Monday, September 10, 2012

Home Education, Part 1 - A Thinking Love

We have such a great responsibility as mothers!  I found these first sections of Home Education to be a great challenge and encouragement in my vocation.  As Charlotte Mason says at the very beginning of this chapter, "that work which is of most importance to society is the bringing up and instruction of the children."  She sees this all as absolutely essential to the continuance of her country and of civilized society, but I think we can easily extend this to the community of saints as well.  It is true that these children are not simply ours, to do what we will with; they are God's first, ours second, and with that comes a tremendous duty.  It is a duty that we should take seriously but also joyfully, for these children are to become, with the right education, blessings for the world.  What a gift, what a privilege!  So Charlotte Mason encourages us here to approach our role as mothers with all the seriousness, learning, and dignity that we would bring to the very highest of professions (for that is what motherhood is).  To parent and educate without thinking of the end of our efforts and the principles that should direct us is a mistake.  Her goal here and throughout these volumes is to consider those ends and suggest some principles to guide us through our task.

One of the most striking parts of this section is how her comments touch on both the profound and the ordinary.  As she says, "nothing is trivial that concerns a child," and that is just how Miss Mason wants her principles to be applied--to all parts of life.  She proposes a method, not a system, where the principles themselves guide the education rather than a series of steps, and "The parent who sees his way––that is, the exact force of method––to educate his child, will make use of every circumstance of the child's life almost without intention on his own part, so easy and spontaneous is a method of education based upon Natural Law. Does the child eat or drink, does he come, or go, or play––all the time he is being educated, though he is as little aware of it as he is of the act of breathing."  So naturally, her educational model touches on the lofty goals of education, of what a child is and what he is meant to become, the higher purpose he is ordered for, and how he can "take his place in the world at his best, with every capacity for good that is in him developed into a power."  All of her suggestions on how to educate flow from these truths, these principles.  And a mother operating with "a thinking love" and fulfilling her duty to her children considers these principles and allows them to direct her dealings with her children.

And then Miss Mason goes into the little daily habits of children and considers what the principles require in regard to the regular routines of families.  I find this part of her writing to be so sensible and insightful (and honestly, quite charming too!).  We have (and should have) high expectations of our children, as her principles clearly show.  For example, she writes here, "Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional; let them brace themselves to understand; let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure." (20)  This is a rigorous education that strengthens the will and builds virtue--no easy task at all!  But if we are going to expect all this of our children, we have to consider whether we're setting them up for success or failure:
"I fear the reader may be inclined to think that I am inviting his attention for the most part to a few physiological matters––the lowest round of the educational ladder. The lowest round it may be, but yet it is the lowest round, the necessary step to all the rest. For it is not too much to say that, in our present state of being, intellectual, moral, even spiritual life and progress depend greatly upon physical conditions. That is to say, not that he who has a fine physique is necessarily a good and clever man; but that the good and clever man requires much animal substance to make up for the expenditure of tissue brought about in the exercise of his virtue and his intellect. For example, is it easier to be amiable, kindly, candid, with or without a headache or an attack of neuralgia?"
I feel like she hits the nail right on the head here.  Fresh air, a variety of foods, sunshine, perspiration, baths, ventilation, physical and mental rest, time for digestion...these are not what one necessarily expects to find in a manual of educational philosophy!  Yet even these daily concerns should be ordered by the same principles that the educational model is, and they are essential to growing a human being at his best. Less important are the particular suggestions here than are the way that these suggestions point back to the principles they are built on: mindful motherhood, careful observation of and care for children in their tenderest years, giving children our best.  

So much of the success of our days with little ones depends on managing eating, rest, exercise.  I feel like I constantly need to be attuned to those needs and cues that little bodies and minds cannot discern for themselves.  To be honest, this is something I as an adult have to be mindful of for myself too!  It is so much easier to be consistent with discipline when I am well-rested, or to be calm-mannered when I have eaten a proper breakfast. ;)  It is such a shame when a day is wasted on bickering, laziness, or other discipline issues because we have neglected to attend to the small things of life.  And of course this applies to lessons as well: variety of task and subject, mental freshness, judicious ordering of the schedule--all of these secure the joyous lessons we all desire and which Miss Mason promises.

With a new baby arriving in our home soon, there is going to be a shift-around of our schedule and habits as we try to find a "new normal."  And I'm thinking it will be a great opportunity for me to revisit our family routines and environment with that "thinking love," trying to make sure our home life corresponds to the goals I have for us all!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely Celeste! I'll be coming back to this post for encouragement in the future, for sure! This is very much on my heart at the moment:
    "trying to make sure our home life corresponds to the goals I have for us all."
    i am deep in the midst of pondering my vision, and God's vision, for our family and these little ones, and Miss Mason lays down so beautifully the principles which can guide.