Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Will - The Conscience - The Divine Life in the Child

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This post contains an affiliate link to the book we are discussing.

Hello!  Welcome to our continuing discussing the book Home Education by Charlotte Mason.   I'm hoping that these discussions will be really practical and encouraging for all of us!  I will bring up some areas of the chapter that I'm trying to implement in my home this summer, and I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comment section below!

The Will

This chapter was interesting to me because it was more about parenting than educating, although for most homeschoolers, education is just a part of parenting!  I don't usually talk about parenting here, so this will be a bit different than normal.

The first topic is that of 'the will.'  Parents seem to have a wide spectrum of opinions on this subject.  You have parents who will not say no to their child or direct them in any way because they do not want to 'damage' their child's will or because they are so proud of their child's 'strong will' that will some day amount to something great.  Then you have parents who think it is their job to break their child's will in order to conform it to whatever they want.  I would guess that most of you are somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

Here is what Ms. Mason had to say:

Now we have come to a divergence of opinion: on the one hand, the parents decide that, whatever the consequence, the child's will is not to be broken, so all his vagaries must go unchecked; on the other, the decision is, that the child's will must be broken at all hazards, and the poor little being is subjected to a dreary round of punishment and repression.

Ms. Mason, in her usual way, has an interesting way to mix those two ways of thinking.  She does want children to behave well, but she does not want to break their wills in order to do that.  What she wants is to cultivate and train their wills.  She wants a child to want to do what is right and good.  I like this, although I do not think it is wrong at times to break a child's will (because a child is not always going to know what is best or make the right choices on their own.)

She points out that the will is not moral in itself.  I take this to mean that if a child has a 'strong will' then they just want to be passionate about something, not necessarily that particular thing.  Our job as parents would be to cultivate the desires of their hearts toward true, good, and beautiful things, then our will will carry out those desires (and that kind of strong will is good)!

So how do we teach children to control their wills?  Ms. Mason says that we should teach them to change their thoughts.  If they are feeling angry, think of something happy.  If they are tempted to do something they shouldn't do, thinking about something else.

I thought it was interesting, though, that she pointed out that a child must first have the habit of attention before he can master his will.  We are definitely working on mastering attention over here still =)  If your child doesn't think that they can control their will, practice asking him to do something and then praising him when he has done it.  Then after a while, point out that he can make himself do what he wants to do.

Ms. Mason, quoting from Dr. Morell:

The education of the will is really of far greater importance than that of the intellect.  Theory and doctrine, and inclucation of laws and propositions, will never of themselves lead to the uniform habit of right action.

The Conscience

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Taking a step back, we not have to look at the conscience.  We already said that the will itself is morally neutral.   The conscience is what drives the will.  Is a child's conscience going to tell his will to do something right or wrong?  If you have been around the Charlotte Mason style of education for any time, you have probably heard the phrase:

I am - I ought - I can - I will

The conscience is the "I ought" of the above phrase.  Of course, nothing is but by the grace of God, but humanly speaking, we understand what is, what we should do, that we are able to do it, and then finally decide that we will do it. "The will carries out the verdict of the conscience."

So, how do children learn what is right and wrong?  How do their consciences form?  Charlotte Mason suggests presenting them with tales that fix their attention upon conduct.  She doesn't' want us to simply tell them what is right and wrong, but to let them absorb this information naturally.

The Bible, first and supreme; but any true picture of life, whether a tale of golden deeds or faulty and struggling human life, brings aliment to the growing conscience.  The child gets into the habit of fixing his attention on conduct; actions are weighed by him, at first , but their consequences, but by degrees his conscience acquires discriminating power.

This is all really interesting to think about, but how do we do this practically?  What do we do when our children choose something wrong?  How do we help our children when they make a bad decision?  Honestly, I am way too prone to frustration and anger when my children do something wrong.  That is a big reason why I wanted to read this book.  I know that I need reminders about gently training my children.  Ms. Mason tells us to instruct our child's conscience with kindness.  She tells us to be as a guardian angle, being watchful, not to catch the child messing up, but but guide him in right actions ("into the acting out of the duty she has already made lovely in his eyes").

The only last comment I would like to make is that I find these words beautiful, but so much harder to live out.  These ideas sound really nice, but when I am in the daily grind of parenting, it never goes as smoothly as she seems to think it will =)  I was wondering how you all have found this to be.  Have you put into practice any of the ideas from this book?  How have they worked in your family?  Do share!

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  1. The paragraph about the habit of attention made me think of something Michelle Duggar said on her show. She said she prayed about what was the greatest things she needed to do in parenting and she said it was to get her kids to look at her in the eyes when she was talking at them, so she knew that she had their attention. Then she could speak to them about their behavior.

    1. That is great advice! I think I remember hearing that as well. I feel like my kids were better at this when they were toddlers than they are now =) That is definitely my fault for probably getting more lax about it.


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