The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Knowledge of Man

by Jean C. Cochrane, M.A., Principal, the P.N.E.U. School
Volume 75, no. 10, 1964, pgs. 249-254


The following is a further paper from the recent C.M.C.A. [Charlotte Mason College Association] Study Course at Hethersett.

Pope said:

'Know thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.'

Charlotte Mason's central thought in education is: 'the child as a person,' with potential for growth in every direction; and that education is 'for life' not merely for the school-room. Both the poet and educationalist agree that the study of man is a proper topic for education. For the child to grow as a human being, he needs knowledge of man; and man's ability to think, learn, know, remember, distinguishes him from the animal world to which he also belongs. It is 'man's unconquerable mind' which has enabled him to rise above the other animals, to discover the secrets of nature, to control his environment, to learn the workings of his own mind and emotions.

The knowledge of man might be arranged under headings for study, though there is no hard-fast division between each group: history, literature, self-knowledge, philosophy, geography.


History as a subject is so wide it could embrace all man's activities, social, political and artistic; development of ideas about government, of philosophic and religious thought are all intertwined. Since this subject touches on every aspect of man's development, it could well be the central core of study for students studying both science and humanities in depth. In Australia history has been used to provide the unifying link with other subjects, helping the pupils (15-year-olds) to see knowledge as a whole. It replaced the classics in this, as Latin, Greek and even modern languages are not studied much there.
Approaches differ, some have more appeal to one age group than another. The study of social development traces man's increasing mastery of his environment from the Stone Age tools to the inventions in the eighteenth century which revolutionised industry, and to the twentieth century in which man seeks to explore space. Stone Age men faced the problems of survival; the basic needs, food, shelter and clothing.

They were aware of 'Forces of Nature' which they endowed with supernatural powers. These people worshipped primitive Gods, the sun, moon and water. The worship of a God or Gods distinguished earliest man from the beasts. He possessed a sense of wonder and curiosity and an awareness of beauty and the powers of nature which seemed to control his world.

Another approach may be that of biography, the appeal of the lives and action of great men, kings, warriors, doctors, scientists. Their account of their own deeds stirs the imagination and quickens the will to action by example.

Man has always speculated about the universe, his place in it and relations with his fellows. This is, then, another approach. Ideas about methods of government, philosophy and religion have similarly grown, one idea fertilising another. The influence of Plato's thought on the Republic, the slow germination of other new lines of social and political thought, e.g., Karl Marx. This aspect of history appeals to the older pupil.

There is the development of art, sculpture and music, all part of the development of man's personality. A study of these should be included in the curriculum, as the P.N.E.U. school does with Art and Music. A knowledge of other languages can be included in man's study of mankind; geography may be included here or considered more fully under man's knowledge of the universe.


In this subject man's creative faculties have found expression: the sense of wonder and beauty in the writing of verse; the imaginative insight in drama which reveals men's characters and the situations they face, or questions of the eternal problems of evil, unmitigated suffering and justice. In the written word prosaic incidents as well as poetic inspiration find expression. The great value of Literature in education is threefold:

1. to bring our pupils into contact with other eminent minds of past and present,

2. to enlarge one's own knowledge and understanding of people and situations, e.g., in meeting in Literature the villain or the hero, Iago in Othello, Edmund in Lear; to meet vicariously situations which one has not experienced or may not experience in reality in life,

3. to kindle one's own creative powers to express ideas and thoughts in prose and verse. Literature is a wide field; details of how the P.N.E.U. school attempts to fulfil the ideas mentioned are included later in this talk.

Man has wished to 'know himself' in body, mind and spirit, and emotions, to be master of himself not servant of his appetites, whims and passions. It was in the past difficult for men to learn about the physiology of the human body. Michelangelo obtained the key to the mortuary so that he might by dissection learn the secrets of the body: skeleton structure, muscles and other organs.

It is only since the nineteenth century that bodies have been available to the medical schools for dissection. The growth in the knowledge about man's mind is even more recent-within this century. From the investigations of Freud, Adler and Jung, many ideas about man's mind-his subconscious mind have become part of current thought. In education it helps young people in their self-management, if they know something about the body, mind and emotions.

How are these principles and ideas implemented in practice?


In one way History is a difficult subject for the very young. In young children the sense of chronology has not developed. Two months ago is as remote to them as 100 or 200 years. The work selected for the first year, i.e., five-year-olds, is centred on stories about people, or their deeds, or earliest man. Small children are fascinated to learn how early man lived. As many of our home-schoolroom pupils are scattered throughout the world, they may often live in an area where the native peoples still use primitive implements and tools. This provides a living link with what they learn in history about early man.

