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. She describes mechanical obedience as one that is automatic; habitual, and reasonable obedience, as one that is thought out; a conscious choice.
She 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?
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"
While the child is unable to make good reasoned choices for themselves, we as parents must help them do so in important matters by providing the rewards and consequences necessary in response to their right and wrong choices. Teaching a child this way to stop at the parent's call of "Stop!" is a mechanical response that can save them from being hit by a car, running into poison oak or touching a hot stove.
Charlotte Mason 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. We've all experienced this as we tried to drive somewhere only to find ourselves unconsciously driving an old habitual route to work or school or somewhere else ingrained in our minds. The habit was ten times stronger and overtook our intended actions. This is why Charlotte Mason 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, give that back, etc. Most importantly, they are learning to obey - in small routine things now, in greater matters in the future; to our will now, to theirs as they learn to make good, reasonable decisions in the years to come.
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)Teaching our children self-discipline is no easy task. In Part 3 we'll look at how Charlotte Mason wisely cautions us against our own nature and clarifies what true, good authority looks like.