Charlotte Mason Summaries

Summary of Parents and Children
Volume 2 of the Charlotte Mason Series

Chapter 1--The Family pg. 1-9

Jean Jacques Rousseau, for all his faults (he forced his mistress to put their own five children into a foundling home so as not to be bothered with raising them himself!), wrote a book called Emile that changed the way we view childhood and children, and still affects policy in childcare and education. He told parents that their duty to raise their children was of such importance that they must give up lesser activities and devote themselves to their children. As Charlotte says, he "turned the hearts of the fathers to the children." But parents need more than the inspiration and mandate to take responsibility for raising their children; they also need some kind of guidance to tell them how to raise them.

The family might be seen as a communal group, which, in spite of its small size, is the very backbone of a nation--nations are made up of families. The family is a commune in the sense that group property is shared among all the members, all members are seen as having value, and all pitch in to help maintain the group. A baby, although he does less work, is not valued less or given less than his share of food.

A family shouldn't be isolated; it should maintain relations and serve other families. It is like a miniature nation and, if a nation kept to itself and served no one but itself, it would be perceived as barbaric. The family should also be a contributing, productive force to its nation. Family members must consider all of these things in the education of the children so that children are taught to be productive members of their family and their country. Children should be sufficiently valued within their own family that they don't need to find contentment elsewhere, yet not so content that they forget the community outside the door, whether it be extended family, friends, or those in need.

Chapter 2--Parents as Rulers pg. 10-18

If the family can be seen as a miniature nation, its government should be a benevolent, wise monarchy. The parents must have final authority. A parent who abdicates his authority is abdicating his parenthood as well, for the one who steps in to fill the vacancy (perhaps a governess) will become, for all practical purposes, the 'parent,' and the children will give their affections and honor to him.

Children who are not disciplined but are allowed to 'do what is right in their own eyes' because the parent fears that the child won't like the parent will not respect their parents but will be ungrateful. This parent loses his authority, and his parenthood is abdicated to someone else. Parents who are preoccupied with their own pursuits may find someone else stepping in to raise their children in their absence.

The parent who wants the honor and respect of his children must be willing to accept the position of authority that the role of parent demands. It is the job of the parent to raise the children; if the child doesn't learn respect, loyalty and obedience at home, he is not likely to learn it at all. Although the current trend leans towards a democratic family with children receiving equal rights in decision-making, children are naturally willing to yield to authority if the parents begin it early. Authority doesn't have to mean harsh, unsympathetic discipline--it can come from a parent who loves and listens to the input of the others in the family. In fact, it is in such an atmosphere that children do best.

The parent owes it to his children, his nation and God himself to take charge of his children. The child's perception of God will be based on how he sees his parents, whether loving, wise and consistent, or weak and insecure, or stern and unloving.

Children don't belong to the parents; how they grow up will affect the nation. If a nation sees its parents not doing a good job raising up its citizens, the nation may take on the responsibility of raising its children without the parents for the good of the country (I think we see this in the US, where public education is trying to claim more and more rights on our children because the government has a vested interest in how the children turn out.) This is a tragedy because children raised by a government, by schools in institutionalized settings, will not receive a Christian education. States don't teach about God. Nor will such children learn about family duty and brotherly love. Their allegiance will be to the state. To avoid this, parents must be diligent to take charge of their children and raise them to be good citizens.

Yet even parental authority does have its limits. Authority must be for the good of the child, not the pleasure or power of the parent. Decisions should be made with the child's best interests at heart, not the need for the parent to live vicariously through the child. Authority shouldn't supercede the child's autonomy--children should make decisions for themselves as soon as they are capable. After all, it's their life and they will need to get into the habit of thinking for themselves and making their own decisions. Children should understand that parental obedience is owed out of duty to God and his nation, not just to satisfy parents' whims. A child who understands this won't be likely to rebel against his parents. And, finally, when children come of age, parents need to let go of their authority, even if the child still lives at home. Grown children must be treated as adults, not children. They must make their own decisions about who they associate with, how they spend their time and money. If they prove to be incapable of such responsibility, it's too late at that point to correct it.

The best-run families maintain order and peace without constant discipline; its members willingly comply with what's expected because they are pleased to do as the parents wish, not because they fear punishment if they step out of line.

Chapter 3--Parents as Inspirers pg. 19-28

Great men tend to have good mothers who inspired them to greatness. It is the parents' duty to lead their children to a relationship with God. Parents who train their children to obey and introduce them to God will have the best chances of their children accepting Him as their God. The Proverb "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it," is proven true again and again; there are some exceptions, but children usually reflect their upbringing as adults.

A child inherits tendencies and characteristics that predispose him to specific talents and sins, but he is not doomed to live out his life limited by those tendencies. With the training of his parents and the help of the Holy Spirit, he can learn self-control in order to minimize his character flaws and build up his nobler aspects. Habits change the muscles and mind, and training right habits will help self-control become automatic as the mind and body physically change to adapt to the new habits until proper behavior is second nature. This opportunity to change the way our children think and act by allowing habit to make physical changes in the brain and body is exciting in its implications for the role of education. Yet building these right habits is a slow, tedious day-to-day process that we may lose sight of if we don't remember the big picture, the possibilities for our children. We ourselves are such creatures of habit that we forget to take care in small matters that build lifelong habits. As the saying goes, "...Sow a habit, reap a character, sow a character, reap a destiny."

Through early training, parents can directly influence and change a child's ideas about things, the way he thinks and, as a result, feels and acts, how he spends his time, his talents and interests, and his disposition. All of this is in the power of the parent and education.

Chapter 4--The Life of the Mind Grows upon Ideas pg. 29-40

Chapter 3 included the 'educational functions of parents.' It is the parents who train the habits that become the child's thoughts and actions. The crucial thing that parents impart to children is ideas. Formerly, children were thought of as blank slates for educators to write on. Johann Pestalozzi started this perception by attempting to develop children's minds to receive knowledge (but their minds don't need development; they are already developed and ready to learn!) Friedrich Froebel refined this idea by attempting to develop separate elements of children's faculties. Kindergarten is this philosophy packaged in an institutionalized method: preparing children to learn.

