Charlotte Mason’s Sixth Volume – Chapter Two

If you missed the summaries on the preface or chapter one, you can find them at the links.

Chapter two is just full of encouragement and revelation. Every time I read it I get excited about it again. It’s just.. well, you just have to read it yourself. But let’s jump in.

“Children are born persons.”

This is the rallying cry of Charlotte Mason, but for a long time I had a hard time completely accepting the premise. Now that I’ve gone over the fence, so to speak, I can’t remember exactly what kept me from accepting it in the first place. I’ve seen it well enough in my own kids, the curiosity, the aptitude for learning everything about the world around them, the personalities that begin to surface within weeks or even days of birth. Children are born complete – not mature, but complete – with everything they need to examine and absorb and figure out what’s in front of them. What’s more, they are born creations of God. The Bible tells us, “Before you were born, I knew you.” They contain the future God has mapped out for them in their little seed-forms.

In the last chapter we discussed how ideas and education are the food of the mind, and that the mind needs to be fed just as the body does. And just as the body will atrophy and wither without proper diet and exercise, so will the mind.

“Even if we aren’t convinced that children are born with minds as complete and beautiful as their perfect little bodies, we at least have to admit that they have as much mind as they need, to do all the things and learn everything they need to. In other words, a child’s mind is like the instrument that education plays upon; his education doesn’t produce a mind in him. His mind was already there and active before he ever entered the classroom.”

So the role of education is not to create a great mind within the child (although as an educator I sometimes want to feel that it is) but to feed the mind that is already there and encourage it to mature.

More favorite quotes from chapter two:

“Who can measure the limits of a child’s thoughts? His constant questions about God and speculations about Jesus are more than idle curiosity. They are symptoms of a God-hunger that we’re all born with. He may be able to comprehend as much about the infinite and the unseen as we complacent adults.”

When my oldest daughter was about four years old, I found her on the couch looking at a little crucifix keychain I had on my keys. She asked me about it and I explained to her, in simple terms, about Jesus and his sacrifice for us. I was very surprised when she started to cry. She felt deeply sad and wanted to pray and ask Jesus into her heart. I didn’t need to teach her about God, or lecture her; she had, inherent in her, a desire to know, and what’s more, the capacity to understand, albeit on her own level.

“Reason is just as much a part of children’s minds as imagination. As soon as a child can speak, he lets us know that he has wondered the ‘why’ of things, and he asks us a thousand questions. His ‘Why?’ is endless! And his logic isn’t as senseless as we might think. Look how early a toddler manages to charm his daycare giver or mother to get his own way! He will feel out her moods and play on her feelings. It is born in him to be like a tyrant. His daycare giver says, ‘he has a will of his own,’ but she is wrong. His passionate displays of greed, stubbornness and temper are not really signs of his will. It is only when the little boy is able to stop all these and restrain himself with a quivering lip that his will comes into play. After all, no one can make a child obey unless he wants to–unless he wills himself to [you can force compliance, but not willing obedience.] And we all know how even the tiniest rebel can cause mayhem at home or in the classroom.” (Emphasis mine)

This is really the beginning of a much larger discussion, but the idea that bad behavior comes not from willfulness but from lack of will power turned some of my parenting on it’s head. But more on that another time.

“In our Training College, student teachers aren’t taught how to hold children’s attention, how to keep order, how to grade papers, how to discipline with punishment or even rewards, how to manage a large classroom or a small one-room school with children of all different grades. When teachers understand what children are capable of and what they need, these things take care of themselves. To hear inner-city children telling about King Lear or Scott’s Woodstock, by the hour if you let them, or describing Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Lamb or Botticelli’s Spring in minute detail, is a surprise. It’s a revelation! We stand amazed–we had no idea it was in them, whether we’re parents, teachers or onlookers. And with this feeling of awe, we’ll be better prepared to think about how children should be educated, and what resources should be used. Let me add that all the claims I make have been substantiated with thousands of instances just in our experience alone.”

I love this passage for two reasons – first because it gives me hope that there is more to teaching than keeping order, and that children can really love their education, and second because she has proof!

And the last one, which I won’t comment on. Just let it sink in.

“We teach the child to say his prayers without realizing how real his prayers are to him.”

Indeed.

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