This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.
What does the LORD require of you? He is the authority to whom we owe our obedience. Parents' authority is derived from God's, and they must be diligent to apply the pattern, the principles, and the limitations of authority they find in the Bible.
Everyone is born with a conscience, but that conscience must be educated to discern good and evil. Charlotte Mason believed that children are born neither moral nor immoral, but with infinite possibilites for good and evil. These possibilities are greatly affected, for good or ill, by a child's nurture and education.
What methods can we use in moral teaching?
1. Direct and comprehensive teaching from the Bible and the Catechism. Charlotte Mason also commends a habit of daily reminding ourselves of "the whole duty of man."
2. Poetry, to inspire with high poetic ideals of love, virtue, and duty.
3. Object lessons, as in the medieval Church. They portrayed, in art and architecture, "visible signs of spiritual things signified."
4. Biographies, both from the Bible and of great people of history, to inspire children towards high ideals.
5. Patriotic poems, to inspire children with love of country.
6. Personal choice of mottoes. Children can choose inspiring ideas for themselves to copy from their reading.
7. Moral habits. Parents can facilitate these by keeping inspiring ideas before the children and providing every-day opportunities to practice doing what is right.
"'Ought' is part of the verb 'to owe,' and that which we owe is a personal debt to a Lawgiver and Ruler,..." (p. 126)
"[Parents] see [in the Gospels] that authority works by principles and not by rules, and that as they themselves are the deputy authorities set over every household, it becomes them to consider the divine method of government." (p. 127)
"Even the divine authority does not compel. It indicates the way and protects the wayfarer, and strengthens and directs self-compelling power. It permits a man to make free choice of obedience rather than compels him to obey. In the moral training of children arbitrary action almost always produces revolt." (p. 128)
"It is in their early years at home that children should be taught to realise that duty can exist only as that which we owe to God; that the law of God is exceeding broad and encompasses us as the air we breathe, only more so, for it reaches to our secret thoughts; and this is not a hardship but a delight." (p. 128)
"No doubt every child is born with a conscience, that is, with a sense that he ought to choose the right and refuse the wrong; but he is not born with the power to discern good and evil. An educated conscience is a far rarer possession than we imagine;.." (p. 129)
"...that most delicate and beautiful of human possessions, an educated conscience, comes only by teaching with authority and adorning by example." (p. 129)
"We need go no further than the Ten Commandments and our Lord's exposition of the moral law to find corrective teaching for the spasmodic, impulsive moral efforts which tend to make up our notion of what the children call 'being good,'..." (p. 130)
"It is time we set ourselves seriously to this work of moral education which is to be done, most of all, by presenting the children with high ideals. 'Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime,' and the study of the lives of great men and of the great moments in the lives of smaller men is most wonderfully inspiring to children, especially when they perceive the strenuousness of the childhood out of which a noble manhood has evolved itself." (p. 133)
"The Bible is, of course, a storehouse of most inspiring biographies; but it would be well if we could manage our teaching so as to bring out in each character the master-thought of all his thinking." (p. 133)
"It would not be a bad idea for children to make their own year-book, with a motto for every day in the year culled from their own reading. What an incentive to a good day it would be to read in the morning as a motto of our very own choice and selection, and not the voice of an outside mentor: 'Keep ye the law; be swift in all obedience'!" (p. 135)
"The moral impulse having been given by means of some such inspiring idea as we have considered, the parent's or teacher's next business is to keep the idea well to the front, with tact and delicacy, and without insistence, and to afford apparently casual opportunities for moral effort on the lines of the first impulse." (p. 135)
"One caution I should like to offer. A child's whole notion of religion is 'being good.' It is well that he should know that being good is not his whole duty to God, although it is so much of it; that the relationship of love and personal service, which he owes as a child to his Father, as a subject to his King, is even more than the 'being good' which gives our Almighty Father such pleasure in His children." (p. 136)
This was such a practical chapter! I loved her suggestions.
Once again I ran into doubts about Charlotte Mason's second principle, even though I've read convincing things about its soundness and even written positively about it myself. I really don't know what to say about it all, except that Charlotte Mason was not infallible, and it's okay to disagree, or not be sure, or to hold it all in suspension pending further clarification as you continue to read. (That last one is me...) But how can you follow a philosophy and method if you're not sure of some of the foundational work? In this case, you think about what you really do believe about children and follow it to its conclusion in education. You examine if and how that differs from what Charlotte Mason taught. In this case, I believe that her principle led her to a higher confidence in the power of education (and especially of habit) than I share, but it does not lead to a difference in method.
Like Charlotte Mason, I believe in my duty as a parent in the moral education of my children. I believe in teaching children to discern between right and wrong, to teach them what God requires of them, and inspire them with the highest ideals. However, I believe that my children will fail. (Perhaps this is where I part ways with her.) When they do, daily, (as I do, too!) my job is to point them to the gospel, to the grace of God in sending Jesus to die for their sin. And when they put their faith in him, their highest motivation "to be good" will be gratitude and love, not dutifulness.
And with that, I'm with Charlotte Mason again. "A child's whole notion of religion is 'being good.' It is well that he should know that being good is not his whole duty to God, although it is so much of it; that the relationship of love and personal service, which he owes as a child to his Father, as a subject to his King, is even more than the 'being good' which gives our Almighty Father such pleasure in His children."