But science shows that what we thought before is not totally correct. Heredity isn't as arbitrary as we thought. And children need more individualized education than current trends allow for. Children's minds and bodies are already ready to learn and don't need methodical preparation; they are designed to learn and just need guidance and the right environment to do what they were made for. Education is much, much more than a method of preparing children to learn--it is life itself, and 'bringing up' is a more accurate way to view it. And parents are more than modellers, they are inspirers.

Understanding what education is, and what our goal is, enables us to choose a method to get from point A to point B. Understanding that children have minds ready to learn prompts us to forget rigid methods and impart ideas (concepts) that will spark children's minds. One idea can light a fire in someone that propels them to action for the rest of their lives. Our job as educators is to expose our children to vital, living ideas that may stir their imaginations and inspire them to noble lives and heroic deeds. Not all ideas are tangibly perceived; some may be a mere yearning or appetite for something vague and unseen that draws one to something higher (as in Longfellow's poem Excelsior). Surrounding children with kindness and cooperation may not present an "aha!" moment to a child, but will become part of his environment with every breath and become an unperceived standard inside him drawing him to more of the same. This should make us think twice about losing control in front of our children in a fit of anger or impatience.

This is how Samuel Taylor Coleridge saw ideas on page 37: Ideas begin as a seed planted in the mind. Situations and events may act as light and water to the idea, bringing it to mind again to grow rather than to be forgotten. Our habits can lead us closer to specific ideas, as tunnels lead to the light at the end. An alert mind will seek to see clearly which ideas are foremost and choose carefully which paths and habits to pursue with the most desired idea in deliberate focus.

An educator/parent chooses carefully which path of education to follow with a clear idea of what his goal is at the end. In all their years of education, children will discard all but the ideas that fed his mind, so parents should take care to impart lots of these ideas, not knowing which will stick and which won't. Since children are as prone to becoming fixated on evil ideas as good ones, parents should take care that the ideas a child comes across are noble ones. Since an original idea branches out into rabbit trails and various related actions, parents should take care that originating ideas are true so that those rabbit trails and related actions aren't based on lies. Even our reason, infallible as it seems, can work against us to justify a false idea if we allow ourselves to accept the idea before judging its rightness from the beginning. For instance, a child may grow into an adult who justifies his judgmentalism if he is used to seeing others judged harshly, and that idea becomes part of his thought processes. His reason will confirm his actions once his mind is settled.

Chapter 5--The Things of the Spirit pg. 41-49

The highest duty of parents is revealing God to their children. How can we fortify them against doubt? If we do as previous generations did and don't prepare them for the onslaught of mockers, we unfairly pit them unarmed to face more than they can handle. Shielding them with apologetic, dogmatic proofs may back-fire if science disproves the evidence they were depending on. Tangible evidence can confirm scripture, but shouldn't be what faith is based on. Instead, children should be taught to think through opinions and worldviews thoroughly to prepare them for the time when it is natural for them to question and analyze and form their own opinions. Children should learn early that just because something is in a book doesn't make it true. Parents should help them research answers when they don't know themselves. They should respect the findings of science, but realize that new discoveries may disprove today's scientific theories. Some things in the world that God created may remain mysteries to man.

The first time a child realizes that thoughts come into his own mind for him to ponder may come as a surprise to him; he needs to learn that he can control these thoughts. He must judge each thought before he allows himself to ponder in his mind, because dwelling on wrong thoughts leads to sin. Even young children can grasp such a spiritual concept; young children do have a sense of their own sin and may feel guilt and shame at their bad deeds. They are never too young to know that God can be a place of comfort and safety. In fact, this is the image of God we want children to have. We must be faithful to expose children to scripture and trust the Holy Spirit to extract which ideas the child retains from the exposure.

Chapter 6--Primal Ideas Derived by Parents pg. 50

It is parents who serve as the most effective world's evangelists, bringing one person at a time to God through the raising (and evangelism) of their own children. If statistics are correct and most Christians accepted the Lord as children, then it is true that parents have a great share in bringing the light of the gospel to the world--just by raising their own children. Yet not all parents recognize their divine duty.

What is the best way to introduce the idea of God to our children? Relying on the reasonableness of the mind by reading scriptures for their appeal to the human side of a child is a mistake, because our reason may be faulty. Even the Bible stories themselves are all about people whose reason steered them wrong, causing them to justify all kinds of wrongs from idol worship (the Jews often lived in sin because they did what was right in their own eyes!) to the crucifixion of Jesus. Persecution and prejudice throughout the ages is another example of reason gone wrong--people can justify all kinds of things if their foundational ideas are wrong. These foundational ideas are picked up as children, too early to be weighed and discerned by the child. They often come in the form of subtle prejudices from the parent.

Foundational concepts go deep into the subconscious mind; Charlotte calls these primal ideas. Since they form the basis on which the child forms his logic, parents should take care which primal ideas their children are absorbing from them. If children are to be impressed with the idea that adult Christians are people of prayer, then they should see their own parents praying as a matter of course. Mothers should remind children that God is always near so that children come to take the presence of God as a given. Their children should hear them thanking God for blessings. They should not be subjected to prayers in stilted, archaic language--that may make God seem remote to them. If parents pray naturally, joyfully and in their normal kind of talk, God will seem close and intimate to their children. It is also good for children to get to know God as a King who deserves their loyalty and obedience. They are never too young to learn that Christians are a part of the battle between good and evil, and that victory is part of the plan. Even very young children have a sense of guilt and shame at their wrongs, and it is good for them to have an understanding of the spiritual side of morality, especially as it relates to God's forgiveness.

