Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sowing Ideas

(Some notes on Chapter 4 of Charlotte Mason's Volume 2: Parents and Children)

"...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."

Although children are born with personalities and bents, and the Holy Spirit also does work in them that we are not privy to, parents still have an awful lot of influence on their children. What we do on a regular basis, what we emphasize, the books we give them, what we allow, what we condemn or let fall by the wayside, all communicate our beliefs and principles to our children. They are immersed in our way of thinking and our way of acting, day in, day out, for years.

Charlotte Mason calls these beliefs and principles "ideas", and so they are. But what is an idea? Let's see how Miss Mason explains it:

An idea is not an 'instrument,' but an agent; is not to be 'handled,' but, shall we say, set in motion?

It is not one more item on our list of things to do, or one more tool in our parenting toolbox. It sounds more like a living entity-- it moves, it breathes, it influences.

In another of her books, Charlotte talks about the "ideas in the air" in a society at any given time: a philosopher or other thinker puts forth a new idea, which simmers among scholars for a generation or three or four, and is eventually assimilated into the public consciousness, becomes "conventional wisdom," whether the idea is acceptable or not. Triss and I are finishing up _Utopia_ by Sir Thomas More, which was written in the 1400s. Yesterday we found an idea, taken up by Sir Thomas, who has influenced untold millions with his story, that it is okay to disregard the lives of people who are barbarians in favor of people who have more to offer civilization. As Christians, who believe all human beings are created in the image of God, and are therefore of great value no matter what their contributions, we were shocked.

As we thought of events and writings that occurred after the 1400s, we could see this dangerous idea eventually permeating the thoughts of other scholars and eventually regular people, coming to fruition in the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, and, yes, even today. The treatment of native peoples as European explorers tramped through the Americas, Africa and Southeast Asia, for instance; the attempts on the part of Hitler to encourage (to put it mildly) the growth of the "Aryan" nation and the demise of Jews, gypsies, disabled people, and homosexuals; or, even today, the idea, already being applied in some socialist countries, that people with significant and difficult-to-resolve medical issues aren't as worthy of treatment as people whose illnesses can be healed more readily. .

Ideas have consequences.

Let me say it again: Ideas have consequences.

So, an idea is not an instrument, but a vital organism to be set into motion; not a task on the list, but something that pervades a life-- we are seasoned with ideas, so to speak, flavored by the principles and beliefs that we take up and live by.

How do you sow an idea?

Charlotte finds three ways: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

...subjectively, in the child, education is a life; objectively, as affecting the child, education is a discipline; relatively, if we may introduce a third term, as regards the environment of the child, education is an atmosphere.

In this chapter, she focuses mainly on atmosphere-- the inspiring of a child to those right ideas that he should embrace.

"Parents as Inspirers"--not "modellers," but "Inspirers." It is only as we recognise our limitations that our work becomes effective: when we see definitely what we are to do, what we can do, and what we cannot do, we set to work with confidence and courage; we have an end in view, and we make our way intelligently towards that end, and a way to an end is method. 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.

We are not in the place of God, and our work is not to crush personality and bent, or force all children into one mold. We do have a job, though, and that job is to inspire the child with ideas.

...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!

How about that? True education cannot be reduced to a system! Shocking. Rather than systems, the life of education consists in the communicating of ideas.

Once an idea is accepted by the capable mind of a child, reason takes over and provides proofs. Therefore, we must be careful what we introduce to little children, and as they get older, we ought to teach them that the most important work they do in their studies is the right accepting or rejecting of ideas.

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.

Ideas have consequences.

To excite this "appetency towards something"--towards things lovely, honest, and of good report, is the earliest and most important ministry of the educator.

This is also why it matter which books you hand your child, and I am not simply talking about whether the book is moral or not. Does the telling of a life put forth low ideas or bring the child to think nobly? For instance, one Lincoln biography for children ascribed the following worry to the great leader: "Abraham Lincoln knew that his men might not like him if he made that unpopular decision." Do you really think he worried about that? Sounds more like the bringing down of the thoughts of Lincoln to a schoolyard level rather than lifting up the schoolchildren's thoughts to the level of Lincoln. Which way do you think is better?

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.

So whether the child is two or nine or fifteen, the ideas "in the air" the child breathes matter. The kinds of books we require them to read matter. Our attitudes, and the beliefs we actually live out matter, oh they matter immensely. We do well to realize that it is only by the grace of God that we raise our children with beautiful and noble ideas, choosing right actions and materials, and praying for His redemption of our mistakes and His working in the heart and soul of the little child.

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!

That he should take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about him, should make our poor words and ways the starting-point from which, and in the direction of which, he develops--this is a thought to make the best of us hold our breath. 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."


lindafay said...

I enjoyed this post so much. I'll have to add this to my delicious links.

Katie said...

Thank you, Lindafay.

At a church meeting this weekend, one of the preachers preached about building with "wood, hay and stubble" or "gold, silver and precious stones". It made me think of the "sawdust" that gets into the educational process sometimes.

The preacher was talking about how God is a consuming fire, and we mustn't be afraid to go through the fire, because the wood, hay and stubble is consumed and what is left is the gold, silver and precious stones, which are combined together and strengthened.

Makes me want to go through the fire and get rid of that sawdust-- and then be careful to only build with the things that endure!