Sunday, May 25, 2014

Lots of Thoughts on History

If you like this post, click here for the follow-up.

Two days ago, I posted about an unconventional way of teaching history. I’d read a lot about what Charlotte Mason had to say on the subject, and I want to throw some ideas and quotes out there that will maybe help 1)show I’m a little nuts, 2)illustrate what I do when I can’t sleep, and 3)explore history with Charlotte Mason. Here goes…

Charlotte Mason wrote that children in grades 4 through 8* were capable of working through a single large book on history. This would mean that students would spend 5 years moving chronologically from ancient to modern history.

The wasteful mistake often made in teaching English history is to carry children of, say, between nine and fourteen through several small compendiums, beginning with Little Arthur; whereas their intelligence between those ages is equal to steady work on one considerable book.
-Vol. 3, pg. 235

If students studied history in this way, what prepared them for this in grades 1 through 3, and how did they deepen their knowledge in grades 9 through 12?


Students only used living books – books about lives – in grades 1 through 6 (or 8).**

My plea is, and I think I have justified it by experience that…they shall be introduced to no subject whatever through compendiums, abstracts, or selections; that the young people shall learn what history is…from the living books of those who know.
-Vol. 3, pg. 247

Short biographies were used beginning in 2nd grade (Vol 6, pg. 174). However, tales was a subject in 1st grade and tales could include history stories.

In Vol. 3, on page 272, Mason wrote that “the child of six” (a first grader) had 13 subjects. These were: 1)drill, 2)recitation, 3)arithmetic, 4)music (singing and piano), 5)writing (how-to, not composition), 6)reading (how-to, not literature), 7)French, 8)brushdrawing, 9)handicrafts, 10)Bible, 11)tales, 12)natural history, and 13)geography. History was not its own subject, but part of Bible and part of tales, which means the history focus for 1st grade was Bible history and stories from history.

On page 275, she wrote of seven and eight year olds (second and third graders), “But by this time the children can usually read, and read for themselves some, at any rate, of their books for History, Geography, and Tales.” Also, in 2nd/3rd, students had 15 subjects; two subjects were added, history being one of them.

On pages 276 and 277, Mason includes exam questions asked to children in 2nd/3rd, and they have to do with the lives of Saint Patrick (5th century) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (19th century). So, while Mason advocates for chronology and consecutiveness in some places, there are lots of examples (including this one) where she contradicts herself.

In Classes II and III, which students spent “usually five years in these two classes,” the teacher read aloud one of Plutarch’s biographies per term. “The Lives are read to the children almost without comment, but with necessary omissions.” This could be grades 4 through 8, or 5 through 9, or a parent, if she wanted, could choose to make this period from grades 4 through 9.

A couple of important things to note: 1)Ancient history was not studied “first.” One of Plutarch’s Lives was read each term, so that Ancient History lasted five years. 2)At the same time, English and French history were studied concurrently. (See pgs. 280-281.)

The example exam questions Mason includes for a 5th grader are about 16th century England (the history of ‘F.D.’ on a penny) and 17th century France (Richelieu). This is another example of the contradiction I mentioned earlier.

On page 286, she writes about Class III, saying the range is 11 or 12 to 15. This corresponds to 6th (or 7th) grade through 9th grade. That’s a period of either 3 or 4 years.

On pages 286, the example exam question asked to a 14 ½ year old (9th grader) is about 18th century England (South Sea Bubble), and the question asked to a 7th grader is about 18th century France (the States General). This contradicts Mason’s writing about students concurrently studying English and French history in chronological order if a 7th grader and a 9th grader are both studying the 18th century.

In Class IV, students were 14 or 15 to 17 (9th or 10th grade to 12th grade), and spent 3 years, so we would consider that 10th through 12th. (See pg. 294.) “Class IV…sets the history of Modern Europe instead of French history… and the German and French books when possible illustrate the history studied.” This means that, not only were students in high school learning about history in History, they were also learning about it in foreign language classes. It would also seem to answer the question about what students did after their completion of a chronological study of history: three years of Modern History. The focus was not just their home country England, but all of Europe; it’s worth noting that non-European countries were not included.

I think it’s also important to look at the lesson plans she provides in Vol. 3, pgs. 334-337, specifically the objectives.

