Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically

Habit, Character, Discipline, Parenting

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 9

But people are not machines. The teacher has to deal with a real, unpredictable child with an individual personality and his job is to minimize the bad tendencies in that child, make the most of every good tendency, and prepare that small person to be the best he can be before he takes his place in the world.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 96

'Habit Is Ten Natures'

I.--Education Based Upon Natural Law

A Healthy Brain

What I would like to present to readers is a method of education that's based on natural laws. We have already discussed how to keep the physical brain healthy. Only when the brain is properly nourished and active can real education have any effect.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 97-125

The next topic we need to consider is dry and technical, dealing with mental/physical matters, but very necessary in any reasonable method of education.

Habit Is The Tool That Parents Use

A well-trained habit can overcome many inherited natures. If only I could express how much this means to anyone who wants to teach children! If only every mother understood how habit, in her knowing hand, is as useful a tool as the wheel to a potter, or the knife to a carver. With this instrument--habit--she can conceive of what she wants her child to be like, and then she can help him to become that! Note that the raw material is already there. Even a wheel won't help a potter create a porcelain vase if all he has to start with is backyard dirt. Yet, without his potter's wheel, he couldn't turn even the finest clay into anything nice. I don't like to talk much about myself, but if you, the reader, don't mind, I'd like to explain my discovery. These are the steps that led to my 'aha!' moment and helped me to understand that, with the tool of habit, a parent can make his child become almost whatever he wants. However, what is one person's 'aha!' moment will mean nothing to someone else unless it is explained using the baby steps he took to arrive at that revelation. So, I'll explain how I came to this remarkable knowledge. There are three possible perspectives from which to arrive at this conclusion, but for me, it was this: That forming good habits is what an education is made of. Education is merely forming the right habits.

II. Children Have No Power to Compel Themselves

An Educational Cul-de-sac

A few years ago I used to hear sermons every month that said that a well-trained habit can overcome many inherited natures. I was a young, idealistic teacher just starting out. I thought it was a wonderful thing to be a teacher, because a teacher leaves a permanent influence on her impressionable pupils. If the children didn't turn out right, it was the teacher's fault. In my zeal, I felt that the teacher's part in what the child became was immense. But even with all my enthusiasm, the results were disappointing. Nothing extraordinary happened. My students were generally good children who had been brought up by conscientious parents. But they tended to act in accordance with their inborn traits. Whatever faults they had didn't get any better. Whatever shining virtues were in them naturally tended to be exercised sporadically at best. The well-behaved, gentle girl still told lies. The intelligent, giving child was hopelessly lazy. It was the same with their lessons. The child who tended to dawdle kept on dawdling. The slow child made no progress. It was utterly disappointing. The children did passably, but each of these children had in them the makings of an excellent character, or a brilliant mind. Where was the key that could unlock the potential in each of these children, who were as a world unto themselves? There has to be a key. The monotony of geography maps and French vocabulary and history books and math worksheets was just playing at education. After all, who ever really remembers the trivial bits of facts that he struggled to memorize in school?

And couldn't those facts be just as easily learned in a few hours, rather than spending a whole year with the drudgery of school? If education is going to help the individual and the human race to progress, then it must have more relevance to life than plodding along at small, trivial tasks that amount to nothing more than busywork.

Love, Law, and Religion as Educational Forces

I wanted answers, so I looked through some texts about education. I found various bits of helpful information in different books, but no one book seemed to offer any real answer of how to unlock the possibilities within a child, and how to make education apply towards that effort. I saw that religious teaching gave children a motive and the ability to try their best, and it raised them up so that they chose higher priorities. Knowing Biblical laws helped keep them from doing the wrong things. Having God's love within helped them want to do good. But even with these things and divine help, I still felt like I was laboring in the dark. In morality, the children's progress seemed to be 'one step forward and two steps back.' As children advanced from one grade to the next, they didn't seem to have made any progress beyond being able to calculate harder math problems and read harder books.

