Friday, June 28, 2013

Foreign language Acquisition, Gouin-style!

by Megan Hoyt

Foreign language acquisition has always seemed completely out of reach for me. I bought Rosetta Stone Italian around a decade ago because my dream has been to go to Italy -- maybe even to live there for an extended time to soak in all that great art, visit cathedrals, enjoy the pace and feel of the country. And enjoy the food! Italian language study is on the rise in America, too. Take a look at this article in the Chicago Tribune from a few days ago.  

But alas, I failed to learn more than a few phrases and greetings after MANY years of trying. Why did I need to learn whether the boy was jumping or walking? Whether he was sitting inside the airplane or beside it? Something just wasn't clicking in my elderly brain. I wasn't "getting" it. I realize learning a foreign language comes more easily when you're young and I am not young anymore. But is there nothing I can do? Here's a list of all the curriculum I've purchased over the years in my quest to learn Italian, some of which I haven't even gotten around to testing out yet.

Italian in Ten Minutes a Day
Muzzy Italian videos
Standard Deviants Italian 
Berlitz Italian
Berlitz Italian Verb Handbook
Berlitz Italian Dictionary
Prego! (textbook)
All Audio Italian
The Berlitz Self Teacher Italian
Barron's Italian curriculum (on cassette -- that's how long I've been searching!) 
Libro Primo and Libro Secondo 
(I have no idea what these are supposed to be since they're all in Italian)
some Italian dvd with kids singing cute songs
The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter in Italian 
(thinking I might glean a few words from a little children's book.)

I learned NOTHING. 

This is getting a bit ridiculous, don't you think? In my search for answers to why I seem to be foreign language illiterate, I came across this article delineating the five most common mistakes people make when trying to learn another language. I think I've made all of them!

In discussing Miss Mason's methods, I've never really thought much about how to teach or how to learn a second language. I should have. Here's what I've gleaned in my renewed quest for help:

"Little children learn a new language by phrases, not by words—a phrase happens to hit their fancy—they practice it over and over again.  It is sometimes quite a difficult phrase, and the elders wonder where the child got it from. For instance a little boy of four remarked to me one day, 'Yes, we have had a lot of bad weather lately, and I fancy it is beating up for a storm this afternoon.' That little boy had only learnt English for a year, having been born in France and brought over here at the age of three. The expression  "beating up for a storm" had evidently struck his ears and his fancy, and he reproduced it."

"...when children come to school age, I think no time should be lost before some foreign language is started. Advantage should be taken betimes of the sensitiveness of the ear, the elasticity of the muscles of the throat and tongue, the power of mimicry, which may all become duller and stiffer if we wait till the reasoning powers are more fully developed."

"Picture lessons, songs with actions, and games (these last very sparingly, as children soon think it very much beneath them to play at lessons, they are quick to feel the pleasure and dignity of work)—these all help to practise the ear and tongue, the eye unconsciously helping to bring about the association between the idea and the sounded word."

"Songs bringing in some of the words learnt in the picture lesson help to vivify the impression, and are a reward for good repetition. In the picture lesson, care must be taken to avoid merely naming the objects represented—the actions must all be brought out vividly, and thus the verbs of every-day use are practised."

"By this time the blackboard will be wanted, and the sentences referring to the actions in picture or song can be written down. We will suppose the children are now over eight. The next step will be to copy the sentences for themselves in writing. Soon they will begin to ask questions about plural endings and agreement of adjectives (not, of course, in that grammatical way, but they are almost sure to notice the differences in spelling), and with skilful leading they can find out reasons and rules bit by bit and will remember them because the joy of discovery will be theirs."

