Monday, April 11, 2016

Reverence for Life

While we are getting our kids outdoors to experience God's glorious creation, let's remember that, though we've been given dominion over creation (Gen 1:26), we are also called to be good stewards (Gen 2:15). Charlotte Mason never intended nature study to be a careless ramble. In fact, she expected mothers to teach their kids reverence for life:
Is it advisable, then, to teach the children the elements of natural science, of biology, botany, zoology? on the whole, no: the dissection even of a flower is painful to a sensitive child, and, during the first six or eight years of life, I would not teach them any botany which should necessitate the pulling of flowers to bits; much less should they be permitted to injure or destroy any (not noxious) form of animal life. 
Reverence for life, as a wonderful and awful gift, which a ruthless child may destroy but never can restore, is a lesson of first importance to the child:–– 
     "Let knowledge grow from more to more;
     But more of reverence in us dwell." 
The child who sees his mother with reverent touch lift an early snowdrop to her lips, learns a higher lesson than the 'print-books' can teach. Years hence, when the children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred and demands some sacrifices, all the 'common information' they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form a capital groundwork for a scientific education. In the meantime, let them consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air. ~ Charlotte Mason, vol 1 pg 63

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Education is a Discipline: The Discipline of Life Part 4

In Part 1 we looked at discipline (discipling) as a chief function of parenting.
In Part 2 we looked at mechanical obedience and habits in the early years.
In Part 3 we looked at how authority behaves.

Next we'll look at the nature of the child as we transition from the more "mechanical" end of obedience in the younger years to a more "reasoned" obedience requiring conscious choice.

Mrs. H. Perrin, in a Parent's Review article, once wrote:
Steam and electricity are our servants, because we learned from them their nature, entered into it, and worked in sympathy with it - did not oppose it. The nature of the child can no more be altered by us. We must study, sympathize and conquer by obeying it.
In educating children, Charlotte Mason did just that - she began with their nature and claimed "children are born persons." All of her methods stand on this fundamental principle including her methods of discipline.

For our purposes here, we'll focus on two aspects of the idea that children are born persons: first, we assume that the child already has a capable mind, and second, that child's capable mind feeds and grows upon ideas.

Charlotte Mason trusted the ability of the child's mind, like the stomach already knows how to digest food, she trusted that the child's mind already knew how to digest ideas if they were of the right sort.
[the teacher's] error is rather want of confidence in children. He has not formed a just measure of a child's mind and bores his scholars with much talk about matters which they are able to understand for themselves much better than he does ... This is how any child's mind works, and our concern is not to starve these fertile intelligences. They must have food in great abundance and variety. They know what to do with it well enough and we need not disturb ourselves to provide for the separate exercise of each so-called 'faculty'; for the mind is one and works all together; reason, imagination, reflection, judgment, what you please, are like 'all hands' summoned by the 'heave-ho!' of the boatswain. All swarm on deck for the lading of cargo, that rich and odorous cargo of ideas which the fair vessel of a child's mind is waiting to receive. vol 6 pg 41
The second aspect of the nature of the child Charlotte Mason claimed is that their minds feed on ideas, not just facts. We know this to be true about our children because it is true about us. When we see the idea of heroism through a heroic act or story, something stirs in us and inspires us more than if we had heroism defined and analyzed. The stories in the Book of Marvels catch our imagination and inspire us to adventure and travel in a way that an editor's description of the same lands in a geography textbook never would.
Here we have the right order. That which was born of the spirit, the idea, came first and demanded to confirm and illustrate. (Vol. 6, p. 39)
In other words, children have capable minds that we don't need to talk down to, and when we work with the nature of that capable mind and it becomes lit by an idea - it grows remarkably of its own will.

We see these principles permeate Charlotte Mason's educational methods:

- In nature study, children spend hours outdoors absorbing ideas of creation, growing in curiosity and wonder before ever having a lesson on metamorphosis or seed dispersion. When they do come to their lessons, they are willing because their minds are full of ideas now desiring the knowledge.

- The best literature is read to children from the first, filling them with the ideas of authors and their wonderful words while the analyzing of them is held off until much later when they desire to express themselves and better understand how to do so.

- Written narration begins with children putting their thoughts and ideas on paper freely for some time before they ever learn to outline or write a proper essay.

- In artist and composer study, children look at paintings and hear music, taking in the great ideas within them, before they ever learn the historic context of pointillism or study music theory.

Charlotte Mason understood that children's desires matter - when they care, they will care to know.
The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? ~Charlotte Mason (Vol. 3, p.170)
So what does all this have to do with reasonable obedience? Well, this: the child will care to do right, when he is inspired by the idea to so. 