Grade Level
Ancient Greece
Early Middle Ages
France 18th century
Objectives interest the children in the story of Jacob’s death that they may not forget it. give a new idea of God as drawn from the story of Jacob’s deathbed: God’s abiding presence give them an admiration for Joseph as one who honored his father and mother establish relations with the past introduce the boys to a fresh hero stir them to admiration of the wisdom, valour, and self reliance of Alexander the Great. try to give to the children some new spiritual thought and a practical idea of faith bring the story of the Stilling of the Tempest vividly before their minds.
3.To interest them in the geography of the Holy Land.
4.By means of careful, graphic reading, to help them to feel the wonderful directness, beauty and simplicity of the Bible language: in short to make them feel the poetry of the Bible. recapitulate and enlarge on the period of history taken during the term (AD 871 - 1066) increase children’s interest in it by giving as much as possible in detail the history of one of the prominent families of the period. exemplify patriotism in the character of the Godwins. establish relations with the past show how closely literature and history are linked together and how the one influences the other. try to give yet a clearer idea of the social and political state of France before the Revolution than the girls have now, and to draw from them the causes which brought about the Revolution in France and at this time (1789).
Summary of objectives (general) interest them so they won’t forget illustrate something about who God is give them an admiration for a quality we want our children to have establish relations with the past introduce a new hero give them an admiration for the admirable qualities of the historical figure be a lesson in faith tell the story vividly, bringing history to life, (to interest them so they won’t forget) interest them in the geography of the place make them feel the poetry of the Bible review and go deeper increase interest with details use the lives of the historical figures as examples of admirable and desirable qualities establish relations with the past show how literature and history are linked; they influence each other study the social and political context of the event (not an individual’s life) to understand the causes of the event


In Vol. 6, pg. 178, Mason writes, “Perhaps the gravest defect in school curricula is that they fail to give a comprehensive, intelligent and interesting introduction to history. To leave off or even to begin with the history of our own country is fatal. We can not live sanely unless we know that other peoples are as we are with a difference, that their history is as ours, with a difference, that they too have been represented by their poets and their artists, that they too have their literature and their national life. We have been asleep and our awaking is rather terrible.”

Many sequences for homeschoolers begin with American history, or American history layered with Ancient History, but Mason thought Ancient should come first. In contrast, in California public schools, students learn about California history before they learn about U.S. history, which means they have no foundation – Mayflower, Boston Tea Party, Lewis and Clark - for the ideas presented in 4th grade.


Mason wrote that history should be taught chronologically:

Vol 6, pg. 172, “The child of six in 1B has, not stories from English history, but a definite quantity of consecutive reading, say forty pages in a term, from a well-written, well-considered, large volume which is also well-illustrated.”

Vol 6, pg. 178, “It will be observed that the work throughout the Forms is always chronologically progressive. The young student rarely goes over old ground; but should it happen that the whole school has arrived at the end of 1920 [the present], say, and there is nothing for it but to begin again, the books studied throw new light and bring the young students into line with modern research.”

However, there are lots of places where she contradicts these ideas.


*Mason wrote “between nine and fourteen,” which corresponds to grades 4 through 8.
**Mason wrote “until they are at least twelve or fourteen,” which corresponds to the ages children are when they enter 7th and 9th grades.


  1. Oh, Mariel! This is wonderful!
    What a labor of love. I can't wait to Pin this and forward it to some friends. I especially love the way you point out where CM follows chronology of history and where she veers. We do the same (Plutarch from gr 6 on - three lives a year), HE Marshall's History of Germany and others. But since we do a "tales approach" in early elementary and then continue sequentially, our children are not confused by these additional studies of history out of order. I so sppreciate this post.

  2. Hi. :)

    I don't want to contradict YOU, but I thought you would like to know that Miss Mason isn't actually contradicting herself. It's just that in her volumes she doesn't explain very well how she did history within her entire school.

    The entire SCHOOL -- well, at least the lower forms, I think a couple of the upper forms might have been a bit different--were doing the same part of history at the same time. CM did do a history cycle chronologically, but the era studied was based upon where the school was, not what form the child was in.

    The example examination questions were from various years of school, so at one point, the Form III students really were studying the 5th century, and at another point in time a DIFFERENT group of Form III students were studying the 17th century. I'm not saying everything was perfectly chronological all the time, but generally speaking they were.

    Does this make sense? Another way of seeing it is if I came to the school in Y1, I might be in the 5th century. When my younger sister comes to the school for Y1 a couple years later, she's in the 10th century...and so am I...because the whole school is on the same page.

    1. Hi Brandy, nice to meet you. :) Thank you for giving me more fun research topics and inspiring this post:

    2. While deleting old emails, I came back across this. If we look at the PNEU’s Programme 91, yes, the years 1861 to 1920 are repeated in forms. However, there were multiple streams of history, so one form was studying ancient history AND the late 19th/early 20th century. Also, children who began school with Programme 91 would begin history at the end and then go back to the beginning, which goes against the prevailing idea that now in a CM education a 1st grader goes chronologically from a beginning to the present.