"After this we shall use mental visualisation instead of pictures. A slight amount of gesture and action will help to give life and stimulate imagination, but to go through the whole series of actions is apt to make the lesson ridiculous. A big girl learning German on the Gouin method, and taking the series "Walking," was balancing herself with great difficulty on one foot while struggling through the sentence "Ich hebe den rechten Fuss auf." "Ich hebe den rechte (hop-hop) das rechtes (hop-hop) die rechten (hop-hop, hop). . ." Of course, she felt tired, disgusted, humiliated, and fully convinced that, for her, at all events, German was an impossible language. I think Gouin might justly exclaim "Save me from my followers," for some extraordinary teaching has been inflicted in his name by those who have quite failed to grasp his psychological reasoning or his method." (Parents' Review, When and How to Begin Modern Languages, by Clara L. Daniell, Volume 14, no. 11, November 1903, pgs. 808-814).

Imagine my delight in reading this Parents' Review article just after reading another article analyzing Gouin's techniques for foreign language acquisition. Here are a few clips from that article. Then, in closing, I will tell you which current foreign language curriculum I believe follows this method best.
The Parents’ Review, vol. 4, p. 122-126

How to Learn a Language
By The Rev. Henry W. Bell, M.A.

            The appearance of Monsieur Gouin’s book on “The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages,” is a fact ful of interest and significance to linguists. It is a sign that light is breaking upon the darkness of the old methods of study; and we even begin to hope that some of its rays will penetrate the closed cloisters of our universities. A living book, that is, a book in which principles are expounded that go to the foundations, is an active influence, let loose amid a world of forces, and it will control and guide them to true and noble issues. Such a book is the one which we are at present noticing. ...

            The fundamental principle on which it is based is the postulate that a foreign language should be learned in the same way as its mother tongue is learned by a child. The written page must not intervene between the mind and spoken speech. The uttered words must reach the mind by the direct channel of the ear, must be assimilated by the mind, and be imitated by the tongue. It is thus every child of sane faculties learns, and infallibly learns, his own language, which to begin with is unknown or foreign to it; it is only thus that the man can learn an unknown speech. He must become as a little child, taking in his humility the noblest attitude, moral or spiritual, that man can take. He thus enters Nature’s school, which is God’s School, and among other great and greater achievements, learns, readily and pleasantly, foreign tongues. ...

            With marvelous insight and stern logical method, this principle that we must learn a language as a child learns its mother tongue, is carried out from beginning to end, till even the abstract and dry rules of grammar become concrete realities. The results that are reached are astonishing not merely for their profoundness, but for their limpid simplicity, thus showing that all true profoundness is simple with the divine clearness of truth. …

It is the principle of order which brings the whole system into an harmonious unity. All the different forms of language are linked to this conception, and are thus made concrete and, as concrete, memorable. He divides language into three kinds: the objective, or that which expresses the facts of the outer world; the subjective, or that which, as the language of the mind, is the expression of the mind’s reflection on these facts; and the figurative, or the expression of the “purely ideal.” The conception of the series runs through the whole of these. ...

            In the domain of grammar the series make abstract principles and rules concrete. Persons, moods, tenses, the parts of speech, the forms of syntax are all brought to the same touchstone, and are shown to be only the modes or subjects of a child’s experience. For they are attached to the series, and thus become concrete. This portion of the work seems to me the most original and powerful part of it. It makes grammar a thing of life, reduces it, as it were, to action and fact, and makes it to the learner, as the author claims, as simple and pleasant as a game. …

            The secret of Monsieur Gouin’s success lies in his strict loyalty to Nature. This is the thread which has enabled him to pass with ease and grace through the labyrinth of difficulties peculiar to the subject. Nature, to which he has appealed, has given him her secret, hence the truth and clearness of his exposition.

            We have to note finally, in regard to the series, their exhaustiveness. The whole of the objective language is overtaken, every word of the vocabulary is embraced, within the compass of fifty series and their subordinate themes. …
            By no persons in the community will the movement be more eagerly welcomed than by the large numbers in Scotland to whom the natural method in its leading principles is well known, who have been learning foreign languages by the use of the organ of the ear, by imitation of sentences spoken by their teacher, and by their frequent repetition. 

