Charlotte Mason Volume I Part III:II-III

II. The children have no self-compelling power

As a young teacher, Charlotte Mason poured zealous energy into her work, and her students did okay. Just okay. After a while, she thought surely there ought be more to education than this “daily plodding at small tasks” (98). She found some benefit in religious teaching, law / rules, and love — helping kids desire what is right, giving them a little power and motivation to work at doing right, and restraining them somewhat from doing wrong. And yet, these too seemed to have weak results for the energy invested.

Mason figured that, while every child has an innate sense of goodness, they lack the strength of will to choose always to do good. Parents and teachers can use personal influence to urge children toward goodness, but that does nothing to strengthen the will. Because decisions take energy, it would be better (more kind, more just) to reduce the number of moral decisions children must make.

III. What is ‘nature’?

People generally agree, says Mason, that all people share the same basic appetites and instincts. They also share the same motivating desires — for knowledge, for society, and for esteem. Likewise, people everywhere have common feelings, passions, and sense of conscience or duty. These — appetites, instincts, motivating desires, feelings, conscience — make up part of what human nature is. Add in heredity and family’s influence on personality, mannerisms, interests, and the like, as well as individual physical conditions such as bodily health.

Left alone to be ruled by these aspects of human nature, Mason argues that children will neither rise in character nor stay as they are, but will sink lower and lower. Parents and teachers must consider character as important in education as academics, even when character education involves working against a child’s nature. In other words, permissive parenting, without the discipline of boundaries and limits, is ineffective at best and damaging at worst.

In summary, Mason declares that human nature — the nature of humanity as a whole, the nature of the family, and the child’s own nature — is incredibly strong, while the child’s will is generally weak and unreliable. Parents and teachers need to help the child rule his own nature.

Christian parents and teachers should be especially careful about how they act on their faith and trust in God. It is true that ultimately God is sovereign, including in the life of their children. On the other hand, trusting in God’s work is not license to neglect their own work of parenting and teaching.

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