Chapter 7--The Parent as Schoolmaster pg. 60

Some parents wait until school age to begin thinking about discipline and training. They think that children should live a free, unencumbered life full of nothing but happy memories and creative individuality, and their teacher can deal with taming them later. But that does a disservice to both the teacher and the child. Teachers have a much higher success rate when children come to them already well-mannered and in control of themselves. And children who are allowed to grow unruly like untrained vines are developing habits that will be hard to break later. A teacher may be able to get an unruly child to have an appearance of discipline, but usually the child reverts to his early habits when he's on his own--his discipline isn't his own, it's just for show. A child who becomes accustomed to sprawling laziness because of a lack of discipline may have been destined for greatness, but never achieve it because he didn't learn productive habits when he was young. Waiting until school age to begin training a child may be too late.

But aren't selfish tendencies only natural human nature? Yes, but as a field left fallow will turn to weeds, a child left in his natural state will tend to act at his lowest state. Just like a good gardener waters, prunes and weeds to have a beautiful garden, so parents must work at discipline, watering the good traits so they will flourish, but pulling the weeds of vices by replacing them with good habits. That is what is meant by "Education is a Discipline." A child's earliest education is comprised of discipline to teach him self-control. By discipline, Charlotte didn't mean corporal punishment. Discipline comes from the root word "disciple," to follow. A wise parent draws his child to want to follow virtue, not through force, but by giving a cheerful, attractive example and persuasion. Little by little, day to day, the parent strives to make the most of the child's best virtues and decrease his faults. Charlotte promises to talk more about how to do this in detail in a later chapter.

Chapter 8--The Culture of Character pg. 69

Heredity may give children inborn characteristics, but is he doomed to be shaped by his worst faults? We must remember that all children are also born with curiosity, affection and desire for beauty. We can use those natural tendencies to steer him towards good behavior. Children naturally love to know about things, and a child given plenty of time will come to love nature--if he isn't kept busy with formal school lessons. Children have an innate desire to create, and will enjoy expressing themselves if given the opportunity and a little basic art instruction and encouragement. The drive to create is already in them and does not need to be developed.

Children may be born with talents, gifts and tendencies--but to turn what they were born with into noble character is a great achievement for them. Children are not helpless victims of the faults they inherited. Parents can take measures to help children overcome their fault and nourish and encourage their gifts and virtues. A good habit needs four things to flourish: practice, nourishment in the form of ideas, change of thought to prevent staleness, and down time to play or reflect. The brain is a living muscle that grows new tissue, and that new tissue requires rest for its growth. Without rest and change, a pursuit may become an obsession and the child will become eccentric (as an example of this, think of child geniuses who can't function in the real world.)

Children ought to take enough pride in their family name and reputation that they would never want to bring disgrace to it with bad behavior. Eccentricity (and boredom with life, too) can be avoided if children are encouraged to seek those pursuits that will help others in some way or make the world a little better. Encouraging an attitude of outward helpfulness will discourage inwardness that can make any pursuit an obsession and make the child weird. The most gifted genius is useless to the world if he buries his gift in his own eccentricism and doesn't share it for the good of mankind.

Chapter 9--The Treatment of Defects pg. 83

Our ultimate object in educating our children is to replace bad traits with good habits and nurture good traits without allowing them to turn into faults themselves (a natural born leader may be prone to becoming tyrannical, or a sweet child may lie to avoid the pain of another.) Children should be made to feel that their good traits are something of value to cherish, but talk shouldn't be overdone. Just a simple word here and there will transfer the impression. Good traits should be steered towards helping others--leadership, for instance, should be guided so that the child desires to protect rather than bully. And a sweet child should see that true love doesn't hide faults by lying.

Even what seems like an inborn personality flaw in a child can be driven out by replacing it with good habits. Charlotte gives the example of a cruel, malicious boy. Punishment is not the answer, and such a trait can't be left alone in the hopes that it will be outgrown. How can he be made better? He should be given errands of kindness so that he begins to enjoy what it feels like to do a good deed. His mother will need to devote some time and effort--but wouldn't she do that if he were physically sick? And his character is of greater value than even his physical body. She must watch him constantly and, as soon as she sees an evil intent, but before he has had time to bring it to action, she can give him a task to distract his mind. He should be asked to do an errand or task that is an act of kindness to someone. Every time an act of naughtiness enters his mind, she is there to send him on an errand and the bad thought vanishes. In time, he will become more used to acts of kindness than cruelty, and kindness becomes a habit. New brain tissue grows to replace the old, but this new tissue grows to accommodate the new habit--and now the child is even physically changed for the better!

It is true that the Lord can mold a child's character, but it is much easier for the child if we co-labor and give him a head start. It is easier for a child to be molded by God when he doesn't have stubborn faults for God to have to break, and the child will be better able to make progress in self-improvement if he has already learned some self-control. It also makes a child easier for the mother to live with.

Chapter 10--Bible Lessons pg. 92

Sunday School shouldn't be relied on to give our children their religious education--Sunday School was created for the children of secular parents. Our children should learn about God at home. Charlotte's Parents Union sought to help parents with this training, and even provided lessons for parents to do with their children. The family was encouraged to attend church services together (which makes family church a CM ideal!!)

In Charlotte's day, parents were neglecting their duty to pass on their religious education because doubt had been cast on the truth of the scriptures. Science and education sought to discredit the Bible and miracles. Parents questioned their own faith and therefore were reluctant to teach it dogmatically to their children. Instead, they left it alone and churches were left to fill the gap. Yet it takes more faith to deny that miracles happen in some cases. The resurrection, for example, is difficult to deny in light of the facts. Parents can have confidence in the truth of the Bible and pass that faith on to their children.

Chapter 11--Faith and Duty (reviews) pg. 101

Education is a scientific field and requires the best minds to discover how to most effectively educate children. How is the next generation to be raised as dutiful citizens? Answering this issue involves questions about the nature of man, morality, and science.

Charlotte mentions Felix Adler, who wanted to teach morality from a purely secular perspective. Morality, he wrote, is the result of a child's inner desire to do right. But, Charlotte asks, without a God, where is the motivation to behave? It may take a respect (and fear) of a God outside of oneself to motivate one to morality. And that's why she thought the Bible ought to be taught in schools. The Bible is also valuable as a textbook because it is a collection of classic books of poetry, philosophy, history and ethics (making it a bargain compared to the prices of other school textbooks!)