In other words, we can yell at him, lecture him, prod him and nag him, surround him with rules, scare him into making right decisions, use "goody goody books" to try and teach him, but eventually we come face to face with the reality that these things will only take him so far. In fact, over time, they can produce the opposite effect than what we intend. In place of a child who wants to do right, they can sometimes produce a child who can't wait to do wrong.

We want the child to care to do right. We may move a child to do the right thing outwardly, while inwardly they are in full disagreement. This is not our goal. Our goal is the inward desire to act rightly.
We who teach should make it clear to ourselves that our aim in education is less conduct than character; conduct may be arrived at, as we have seen, by indirect routes, but it is of value to the world only as it has its source in character. (Vol. 6, p.129)
Charlotte Mason quotes Wordsworth's poem that speaks to what "liberates our hearts from low pursuits":
"There lives
No faculty within us which the Soul
Can spare: and humblest earthly weal demands
For dignity not placed beyond her reach
Zealous co-operation of all means
Given or required to raise us from the mire
And liberate our hearts from low pursuits
By gross utilities enslaved; we need
More of ennobling impulse from the past
If for the future aught of good must come."
[from Musings Near Aquapendente, by William Wordsworth]
ennobling impulse...

David Hicks in Norms and Nobility talked about an "ideal type" - the ideal character of man studied and sought after for ages, a pattern of truth. In today's relativistic culture, it is more important than ever that we put our children in touch with man's search of that ideal type and bring them to the knowledge of our great God who displayed the most heroic act of all time, whose holiness, love and grace inspires us to glorify Him forever.
The young people of this country are not to be regenerated by economic doctrine or economic history or physical science; they can only be elevated by ideas which act upon the imagination and act upon the character and influence the soul, and it is the function of all good teachers to bring those ideas before them. (Vol. 6, p.126)

Now we must deal with a child of man, who has a natural desire to know the history of his race and of his nation, what men thought in the past and are thinking now; the best thoughts of the best minds taking form as literature, and at its highest as poetry, or, as poetry rendered in the plastic forms of art: as a child of God, whose supreme desire and glory it is to know about and to know his almighty Father: as a person of many parts and passions who must know how to use, care for, and discipline himself, body, mind and soul: as a person of many relationships,––to family, city, church, state, neighbouring states, the world at large: as the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognise and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which he must begin to know.
It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man; wide, but we may not say it is impossible nor may we pick and choose and educate him in this direction but not in that. We may not even make choice between science and the 'humanities.' Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him. (Vol. 6, p.157)

Love is like understanding, that grows bright, 
Gazing on many truths;
'tis like they light,
Imagination! which from earth & sky,
And from the depths of human fantasy,
As from a thousand prisms and mirrors,
fills the Universe with glorious beams
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, Epipsychidion)
There is never a guarantee that our child will be inspired to good choices and right living because we put him in touch with great ideas, but...
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. ~Ephesians 11:6
For a wide and generous curriculum based on these principles, visit AmblesideOnline.

In Part 5, we'll take a look at helping the the child make use of his own will.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Mason Jar with Cindy Rollins - Nature Study

Cindy Rollins has been running a podcast called The Mason Jar over at the Circe Institute Podcast focusing on Charlotte Mason's methods and if you don't know Cindy, you're going to love her. She is down-to-earth, genuine, humble, knowledgeable about CM, and has practical experience from her years of homeschooling her many children.

She has interviewed many of the AmblesideOnline Advisory as well as Dr. Jack Beckman and others on various CM topics. I was blessed by the opportunity to discuss CM nature study with her and her podcast audience, you can listen to that conversation here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Education is a Discipline: The Discipline of Life Part 3

In Part 1 we looked at discipline (discipling) as a chief function of parenting.
In Part 2 we looked at mechanical obedience and habits in the early years.

Next we are going to look at how authority behaves.

Charlotte Mason makes a distinction between two forms of government - Autocracy and Authority which she defines as follows:
Autocracy is defined as independent or self-derived power. Authority, on the other hand, may qualify as not being self-derived and not independent. (Vol. 3, p.15)
So the first finds its source in self, the latter from a power outside of, and greater than, self.