Why Children Aren't Capable of Steady Effort

When I thought about it, it was clear why they failed. Each child had enough spark of goodness to be capable of doing good, but they were unable to be consistent because they had no will power strong enough to make themselves do what they knew was right. And here is where the teacher should be helping. The teacher should be able to make children do what they don't have the will power to make themselves do. But that's only the beginning. Children can't remain dependent on their teacher to make them choose right. It is the job of education to find a way to supplement their will power, which is not weak only in children, but in most of us grown-ups, too.

Children Should be Spared the Effort of Decision

Preachers have rightly said that the most exhausting effort in life is making decisions. Even we adults have a hard time deciding about trivial matters such as, 'Should I go or not?' and 'Which one should I buy?' It's not fair to make children endure the work and stress of making every decision between right and wrong if they don't have to.

III. What Is 'Nature'?

'One habit is as good as TEN natures,' kept being repeated to me until, finally, the light bulb came on and I had an 'Aha!' moment as I realized that this might be the key I had been looking for to unlock children's potential. So I asked myself, what exactly is nature? And what is habit?

It really is amazing when we stop to consider all that a child is, just because he was made that way, no matter what his race, what country he was born in, or who his family is.

All People Are Born with the Same Primary Desires

Anyone will admit that all people have the same instincts and desires. But it's not so easy to see that we all have the same principles of action, and that the same desires are inherent in the most uneducated native of the poorest third world country as well as in a refined Harvard scholar. The desire for knowledge that we see in every child's curiosity about everything in the world around him and his looking wide-eyed at all he sees is born into all children. The desire for the company of others is witnessed any time you put two babies together and see their joy and excitement at seeing a baby like themselves. That desire for society is what makes primitive natives dwell in village communities, and it's what makes educated men organize philosophical discussion groups. All people want to be appreciated. This desire for esteem can be a mighty tool in the hands of a teacher whose every word of praise or reprimand motivates more than any reward or threat of punishment.

All People Are Born with the Same Affections

People don't just have the same desires, they also have the same affections and longings, and these act the same in all people when roused. Joy, grief, love, resentment, compassion, sympathy, fear and many other emotions are common to all of us. We also all have a conscience and a sense of duty.

The Most Foundational Notion About Human Nature

David Livingstone, missionary to Zambezi tribes in Africa, wrote how similar their law was to England's, although they didn't always follow their own laws. When he was asked to make up a moral code for them, he only needed to add to their own code that their men should only have one wife. They already knew that evil speaking, lying, hatred, disobeying or neglecting parents, were wrong, even though neither Christianity nor even any civilized teaching had never reached them. A sense of duty is common to all people, and so is a consciousness that there is a God, although that consciousness may be vague. All of these things are elemental to human nature and an inherent part of the human condition.

Human Nature Plus Heredity

To all these traits of human-ness are added inherited tendencies, and this is where those ten natures enter in. A child can inherit a tendency to be resentful or stubborn or reckless--it's just born in him, passed along from his mother or grandfather. Everyone has seen the certain way a son squints his eyes that's just like his father, or a quirky movement of the hand that gets passed down from father to son. Or, handwriting may pass down the family line, as it did with a Miss Power Cobbe, whose handwriting was said to have been passed on from five generations. An artistic temperament, or a taste for music can run in families. Inherited traits are a twist added to human nature, and seemingly immune to any attempt to change or modify it.

Human Nature Plus Physical Conditions

Physical health also affects people. A small, sickly child and a sturdy street child who is never sick will have varying strengths in their desires and emotions.

Human Nature is the Sum Total of Certain Attributes

Between desires, affections and emotions that are common to the human race, inherited traits and physical constitution, we might assume that so much is out of our control that all we can do is step back and leave every child to grow unhindered, as free and natural as the wind, according to his unique disposition.

