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.
There are a few areas in our children's lives where we can practice "Masterly Inactivity":
Play - Give them freedom of choice, and time and space to use their imaginations.
Work - Allow them to stand or fall by their own efforts. Let them suffer the consequences of not doing their work rather than constantly prod them with reminders or incentives.
Friends - Trust them to choose good friends, and to realize for themselves in time if they have made a mistake in this area.
Spending Money -Teach them good principles of money management, saving and spending, and then leave them free to make good decisions (or suffer the consequences of bad decisions.).
Opinions - Carefully form your own opinions, and hold them strongly, but do not try to control the opinions of your children. Instead, teach them the principles, and leave them free to apply them and form their own opinions at the right time.
"There is a little danger in these days of much educational effort that children's play should be crowded out, or, what is from our present point of view the same thing, should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than that about work." (p. 36)
"Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make." (p. 37)
"We all know...the pleasure children take in doing anything which they may do their own way; anything, in fact, which allows room for skill of hand, play of fancy, or development of thought. With our present theories of education it seems that we cannot give much scope for personal initiative. There is so much task-work to be done, so many things that must be, not learned, but learned about, that it is only now and then a child gets the chance to produce himself in his work. But let us use such opportunities as come in our way." (p. 37-38)
"'They felt their feet,' as the nurses say of children when they begin to walk; and our non-success in education is a good deal due to the fact that we carry children through their school work and do not let them feel their feet." (p. 38)
"...we do not let children alone enough in their work. We prod them continually and do not let them stand or fall by their own efforts." (p. 39)
"What we must guard against in the training of children is the danger of their getting into the habit of being prodded to every duty and every effort... Marks, prizes, exhibitions, are all prods; and a system of prodding is apt to obscure the meaning of must and ought for the boy or girl who gets into the habit of mental and moral lolling up against his prods." (p. 39)
"It would be better for boys and girls to suffer the consequences of not doing their work now and then, than to do it because they are so urged and prodded on all hands that they have no volition in the matter." (p. 39)
"Where many of us err is in leaning to much to our own understanding and our own efforts, and not trusting sufficiently to the dutiful impulse which will carry children through the work they are expected to do." (p. 40)
"With regard to the choice of friends and companions, again, we should train children so that we should be able to honour them with a generous confidence; and if we give them such confidence we shall find that they justify it." (p. 40)
"The parents who do not trust their young people in this matter [spending pocket-money], after having trained them, are hardly qualifying them to take their place in a world in which the wise, just, and generous spending of money is a great test of character." (p. 42)
"It is our duty to form opinions carefully, and to hold them tenaciously in so far as the original grounds of our conclusions remain unshaken. But what we have no right to do, is to pass these opinions on to our children. We all know that nothing is easier than to make vehement partisans of young people, in any cause heartily adopted by their elders. But a reaction comes, and the swinging of the pendulum is apt to carry them to a point of thought painfully remote from our own." (p. 42)
"Perhaps this pious mother would have been saved some anguish if she had given her children the living principles of the Christian faith, which are not matters of opinion, and allowed them to accept her particular practice in their youth without requiring them to take their stand on Evangelical opinions as offering practically the one way of salvation." (p. 42)
"Children are far more likely to embrace the views of their parents, when they are ripe to form opinions, if these have not been forced upon them in early youth when their lack of knowledge and experience makes it impossible for them to form opinions at first hand." (p. 43)
"We all admire spontaneity, but this grace, even in children, is not an indigenous wild-flower. In so far as it is a grace, it is the result of training, --of pleasant talks upon the general principles of conduct, and wise 'letting alone' as to the practice of these principles." (p. 43)
The portion of this chapter on work was very convicting to me, and I need to think about how I will apply it. It is true, as a good Charlotte Mason disciple, I do not "prod" with incentives. However, I think I still do too much work together with my oldest son, and this is preventing him from developing his own initiative and "standing or falling by his own efforts." I need to consider how I can help him grow in taking ownership of his own work. It is past time to start making that transition. I am blessed in that he is naturally quite dutiful, and has a strong sense of "ought." I think he will do well when I practice some more "Masterly Inactivity."
I wasn't so sure what to think about the part of this chapter on children forming their own opinions. Read in a certain way, it could seem that she's saying we should not catechize our children in the distinctives of our own faith, but just teach them the broad principles of Christianity (ie. the things all Christians agree on). I'm not sure if that's what she's saying or not. In any case, I do agree that we should not try to control what our children think, and we should expect that our children will take what we teach them and what they learn elsewhere and form their own opinions. I also agree that we need to be careful to let them understand that good, godly Christians hold differing viewpoints on such issues as baptism (while agreeing on its necessity), end times (while agreeing that Christ will return), and many others without endangering their salvation, so long as they have put their whole trust in Christ for salvation. However, I see no problem with teaching my children what I believe, even in the minor points. What do you think Charlotte Mason is saying here?
Practical Masterly Inactivity
Masterly Inactivity: On Knowing When to Let Go from Snowfall Academy
I will be taking a break over the weekend, and will be back Monday with Chapter 5.