This part is titled “Some preliminary considerations.”
In Charlotte Mason’s day, women were starting to be more educated and to seek to work, either for the “pleasure and honor of doing useful work” or, in addition, for money if need be. She argues that the most important work for society is raising children; that they are a public trust.
She mentions those who “make over their gravest duty to indifferent persons” (2). I hope she does not believe that all caregivers other than parents are indifferent or unable or unsuited to this gravest duty. Even though she goes on to say that as mothers “become more highly educated and efficient” they will “doubtless” feel that they dare not trust anyone else to raise their kids in the first six years (2).
I suppose the mention of education and efficiency might be referring to the rise of feminism, and that she is countering the correlation of education and efficiency with the rejection or devaluing of parenting.
She says women should think of mothering as a profession — i.e. that it involves diligence, regularity, and punctuality. I’m not sure I agree that “profession” is a necessary model, but the commitment implied by the other three words makes sense, along with the “thinking love” mentioned in her previous paragraph. And I can see where some folks might find the “profession” analogy a useful one.
As for me, I don’t really like to compare mothering with the business or professional world. I value every minute of the schooling I’ve had — but I don’t think higher education is the only or best goal for all women, nor that educated women are necessarily more valuable or worthy than the uneducated. Uneducated, in the sense of unschooled, doesn’t have to mean unintelligent, lacking insight or intuition, foolish, and so on.
Mason goes on to say that mothers should be taught educational theory so that they can be better prepared for their work. She quotes Herbert Spencer at length, who contrasts untrained parenting to shoemaking and other concrete work that requires long apprenticeship. I venture to guess she would not disagree that there are some mothers who, by careful thought, prayer, and good sense, would arrive intuitively at a good deal of the relevant theory in their own way. I am guessing she and Spencer are more arguing against those who think no thought about parenting is necessary at all, or who spend their educational efforts solely on “accomplishments” (drawing, piano, needlework?) and not on anything that would help them in parenting.
In other words, I don’t think she is arguing that all mothers should go get an advanced degree in educational theory. (3)
Mason describes a typical parenting approach as first thinking a lot about what values, knowledge, and so on the parent wants to write on the child-as-slate, and as the child develops personality and will, letting the child find his own ways, encouraging his growing independences, and providing plenty of nourishing love, thought, and food.
This she calls “masterly inactivity” (5). She says it is very good for a child — that the wrong kind of intervening would be worse. Nevertheless, she says something more IS necessary to fulfill the “serious part of the parents’ calling” (5).