Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Are you a disciplinarian? Do you want to be one?

"By Education is a discipline, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body." ~~ Charlotte Mason

Are you a disciplinarian?

Do you want to be one?

Charlotte Mason says that if she were, hypothetically, asked about discipline-that-really-means-punishment, she would say that punishment has a necessary time and place. Like medicine. A necessary evil.  She says, "But punishment, like physic, is a casualty only of occasional occurrence at the worst, and punishment and physic alike are reduced to a minimum in proportion as we secure healthy conditions of body and mind."

Oh my, the connections that pop up here.

I'll start with our middle-school standby, Uncle Eric (Richard J. Maybury).  Uncle Eric preaches against big prisons full of lots of people being punished for lots of things. For one thing, they're expensive; they eat up taxpayers' money. In his view, prevention of crime would be much more advantageous than an overdeveloped penal system. Sick societies are expensive to run. So in a healthy society, yes, we would probably have jails, but they wouldn't have a lot of inmates.

Then there's Louisa May Alcott's novel Eight Cousins. It's a good story, but it's also a mouthpiece for Alcott's views on healthy lifestyle.  Rose is being cared for by a clutch of aunts, and most of them have particular agendas for her. One in particular, gloomy Aunt Myra, insists on seeing Rose as sickly, and would use any excuse to dose her with favourite medicines. In a rather troubling aside, it's hinted that Aunt Myra may have "dosed" her own daughter to death. Clearly this is a well-meaning woman who should be given a wide berth.

But into the story comes Uncle Alec, a doctor, who takes away Rose's morning coffee, as well as her corset and her silly dresses, and makes her go out and play and build up her constitution. "Healthy conditions of body and mind."  Aunt Myra's medicines are to be avoided at all costs; but even Uncle Alec's would be reserved for actual sickness. Later in the book, Rose does catch pleurisy, ironically, when Uncle Alec pushes his "healthfulness" envelope a little too far, and Aunt Myra gets her chance to gloat...but not to medicate.

What part does Discipline play in Uncle Alec's approach to health? What part does it play in Uncle Eric's just society? We think that Uncle Alec (or Alcott) and Uncle Eric (or Maybury) would, like Charlotte Mason, say something about method vs. system.
"We have a method of education, it is true [not a system], but method is no more than a way to an end, and is free, yielding, adaptive as Nature herself. Method has a few comprehensive laws according to which details shape themselves, as one naturally shapes one's behaviour to the acknowledged law that fire burns. (Ooh, Natural Law!) System, on the contrary, has an infinity of rules and instructions as to what you are to do and how you are to do it. (Political Law?) Method in education follows Nature humbly; stands aside and gives her fair play." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, chapter 16
"Not mere spurts of occasional punishment, but the incessant watchfulness and endeavour which go to the forming and preserving of the habits of the good life, is what we mean by discipline; and, from this point of view, never were there such disciplinarians as the parents who labour on the lines we would indicate. Every habit of courtesy, consideration, order, neatness, punctuality, truthfulness, is itself a schoolmaster, and orders life with the most unfailing diligence." ~~ C.M., same.
So yes, yes, yes, in those terms, we need to be the biggest disciplinarians that ever were!  But not in the style of Miss Norrie (Martha's old governess), but of Miss Crow instead. Like Miss Dunbar (in the tree there), in Belle Dorman Rugh's Crystal Mountain. (But not Mary Poppins, she's too tricky.) We are teaching "the good life." We are diligent to teach that spirit of the law, rather than satisfied only with the letter.

If you want to read a whole chapter of Charlotte Mason's thinking on discipline, the place to go is her Volume 2, Chapter 16.


Dawn said...

Just dropping by to say that I am really enjoying this new series, Mama Squirrel. As aways - thanks!

Mama Squirrel said...

Thank you, Dawn!

Kathy W. said...

So, in other words, discipline is also an atmosphere. In Maybury's ideal, there would be more jobs than jails. You can create an environment that lends itself to good habits by what you allow in that environment: is it full of distractions or is it calm? You can discipline by your gifts - you give a child what they need: healthy food and time outside, but not always what they want: coffee, candy and frilly dresses.

I'm working on posts addressing a similar vein - helping an older child develop good habits after years of public school. I think we may overlap a bit! I'm enjoying your writing.

Mama Squirrel said...

Kathy, I think the difference is both that it's positive (rather than punitive, most of the time), and that the goal is to get the children to have those good habits themselves, rather than depending on us to always tell them what to do.

Kathy W. said...

So that the habits generalize when they are not in an environment that is so conducive to their development.

Mama Squirrel said...

I'm not quite sure I'm following that. Could you help me out?

Kathy W. said...

If the children have the habits themselves, rather than depending on us to always tell them what to do, as you say, then children will be also less dependent upon an environment to continue having good habits: they will be less distracted in a distracting environment, they will be truthful when no one else is, etc. Does that make sense? I was just intending to expand on your idea.

Mama Squirrel said...

Yes, now I get it. Right, so it's like they've built up some muscle so they can handle challenges. Like, just to use an example, Tammy's daughter has grown in her ability to handle stressful situations, and part of that is the way Tammy has modelled calmness when things go wrong. (Like breaking the Lego sled in the Little House lesson at L'Harmas.)

walking said...

What is intriguing to me is coming across children who have fallen into habits that are so ingrained it takes a lot of effort to change. Sometimes, it is family situations that are very unstable for whatever reason. Or, it's parents who are too slack or too harsh in their discipline. Or, it's teachers who are too rule-oriented because of the system or who are too slack as a reaction to the system. Or, it's adults who prey on children. Or, it's not being able to spend enough time outdoors and too much time on electronics. Or something undiagnosed that may not need a medicine but may need some alternative strategies and more tools in the toolbox.

What I'm learning about now is how to help them reorient their thinking, which unfortunately requires a strong negative consequence until they decide that change really is worth the effort.