Let's look first at Autocracy. Having it's source in self, it rules accordingly. If, as a Christian, you believe in the nature of fallen man you must know where this takes us. Charlotte Mason describes it this way:
...uneasy; captious, harsh and indulgent by turns. This is the action of autocracy, which is self-sustained as it is self-derived, and is impatient and resentful, on the watch for transgressions, and swift to take offence. Autocracy has ever a drastic penal code, whether in the kingdom, the school, or the family. It has, too, many commandments. 'Thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not,' are chevaux de frise about the would-be awful majesty of the autocrat. (Vol. 3, p, 16)
Does this make you think of anyone you know? At it's core, Autocracy serves self. The bible says;
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer 17:9) 
Contrary to uninformed opinion, Charlotte Mason believed this as we see her caution against it:
The tendency to assume self-derived power is common to us all, even the meekest of us, and calls for special watchfulness; the more so, because it shows itself fully as often in remitting duties and in granting indulgences as in inflicting punishments. (Vol. 3, p, 16)
Even our children schooled in AmblesideOnline's history, by the age of 9 or 10, can see plainly that man in a position of power has a tendency towards this kind of harsh autocracy.

Authority, on the other hand, is...
...neither harsh nor indulgent. She is gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because she is immovable in matters of real importance; for these, there is always a fixed principle. It does not, for example, rest with parents and teachers to dally with questions affecting either the health or the duty of their children. They have no authority to allow to children in indulgences––in too many sweetmeats, for example––or in habits which are prejudicial to health; nor to let them off from any plain duty of obedience, courtesy, reverence, or work. Authority is alert; she knows all that is going on and is aware of tendencies. She fulfills the apostolic precept––"He that ruleth (let him do it), with diligence." But she is strong enough to fulfill that other precept also, "He that showeth mercy (let him do it), with cheerfulness"; timely clemency, timely yielding, is a great secret of strong government. (Vol. 3, p.17)
She gives the example of an authority, under authority, from scripture (Matt 8, Luke 7):
The centurion in the Gospels says: "I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, 'Go,' and he goeth; another, 'Come,' and he cometh; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he doeth it." Here we have the powers and the limitations of authority. The centurion is set under authority, or, as we say, authorised, and, for that reason, he is able to say to one, 'go,' to another, 'come,' and to a third, 'do this,' in the calm certainty that all will be done as he says, because he holds his position for this very purpose––to secure that such and such things shall be accomplished. He himself is a servant with definite tasks, though they are the tasks of authority. This, too, is the position that our Lord assumes; He says: "I came not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me." That is His commission and the standing order of His life, and for this reason He spake as one having authority, knowing Himself to be commissioned and supported. (Vol. 3, p, 15)
She gives us another example in her description of Queen Elizabeth. She says of her...
...she knew when to yield and how to yield. Her adroitness in getting over many a dangerous crisis has been much praised by historians; but, possibly, this saving grace was not adroitness so much as the tact born of qualities proper to all who are set in authority––the meekness of one who has been given an appointed work, the readiness to take counsel with herself and with others, the perception that she herself was not the be-all and the end-all of her functions as a queen, but that she existed for her people, and the quick and tender open-minded sympathy which enabled her to see their side of every question as well as her own––indeed, in preference to her own. These are the qualities proper to every ruler of a household, a school, or a kingdom. With these, parents will be able to order and control a fiery young brood full of energy and vitality, as Elizabeth was, to manage the kingdom when the minds of men were in a ferment of new thought, and life was intoxicating in the delightfulness of the possibilities it offered.
This kind of authority does not arise from a self-seeking heart, rather, it is a reflection of a much greater authority, Christ himself. He was and is the only perfect authority and in him we find its true nature.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phillippians 2:3-8)
Where do you derive your authority from? What does it look like and will it carry you though the many years of difficulty and challenges that are sure to confront you as your children grow into adulthood? These are good questions for us to ask ourselves.

With each trial we may wonder if we are up for the task - and actually we're not. But we can rest assured that he who authorized us works in us. It is his strength and his glorious might that is sure to carry us and supply our every need in this calling of ours.

Charlotte Mason describes parental authority deputed from God as a "grace" and leaves us with one last question to remind us of this:
...authority is not only a gift, but a grace; and, "As every rainbow hue is light, So every grace is love." 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. Perhaps the best aid to the maintenance of authority in the home is for those in authority to ask themselves daily that question which was presumptuously put to our Lord––"Who gave Thee this authority?"  (Vol. 3, p.24)
Let's look next in Part 4 at the child himself as we transition to that "reasoned" obedience which requires some thought on the child's part.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Education is a Discipline: The Discipline of Life Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed discipline (discipling) as a chief function of parenting.

Next we're going to look at the topic of obedience and habits in the early years. In Vol. 3, on p.18 Charlotte Mason makes the distinction between 'mechanical' and 'reasonable' obedience - the former being obedience that is not thought out, but merely mechanical, while the latter is a reasoned obedience, one that is thought out and made by conscious choice.

