Friday, March 15, 2013

Nourishing a Life: Parents as Inspirers

by Megan Hoyt
What is our job as parents when it comes to education? Charlotte Mason answers:

"Our last paper closed with an imperfect summary of what we may call the educational functions of parents. We found that it rests with the parents of the child to settle for the future man his ways of thinking, behaving, feeling, acting; his disposition, his particular talent; the manner of things upon which his thoughts shall run. Who shall fix limitations to the power of parents? The destiny of the child is ruled by his parents, because they have the virgin soil all to themselves. The first sowing must be at their hands, or at the hands of such as they choose to depute." (Parents' Review, Volume 2, no. 2, 1891/92, pg. 38, "Parents as Inspirers")

Oh dear.

" rests with the parents of the child to settle for the future man his ways of thinking, behaving, feeling, acting; his disposition, his particular talent; the manner of things upon which his thoughts shall run."

"The destiny of the child is ruled by his parents, because they have the virgin soil all to themselves."

Um. Well. That's sort of a decently frightening amount of power to be invested in two people whose sole wish at the birth of their first child was that an owner's manual might be tied to his toe! Good grief! What are we to do?

My grandson Anthony Gabriel
I think she sums things up nicely here:   

"They [ideas that lead to right living] are not to be given of set purpose, nor taken at set times. They are held in that thought-environment which surrounds the child as an atmosphere, which he breathes as his breath of life; and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents. Every look of gentleness and tone of reverence, every word of kindness and act of help, passes into the thought-environment, the very atmosphere which the child breathes; he does not think of these things, may never think of them, but all his life long they excite that 'vague appetency towards something' out of which most of his actions spring. Oh, wonderful and dreadful presence of the little child in the midst!"

So that's it. We provide the atmosphere. We behave in certain ways, and they "catch" the vision without knowing it. This explains why my children love opera and hate sports. But there's so much more to this. What about those gravely important and desperately cherished values we want to pass on to our children? And how do we handle this overwhelming and awesome responsibility of raising children toward their destinies? What do we do to and for this virgin soil of theirs? The answers are sometimes contradictory, as evidenced by all the various parenting books and websites and blogs, but here are a few I really like:

"The long-range vision of Attachment Parenting is to raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection."

And here are a few I don't like very much at all (read: hate):

 Train Up a Child
(Read a few of the comments at the bottom to get an idea of what this type of parenting is about.)
Growing Kids God's Way

It's not that I don't believe in disciplining children who are not obeying the family rules. I do. I really, really do. But despite what these "spare the rod, spoil the child" parenting books have to say on the matter, when we only get at the outward acquiescence of a child with his "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am," (to avoid punishment) and we don't ever reach the heart of a child with all the wonder of the universe and the great and glorious God who rules over it and their duty to obey Him out of a deep and profound love for Him, we have missed the mark in our educational duties as parents in my opinion. Our duty, according to Charlotte Mason, is much deeper than to achieve the outward cleanliness of training the child's faculties for obedience to the masters (us).

"Thus we see how the destiny of a life is shaped in the nursery, by the reverent naming of the Divine Name; by the light scoff at holy things; by the thought of duty the little child gets who is made to finish conscientiously his little task; by the hardness of heart that comes to the child who hears the faults or sorrows of others spoken of lightly." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

I'll let her explain it further to you:

"an idea is not an 'instrument,' but an agent; is not to be 'handled,' but, shall we say, set in motion? We have perhaps got over the educational misconception of the tabula rasa. ... Here it is in its cruder form: 'Pestalozzi aimed more at harmoniously developing the faculties than at making use of them for the acquirement of knowledge; he sought to prepare the vase rather than to fill it.' In the hands of Froebel the figure gains in boldness and beauty: It is no longer a mere vase to be shaped under the potter's fingers; but a flower, say a perfect rose, to be delicately and consciously and methodically moulded, petal by petal, curve and curl; for the perfume and living glory of the flower, why these will come; do you your part and mould the several petals; wait, too, upon sunshine and shower, give space and place for your blossom to expand. And so we go to work with a touch to "Imagination" here, and to "Judgment" there; now to the "Perceptive faculties," now to the "conceptive;" in this, aiming at the moral, and in this, at the intellectual nature of the child; touching into being, petal by petal, the flower of a perfect life under the genial influence of sunny looks and happy moods. This reading of the meaning of education and of the work of the educator is very fascinating, and it calls forth singular zeal and self-devotion on the part of those gardeners whose plants are the children." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

