Could This Be The Story of a Charlotte Mason Purist?

I’ve noticed the term purist surfacing frequently in the Charlotte Mason educational world.  And it has me wondering-

Am I a Charlotte Mason purist?

What does the home learning life of a Charlotte Mason purist look like?

My mind wanders back over ten years of homeschooling my four children.   I, who knew absolutely nothing of a Living Education from my childhood, have been able to find, learn, and implement an education for my children that will bring them into the world of ideas and relations.  At the beginning, I only knew how to cook and serve melted Velveeta and potato chips, but can now serve an educational meal that is well rounded and nourishing.   Thanks to God for his mercies!

But also in looking back, I see I’ve made some errors in philosophy and method.  Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of my own poor habits, I have missed quite a few Charlotte Mason hallmarks.  Would a purist have these blunders and missteps?  With these errors and shortcomings, I just might be disqualified as a Charlotte Mason purist.

I definitely have not always treated the child as a person when in my tired weakness I badgered them over some insignificant trifle.

I have not always had the atmosphere I say I follow –  an atmosphere of loving learning.  It has not always been the joyous hours of a Charlotte Mason life.  Complaining happens, myself included.

Out of ignorance, I have not always given my kids living books.  I didn’t understand what a living book was for so long.  To read in Charlotte’s volumes that I should be using living books was like telling me to serve cabbage when the only food I had eaten was noodles.  I had never seen cabbage, tasted cabbage, smelled cabbage, or felt cabbage. My quest for living books went on for years with trial and error.  And then I found a cabbage.  It took a lot of tasting, trying, feeling, smelling.  It took years of shifting my thinking and finding reliable, true, purist sources to point me to the cabbages.

The same was true of Charlotte’s term The Science of Relations.  I read her words on this over and over and over.  It didn’t make sense to me.  I had not had relations with the things I studied in my education.   I couldn’t understand it until I saw the relations with nature that my children were building.

And then there was the Friday spelling quiz we used to do because that’s what I did as a child.   And my nemesis – math.  How to find math that is living?  How to find a way to teach it when all I know is drill and kill?  I still wonder.  And geography.  I haven’t landed on what I think fits the living definition for that yet either.  And Latin.   We still aren’t doing it.  I’m waiting for some CM answer to strike me.  And PE.  Someday we’ll get it in formally.  Someday I won’t send the children out, I’ll go with them.  Someday I’ll nature journal, but I keep having babies who eat the watercolors and chew on the brushes.  It’s all I can do to keep the toddler away from the other children painting.  I’ve recently learned that painting really isn’t the essence of nature journaling anyway.  We’ve been doing that wrong.  Euclid is approaching fast on the horizon.  I don’t know how to tackle Euclid.

Does this sound like a purist?  Wouldn’t a purist have these things sorted out by now?  After this many years of homeschooling with Charlotte Mason…

All this fumbling around….

Learning along the way – day after day, month after month, year after year.

Slow, so slow.

But steady.

I learn the method gradually and implement what I can a little at a time.  I juggle babies.  I redo and redo the schedule, searching for one that works and incorporates as many subjects as I am ready to implement in CM fashion, yet a schedule that can actually be accomplished including potty training.  In ten years of using Charlotte Mason I’m still missing pieces.   I’ve found cabbages.  I’m still looking for some cabbages.

At times I’ve panicked.  Composition.   When my oldest daughter reached age 10, I worried, I fretted, I asked other people.  Some educators, who were Charlotte Mason in name but not in understanding, said a composition program needed to be started at this age.  I tried some curriculum that was advertised as Charlotte Mason friendly.  It lasted one month.  This was not it.  For us it turned writing into a task, a system with an artificial product.  I knew from the philosophy, this could not be the Charlotte Mason way.  But what was?

Would a purist be swayed by the panic of meeting expectations missing what is in the Volumes?

Learning along the way – day after day, month after month, year after year.

 Slow, so slow.

 But steady.

I learned that not all that is touted as Charlotte Mason is Charlotte Mason.