The Child Must Not be Left to his Human Nature

And that's exactly what half of all parents, and even more teachers, do. And what is the result? The world is advancing with new discoveries, but real progress is mostly happening among the few parents who take education seriously. The rest of the world will end up just staying where they are, no better than what Nature made them, and they will drag the world down. They won't simply stay as they are, that would be bad enough. But everyone knows that a child who isn't being raised to a higher standard is sinking lower and lower. So a parent is just as obligated to train his child's intelligence and moral strength and purpose as he is to feed and clothe him. And he must do this in spite of his inborn nature. It may be true that there are exceptions--we've all heard of cases where a young man overcame neglect and raised himself up by his bootstraps and made a good life for himself against all odds because circumstances made it necessary for him to do so, but this is a bolt of unusual luck. Teachers can't count on this kind of thing to save children from their own neglect.

I was beginning to understand, but there was still the psychological problem that blocked any real progress in education. At least now I could put my finger on the problem:

A child's will is weak. In children of weak parents, it is weaker, in children of strong parents, it is stronger. But hardly ever does a child have enough will to count on its effectiveness in education.

All that a child is born with--his human nature, his inherited tendencies, his physical constitution, are incredibly difficult to overcome.

The Problem before the Educator

The teacher's problem is how to enable the child to gain control over his own nature, to not be enslaved by even his better traits. Many people have ruined their lives from overdoing the very traits that they considered assets, such as generosity.

Divine Grace Works in Conjunction With Human Effort

In seeking a solution to this dilemma, I am not overlooking Divine grace, far from it. But we sometimes forget that grace can be the added benefit of educated effort. For example, the parent who takes the time to understand education deserves and gets support from God. Rebecca in the Bible had no right to neglect raising her son Jacob correctly in the hopes that God's grace would fill in the gaps and pull him through. He was a religious man raised by committed parents, so he did pull through okay in spite of her failure. Yet it made his journey through life harder; even he complained that the days of his life were 'few and evil.'

Parents' Faith in the Work of God Must Not Make Them Relinquish Their Duty

Yet too many Christian parents expect grace to do their work for them. They think they can let their children grow as wild and unruly as a bramble bush, not bothering to curb any bad tendencies. They put their faith in a working of God to prune and dig and prop up as He sees fit in His own good time. That may work out just fine; God often does save a man from himself. But at what cost to the poor man who has to learn the hard way? His parents could have spared him some pain by training early habits that would have resulted in building character.

The force of nature is strong, but not impossible to overcome. Nature should not be given free reign to raise a child according to his own whims. Some firm yet gentle guidance, like a bit and bridle to a pony, at an early age will have the best results. But if Nature is left to herself, no spur or whip will tame her.

IV. Habit Can Replace 'Nature'

'Habit is ten natures.' Is that true? If it is, then it means that habit is very strong--not just as strong, but ten times as strong as the nature a child is born with. Here we have something stronger that can overcome even the strength of Nature!

Habit Runs on the Lines of Nature

But we find that habit is also influenced and limited by a child's nature. A cowardly child has a habit of lying to stay out of trouble. An affectionate child has loving habits. A generous child has a habit of giving. A selfish child has a habit of hoarding. So, habit, if allowed to go along unguided, will just enhance a child's inborn nature. Habits become a manifestation of the child's natural tendencies, confirmed and strengthened by constantly repeating various habits that he gets used to doing.

But Habit Can be Like a Lever

If habit is going to be a tool to lift the child's character to a higher standard, then habits will have to go against the child's natural inclination.

So we must first of all see if this is possible by trying to find examples of children whose habits are overcoming their natural tendencies. We can think of children who are trained to be careful not to dirty their clothes. There are children who have been trained to have enough restraint not to divulge family secrets by giving discreet answers to prying questions. Some children have courteous habits so that they graciously make way for their elders and give up their seat on the bus to a poor woman with lots of bags. But some children have been allowed to have grudging habits so that they never give up anything for anyone else.

A Mother Forms her Children's Habits Without Even Realizing It

Are these good and bad habits natural for children? No, they were brought up to have them. Actually, a mother can train her child to have any habit. Most mothers have a couple of things that their children never violate, whether they be quirky, insignificant things, or matters of principle. A mother who has some knowledge of how education works won't be able to help the influence of her knowledge infiltrating the kinds of habits she builds up in her children. But a mother whose primary concern is, 'What will people think?' will train her children to have habits of outer behavior rather instead of habits of being persons of integrity on the inside. Her children will be content to look neat, mannerly and nice, but they probably won't work at seeking beauty, living a disciplined life and being kind to others.

