Wednesday, July 12, 2017

School Education Chapter 2: How Authority Behaves

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.

Quick Summary of Chapter 2

Autocracy and Authority are two very different things. Autocracy is self-derived, Authority is God-derived. You can recognize autocracy by its fruits: "impatient and resentful, on the watch for transgressions, and swift to take offence." (p. 16) It also has many rules and harsh and arbitrary punishments. In contrast, authority is both gentle and firm: "easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because she is immovable in matters of real importance". (p. 17)

We teach children the habit of obedience when they are young in order that they will have self-discipline when they are older. But wouldn't it be better to teach children to choose to do what is right based on conscience, rather than mere habit? We must do both: every habit of obedience takes away the constant effort of decision from the child and provides practice for when they do face moral choices, as of course they will. But it is not too late if you have not trained a young child in the habit of obedience. Older children often respond well to patient leadership and "the stimulus of an idea".

Authority is an aspect of love. It means self-denial for the parents, and "quiet rest and gaiety of heart" for the children. We would do well to meditate daily on where our authority is derived from.


"This, too, is the position that our Lord assumes; He says: 'I came not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me.' That is His commission and the standing order of His life, and for this reason He spake as one having authority, knowing Himself to be commissioned and supported." p. 16

"Authority is not uneasy; captious, harsh and indulgent by turns. This is the action of autocracy, which is self-sustained as it is self-derived, and is impatient and resentful, on the watch for transgressions, and swift to take offence. Autocracy has ever a drastic penal code, whether in the kingdom, the school, or the family. It has, too, many commandments." p. 16

"Authority is neither harsh nor indulgent. She is gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because she is immovable in matters of real importance; for these, there is always a fixed principle." p. 17

"Authority is alert; she knows all that is going on and is aware of tendencies. She fulfils the apostolic precept--'He that ruleth (let him do it), with diligence.' But she is strong enough to fulfil that other precept also, 'He that showeth mercy (let him do it), with cheerfulness'; timely clemency, timely yielding is a great secret of strong government." p. 17

"...if we wish children to be able, when they grow up, to keep under their bodies and bring them into subjection, we must do this for them in their earlier years." p. 19

" must, before all things, have practice; one must have got into the way of working it involuntarily, without giving any thought to the matter: and to give a child this power over himself --first in response to the will of another, later, in response to his own, is to make a man of him." p. 20

"The man who can make himself do what he wills has the world before him, and it rests with parents to give their children this self-compelling power as a mere matter of habit. But is it not better and higher, it may be asked, to train children to act always in response to the divine mandate as it makes itself heard through the voice of conscience? The answer is, that in doing this we must not leave the other undone. There are few earnest parents who do not bring the power of conscience to bear on their children, and there are emergencies enough in the lives of young and old when we have to make a spiritual decision upon spiritual grounds --when it rests with us to choose the good and refuse the evil, consciously and voluntarily, because it is God's will that we should." p. 20

"...ninety-nine out of a hundred things we do, are done, well or ill, as mere matters of habit." p. 21

" is startling and shocking that there are many children of thoughtful parents whose lives are spent in day-ong efforts of decision upon matters which it is their parents' business to settle for them." p. 21

"On the other hand, children are before all things reasonable beings, and to some children of acute and powerful intelligence, an arbitrary and apparently unreasonable command is cruelly irritating. It is not advisable to answer children categorically when they want to know the why for every command, but wise parents steer a middle course. They are careful to form habits upon which the routine of life runs easily, and, when the exceptional event requires a new regulation, they may make casual mention of their reasons for having so and so done; or, if this is not convenient and the case is a trying one, they give the children the reason for all obedience--"for this is right." In a word, authority avoids, so far as may be, giving cause of offence." p. 22

"Nobody knows better than the wise mother the importance of giving a child time to collect himself for a decisive moment." p. 22

"...authority is just and faithful in all matters of promise-keeping; it is also considerate." p. 23

"Let us not despise the day of small things nor grow weary in well-doing; if we have trained our children from their earliest years to prompt mechanical obedience, well and good; we reap our reward. If we have not, we must be content to lead by slow degrees, by ever-watchful efforts, by authority never in abeyance and never aggressive, to 'the joy of self-control,' the delight of proud chivalric obedience which will hail a command as an opportunity for service. It is a happy thing that the 'difficult' children who are the readiest to resist a direct command are often the quickest to respond to the stimulus of an idea." p. 23

"Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognize it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart. Perhaps the best aid to the maintenance of authority in the home is for those in authority to ask themselves daily that question which was presumptuously put to our Lord --"Who gave Thee this authority?" p. 24


I want to encourage you if you find this all very idealistic and intimidating when you are faced with real life and real children. If you take nothing else from this chapter, remembering and thinking about the fact that our authority as parents comes from God will give us guidance when we are faced with daily situations. This will help us remember that our authority is not optional when we are tempted to let something go. It will help us realize again and again that their disobedience is not about us and we do not have to take it as a personal insult. 

I am reminded of Psalm 103:13-14.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.


From me a few years ago: Who Gave You This Authority? (I really like this one.)
From Jen Snow: The Power of Routines
If you know anyone else who has blogged through School Education, let me know and I'll include links here.