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Tag: 20 Principles (page 1 of 2)

The Discipline of Habit – Part 2

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A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 5b & 7 – Part 2

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.

You do not have to search far on the internet or in bookstores to find helpful advice in ways to develop habits. In fact, I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear as a very practical and research-based method of developing habits. In my last post, I discussed Mason’s “why” and “what” of habit training. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do before you read on. Today I am discussing “how.” Since this is part of my study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles, I am choosing to limit this discussion to what stood out to me from what she said. It is by no means comprehensive but a very good starting place for a mother to think about how to train her children in the habits discussed in my previous post.

Begin with the person

Habit training begins with Mason’s first principle, “Children are born persons.” They have desires and affections, conscience and a sense of duty, just as we do. They have both physical and intellectual characteristics and skills that are inherited or learned through family culture. They are particular ages with strengths and weaknesses. We take who they are as a person into account first. Then…

Teach them to do what is right

“…[it is] as much the parent’s duty to educate his child into moral strength and purpose and intellectual activity as it is to feed him and clothe him; and that in spite of his nature, if it must be so.” Vol 1, p103

Considering a child’s age, abilities, and dispositions, children are often not capable or naturally inclined to compel themselves at first to do and think the right thing. They need us to show them the way first, require them to do what is right, and lead them toward right thinking and doing for themselves as they grow in maturity.

“He depends upon his parents; it rests with them to initiate the thoughts he shall think, the desires he shall cherish, the feelings he shall allow. Only to initiate; no more is permitted to them; but from this initiation will result the habits of thought and feeling which govern the man––his character, that is to say.”

As mothers, there are many ways that we already naturally do this. We see the sins, flaws, and vices of our children and we take pains to correct and educate them in right behavior to replace the wrong. For example, it is often automatic for a mother to tell a child, “say please” before giving them something that they have asked for, and “say thank you” when they have received it. Then, when they have learned the required responses (habits of manners), we no longer prompt them with “say please.” Instead, we ask, “what do you say?” requiring them to think and remember for themselves what the required way of asking for something is. Once we have proceeded with this for a short while, we then do not need to prompt with words at all. We simply withhold that which the child has asked for until they have remembered to ask with the required “please” and responded equally to the receiving of the thing with the required “thank you.” This is very natural for a mother to do. The training of manners becomes a habit and part of the atmosphere of the home.

Reduce the strain of decision

“The effort of decision, we have seen, is the greatest effort of life; not the doing of the thing, but the making up of one’s mind as to which thing to do first.”p119

When we show the children that we expect a certain behavior every time, we take the decision making out of the equation. For example, if we want them to develop a habit of making their bed in the morning, we must take the decision away from the children whether or not they will choose to make their bed in the morning. There is no choice. They must. It is required. That is it. No more discussion. I find checklists especially invaluable for this kind of training in habits of cleanliness, neatness, and order around the home. This dovetails nicely with James Clear’s third principle of behavior change: Make it easy. “You just need to get your reps in.” (Atomic Habits, p143) By removing the effort of decision and requiring a certain behavior everyday, you are helping the children practice a behavior which becomes an automatic habit.

“Here, no doubt, come in the functions of parents and teachers; they should be able to make the child do that which he lacks the power to compel himself to. But it were poor training that should keep the child dependent upon personal influence. It is the business of education to find some way of supplementing that weakness of will which is the bane of most of us as well as of the children.” Vol 1, p99-100

Expect them to do it for themselves

Mason touches on this idea over and over and over again. We train our children with the expectation that they can and should do it for themselves. This is true in math as much as it is true in learning to make themselves a nutritious lunch. Our family motto has become “never do for a child what they can do for themselves.” If Mason herself didn’t say it, the idea is firmly rooted in this principle of training children to do the work of learning for themselves.

Once a habit is established, don’t allow it to slide.

The critical moment is after a habit is established -— you might be tempted to let him off “this once. He is tired.” But this undoes everything. It teaches them to think that it’s not important.

I had a friend tell me a few weeks ago that her daughter’s track coach cautioned the team not to ease up on running over the summer break. They were to keep it up because the coach was aware of research that showed that when a physical habit, such as running, is relaxed to the point where they miss more than a week, their physical ability reverts back further than where they were when they first started. This is especially true for girls and running. To allow the relaxing of a habit will undo all the hard work of establishing the habit in the first place and may set you back even further.

It is important to remember that it doesn’t take the same amount of work to maintain a habit once established as it does to form it in the first place. It requires diligence to stay on top of it but nowhere near the same effort to maintain it. Think about your habit of brushing your teeth. When you were a 3-year-old learning to brush your teeth every day, it required all your will power plus the insistence of Mom, to brush your teeth well every day. But now that you are an adult and this habit is firmly entrenched, you no longer exert any of the energy you first did. It is now so automatic you barely think about it at all. This is true for our children as well.

Here are the steps again.

General steps to form a habit

1. Teach it.
2. Look with expectancy that they can do it. Say little and allow the child to do their own work of thinking through the steps.
3. After 2-3 weeks the habit should be formed.
4. Do not allow dawdling to come back in at this point. New brain pathways have been forged and to go back on them at this point would undo the habit forming.

When is a habit successful?

“The education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions––a running fire of Do and Don’t; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way, and grow to fruitful purpose.” Vol 1, p134

We train them in habits first by instructing them in the way of the habit, then let them think of it and do it for themselves. Once they know how, they need to think through the steps themselves and then do them. Resist the urge to prod them for each step. Otherwise, you are training them to rely on your memory, rather than their own. If they really can’t remember then, of course, help them. But always toward the purpose of having them learn and do it for themselves.

Developing specific habits pertaining to their education

Habit of thinking

  • Give them the right sort of lessons — Give them books!

“We need not labour to get children to learn their lessons; that, if we would believe it, is a matter which nature takes care of. Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight.” Vol 6, p99

James Clear says that the second law of behavior change is “make it attractive.” Mason is essentially saying the same thing. Make the lessons delightful. Mason believed that rich meaty ideas through well-written living books of a narrative nature are the feast that is naturally engaging and delightful to the minds of children. Ideas are stimulating food for the mind and will grow their thinking muscle.

  • Sow the idea lightly and casually — Give them books!

“It is possible to sow a great idea lightly and casually and perhaps this sort of sowing should be rare and casual because if a child detect a definite purpose in his mentor he is apt to stiffen himself against it.”p102

Mason says the best way is to give the children great books with heroes of good character from which to train habits of right thinking that, over time, give rise in the children’s minds to gain the same opinion.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about identity as the deepest aspect of behavior change. How you identify yourself, what you believe about yourself, has a deep impact on what you do. It is the difference between thinking, “I try to run” compared with, “I am a runner.” The person who identifies as being a runner will be more motivated to run every day than someone who just tries to run. How we identify ourselves matters. As we give living books to our children that contain ideas of honor, nobleness, compassion, faithfulness, etc. the hope is that our children will take these ideas as their own—that these ideas will become part of their identity. In other words, that virtuous ideas become part of their habit of thinking which, Lord willing, will result in good doing.

