III: Offending the Children
Charlotte Mason distinguishes “offending” and “despising” the children as sinning by commission and by omission, respectively.
She claims that children are “born law-abiding” (13). Her reasoning is that children feel shame when they are called naughty, which reveals that they have a conscience — a sense of right and wrong.
I agree that children have some sense of right and wrong, but I am not sure that they are naturally law-abiding — knowing the law is not the same as obeying it.
Shaming children is one way of offending them; calling them “naughty” seriously or in jest is not good.
Shame is a difficult one; when you do wrong, it’s natural and appropriate to feel ashamed. I guess the point is not to pile on external shame. Also — remorse for wrong-doing is not the same thing as sorrow over losing a parent’s smiling approval. I think remorse comes later in childhood…
When parents allow small trespasses to slip by, especially if parents are obviously amused by the trespass(es), the child will conclude that parents are governed by choice / will, instead of by law / right and wrong. He will then bend his efforts to persuade the parent to choose or will what the child wants — and children can be very persistent in pursuit of a goal, while a parent has many things on their mind / list and is at a disadvantage in this kind of struggle.
Parents should therefore be law-abiding, and not think themselves free to choose what laws to obey at what times. There must be a law beyond mom’s whim or personal preference.
This makes sense on the one hand — it would be confusing to have parents choosing based on whim or the moment instead of based on what’s right and wrong. On the other hand, what does Mason think of the idea of choosing one’s battles? No parent can follow through with every single infraction, consistently. And doing so doesn’t seem right, either — it seems like it would narrow and darken the family atmosphere. I suppose that choosing battles is different from being amused by a trespass or from allowing an intentional wrongdoing. It is not always easy to know when a child understands that she is doing something wrong, but when it IS clear, the parent should act on it.
Children will accept this external law with “sweet meekness” but “how they struggle against parental choosings” (15).
This fits with advice to use timers and clocks and routines to govern ordinary recurring things, instead of always the parent saying “It’s time to…”
Mason advises against giving reasons, saying doing so is “usually out of place and is a sacrifice against parental dignity.” Instead, children will perceive the sense of law-governance from the parents’ manner and actions.
Really? Not sure on this one. Maybe it depends on the situation. Sometimes it’s necessary to act first and succinctly, and then later a discussion might be appropriate. A story from Little House in the Big Woods has stayed with me from a recent reading — Laura smacks Mary, speechless and shamed about Mary’s gloating about her golden curls. Pa immediately calls her over for a spanking, sternly reminding her that he has said they must never hit one another, and not allowing her to cast blame on Mary. But later in the evening, he kindly took her on his knee to listen to her side of things, affirm her feelings, and give her a new perspective. Excellent sense of timing, excellent harmony of kindness and firmness.
Thus far we’ve been talking about the offenses related to a sense of right and wrong. Mason also mentions that it is an offense to give children unwholesome food, bad housing, or otherwise harm their health. Likewise, she argues against “dreary dawdling lessons in which definite progress is the last thing made or expected” (16). Finally, she also advises that the child’s outward affections not be overly curtailed.
I agree about the food and the home; I do wonder, though, what she would advise for the poor — presumably that they do their best to make the home as healthy as possible. This isn’t about the number or quality of toys or furnishings, but about health issues — adequate heat, clothing, etc.
Lessons? Absolutely. It seems clear to me that kids start with a love of learning through play, exploration, questioning, experimenting. Then many of them quickly or gradually lose this love of learning because of the way it’s done… hours upon hours, flashcards and lectures and worksheets, all doing the same things at the same times… one of the primary reasons I’d like to homeschool is because I hate the thought of Amy being in a school for so many hours a day, so many days a week, kept away from the wide world.
And affections, yes to that, too. A current example: Amy has asked us to invite for her birthday party her teachers from this year and last year, and a couple from Mark’s school that she loves. While this sounds unusual and a little weird, I don’t want to shame or discourage her affections — if these adults are the guests she desires, then they are the ones invited.