Habit Forces Nature into New Channels

We don't really need any illustrations about how powerful a force habit is, we've all seen it in the daredevil who rides two barebacked ponies with a foot on the back of each, or gymnasts leaping high in the air, or a clown as flexible as rubber. Some can even do mental feats. Anything can be done with the right training, by developing the right habits. The power of habit doesn't just work for humans. Cats look for their food in the same place every day if their owner feeds them in the same spot. In fact, cats are such creatures of place habit that they will die of starvation rather than leave the house they're used to. Dogs are also creatures of habit. If you scatter crumbs for the sparrows at nine o'clock every morning, then they will start showing up every morning at nine o'clock, even if there are no crumbs. Darwin suggested that animals' fear of man was a transmitted habit passed down from animal to animal. He landed on a Pacific island where the birds had never seen humans before and they flew around him and landed on him with no fear. Alcoholics sadly illustrate the power of habit in their inability to stop drinking in spite of their own reason, their conscience, or religion.

Parents and Teachers Must Lay Down Lines of Habit

This is nothing new, everyone knows that people are just a bundle of habits, and that habit is a powerful force. That's not what was the revelation for me, it was the application that was new. Finding out how habits actually work in the brain and body was also a new idea to me. I hope that what I learned is useful to parents and teachers. It was a new idea for me to understand that it's up to parents and teachers to lay down tracks of habit in children that will allow their lives to run along smoothly without jolting or jumping the track, and will set them in the right direction.

V. Laying Down Of Lines Of Habit

Mary Poppins said, 'Well begun is half done' and that's true of mental and moral habits. If you begin it, it will be completed, although not always the way you intended. Habits can develop on the lines typical for that type of habit. Through our own involuntary reasoning, any seed of thought or feeling planted in the mind develops and grows and propagates more of its own kind within the mind, like a living thing. It's a wonderful thing to behold when the idea is a noble one, developing in your mind of its own accord so that you find yourself typing lines that seem to be writing themselves. You find yourself pleased with what you wrote, yet you realize that you had no conscious part in coming up with it. When an experienced author writes a long section in this way, he already knows that he won't need to do much revising because the work is basically correct as is. It is this phenomenon that's responsible for the false idea of infallible reason, an idea that still prevails. Philosophers enjoy the mere process itself of thinking and seeing ideas develop in their own minds. But they forget that it isn't only great thoughts that mature and procreate in the mind. Bad thoughts that defile a person also grow and multiply of their own accord.

We Think as we are Used to Thinking

What does this have to do with educating children? Just this: that we go on thinking in the same way we're used to thinking. Ideas come and go as if our mind was Grand Central Station, and they travel along the ruts we've created for them in the nerve substance of our brain tissue. You may not even deliberately set out to think these thoughts. You may not even want to think them, and thinking how you wish to stop thinking them means you have two trains of thought at the same time! You may put up a 'No Through Traffic' sign, and try hard not to think those thoughts, but to think about something else. But who is able to do that? Surely not children, who have immature wills, weak moral powers and no training in spiritual warfare. Children depend on their parents to initiate the thoughts and desires that fill their minds. Parents initiate these thoughts, but that's all. Once a thought is begun in a child's mind, it takes hold and develops itself, resulting in habits that become his character into adulthood.

Direction of Lines of Habit

Railroad tracks on which a train runs is a good analogy of the relationship of habit to our lives. It's easier for a train to stay in the grooves of the track than to leap up and over the tracks to disaster. In the same way, if tracks of good habits are laid down carefully within the child, it will be easier for him to go along those tracks than to run off and endanger himself. The laying down of these tracks is serious business and directly impacts the child's future. The parent should think about which tracks will be most beneficial for the child and lay those down so that the child can go along through life with the least friction. If the tracks are smooth and easy, the child will glide along at a nice pace and never even stop to consider whether he might rather choose another path.