When E-age-10 (at the time) and I read about the life of Teddy Roosevelt, we were astounded at the boundless energy, the zest for life, and the sheer amount of activity he fit into any given day. Whatever you think about his politics, the ideas of working hard and using your time wisely that came out through this book have not been lost on my daughter. They continue to work, albeit under the surface, to form her habits of thinking virtuously which, Lord willing, will produce good doing.

“We have seen the value of habit in mind and morals, religion and physical development. It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions. If we fail in this duty, so soon as the young people get their ‘liberty’ they will run after the first fad that presents itself; try it for a while and then take up another to be discarded in its turn, and remain uncertain and ill-guided for the rest of their days.”p104

Habit of attention

The habit of attention is giving complete attention of our minds to what it should be on at a given time so that we can know it and recollect it later. If you have ever experienced your mind wondering off when it should be listening to a sermon (or to your husband!), or giving it’s full attention to the book that you are reading, or writing a paper, you know that it requires rigorous effort of will to stay focused and give full attention to what it is you are doing. To train the habit of attention in our children now will be of great value to them, not just during their education, but in all of life.

“‘habit is ten natures,’ and we can all imagine how our work would be eased if our subordinates listened to instructions with the full attention which implies recollection” Vol 6, p 100

Steps to training habit of attention (from Vol 1, p137-148)

  •  Definite work in a definite time. – (Mason says 20 minutes for a child under 8) One time is not ‘as good as another.’ When it is time for math, that is what must be given complete attention for the full amount of time. Do not allow daydreaming or a wondering mind. This works in combination with…
  • Short lessons – Don’t let the time for the lesson go longer than a child can keep their full attention. Mason says 20 minutes for a child under 8. Sometimes, when my children first began formal lessons, or when a new concept is particularly hard, they have needed a shorter lesson time than even this. I gradually built up the time over a few weeks as they were able to give full attention for longer. “When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away” vol 1, p141. This helps to strengthen the habit of attention rather than give them the opportunity to develop the habit of inattention by daydreaming. (Full disclosure – I have one child that is a daydreamer by nature. This is an area we are STILL working on. Studying this principle has shown me that I need to be extra diligent in addressing the habit of attention for this child. Educating is for the long haul, mamas. Don’t grow weary of doing good.)
  • Alternating lessons. sums first, say, while the brain is quite fresh; then writing, or reading––some more or less mechanical exercise, by way of a rest; and so on, the program varying a little from day to day, but the same principle throughout––a ‘thinking’ lesson first, and a ‘painstaking’ lesson to follow,––the child gets through his morning lessons without any sign of weariness.”(Vol 1, p142)
    This is also the antidote to weariness in a lesson. If your child grows “stupid” over a lesson before you have finished the allotted time, put it away and do something completely different. Then go back to it when “wits are refreshened.”
  • Use Natural Rewards.––”What is the natural consequence of work well and quickly done? Is it not the enjoyment of ampler leisure?”p143 Assign an amount of work in a given time. If they get it done early, the rest of the lesson time is theirs. My children usually choose to go onto the next lesson and accumulate their free time for the end of the school day, while others will choose to use the spare minutes straight away to do something they enjoy at the time.
  • Natural Reward for the older child. — When an older child is taught to bring “ his own will to bear; to make himself attend in spite of the most inviting suggestions from without,” he should be taught to feel satisfaction and triumph in fixing his thoughts on what he ought.
  • Use Natural Consequences — If a child does not give full attention to his work and does not complete definite work in a reasonably given amount of time, a natural consequence could be that he loses his free time at the end of the school day to complete the work he should have already completed due to lack of attention. This may mean that the extracurricular activity scheduled for the end of the day will have to be missed because the child did not give the attention he ought to have during class time. It would not take very long for a child to see the wisdom of definite work in a definite time :).

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 20 Principles Directory

The Discipline of Habit – Part 1

Habits photo

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 5b & 7 – Part 1

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.

There is so much to be said in the area of habits. In fact, Charlotte Mason herself said a lot. There was a LOT of reading for this principle, y’all! In order to unpack it in a way that was helpful to me, I organized the ideas into three different questions. Why is the idea of the discipline of habit important in education? What did Mason consider were the habits of the mind and the body? How do we initiate the formation of these habits in our homes? For the sake of length, this post will be concerned with the first two questions. The ‘how’ will be addressed in a separate post.

Why is the idea of the discipline of habit important in education?

1. It makes life easier

“But the most comfortable thing in this view of habit is, that it falls in with our natural love of an easy life. We are not unwilling to make efforts in the beginning with the assurance that by-and-by things will go smoothly; and this is just what habit is, in an extraordinary degree, pledged to effect.” Vol 1, p136

This is the most obvious and well-known reason for the establishment of habits. A plethora of self-help and productivity books have been written about habits with this purpose in mind. As Mason points out, our natural desire is to make life easier. Decision fatigue is a real thing which Mason discusses at length. She describes the strain that making a lot of decisions can have on a person. It is a burden which can easily become too much to bear. Imagine needing to make the decision every morning to get out of bed, to brush your teeth, to eat your meals, to brush your hair. For most of us, we don’t have to make the decision to do these things every day. We just do them out of habit. No mental energy has been expended to complete our morning routine and get ready for the day. We just do it. Habits take the decision out of what is to be done next. As Mystie Winkler often says, just do the right next thing.

Mason explains that we want the children to do the work of learning for themselves. Developing habits of mind and body is the best way to help them take ownership of their work, know the right next thing to do, and avoid the strain of making decisions about what the right thing to do is.

2. Habits are inevitable
Mason points out that our very natures prove that habits will form whether we purposely instill them or not. The question is, will they be good habits or bad? More often than not, left to ourselves, without any purposeful action toward establishing right habits, we will tend to establish unhelpful bad habits, naturally seeking the ease of life rather than the work of a good life. Therefore, establishing right habits is all the more important in the education of our children.

“We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the joltings and delays of life become insupportable. More, habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord.” Vol 6, P101

3. Brain science tells us that habits restructure the brain.
Mason was greatly impressed with new brain research showing that pathways in the brain are rewired through habitual activity. The latest habit book I have read, Atomic Habits, also refers to current studies on the power of habits to the brain.

“We all know something of the genesis of a habit, and most of us recognise its physical basis, i.e. that frequently-repeated thoughts or acts leave some sort of register in the brain tissue which tends to make the repetition of such thoughts, at first easy, and at last automatic.”vol 3, p105

4. Establishes tools for good living in adulthood.
“training in habit becomes a habit.” (Vol 1, p126)

By initiating habits in the home, you not only equip your children with good, intentional, and thorough habits for the time they live in your home, you also give them the tools to continue to develop their own good habits of mind and body into the rest of their lives.

