I’ve been slowly reading through Charlotte Mason’s book, Formation of Character, for about a year now. Despite the fact that this book was written over a hundred years ago, her thoughts on the development and nurturing of children, and the shaping of their personalities, are timeless, practical and wise.
‘…many a peevish, jealous, exacting woman owes the shipwreck of her life to the fact that nobody in her youth taught her to think reasonably of herself and of other people.’
How do we teach our children to think reasonably of themselves?
Teaching our children to think reasonably of themselves requires them to have a proper perspective of others as well as themselves.
Last week we read in Ourselves (Book 1, pg. 144) about how to get this perspective:
Candour (openness, impartiality) is at our side, and presents us with glasses of unusual power, to bring far things near and make dim things clear. Wearing these, we can see round the corner, to the other side of the question.
When our eldest was about nine years old, we discovered she was short-sighted and needed glasses. As we were driving home from the Optometrist after she got her new glasses, she kept up a running commentary on everything she was seeing clearly for the first time. She’d never complained about not seeing clearly and never had any trouble reading but when she put on her new glasses we realised that her vision had been only partial.
Prejudice also hands us some glasses…
…but these are not clear and open to the light of day, but are rose-coloured or black, green or yellow, as the case may be. We cannot see persons as they are through these spectacles…affection, envy, hatred, or jealousy creates a prejudice in our minds, through which we cannot judge justly of the character of another.
Sometimes our own prejudice towards our children renders us incapable of helping them gain a right perspective. Our spectacles are made ineffective by affection and we judge unjustly, perhaps shifting the blame for our children’s faults to others. In this we do them an injury and we neglect to show them that they are able to use their wills to shape their character and personality.
We know that what we do or say matters less than what we will; for the Will is the man, and it is out of many acts of willing that our character, our personality, comes forth.
(Ourselves: Book 2, Pg 165)
I’m taking these well-loved and frequently quoted words by Charlotte Mason and putting them in a slightly different context, but one which I think fits with her overall philosophy:
The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care?
(Volume 3 pg 170)
Our children have read great books – classics, living books.
They’ve kept detailed nature notebooks and appreciate the beauty of the natural world.
They are familiar with great works of art and classical music.
Their minds are furnished with poetry.
They’ve had a generous education and they know a great deal.
But do they care for others as much as they care for themselves?
Have they been taught to think reasonably (i.e. have a sound judgement) of themselves?
…I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement.
Do they have a proper perspective of others?
One of the keys to the practical aspect of how we teach this is found on page 262 where Charlotte Mason quotes a poem by by James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) and connects it to love and service:
“Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)
Awoke one night from a deep trance of peace,
And saw within the moonlight of his room,
Making it rich and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold.
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,––
‘What writest thou?’ The vision raised his head,
And in a voice, made all of sweet accord,
Answered, ‘The names of all who love the Lord!’
‘And is mine one?’ Ben Adhem asked. ‘Nay, not so,’
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,’
But cheerful still,–– ‘ I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow-men.’
The angel wrote and vanished. The next night
He came again, with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s led the rest”
“Write me as one who loves his fellow-men!” is, indeed, the cry of the earnest-minded amongst ourselves; and to qualify (our child) for some definite line of service…to give (them) some object in life beyond (themselves) and having no bearing on (their) own advancement, is, perhaps, the kindest and wisest thing the mother can do for (them).
Giving our children something to do which doesn’t pander to self – something that pushes them beyond their own interests, regardless of how unwilling they may be at the time, does pay dividends later on.
I used to get upset if my children were unmotivated about serving but it takes time, encouragement and maturity for our children to develop in these areas. We’ve had commitments short term and long term that required our children’s involvement. Sometimes they were willing but often there was complaining & poor attitudes, but the work got done. It didn’t kill them, and now some of them are older and work full time and willingly serve and have their own responsibilities. Somewhere along the way they acquired their own motivation to serve. I seriously doubt they would have developed this if we’d let them off the hook when they didn’t feel like exerting themselves.
For it is only in doing, that we learn to do; through service, that we learn to serve…
Talk to any tradesman who employs apprentices and discover how difficult it is to find a young person who is reliable and will put in a decent day’s work even when they’re being paid to do it.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Quotes from Formation of Character are taken from between pages 239 to 262.