I often find that when the topic of discipline comes up in a Charlotte Mason context, the conversation typically turns to habit training and the importance of good habits. While I agree that habit training is substantial and worthy of our focus, I do believe we benefit more by viewing it within the context of a greater whole. It is my goal in this series of posts to bring that greater whole into view.
Reading Charlotte Mason, it becomes evident that Discipline, Habits, and 'The Will' all play a significant role in the formation of a child's character, which is of principal focus in her philosophy of education.
In her writings she discusses each of these elements in detail and how parent and child are to understand them in order to achieve the freedom of living that results for a child who grows to become a self-disciplined adult.
While we often think of discipline as restricting, or perhaps in today's terms as negatively affecting the child's self-esteem, Charlotte Mason saw it rightly as freeing.
There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist... (Vol. 6, p.69)Think about some of the people you know who struggle and most likely you'll find they lack self-dicsipline, or are affected by someone who lacks self-discipline.
it is the nature of the undisciplined man to run his head in passionate wilfulness against the circumstances that are for his training; so that the parent who wilfully chooses to leave his child to be 'broken in' by the schoolmaster or by life leaves him to a fight in which all the odds are against him. The physique, the temper, the disposition, the career, the affections, the aspirations of a man are all, more or less, the outcome of the discipline his parents have brought him under, or of the lawlessness they have allowed.It is clearly essential to our children that we help them to achieve the freedom of living that comes with self-discipline. The place to begin and the foundation upon which a self-disciplined child grows is our understanding as mothers that "to exercise discipline is one of the chief functions of parenthood." It is our "first function" And by discipline Charlotte Mason does not mean "a birch-rod, nor a corner, nor a slipper, nor a bed, nor any such last resort of the feeble." She is not talking about 'penal suffering' (though she does not say that it's never useful).
She is talking about 'discipling' our children.
A disciple is a follower, and discipline is the state of the follower; the learner, imitator. Mothers and fathers do not well to forget that their children are, by the very order of Nature, their disciples. He who would draw disciples does not trust to force; but to these three things––to the attraction of his doctrine, to the persuasion of his presentation, to the enthusiasm of his disciples; so the parent has teachings of the perfect life which he knows how to present continually with winning force until the children are quickened with such zeal for virtue and holiness as carries them forward with leaps and bounds. (Vol. 2, p.64)We begin by a firm understanding that it is our God-given duty to disciple our children. And this is where so many of us falter - we know ourselves all too well. We know our failures, our shortcomings, our inadequacies. We feel unequal to the great task required of us on a daily basis.
What we need to understand is that it is not our perfect ability that is required to disciple our children, neither is it our stellar character. We all fall short of this great calling most days, yet we are still called to fulfill it. According to Charlotte Mason, it is not our person that this authority is in, but the 'office' of parenthood itself that this authority is vested.
...we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorised; and that he who is authorised is under authority. The person under authority holds and fulfils a trust; in so far as he asserts himself; governs upon the impulse of his own will, he ceases to be authoritative and authorised, and becomes arbitrary and autocratic. (Vol. 3, p.12)We as parents have authority because it is vested in the 'office' of parenthood by God himself. And we ourselves are also under authority; God's authority, and are called to fulfill a trust - to care for and disciple our children.
Charlotte Mason understood the necessity for mothers to comprehend this and it is only by it, we find the gumption and the grace necessary to face the remarkable task of discipling our children through all their years to adulthood. Without it, we can be unsure and arbitrary...
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. (Vol. 3, p.16)When we are "authorized" on the other hand, we are empowered to fulfill our role with greater confidence and surety of purpose. It is no longer our own arbitrary will that guides, but that of one much greater.
The despot rules by terror; he punishes right and left to uphold his unauthorised sway. The person who is vested with authority, on the contrary, requires no rigours of the law to bolster him up, because authority is behind him... (Vol. 3, p.12)And the children are "quick to discriminate" between the two, Under the right authority, they come to learn that...
...there is no great gulf fixed between teacher and taught; both are pursuing the same ends, engaged on, the same theme, enriched by mutual interests; and probably the quite delightful pursuit of knowledge affords the only intrinsic liberty for both teacher and taught. "He is the freeman whom the truth makes free," and this freedom the steady pursuit and delightful acquirement of knowledge afford to us day by day. "The mind is its own place," we are told, "and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven"; and that heaven of the mind, is it not continual expansion in ordered freedom? And that restless, burning, inflammatory hell, does it not come of continual chafing against natural and righteous order? (Vol. 6, p.71)