Friday, June 06, 2008

Continuing thoughts on Charlotte Mason

These thoughts continue the online discussion that was started over at Elizabeth Foss' blog on the free e-book Education Is... I've been using my reading of this book to try to develop a "big picture" vision of how Michael and I can best care for Gabriel, because I have found the parenting books filled with step-by-step strategies and tactics and ways to respond to different behaviors to be somewhat dissatisfying. Better to have a vision, I think, and develop strategies that fit in with this vision, than use things that other people suggest haphazardly.

Education is a Discipline
The second prong of Charlotte Mason's educational approach is "education is a discipline", and by this she meant to highlight the importance of cultivating good habits that our children will continue into their adult lives. Good habits are central, she emphasizes, to the forming of good character. She has seven main points regarding education as discipline:
  1. We should put intentional thought and effort into forming habits.
  2. It's not always easy to administer consequences, but our children's futures depend on our faithfulness and efforts to do so.
  3. Habits can become stronger than natural inclinations.
  4. Education should deal with character issues, not just acquiring a certain amount of knowledge.
  5. Incessant watchfulness and work are required for forming and preserving habits.
  6. Cultivating good habits makes up one-third of our children's education.
  7. The effort is in the forming of a habit; once it is formed it is no longer strenuous.
Mirror, mirror...
There are a limited number of habits that it seems Gabriel (22 mos) can work on right now. I have slowly been realizing, as I reflect on his most bothersome behaviors, that if I translate them into my own life, I could stand to work on the same things myself! Surprise, surprise, right? He's young but certainly quite perceptive; perhaps if I start putting some intentional thought and effort into improving, he'll start improving too, with our help, of course.
  • Gabriel is easily frustrated--to the point of moans, groans, squeals, and sometimes tears--when he sets a task for himself that he can't do in the time or the way he wants it done. For example: putting on a hat that keeps falling off, or setting some of his toys up in particular arrangements when they keep falling down.
  • Mommy is easily frustrated in similar situations--throughout my life it has been tough for me to persevere when a task doesn't come easily or quickly to me. Recently I have been particularly frustrated and easily defeated when trying to get Gabriel to nap/sleep in a reasonable amount of time. (I'm pretty sure Gabriel can sense my frustration...)
We both need to work on perseverance and patience under trial, I think! It is not always convenient or easy to figure out the best way to facilitate his growth in perseverance, but I think knowing that I need to work on the same habit will help clear the clouds some when I am faced with Gabriel's frustration in particular situations.

Consequences and Reactions
I must admit that I am stumped about how to teach Gabriel not to act in a way that is inappropriate. In other words, what consequences are appropriate for an almost-two-year old? I am getting the feeling that the key for this age--at least for this little boy-- is in #5 above--incessant and consistent watchfulness and work on the part of mother and father to physically keep him from running into the street, pushing other children away from toys, throwing objects, or standing on furniture. Verbal reprimands seem only to reinforce the precise behavior we are trying to prevent, and to encourage him to do it with more glee, awaiting our reactions! I continue to search for wisdom from other more experienced moms for appropriate methods of response to such behaviors, so if anyone has any ideas, let me know!

Discipline brings Freedom
This point, highlighted in Education Is, reminds me of a point from my moral theology class. It is encouraging when I begin to worry about the repetitive nature of my "teaching" interactions with Gabriel. There will come a point that this instruction enables him to reach a greater stage of freedom!

The first stage of education in the moral life is to practice adherence to the commandments, which often, from the outside, can seem "constraining". Yet it is this first stage that is the bedrock for the true moral life, which is the life of the virtues, as developed to the point of becoming "habitual". "Habitual" virtues are those that can be exercised repeatedly and with creativity in diverse situations. They are not necessarily exercised with ease (although they may be) as even great saints are troubled by great temptations and moral quandries. It is only by complying with the beginning steps of discipline--adherence to the commandments, or in Gabriel's case, to our physical requirement that he not run into the street or push his cousin, that a person is able to experience true freedom in action. This freedom for Gabriel is one of the great hopes that sustains my everyday work of teaching and guiding!

1 comment:

Elizabeth Foss said...

Dear Carla,
I enjoyed reading this and I enjoyed seeing familiar faces on your sidebar--we buy from the same farms and we have the same midwives catching our babies:-). I'm so glad to see you blogging again--your site is a breath of fresh air!