Thus ends the analysis of Gouin's series on foreign language. There are a few more Charlotte Mason recommendations:

"Plays are useful to counteract that excessive shyness in speaking a foreign language which seems part of the heritage of a free Briton. A good deal of effort and concentration will be wanted to master the parts, but I have known this concentration to be amply repaid by the real hold the phrases have taken, and the consciousness of knowing something has given an immense impetus.

Help at home in conversation is most valuable, and something might be done in the holidays. There are many delightful spots in Brittany or Normandy where summer holidays might be spent.

I have hardly touched on the question of grammar—of writing exercises—of composition—of translation. There is no doubt that, however much we may try to clear away the thorns and nettles, there will still be a pretty thick hedge to be struggled through—still a considerable amount of rules and difficulties that nothing but sheer grind can conquer. One of the most ardent of the reformers of modern language teaching was asked, "What do you do about French irregular verbs?" "You must ram them in," was the reply.
The old and the new methods supplement each other's deficiencies. We cannot dispense with either unconscious imitation or conscious effort."

Since I am by no means an expert on foreign languages, I am going to rely here on my good friends at Ambleside Online for help. But the more I study about HOW to teach foreign languages, the more I realize how helpful it would be to already know how to speak another language. I'm handicapped by my inability to explain the nuances of Italian to my children. That's problem number one. I suggest, then, that we all learn together! 

Here is what AO offers. (including a plea to teach Greek!) And if you're still with me, here is a link to free online language lessons for a wide variety of languages. The link takes you to the Spanish page, but there's a long list in the left-hand column. Looks promising. And my friend Kim Neve who teaches Spanish shares here.

After looking over all the curriculum I have on my own bookshelves, I'd have to say the ones that most closely align with Gouin and Miss Mason's recommendations are Rosetta Stone and Muzzy. These two use phrases rather than setting groups of vocabulary words in front of you or offering flash cards with one word on each. They also both utilize pictures to engage the eyes, ears, and voice so the mind can grab the phrase more easily. That said, I think the phrases these two curriculums teach you are often superfluous and not the types of phrases a child would learn from his family and friends from birth. I have one more recommendation to make, and I got this one directly from Charlotte Mason herself. I downloaded it immediately when I realized it was available online through It's called An Italian Conversation Grammar and Guide to Italian Composition by N. Perini. The cover page says: 

"Comprising the most important rules of Italian grammar, with numerous examples and exercises thereon, English-Italian dialogues, hints on Italian versification, and extracts in Italian poetry, followed by A Short Guide to Italian Composition and also an English-Italian and Italian-English vocabulary."

Even if you're starting the foreign language journey a little later than you'd like, don't lose heart. It's never too late to learn, especially if you're motivated and work hard at it. 

Best wishes! 

Friday, June 21, 2013

On Time -- an Unhurried Education

by Melanie Walker-Malone 


A friend of mine once gave a talk about time, and it literally left me spellbound. I had this awakening, this epiphany, this sudden spark of an idea that maybe I wasn't living as I ought, that maybe I was racing through life at breakneck speed for no reason at all -- and thinking there were all these reasons. What if she was right and I was doing life all wrong? Ouch! 

I asked my friend if she would mind me reposting a blog entry she wrote a few years ago on the same subject, and she said yes! So here it is. Enjoy! --Megan

On Time -- An Unhurried Education

The idea of time and the way it shapes my teaching and learning has been rolling around in my head for quite a while now. Aware of an internal rushing that I was always managing, I have longed to silence it. This sinister voice, ‘get going, seize the moment, multi-task’ seemed cloaked as a virtue, but somewhere deep down I could hear, though the signal was weak, that it was really a vice.

We live in two time zones. We’re all familiar with Greenwich Mean Time and it’s ticking clocks, blinking digital numerals, various chronometers and alarms. But there is also what older voices might have dubbed “real time.”

There are four clocks or timekeepers that mark real time:

The body’s clock that measures when I am hungry or satisfied, weary or energized, sad, lonely, or content.