“habit is like fire, a bad master but an indispensable servant;” Vol 6, p101

5. Reinforces the idea of authority.
This idea is developed by Mason in Volume 3, when she talks about the training of physical habits. She says that through physical training, the idea of “living under authority, training under authority, serving under authority” (Vol 3, p103) can be brought to bear. Through habit a person is taught to bring their body into subjection first to his parents, then to his own will, and always under the authority of God. (I discussed the idea of authority in this post and this post.)

6. Prepares for a life of service
The training in habits prepares the children to be fit for whatever plans God has for them. Mason explains that the Greeks disciplined their bodies so that they were prepared for any heroic feats that the ‘gods’ would ask of them. How much more should our children, who we raise to serve the living true God, develop habits of mind and body in order that they would be prepared to serve Him in whatever capacity He places them. It prepares them to love their neighbor.

“we are empirically certain that a chief function of education is the establishment of such ways of thinking in children as shall issue in good and useful living, clear thinking, aesthetic enjoyment, and, above all, in the religious life.” – Vol 6, p100

What are the Habits of the Mind?

1. Habit of Attention
“You want them to remember? Then secure his whole attention.” (Vol 1, p157)

The development of the habit of attention is a significant aspect of Mason’s philosophy of education. She believed it was so important to develop the habit of fixing a child’s thoughts completely on what it should be on at that moment.

“no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hall-mark of an educated person.” Vol 6, p99

“A vigorous effort of will should enable us at any time to fix our thoughts.” (Vol 1, p137) A person’s capacity for mental effort is reduced when allowed to wonder off or day dream. Mason believed that overpressure or burn out was a result of a failure of the habit of attention. The children are so overly distracted that the lesson becomes overburdensome for lack of attention. She had much to say about how this habit should be developed which I hope to discuss in the next post.

2. Religious Life
Mason discusses the benefit of requiring participation in liturgy and religious habits. It encourages the religious life to be “fixed and delightful and give us due support in the effort to live a godly, righteous and sober life.” (Vol 6, p103) I do not remember reading Mason outlining religious habits specifically in the readings for this principle, but we can assume she means prayer, Scripture reading, and worship.

3. Thinking
This is the development of right thinking that results in right living. It can be seen as synonymous with ‘wisdom and knowledge’ so often referred to in the Bible. It is clear thinking that asks and attempts to answer their own questions. “Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out.” (Vol 1, p194) It is the development of tracing effect from cause, or cause from effect, comparing alike and different, and drawing conclusions as to causes or consequences from certain premises.

4. Morals
Although this is not a comprehensive list, Mason draws specific attention to obedience, “obedience the whole duty of a child” (Vol 1, p161) as well as sense of honor, gentleness, kindness, candor, respect, truthfulness, temper (keeping his temper).

Other habits of the mind briefly mentioned to work on in the education of children were concentration, thoroughness, intellectual volition, accuracy, reflection, remembering, and meditation.

As we consider these habits of the mind, Mason warns parents to be careful to not look to:

“‘What will people say? what will people think? how will it look?’ [so that] the children grow up with habits of seeming, and not of being; they are content to appear well-dressed, well-mannered, and well-intentioned to outsiders, with very little effort after beauty, order, and goodness at home, and in each other’s eyes.” Vol 1, p106

What are the habits of the body?

1. Cleanliness, Neatness, and Order
After the children have been allowed to enjoy all the messy play that is foundational to childhood, Mason impresses the importance of training them to be anxious to clean themselves of any dirt from play, bathe themselves daily, and tidy and restore order to any messes they have made. All things to be put away in their place. She stresses the importance of having the children clean up for themselves. “The pleasure grown-up people take in waiting on children is really a fruitful source of mischief.” (Vol 1, p127)

2. Manners, elocution, music, singing, health, and physical fitness
These physical skills that Mason also identified should not require much explanation. These skills are improved and made easier through repetition. That is, through habit. The benefits of developing habits in these areas for the individual are discussed in books and blog posts all over the internet. But the highest benefit, as has already been discussed earlier in this post, is to glorify God and to love and serve others with our bodies.

Mason also identifies that physical activity such as playing on the field also helps to develop habits that she calls half physical and half moral. That is, habits of good character that develop through both habits of mind and body. These are:

1. Self-restraint – no overindulgence of food or activities. Also, the habit of restraining discontentedness as well as idleness.
2. Self-control – being “impervious to small annoyances.” That is, practicing the habit of self-control of emotional outbursts, “cheerful under small inconveniences” and ready for action with “presence of mind.” Self-control results in having mind and emotions in submission to your will so that you can act and respond reasonably in a given situation.
3. Self-discipline – In behavior, address, courtesy, deportment (conduct), tones of voice, tidying own messes.
4. Alertness – that is, developing the habit of alertness to seize opportunities of getting knowledge.
5. Quick perception.
6. Fortitude – to bear pain and inconvenience without making a sign.
7. Others – stimulating ideas, service, prudence, courage, and chastity.

This is a formidable list of habits that may seem overwhelming. You might, as I do, see a vast array of habits that you, yourself, need to work on, let alone train your children in. Mason herself acknowledges that forming habits requires certain “strenuousness.” As a mom of four, if I were to try to work on all of these at one time, this list would be unattainable. There are practical things we can do to help develop these habits for ourselves as well as our children which I will discuss in the next post, but as Cindy Rollins often says, we are in this for the “long haul.” We need to keep in mind that we will not always see results in the immediate future. These habits develop little by little over the many years that the children are with us, as part of the atmosphere of our homes. We need to allow ourselves grace to work on what is possible with much prayer and supplication, and leave the rest. We need to remember to lean not on our own strength but on the Lord’s. We can rest in the knowledge that God is faithful. He never slumbers nor sleeps and is working in us and in our children even when we are exhausted and do no more. We can trust in the knowledge that “we do not labor in the dark.” (Vol 3, p99) We do not labor in vain.

My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
* Psalm 121:2-4

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 20 Principles Directory

Atmosphere: An Instrument of Education

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 5a & 6

Last time, I discussed Charlotte Mason’s 4th principle concerning the tools a teacher ought not to use in educating her student. The following four principles, Principles 5-8, discuss the three educational instruments that Mason identifies should be used by a teacher: “atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.” Today, I am discussing the first of these.

(principle 5a&6) “Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments–the atmosphere of environment…
When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s level.”

As I progress through my study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principle’s of education, it becomes more apparent to me how interconnected these principles are. Brandy, in her study guide “Start Here,” has helpfully paired the principles to discuss only one at a time, but it must be remembered that they are interconnected, and one does not work in isolation of the others.

