December 12, 2023
Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason with Hilary Cooper
The Charlotte Mason Centenary Series, a multi-authored monograph series commissioned in connection with the Charlotte Mason Centenary, is designed to highlight and explore the continuing educational and leadership relevance of the late 19th-century British educationalist Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) through the collective contributions of The Armitt Museum and Library, the University of Cumbria, the Charlotte Mason Institute, and other scholars and practitioners worldwide.
This post is included in a series on the monographs. Each post gives a snapshot of the author's motivation for writing, the various topics and content of each monograph, and suggestions for who might benefit most from the work.
Dr. Hilary Cooper is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Cumbria. She taught for many years in London Primary Schools. Her doctoral thesis at the University of London Institute of Education, on Young Children’s Thinking in History, was based on data collected as a class teacher. She was subsequently a lecturer in primary education at Goldsmiths College, University of London, then Director of Professional Studies in Education at Lancaster University, Department of Education. She has published widely in several languages and has an international reputation.
What motivated you to join this research project?
Dr. Hilary Cooper: I worked for many years in Scale How, Ambleside, where Charlotte Mason set up her House of Education in 1892. When this became part of the University of Cumbria I was asked to do some research about Charlotte Mason intended to promote the university. I realized that I shared much of her philosophy. Subsequently, I was fascinated by Margaret Comb's book, Charlotte Mason: Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence. When I heard about the proposed international conference in Ambleside in 2023, I was happy to contribute.
Why did you pick your topic?
Hilary: I knew that Mason was influenced by some of her contemporaries (Wordsworth, Arnold, Ruskin), but I thought it important to find out whether hers was a unique voice on the theory and practice of education, relevant mainly to her own time, or whether others, before and after her, had shared some of her ideas, emphasizing that her ideas were relevant over a long period of time and remain very relevant in the twenty-third-century practice. And if so, how might she influence educators today?
What was the most interesting thing you discovered during your research and writing?
Hilary: I was pleased to find that the Victorian education which Mason criticized, like many educational aims and practices today, was not endorsed by great thinkers of the past. Plato wrote of love between teachers and learners and of 'playful learning'. Aristotle thought that you learn through 'doing things' and that teachers should educate for life and for fulfillment. Locke thought of children as 'persons,' as Mason did. Pestalozzi saw education as based on the child's needs and saw pedagogy as a theoretical subject worthy of study in its own right. Foebel thought children should represent their ideas in their own way, in a nurturing environment. In the twentieth century, the first constructivists, Piaget, Bruner, Vygotsky, developed similar ways of thinking about education. My most interesting finding was that today neuroscientists endorse these ideas.
What one or two ideas do you most hope people take away from reading your monograph?
Hilary: I hope people will feel moved to dip into Mason's actual words in the Home Education Series and that they will see how they can apply just a few of her ideas, initially, to their own teaching, without relying on someone else's interpretation of her words. This is truly creative. You can feel her direct influence on your teaching.
Who do you think should (especially) read your monograph?
Hilary: Parents, whether home educators or not - to some extent, we are all home educators. Primary School teachers, because although Mason's ideas are equally relevant in secondary school, the teachers will likely have less freedom to develop them at this level. Teacher educators who have a great deal of influence on large numbers of student teachers. Politicians who proscribe curricula - some hope!
Hilary: The way in which I apply Mason's work to practice, as in the case studies discussed in the monograph, is to jot down some of her key ideas and then see how they can be incorporated into the learning objectives and activities to develop these objectives.
From the Text
"Teachers in schools required to teach national curricula, and home educators, who are often dependent on published materials and their own resources, should consider, philosophically, what in their views are the aims, purposes, and content of education, and what is the relationship between education and society." (p. 14)
"Aristotle, like his mentor Plato, and like Mason, saw education not as something to which the pupil must passively submit but as an active and lifelong process." (p. 17)
"Mason had a lot in common with Dewey in that she believed that learning is an active process rather than the transmission of knowledge and that the role of the teacher is to create a stimulating learning environment." (p. 24)
"Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy and practice were firmly rooted in a long philosophical tradition and also lie at the heart of contemporary learning theories which have been endorsed by recent neuroscience." (p. 40)
Dr. Cooper's monograph is available in print as a physical or digital copy.
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