Mothers should take note of when their children first show signs of conscience and in what areas. That will tell her that it's not to early to begin religious training.

Fairy tales (and myths, from the sound of it) should be told to children (told rather than handed to children in a book, because tradition should be passed on orally.) Include the moral lesson of the tale without separating it from the story. Felix Adler thought that the stories should be culled and the superstitious or offensive ones not shared with children, bringing up the question of how much children should be sheltered from evil. Charlotte seems to feel that children are better off facing evil for the first time in fairy tales rather than in real life later; it prepares them for the shock.

After fairy tales, children can move on to Fables. Felix Adler offers the same suggestion about being selective and not letting fables introduce children to superstition or fear. He would next share ancient classics--The Iliad, for example--with children. He puts the Bible in this classification, and Charlotte takes offense. She doesn't feel that the Bible should be grouped with classic myths, or that it should wait until after fairy tales and fables have had their say. Scripture should be so familiar that children should have no memory of a time when they didn't hear Bible stories. Though they are too young to analyze and study, they can appreciate the moral teaching of obedience and duty, the imagery and spiritual truths as God reveals it to them.

Parents should read the Bible to children in its beautiful old language and without a verse-by-verse commentary. Have them tell back (narrate) the story. Not all books of the Bible are suitable for children, but separate books (perhaps even with unsuitable passages edited) might make nice gifts for a child. Or, read episodes from the Old Testament to the child.

The Odyssey and Iliad are great adventures for boys, telling of bravery, friendship, and paternal duty. Though Felix Adler doesn't recognize them as such, they are as religious as the Bible, with their tales of the supernatural interventions of the gods. There is no need to question or overly explain the moral lesson of these tales; children already know what's wrong, and they won't miss the illustrated point.

Secular reason says that the purpose of knowledge is for success in life, esteem, self-fulfillment, or possibly to help others. But Christians know that it is their duty to learn. Felix Adler's book is weak in its lack of spiritual acknowledgement because it relies on man motivating himself by himself. Yet Charlotte values his book as the best on teaching ethics. Christians will naturally add those elements that Adler fails to suggest. A child trained well in ethics should never be the kind of weak adult who continues in sin--critical, gossipers, dishonest. Good instruction should prevent the child from becoming a lazy Christian.

Chapter 12--Claims of Philosophy as an Instrument of Education pg. 117

Thanks to Locke, people had a naturalistic, materialistic view of education in Charlotte's day; she includes a paragraph where a Madame de Stael comments at length in beautiful French about the influence of Locke on philosophy in Europe.

We tend to focus on method and science and forget that the mind is not just a machine but a living organism that thrives on intangible ideas. In Charlotte's day, educational reform was tending towards a scientific method and neglect of classic Greek (and, presumably, less focus on the kind of classics that feed the mind with ideas.)

Yet we can take some of the new approach and apply some scientific principles to education so long as the rest isn't rejected. Scientific method can be a good thing. It reminds us that we should logically follow a path of order, starting with an observation about which is the correct philosophy on which to base education--naturalism, or idealism? Or can we find something in-between?

Education might further the human race if hereditary traits are bolstered and moral laws are strengthened, says M. Fouillee. We can practice Darwin's idea of selection by choosing to use those ideas that are most effective and noble for the best evolution of the human species (our own natural selection of the fittest ideas!) While debates rage about secondary issues such as whether literary or scientific education should be the emphasis, or ancient or modern languages should be taught, the foundational questions are being ignored. Education is more than literature, science and which language to learn--these should be unified into one philosophy for the betterment of mankind. Charlotte believes that her approach answers this problem by educating the whole person--intellect, soul and spirit. Although thought can't be seen or touched, its impact on action is very real (and the tangible growth of brain tissue to accommodate it is very physical and real.) Sowing proper habits of thought in early childhood will reap a productive citizen who will be a benefit to his society later.

If proper behavior becomes habitual, there is no need to agonize over every decision about which course of action to take; taking the right and good action will be automatic. Deciding whether to do the right thing will happen only a few times in a day instead of constantly. How can a person with habits of proper conduct be anything but a model citizen of moral character? Yet even a good habit is sparked by an idea in the spirit that inspires the child to want to change. The intangible idea moves the child to make a physical change in outward behavior. Thus, both spiritual and physical are necessary elements in a child's education. One might look at this as mind over matter--the mind wills the child to change an action. Education can't happen on the naturalistic, physical side of a person without addressing his inner mind as well.

And this sets our minds at ease that physical methods of education can't rob the child of his individuality because his spiritual, inner being is always there. You can inspire it, but you can't force it to think in a specific way. The child will always own his own inner thoughts no matter how education tries to shape him. We have no way of knowing which ideas a child will take to--so we present lots of noble, inspiring ideas and let him decide which of them to accept. Yet even here we must be careful not to over-present the same idea until the child is bored or repulsed by it.

Knowing that the child will take those ideas that he likes should make us all the more diligent about choosing those ideas we present to our children, since only some will be accepted and we don't know which ones. Education is much more than dry facts and rote memory. We dare not waste our time and the child's mind by offering mediocre ideas that fail to propel him to noble character. Instead of lists of battle dates, give him stories of heroic deeds from the battle. Instead of dry math formulas, read him the story of how the formula was discovered. In this way, knowledge becomes more than dull information, it becomes vital and alive.

Chapter 13--Man Lives by Faith pg. 129

There should be no distinction between sacred and secular if God created the whole world and everything in it. We don't enter a holy state while we think about God, and suddenly go into an unholy state when we move our thoughts to the physical realm of our daily routines. There should be no such separation, and, if there is, it's because our philosophy (worldview) is faulty. It is this division between spiritual and physical that causes secular people to insist on separation (eradication) of religious influence from education, and religious people to refuse to consider entire subjects (like scientific discovery) that they deem unfit for a holy education. The truth is that both work together, and excluding either results in imbalance. We can commune with and receive communication from God in all of our day's activities, not just the church-related ones. And when we communicate with a friend, isn't it the spirit of the person God made that we're connecting with? It isn't possible to eradicate the spiritual from life or education. To do so makes for a lonely, empty person who will attempt to satisfy his inner longings with sensual occupations.