The day’s clock which is marked by the movement of the sun and moon, from sunset to sunrise, to noon. The waxing and waning of the day.

The season’s clock with spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The church’s clock which measures time with the liturgical calendar. While it is a way to pay attention to movements in the soul, it does so by paying attention to the other clocks, especially the rhythm of a day (vespers, compline, matins, dawn…), and of the seasons (advent, epiphany, lent, easter…).

Our view of time flows into the other postures we hope to cultivate. By adding attention to our senses we find that we are now gazing, scenting, savoring, listening and stroking…not just seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing and touching. Mindful presence adds so much more. No attending can be done in a hurry.

An Unhurried Education

From the inception of our school eight years ago, I have been haunted by an idea I heard from Chip Denton of Trinity School, of an “unhurried education.” What an intriguing thought! Not knowing why, but in the true spirit of our impulsive response to being seized by an idea, we rushed out to put this quote under all of our clocks:

“He who is in a hurry delays the work of God.” (St. Vincent)

I think that each teacher knew it was an indictment rather than a description. There was something compelling about this thought and now, a few years in, we keep seeing ways that the mystery of this truth holds water and shapes our community of learners.

In paying more attention to GMT than to our other real time clocks, we have perhaps read the Scriptures' words about time in a false way. Solomon had no watch on when he said that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. We feel that time is running from us, slipping away, and therefore read words like “redeem the time” and “teach us to number our days,” as a call to hurry up. We buy more elaborate calendars with bible verses on them while ignoring baby’s cries on our “Ezzo-esque” hyper-schedules. “Redeem the time” has come to mean “fill in every second of the day or you will miss opportunities,” often losing the gifts of the moment by either regretting how we missed the last one or dreading the oncoming one.

The idea of real time calls us to pay attention to each part of the day or year as it comes…in its own sweet time.

Slow Movements

Two organizations, awake to the frenzied, chaotic pace of current living, have added mindfulness to the areas of food production and travel. Carl Honore,’ an Italian, conceived the idea of the Slow Food Movement one day while he was walking by the Spanish Steps in Rome, and saw the construction of a McDonalds across the street. (Frank and Pardis Stitt in my own community are part of this movement). Listen to some of their comments:

“Slow is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace; it’s about working, playing and living better by doing everything at the right speed.” (I can cook eggs in the microwave, but have you ever eaten them that way?)

“The Slow Food Movement was an organization that was founded to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interests in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

The Slow Travel Movement pays attention to the journey, not just the destination.

Antidotes for a Hurried Education: Waiting

Not long after the school year began, I remember sitting with a child, aware that the math concept was not attaching. I felt the inner angst, but knew that the habit needed in this scenario was not math propensity in the child, but an ability to wait in me.
Unhurried. Waiting. An ability to be inactive while expecting something.
The natural world waits with such grace. The quiet cocoon, the simple bud, the tiny seed…all beautiful in their silent, fallow forms. Each embody Job’s words, “waiting for my change to come.”

Jan Comenius was a Moravian Bishop who lived in an age of violence and exile. Born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1592, his own schooling was rigid, full of rote learning and harsh discipline. Writing about education and teaching filled his days. Themes including ‘a liberal education for all,’ an emphasis on atmosphere, the need for personal motivation in learning and direct experience were his directives. He wrote that Nature spoke to education in these ways:

1. Nature observes a suitable time.

2. Nature prepares the material, before she begins to give it form.

3. Nature chooses a fit subject to act upon, or first submits one to a suitable treatment in order to make it fit.

4. Nature is not confused in its operations, but in its forward progress advances distinctly from one point to another.

5. In all the operations of nature, development is from within.

6. Nature, in its formative processes, begins with the universal and ends with the particular.

7. Nature makes no leaps, but proceeds step by step.

8. If nature commences anything, it does not leave off until the operation is completed.

9. Nature carefully avoids obstacles and things likely to cause hurt.[3]

One can only imagine how deeply Charlotte Mason was informed by Comenius. He was a champion of cultivating the inner landscape, and although he lived with many sufferings and deprivations in his lifetime, he was a man of expanded spirit and a gentle, compelling person. It was Comenius who said to “start with local, then branch out,” themes found in these slow, time-conscious movements.

