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Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Category: Parenting

Heredity, Total Depravity, and the Role of Education

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 2

They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.

Before beginning my study on this principle, it was clear to me that I would need to place this statement in its historical context to properly understand Charlotte Mason’s meaning. On first reading, this statement appears to say something against the doctrine of original sin. I had been told and believed that this was not the case, but until studying this principle this month I had not spent any time investigating for myself.

Mason does not deny the doctrine of original sin. Karen Glass, author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition and Know and Tell: The Art of Narration, has written a very helpful article on what it was that Mason was addressing, which I encourage you to read. In my own rudimentary Google searching into the subject I found historical explanations that will help set the context.

In the time of Mason, the beginning of the 20th century, the rise of Darwinism and the theory of evolution through natural selection led to a greater consideration of the role that genes play in the development of psychological as well as physical traits in an individual. The idea, now termed biological or genetic determinism, known then as heredity determinism, became an idea widely disseminated in society. “Most theories of biological determinism viewed undesirable traits as originating in defective genes” (Garland Allen)—that is, that the behavioral, as well as physical characteristics of a person, were solely determined by genetics. Mason saw that many parents and educators began to think that there was no point in trying to instruct a person in morals and right behavior because it was already determined by their genes. A bad egg will breed a bad egg and that was that.

In this principle, Mason argues that this is not the case and that education can contribute a great deal in training a person to right living and thinking. She says,

“There are good and evil tendencies in body and mind, heart and soul; and the hope set before us is that we can foster the good so as to attenuate the evil; that is, on condition that we put education in her true place as the handmaid of religion.” Towards A Philosophy of Education, p.46

As Glass points out in her article, Mason is not making a theological statement. She is commenting on the potential of all children to learn as an argument against the commonly held belief that some children, particularly the poorer classes, did not have any potential.

With this context in view, through my study of this principle, my mind has been occupied with considering the idea of the “possibilities for good.” Specifically, how much potential for ‘good’ do we really have outside of Christ in light of the doctrine of original sin and total depravity; and what role does education have, if any, in the training of good in our children.

The work of justification is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing that education can do, in and of itself, toward the salvation of a person’s soul from being “dead in trespasses and sins” to “alive again in Christ.” Nor is sanctification a work that we alone can do. It is only with the Holy Spirit that we can grow in Christlikeness. Mason does not deny these truths. But she saw from experience that education is a servant to religion, a tool which ought not to be squandered, in leading children toward right thinking and living, and our ultimate hope, toward God. That all children, no matter what their station or economic status in life, no matter if their father is a poor alcoholic or a statesman in good standing, all have the possibility to learn what is good, just as much as they have of what is bad. This is directly related to Principle 1: Children are born persons. God has given all children His image and therefore, as discussed last month, His communicable attributes. He has given the ability to love, to be generous, to show mercy, kindness etc., and a mind with which to learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom.

As Christians, we acknowledge that it is only by God’s grace, common to all, that we can say or do any good. Any good we do in this life is still marred by sin. It is not the perfect good that is found in God alone, but it is a broken good that, by His grace of restraining our sinfulness, many, even non-Christians, achieve to some degree.

John Calvin explains.

“But here it ought to occur to us that amid this corruption of nature there is some place for God’s grace; not such grace as to cleanse it, but to restrain it inwardly… This God by his providence bridles perversity of nature, that it may not break forth into action; but he does not purge it within.” Institutes, p. 292-293.

Education is a tool that God can use to extend that common grace to us and restrain us from being as wicked as our hearts have the potential (and desire) to be.

I labor this point because of a great many discussions I had with my husband this month as I studied this principle. I struggled to articulate to him why Mason was not making an unbiblical statement. And each attempt at an explanation revealed that I did not hold rightly to, or at least could not articulate rightly, a biblical view of the sinful state of man’s heart. My husband took great pains to impress upon me how dire my heart really is without Christ. Yet my brain still wanted to say, “I have the ability in and of myself to be good because I choose to be.” But Jesus disagrees with me.

