March 31, 2013

Education is a Discipline

This is linked to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival.

Education is a discipline.  As I described in my last post, Education is an Atmosphere, this concept of Charlotte Mason's is simple, profound, and difficult to achieve.  You can read what she says about it here, in Original Homeschooling Series, Vol. 6, Chapter 6, point 2

On the one hand, its simple - teach them discipline and they will learn naturally and gladly!
We need not labour to get children to learn their lessons; that, if we would believe it, is a matter which nature takes care of. Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight.   -Charlotte Mason
Provide right and interesting materials, then learning will happen.  But how?
[The children] must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the act of knowing. We are all aware, alas, what a monstrous quantity of printed matter has gone into the dustbin of our memories, because we have failed to perform that quite natural and spontaneous 'act of knowing,' as easy to a child as breathing and, if we would believe it, comparatively easy to ourselves. 
Okay, that doesn't sound difficult.  It is narration, the cornerstone of the CM method of education.
We currently have 6 weeks left of our second year, and narration is becoming easier for him.  I'm still reading all our school books aloud to him, so narration shows me what he knows (and that he was listening!).  Some days, he does great with the amount of detail, and telling things in order.  Other days, he still tells me the last bit he heard, and I will go back and begin my own narration and let him pick up where I trail off, if he can.  (I'm still in need of some discipline myself in this area, so that I don't ask leading questions, but let him just tell me what he knows.)  He will continue to improve as he practices narrating, because he knows he has to do it.  Every. time.  We don't ever read a school book with a telling back - that is discipline.  Sometimes he doesn't want to tell me, and sometimes I just don't have the patience to listen.  But we do it and we are starting to see fruit! 
It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the joltings and delays of life become insupportable. More, habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord. We avoid decision and indecision brings its own delays, "and days are lost lamenting o'er lost days." Almost every child is brought up by his parents in certain habits of decency and order without which he would be a social outcast. Think from another point of view how the labour of life would be increased if every act of the bath, toilet, table, every lifting of the fork and use of spoon were a matter of consideration and required an effort of decision! No; habit is like fire, a bad master but an indispensable servant; and probably one reason for the nervous scrupulosity, hesitation, indecision of our day, is that life was not duly eased for us in the first place by those whose business it was to lay down lines of habit upon which our behaviour might run easily.    -Charlotte Mason
On the other hand, it is difficult  -we must decide for ourselves, and for our children, what habits we want to instill.  Once we decide that we will insist upon, for example, table manners, we must be consistent about demonstrating and teaching those particular manners.  Many of these types of habits we simply continue from our own childhood, but there will be others that you want to add, stop, or modify and these will require active thought and participation...discipline, if you will. ;)

This can't happen overnight.  Instilling discipline within our families is a lifetime goal.  Start with one new habit (it is easier to replace habits with new ones than to stop a particular habit) and work on that until its second nature - this takes about one month.  So don't aim for perfect table manners in one month - break it down.  Say this month your goal is for everyone to use a napkin instead of clothing for wiping hands and face.  Next month, your goal could be to chew with your mouth shut.  And so on.  Don't make it impossible to achieve, or you'll give up before the second meal is over.

'Sow an act,' we are told, 'reap a habit.' 'Sow a habit, reap a character.' But we must go a step further back, we must sow the idea or notion which makes the act worth while. 
I love the quote about sowing and reaping. However, I think she is right that we need to go another step, in providing the ideas to make the act worthwhile.   Children are always asking "why this" and "why that".  If we can show, tell, or read the "why" in a way that impacts their minds, they might attempt the habit even without our guidance (ha!)...okay maybe not, but at least they will know what we are after.  We must provide the best ideas for our children and ourselves, not just good ones!

And now for the full weight of parental responsibility...
We have seen the value of habit in mind and morals, religion and physical development. It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions. If we fail in this duty, so soon as the young people get their 'liberty' they will run after the first fad that presents itself; try it for a while and then take up another to be discarded in its turn, and remain uncertain and ill-guided for the rest of their days.
 I don't want to fail in this duty.  I don't want my son running after fads, uncertain of his purpose, or ill-guided.  I see plenty of those people around me already - this world doesn't need more close-minded people, who are afraid of anything that doesn't fit in their defined grooves of habit.  We need youth who leave home firm in their beliefs and with well-formed opinions, who can listen without fear to the opinions of others, and love them where they are, regardless of whether they agree with them or not.


  1. Laurke, liked what you said about breaking down the habits to make them to make them achievable - and your thoughts on parental responsibility.

    1. Thanks, Carol! Now if I can just follow my own advice... ;)

  2. you're so right to be patient with the narration! you're doing great!! ;)


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