Atmosphere of Environment, not Asthetic

To the moms who feel like they do not have it all together in their homes, whose decor hasn’t been updated since they got married because they have been knee-deep in diapers and dinner while teaching a tribe of kids, whose goal has been to just keep everyone alive and fed and happy and educated—be encouraged! When Mason talks about “atmosphere of environment,’ she is not talking about having the Pinterest perfect, spa-like, minimalist oasis that we idolize nowadays on TV and in magazines. In fact, she criticizes what she calls the “Cult of aestheticism” that she saw in her own day. It seems that the idea was that the right color schemes, with the right pictures on the wall, and the right sounds and right “gracious persons” would, by osmosis, furnace in a child a “high soul.” This kind of thinking can deceive us even today. But aesthetics do not a virtuous man make. Let me insert a caveat right here. Having a well organized and aesthetically calm and pleasing physical environment can be helpful in the preparation for learning. If you like a minimalist aesthetic with neutral colored walls and furniture made of natural materials with beautiful artwork on your walls (like I do), go for it. But the carefully constructed physical environment itself does not produce an educated virtuous person and is not required for education to take place.

When Mason talks of the atmosphere of environment she is also not talking about the modern day classroom aesthetic, “especially adapted and prepared,” with the ‘educational’ posters on the wall and primary colored decorations of fake paper trees or birds or fish etc. Mason criticizes the dumbing down of a child’s environment to something artificial then calling it “education.” She saw this as a betrayal of the personhood of the child.

“It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us.” – Vol 6, p96

So what is Mason talking about? The atmosphere of the home is not primarily concerned with what it looks like. It goes beyond the physical space. It is about relationship.

Atmosphere as Relationship

Mason paints a beautiful picture of Atmosphere, “the natural conditions under which a child should live,” as relationships that a child develops with the people and things around him. It is a lengthy quote but well worth reading in its entirety.

“We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby’s needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges. And, what tempered ‘fusion of classes’ is so effective as a child’s intimacy with his betters, and also with cook and housemaid, blacksmith and joiner, with everybody who comes in his way? Children have a genius for this sort of general intimacy, a valuable part of their education; care and guidance are needed, of course, lest admiring friends should make fools of them, but no compounded ‘environment’ could make up for this fresh air, this wholesome wind blowing now from one point, now from another.” – Vol 6,p96-97

So, when your house is a mess and your children have all but neglected their math for a week because they have been caring for a sick baby goat who can’t nurse from his mama, you are utilizing the exact tool that Mason says is education. It is not sheltering them from the hard knocks by creating an artificial “child environment,” but cultivating relationships with people and the world so that they grow in virtue through the hard knocks.

It is when you tell your child that they can’t do that activity today because dear Mrs. Smith is not well and you need to bring her a meal and make sure she is ok. Or, when they spend the whole morning in the garage with Grandpa as he shows them his tools, tells them his stories, and has them help him build his latest project. Or when you pray as a family for a church member who has a great need. It is the atmosphere of relationship with the real world that is “fresh air, this wholesome wind blowing now from one point, now from another..”

My son has a play kitchen that he enjoys playing with which satisfies his imagination for a short time. But it by no means fools him to thinking that it is anything like the real thing. He gains much more satisfaction in being in the real kitchen with real running water and a real oven and stove where he can help stir the evening’s meal. He is most satisfied when he knows that he has contributed to the house by helping cook our meal. It is this atmosphere of serving, contributing, and experiencing real life that is most formative. Because they know the difference.

“…no artificial element be introduced, no sprinkling with rose-water, softening with cushions. Children must face life as it is.” Vol 6, p97

Atmosphere as Love and The Common Pursuit of Truth

I have discussed before Mason’s belief that the love of knowledge ought to be the primary motivation for learning. This idea permeates her writings.

“We foresee happy days for children when all teachers know that no other exciting motive whatever is necessary to produce good work in each individual of however big a class than that love of knowledge which is natural to every child” – Vol 6, p98

This atmosphere of the love of learning diverges greatly from our utilitarian culture. Passing a test is now substituted for actual education. But this is a poor facsimile and does not attain to the goal of growing in godliness and virtue. Knowledge itself is worth knowing. Pursuing knowledge for its own sake teaches us to love what is lovely. And ultimately, if we think rightly about the knowledge we are pursuing, it leads us to worship God. He is the Creator of all things. All knowledge comes from Him for His glory. And we, His creatures, should delight in His world and glorify Him because of it.

When books and read-alouds, beautiful music and art, nature walks and enjoying the outdoors are part of your everyday family life; when working hard, diligence, kindness, gentleness, love and thoughtfulness towards others are a common pursuit in the atmosphere of your home; when worship and delight of God are part of the everyday conversation and vocabulary of your home, you are utilizing this powerful instrument afforded to us by our loving Creator: Atmosphere.

“… and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents.” – Vol2, p37

Atmosphere is like the fresh air of life. It is not materials and a pretty classroom set up. It is developing relationships with real people in the real world. It is a home where parents have a love for knowledge and seek to grow in knowledge alongside their children.

“The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every School; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a Current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and “moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.” – Vol 6, p97

 

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 20 Principles Directory

Valderi, Valdera: Reflections on Ambleside Online Camp Meeting

I have just got back from spending a wonderful weekend at Ambleside Online’s 2019 Camp Meeting. On the plane ride home I endeavored to collect my thoughts and process all that I had learned from the conference. But as I attempted to reflect, the folksong, The Happy Wanderer, played over and over in my head. “Valderi, Valdera. Valderi, Valdera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…” Over and over and over. When Wendi Capehart taught us that song during the conference, she told us that we would be singing it whether we wanted to or not. She was right. At first, I found it irritating that this unwanted folksong persisted in pervading my thoughts. I wanted to be thinking of deep and meaningful things, not a frivolous folksong. But then I decided that instead of fighting with it, I would embrace it. I could not help but smile and even laugh as the song played round in my head.

You try singing, “…valdera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” without laughing.

Do you know what? Once I embraced it, it was exactly what I needed at that moment. I was smiling, singing a funny song, and enjoying the moment. It reminded me of something that Cindy Rollins said this weekend. Moms need to be joyful. We homeschool moms, who take educating our children very seriously, can easily forget to be joyful in our work. We worry about doing enough. We worry about doing it right. We agonize over all the ways we aren’t living up to “The Perfect.” This weekend Lynn Bruce exhorted us to put away comparing and seeking the perfect Charlotte Mason education. Because there is no perfect education. There is your family’s education. We have these beautiful persons, given to us for such a short while, full of energy and life and wonder, who we forget to smile at because we’re busy looking at what others are doing and thinking we’re not measuring up. We unwittingly push away those organic Valdera, ha, ha, ha,ha,ha moments and miss out on the very joy that is there for us if we allow ourselves to see it.

This work that we are doing is hard, especially when you’re “in the middle” as Sheila Atchley reminded us. But it is joyful work. It is good work. It is kingdom work. We are not raising or educating careers; we are discipling our children and educating their moral imagination. Wendi taught us that through living books our children learn to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. They learn to imagine what it is like to be in other cultures, other ways of life. Through living books, our children are developing empathy for the orphan, empathy for the downcast, empathy for the worker in a factory or a leader of a nation. Wendi explained that there was no need for the “goody goody” (as Charlotte Mason calls them) moralizing book that often hardens the hearts of our children instead of softening them. Because living books bring those character qualities worth emulating to the forefront in living, real characters and life situations. As Tim Laurio, from the progeny panel, told us: the characters become their friends who guide them through life. Their failings and successes and even their words of wisdom, set down in the pages of literature, serve as guideposts for life. This is why living books and narration are so integral to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.