Faith is not only a mystical belief in the supernatural. The most basic kind of faith is men's trust in one another, and is manifested in our standard of "innocence until proven guilty." Trust is vital to family relationships. Children, whose faith is a model for us adults, trust everyone. And our religious faith is really nothing more than trust in the person of God.

If faith comes by hearing the Word of God, then parents should appreciate the instruction they get from the Bible and from religious writings to help them educate their children. Having faith, and passing on our faith, is the highest goal of raising our children, and Charlotte spends the rest of the chapter recommending Canon Beeching's Eleven Sermons on Faith to this end.

Chapter 14--Parents' Concern to Give the Heroic Impulse pg. 141

Heroic poetry inspires to noble living like nothing else. Modern literature lacks heroic poetry of the quality of Homer or Beowulf. But Charlotte does like Stopford Brooke's History of Early English Literature.

Beowulf is a wonderful heroic example for children to emulate. He is brave, noble, gentle, loyal and has a strong Christian faith. When the king died, he might have claimed the throne, but held it in trust for the infant prince. When he does become king, he is an excellent example of a wise, just protector. For these reasons, Beowulf should be very familiar to our children.

Old English riddles also get a mention here--Cynewulf's Riddle of the Sword, for instance, because these riddles portray the ancient men as gentle, large-souled ancestors.

Chapter 15--Is It Possible? pg. 150

When faced with an opportunity to help the needy, such as Booth's Salvation Army, we tend to have our hearts in the right place, but we doubt in the possibility that such a plan might succeed. Even if the Salvation Army gets lots of money, do we really believe that men's hearts can be changed? It depends on how much faith we have in Jesus Christ and miracles. If we doubt in the change of one man, if we think it impossible for one drunk to come clean and start a new life, or that children raised in such a lifestyle can ever overcome it, how can we realistically hope in the salvation of the whole world?

To be sure, such men have the habit of drunkenness and debauchery, and habit is, as Charlotte has already said, ten natures. But, though the man's brain may have grown to accommodate his bad habit, such a man's child does not have the same habits and brain change and has as much chance as any child of developing good habits. Heredity will not deprive him of the chance for a successful life if he is educated to good habits early on. And any habit can be exchanged for a better one; no habit is doomed to be permanent.

Conversion itself may not be such a miracle--miracles are what God does to break the laws of nature, but conversion by grace is natural and not so contrary to laws of nature. Men may be converted to new ideas, new actions, new loves many times in a lifetime through various inspirations--where's the miracle in that? Apparently the process and tendency to change is built into men and is no miracle. Therefore, conversion to Christianity is right and natural and not the impossible miracle we may think. The appeal to God is built into man as well--craving for love, gratitude, acceptance--and all he needs is to understand the primal idea of God's offer, which is right and logical unless the man has allowed himself to become depraved and unable to recognize it. It isn't a miracle that's needed, but the proper way of presenting God's offer so that a man will recognize its value.

Once such a man does convert, it takes time to rebuild new habits. Even six months isn't enough time to dislodge old destructive habits. Living a secluded existence like an isolated monk by staying with the Salvation Army may be helpful.

We can take these same methods and apply them to children--by working with God's laws, we can help children overcome their own lesser tendencies and replace them with good habits that lead to a successful life. If we do our part in the laying down of good habits, we can count on results like a farmer who plants and only needs to wait for God to water and provide sunshine for his crop to flourish.

Chapter 16--Discipline--A Serious Study for Parents pg. 168

Discipline does not have to mean punishment any more than a method has to mean a system. Charlotte's educational approach, and, indeed, nature itself, does have a method--but a system rushes in to pressure that method to work a certain way. The brain has a method and plan by which it grows, but a system seeks to use flashcards and games to emphasize one area of its growth. Nature has its own methods of growing children; systems may have more effect on teachers by wearing them out.

Punishment should not be the main way in which children learn to be disciplined. The fact is, some children actually enjoy punishment. It can make a child feel like a martyred storybook character. But children don't usually enjoy disappointing their parents.

A slap may distract a young child from misbehaving, but there are often better ways to get his attention. We need to find other ways of getting deeper into a child's mind so that he wants to change. Good habits of courtesy, order and honesty are more effective to develop good behaviour than punishing offenses, and that is where parents would best see results for their efforts. A mother who constantly nags her children has not trained them to the best habits if she has to keep reminding them. In fact, her children are showing that they have learned the opposite habits, and those must be retrained. It takes 6-8 weeks for an old habit to die, and only if the old habit isn't done at all for those weeks. Then new brain tissue can grow to accommodate the new habit, which the child will take to if it seems as attractive to him as the old bad habit. If the parent sees to it that the child does the new habit without having to remind him or reprimand him, it will become automatic to the child. Let the child see your displeasure when he repeats the old bad habit--it is just as easy for him to do the new habit as the old one, so he really has no excuse for lapses.

Charlotte gives the example of a little girl whose desire for knowledge (a good thing) has gone a bit too far and become nosiness. The cure is to convince the child that filling the mind with trivial matters is unworthy, and then fill her mind with so many more noble thoughts that she has no time to collect nosy details of others' lives (though Charlotte doesn't say how this might be done!)

Chapter 17--Sensations and Feelings: Sensations Educable by Parents pg. 178

Parents don't need a scientific understanding of nutrition to feed children; they usually do well enough by relying on common sense. But some scientific knowledge can be very helpful, especially when it comes to human nature and education. We get sensations of taste, touch, sight and sound through our five sense, and other sensations of fear and other emotions in more unknown ways. It is good to teach a child to be exacting in his sensations, to know more about marmalade than "it's nice." Object lessons can help children to focus attention on the details of how a thing affects their senses. Babies create their own object lessons when they poke, taste, bang things to learn what will happen and it is in this way that they learn about perspective, size, soft and hard.

