24 Jun 2013

What did Charlotte use?

I figured that if I were going to try and write a Charlotte Mason science programme for Jemimah's secondary school that it might be a good idea to have a bit of a look at what she actually used.  Many science books are mentioned in her volumes, but the most valuable exercise for me has been looking at what she listed for use in her schools.  The nice thing is that many of these texts are available free online, and so we can look at the books themselves, not only at their titles.  Ah the Cyberspace Age.

Form III

Natural History and Botany

The Study of Plant Life by H.C. Stopes

Programme 90 pp. 72-108
Programme 91 pp. 109-140
Programme 92 pp. 141-168
Programme 93 pp. 167-196
Programme 94 pp. 1-34

Ethics of the Dust by Ruskin

Programme 90 Lectures 1-8 inclusive
Programme 91 Lectures 4-7 inclusive
Programme 92 Lectures 8-10 inclusive

First Year of Scientific Knowledge by Paul Bert

Programme 93 pp. 107-127
Programme 94 pp. 127-144 and 376-384.

General Science

Architecture (Jack, publisher)

Programme 90 pp. 24-42
Programme 91 pp. 43-64
Programme 92 pp. 65-86
Programme 93 pp. 86-102
Programme 94 pp. 108-127

Physical Geography by Geikie

Programme 90 pp. 1-46
Programme 91 pp.46-91
Programme 92 pp. 91-186

Our Wonderful Universe by A. Giberne (Actually This Wonderful Universe)

Programme 93 pp. 1-27
Programme 94 pp. 58-60 (should this be 28-60?)

Form IV

Natural History and Botany

Winners in Life's Race by Mrs. Fisher

Programme 90 pp. 181-240
Programme 91 pp. 240-279
Programme 92 pp. 279-314
Programme 93 pp. 314-353

Every Boy's Book of Geology by Trueman and Westell

Programme 93 pp. 15-86
Programme 94 pp. 86-100

Selborne by Gilbert White

Programme 90 pp. 88-175
Programme 91 pp. 178-268

Elementary Studies in Plant Life by F. E. Fritsch (You can find this online in the US)

Programme 90 pp. 188-176
Programme 91 pp. 1-80
Programme 92 pp. 42-74
Programme 93 pp.91-96, 102-124, 181-187
Programme 94

General Science

First Year of Scientific Knowledge by Paul Bert

Programme 90 pp. 127-160; 388-858
Programme 91 pp. 160-191
Programme 92 pp. 192-284
Programme 93 pp. 234-278
Programme 94 pp. ?78-818 (Possibly 278? - seems unlikely?)

Some Wonders of Matter by Bishop Mercer

Programme 90 pp. 184-258
Programme 91 pp. 159-192
Programme 92 pp. 1-88 (maybe 33?)
Programme 93 pp. 34-63
Programme 94 pp. 64-99

Hygiene and Physiology

A Health Reader, by W.H. Abrahall

Programme 90 pp. 117-136; 180-205
Programme 91 pp. 222-269
Programme 92 pp. 1-54
Programme 93 pp.?-109
Programme 94 pp. ?

First Year of Scientific Knowledge

(Programme 91 pp. 359-876 - Is this an error?)


Now that we have this list, what do we do with it?  People often dream of the perfect CM booklist, but is this one - the one she used herself - really it?  Are these the perfect science books for a CM education? Were they, even back in 1920, or were they just the best of a bad lot?  Would she have used something else if it had been available?  We do know that Mason bemoaned the dearth of good living science texts:
Books dealing with science as with history, say, should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the text-books which swell publishers' lists and nearly all the chalk expended so freely on our blackboards. The French mind has appreciated the fact that the approach to science as to other subjects should be more or less literary, that the principles which underlie science are at the same time so simple, so profound and so far-reaching that the due setting forth of these provokes what is almost an emotional response; these principles are therefore meet subjects for literary treatment, while the details of their application are so technical and so minute as, except by way of illustration,––to be unnecessary for school work or for general knowledge. We have not a copious scientific literature in English but we have quite enough to go on with in our schools. (Emphasis mine.)

