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Charlotte Mason - Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence Review by Brittney Rutherford

Margaret A. Coombs
Casemate Academic
1950 Lawrence Road
Harvertown, PA 19803

As I began the journey of educating our children at home, I spent countless hours researching homeschool methods and philosophies. There are many different ideas out there about home education, but the one I identified most strongly with was the Charlotte Mason philosophy. Based on the ideas and methods of the renowned British educator Charlotte Mason, her ideas for giving children a full and generous curriculum and the methods she utilized to do so truly spoke to me.

The next step was to learn as much about the Charlotte Mason philosophy as possible. Over the years, I’ve worked at reading Miss Mason’s original works, as well as books by others that have interpreted her philosophy and methods. I’ve found this all interesting and enlightening as I flesh out our homeschool path, so the opportunity to read the biography Charlotte Mason - Hidden Heritage and Educational Influence by Margaret A. Coombs was something I couldn’t pass up.

Margaret A. Coombs is the founder of the Oxford Diocesan Health and Social Care Group. Her research interest lies in social, educational, and women’s history, with a particular interest in Charlotte Mason. Coombs has researched numerous archives for definitive information and records detailing Mason’s personal life and heritage. Tracing the family tree allowed Coombs to shed light on Charlotte Mason’s upbringing and early education, which was undoubtedly influenced by her Quaker heritage and, in turn, influenced her thoughts as an educator.

The book begins with a List of Illustrations, as the book includes several black and white photographs of not just Mason, but the people and places relevant to her story. This is followed by The Family Tree of Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason and A Timeline for Charlotte Mason. There is a Forward by John Thorley, Former Principal of Charlotte Mason College, Ambleside. The Acknowledgements, of course, allow Coombs to share with readers the many people who have assisted in the research and analysis that led to this biography. After the actual biography, you will find A Short Synopsis of Educational Theory, which is a foundational set of principles for Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy.

My first thought when I started reading was that it felt a bit formal. Because parenthetical references and footnotes abound (the notes and selected bibliography are nearly 70 pages long), you can tell this labor of love has been meticulously researched. Sometimes I felt like too much information had been included, such as the exact addresses of where people lived or the frequent suppositions of what “may have” or “probably” happened, which felt distracting. However, as I continued to read, a story started to unfold. With the backdrop of Mason’s heritage laid out, Coombs explores everything that Miss Mason would have wanted to conceal about her birth, mixed-religious background, and lower-class status. Coombs shares firsthand accounts, correspondences, and letters, giving us a glimpse into the life of Mason’s ancestors, her upbringing, her education, her profession, and her friendships. Understanding how Mason would have struggled before rising into a prominent position in educational circles helps put her ideas about a liberal education for all into perspective. As the book winds down, we can see the far reaches of Mason’s work, in other countries and in today’s modern world.

This is not a casual read, but rather an intense look at the major influences in Charlotte Mason’s life. I am certainly glad to have this perspective as I go back to reading Mason’s original works. I think it helps to understand a person’s work when you understand the person behind it! I would recommend it for those truly interested in both Charlotte Mason and her educational philosophy, as well as the history of education.

-Product review by Brittney Rutherford, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2017