Proportion and Rhythm

A richer view of time will help us live more proportionally -- to work, live, and play at the “right speed.” Charlotte Mason said, “we allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and the spiritual life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” This idea allows us to see the value of every dimension of life and pay attention to each. We can become full participants in life, instead of amputating sections of our being to make up more time.

The Rule of St. Benedict survives to this day primarily because its adherents find a view of life there that helps them live in proper proportion. Prayer, community, work, rest, food are all attended to in a rhythm that attends to each without neglecting the others. He was able to keep the dialectic between silence and community, leisure and work, being and doing, resting and waking, listening and responding. A large part of that was knowing that each has its due season, but also that each must be set aside to attend to others' arenas. There is a time to take my work up, but there is also a time to set it down. “That’s enough for today.”


Hospitality, Openness, Lack of self consciousness

The ultimate hope is not so much seizing the day or enjoying the moment, as being present in the day and in the moment. This is the way to hospitality -- to becoming open to others (people and ideas). This rhythm fosters the ability to say of any interruption, any suffering, “who knows what God has brought me in this child, this event, this thought, this moment?” and to then give it my full attention.

The work of giving time to each person, idea or moment yields the fruit of increasing humility, a lack of self-consciousness, which Charlotte Mason says is the distinct “goal” of a life of abundance. How freeing to be so present to you that I forget myself? Then you are not burdened by pride and fear, and neither am I.

Listen to Jean Louis Servan-Schreiber in The Art of Time: 

“It is in our early years that we are most profoundly, naturally and intimately involved with time. Never again will we be as open as the child for whom everything is new and who can dream, and be surprised and forget everything else to benefit from the moment. Without the burden of a past, without a care for the future, we live our childhood happily in the present, before our memories and our projects gnaw it down from both ends. The fundamental experience of the present, of the fullness of the moment, the intensity of feeling (joy/pain, pleasure/suffering) here and now is not that difficult to acquire since it is within the reach of every child. What is harder is to not forget it.” 
He is simply talking about recapturing what was once natural to us, a child-like view of the world. So…

In thinking about life ( i.e. education), perhaps I might pay more attention to time. The life of the soul and the life of community are deeply connected to waiting and to a steady, restful, yet attentive pace. My lesson plan says that we should be at a certain point, but what are all these young faces telling me? Why am I still working when the sun has gone down hours ago? Was it back in the fall when I last had coffee with my colleague? What do I learn from the long, bright days of summer and the shorter, darker days of winter? Does this season of the year call me to pay attention to ideas that I have neglected? What is my eight year old saying about my calendar, especially now that it has merged with my cell phone? Shall we take time this week to think about time?

Here is one final thought from Pierre Teillhard de Chardin:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are all, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new, and yet it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”

So, tell me dear comrade, what thoughts do you have about all of this? 


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Catcher in the Rye: Musings on the Formation of Character

by Megan Hoyt

"We throw them back upon their own endeavours; convict them of naughtiness, but do not convince them of goodness; make them uneasy and unhappy, so that they wince under our touch; and fail to open to them free paths to goodness and knowledge." Charlotte Mason

The Penitent Magdalen by Guido Reni
This week, I've been thinking a lot about how to help my children along toward solid character and toward an adoration for the Lord and for all things holy and pure. It's a daunting task at times -- and other times sheer bliss as I watch their tender hearts swell with joy at the goodness of God and His love for them and for all creation, really. Those are the beautiful bits. But the road is winding and long and it's so often an uphill climb. Sometimes we slip and slide down a ways and have to apply ourselves afresh to the rocky trail with renewed vigor and determination. Other times, I sit down and cry and want to give up. I feel like I'm still a child myself, constantly being molded into His image. How can I take my children's sacred souls in my war-worn hands and bring them to a place of strong character when I'm such a mess, too? Let's see what Miss Mason had to say about this, keeping in mind that we can find answers throughout the Bible, too. And so can our children!