Mason understood the universal law that “Children are born persons.” Karen Glass taught us that this principle as well as “education is the science of relations” were the pillars from which all Mason’s other principles hinge. As Karen went on to explain, these were principles that Mason observed as already existing. She just wrote them down. Anne White said it well when she stated, “Simple principles simply stated are often the best.” Anne showed us that these principles aren’t for the purpose of serving ourselves, they are for the stewardship and service of others. When we realize that Mason’s education philosophy was in order to develop a character that loves God and loves people, we can be joyful in our work. We can smile and be content and hopeful, as Cindy encouraged us to be, because our work is not for us. And it is not for college. It is for others. And most importantly, it is for God. As Cindy reminded us, we are educating our children for the worship of God.

Donna-Jean Breckenridge emphasized that it is not our job to save our children, but to lead them to one who can. Lead them to His Word — His truth. She explained that we do this by being in His Word and praying. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray because, as Donna-Jean said, “there is a King over ALL” and we can trust Him. He is faithful. And because He is faithful we can be joyful and sing with the Psalmist:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

It’s All About the Motivation

“You need to get this work done now! Don’t you know that your future is at stake? If you don’t work hard now, you won’t get a scholarship to the best college, then you won’t get the best job at the best place, and you won’t make lots of money. You don’t want to disappoint me, do you? So memorize these multiplication facts, now!” 

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 4

“These principles (ie., authority and docility) are limited by the respect due to the personality of children which may not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.”

Throughout Charlotte Mason’s volumes, Mason is highly concerned with the development of character.  From her observations of children, she saw the biggest problem was that they were “incapable of steady effort, because they had no strength of will, no power to make themselves do that which they knew they ought to do.”  As homeschoolers, I think we often see the same problem. The children don’t seem to want to motivate themselves. They don’t have the strength of will to do what they ought to do without reminders and prods and motivation from us. This can be true, not just for children, but for many adults as well. It is comforting to know that Mason saw the same problems and thought long and hard to find a way to help children overcome this fault.

She does this keeping in mind that children are whole people. They have personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and minds capable of great understanding. They are made in the image of God and are to be respected. The personhood of children is not to be undermined or undervalued or encroached upon. It may not be manipulated or coerced. The development of a child’s character as God’s image bearer was of paramount importance to Mason. Children must grow up moral with their affections rightly ordered, and any method employed in the educating of children must not hinder, crush, or maim their character.  It was not worldly success that she saw as the purpose of education, but virtue. This is a classical idea.* Plato said, “Education is teaching our children to desire the right things.” In The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education, Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark call it piety. Mason realized she was educating people. Not computers. Not factories. People.

Knowledge Is Delectable

Not only did Mason have a high view of children, she had a high view of knowledge. “Knowledge is delectable,” she tells us. Knowledge for its own sake should be the motivation. This is God’s world and we are His creatures — we should want to know. It reminds me of the shorter catechism question, ‘What is the chief end of man?”

The answer:

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

This means our purpose is to glorify and delight in God. We delight in Him by delighting in His Word. We also enjoy and glorify God by delighting in His Creation and His people—learning from those who have gone before, the good and the bad, so that our character may grow to be more Christlike so that we may glorify Him.

This, of course, does not come easily. But there is much that we as teachers and parents can do, and NOT do, to lead our children toward desiring knowledge for themselves. It is because of her view of children as persons and the high importance she places on the development of their character as well as their intellect, that Mason’s fourth principle of education places limits on the methods appropriate to educating children.

“we act our parts and play in an unlawful way upon motives.” – Vol 6, p81

How Not to Motivate

Mason warns that any means a teacher might employ to compel a child to do what is required of them that draws their affections and motivations away from knowledge itself, is to be avoided. To compel a child to work by fear (fear of you, punishment, or failure), love (so that they would do anything for you like a pathetic little puppydog), undue influence and suggestion (which I would call manipulation), is to compromise their character so that they become, as Mason says, “flaccid.” In other words, weak.

“Bob or mary is losing that growing time which should make a self-dependent, self-ordered person, and is day by day becoming a parasite who can go only as he is carried, the easy prey of fanatic or demagogue.” – Quoted from For The Children’s Sake, p67

You will get willing obedience by utilizing these means, but at the expense of developing a strong character who can think for themselves and will do what they ought because it is the right thing to do. 

Mason identifies four “natural desires” that are good in their place, being neither good nor bad, but when overemphasized or manipulated, also shift a child’s affection away from knowledge itself. These are:

  • Approbation (approval or praise),
  • Emulation (desire to excel),
  •  Avarice (extreme greed for wealth or material gain), and
  • Ambition.

Each is a good servant, but when one is favored at the expense of others, it is to the detriment of the development of the character of a child.

“We have considered the several desires whose function is to stimulate the mind and save us from that vis inertiae which is our besetting danger. Each such desire has its place but the results are disastrous if any one should dominate.” – Vol 6, p88

Approbation

Praising your child is natural for any parent. They do something well and we say, “great job!” There is no harm in this, as long as you do it “in such a way that no one set of motives be called unduly into play to the injury of the child’s character.” It’s about balance. It becomes a problem when children do the work SO that they get praise or approval. It becomes especially problematic when they desire it from the wrong people or for the wrong things. Praise for virtuous behavior such as hard work is more desirous than praise for achievements. One of my daughters qualified to take the DukeTIP this year (this means she placed in the 95th percentile or higher in last year’s standardized test and can take the college entrance SAT along with high schoolers). It is tempting to praise her for high academic abilities. But really, she was born with a keen mind, which she had absolutely no control over. Yes, a Charlotte Mason education of reading living books and narration went a long way to help her to place well, but it is her character qualities of diligence and hard work that are worthy to be praised, more than the achievement itself. I have other daughters who work just as hard and have received the same education, that will not, in all likelihood, qualify for DukeTIP. They were not created with the same academic abilities (more to the point, our current education system tests only a certain kind of ability, but I digress). But they are equally hardworking. When children begin to work for approval, instead of the knowledge itself, it is at the expense of character. Too much praise and of the wrong thing can cause a child to become conceited, which is a definite blight to a person’s character.

Emulation

When high test scores become the goal of education, the child no longer cares what it is he is learning. He crams for the exam to get the marks, only to promptly forget a short time after. Mason was highly critical of the trend she saw in schools of her day where the desire to excel was manipulated by the school system through prizes and rewards to get results.

