Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chapter 2: The Child is a Person

I was so happy to dive into this chapter by Jack Beckman, an Education professor. One of Miss Mason's very first principles in her philosophy is that the child is born a person, a whole person. The reason I was so happy to have the time to think about this proposition is that I didn't really "get" what this idea actually means. Of course, I understood the words, and I understood that in Charlotte Mason's day children were not really seen in the same way we look at children today. But what are the practical applications and understandings of "the child is a person," and how does it factor in to how I interact with my little ones and go about teaching them in our home school? I love theory, but I  need practical, and this chapter gave me some wonderful ideas.
  • Because the child is a complete person, she has in inborn desire for knowledge, including languages, history, geography, art, and to know God. Even a 3 year old wants these things: to learn to express themselves, to know what mommy's childhood was like, to know where the river flows to, to look at beautiful illustrations, and to know where God lives. Those are the desires of a whole person!
  • We must give children mind food, wonderful rich ideas to work with. We are feeding their hearts, minds, and bodies.
  • Environment: should be tidy, clean, orderly, respectful of the little (whole!) person who is living and working there. I think this also extends to the quality of play things we give children, as well as the art materials, and the books. This don't mean excessive amounts of things, but good things.
  • There should be loving support for growth, mental and physical. Children are whole people, but they are inexperienced people, and our job is to gently guide....
  • Without using guilt, manipulation, a rewards system, etc. which don't show respect for the personhood of the child.
  • This does not translate to "child-centered" homes, but rather homes where children are expected to behave well, not because they have been bribed, but because their higher nature has been appealed to. 
  • Habits, habits, habits. Obedience, attention, orderliness, reverence, imagination, teachability. All people have the need to develop good habits, especially of being under proper authority, and children are included in that.
  • The most common view of children today seems to be that they are empty vessels to be filled, they are blank slates upon which we write. CM's idea is that they are created in the image of God, full of potential for good and bad, needing ideas and experience, but deserving respectful treatment, and of course to know the redeeming love of the Savior. There is a HUGE difference here. We adults are to come alongside the children and encourage them, not try to create a little person from the ground up. 
  • "Authority rightly applied expresses respect for the learner, and takes into account the lines by which he or she is designed. While not abrogating the biblical mandate for obedience, true authority seeks to work in relationship with those under its mantle." In order to have this peaceful relationship, good habits must be grown, so the teacher/mommy isn't constantly reinventing the wheel, throwing out random bits of discipline to gain compliance.
  • Back to the rewards system and why it's not useful: "children already possess the capacity for responsible actions...and to do good work as a manifestation of who they are. When one rewards unthinkingly the assumption is...that individuals cannot choose to act a certain way on their own. It becomes dehumanizing, treating people like pets." 
  • 4 ways this philosophy can be applied: education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life, and the science of relations.
Wow. I am so challenged by this! We don't have a rewards system in our home, but we do resort to bribery, which sounds awful to admit. I know I need to meditate on these ideas and consider some of the more practical applications, and this book is much more about education than parenting. But how would these ideas look in practice, with for instance, a toddler throwing a fit, or a young child not wanting to go to bed? How do we address those sorts of issues while maintaining the level of respectful, non-bribing or guilting interactions? I think how we see children, and how we treat them is of great importance. Our Lord had such love for the little ones, and specifically called them to Himself...that certainly speaks to how we must respect them.

The next chapter, about the 4 areas of application I mentioned in the final bulletpoint, is quite long. I'll do one post for each section:) 


  1. One thing that strikes me in this chapter is that CM's vision of the child strikes a balance between those parenting/teaching styles that are super strict and seemingly arbitrary and those that are child-centered, neither of which she would recommend. Instead, she advocates certain freedoms for the child while still maintaining a level of discipline appropriate to the child's age and his duty as a member of the household. I think we can have confidence in a strong parenting model because of the "natural, necessary, and fundamental" need for it in our fallen world (61), but we also as parents have to keep our own station in mind--we are given our authority by God, and we can't lord it over those in our care. The goal in a CM vision of parenting is not that the child should simply *obey us*--this is important, but it is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to develop habits that allow the child to self-regulate. This ties into that CM's principle that "all education is self-education." This model resonates as true for me, but like you said, Angela, I'm not sure how it plays out in the life of toddlers in the home. ;) I can see, though, how it plays out in a schoolroom. I have to think more on this.

    And I really like the child-friendly format of the motto they give on page 68. I may teach that to the kids.

  2. One other thing: I am just recently starting to see some self-regulation in terms of good behavior come into play in my own kids, so I definitely think some of the suggestions from this chapter are aimed at school-aged children. For example, the kids have quite a few weekly chores that they have to handle. In the past, they have always done them without much fuss but without any real sense of purpose. In the last few weeks, though, Gianna has been actually looking forward to doing our chores because she says she loves having the house look so "nice and clean" afterward. She actually sighed with contentment at a job well done when she finished scrubbing the kitchen floor last week. Not her usual response! And not motivated by any comments from me. But very welcome, and I think indicative of the coming of the Age of Reason? Obviously, I think habits training is absolutely key at all ages, but I think some of the ideals from this chapter are more aimed for an older set of children.

  3. This nugget is exactly what we're trying to work on right now:
    "habits that allow the child to self-regulate."
    I so wish Miss Mason had had small children at home herself and had written a book on exactly how to lay down the rails:)

  4. I came across this section last night in Volume 1 that speaks to a version of discipline in the kindergarten:

    "'Sweetness and Light' in the Kindergarten––The child breathes an atmosphere of 'sweetness and light' in the Kindergarten. You see the sturdy urchin of five stiffen his back and decline to be a jumping frog, and the Kindergartnerin comes with unruffled gentleness, takes him by the hand, and leads him out of the circle,––he is not treated as an offender, only he does not choose to do as the others do, therefore he is not wanted there: the next time, he is quite content to be a frog. Here we have the principle for the discipline of the nursery. Do not treat the child's small contumacy too seriously; do not assume that he is being naughty: just leave him out when he is not prepared to act in harmony with the rest. Avoid friction; and above all, do not let him disturb the moral atmosphere; in all gentleness and serenity, remove him from the company of others, when he is being what nurses call 'tiresome.' (180-81)

    Again, she's talking here about slightly older children, and in a school environment. But I think there are some good principles in place here: not over-responding to fractiousness, responding firmly and matter-of-factly, not allowing emotions to get in the way. (This is something I struggle with.) Seeing the time-out, which she is employing here, as less of a punishment and more along the lines of, "You seem as though you're not ready to join us, so you need to leave the room." In this example, it seems she is focusing less on the actual method of discipline than on the manner in which it's carried out. I do like what she implies here about the harmony of the schoolroom; to apply to a family setting: when one person in the family is disobeying, friction should be avoided so that it doesn't disrupt the atmosphere for everyone else as well. (Again, not toddlers. But I'm going to be thinking about this. :))

  5. i think calm detachment and a natural sense of being in control are essential here. Thank you so much for finding that example and pointing it out. It really does give me a good idea of what to be aiming for. When I allow someone's misbehavior to rile me up, it sends the whole house in a bad direction. I think the removal of the child (time out) is very useful, but it has to be a time out calmly done, which is a challenge for us at the moment.