Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Parents and Children: Chapter 7

From Charlotte Mason's The Original Home Schooling Series, Parents and Children (Vol. 2)

Chapter 7: The Parent as Schoolmaster

Here is my narration of Chapter 7, and some of my thoughts. (Read my thoughts on Chapter 6 here.) Charlotte Mason continues to talk about the responsibilities and role of parents.

Get a Backbone!

Mason begins this chapter by talking about the expectation that the "schoolmaster," or teacher, will make children "sit up" once they get to school. There are parents who believe, for a number of well-intentioned reasons, that children should be allowed what amounts to free reign until the time comes for a teacher to make them behave in a school setting.

However, Mason challenges this idea, wondering how on earth the teacher is supposed to make the child "sit up," or behave, "after a good deal of mental and moral sprawling about at home" (pg. 60).

The success (and pleasure) a teacher has with a child at school, depends in large part on the self-management the child has learned in the home. She uses the example of a backbone to illustrate, rather humorously, the point.

"No suasion will make you 'sit up' if you are an oyster; no, nor even if you are a cod. You must have a backbone, and your backbone must have learned its work before sitting up is possible to you. No doubt the human oyster may grow a backbone, and the human cod may get into the way of sitting up, and some day, perhaps, we shall know of the heroic endeavours made by schoolmaster and mistress to prop up, and haul up, and draw up, and anyhow keep alert and sitting up, creatures whose way it is to sprawl." (pg. 61-62)

In the end, Mason believes it is the parents' role to develop this backbone from the beginning. Otherwise the teacher is left with remedial work, which will be far less satisfying and far less successful.

Mason also notes a difference between mechanical habits and earlier "vital" habits. A school may give a child a certain structure, and certain habits, but these are merely social props, and will only be of use as long as the child is in school. Without the social props, children will revert back to earlier habits. No, she argues, children need to be "put under discipline from infancy" (pg. 62).

Don't Be Like This Guy

She then uses the example of Edward Waverley from Scott's novel Waverley as an example of "mental sprawling."

Waverley acquired knowledge "in a slight, flimsy, and inadequate manner." He was not moved to knowledge by natural curiosity, but needed strong gratification. He had neither alertness of mind nor self-restraint. "He does nothing to carve out a way for himself, and he does everything to his own hindrance out of the pure want of the power of self-direction" (pg. 63).

I really like how Mason puts the crux of the matter. Waverley was brilliant, "but 'I ought' had waited upon 'I like' from his earliest days."Ouch.

Waverley was spoiled. The failure in his personal life was a result of the failure in his education.

Parents Can't Pass the Buck

Mason is adamant that parents cannot leave it to others to bring their children up properly.   Parents must "give their children the discipline which results in self-compelling power" (pg. 64). What is more, there is a limited window of time to learn this power of self-direction and self-mastery! If the child hasn't grown a backbone by the time they get to school, they won't likely grow one there either.

The early years are not the time to leave children to "nature," and trust time to turn everything out alright in the end. Discipline begins at the beginning. The kingdom of nature is not enough. All children have an inheritance in the kingdom of grace, which implies training in virtue. Parents must plant and foster the fruits of this second kingdom.

That is what discipline is.

Education is a Discipline

Mason says the first function of parents is that of discipline. This responsibility cannot be fobbed off on teachers.

Mason also says education is a discipline. And what is discipline? Certainly it is not penal punishment, which is "the last resort of the feeble." Such punishment is only a tiny part of the picture, and shouldn't even be necessary if we are doing the rest of discipline right. (There's a convicting thought.)

A clear definition of education is key.

Education is not the acquiring of knowledge. Rather, education should "deal curatively and methodically with every flaw in character" (p.g 66). Education is essentially the cultivation of character. And this cannot be left to chance, to life circumstances, or to a schoolmaster. It's the job of the parent.

Defining Discipline

Discipline is not punishment.

Discipline is a state of being - a state of following, learning, imitating. And God has ordered the world so that children are first of all disciples of their parents. Now, all good disciple makers should have a plan for instilling certain principles in their disciples. There should be "steady progress on a careful plan" (67).

Disciples aren't made by force. There are 3 ways disciples are "lured" (haha, love the word):
1. By the attraction of the doctrine
2. By the persuasion of the presentation
3. By the enthusiasm of the (other?) 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" (67).

Well, that sounds nice, doesn't it? Simple? Sure, no problem...

All you have to do to make your little sweetie a partaker of the Divine nature is there in the summary of 2 Peter 1:5-7. Just cultivate faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, kindness and love, systematically!


Ah yes, Mason says, that's too big of a topic for this chapter! (No kidding.)

Well then. Read on.

She does offer a little gem of wisdom at the end, in reminding parents that "every quality has its defect, every defect has its quality" (67). She encourages parents to examine their children, and see which high places need to be lowered, and which valleys need to be raised. She talks about this sort of examination earlier in the chapter, where if a certain character defect is noted in a child turning 5, the parent should put a plan in place to deal with this by the child's next birthday (and not assume the child will simply grow out of it).

It's a good reminder to be paying attention to our children's progress in their life of discipleship. We need to be mindful, and intentional. One of the driving thoughts of this chapter is that disciples don't make themselves. Discipline must be purposeful and continual.


So, if I could sum this chapter up for me in a few memorable statements, I might say:

Give your child a backbone.
Education is the cultivation of character.
Parents need to be purposeful disciple-makers.

But this disciple-making task really does seem huge when I think of it. Education is not a part time pastime. It's not something we check off for the day when we put the school books away. It encompasses all of life. All of parenting. All of family culture. Education is cultivating and curating virtuous character. And that is no small thing. (I suppose that's why there are 6 volumes to this whole home education series??)

The ultimate goal of Christian disciple making is participation in the Divine nature. I went back to 2 Peter 1 (which Mason doesn't actually reference directly, assuming her readers will know the passage she is referring to) for some context around those verses. That is also where the phrase "a partaker of the Divine nature" that she references on pg. 67 comes from. What was most encouraging to me at this moment, however,  was found in verse 3.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

It's not my power that will accomplish this. Yes, God has given me the task, and I need to be purposeful and faithful. But the power comes from Him! That is a good thought to rest in when it all seems too big for me.

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