A Disciplined Will necessary to Heroic Christian Character.––Once again, though a disciplined will is not a necessary condition of the Christian life, it is necessary to the development of the heroic Christian character. A Gordon, a Havelock, a Florence Nightingale, a St. Paul, could not be other than a person of vigorous will. In this respect, as in all others, Christianity reaches the feeblest souls. There is a wonderful Guido 'Magdalen' in the Louvre, with a mouth which has plainly never been set to any resolve for good or ill––a lower face moulded by the helpless following of the inclination of the moment; but you look up to the eyes, which are raised to meet the gaze of eyes not shown in the picture, and the countenance is transfigured, the whole face is aglow with a passion of service, love, and self-surrender. All this the divine grace may accomplish in weak unwilling souls, and then they will do what they can; but their power of service is limited by their past. Not so the child of the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train him for the Christian life. When he wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, she would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty in training––a man of war from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His good pleasure." (Volume 1, p. 323) 

Whose he is and Whom he serves... Now I'm beginning to understand

I pulled out all the "classics" on my bookshelves the other day to see which ones I had read and which to put in my future reading pile -- which is really a messy, overflowing stack on my nightstand that slouches precariously toward me with foreboding as I tumble into bed, too tired to read. Some I smiled knowingly at -- Pride & Prejudice, Sister Carrie (if you haven't read Theodore Dreiser, you should) and all the Mennyms books. Okay, those aren't classics, but they bring back such fond memories of reading around the table with my children that they make me smile!

Then I saw Catcher in the Rye.

I had never read this book. I like Salinger's writing style, though, so I picked up Catcher in the Rye and began reading. That's when I met Holden Caulfield. Holden seemed edgy to me. He had a chip on his shoulder. As an author, I picked apart the first few chapters mercilessly. Salinger was too slow to move the plot forward, I thought. He overused the word(s) god da** for effect instead of showing us Holden's personality in other ways. I thought it was just another stupid, angsty book that only got attention because it was one of the FIRST stupid, angsty books of our era. (okay, MY era. I'm old!)

Then I got to about chapter five and found out this kid's little brother had died of Leukemia. Holden had slept in the garage the night his brother died. He had punched out all the garage windows and tried to punch out the windows of the station wagon, too. His hand was permanently damaged. He could no longer make a fist. He cherished his brother's  left-handed baseball glove and took it with him to boarding school.

Now I understood Holden Caulfield.

And it occurred to me that we all have stories. Some aren't as dramatic and terrible as Holden's, but some are even worse -- abusive fathers, molestation by priests or coaches, homelessness. I have to admit that I have judged people I've known based on their behavior toward me. If it was admirable, I judged them to be high quality people. If they were edgy or temperamental, I judged them to be low quality people. That is how I have maneuvered through life, how I've avoided being harmed by a world in turmoil, spinning through its orbit as if everything is predictable and calm while really lives are spinning out of control and often no one even knows. Or cares.

I am getting to how this relates to Charlotte Mason, but stay with me. So here I was, taken by this poor, helpless, hurting boy, and I suddenly had this epiphany about the entire human race. We're flawed! We're marred by life! And guess what? I'm a Holden Caulfield, too. Ouch. That realization wasn't pleasant. Have I ever harmed anyone, spoken from that wounded place within MY soul? Of course I have! I can think of two examples right now where I flipped out when someone mistreated a friend. And because of my woundedness and my introverted personality, I didn't lash out at the perpetrator or encourage that person to go make things right, which might have led to a change of heart. I went straight to my wounded friend to comfort her and then hashed it all out with several other friends until I "processed it" and moved on. That's called gossip. Yeah. Not great. I didn't tell the whole world, but then you don't have to. If you talk about something with one or two people and they tell two friends and so on and so on and so on (like that old shampoo commercial) that's all it takes to ruin someone's reputation. Don't get me wrong. I generally DON'T gossip, because the Holy Spirit Who resides in me usually quickens my heart (literally -- my heart starts racing) and I can't do it.