Preschoolers want to know about everything they see--trucks, pets, road workers. By attempting to give them books instead of things at such an early age, we may kill their natural curiosity and produce an unobservant adult who doesn't know an oak from an elm. Nature observation is the perfect way to encourage a child's natural desire to know and be observant to details. He should handle rocks, sponges, bread, coal, everything he can. He should compare things relative to each other--a rock isn't just heavy, it's heavier than what? Or not as heavy as what? He should also be encouraged to describe attributes of an object's shape, color, size, etc. Developing a true eye in this way will be a valuable skill for the child to have.

Learning to discern sounds by closing the eyes and listening for differences in footsteps of different family members, bird calls, car sounds, is also valuable. It is good to cultivate the ear so that children can recognize musical pitch.

Developing a keen sense of smell can prevent health problems--one can smell subtle differences in a room healthy with fresh air, or stale, or even in rooms in which germs from diphtheria or typhoid are present. Children should close their eyes and try to discern different flowers in bloom or odours produced after a rain.

Children should also close their eyes and try to discriminate between the flavors of their food. Charlotte says that forcing children to eat foods they don't like may make them dislike the food even more, but that they can learn to use their self-control and take pride in their manly ability to master themselves by not complaining about foods they dislike.

Native American Indians had to be skillfully trained in hearing, seeing, smelling--having keen senses. We should follow their example and cultivate a keenness of the senses in our own children. "It would be well for parents to educate a child, for the first half-dozen years of his life, at any rate, along 'Red Indian' lines. Besides the few points we have mentioned, he should be able to discriminate colours and shades of colour; relative degrees of heat in woolen, wood, iron, marble, ice; should learn the use of the thermometer; should discriminate objects according to their degrees of hardness; should have a cultivated eye and touch for texture; should, in fact, be able to get as much information about an object from a few minutes' study as to its form, colour, texture, size, weight, qualities, parts, characteristics, as he could learn out of many pages of a printed book."

Children whose senses are trained will automatically get more from any lesson or study in less time than a child who has not cultivated his senses. Sensory training can be made into a game by passing around a common item and letting children tell all its different aspects, or by having children recognize objects by feel while they're blindfolded.

Chapter 18--Feelings Educable by Parents pg. 191

A feeling or sensation consciously recorded in the mind by giving it proper attention may be brought back to the memory even years later. Floral odors, picturesque landscapes, birdsongs, can all be stored for later enjoyment and refreshment. We should see to it that our children take time to see, hear, smell and feel nature by modeling ourselves doing the same thing. We should try to increase the acuteness with which our children experience these sensations so that their memories will be more detailed and impressive.

Sensations experienced via the five senses are not the same as feelings, or emotions that each person experiences in a personal way. We may associate even just a word with a vague emotion of pleasure although we don't recall the exact details of the sensation that caused the positive feeling--and the recollection of this feeling can make us feel good and motivate us to kind acts. If this sounds like a stretch, imagine how inspired one feels to reach out with kindness when one feels depressed, as opposed to when one feels good about the world.

Our feelings may not be grounded on reality, but are judged by our own character which influences our perception--some people manage to find complaint in everything and everybody, while someone else sees good in the very same things. Feelings can be twisted by a good speaker who plays on our emotions.

Feelings can be educated to modify the character, but, more often, with public education, the result is that feelings are dulled rather than educated. Educating the feelings can't be done en masse at school, but has to be done individually, and parents are the most obvious ones to do it. The tool used is tact--a look, or a gesture, to call forth the desired feeling (causing a child to feel shame at a cruelty by giving him a reproachful look, or causing him pleasure at a kindness with a pleased smile from us.) This is much better than a comment or lecture, which can carry more of a sting.

Reverence (or, by the same token, depreciation) is caught rather than taught. If our children sense that we reverence noble things, they will, too, as a matter of course. Passing on a spirit of appreciating many things is a gift; transferring a critical spirit that devalues many things will make children discontent. These things are impressions that can't be taught by applying logic; children learn them by observing us.

For the sake of our children's feelings, we should be careful in our families when joking with each other--a comment made by a family member, especially a parent, will carry more weight than from someone else. Presumably, Charlotte is referring to light comments making fun of a child's less glorious attributes.

We also should not encourage a child who is overly self-focused and always wants to know what our opinion is of their actions. We should try to steer such a child's focus onto something else and off themselves because a child who is always wondering what others think of him is looking inward rather than reaching out to others.

Chapter 19--What is Truth? (Dealing with Lying) pg. 204

Children, though immature and in need of guidance, have some of the finest qualities of humanity--trust, imagination, love. But they are not born either all truth and virtue, nor all lies and vice. They are disposed to go either way. Lying is a symptom of another characteristic--the child lies to impress, or because he is careless about details. Finding the root cause of lying is more difficult than just punishing the lying behavior, but it is necessary to cure a child who lies.

Children who stretch the truth to cover their perceived sin may be too introspective and should spend more time occupied with things to take their focus off themselves. Children may take blame for the misdeeds of others to protect others and seem heroic. Their fault is valuing loyalty above truth-telling. Some children don't recognize their own version as a lie. Lies inspired by selfishness are more difficult, because the selfishness must be dealt with. Children who don't receive fancy in their stories may create it themselves by lying and telling fabrications that they make up. These children should have lots of opportunity to act out and play, but they also need to know the line between play and reality, and should practice telling only the facts and no more when asked for details about things.

For some children, lying is a real problem--children who aren't appreciated for who they are may habitually lie about themselves to win affection, or may lie to make others look bad. This is much more serious and shows emotional problems that may have been brought on by mistreatment, and may require professional help.

But, for most children, truth-telling is simply a moral habit learned by the careful attention of parents who expect and demand accuracy from their children.

Chapter 20--Show Cause Why pg. 214

Asking "why?" is often the first step in evaluating what we do and deeming practices done by tradition as either necessary or ready to discard. A questioning mind is therefore a positive thing.

