CM Myth #4: Charlotte Mason Was Out of Touch with Reality

We’re finishing up our series on CM Myths today. So far we have talked about these myths:

CM Myth #1: Charlotte Mason was a homeschooling mom.

CM Myth #2: Charlotte Mason never made a mistake selecting living books.

CM Myth #3: Charlotte Mason did not use any textbooks.

Our last myth for now is based on some comments we’ve heard to the effect that Charlotte Mason lived in an ivory tower, away from the pressures and demands of everyday life. Her philosophy and methods, they say, are completely idealistic because Charlotte was out of touch with reality.

Truth or myth?

The Facts

As we have already discussed, Charlotte was not a mother, so the incessant demands of motherhood were not required of her. However, she did watch over and care for the young ladies/future teachers who were being trained in her home, the students in their practicing school, and the growing network of schools who were adopting her methods and looked to her for direction and counsel.

In her daily tasks Charlotte faced many of the same pressures and issues that we face. Here are three specific examples.

  • Money Was Tight

    Charlotte knew what it was like to live under a tight budget and constant financial strain. By careful planning and plain living, she was able to just pay her way each year as she trained teachers and supervised the schools.

    One of Charlotte’s close friends and coworkers gives us insight into how Charlotte handled these financial constraints:

    “She never worried, as many people do when resources are strained to the utmost. She would give definite thought to what was possible in order to carry out what was necessary, and then she put financial worries out of her mind. During the thirty years I lived in close contact with her, it was only with the strictest economy that she was able to carry each year through. Even those who lived with her had little idea of what thought and faith went to the making of the yearly budget. As far as possible within the limited means at her disposal, Miss Mason secured things that were simple and fitting and beautiful for the students, and everyone who came in contact with her felt a sense of abounding hospitality and generosity, for what she had she gave to others; whether it was her thought and help, her own powers, or the material means which came to her hand. The plain living and high thinking which governed her life made an atmosphere in the house which could be felt” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 56).

  • Chronic Physical Illness

    You might not be aware that Charlotte suffered from physical pain and illness most of her adult life. Those of you who also deal with a chronic condition understand how wearying and debilitating physical pain can be. She often had to bypass an enjoyable opportunity to get together with visitors in order to reserve her strength for the tasks at hand. Yet she tried not to think of herself as an invalid. As her friend and coworker relates:

    “It might have been a sleepless night, or a night of pain, but always after her morning preparation for the day there was a radiance of countenance that grew as the years passed” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, pp. 61, 62).

  • Criticism from Others

    Many educational methods were vying for attention in Charlotte’s day, just as they are today. Charlotte knew what it was like to endure criticism, not only from proponents of other educational methods, but also from some in her own group who wanted to emphasize only one facet of her philosophy and were misrepresenting her.

    These quotations from some of her letters show her thought processes as she faced the criticism:

    (in 1900) “I have had to fight every inch of the way we have come and I sit like Botticelli’s ‘Fortitude,’ sword in hand, dreading unspeakably a possible affray.”

    (in 1903) “I am better. . . . ‘Fret not thyself’ says the Psalmist and I have been fretting myself greatly because I cannot move in education just now” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 106).

    Yet Charlotte’s counsel to a friend, who was to represent her at a conference, shows her gracious attitude toward others in the midst of that criticism:

    “State your theory and practice, but attack nothing. Be indignant at nothing. When people’s minds are put on the defensive they have no room to receive new ideas” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 106).

So you see, Charlotte was very much in touch with reality. Her surroundings may have looked different from ours, but she faced real life every day—a life with many of the same issues we face.

Many of us are dealing with financial worries. Charlotte’s example to us is to do the best with what we have then put it out of our minds. Plain living, high thinking.

More and more we hear from moms who are suffering from chronic illness and pain. Take heart from Charlotte’s example, dear friends. Try not to let the physical dictate who you are. Ration your energy wisely.

Probably most of us have experienced criticism from friends, neighbors, or relatives. We would do well to remember that Charlotte sometimes got discouraged and “fretted.” But amid the fray she was a great example of standing her ground without attacking her opponent.

Yes, Charlotte knew reality well. And her wise and gentle ways are a wonderful example to us as we seek to educate our children using her methods.


  1. This series was great and I really appreciate you sharing it with everyone. I learned a lot more about Charlotte and myself. Thanks!!!

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