Dad and me
Even though that example of the flower is beautiful, and even though Froebel was someone Miss Mason admired, I still don't think she quite believes in this whole idea of fussing over the child, flower or not. She's saying children are not vases waiting to be filled. Nor is our duty to prepare the vase so it will be more receptive to filling. It's not even to prepare the flower by delicately molding and shaping it with a touch here and a touch there, although that's closer to her ideas than Pestalozzi came. But still, there's this dreadful fear that all children will be more or less replicas of their parents or of each other if we all follow the exact same molding and fussing to make them into the image we believe will be beautiful. And who's to say that our idea of beautiful is the right one? And anyway, is that really our duty as parents? To make our children into the images we want for them? I don't know about you, but whenever someone used to say, "she's the spitting image of her father!" I cringed. I didn't want to be the spitting image of my dad! For one thing, he had a gigantic nose, wore thick glasses, and was mostly bald. But looks aside, he was bold and loud and I was quiet and pensive. Now imagine for a moment what beauty looks like to the bold, loud parent and what it looks like to the tender, delicate child. My parents would have made me into someone totally different than what my heavenly Father had in mind when He intricately designed me! Is that what Miss Mason means for us to accomplish when she says, " rests with the parents of the child to settle for the future man his ways of thinking, behaving, feeling, acting; his disposition, his particular talent; the manner of things upon which his thoughts shall run." Does she want us to make our children into who we believe they should be? I don't think so. Isn't there a better way to draw out the positive attributes and leave behind the negative ones than to fawn over our kids and constantly pick and peck at them until they look like what we want them to look like? Even in positive ways? Absolutely!

Charlotte Mason tells us self education is the best education. But it's our job to be their guide and to oversee the journey. We do that by offering a luscious feast of living ideas to them, carefully chosen by US to display the glory and wonder of the living God. That doesn't mean we leave out important scientific discoveries because they appear to prove evolution is true or that we don't tell our children about all the evil in the world or all the starving children or teach them to take action against the sex trade industry and pray for the wisdom of our nation's leaders despite their support of despicable things that we abhor like abortion on demand. We're in this world. But as Christians, we are not OF this world. We occupy, not Wall Street, but our place within the sovereign will and plan of our Lord. So we guide our children toward accepting that awesome responsibility, toward listening to God and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit and effortlessly serving and loving and giving while being shrewd and putting forth large amounts of academic effort because it's our duty toward God, man, and country. These are the "unconscious ideas of right living that emanate from us as parents." And they're caught, not taught. Relieved? Don't be. It's even tougher to exemplify Christ than it is to teach about Him, don't you think? Thank goodness we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, quickening our hearts to behave rightly and to show our children the higher path.

Hannah, Drew, and Jesse
The next portion of "Parents as Inspirers" says:

"How much is there in this pleasing and easy doctrine that the drawing forth and strengthening and directing of the several "faculties" is education? Parents are very jealous over the individuality of their children; they mistrust the tendency to develop all on the same plan; and this instinctive jealousy is right; for, supposing that education really did consist in systematised efforts to draw out every power that is in us, why, we should all develop on the same lines, be as like as "two peas," and (should we not?) die of weariness of one another! Some of us have an uneasy sense that things are tending towards this deadly sameness. But, indeed, the fear is groundless. We may believe that the personality, the individuality of each of us is too dear to God, and too necessary to a complete humanity, to be left at the mercy of empires. We are absolutely safe, and the tenderest child is fortified against a battering-ram of educational forces." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

I think she's saying that God won't allow educational systems to go so far as to shipwreck the personalities and individuality of children. That's a comforting thought, really. But I have to admit that I don't have quite that much faith. I believe it IS possible for educational systems to shipwreck our children in a variety of ways, especially to shipwreck their faith in God and indoctrinate them with morals and values that are less than stellar. If only poor Charlotte knew what we are facing today. Check out Nathan Harden's article in Imprimis, Hillsdale College's monthly newsletter, if you don't realize what's happening  at our nation's institutes of higher learning: 

There is clearly a radical sexual agenda at work at Yale today. Professors and administrators who came of age during the sexual revolution are busily indoctrinating students into a culture of promiscuity. In fact, Yale pioneered the hosting of a campus “Sex Week”—a festival of sleaze, porn, and debauchery, dressed up as sex education. I encountered this tawdry tradition as an undergrad, and my book documents the events of Sex Week, including the screening in classrooms of hard-core pornography and the giving of permission to sex toy manufacturers and porn production companies to market their products to students.

In one classroom, a porn star stripped down to bare breasts, attached pinching and binding devices to herself as a lesson in sadomasochism, and led a student around the room in handcuffs. On other occasions, female students competed in a porn star look-alike contest judged by a male porn producer, and a porn film showing a woman bound and beaten was screened in the context of “instruction” on how students might engage in relationships of their own.

And again, these things happened with the full knowledge and approval of Yale’s senior administrators.

As might be expected, many Yale students were offended by Sex Week, but university officials defended it in the name of “academic freedom”—a sign of how far this noble idea, originally meant to protect the pursuit of truth, has fallen. And the fact that Yale as an institution no longer understands the substantive meaning of academic freedom—which requires the ability to distinguish art from pornography, not to mention right from wrong—is a sign of its enslavement to the ideology of moral relativism, which denies any objective truth (except, of course, for the truth that there is no truth). 