Finally, I went to the Volumes.  It is very clear in Volume 6.    “Form II (A and B) ages 9-12 … But let me again say there must be no attempt to teach composition.”  (p. 192).  And in case I missed it, she says it again on p. 274,  “Let me repeat that what is called ‘composition’ is an inevitable consequence of this free yet exact use of books and requires no special attention until the pupil is old enough to take naturally a critical interest in the use of words.”  I learned to go to the Volumes.

Even deeper, I learned that I had to trust.  I had to trust the method.  There was no living proof around me that I could look to for assurance seeing that Charlotte Mason had worked for them and it could work for me too.  It was sheer faith in the unseen.  It still is, although after these years, I now can see glimpses that we are gaining the desired benefit of a Living Education.  There is some proof of the unseen coming to light.  There has been so much darkness, so much wondering, but so much hope.

At one point I gave up reading the Volumes.  I slapped them shut with force.  The pieces didn’t fit, things were not living.  It was drudgery, life was drudgery.  It wasn’t working.  I had tried and it was not bringing the promised results.  There was no joy in learning, there were no connections being made.  For a while I quit my study of Charlotte Mason and stalled.  I felt betrayed.  Had I been duped?  Was this just a frilly dream world for the early years that led to a dead end?  Did I need to abandon Charlotte Mason and resort to comprehension questions and memory work and tell my kids to grin and bear it – like I had done as a child, like others around me were doing?

Would a purist question and falter to this point?

Learning along the way – day after day, month after month, year after year.

 Slow, so slow.

But steady.

After many, many months of leaving my kids in this deformed Charlotte Mason, learning deficient state, I decided I had to be either in or out.  Time was not waiting for me.  I had to find what was wrong with my Charlotte Mason methods or move to a different system.  I didn’t want to give up on a Charlotte Mason education, but I did not understand what to change.  Not knowing what I was searching for, but knowing I was not finding what I needed within myself, I traveled out of state to a group who was doing a Living Education Community together.  And there it was before my eyes.  A real and true Living Education!  It was not some dream fantasy.   I was not betrayed.   I was missing pieces, large pieces.  But it was real and I went home to find the pieces and put them in.  I’m still putting them in.

Could this be the story of a Charlotte Mason purist?

With all these shortcomings –  How could I possibly be a purist??

Often I have wondered if Charlotte Mason walked into my home would she disown me because of the miserable representation of her work that I am displaying.

Am I a purist?


Have I always been a purist?


I was a purist when I implemented the methods inadequately,  I was a purist when I panicked listening to those who weren’t sound in their advice,  I was a purist when I challenged the whole method.  I’m still a purist though I fall short of properly applying all of the method and living the philosophy.   I have had shortcomings, but not failures.


A purist finds their errors by coming back to the unaltered philosophy.  A purist keeps fine tuning the method without supplements.  A purist keeps chiseling away at their blind spots until the light shines.  They wait and hope for the fruit of a Living Education to ripen.  The desire of the purist is to live, implement, and promote only the pure method and philosophy knowing it is better than all other methods and philosophies.  The purist knows nothing needs to be added to this philosophy, but the alterations that are needed are in our thinking and application.  Despite questions and faltering, a purist longs to see the method work and produce its fruit.  A purist is cheering for the method to rise above the mire of our imperfections and shortfalls and see it succeed and flourish in its true form as its recipients partake of the glorious fruit of a full life.  One can be a Charlotte Mason educator, a purist even, without having all the pieces together, because the method, like the Holy Spirit Teacher it relies on, extends patience and grace.  A purist hopes with anticipation for perfection to arrive one day, knowing that there is an awful lot to learn along the way.

So what would I have done if Charlotte Mason had walked into my home- into the shambles of her method and philosophy that I have served on some days?  Probably hang my head and brace myself for the disapproval and critiquing to come blaring forth.  But, in reality, I don’t think criticism would come.  Not at all.  I think she would smile, guide me to a chair to sit and breathe, take my hand and after a moment say, “You are growing, you are learning, you are becoming a mother and teacher learning how to feed their minds and souls.  This is purity.”