“No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18

Calvin expounds.

“Man’s understanding is pierced by a heavy spear when all the thoughts that proceed from him are mocked as stupid, frivolous, insane, and perverse.” Institutes, p. 290.

No. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we have no possibility for good. And yet, God, because of His common grace, and out of His mere good pleasure, saw fit to endow to some a special grace that makes possible admirable and heroic actions for the blessing of mankind. These “special graces,” as Calvin calls them, are gifts from God and reflect His image. Education is used by Him as a tool to instruct all in what is right and be a blessing to mankind. Further, that through education some might be lead to know Him. “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). Or, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). By the means of education, He can lead us to humbly accept our fallen state and our need of Him.

“Thus it rests with parents to ease the way of their child by giving him habits of the god [spiritual] life in thought, feeling, and action, and even in spiritual things. We cannot make a child ‘good’; but, in this way, we can lay paths for the good life in the very substance of his brain.  We cannot make him hear the voice of God; but, again, we can make paths where the Lord God may walk in the cool of the evening.” Formation of Character, p. 141-142

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details.

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles Directory

Turning 12

I expected that this would be the blog post that I would write when my eldest turned 13 or 14. And perhaps it still will be. My suspicion is that the intensity will increase with each teen year that passes. But I find myself, on the eve of my daughter’s 12th birthday, reflecting on the struggle of adolescence: the desire for independence while still being emotionally dependent. Turning 12 is a delightful, challenging, maturing, joyful, stretching time. In a word, growth. 12 is growth. No longer a small child but not an adult. Capable of deep thoughts, deep emotions, deep struggles, while trying to find her place. Wanting to be responsible while not really wanting responsibility, or discovering that she is not ready for the responsibility that she seeks. Leaping five steps ahead only to have to turn back and retrace her steps to find surer footing. When she begins to learn that her walk with the Lord is hers to walk alone. Repentance and forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness. Learning that life is repentance and forgiveness on repeat, over and over, toward God, toward those we love, and others toward her. Learning that relationships struggle if we don’t nurture them, and how sometimes, how we speak to one another means more than the words said.  Beginning to learn the lesson that His mercy is new every morning and with repentance comes new life.  Discovering that she is capable of more than she realizes and not to give up, even when she feels like a failure. Learning that mistakes are how we grow, and to embrace hard things because they will help shape her to be the woman she desires to be.  She loves more deeply than we can see and hurts more deeply than we even realize. I have learned that a smile and a hug every morning begins the day with sunshine instead of rain. Turning 12 is exciting and beautiful and hard. And I’m only watching. Imagine what it is for she who is actually going through it; this girl who still likes girly things but has a mind that thinks far into the future. Oh that time would slow down and that 12-year-olds would stop and savor their youth while they have it. But they don’t, because they lack wisdom. That is their plight. Our duty is to lead them to seek wisdom during their years of growth by seeking the wisdom giver, the author of truth.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Little Men

Little Men Book Cover

Not long ago, my children and I listened to the Little Men audiobook* in the car. It has become a fast favorite in our family and I think, of all the parenting/homeschool books I have ever read, this one is my absolute favorite. That may sound strange since it is just a story and not a parenting book, but it does what only a well written story can do. It instructs the moral imagination of its reader in truth, through narrative, that cuts straight to the heart.

Aunt Jo and her husband, Fritz Bhaer, run a school for their own children, Meg’s children (Jo’s sister), and also for a number of orphaned boys. As the sequel to Little Women, Jo has grown up, outgrown her mischievousness (for the most part), and found her passion and joy in loving and caring for these lost, wayward little men. Jo’s heart is full as she seeks to provide a safe home and an education for these young people. She seeks their good while expecting the best from each of them. The children keep both Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz on their toes with their childhood antics and mischievousness. Aunt Jo can always be relied upon to enjoy the fun, yet both she and Fritz take care to speak a gentle word of truth and wisdom in moments of folly. They seek out ways to instruct the character of the children in right living, so that they may grow up to be honorable men and women.

