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 41The 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, 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.
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 "raises us from the mire" and liberates our hearts from low pursuits:
"...we needennobling impulse...
More of ennobling impulse from the past
If for the future aught of good must come."
[from Musings Near Aquapendente, by William Wordsworth]
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 real truth and 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 11:6For 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.