Charlotte Mason was Right! Education is an Atmosphere

Charlotte Mason said that “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life,” and she was right. An extensive study published in 2010 on “Family Scholarly Culture and Educational Success” (PDF), reports that a family’s “scholarly culture – the way of life in homes where books are numerous, esteemed, read, and enjoyed” matters.

Education is an atmosphere;, illustrated by a Mary Cassatt image. I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to homeschoolers, but just in case you need a reason to keep building your family’s home library, here are a few significant quotes from the report.

A home in which books are an integral part of the way of life will encourage children to read for pleasure, thereby providing them with information, vocabulary, imaginative richness, and wide horizons. (p. 3)

Because it generates skills and knowledge central to schooling, scholarly culture should enhance educational achievement in all societies, rich and poor alike; in all political systems, Communist and capitalist alike; and in the past as well as the present. (p. 3)

In addition to providing skills and knowledge, a large home library is a manifestation of the family’s preferences: an indication that they enjoy and value scholarly culture, that they find ideas congenial, reading agreeable, complex and intellectually demanding work attractive. It shows a commitment to investing in knowledge, and perhaps in schooling. It suggests that conversations between parents and their children will include references to books and imaginative ideas growing out of them. In short, a large library reveals a preference for the scholarly culture. (p. 4)

Biggest gains at the bottom: an increase in scholarly culture has the greatest impact on children from families with little scholarly culture. (p. 4)

Each additional book is associated with greater gains in educational attainment in families with few books than in families where there are already many books. (p. 9)

The difference between a bookless home and one with a 500-book library is as great as the difference between having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) and having university educated parents (15 or 16 years of education).

Scholarly culture’s advantage goes back for generations, as far back as the memory of survey respondents can take us, and in all political systems [both pre- and -post WWII West, pre- and post Communist Eastern Europe, pre- and post-Cultural Revolution China, and pre- and post-Apartheid South Africa]. (p. 13)

Thus it seems that scholarly culture, and the taste for books that it brings, flows from generation to generation largely of its own accord, little affected by education, occupational status, or other aspects of class. (p. 17)

Parents give their infants toy books to play with in the bath; read stories to little children at bed-time; give books as presents to older children; talk, explain, imagine, fantasize, and play with words unceasingly. Their children get a taste for all this, learn the words, master the skills, buy the books. And that pays off handsomely in school. (p. 17)

A book-oriented home environment, we argue, endows children with tools that are directly useful in learning at school: vocabulary, information, comprehension skills, imagination, broad horizons of history and geography, familiarity with good writing, understanding of the importance of evidence in argument, and many others. In short, families matter not just for the material resources they provide, not just because of parents’ formal educational skills, but also – often more importantly – because of the scholarly culture they embody. (p. 19-20)

Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.  ~Henry Ward Beecher

If you are convinced that education is an atmosphere, and that books are part of that atmosphere, you may enjoy: How to Build a Quality Home Library Inexpensively and The Benefits of Reading: Seven Tips for Reading More.

Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.  ~Jesse Lee Bennett

Find new books you might enjoy at You’re welcome to connect with me there;-).

The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression,
and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory
from which the image is never cast out
to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived.
~Howard Pyle

Work cited: Evans, M. D. R., et al. Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility (2010), doi:10.1016/j.rssm.2010.01.002

4 Responses

  1. April 20, 2013

    […] or link to share…. This article by Janice Campbell shows how important it is to have books in the […]

  2. March 30, 2017

    […] (Deuteronomy 6:7). It’s what Charlotte Mason meant when she described education as “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a […]

  3. March 30, 2017

    […] do the most effective things. Just as great tutors through the ages have done, you can provide an atmosphere that helps students learn, spread a broad feast of great ideas through living books, and together, […]

  4. October 8, 2019

    […] Mason wrote that “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life,” and it’s a truth that becomes clearer every year I live. I […]

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