If I had read this as a child, I would have related to the childhood antics and frolics of the children in the story, as my own children have. They loved to discuss what they would have done as different situations arose. Their imagination was captivated by the play and the mischief of these new friends. Now, as a parent and a homeschooler, I found myself sitting at the feet of Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz, whose wise governing and educating of the children washed over me like a gentle wave. Their example of parental love and care, treating each child as a person worthy of respect, penetrated deeply. It described exactly what Charlotte Mason meant when she said, “Children are born persons.” This has had a great impact on how I view my children and how I want to parent and teach them. I want to be Aunt Jo. She seems to have an endless supply of patience, and becomes passionate when she has the opportunity to provide for the needs of her charges in just the right way to suit each person individually. She doesn’t get it perfectly right, but her heart is for the children, and they know it, and develop a peace and contentment because of it.

Because they were loved, the children were not left to themselves. The Bhaers took seriously the responsibility of raising useful, honorable young men, and took pains to not only see to their intellectual needs but also to cultivate the character of the children. They sought to provide an atmosphere in which the children grew to love goodness for goodness sake and to choose to do what is right because it was right. When it was discovered that a theft had occurred in the school, Mr. Bhaer spoke very soberly to the boys,

“I am not going to try to frighten, bribe, or surprise the truth out of you, for every one of you have got a conscience, and know what it is for. Now is the time to undo the wrong done to Tommy, and set yourselves right before us all. I can forgive the yielding to sudden temptation much easier than I can deceit. Don’t add a lie to the theft, but confess frankly, and we will all try to help you make us forget and forgive.”

And when a young newly arrived boy was frightened of being teased by the other boys because he hadn’t learned as much as they,

Thinking that a lesson in learning to help one another was better than arithmetic just then, Mr. Bhaer told them about Nat, making such an interesting and touching little story out of it that the good-hearted lads all promised to lend him a hand, and felt quite honored to be called upon to impart their stores of wisdom to the chap who fiddled so capitally. This appeal established the right feeling among them, and Nat had few hindrances to struggle against, for everyone was glad to give him a “boost” up the ladder of learning.

In addition to developing intellectual and personal virtue, Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz sought to prepare them for the world that they would soon enter. Their times of climbing trees and fishing in the lake taught them independence while learning to till the ground to reap a harvest and earn money for it, taught them to work hard. And when they didn’t work as they ought, they were allowed to suffer the consequences of idleness.

Jo herself reflects,

“I only want to give these children a home in which they can be taught a few simple things which will help to make life less hard to them when they go out to fight their battles in the world. Honesty, courage, industry, faith in God, their fellow-creatures, and themselves: that is all I try for.”

I leave the last words of this post to dearest Jo and with the encouragement that if you and your children have not read this book, put it on your read-aloud list. You will be glad you did.

As the year draws to a close and the taming of many a wild boy can clearly be seen, Laurie asks Jo,

“What magic did you use, Jo?”

And she simply replies,

“I only loved them, and let them see it.”

*To get the audiobook for $0.99, select “Add Audible book to your purchase for just $0.99” beneath the “Buy now with 1-click” button before purchasing.

When the Hard Times Come

It’s been a while since I have written here. A number of months ago, something occurred that made me begin to question my parenting ability. It has taken a little while (and encouragement from friends) to find my writing feet again. I admit, I was also embarrassed by the whole thing. But the Lord, in His grace, used this time to show me that I had been placing my confidence in my own parenting abilities instead of in God.

He showed me that for all my intentionality and perceived thoughtfulness in homeschooling and parenting, I was not in control. He was. Through this circumstance, He showed me that all my wisdom and ideas, all my principles and actions, cannot serve all the needs of my children. These children are not my own. Yes, they have been given into my care by God, but He is still Lord over their lives. There are situations in this life that are out of my hands and the only hope I have is to turn to God, repent of my pride, pray for His will to be done, and trust Him that He is working all things for our good—even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t turn out the way I think it should. Even, and especially when, I think I deserve everything in my life to go smoothly and without trouble. The reality is that if I place my confidence in my own ability, my confidence is misplaced. He is my only hope. He is the Creator of all things and He is the one who is Lord, not me. It is only in Christ that I can have any wisdom as a mother.

