Charlotte Mason vs. Thomas Jefferson Education

A guest post by Rachel Keppner

The home is the cradle of virtue, the place where character is formed and habits are established.”

{President Gordon B. Hinkley}

My Homeschooling Background

I’ve been homeschooling since 1998, and for most of our homeschooling years (11 of those years, to be exact), I tried to follow the ideas found in the book A Thomas Jefferson Education. I attended every TJEd seminar and conference I could get to, and I eventually taught the principles at TJEd conferences and in my own community. I started and ran a state-wide TJEd group in my state, and solidly believed in the principles.

That is not to say that I implemented the TJEd method perfectly in my home. Looking back, I am sure that I had formed some vast misunderstandings of how to “do” TJEd. I truly believed that my kids would beg to learn when they wanted to, and that they should be the ones to design their own learning, charting their own courses for their lives.

I personally translated TJEd to be unschooling with classic novels strategically placed around my home, reading classics aloud, all while inspiring my kids to be leaders by watching me teach and lead other moms in my community. It all made perfect sense to me all through those years, until my oldest children started to leave home, which showed me where we succeeded, and also where we had floundered in my homeschooling.

“You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction.”

{Doctrine and Covenants 93:42}

After some devastating educational and spiritual failures in our family, in the year 2013 I abandoned my unschooling ways, and turned to an intense study of Charlotte Mason. There I found all the high expectations and structure our children needed, and yet discovered that Miss Mason’s methodology maintained the beauty and inspiration I desired to expose my children to.

I want to be frank about my failings as a TJEd homeschooler simply because I want you, as readers of this article, to understand why certain differences between TJEd and Charlotte Mason’s methods stand out so starkly for me in my own personal homeschooling journey.

I do not claim to be an expert in either TJEd nor in Charlotte Mason. However, I am a homeschooling mother of many who has used both methodologies with her children, and I feel privileged to share my personal experiences and insights with others.

How Charlotte Mason and TJEd are Similar

Since there often seems to be some confusion among some homeschoolers about the differences between TJEd and Charlotte Mason, I’d like to begin by sharing the things things the two methods have in common.

  • Students should read good, classic/living books and avoid boring textbooks.
  • The learning environment and atmosphere should be rich and inspiring.
  • Classical influences of great authors, artists, composers, music, such as Shakespeare and Plutarch are shared and embraced.
  • Small children should not be pushed to perform academically at a young age.
  • Good habits and principles should be taught in the younger years, and throughout the life of the child.
  • Customized education is needed for individual children. (“Children are born persons.”)
  • Learning becomes more rigorous as the student grows.
  • Mother-Culture/Inspiring Parents are pivotal to learning success.

How Charlotte Mason Differs from TJEd

  • Charlotte Mason espouses structured, planned learning time vs. unstructured learning with lessons in specified areas of study, such as Art Study, Music Study, Geography, History, Nature Study, Poetry, and Shakespeare. TJEd students only study subjects that interest them, which will eventually help them in their life’s missions.
  • CM embraces the ideas of parental academic requirements, expectations, and assignments with follow-through for the work assigned.
  • Oral and/or written narrations are assigned in CM to be done by the students, versus the TJEd emphasis on casual book discussions being held as a group.
  • Habits and character training are more strongly emphasized in CM with the goal of establishing full attention and best efforts in the students.
  • In a Charlotte Mason homeschool, the learning is parent-led (Spreading a Feast of Ideas) as opposed to child-led, passion-driven learning.
  • Developing academic skills in handwriting, spelling, arithmetic, recitation, and memorization are expectations with continuous, gradual, incremental improvement, rather than the relaxed expectations on reading and math skills of TJEd practitioners (“They’ll learn it eventually…”).
  • The goal in CM is to expose children to living thoughts and ideas (“The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care?” ~Charlotte Mason); TJEd emphasizes that youth have important “life missions” to perform, but this is a vague, undefined goal that will come to light later in their futures.

How Our CM Homeschool Compares to Our TJEd Homeschool

I want to emphasize once again that I believe I may have misinterpreted TJEd principles and ideals in my own homeschool. But I DO know how my teaching in my home has changed since I switched to following the Charlotte Mason method.

Using TJEd, our home environment was helpful and important. But looking back, I can now see that our environment of rich resources and lovely, living books was not enough. I worked hard to set an example of personal study and a thirst for learning, but it was not enough.

What we needed was consistent, every day, regularly-scheduled home-schooling time with scheduled subjects of study and a plan to follow.

“Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional;

let them brace themselves to understand, let them compel themselves to do and to bear;

and let them do what is right at the sacrifices of ease and pleasure.”

{Charlotte Mason}

Even though we have made MANY changes since embracing the Charlotte Mason model, there are many things that have stayed the same in our homeschool.

