Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Love, justice, and Dick Van Dyke: Philosophy of Education, Chapter Three (Part Three)



In an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show called "Never Name a Duck," the Petries' son Ritchie becomes very attached to a pet duck named Stanley, but the duck starts to get sick and it's obvious that he needs to go and live outdoors.  (There was also one named Oliver, but he died.) After depositing the duck at the park, "Rob" (the father)  has to deal with his son's anger at losing his pet.  Ritchie insists that loving Stanley means they should have kept him; his father says no.  "If I just kissed you on the head and then did all the things that were bad for you, that wouldn't be love at all."  Rob makes the point that Ritchie wouldn't take a fish out of the tank and hug it and kiss it and make it sleep on a pillow beside him, just because he loved it.  Suddenly, Ritchie gets it.  Reason to the rescue.

The proper title of Charlotte Mason's Volume, Chapter 3 is "The Good and Evil Nature of a Child."  So far in the chapter, Charlotte has covered the goods and evils that we (parents, teachers) can do in a child's physical and mental development, as well as the messages that the child needs to get as well to overcome his or her own "goods and evils."

And at this point, she jumps into the child's moral development, or, as she calls it in Ourselves, the House of Heart.  What does morality have to do with hard thought, or education?  Isn't that where we can stay safe, and just pick something nicely illustrated from the church library or Christian homeschool vendor for our "moral lessons?"  Isn't a child's morality a simple matter of obedience and submission to those in authority?  For instance, would some parents prefer a story where Ritchie simply accepts his father's decision to free Stanley, rather than having him start packing his suitcase to go live in the park with the duck?  Should Ritchie have been told to shut up, because the adults knew best?  To be honest, I'm more impressed with (Carl Reiner's) writing in this series--and it's not known for being a show especially about parenting--than I have been with many other old sitcoms where the "father knew best."  Rob doesn't try to trick Ritchie into behaving, or at least into not running away (I think there's a Brady Bunch episode where that happens); he gives him something important to think about, about what love is.

The bad and good news:  life itself is a morality lesson.  Morality cannot be packaged in a few nice stories or in a Sunday School songbook.  More bad and good news:  children already have a good sense of morality, love, and justice, but if we're not careful, we can throw it out of whack.  The best news:  illustrations of love and justice are found in abundance in the stories of "norms and nobility," so while it's necessary to be wise and cautious in our choosing of them, we don't have to be heavy-handed in the serving.  "[We must] trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues." 

What are the consequences if we overstep or abuse our teaching authority in these areas?  "This, of justice, is another spiritual provision which we fail to employ duly in our schools; and so wonderful is this principle that we cannot kill, paralyse, or even benumb it, but, choked in its natural course, it spreads havoc and devastation where it should have made the soil fertile for the fruits of good living."

She spends a fair amount of time in Ourselves expanding on the role of education in developing a sense of justice:

"Few of the offices of education are more important than that of preparing men to distinguish between their rights and their duties. We each have our rights and other persons have their duties towards us as we towards them; but it is not easy to learn that we have precisely the same rights as other people and no more; that other people owe to us just such duties as we owe to them. This fine art of self-adjustment is possible to everyone because of the ineradicable principle which abides in us. But our eyes must be taught to see, and hence the need for all the processes of education, futile in proportion as they do not serve this end. To think fairly requires, we know, knowledge as well as consideration."

Did you catch that last bit?  It's very important.  To do justice, you have to be able to think through a problem, and have the knowledge (possibly drawn from history, or from the example of a great leader) to deal with it, as well as the courage and love required to carry out the plan.  An action that appears kind, that is well-meant, may in fact be destructive.  Like some methods of teaching morality...

Children learn justice in the areas of truth,  integrity, justice in action; integrity in work, integrity in thought, and "that justice in motive which we call sound principles. For what, after all, are principles but those motives of first importance which govern us, move us in thought and action?"
Here we have one more reason why there is nothing in all those spiritual stores in the world's treasury too good for the education of all children. Every lovely tale, illuminating poem, instructive history, every unfolding of travel and revelation of science exists for children.--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, Chapter Three
We may as well finish Chapter Three here, with "The Well-Being of the Soul."  Again, here's the question:  "We may well ask with diffidence and humility what may education do for the Soul of a child?...But what sort of approaches do we prepare for children towards the God whom they need, the Saviour in Whom is all help, the King who affords all delight, commands all adoration and loyalty?"  And again, here's the answer:  "Any words or thoughts of ours are poor and insufficient, but we have a treasury of divine words which they read and know with satisfying pleasure and tell with singular beauty and fitness.  'The Bible is the most interesting book I know,' said a young person of ten who had read a good many books and knew her Bible. By degrees children get that knowledge of God which is the object of the final daily prayer in our beautiful liturgy––the prayer of St Chrysostom––'Grant us in this world knowledge of Thy truth,' and all other knowledge which they obtain gathers round and illuminates this."

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