God also taught me through this time how necessary the body of Christ is and how beautiful fellowship and unity with sisters in Christ is. It was a sister in the Lord who I called (after my husband) when I felt my world crashing down upon me. She encouraged me. She supported me. She prayed for me and helped me when I needed it. It was a sister in Christ who gave me a sympathetic ear and felt the heart of this broken mama, who sent me a note of encouragement to let me know I was in her thoughts. She prayed for me and sympathized with my hurt. It was a sister in Christ who listened to my story but didn’t allow me to wallow in self-pity. Instead, she turned my eyes to Christ by telling me, “But God is still on the throne. He is sovereign. He is King and reigning on His throne, even in this circumstance.” I needed to hear these words at that time more than she will ever know.

I needed the body of Christ, my sisters, and they were there. They lifted my eyes to my sovereign Lord, from whom all my help ultimately comes.

I have learned, and continue to learn, that God is faithful—even in the hard times. He never leaves us and never forsakes us. And He’ll never leave nor forsake you. To God be the glory forever, Amen.

Graduation and Godliness: Cindy’s Homeschool

Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, & My Journey Toward Sanctification

This Christmas I was given the book Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, & My Journey Toward Sanctification by Cindy Rollins. Cindy is a mom of nine with over thirty years of homeschooling experience. For over ten years, she blogged her way through her efforts to homeschool under the principles of Charlotte Mason and classical education. Today, she is an occasional contributor at circeinstitute.org and is the co-host of The Mason Jar podcast on the CiRCE Institute Podcast Network.

I have been listening to her podcast for some time and having heard great things about this book I opened it with much anticipation. By the second page, the tears were welling up. She knew me and knew what this anxious mama needed to hear. I knew I had to share some of her wisdom with you.

“Perhaps the greater portion of you are in the middle years. You are just starting to panic a little bit. You are beginning to realize that tea parties don’t cure sin. You want some assurance that all will be well when you are starting to fear it might not be. Something may go wrong. You might miss stamping out a fire or two. I think this book will be a comfort to you. You are not alone. We who have gone before are still here. We will look you in the eye and say, ‘Motherhood hurts like hell’ but the old dragon skin does peel away. God is real. He is there. He doesn’t just love your children; he loves you. I have been young, and now I am old, and I have not seen the righteous forsaken.”

Throughout this book, Cindy gives insight into her 30-year homeschooling journey. She shares stories of her family, her successes and difficulties in homeschooling, and the trials and the triumphs of motherhood, all the while weaving through it drops of wisdom, drawing us to look to our Father in heaven.

“Motherhood is a place of dreamy hopes and crushed fantasies and the hard, hard work of sinners in relationship with one another day by day.”

“He is trustworthy and I can give my precious family to him.”

She shares how she used the practice of Morning Time, reading together Scripture, books, poetry, Shakespeare, and singing hymns to ground her family in the past as culture shifted around them.

“It is a habit that ties the past with the future – a liturgy of love. Morning Time is a way to collect grains of sand. It should not be a way to complicate life but rather simplify it.”

Because,

“For me the years did roll by, and they are rolling by for you, too. You are never going to have a lot of time, but you do have a little time here and a little time there, and those little times all add up to a life.”

She tells us how important our roles as mothers are.

“Motherhood is a high calling. Civilization depends upon motherhood. I do not believe you should lose yourself so thoroughly in your motherhood that that is all you are. That is not healthy for you or your family. But I do think women need to know that motherhood is a high-value commodity in the market of civilization.
Mama, you are the first pillar of education. You are a vital part of the infrastructure of culture, family, and even the body of Christ.
This is not about having the perfect family or the perfect school. Your success or failure doesn’t rest on your perfection, just your faithfulness.”