But then I began thinking about the person who hurt my friend. What was her story? What was her childhood like? Should I have gone to her and shared my story, told her how the grace of God wooed me to salvation ever so gently, moment by precious moment, while I was still lost in my sin? She had an abrasive, outspoken personality. I'm sort of afraid of people like that. But I could have tried to talk to her anyway. In the end, I lost her friendship completely. She was wrong to hurt my friend. Very wrong. But I had mishandled the situation and caused a rift in our tentative friendship. And no good came of the situation. It became unredeemable. I was Holden Caulfield. And so was she. And the conflict left no survivors. 

And -- lucky me -- my children got to watch me walk through that situation. Ouch. Remembering that children learn from us often by example, I cringe at the thought that I wasn't doing the best job at emulating proper behavior. I'm a work in progress.

So how DO you properly handle relationships in this fast-paced, in your face, cruel world of ours? And how do we teach our children to handle relational conflict? We are all so terribly fragile -- those of us who shudder upon reproach and those of us who lash out.

This morning, my son was watching tv with us and an anti-bullying commercial came on. The announcer asked, "What would you do?" when a boy was being teased on a school bus. Our son promptly retorted, "You pound them with your fists, and they'll learn really fast not to mess with you."

Hmmmmm. Not quite the answer I was hoping for. 

Here's what Charlotte Mason had to say about the formation of character in our children. Yes, the task falls mostly into the mother's lap, but there's more to it than mere habit training or reading great books about men and women of heroic character or even telling them Who they serve and showing them His goodness toward His beloved children.

"My peace I leave unto you" conveys a legacy to children as well as to their elders. They appropriate this peace while they are quite young, and live in gladness and at ease; but we disturb them too soon. We throw them back upon their own endeavours; convict them of naughtiness, but do not convince them of goodness; make them uneasy and unhappy, so that they wince under our touch; and fail to open to them free paths to goodness and knowledge.

That children should have the peace of God as a necessary condition of growth is a practical question. If we believe it is their right, not to be acquired by merit nor lost by demerit, we shall take less upon ourselves, and understand that it is not we who pasture the young souls. The managing mother, who interferes with every hour and every occupation of her child's life, all because it is her duty, would tend to disappear. She would see, with some amusement, why it is that the rather lazy, self-indulgent mother is often blessed with very good children. She, too, will let her children be, not because she is lazy, but being dutiful, she sees that––give children opportunity and elbow-room, and they are likely to become natural persons, neither cranks nor prigs. And here is a hope for society; children so brought up are hardly likely to become managing persons in their turn, inclined to intrude upon the lives of others, and be rather intolerable in whatever relation.

No doubt children are deeply grateful to managing parents, and we are all lazy enough to be thankful to persons who undertake our lives for us; but these well-meaning persons encroach; we are required to act for ourselves, think for ourselves, and let other persons do the same.

It is our puritan way to take too much upon us for ourselves and others: we must 'acquire merit' and they must acquire merit; and the feeding in quiet pastures, the being led beside still waters, we take to be the reward of peculiar merit, and do not see that it is a natural state and condition, proper to everyone who will claim it. lf we saw this, we should be less obtrusive in our dealings with children; we should study to be quiet, only seeing to it that our inactivity is masterly." (Formation of Character, p. 417)

I don't think Miss Mason is advocating non-action but rather telling us to celebrate with them the joy of their salvation and rejoice over them when they make right choices rather than constantly fussing over every tiny infraction and staying ever near to catch them misbehaving. Not that we shouldn't always be ready to teach and lead by example. My mother used to sing this little song to me whenever I became discouraged: 

