To my friends and companions in the Charlotte Mason journey,
I met a new friend this past week, well, many actually, but Kathryn stands out. At the Charlotte Mason Institute Lake District Retreat in Ambleside England, I found a kindred spirit. Her letters are in the Armitt museum archives. She would have been a lovely adventure companion. She had written to say that she recognized some faces in the old photographs published in the L’Umile Pianta, the ex-student’s magazine. Kathryn attended the Charlotte Mason College with some of those pictured in 1925. A second letter, entitled “Nostalgia”, gives a few more details—a bit of a biography (a Century Chart of her life would be spectacular). Her correspondence does not say why she decided to go to the college, but as many young middle class women of the time, I suspect she didn’t have many options. Even our panel of PNEU students at the Lake District Retreat attested to the limitations of women during the early and mid 1900’s! In January of 1924 when Kathryn entered the Charlotte Mason College, previously the House of Education, she describes the somber and cold atmosphere; a veil rested over the teacher training college. It seemed incongruent with her expectations until she was told of Mason’s death the previous year. Interestingly, it was only the teacher training that seemed a focus for her, yet Mason’s name was not a dominant factor for Kathryn at the time she entered the college. My friend began to learn of Charlotte Mason through her educational ideas and was immersed in a new educational paradigm over those next two years. There were, however, many who did know Charlotte Mason’s name at the time and followed the “Liberal Education for All” movement; take a look at the banquet reservations for the 1925 Diamond Jubilee Gathering in London and see some 400 prominent social movers and shakers—and benefactors—that were very aware of Mason’s name and educational legacy; many were PNEU (Parents’ National Education Union) members, had their own children in a Parents’ Union School of some type and supported the training of governesses/teachers at the House of Education in Ambleside.
We were fortunate to have with us this year at the Lake District Retreat a panel of old pupils (not teachers) spanning a few generations who shared their experiences of attending the PNEU schools. They mentioned that it was a less expensive boarding school option that their families could afford. The 1940s brought a mix of students to the practicing school, Fairfield and Overstone. Many were sent from doctor’s or classed families to the all girls boarding school (quite normal and expected at the time). Others were sent out of the cities and from foreign diplomatic field offices because of the wartime issues. The war and health issues in city schools were also a factor for the decade to come. The day students from the local area or the weekly boarders that went home on weekends were also a part of this diversity. The evolution of the role of women in education and society as well as changing class delineations seems to have been the moment in time for these ladies and their views and conversation reflected all these. It was quite thought provoking; I am still processing those historical and cultural implications. There are some translation pieces for us today in applying the educational philosophy and methods of Mason that are impacted by these factors—and others, even while we are still firmly practicing under the principles.
For Kathryn in the early twenties, attending the old House of Education for teacher training college was more than training. It was a full life of education for the teachers themselves. In the academic aspect Kathryn says she could hold her own. Being a “townie” from Edinburgh, the Natural History was interesting though it seems that the Nature Notebook was a bit of a struggle for her. I imagine some of us can sympathize from when we first were introduced to keeping nature journals and our first attempts to dry brush. Kathryn mentions a fellow student’s work as being much closer in quality to a Diary of an Edwardian Lady than hers. Fortunately, we have found more in our recent years’ research and can rest in knowing that even if we aren’t all professional artists, the Nature Notebook is not intended as an artist’s exhibition but a personal and joyful outdoor history journal if kept consistently. Being an artist perhaps similar to Kathryn, my notebook contains more writing and is a wonderful record of my sightings and thoughts through years and seasons. For Kathryn, the bird talks ‘at table’ with “Kitchie” were horrifying then and, she says, would still be! Elsie Kitching, Mason’s close college friend and private secretary, was the Parent’s Union School Director and apparently quite knowledgeable in this area and a formidable figure! Kathryn also talks about the ‘Crits’, Criticism Lessons, that were given. The college student presented a lesson to the students at the practicing school for observation as part of the practicum and teacher training requirements. These were also a bit unsettling. (The conference panel shared about how students were “quite bad” and always planning tricks to disrupt the lessons during these times). Our friend shares a final memory that “current students might enjoy knowing about”. On ‘Drawing Room’ evenings the seniors took turns reading papers on some interesting person or subject they had researched. It was great entertainment and was done in a variety of ways— by narrating a biography, playing music pieces, or even engaging other students to act out a drama to present. Aha! the famous “Scale How Tuesdays” we have heard about! Often these show up as an article in the Parents’ Review and are interesting to read today!
The memoirs continue by telling of her overall teaching posts and life experience. After graduating, it seems that she may have posted as a CMT (Charlotte Mason Teacher) governess for private families before coming back to the college to teach the year before she married. Mostly, Kathryn tells of her time some 30 years later in life, after she was widowed with her daughter married and her son sitting for university exams. New seasons and new adventures came and she returned to teaching children as a profession. She took over a position as head of a PNEU school in Northern Nigeria where expatriates working for a tin mining company sent their children for school. She describes the plateau and the people and events: Musa—the indigenous young man who worked for Kathryn, the interesting old woman who had climbed the 4,000 foot cliff, the golf course with rock outcrops and sand ‘green’ that made it truly a “sporting game”, the 1959 Nigerian Independence celebration with the last tribal parade of knights in authentic medieval gear followed by the great Chiefs with attendants carrying umbrellas overhead. Soon came the Belgian Congo uprisings bringing safety concerns and Kathryn was persuaded to leave. She went on to teach in Italy and Singapore before retiring home to the UK. Kathryn talks of many gatherings of friends and meetings with ex-House of Education students near Edinburgh. She and others did charity work, visited National Trust houses, attended lectures and concerts; “so our days were not wasted,” she says. She continued to travel every year with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society which was “great fun”. She names Florence as her favorite place and recommends visiting Bangkok for something exotic. She must have been a fascinating person to know! Wouldn’t you have loved to travel with her?
Like most of us, Kathryn did not have a Charlotte Mason education growing up. She was not a Charlotte Mason groupie nor was she following an educational fad. She went to a Teacher Training College and found something more. More than training, though that was an important and necessary part; her feet were placed in the large room of a liberal education and the knowledge of God, man, and the world. Kathryn lived and learned—from training and study at the House of Education—to living and teaching alongside families, to guiding her own children as mother, and on to sharing with children and others in foreign places the beauty of a living education. Kathryn Fisher (Beaveridge) could never be “an awful old bore” as she calls herself for those letters full of memories—she is a kindred spirit! Our new friend displays beautifully the example of a full life that comes from ideas and the knowledge of her place in relationship with God, others and the world. It all began with Scale How and the Charlotte Mason College and a shift in an educational paradigm. We are charged with this reminder: that wherever we are on our journey, we must always keep before us this real living with the necessity of continual study, training and growing as teachers and people; wherever God has us in work and life, to be prepared today for the children’s sake.
May we have grace for the day,
A fellow wanderer in the House Beautiful
Member, CMI Board of Directors
CMI Teacher Education & Support
If you would like to know more about parent/teacher education and training offered through the Charlotte Mason Institute, please visit our charlottemasoninstitute.org site later in June 2018. Study groups and other teacher training opportunities will be announced at the new site. Be sure to join our free email notifications from the Institute.
© 2018 Kelli Christenberry