Yet she reminds us that ultimately, our children are God’s work. Not ours. He is in control.

“How could I go on creating beautiful pottery pieces if they weren’t going to turn out as I intended or hoped? … I had an epiphany. I was not the potter. A potter was shaping my children, but it was not me. I had forgotten what Charlotte Mason wrote: “Children are born persons.” Until that moment, I had not heard her with my heart nor truly understood with my mind. My son was not my product. He was the work of a great artist: the Creator of all.”

And she describes how God uses motherhood for our sanctification.

“Part of the sanctification of motherhood is learning to trust God with our children. One day we will come to the end of what we can do for our children. In those early days our children cannot live without us, but slowly they grow up and move away. This is almost always heart-wrenching, but the process also gives us a chance to lean on our Heavenly Father and to trust Him more. God has entrusted us with a great treasure. It is our life lesson to hand it back. To let it go. Our children must not become ‘Our Precious.’ In the end, we are merely mothers. Mothers who are also children of our Father. Let us run into His arms with great joy, knowing that when we see Him face to face we will not be standing alone.”

There was so much more to share but there isn’t space here. If you are a mom, especially a homeschooling mom, you just need to read this book. You will be glad you did. It is available to purchase here from The CiRCE Institute.

Other posts in this series

Graduation and Godliness: Sheryl’s Homeschool
Graduation and Godliness: Peggy’s Homeschool

Graduation and Godliness: Peggy’s Homeschool

I am very excited to share with you the second installment of my Graduation and Godliness series. I have been blessed to interview godly women who have homeschooled for a long time and have graduated some of their children. You can find Part 1 here. These women have many years of experience in the trenches and I am so thankful for their willingness to share what they’ve learned with us. Today we are blessed to hear from my friend, Peggy. I was so encouraged by Peggy’s wise words. I know you will be too.

Meet my friend, Peggy Hobden and her family

Hi! My name is Peggy Hobden and I feel very blessed to be asked to write on your blog, Tania. I have been married to Randy for 28 years. The Lord has blessed us with seven children and we’ve always homeschooled. Our children and their ages are Tim (26), Melissa (23), Stephanie (19), Heather (17), Chris (15), Kimmy (almost 13), and Grace (8). We have graduated the oldest three. Tim graduated with a Business-Finance Degree from UCF (mostly scholarship), Melissa is attending Valencia and getting a Business-Culinary Degree, Stephanie just graduated from Seminole State with her AA Degree and is continuing her education at Rollins College to pursue her Teaching Music Degree (mostly scholarship). Heather will most likely graduate next year and she is very creative and artsy. She wants to open her own Etsy store. Chris has an engineer brain like Dad. Kimmy and Grace are very creative. God made each one of our seven so different and we’re very thankful for each one of them and their unique ways. 😍

Why did you decide to homeschool?

We first saw Randy’s older sister homeschooling her four kids and at first we thought she was crazy. 😀 A couple of years later the Lord laid it upon our hearts to desire to homeschool our children – His way. We have tried different methods and curriculum over the years. Looking back when I had many young children, we had many unplanned days – lots of park days, field trips, reading aloud and hands on learning. Exhausting but fun, I miss those days…. We incorporated some of Charlotte Masons’ methods – narration, copy work, nature study and lots of outdoor play. Then as some of my kids got older we did co-ops and sometimes had great classic books discussions with others.

What was most rewarding about homeschooling?

The most rewarding part of homeschooling is getting to be with my wonderful kids every day. Sure most days are tough and exhausting but so worth it!! I’m grateful to be able to teach my children from The Word of God every day. I get to see my children building good relationships with one another. If they were at school every day this wouldn’t happen. It’s neat to see them go to one another – whether it’s a math problem, writing problem, or just to share life together. I love seeing godly fruit in their lives and their servant hearts. We love taking field trips together, even if it’s a last minute trip to the beach. 😀

Any regrets?