For the six-year-old, the work is still centred around people. Three years ago it was decided to set an alternative book to Our Island Story, as this book has certain biases which today people sometimes find repellent. The new book recommended is People in History, by R. Junstead. History is taught through the lives and actions of individuals, but this book lacks the chronological continuity given in Our Island Story. With the six-year-olds the work is planned to cover the stories associated with great men from the Roman Landing in England to the Norman Conquest, a cycle of four terms' work.

In IA Lower-Upper the work is planned on a two-year cycle (six terms) from William Rufus to almost the present day.

There are several ways of planning a history syllabus: (a) concentric circle for each year's work, (b) steps of a stair. The P.N.E.U. school does not really follow either of these patterns but covers a cycle for six or nine terms. Children may pick up in the cycle at any stage.

Forms II and III: a cycle of four years' work (twelve terms), British History, 55 B.C.-present day. If a pupil works in school for four years (two in Form II, two in Form III) he will have covered the full cycle.

Forms IV and VB and VA: cycle is from 1485 onwards. Forms IV and V use different text books but cover similar periods.

Citizenship is a subject introduced for the pupils from nine years upwards in Form IIB. In the study of this subject the aim is twofold:

i. By the study of men's lives and actions for the children to gain insight into human behaviour and human nature, and how we should conduct ourselves as citizens;

ii. To learn some aspect of social history to know how others lived, e.g., town government, past and present.
For Form III a study is made each term of a life written by Plutarch (in translation). To quote Charlotte Mason's own words here:

'Plutarch's Lives (North's translation) I found invaluable ... I quote these instances of moral alertness on the part of the children because so far as I am concerned there is no personal influence in question. I merely set the work for the given term and the children occupy themselves with it. I believe that the fact of working on a given curriculum produces a sort of intellectual and moral aloofness on the part of the teacher, which is wholesome for the children as tending to give room for development of personality, and it is necessary to be a person, before one can become a moral person.'

Charlotte Mason wrote in 1904 a book called Ourselves, Our Souls and Bodies, of which she said: 'It is a scheme of direct instruction which should make a young person definitely aware of what is in him, as a human being, to be and do and what causes of failure will present themselves to him.' This book remains sound in principle and vision but the style and approach does not appeal to pupils in 1964. Vol. I is now out of print. There is no modern publication quite comparable with Ourselves. The book set on Form V programme, Modern Living, Your Friends, is the nearest approach.

In Forms III and IV, Civics is studied: composition and functions of government, Parliament, town government, etc. Again it is difficult to find suitable books, as this subject can be difficult unless presented in a lively way.

Languages, Art, Picture Study, Music

In the P.N.E.U. school French has always been taught to the children from Form I. Recently, local authorities have decided that the study of a foreign language is suitable to include in the curriculum of the Primary school. In Leeds, children at the Primary school have been learning to speak French. As a result many new books have been published, basing the work on the oral approach. Some publishers have produced records and tapes to use in conjunction with the text book.

Geography is a subject which may be approached from two angles, the human or scientific. With younger children the approach is by the former method whilst with the older pupils the more scientific approach is encouraged.


Each term, the literature set correlates to some extent with the history period studied. As a practice this should not be carried to excess, in that the choice of some book which does not 'fit' with the history period is precluded.

In Form I, the child's imagination is aroused and fed by hearing fairy tales and Aesop's fables. The latter appeal particularly to the child. The examination answers on Aesop's fables reveal the power of the child's mind, with his grasp of the point of the story.

In IA Pilgrim's Progress is set and stories from Tanglewood Tales or Tales of Troy and Greece by Andrew Lang. For over eleven years this book was out of print but since 1963 is available again, published by two different houses. One child's comment on Pilgrim's Progress was: 'Gosh, mummy, isn't it lovely, it's like reading the Bible!'

Some teachers object that we introduce Shakespeare to the children at too early an age, in Form II (nine and ten years) but we find the children can enjoy the story in the plays and do appreciate them. In Henry V the scene in which Katharine learns English appeals greatly; or, say, Henry's wooing of Katharine, or some humorous incident with Pistol and his friends or the French soldier. In a recent exam this last was frequently recounted by the boys.

Not only should pupils read widely, learn to appreciate style and the characters drawn, but tackle the creative side of writing: the composition of poetry and the expression of ideas.

Sybil Marshall in her Experiment in Education has shown it is as natural for children to express their ideas in words as in pictures. Children, if encouraged, often write verses spontaneously. Examination papers show how frequently children can express their ideas and emotions in verse and seem to enjoy this outlet.

Proofread by Judy Elliot