“Emulation, the desire of excelling, works wonders in the hands of the schoolmaster; and, indeed, this natural desire is an amazing spur to effort, both intellectual and moral…
…In the intellectual field, however, there is danger; and nothing worse could have happened to our schools than the system of marks, prizes, place-taking, by which many of them are practically governed. A boy is so taken up with the desire to forge “ahead that there is no time to think of anything else. What he learns is not interesting to him; he works to get his remove.” – Vol 6. p85

What has a child gained by getting a good score if they don’t care about the knowledge that they scored high in?

Competitive Examinations aren’t helpful because the motivation isn’t knowledge. It is the “getting on”, achieving scholarships and the like. It doesn’t make them a better person.

Avarice

Closely connected with Emulation, is Avarice. When greed for wealth or material gain is played upon as a motivation for children to do their work, then we have a big problem. What happens to the child who works so that they can get good grades so they can get a scholarship, so they can go to the best college and get the best job so they can have lots of money and the best car and live on the best street… You get my point.  Having these things is not the problem. It is the unhealthy desire for them as the motivation for doing what ought to be done that is the problem. Where is the love of learning? Where is the love of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing?  Where is the human?

Ambition

Ambition hardly needs to be discussed. I think most of us know the difference between Ambition as a servant, that keeps us from stagnation, and Ambition as a master, which is an all-consuming tyrant.

Mason does not say that these “natural desires” are bad in and of themselves. They are good servants when in their place. It is when they are out of balance that it can be a detriment to character.

“… because the balance of character is destroyed by the constant stimulation of this one desire at the expense of the rest.” – Vol 2, p221

Mason’s goal is to see children self-dependent and self-ordered, who grow to love what is lovely and pursue what is good for themselves and for its own sake.

The coming principles will address what can be done toward that ideal, but for now, let me suggest that it is through gentle leading, not coercing, that we guide our children to delight in knowledge—because “knowledge is delectable.”

 

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 20 Principles Directory

*For more on Education as a virtue, I really like this post by Mystie Winkler.

When The Ideal Meets The Real

As I study principles of education, I am reminded that there is a gaping chasm between the ideal and the real. I study educational philosophy because it is my vocation. Educating my kids is what God has called me to do and I want to do it to the best of my ability for the glory of God. But I do not measure up to the ideal. Education in my home is not always joyful, happy, or peaceful. I do not always treat my children with care for their emotions and personalities. I am often times met with bad attitudes (including my own), children who do not want to read the books I have given them to read, and who resist any kind writing with every fiber of their being. But I must not grow weary in doing good. I will never attain the ideal in my home. But I continue to work diligently toward it, knowing that anything that is achieved is not my own achievement but is a result of God’s grace. Educating is humbling. It requires leaning on the Lord for His strength, His help, His comfort. I cannot live the ideal. But He did. And only by His grace can I go forward. He is trustworthy when I fail. He is true when I am false. He is good when I sin. He is beautiful when my best is filthy rags. He is strong when I am weak. He is faithful when I am not. So whether I measure up to the educational standard set by philosophical thinkers that have come before, I can rest in the knowledge that, “all I have needed thy hand hath provided, Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

To God be the Glory.

We Are Made To Know

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 3 – Part 2

Last week, I discussed Charlotte Mason’s principle of authority and obedience. I chose to focus on her exploration of parental authority. This week, I am continuing the discussion by considering the other side of authority: self authority.

Parents have authority in the home, but we need to recognize that our children have been given a certain degree of authority too. Their authority, like ours, has been given by God. Their authority is the responsibility they have for their own learning.

Education Is a Feast

Throughout her philosophy of education, Mason uses the analogy of a feast to describe what education ought to be. Imagine Christmas dinner. When you sit down to share this celebratory meal with your family, you do not expect to be served only one kind of food. If all you got served was meat that was two days old and had already been chewed up for you, you would feel pretty disappointed and would likely not want to eat at all. The expectation is that the Christmas dinner table will be full of all kinds of food—rich, delicious, nourishing food that will feed your body the nutrients that it needs while tasting amazing. There will be plenty and there will be variety. And being a special meal, it will be the best food that the cook is able to produce for such a special occasion. This is the analogy that Mason has in mind when she discusses education. The teacher/parent supplies a well-ordered, varied, and nourishing feast of living books filled with living ideas. Mason explains over and over that ideas are the food for the mind. And ideas themselves are found in living books. These living books should be of the best quality that will nourish the mind with ideas of history, science, geography, art, music, and all areas that touch humanity. Since children are born persons, made in the image of God, their mind has the same capabilities as yours to deal with these ideas for themselves.

Learning Is Their Responsibility

“All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught.” Vol. 6, pg. 74

Self-authority means that it is up to the children to “deal with these educational offerings in their own way and for themselves.” This is where Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education diverges greatly from the traditional school/teacher mindset of how to educate children. It is tempting to want to hand feed them to make sure they ‘know’ all the facts. To drill them to oblivion to make sure they ‘get’ it all. We, in a sense, want to chew up their food for them. But what does that say about how we view the child? Do we believe that they are capable of dealing with ideas for themselves, or is it necessary to chop it all up and pre-package it with nice little fill-in-the-blank worksheets and comprehension questions? When we chop it all up we have decided for them what their minds should take away from a lesson. Instead of predigesting knowledge for them, the role of the teacher is to provide the best and most nourishing “food” through living books and allow the children to digest the food (ideas) and take what nutrition their mind needs for themselves. Teachers are to give the children the best books and let them do the work of knowing.* This is how they learn to think. Children need to be allowed to develop their own relationships with history, science, geography, and especially God. Lets not deprive their minds of the food’s nourishing properties but instead allow their mind to do its own work.* It is their responsibility to know.

We Are Made To Know

“But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a king-all the more satisfying to children because they are so made that they revel in knowledge.” Vol 6. pg. 77

Remember when you went to the zoo and the children got excited seeing “Prickly Porky” the porcupine and proceeded to tell you all about their quills and their diet because you had read about them with delight in The Burgess Animal Book? Remember when you read Robinson Crusoe to your daughter and she earnestly interrupted you to tell you why Robinson shouldn’t have been complaining, but should have been grateful? Remember when you read that chapter in the history book about the steam engine being built, and she became excited as she remembered reading about the steam engine in her science book, making a beautiful connection between the invention and the time period for herself, while telling you all about it? We are made to know. We are made to revel in knowledge.

Mason’s lofty vision for education is “that children grow to revel in knowledge. That knowledge for its own sake is satisfying.” This might sound idealistic, but if we consider that children are creatures that bear the image of the Creator, isn’t it possible that these children, born with capable minds, are able to know and be satisfied in that knowledge?

It is true that children will not always want to know everything that is set before them. But why should that alter what is offered to them? They should want to know. The responsibility for knowing should be kept with them. Their minds have been created by God for the work of knowing. So as parents, we need to make it clear that this is what God requires of them. They will also learn the habit of wanting to know through a continual offering of the feast. We can hinder our children’s love for learning by repeating lessons instead of requiring them to pay attention the first time around. We can aid this growth by reducing the effort of their decisions through developing routines and habits as part of their school day.* This also removes the constant negotiating of the child to do what he wants to do rather than what ought to be done. This training in “mechanical obedience will set them in good stead for reasonable obedience later.”

