Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Secular Guide to Charlotte Mason Book Review by ChristineMM

Penny Gardner first published her “Charlotte Mason Study Guide” which accurately quoted Charlotte Mason’s writings. The original book by Gardner contained references to Christian living and the Christian perspective since Miss Mason was a Christian and her philosophy is wrapped around her religious worldview. That original book from 1997 was available in paperback format and had an original retail price of $9.95.

For the book’s 10th anniversary, Penny Gardner revised and expanded the original, Christian version of her book. That Christian expanded version published in 2007 is available ONLY in ebook format.

Also in 2007, Gardner new edition of her Study Guide which is a secular guide. This secular version is ONLY available in ebook format. The only confusing thing to me is that the title is the same and on the website the cover art is the same. Gardner is calling it the “Secular Edition Charlotte Mason Study Guide”.

Gardner states on her site, “Many secular home educators are incorporating Charlotte Mason into their home schools. People have asked for a book about Charlotte Mason without as many religious references. Since an e-book is so easy to adapt, I decided to fill the need.”

Gardner sent me free access to her secular ebook so I could read it. Basically it has been scrubbed clean of religious references which will make some homeschooling parents quite happy.

Some Christians who use the Charlotte Mason method and who have read her original writings have stated to me that they feel the philosophy cannot be separated from Miss Mason’s Christian worldview. I really don’t feel qualified to debate that but just felt it should be stated for the record. My only issue is that the eighteenth philosophy of Miss Mason’s that has to do with the child’s spirituality has been eliminated from the secular version. One may ask how can one of the foundational elements of Miss Mason’s philosophy be simply stricken from the record? That is “We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and “spiritual” life of children; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” (You may read Charlotte Mason’s original writings online free here, originally from volume 1 (preface of Home Education) page 9).

The secular version of the Charlotte Mason Study Guide definitely does fill a need that I see in the homeschool market. Not ever homeschooling family who likes the ideas of Miss Mason is Christian, that is a fact. By completely removing all references to religion including the 18th principal, even Atheists will be happy.

I purchased Gardner’s original Study Guide in paperback form so I could read it, back when that was the only version available. I later used that book as the basis for a year’s study of Miss Mason’s philosophy with a group of homeschooling mothers. The group was like a book discussion group focused on Charlotte Mason’s influences on home education. It was a perfect book for that use.

What both versions of Gardner’s guide do is pull quotes from the original six volumes of Miss Mason’s writings into topic areas. It is convenient to have quotes from the various books under one heading. If the reader wants to go read more in the original book, one would just follow Gardner’s note telling the volume number and page number that the quote was sourced from.

Thus Gardner’s guides (both versions) do not contain a lot of original writing from Gardner. They are collections of quotes from Miss Mason’s original writings arranged in an organized and thoughtful manner. Most of Gardner’s original thoughts are on the chapters focusing on Mason’s philosophies, with Gardner trying to distill and summarize complicated ideas into a page or two. You can see the Table of Contents online to get a sense for the topics covered.

People who do not want to read another book written by a modern writer who expresses Miss Mason’s philosophies with their own interpretation but instead want to get more in touch with Miss Mason’s direct words will like this book. The reader who will most especially like these guides is the reader who finds a straight reading of all six volumes too cumbersome, time-consuming or undesirable for any other reason. It is handy and easy to use this short guidebook to get a sense of the Charlotte Mason philosophy. If this guide book as a read-through leaves you wanting, then the next step is to tackle reading all the original writings of Charlotte Mason!

Another good thing is the e-book is currently priced at the low bargain price of $5, so this won’t break your wallet.

Titles and Availability

Secular Edition of the Charlotte Mason Study Guide by Penny Gardner (2007), e-book only (revised and expanded edition without Christian references)

Charlotte Mason Study Guide by Penny Gardner, 1997, original version (Christian content), available in paperback format (out of print)

Charlotte Mason Study Guide 10th Anniversary Edition revised and expanded by Penny Gardner, 2007 (Christian content), revised and expanded edition available in e-book only

Note: a confusing thing: the cover art is the same on the website for the expanded edition as the 1997 edition. The bottom line is that at present the revised and expanded edition is ONLY available in ebook format from Gardner's own website. If you find a paperback copy of this book it is the 1997 edition, Christian content, not expanded and revised edition.

Disclosure: I received free access to this $5 e-book in order to review the book. I do not receive any money from sales of this book or from mentioning this product on my blog.

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Love 2B Homeschoolers said...

Although "the child’s spirituality has been eliminated from the secular version" of the book, many of us feel that's OK, because we are assisting our children on their personal spiritual quests without someone telling us how to.

To that end, some families incorporate the study of world religions in depth. Also discussing morality and ethics as something that can flourish whether one believes in any higher power or not, and weaving *those* aspects into education, rather than specifically God.

Don't recall if you've ever mentioned it here or not, but there is a great yahoo group for Secular CM users. It's here: Recently there's been discussion on finding resources on the neolithic period, which I believe would be very challenging to find if one is participating in a traditionalo CM group.


christinemm said...

Thanks Love2Be...
However then I presume you would not have a problem with the philosophy as stated as the philosophy as quoted doesn't say Christianity.

Even leaving it intact has room for interpretation whether for Jewish or whatever. But I guess taking it out leaves space for Atheists. See what I mean?

I was not a Christian when I began HSing and always took what I wanted and 'left the rest'.

I hope this secular resource will help those who want more secular material interpretations of the CM method.

Thanks for the mention of the Yahoo group.

Oh and it might be said by some that the flavor of Christianity of CM 100 years ago might not be the same as some of today's evangelicals...

Love 2B Homeschoolers said...

Have to admit I never read the philosophy myself. Google couldn't find it for me, and I never made it all the way through the Charlotte Mason Companion since the study group I started could not sustain itself as well as yours did, and I couldn't get myself to finish it without company.

I never really considered myself an atheist, but I guess literally speaking, I am. And yeah, despite the fact that I am almost always fine taking what I want and leaving the rest, it is nice not to just not have to sometimes.

Oh and I can definitely appreciate that like anything else, the loudest Christians don't always represent the best ;-)

Thanks for the thought provoking post!

HomeGrown Life said...

Thank you for the reviews... I have not read Penny Gardner's books, but have attended one of her conferences (9/07) and really found it useful. We are a CM family and I am always looking for more of CM's direct quotes. I've begun her volumes, but have not completed them (will I ever?). Thanks so much!

Jimmie said...

Thanks for the review Christine. My perception of CM (from reading her own works) is that although she was a Christian, she was also a rather humanistic one, not at all like conservative, evangelical Christians. For some she's too Christian, for others not enough. I think that like anything, you should read her words and take what you agree with and throw out the rest.