She says it is difficult to draw the line between the two, and then goes on to quote a 'very successful' mother who claims "I teach my children obedience by the time they are one year old," and Charlotte Mason agrees saying "indeed, that is the age at which to begin to give children the ease and comfort of the habit of obeying lawful authority."

Notice how she ties obedience to "ease and comfort" here? Similarly, she tied discipline to freedom in Part 1. Does that seem counter intuitive? Isn't discipline restricting? Charlotte Mason says it's freeing and this is the crucial point of truth that we must first understand ourselves and then in turn teach our children if they are to desire self-discipline.

This truth becomes evident very early on in a child's life. The child who bites or hits, will have less freedom of play than the child who doesn't. Naturally people will want their child to play with a child who doesn't hurt theirs. But the mother of the child who bites and hits must always limit their freedom to prevent harm.

The child who sticks fingers in sockets or knocks everything off a table must have their freedom to roam or sit at a table limited to prevent harm or damage while the one who has been taught not to touch can roam freely. Consequently, the mother's freedom is also limited. She is unable to look away for a moment or to enjoy a dinner at a friend's or a restaurant with her child who may have a screaming fit at being told they can not knock everything off the table. But the mother whose child learns to sit at the table without making a wreck of it gets to enjoy the evening with her husband or her friends and even gets invited back.

But a one year old can't reason these things for himself, his desires to knock everything off the table or stick his fingers in the socket or pull kitty's tail are immediate and no amount of explaining can make them understand that self-discipline will gain him greater freedom. Yet again Charlotte Mason states in Vol. 6 on p.70 that "it is necessary that we should all follow an ordered course, and children, even infant children, must begin in the way in which they will have to go on." And by infant I'm certain she does not mean "newborn" 

She gives the example of a retired private who stands at 'Attention!' at the call by sheer mechanical obedience with which "the moral consciousness has nothing to do." Even though he was retired his years of habitual training still caused an immediate response. She goes on to say that while we like to think of ourselves as people whose bodies answer readily to our desire to do the right thing, as does "the ship to the helm" our weakness prevents it. She claims we only do "in proportion as our bodies have been trained to the unthinking mechanical obedience."

This is what she means in Vol. 1, Part III when she says "Habit is ten Natures" - that habit is worth ten times our nature in our course of actions. While that may not be an exact formulaic conclusion, there is no doubt that our childhood habits affect us greatly even into adulthood. And this is why she asserts that "if we wish children to be able, when they grow up, to keep under their bodies and bring them into subjection we must do this for them in their earlier years."

In other words, it rests with us to teach them this mechanical obedience in many things to aid them in transitioning to reasonable obedience as they gain understanding. Things like - don't touch, no biting, no hitting, no pulling kitty's tail, stay here, stop (from running into the street), give that back, etc. Most importantly, they are learning to obey - in small routine things now, in greater matters in the future. 
It may be said that a child who has acquired the habit of involuntary obedience has proportionately lost power as a free moral agent; but, as the acts of obedience in question are very commonly connected to some physical effort, as, 'Make haste back,' 'Sit straight,' 'Button your boots quickly,'––they belong to the same educational province as gymnastic exercises, the object of which is the masterly use of the body as a machine capable of many operations. Now, to work a machine such as a typewriter or a bicycle, one must, before all things, have practice; one must have got into the way of working it involuntarily, without giving any thought to the matter: and to give a child this power over himself––first in response to the will of another, later, in response to his own, is to make a man of him. (Vol 3, pg 20)
The habits of school, as of military life, are more or less mechanical. The early habits are vital; reversion to these takes place, and Jack sprawls as a man just as he sprawled as a child, only more so.  Now it is this sort of 'bringing under' that parents are apt to leave to the schoolmaster. They do not give their children the discipline which results in self-compelling power; and by-and-by, when they make over the task to another, the time for training in the art of self-mastery has gone by, and a fine character is spoiled through indolence and wilfulness. (Vol. 3, p.116)
We must face the facts. We are not meant to grow up in a state of nature. There is something simple, conclusive, even idyllic, in the statement that So-and-so is 'natural.' What more would you have? Jean Jacques Rousseau preached the doctrine of natural education, and no reformer has had a greater following. 'It's human nature,' we say, when stormy Harry snatches his drum from Jack; when baby Marjorie, who is not two, screams for Susie's doll. So it is, and for that very reason it must be dealt with early. Even Marjorie must be taught better. 'I always finish teaching my children obedience before they are one year old,' said a wise mother; and any who know the nature of children, and the possibilities open to the educator, will say, Why not? (Vol. 2, p.64)
One thing we realize as we read these passages is that the nature of the authority of the parent in authority matters greatly and that's what we'll look at in Part 3,