Mason explains,

“The man who can make himself do what he will has the world before him, and it rests with parents to give their children this self-compelling power as a mere matter of habit.” Vol 3. pg. 20

Obedience

Parental authority (discussed in this post) and a child’s self-authority are the two conditions which Mason believed were necessary to secure the willing obedience of the children.

“Two conditions are necessary to secure all proper docility and obedience and, given these two, there is seldom a conflict of wills between teacher and pupils. The conditions are,—the teacher, or other head may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience… The other condition is that children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher.” Vol 6. pg.73-74

Children will not always obey all of the time. They are sinners just as we are. We live in a sinful world. Just as we sin and fall short of the glory of God, so too children sin and fall short of the glory of God. They will disobey. There will be times when discipline is required. But Mason believed that the establishment of this principle of authority will give surer footing for both teacher and taught. We will help our children toward obedience when they observe and are taught that parents are under the authority of God just as they are. They are to obey because parents are to obey. We will also help the children by showing them that the responsibility for learning is on them. They will come to understand that if they do not attend, if they do not give their full attention, if they do not make themselves know, they will not know. There is also joy in learning for the child who knows that they have freedom to deal with the educational offerings themselves. They more happily obey because of this freedom. These two principles will help to establish a right thinking of what the role of the parent and the student is and what God has created them for. We have been created to know. We have been created to know Him first, and then to know about what He has created. The responsibility for learning is on each individual for themselves. When this self authority is established, it is more joyfully attended to as we spread the educational feast fit for the minds of these persons.

*how to do this will be discussed in later principles.

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 20 Principles Directory

Don’t Abdicate Your Parental Authority

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 3 – Part 1

The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental…

The ideas of authority and obedience in Charlotte Mason’s 3rd Principle probably seem obvious to most parents. Of course parents are in authority over their children and children ought to obey their parents (although to look at today’s culture, perhaps that is not so obvious anymore). Mason speaks thoughtfully and at length about this principle. She discusses what authority is for both parent and child, what it looks like in homes and schoolrooms, and how to gain the obedience of the child. For the sake of length, I will restrict my discussion today to considering parental authority, and next week, Lord willing, I will discuss authority as it relates to the child.

Parental Authority Is God-Given

Our authority as parents is given to us by God. This is foundational and central to Mason’s principle of authority. Your authority finds its source in God. Stop and think about that for a minute. This is profound. When we truly understand where our authority comes from, it informs and affects everything else that comes out of our parenting. As a gift from God, our authority is to be used wisely for the good of the children and for His glory. Because it is from God, it is not absolute authority. We are not an authority unto ourselves. Mason describes our authority as deputed, meaning it is delegated. We are, in a sense, made His representatives in our homes. We have been deputized to fulfill the duty of raising our children in “the fear and admonition of the Lord.” Our children are not ours, but have been entrusted to us for a time to love and disciple and “train up in the way he should go.” It is for a purpose that God has entrusted this role to us. He has given us this authority as ones also under authority. Mason urges parents to make known to our children that our authority is given by God and we are under His authority just as they are. Mason stresses the importance of this because she believed children will more readily accept and understand their role to submit to our authority when they know it comes from God.

Parental Authority Is Not Arbitrary

Since we are under God’s authority and our authority comes from Him, it should not be arbitrary. This means our authority should not be wielded on a whim or without reason. It should not be unrestrained authority for its own sake, ruling from a height with no intimacy with the children, like some authoritarian dictator. We should not bark out orders like a sledgehammer, with a harshness that shows no care for the hearts and minds of these precious images of God, or encroach on their personhood.

Instead, we should parent in humble recognition and obedience to the God whose authority we are under. Our authority is to be born out of love for God and love for our children.

“Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognise it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart.” Vol. 3, pg.24

Parental Authority Serves

Our role as ones in authority is one of service. Our authority is not self-seeking. It is “…neither harsh nor indulgent,” but is an authority that is “gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because [it] is immovable in matters of real importance.” (Vol. 1, pg.17)

Mason paints a wonderful picture of how biblical authority in the home provides the best atmosphere for a child to thrive.

“Authority is just and faithful in all matters of promise-keeping; it is also considerate, and that is why a good mother is the best home-ruler; she is in touch with the children, knows their unspoken schemes and half-formed desires, and where she cannot yield, she diverts; she does not crush with a sledge-hammer, an instrument of rule with which a child is somehow never very sympathetic.” Vol. 1, pg.23

Parental Authority Is Not To Be Abdicated

Not only is our authority not to be arbitrary, it should not be abdicated. Parents can be tempted, for the sake of ease or the favor of their children, to abdicate their authority in the same way that a king might abdicate the throne. They can be tempted to give over their God-given authority and obligation to another. This could be by expecting the school to deal with all aspects of raising your child, beyond their education, or defaulting your authority to another family member, or worse still, leaving the child to themselves. We must remember that it is our duty to be good stewards of the authority deputed to us by God, out of loving obedience to Him, for the good of the child.

Parental Authority Is For The Good Of All

Biblical authority is necessary for the good of the child. Our authority is integral to the development of character in children and instruction in right living. If a child is left to themselves to pursue the way that seems right in their own eyes, folly is sure to follow. It is good for the children to “…’faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey’ their natural rulers”(Vol. 2, pg.14). It is an example of how we are to serve, honor, and humbly obey God.

“parents hold their children in trust for society.” Vol. 2, pg.15

Parental authority is also necessary for the good of society. It is necessary for raising good citizens. When parents abdicate their authority, the result is not only disastrous for the children, but also to society.

“…the child who knows that he is being brought up for the service of the nation, that his parents are acting under a Divine commission, will not turn out a rebellious son.” Vol. 2, pg.17

This does not, of course, guarantee children will heed the instructions of their parents and live godly, productive lives in the service of others, but it gives them the best opportunity and fulfills our God-given role to teach them to love Him and serve others. This is certainly not the message of today’s culture to children, which seems far more concerned with personal happiness than instilling a willing service to others.

Parenting is a difficult yet rewarding vocation. It can sometimes feel like a battleground. But when we look to God as the source of our parental authority, knowing that we too are under His authority, we can be comforted. Because He is good and just, and because He has deemed it so and thus ordered it, He will give us the grace and means to fulfill His God-given purpose for us as parents.

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 20 Principles Directory

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

Children Are Born Persons

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 1

At the foundation of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education is a simple, yet profound principle: children are born persons. As a Christian, this seems obvious. We believe that all of us, including children, are made in the image of God.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27.

