[Update: this has been somewhat shortened from its original posting.]
I promised something slightly different today...so I have invited Charlotte Mason and some online friends to participate in an online discussion. Watch out, you may find yourself quoted.
Mama Squirrel: Miss Mason, there are some principles discussed at the end of Home Education that I had to skip over in my description of your methods. Could you please tell us about those?
Charlotte Mason: There are two secrets of moral and intellectual self management which should be offered to children; these we may call the Way of the Will and the Way of the Reason. The Way of the Will is that children should be taught to distinguish between 'I want' and 'I will.' They should be taught that the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will; that the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting; and that, after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour.
Mama Squirrel: So we are to will ourselves not to will something?
Charlotte Mason: No, the aim of diversion is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may 'will' again with added power.
Mama Squirrel: So this is a method that we can give to children to use?
Charlotte Mason: No; in the first place, the Will is something that is developed as the children mature; before they are ready to use it fully, they must make more use of Habit. While the child has no character to speak of, but only natural disposition, who is to keep humming-tops out of a geography lesson, or a doll's sofa out of a French verb? And where is the harm? In this: not merely that the children are wasting time, though that is a pity; but that they are forming a habit of never focusing fully on anything, and reducing their own capacity for mental effort. The help, then, is not the will of the child but in the habit of attention, a habit to be cultivated even in the infant.
Second, the Way of the Will is not a tool of behavioural change such as hypnosis. The use of suggestion––even self suggestion––as an aid to the will, is to be condemned, as tending to stultify and stereotype character.
Mama Squirrel: I don’t quite understand that. You are saying that by repeating something like “I will not have another chocolate” or “No, I really don’t want to do that” even if you really do, you are misdirecting the power of the will by treating yourself like a robot?
Charlotte Mason: Yes. It is better to stop trying to force the will, to think of something different, and then to put it back to work after a short break.
Mama Squirrel: If something very systematic, on the order of self-hypnosis, would be more effective in teaching you to want something or to change a habit, why would it not be a better idea to use it? Perhaps it would be even less of an effort for us, if we could just have that little voice talking to our subconscious. Like those motivational tapes that say, “Yes, I really am a good housekeeper. I always wash dirty dishes whenever I see them. Dust bunnies make me cringe. I attack clutter viciously. I love housework.”
Charlotte Mason: It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.
Mama Squirrel: So if I changed my dusting habits through suggestion, then I might have a cleaner house but I would have not have developed my Will?
Charlotte Mason: Yes. This also applies more generally to education. A System is easier than a Method. A 'system of education' is an alluring fancy; more so, on some counts, than a method, because it is pledged to more definite calculable results. By means of a system certain developments may be brought about through the observance of given rules. It is so successful in achieving precise results, that it is no wonder there should be endless attempts to confine the whole field of education to the limits of a system.
Cindy: This exactness is so appealing. It gives us a feeling of accomplishment and success. It allows us to focus on classroom management rather than ideas. We use the tools of learning as weapons against our students. We don't give them the tools, we use the tools on them.
Charlotte Mason: If a human being were a machine, education could do no more for him than to set him in action in prescribed ways, and the work of the educator would be simply to adopt a good working system or set of systems.
Mama Squirrel: All right--what about the Way of the Reason?
Charlotte Mason: The Way of the Reason means that we should teach children not to 'lean' (too confidently) 'unto their own understanding,' because of the function of reason is, to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth; and (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide, but in the second it is not always a safe one, for whether that initial idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.
Mama Squirrel: I find that easier to understand than the Way of the Will. Most people would probably agree that we can rationalize even our irrational beliefs and behaviour.
Charlotte Mason: Children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of initial ideas. To help them in this choice we should give them principles of conduct and a wide range of the knowledge fitted for them. This should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.
Mama Squirrel: Some Christians reading this may feel that we are putting undue emphasis on our own abilities to reason and to will. Does that mean we are not depending on God to guide us or to make us willing to do certain things?
Charlotte Mason: We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.
Mama Squirrel: You mention duty…but you also speak of not encroaching on children. Aren’t we encroaching by imposing our demands on them, likely with the thought that they will be punished if they don’t obey us?
Charlotte Mason: The principles of authority on the one hand and obedience on the other are natural, necessary and fundamental...limited, of course, by the respect that is due to the child’s personality. The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children. All day she is crying out, 'Do this!' and they do it not; 'Do that!' and they do the other. In fact it is less tiring for everyone when good habits are in place. The mother herself acquires the habit of training her children in a given habit, so that by-and-by it becomes, not only no trouble, but a pleasure to her.
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