Our children may wonder why we educate them, and their perceived answer will dictate their actions. Is education for competing for the best grades or best job? If so, children will see learning as no more than tests to cram for.

Yet the desire to excel and do well is not a wrong desire. Wanting to know things and to be financially secure are also natural desires. But these desires must be balanced--a child should be as motivated by curiosity as by competitiveness. He should have a part of him that desires education just for the sake of knowing. Very young children love to collect facts, they love to know things. But, in school, that desire may be extinguished because teachers don't have time to deal with endless questions from students, and because the desire just to know is replaced with a competitive desire to win the top grade or impress others. Decreasing reliance on competitive exams would go a long way in making the goal of education the sheer joy of learning that it should be rather than a quest for top rank.

Chapter 21--A Scheme Of Educational Theory pg. 225

Children of different classes of society have different needs and their education and educational goals should reflect those differences. Children in lower classes, for instance, may need to learn better vocabulary and more words to express themselves. Children of hard-working classes may need examples and opportunities for imaginative play since they may have minds in which work has not left time for that. Cultured, pampered children may have full vocabularies and lots of imagination, but may need to see how real things work.

Still, all children need, as first priority, to learn good habits of noble thinking and right behaving, and, as second priority, to be filled with living ideas to inspire them. Lessons should therefore encourage "mental habits of attention, accuracy, promptness, etc." as well as present ideas which may mold the child's character. Ideas may only be thoughts, but thoughts make the person--'as a man thinks, so he is.' We don't know which ideas God will use to speak to a child, so we present many ideas. In the end, each person must learn to discern between good and evil ideas and to choose the good and reject the bad, but, while young, children need their parents to filter the ideas which are presented to them. While not neglecting math, grammar and logic exercises that develop the mind's faculties, we focus on what will feed the child's mind with ideas--familiarity with nature, a questioning mind that wants to know things, books that fill young minds with living ideas through challenging literature that we allow him to deal with without filtering it and without telling him what to think of it.

Children are not so different from us that they need us to dilute their knowledge--they want to know the same things we do. Children were designed to grow and mature at their proper rate and if we present ideas to them, they will take what they need. It is in their nature to do so. It is our job to provide lots of knowledge and ideas for them to choose from.

Chapter 22--A Catechism of Educational Theory pg. 233

People are born with their God-given disposition and intellect. But character is something anyone, regardless of genes, can achieve. If there are going to be great leaps for an individual or a nation, character development of individuals is required. Therefore, development of character should be our top priority in education.

Charlotte writes out her educational philosophy in the form of a question/answer catechism, which I will (I hope!) simplify here.

Character is the outward display of habits of thoughts and behavior resulting in conduct. People are born with a disposition that can influence their conduct, but it is possible to modify conduct by learning new habits. Marriage modifies the conduct of a society (by forcing people to grow up and be responsible?) and education modifies the conduct of individuals.

Any bad habit can be modified by learning to turn the thinking to something else and acting on the new and different thought until the new act becomes a habit.

Everyone has thoughts floating around in their mind almost unconsciously all the time, and many of these thoughts and their relative actions are so ingrained in us that we act habitually without even realizing it. The educator should divert these involuntary thoughts into new channels to change behavior. Greed, for instance, may come naturally to a child, but a wise teacher will plant the idea of generosity into a child's mind so that giving displaces thoughts--and resulting acts--of greed. This is possible because generosity, and many other traits, for that matter, are natural to humans. But, by the same token, greed and other bad traits come just as naturally. Therefore, teachers must be careful to instill ideas that inspire good traits and not bad ones.

Well-brought-up people have learned virtuous habits and traits such as "diligence, reverence, gentleness, truthfulness, promptness, neatness, courtesy." It isn't enough to inspire thoughts of virtue once; for virtue to become habit, it needs to be repeated again and again. In fact, lapses in which the child fails to follow through with the good action will unlearn the good trait. It can take six weeks of consistent care to fix one habit in a person.

Although it may seem that random thoughts enter into our minds of their own accord, it is as we are accustomed to thinking that certain thoughts lodge and others don't--how we are used to perceiving things influences how we take in new thoughts. The conclusions we come to are largely a result of our habits of thought (in other words, early prejudices and preconceived ideas are so fixed that we don't even recognize them and therefore can't easily get beyond them!) Since our conclusions are influenced by our habits of thought, we can't rely on our own powers of reasoning to assure us that our conclusions are correct. In fact, once we decide on an action, we can find many logical reasons to justify ourselves. Instead, we must go back to the primary idea behind the conclusion of the reasoning process and judge its worth at the base.

How do we teach our children to do this??

We must teach children that they are human, that they have tendencies to do good, but that they are also prone to sin and error and to use reason to justify faults, as all humans are. Therefore, children should watch ideas as they attempt to gain admittance and choose to allow or reject them at the gateway of the mind before they lodge within. Thus, the duty of children is to choose to accept or reject ideas before granting admittance.

Ideas, says Charlotte, are created and emanate from the minds of spiritual beings--not just God and angels, but man, too, since he is a spiritual being. Ideas can be conveyed in word, text, music, art. All good ideas originate from God, whether theological or secular. The book of Isaiah says that God himself planted the idea of farming to mankind. Bad ideas do not originate from God, but are out there all the same, and man's duty is to choose between good and bad ideas that will influence thoughts that will become actions that will shape character.

Our duty as educators is to put an abundance of noble, good ideas before our children for them to choose from and then rely on God's Holy Spirit to help as we seek to teach children to choose good and reject evil.

Education is the discipline of learning good habits, the life of nourishing ideas, and the atmosphere of being surrounded with noble ideas at home and (home)school.

Lessons should facilitate good habits and instill noble ideas that are interesting enough to make learning a joy. Curriculum should be generous and varied. Parents who realize that education that builds character will improve society will understand how important it is to take their job as educators seriously.

