Tuesday, July 11, 2017

School Education Chapter 1: Docility and Authority

Quick Summary

Parenting styles have changed. In the past, parents were generally autocratic and distant, now (in Charlotte Mason's time and in ours) they are more "intimate, frank, and friendly" with their children. In many ways this rejection of the arbitrary authority of parents is a positive change, but it would be wise to examine the underlying philosophical reasons for it.

Locke's "doctrine of infallible reason," that individual reason is the ultimate authority, has led inevitably to Herbert Spencer's conclusion that (in Charlotte Mason's words): "The enthronement of the human reason is the dethronement of Almighty God...From the dethronement of the divine, follows the dethronement of all human authority, whether it be of kings and their deputies over nations, or of parents over families." In other words, all authority can be rejected as arbitrary.

In contrast, Charlotte Mason believes in God and his divine authority. No one inherently has a right to exercise authority unless God has given that person authority. Even then, authority is limited by the fact that the one in authority is also under authority. 


"...truer educational thought must of necessity result in an output of more worthy character." p. 4

"But it is much to a child to know that he may question, may talk of the thing that perplexes him, and that there is comprehension for his perplexities. Effusive sympathy is a mistake, and bores a child when it does not make him silly. But just to know that you can ask and tell is a great outlet, and means, to the parent, the power of direction, and to the child, free and natural development." p. 4-5

"So long as men acknowledge a God, they of necessity acknowledge authority, supreme and deputed." p. 6

"...none of us has a right to exercise authority, in things great or small, except as we are, and acknowledge ourselves to be, deputed by the one supreme and ultimate Authority." p. 7

"But, because philosophic thought is so subtle and permeating an influence, it is our part to scrutinize every principle that presents itself. Once we are able to safeguard ourselves in this way, we are able to profit by the wisdom of works which yet rest upon what we regard as radical errors." p. 8

"It is not only one good custom, but one infallible principle, which may 'corrupt a world.' Some such principle stands out luminous in the vision of a philosopher; he sees it is truth; it takes possession of him and he believes it to be the whole truth, and urges it to the point of reductio ad absurdum. Then the principle at the opposite pole of thought is similarly illuminated and glorified by a succeeding school of thought; and, later, it is discerned that it is not by either principle, but by both, that men live." p. 11

"We know that a person in authority is a person authorized; and that he who is authorized is under authority. The person under authority holds and fulfils a trust; in so far as he asserts himself, governs upon the impulse of his own will, he ceases to be authoritative and authorized, and becomes arbitrary and autocratic." p. 12


I wrote about this chapter three years ago as well: It's Not Because I'm the Mom.
Jen Snow's commentary is here: Approachability and Rightful Authority
If you know of someone else who has blogged through volume 3, please let me know so I can include the link.

This post is part of a daily read-through of Charlotte Mason's Volume 3: School Education. It's not too late to jump in and read with me! If you do not have the book, you can read it for free online at Ambleside Online. They even have a modern paraphrase, if you feel a bit intimidated by the original.