit to persuade others to come and join us also.

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Lord Aberdeen said: Ladies and gentlemen, Perhaps you have forgotten or were not aware that this Union has the peculiarity of possessing two presidents! In view of the part that Lady Aberdeen has already taken as president, I am afraid you will not be willing to regard me as even her "Suffragan Bishop," but at any rate you will admit that I am the partner of Lady Aberdeen, and in that capacity I am suddenly thrown into the part of the presiding during the remainder of this meeting. As regards this society I will only say that it is not only thoroughly practical but thoroughly patriotic. What indeed could more truly deserve that epithet than such a work as that which you are promoting?

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, May 2009