Chapter 23--Whence? pg. 249

Charlotte notes the progress of her schools and speculates on what this may mean for the future when children of conscientious parents following her approach come of age. From time to time, every successful movement should stop and assess itself by asking "whence" it came from and "whither" it should go from here.

Previous generations assumed that mankind was made in a certain way and was not capable of change or improvement and focused on using the reasonableness of human children to instill teachings on values. Now we know better, although psychologists of Charlotte's day couldn't decide whether children began as oyster-like blobs with the potential of becoming children, or as already formed little people who just lack knowledge and experience. (Charlotte was convinced of the second conclusion!)

That children are capable of intelligent actions and coming up with their own ideas should be proof that they already are little persons of intelligence, and not just oysters who will someday become people. This distinction is important because the way we view children--as oysters or as persons of intelligence--will affect how we deal with them.

It used to be thought that if a child was good, he would be happy. Now we tend to feel that a happy, contented child will be good (and this is true of today's attachment parenting, which teaches that children will be more easily handled if their needs for closeness are met so that they are happy and secure.) I think Charlotte felt that a child would be happy if he was good. It was the old concept of childhood, but using a new concept of education with its advances in science, such as the discovery that the brain builds new tissue to accommodate new habits, and the active reliance on the Holy Spirit as the Divine Educator. We don't seek to develop a child's faculties for learning (develop his brain, his eyes, his ears) because they are already there and fully developed. They need ideas to nurture the faculties that are already there. What they don't need are unit studies that beat a topic to death (and she gives an amusing example of a unit study based on apples!)

These acknowledgements show where we've come from, and we must also ask ourselves where to go from here. That will be in the next chapter.

Chapter 24--Whither? pg. 257

Scientists tell us that we are no more than a product of evolutionary processes, but we recognize that man is more than that, he has a spirit that loves, understands, and questions. As children often love, understand and question even more than adults whose senses have become dull and/or hardened, we can assume that God has given them a full measure of spirit no less than our own. Children grow in wisdom as they make relationships between ideas and knowledge. Children may inherit a limited intellect, but wisdom is available to anyone. We 'despise' children by underestimating what they're capable of and treating them accordingly.

If we believe that children are fully capable of handling real ideas now, then we won't patronize them and waste their time with material that's unworthy of them. And we know that raising children to be noble citizens through training good habits will benefit all of society. Therefore, we see our task as part of a larger vision in improving society itself.

We want to raise the next generation to love nature by being familiar with it on a first-hand basis so that they will be personally enhanced and develop an interest in science, and skill at careful observation.

We want the next generation to be art appreciators, but not just for the sake of art--we want to inspire our children with well-crafted art that embodies noble ideas.

We want children to love books that use literary quality and are worthy of time spent pondering them. Therefore, we give children only the best, the most noble, the most inspiring art, poetry, literature.

We want children to empathize and feel a one-ness with the human race so that they will have true Christian compassion. This is helped by reading about people who are in life situations different than our own, from sources that make these people come to life in the mind and feel real. Children should be encouraged to give sacrificially, and they should know enough news events to know what needs are out there that they might relieve.

Chapter 25--The Great Recognition Required of Parents pg. 268

Charlotte talks about John Ruskin's explanation of a fresco in Florence in the Church of Santa Maria Novella. It shows God's spirit descending and giving gifts to men in the form of art, science, virtue, math, etc. (You can see details of this fresco here.)

The fresco illustrates that God's gifts are not limited to theological things, but include even secular truths of art, literature, grammar, science and math. All ideas came from God, therefore we don't need to make a division between "religious" education and "secular" education. If it's true, it's of God. And practical knowledge is also of God, as Joseph demonstrated when he gave Pharaoh advice about surviving famine--advice he got from God Himself. Even common, mundane knowledge like how to build a fire, how to farm, how to build a cart wheel--are not beneath God's notice to be divinely inspired.

Therefore we can teach with confidence knowing that all truth, no matter how 'secular' or 'common,' is God's truth, and we can also know that God Himself works with each child individually in his education. God is at work in teaching the young child to use a knife and fork as much as in any 'religious' instruction, and math and grammar lessons are just as divine as Bible lessons.

But filling a child's mind and time with rules and lists that prevent him from grasping ideas works against God's spirit.

Our children don't need to reject God to give themselves to an intellectual life. They don't need to choose between science and religion--because it's all of God and they can have both. Yet intellect and knowledge have an evil side as well, and sin can tempt in this area. We want our children to be aware of this and make wise choices about which ideas they accept, and which they reject.

Children are like us--what's dull to us is dull to them, and we shouldn't give them lessons that we wouldn't be interested in ourselves. We would not want to memorize lists and dates; neither do our children. They want interesting knowledge about people and things. They want real books, not textbooks that dilute the knowledge they crave. They want real music, not pages of simple exercises, and they want real art instead of cute, sanitized school pictures. The world and knowledge and ideas are all so related that creating contrived, separate lessons for school will lose children's interest. They want and deserve it all, and the best of what we can offer them.

Chapter 26--The Eternal Child pg. 280

It takes children to make Christmas a joy, and to make the world seem fresh. Every child born reminds us of the newness of life and divinity inside each one of us. Children teach us what it means to be humble--children don't deem themselves too high and mighty for any pastime or any playmate. They don't feel compelled to make modest self-deprecating comments about what they can't do. They just are what they are, and can see faith objectively. They aren't filled with self-doubt and worry about how their needs will be met.

Children should be encouraged not to take notice of minor discomforts such as cold, scratchy clothing, or fatigue. Learning fortitude will prevent them from being discontent and growing into hypochondriacs. Children who are constantly aware of how uncomfortable they are, are too self-involved to be humble. The goal isn't to make children uncomfortable by making them endure discomfort like Spartans did, but to draw their focus away from themselves. They can learn to think of something else rather than how uncomfortable they feel or how unfairly they've been treated. They do better to think about others and how to share and give, or their own duties and the rights of others. A child focused on others rather than himself will remain a humble child.

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2004 Leslie N. Laurio
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