Accentuate the positive; 
Eliminate the negative; 
Latch onto the affirmative, and
Don't mess with Mr. In Between. 
(lyrics courtesy of Johnny Mercer)


She was trying to jolly me out of a pensive mood, and it generally worked -- although I have always tended toward the melancholy by nature. Why does that little song come to me now, at age 49, whenever something is troubling me? I have no idea! It's these little things that we do as mothers (and teachers) that remain inside our children's hearts for years to come. And we never know which little thing it will be that sticks with them.

I believe in being supportive and leading by example. Encouragement goes a long way toward enabling children to succeed in life. It gives them confidence. Now what do I say to my teenager who thinks the answer to bullying is to beat up the bully? I'm open to suggestions!

Accentuate the Positive

You've got to accentuate the positive
eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
But don't mess with mister in between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
have faith, or pandemonium's
liable to walk up on the scene

To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the Whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do
just when everything looked so dark?

They said we better
accentuate the positive
eliminate the negative
latch on to the affirmative
But don't mess with mister in between.


(from The Parents' Review, volume 4, "The Teaching of the Educated Mother")
What do we mean by manners? The word comes from manus, “a hand,” and may technically be said to refer to the way in which a thing is handled, and is therefore the way of performing or handling anything. We say everything depends upon how a thing is handled; almost anything can be done if it is handled rightly. What an idea of power does this not give in regard to manner, and what an important part the cultivation of manners plays in education, at home, at school, and in the world. There is a prevalent idea in England, not to be found, so far as I know, in other countries, that courteous manners may be an indication of insincerity. There is a certain class of minds upon which the best manners have this effect; they at once ask the question, “Is he or she sincere?”

When first coming in contact with this view of good manners, one is startled, and for a time carried captive by its special pleading for truth. It is asserted where no special interest in a person is felt, it is a violation of truth to greet such person, or in fact any stranger, with a smile of friendliness, or a genial, sympathetic appearance. But we must not forget, when attracted by this cold, truthful view of manners, to perceive there is a deeper principle lying below the fundamental one of Truth, and that is love. The effect of a cold, blunt manner is to produce a chilling effect on those who are acted upon, whereas the loving or genial manner creates in the recipient a feeling of pleasure akin to love, and must be really the more truthful of the two, for God is love, and has made the foundations of His universe to rest on love and truth. Kant advocates this greeting of others as though we loved them and argues its advantages are great, because it calls forth love on both sides. The difference in the children in one family in regard to manners is often marked. We say, “This child has naturally good manners, and that has no manners.”

Practically, is it not almost always the good-tempered, happy-dispositioned child who shows early in life the right mode of handling people and things, and is it not the more honest, straightforward child who gives us most trouble in the handling of people and things? The educated mother must therefore make love the ground of her instructions and example, and while she fixes the courteous child’s mode of action on this attribute of God Himself, she will be especially careful to train the uncourteous child in this simple idea of love and its eternal union with truth. What “God has joined together let not man put asunder.” …  

The educated mother must influence quietly in this matter by her own manners, and the way in which she exemplifies the principles of love and truth. Hard and unnecessary judgments of others in the presence of children are an offence to good taste and manners, and very injurious, as tending to encourage the uselessly critical spirit.

Realizing that the children of today will rapidly develop into individuals keen to learn and be taught, she will always be alive to the necessity of cultivating her own mind, and the work of self-education and improvement will go on for her while life lasts. …

Beyond this the educated mother will seek to prepare her sons and daughters for that trying period in their lives when, emerging from childhood, they stand on the threshold of woman and manhood, oppressed often by new, bewildering thoughts, and open to guidance in a peculiarly sensitive and receptive manner. …

In conclusion, the influence and teaching of the educated mother is all for righteousness; and the formation in her children of character, based on self-control and self-sacrifice, the daily object of her life.