Some of those things are:

  • We still read lots of good books together and on our own.
  • We gather to discuss great ideas, great books, and other great works.
  • We work hard to teach our children to recognize and develop good habits and virtue.
  • Each individual has personal interests they pursue, as part of, but also beyond, their academic studies.
  • We all work together to take care of our home, yard, and each other.
  • We are active in our homeschool group and within the homeschool community.
  • We try to keep our focus on God and family.

The biggest changes in our homeschooling include:

  • A greater focus on building good habits and communicating high expectations of the students to give their best efforts to their academic work.
  • Daily academic assignments are given to each child over the age of  six years old.
  • Oral and written narrations are now assigned for each book read and subject studied by our children.
  • Each child has a list of books assigned to them to read and to narrate.
  • Each day we have group lessons in the weekly subjects of History, Art study, Music study, Geography, Shakespeare, and Nature study.
  • Each child has daily assignments of math lessons.
  • I follow through with each child on the assignments that have been given, and keep a record of the work they have accomplished.

“…seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith; Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;”

{Doctrine and Covenants 109:7-8}

Because of these changes, greater expectations and accountability have been established in our homeschool, we are learning that we all have to do difficult things we don’t necessarily want to do– and that’s life! Everyone is also feeling a greater sense of accomplishment and progress in our educational efforts.

As I ponder on how our homeschool has changed over these last few years, I can see how making well-thought out plans give us direction that was sorely missed in our unstructured studies. Rather than having too many choices to choose from, and an enigmatic goal of “a life’s mission,” my children now know what they need to do and when they need to do it. I customize their individual learning through the booklists I make for them, and the assignments I give them, as directed by the Holy Ghost through prayer. Instead of leaving my children to try to figure out what they needed to learn, and when they needed to learn it, they now have parental guidance and life experience to help them meet their futures with greater confidence. Each child can study and work with tangible goals in mind, rather than not knowing which direction they should turn next.

I see Charlotte Mason’s methods as a beautiful roadmap that opens up a path of purposeful inspiration to parents that will help them guide their children. I love her reminder that parents are the divinely appointed teachers of their children, and that the Holy Ghost guides mothers and fathers to the resources and lessons that each child needs. The peace and order that has come to our family as a result will bless all our children in the many years of homeschooling that still lie ahead of us.

Great Articles on Charlotte Mason:

For More Information on TJEd:


Rachel Keppner is the wife of Russell, and the mother of thirteen children, ranging in ages from 24 years old down to almost 4 years old. She has been homeschooling since 1998, but still feels that she has an enormous amount to learn, and is excited for the homeschooling journey she still has before her. Her performing experiences and educational background in theatre have been instrumental in helping her create homeschool and co-op curricula that has helped hundreds of families and homeschool groups expose their children to the works of William Shakespeare. (These resources can be found at www.yeshakespeare.com .)  Since 2006, she has enjoyed working with homeschooled teens as she teaches them about Shakespeare and directs them in play productions. She is currently producing “Two Gentlemen of Verona” with families in her homeschool community. She enjoys designing and sewing Renaissance costumes, singing and performing with her husband and children, and speaking at homeschool conferences.

4 thoughts to “Charlotte Mason vs. Thomas Jefferson Education”

  1. What are your thoughts on the Scholar Phase? It’s pretty intense, but are you saying that the problem is that it’s child directed?

    1. Hi Carrie!
      I homeschooled four kids using the “Scholar Phase” ideal, but really had a difficult time because of the aspect of it being “child led.” Basically, I never could find a way for my teens to submit to me as their mentor. Sometimes they would submit to other mentors, but sometimes they would not.

      I feel that the fact that they were constantly being told— by me— that they were the ones in charge of their educations, if they didn’t feel like learning, they simply did not do it. And this was with no access to television and while having extreme limitations on technology.

      Another thing that made “Scholar Phase” ineffective for us, was that my children did not know what things they made but need to study and know in order to progress. I interpreted my role as a mentor to be that of a protector of their choices of what to study. I thought it was my job to help them study what they wished to study, but that it was not my place to steer them. Unfortunately, I later found that this bred a false sense of confidence in my older children, which resulted in some difficult humbling as they became adults and tried to make their ways in the world with a very limited knowledge compared with their peers. They knew a lot about some very specific things, but had very little general knowledge.

      This was simply my own failed experiences with “Scholar Phase.” My kids read loads of classics, but ended up being quite deficient in arithmetic and writing. Most of them are doing okay in their struggles through adulthood, but they have each told me that they wish they had been taught differently through their teen years.

      Others’ mileage may vary, of course. We are just a case study of one family, but it is our honest experience.

      Hugs,
      Rachel Keppner

      1. Thank you for the added details. I find myself going between the CM and TJed styles, so this has been very helpful. My kids are still young so hopefully I have time to figure it out! I made a survey for homeschool graduates about homeschooling styles. Do you think your kids would be interested in taking it? I’d like to hear from their perspective as well.

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