Charlotte Mason Towards a Philosophy of Education p218-9
Does her comment that she did have enough scientific literature for her schools lead us to presume that these books are what she wanted to use?  We don't know, do we?  Shame, that.

What we do know, is that they are not the perfect books for a science education in 2013.  If you look at the publication dates of these books, you'll find that many of them had been published only a few years earlier.  Charlotte Mason would not be content to use books that were 100 years old, no siree.  Old literature?  Yes.  Old science?  No.  There have been thousands of good books written since her death, and just as many huge advances in science.  There have been changes in education too.  No more are we looking at a classroom of predominantly girls, destined not for the laboratory but for the home or the classroom or the clerk's office or the nurse's ward or perhaps for service.

So what do we learn?

Charlotte Mason looked for the best books for her students.  She thought deeply.  She was a great book lover.  Yay! Regardless of whether they were the perfect science books, their inclusion in this list tells us that they embody many of the ideals of the sort of science books we should be looking for.  They show the quality.  And what we see when we look at these books is that they were not simple 'Mickey Mouse' popular science.  They were deep and accurate as well as literary.  There is a lot of science contained in their pages.  There are experiments to demonstrate the respiration of plants.  There is classification.  There is nature journaling and drawing.  People are often critical of Mason's science and maths, feeling that they are ignored or pushed out of the way by history and foreign languages, but the standard of these books is far higher than we give her credit for.

This list encourages us to look for modern up-to-date books containing real science.  Reading a few biographies is not going to cut the mustard.  Neither is Apologia.  Neither are popular science books that you read for fun.  As I look at putting together a Charlotte Mason curriculum for Jemimah's secondary years, I need to search for exceptional living science books.  I need to constantly build on knowledge learned.  To experiment, test, confirm, document.  Then, and only then will I come up with a science curriculum that would meet Miss Mason's exacting standards.  One that meets the quality of the rest of the curriculum that we find when we use Ambleside Online.

It's a daunting feeling, you know?  She really was an amazing woman.


  1. I am really looking forward to following what you are doing. Tara (One Faithful Arrow)

  2. I am following your thoughts with interest too. I like your last paragraph, it gives me perspective.



  3. We are planning on using the Architecture book (although why she classed that with Science, I have no idea, aside from the idea of the technology involved (flying buttresses and such), that book should really have been with General History), and probably also Ethics of the Dust. As for the page numbering questions--what I've done with other books, if I had them online to compare, was just look at the page numbers as given and compare them to sections or chapters or other logical breaks in the book; that way it's often clear whether it was meant to be a 33 or an 88. Also, Charlotte Mason and the programmes were occasionally (often?) a bit careless about getting the titles of things correct; they give only part of a title (like Architecture) or get it a bit wrong, which makes searching titles more difficult.

    Not that that has much to do with the question of what science books she'd use, just things I've run across myself.

  4. Mama Squirrel, I think I might use the Stopes Botany. Have you looked at it?

  5. The girl & I always did much better if we steered away from scientific science & concentrated on knowing *about* as much as possible. We were far less likely to come unstuck & the sad truth is we never could get the experiments to do what they should!!! And I feel sure Charlotte would have been enraptured by the excellent quality DVDs that are around today & show in such splendid detail the wonder of science.

  6. Jeanne: I've looked at Stopes, and it looks like a good introduction to botany--but how practical do you think the experiments are? Seems to be a lot of caustic potash etc. required. We used Jeannie Fulbright's Apologia Botany a few years ago and really liked it--not that we did every experiment in there either, but the equipment required was a bit easier to get.

    What age did it strike you as being appropriate for, thinking of today's students?

  7. That is a very nice list of books. I've managed to have a look at a couple. Very nice. :) TFS.

  8. Well said. I've been reading 'Wonders of Matter' on and off for the last few weeks and find it refreshing. I am hoping to find a modern equivalent. Thank you for sharing. It takes a good bit of time to try to do this on one's own.


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