Yes, it's disgusting, but God has provided the antidote! The following video clip is long, but I had to include it because as I was writing this blog post about the winding ascent and going higher up and further in, I heard Heidi say in the background on this video, "He will lead you higher up and further down." I asked God what she meant by that and listened to it again and discovered she was talking about going into dark places with the light we have and shining brightly. So another of our duties is to prepare our children to enter these dark places and not allow their lights to be doused by the wickedness and worldliness they'll soon encounter. Since I am in the throes of raising teenagers and not young children, this is all the more real to me, but those with toddlers and preschoolers can start invigorating their faith now, while they're still in the nursery, as Miss Mason advises. 

Miss Mason says, "We are absolutely safe, and the tenderest child is fortified against a battering-ram of educational forces." While that may have been true in the early twentieth century, I'm not so convinced it's still true in the twenty-first. But God is fully alive and capable of turning all of this around. And He may just have US in mind as the vehicles through which a gentle shift in educational theory will be accomplished, so keep your minds and hearts (and ears) open to His call. The college professors of the future are in our care today. How we nourish and inspire the children within our care can have an enormous impact on the future of American society. It's no small thing. Not in the least.

 "The problem of education is more complex than it seems at first sight, and well for us and the world that it is so. "Education is a life;" you may stunt and starve and kill, or you may cherish and sustain; but the beating of the heart, the movement of the lungs, and the development of the faculties (are there any "faculties"?) are only indirectly our care. The poverty of our thought on the subject of education is shown by the fact that we have no word which at all implies the sustaining of a life: education (e, out, and ducere, to lead, to draw) is very inadequate; it covers no more than those occasional gymnastics of the mind which correspond with those by which the limbs are trained; training (trahere) is almost synonymous, and upon these two words rests the misconception that the development and the exercise of the "faculties" is the object of education (we must needs use the word for want of a better. Our homely Saxon "bringing up" is nearer the truth, perhaps because of its very vagueness; anyway, "up" implies an aim, and "bringing up" an effort." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

Yes! The winding ascent. The striving ever upward, further up and further in, reaching for the higher goal. That is my aim. I may not be able to do much more than lead by example at this point with only a 16-year-old watching, but that's one thing I can still do. And be present to answer any and all questions. Hopefully, the early years will bring forth a harvest of curiosity and a quest for truth that will last for years to come.

I'll leave you with these last few quotes. Ponder them. Ingest them. Let them sink into the depths of your heart. To me, this is the real purpose of parenting and education. 

"It rests with parents not only to give their children birth into the life of intelligence and moral power, but to sustain the higher life which they have borne. Now that life, which we call education, receives only one kind of sustenance; it grows up on ideas. You may go through years of so-called "education" without getting a single vital idea; and this is why many a well-fed body carries about a feeble, starved intelligence, and no society for the prevention of cruelty for children cries shame on the parents." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

"Every study, every line of thought, has its 'guiding idea;' therefore, the study of a child makes for living education, as it is quickened by the guiding idea 'which stands at the head.' " (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

"Ideas may invest, as an atmosphere, rather than strike as a weapon. 'The idea may exist in a clear, distinct, definite form, as that of a circle in the mind of a geometrician; or it may be a mere instinct, a vague appetency towards something,... like the impulse which fills the young poet's eyes with tears, he knows not why.' To excite this 'appetency towards something'--towards things lovely, honest, and of good report, is the earliest and most important ministry of the educator. How shall these indefinite ideas which manifest themselves in appetency be imparted? They are not to be given of set purpose, nor taken at set times. They are held in that thought-environment which surrounds the child as an atmosphere, which he breathes as his breath of life; and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents. (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

"There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as 'inspirers' to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long 'appetency' towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

"The whole subject is profound, but as practical as it is profound. We must disabuse our minds of the theory that the functions of education are, in the main, gymnastic. In the early years of the child's life it makes, perhaps, little apparent difference whether his parents start with the notion that to educate is to fill a receptacle, inscribe a tablet, mould plastic matter, or, nourish a life; but in the end we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of the child; all the rest is thrown away, or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury to the vital processes." (Parents' Review, pg. 38.)

I'm not a child anymore;
I'm tall enough
To reach for the stars.
Your hands held mine so few hours,
And I'm not a child anymore.

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking about this today, how students from a local private school all tend to be clones of one another. When a person does not conform, the group shuns them. I wonder why the parents are not worried about it but then I see they are clones of each other, too.

    Then I wondered if they look at me and think I am trying to mold my kids into who I want them to be. Our son is nothing like my husband or myself. Given the chance to mold him into something, he would not be the person he is today. However, he is the person God meant him to be, warts and all.

    Then it gets me to thinking about all the conformity going on a places like Yale. They think they are about freedom and openness and tolerance. Yet, they are devaluing the persons who see through the sordidness they are peddling. What happens if you walk out of a, er, "class" like that? Do they mark you as absent? Does the professor take it out on students at grade time? Are such students targeted and bullied as prudes?