 
From conception we bear His image. We have value and dignity as persons because we bear His image. We are not God, nor does being created in His image mean we share His divine attributes (immutability, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.). But we do reflect to a much lesser degree the beauty of God, the ability to know and understand truth, to be creative, to love, to show compassion, mercy, kindness, and so on.

Even though this truth is understood by most Christians, its wider educational implications can often be overlooked.

What are the educational implications of this understanding of children? Why did Charlotte Mason feel it necessary to point to children as persons as the first and primary principle of her education philosophy?

Because how we view children impacts how we educate them.

Mason begins her discussion on this principle by considering the mind of a child. She explains that we are not created “huge oysters” with empty minds waiting to be filled. We are made fully equipped with a working mind that from the moment of birth interacts and learns from the world around him. She describes in detail all the ways that infants demonstrate their fully-functioning mind.

“The other view is that the beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel of such astonishing worth that, put the whole world in one scale and this jewel in the other, and the scale which hold the world flies up outbalanced.” Vol. 6, pg34

As the child grows she explains that, 

“Reason is present in the infant as truly as imagination. As soon as he can speak he lets us know that he has powered the ‘cause why’ of things and perplexes us with a thousand questions.” Vol. 6, pg37

Those who have raised toddlers know this all too well.

If you have ever had the delight of raising a 4-year-old girl, you know that before they have even come close to a school book their little minds are more than capable of reason, to the point where you are unwittingly negotiated out of or into something by a true expert in the art of negotiation. Clearly this little human is born with a complete and capable mind to be able to do this before any formal education has begun. Mason puts it most profoundly this way:

“If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his beautiful little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind.” Vol. 6, p36

Because the mind of even the smallest child is capable and fully equipped “for his occasions,” we ought to give it the fullest respect in regards to its capabilities. The child’s mind is to feed on ideas. Give them meat. Give them the best books that put their minds in direct contact with the minds of those that love and care for the subject and write with an excellence worthy of the child’s mind.

“Mind must come into contact with mind through the medium of idea.” Vol. 6, pg 39

As children are born persons, they already come to us with their own personalities intact. They come as they are. We can have ideas about what we would like our children to do or be, but the reality is, they are already them. We need to educate, cultivate, and direct within their personalities, but we are not to encroach on their personalities. This means we are not to manipulate children with wide eyes and baby voices, coaxing them to follow our lead, or squelch their personalities when they are different from our own. When we do this we devalue the child and his aptitude to deal with the ideas themselves.

My oldest daughter helped at Vacation Bible School for the first time this year. After the first day she came home quite disturbed, realizing that she had spent the day talking down to the younger children simply because they were younger and smaller than her. She realized she spoke to them in a higher pitched voice with wide, excitable eyes, condescending to them. It is so easy to do, yet she immediately identified that this was not truth. It was devaluing them as persons who were able to understand perfectly well without condescension. She made it her distinct work to talk to them as she would any other human being. “It just felt unjust. I’ve read in books when the younger sibling realizes they were being talked down to. It doesn’t feel nice. They need to be told the plain facts and not spoken to like they are lower than I am.”

Because children are born persons, made in the image of God, we not only need to esteem highly the capabilities of their minds, and respect their personalities, we also need to be careful about incessant prodding and coaxing that can negate their responsibilities as persons. Mason says,

“What we must guard against in the training of children is the danger of their getting into the habit of being prodded to every duty and every effort. Our whole system of school policy is largely a system of prods. Marks, prizes, exhibitions, are all prods; and a system of prodding is apt to obscure the meaning of must and ought for the boy or girl who gets into the habit of mental and moral lolling up against his prods.” Vol. 3, pg39

This idea of prodding becoming a crutch to the mind of a child is a difficult concept for today’s educational culture. As in Mason’s day, our curriculums and school philosophies are full of such prods. But instead of prodding with prizes and question after incessant question to arrive at the answer the teacher wants to hear,

“Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.” Vol. 6, p40

The temptation to prod is difficult to resist. But the benefit to the child if we do resist is life altering. As Mason says,

“Children must stand or fall by their own efforts.” Vol. 3, pg38

With my daughter’s permission I tell you this story.  For 3 years my daughter had been narrating her books beautifully. But Last year (AO Year 4), when handed her history books to read on her own, she struggled to pay attention and narrate. I did my best to guide and support her, but still, her attention to what she was reading was not adequate to narrate well. I was beside myself with frustration. Every time she came to narrate to me with, “There was this guy…I think there was a battle… I don’t know…” I wanted to prod her with questions.

You might be wondering, what would be wrong with asking her questions to get something out of her? But this child had been asking and answering her own questions in her narrations for the last 3 years. Narration does that. So to go from asking and answering her own questions to being prodded with questions by me would be to devalue her mind’s ability to continue to deal properly with the ideas before her, and teach her that the habit of attention was not important.

I had come to a point where I had to seriously consider if holding to this philosophy was what was best for this child. This led me back to the question: what is the purpose of education? Is it so that she could answer some questions on a test, or so that she would grow in wisdom and knowledge and virtue? Is it something to endure in her childhood so that she can get a job as an adult, or something to embrace as a life? What was the worst thing that would happen if we continued as we were, with me encouraging the habit of attention and trusting that her mind would eventually do the work it was made to do? The worst thing would be that she would not know about the that period of history (right now). What would she gain? She would gain the understanding that “all education is self education.” That is, that her learning was her responsibility and her mind has been created to do its own learning. I came to the conclusion that if we got to the end of the school year and she learned that lesson, the year was far more valuable than if she did know all the answers. So, with great difficulty, I trusted Mason and resisted prodding. I told my daughter that this was her education, not mine. It was her responsibility to pay attention and narrate to the best of her ability. Because at the end of the day, she is the one that will not know if she does not. The year continued in much the same way. Then came exams. My daughter struggled. When she couldn’t answer, I moved on to the next question and said nothing. By the end, she was in tears. Afterwards, as we hugged it out on the couch, we talked about why she thought she couldn’t answer the questions. A couple of weeks later I interviewed the children about how they felt about their school year. When asked what she needed to work on, this daughter answered, “History… because it is hard concentrating and I want to learn more about what happened.” By resisting prodding, the responsibility for learning was properly placed on her. And I can tell you, this year, she has taken that responsibility with enthusiasm and has narrated beautifully.*

“…every child has been discovered to be a person of infinite possibilities.” Vol. 6, pg44

How we view children influences how we educate them. Their education should respect their minds and honor them as whole persons made in the image of God.

There is so much more that Mason spoke of in this principle that I haven’t even touched on and am still mulling over in my mind. But this post is enough to begin the conversation. Now it is your turn. What stood out to you in your study of this principle? What questions did it raise? What practices have you changed in your teaching because of considering this principle? What ideas are you struggling with or still pondering? I’d love to hear from you.

It’s not too late to start studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles along with me! Get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details.

* Physiological and developmental considerations were taken into account, but were beyond the scope of this discussion. The point remains, to prod her during this time would have been a disservice to her mind’s capabilities.
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