I think all Mom’s have some regret. I wish we had hid more of God’s Word in our hearts as a family. We also don’t want to compare ourselves with others. Of course I’m guilty of that too. Mom’s focus on godly character. Read lots of good books aloud that demonstrate God’s ways. I wish I had read aloud even more. Take the time to really listen to your precious children. I wish I hadn’t been so busy….. Cleaning, wasting time on the wrong things. Mom’s make wise choices for your days – seek God’s face and His plans for your family. Lots of prayer time – hide in the bathroom to pray.😀 For the days are short. Too short! You will blink and your beautiful children will be all grown up!! 😰

Any advice?

Mom’s make your days more fun; relax about school – plan more field trips, family vacations, date nights with your hubby, (even a meal at home on the porch-just the two of you), sing hymns together and make many great memories. Love on your children, hug them often – even when they think they’re too big 😀. Really enjoy them at every stage, study God’s Word together, read aloud often and have fun enjoying life together. Focus on our Lord Jesus Christ and serving together as a family. Focus on things that matter for eternity!!

 

Graduation and Godliness: Sheryl’s Homeschool
Graduation and Godliness: Peggy’s Homeschool ← You Are Here

Mommy Meltdowns and Moving Moments

2015, in many ways, was a challenging year for me. I really hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to have a toddler underfoot while trying to educate my three spirited young girls and maintain a peaceful, orderly, and clean home. Amidst the chaos, I lost focus. I became weighted down by duties, responsibilities, and self-imposed expectations. Life became a battle to keep my head above water and just survive. My well laid plans for my restful Charlotte Mason homeschool became a bunch of checklists that I was failing to check off each day/week.

This feeling of drowning under diapers and duty had a snowball effect on how I treated my children. They became the object of too many mommy meltdowns. I yelled far too often at work not completed in my scheduled time or when asked to read another story while trying to cook dinner (or any other time that I was busy…which was almost always), not to mention the incessant sibling squabbles. I became increasingly grumpy the more overwhelmed I felt, and I began to view the children as an annoyance, getting in the way of what I needed to get done. I had lost sight of the fact that my calling was to raise and educate them. My children should have been my focus, not my checklist.

I knew that these meltdowns were sinful. I knew that I was completely over-reacting to the circumstance. But I just couldn’t seem to pull myself out of it. The more I melted down, the more guilty I felt, the more I thought myself the worst mother in the world, the more I melted down. You get the picture.

After one such afternoon as a grumpy mommy, E-Age-7 came to me while I was preparing dinner and asked if I would let her watch TV. We are strict on screen time for our kids and this was a request outside of approved viewing time. I looked at her with exasperation, replying with a resounding “NO!” and reminding her abruptly that she knew it wasn’t TV day. She accepted my answer without fuss and continued to loiter around the kitchen (much to my annoyance) as I continued to prepare dinner. A few moments later she began again.

“Thank you, Mum.”

“What for?” I replied. “I said no about the TV.”

She shrugged her shoulders as she answered. “I know. I meant thank you for everything that you do for us.”

She then promptly ran off to play with her sisters.

I was stunned. I was immediately ashamed of myself and at the same time filled with an overwhelming love for my children. My child had just showed me the grace that I had failed to show them. They had showed me the grace that I had been praying for. They didn’t view me as the worst mother in the world. They didn’t hang on to every meltdown as if that was the one that was going to destroy their lives. They loved me unconditionally. They forgave me.

That was the moment that changed me. God used my sweet child to answer my prayer. He used her to remind me who I am and what I’m here for. He used her to remind me who they are. My children are persons in their own right. They are made in God’s image, individuals made with their own distinct personalities. They were not an item on my To Do List. They were living, breathing human beings who were to be loved, cherished, nurtured, and enjoyed.

It was at this same moment that I was reminded of what I had been studying in God’s Word.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live though him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)

More than providing a good education, more than keeping a clean home, more than keeping checklists, I am to love my children because God first loved me and sent His son to die for me.

Happy New Year!

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