Charlotte Mason Volume I Part III:I

I. Education based upon natural law

Charlotte Mason first summarizes the previous parts, reminding readers about the provisions for healthy brains, and reiterating that the child younger than six or seven learns most effectively from free exploration in nature. She then introduces the theme of this part: “Habit is TEN natures.”

“[H]abit, in the hands of the mother, is as his wheel to the potter, his knife to the carver––the instrument by means of which she turns out the design she has already conceived in her brain,” states Mason, and a bit later, “I have been brought to look upon habit as the means whereby the parent may make almost anything he chooses of his child” (97).

I have a great big qualm to set aside if I am to give Mason the benefit of the doubt on this one!

We shall read on and see what exactly she means — I hope indeed that she does not really mean that parents decide what to make of their children and then set about the task. Perhaps the potter she envisions is the kind that looks first at the clay and endeavors to see what the clay wants to become… the kind that adapts, that is flexible, that follows what he learns as he works with the clay. And / or perhaps she’s thinking of very broad basic things like “I want my child to know how to learn,” things that could legitimately be goals for many children.

And yet, contrast those two sentences of hers with this:

This particular program [my friend was telling me about] boasted of children with higher intelligence. Other programs say they will make your child a genius, a prodigy, or a standout in a particular sport or discipline.

And it got me thinking about RIE. What does RIE promise to make our children? It doesn’t tell us they will be smarter. It doesn’t tell us they will be more confident. Perhaps spatially aware, but that’s a bit of an odd goal.

No, RIE tells us our children will be themselves. 

Even writing that down makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to go back and say, wait, what I really mean is that it will help them become a better version of themselves, or the best version of themselves, or a superhuman version of themselves. Right??

But it doesn’t. Just themselves. 

Would you rather have a mother who has a design in mind to carve in you? Or a mother who wants you to be your own true self? Perhaps we will find, in further sections, that these two ideas are not so mutually exclusive as they seem. After all, gentle non-punitive parenting doesn’t imply permissive neglectful parenting, so perhaps parenting for the child’s own true self can include ideas and goals that the parent has for the child. It’s just… the way she flat out compares parenting to a potter executing a preconceived design… it just rubs me the wrong way.

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5 thoughts on “Charlotte Mason Volume I Part III:I

  1. I want our kids to be the best version of themselves they can be: in all aspects of life. The problem with Charlotte’s statement is that the results are not always what we intend – though they are the results of our actions or inactions.

  2. HHHmmmm… What I know of CM and habit training is VERY different than this. I’m not understanding how you came to this conclusion! I can tell you my personal experience~that habits are my weakest area, and this trickles down to my children. This means that there aren’t good routines set in place (or overseen/reinforced) in necessary areas~like some matters of hygiene or clutter or working diligently, for instance. I think that a parent diligently training children in these habits equals a world of good for them, where I have lots to overcome and worry my children will, too. This is how I see CM and molding the habits of children~not at all taking away from who they are, but allowing them to reach their potential through good and necessary habits.

    Do you plan to continue this study with other methods of education when you’re done with CM?

    • I think it’s a matter of the wording — when you’re just reading an introduction like this opener to the section on habits, it’s not always clear exactly how the general principles are going to be applied, or what she has in mind. The quotations rubbed me the wrong way, but I am glad to hear that your experience of habit training is more positive and not about molding kids into personalities or jobs or whatever that the parent has chosen for them. I just wish she’d expressed it differently in this intro — “the parent may make almost anything he chooses of his child” just sounds pretty yucky to me.

      I still feel that CM is my top choice for homeschooling approach, even though I have found things to disagree with here and there. I think about how I might include / continue some Montessori stuff as well — not sure if I will blog through any resources on Montessori or not. I don’t really have much interest in other approaches at this point, so I don’t anticipate studying much beyond that.

  3. Doesn’t this writing come after she shares that children are born persons~not blank slates to be written on, empty cups to be filled? For that reason, it never crossed my mind to take it any other way. I think this is why I have especially enjoyed some of the modern books based on her writings for this reason. It shows the practical in the now, for our time where some of her ideas would clearly not be as good today as they were in her time. It also helped me not make conclusions over what I felt from my life experiences after reading her work, because my take was not always what she meant~imagine that! LOL!

    Wow… I am definitely guilty of reading the Bible in this way sometimes, too….

    • Yes, I’m trying to be aware of how my initial reactions might have more to do with my own stuff and not so much with her intentions, and good point about how we do that with the Bible, too.

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