Charlotte Mason Book Study Part Two: Education is a Discipline


For the first post in this series, click here.

As we continue our book study of Education Is... , we mothers get a swift kick in the pants. The second component of Charlotte's three-pronged approach to education is often the one that is most challenging to parents. Education is a discipline and we--the adults--are called quite clearly to a life of personal discipline as we disciple our children. We are reminded in this section that  we "sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character." If we follow the adage to its logical conclusion, our character is the sum total of our habits. I  stop there for a moment and think about my habits. Where do I habitually spend my time? My money? What are the tracks my life usually follows? When given a typical choice, which fork in the track do I take? These are the daily decisions that aren't even decisions any more. They aren't intentional or conscious--they are just "what we do." But if we stopped and thought about them, and if we weighed them in light of what we want our character to be--indeed, what God wants our character to be--are those the choices we would make again and again over the course of a lifetime?

Whoa, Nellie! Hang on! I thought we were talking about educating our children! What's all the early morning introspection about our own characters? In my mind, it's a logical train of thought. When I read about laying down the rails of good tracks of character in the lives of my children and training them in order to cultivate healthy habits, I recognize immediately that this is going to take some serious self-discipline on my part. I need to be disciplined in order to provide an education that is richly disciplined.

Bluebells_2008_002Let's look at Charlotte's thoughts on education as outlined in Education Is...:

1. We should put intentional thought and effort into forming habits.
There it is again: intentional. This is the same mindfulness that was woven into the musings on homemaking. To me, intentional is what happens when I ponder what I want life to look like. I think about a a certain component, whether it's the smooth running of my household or the academic development of a child in his last four years at home, or the nurturing of a love of literature, and I mull it over. I think about it as you take a walk in the morning, the rhythm of stroller wheels setting the cadence of my thoughts. I discuss it with my husband before I go to sleep at night. I pose questions to Our Lord again and again as I offer it in prayer. Then a plan begins to take shape in my thoughts and soon, the plan can be put into action. It is intentional action. It is a thoughtful, prayerful approach to life itself.

2.It's not always easy to administer consequences but our children's futures depend on our faithfulness and efforts to do so.
I think the most helpful thing for me in this regard is to ask myself--when I watch my child do something that he shouldn't-- if I want to nip this in the bud or if I want to deal with the bigger, uglier thing it is likely to become if it goes unchecked. Always, I decide it's worth the effort in the moment. Always.

I found the quote in the book to be especially astute, in terms of academics. Charlotte lived in the 1800s, but clearly children were much the same as they are today. I daresay she had in her acquaintance, a child like one of mine, who thinks that he can put of until tomorrow the challenging school work of today. Natural consequences really won't do in this case. She writes

"In many cases, the natural consequence of the child's fault is precisely that which it is [the mother's] business to avert, while, at the same time, she looks about for some consequence related to the fault which shall have an educative bearing on the child: for instance, if a boy neglects his studies, the natural consequence is that he remains ignorant.; but to allow him to do so would be criminal neglect on the part of the parent"(Vol. 1, pp. 148, 149).

3.Habits can become stronger than natural inclinations.
I am so glad this is true! Sometimes, my natural inclinations are not so virtuous. But we have free will and we have hope and we can override those natural inclinations. I did get a chuckle out of the quote, though. I can't imagine having obedience training accomplished by the time a child is a year old. By two maybe, reserving the right for refresher courses, but not by a year.

4.Education should deal with character issues, not just acquiring a certain amount of knowledge.
In a way, I think this is why we educate at home, in our family. I want the time to devote to the character issues. And I want them to spend more time under the influence of adults striving for holiness instead of other children in formation (or not). Of course, this comes full circle to the idea that habit training is as much about us as them, or more. If I have them home because I think that I can exert a better influence on them than  a classroom full of ten-year-olds, I better hold myself accountable for being that good influence. I need to begin every day praying for the grace to be a good mother, a good disciple of our Lord, a light in darkness and a beacon of Christ, our Hope. In essence, I will never deal effectively with my children's character issues unless I deal with my own.

To rid ourselves of bad habits, Charlotte Mason suggests we replace them with virtuous ones. I know that in my house, my children misbehave a good deal when I have been on the phone or in front of the computer too much. They misbehave when routines slack off and meals are not given enough thought. They misbehave when bedtime isn't observed or they are overprogrammed and too busy. They misbehave when I am inattentive or lazy or tired or inconsistent. Those are bad habits. I must consciously replace them with attention and diligence and action and consistent sleep. ~Real Learning

5.Incessant watchfulness and work are required for forming and preserving habits.

In order to train a child's will in this manner, parents must lay down their lives for them. They must be willing to spend large amounts of time engaged with them. They must believe that children are educated by their intimacies and they must ensure that the child is intimate with what is good and noble and true. And when the child needs correction, the parent must educate in the truest sense of the word. She must teach. Our children are created in the image and likeness of God. If she looks at the child, sees Christ in his eyes, and disciplines accordingly, she will train her children well.~Real Learning

6. Cultivating good habits makes up one-third of our children's education.
Hmmm...I pause here to ask myself if I have considered how to cultivate good habits as much as I have considered which books to buy. And then I wonder if I've spent as much time pursuing good habits as I've spent acquiring curriculum, particularly when I consider the time spent acquiring the money used to purchase curriculum. One third of education is habit training. One third.

7.The effort is in the forming of a habit; once it is formed it is no longer strenuous.
If that's not inspiration, nothing is. Spend the time now, on myself and my children, and we can live in virtue. Seems like a very worthwhile investment.

Sonya lists five ways to cultivate good habits (in our children and ourselves):

  • Pick one habit: Don't overwhelm yourself with trying to right every wrong at once. Focus on habit per child at a time and then keep a watch over habits previously formed.
  • Be vigilant and consistent: This requires grace. Pray, pray, pray for the strength to be consistent, for heavenly shoring up when you're just so tired.
  • Share living examples: In addition to Sonya's suggestions, we can tap into the lives of the saints for examples of real live people who chose virtue.
  • Apply appropriate consequences: All of life is about consequences. " Consequence" is a not a dirty word. It's a good thing to help children understand early that their actions come with consequences.
  • Encourage don't nag: Expect the best in your children and convey to them that you have every confidence that they can be that best. And expect the best in yourself, but don't nag yourself either. Watch what your saying in your head. Are you encouraging yourself? Are you praying for grace? Or do you have a running tape of negative recriminations going all day long to remind yourself how hard this is and how short we fall of the glory of God? What would the Lord say to you? How would his mother speak to you? Speak to yourself the same way.

Finally, Sonya reminds us that discipline brings freedom. It brings joy. It bring the fullness of life in Christ.

Ultimately, we don't want self-controlled children. We want children who hear and answer the Lord. We need to give children choices within limits, but we need to teach them how and why to choose right. We need to train their hearts and educate their minds. When they are fully informed of the consequences of their actions, we need to allow free will, just as our heavenly Father does....Children who are trained in such a way do not have their will subdued; instead they have it inspired by the Holy Spirit. ~Real Learning

Journal what you're thinking about discipline. I'd like to read your thoughts. And remember, Education Is... is a free download. Lots of good thoughts to ponder as we look ahead to a new school year.

Feel free to grab the button at the top for your blog posts. I upgraded my Mr. Linky membership and I still can't get Mr. Linky to talk with Typepad. So...comments are open for links to your journal entries. I don't mean to exclude folks without blogs, but I just can't moderate conversation and cultivate good habits in my home at the same time:-). There's a discussion going at the message board, too.