Habit and Free-will

Doing a specific action over and over again forms a habit. Following a habit faithfully will make that action become second nature and difficult to shake off. Keep it up for ten years, and that habit has as much strength as ten natures, and can't be broken without major unsettling of the person. But, knowing all of this, and knowing that it's possible to form habits in a child that make him feel and do specific things, is this such a good thing? Doesn't this take away the child's free will and turn him into a machine?

Habit Rules Most of our Thoughts and Acts

Whether habits are planned and created conscientously, or allowed to be haphazardly filled in by chance, they are habits all the same. Habit rules 99 percent of everything we do. Parents aren't turning children into creatures of habit, they already are creatures of habit, it's part of our human nature. We think our usual thoughts, make our usual small talk, go through our usual routine without even thinking about it. Imagine if that wasn't the case. If we had to think through each step and make a decision about each and every one, imagine how long it would take to eat a meal or take a shower. Life wouldn't even be worth living. The constant stress of having to think through each step would be so tedious that we'd be exhausted. Thankfully, life isn't that difficult because, for most of what we do, we don't have to consider what to do next. We made a choice once in the beginning and now we just do it by habit. The matters that come up and need to be thought through and decided upon will happen in children's lives as often as they do in our own lives. We can't prevent those from occurring, and we shouldn't try. What we can do is to make sure that they have habits that keep their routines orderly, proper and honorable instead of leaving the wheel of their train of life to make random ruts in dark places.

Habit is Powerful Even Where the Will Decides

With the proper habits in place, even when those times come up where the child will have to stop and consider what to do next, he will still have the familiarity of habit to guide him. The boy who is used to learning and enjoying books will be less prone to allow himself to slip into couch-potato behavior along with his peers. The girl who has been carefully trained to accurately tell details is not going to even think of the option of lying when she's in a difficult spot, no matter how timid she is.

But isn't training habits just a way of addressing outward behavioral symptoms? How can doing an act or thinking something a hundred times in a row affect the internal nature of the child? Should we accept it on faith? Maybe not. If we can discover what makes habit such a powerful force, we will be convinced to seek out and lay down the best tracks of habit.

VI. The Physiological Aspect Of Habit

The book Mental Physiology by Dr. Carpenter gave me the first clue I was looking for. It's a very interesting book. He explains the analogy between thinking and physical action and shows how the one's effect is a result of the other's cause.

Growing Tissues Mold Themselves to the Way They are Used

Dr. Carpenter is part of the school that believes that human tissue is constantly wearing out and repairing itself by building new tissue. Even physical functions that we take for granted, like walking and standing up straight, are really the result of meticulous training. The things we learn, such as writing or dancing, are also learned with effort, but they become so automatic that we can do them naturally and easily. Why? Because the law of living, growing tissue is that it grows to accommodate whatever action is required of it. When the brain is constantly cuing the muscles to do a specific action, that action will become so automatic in the muscles that even a slight cue from outside will prompt them to respond without the brain having to consciously intervene. A child's joints and muscles grow to accommodate holding and using a pencil. It isn't that the child concentrates and wills with his mind to make the hand write with a pencil in spite of his muscles. It's his newly grown muscles that form themselves to adapt to operating a pencil. And, in this same way, people can be trained to do all kinds of feats and tricks that look impossible to everyone else. Those things are impossible to everyone else, because their muscles haven't been trained to do those amazing things with early training.

Therefore Children Should Learn Athletics at an Early Age

So, no activity is merely physical. The brain is affected, too. And this is why children should learn dancing, horseback riding, swimming, gymnastics, every kind of activity that trains the muscles when they're young. Muscles and joints don't just grow new tissue in places that accommodate new activity. They grow in new patterns. The body is much more efficient at growing and adapting when it's young. A man whose muscles are used to sports can learn any new sport fairly easily. But it's very difficult for a farmer who has done mostly plowing to learn to write. His muscles, which are adapted to his work, have a difficult time growing to accommodate an unrelated task. This is why it's so important to be diligent about children's habits in speaking clearly, standing up straight, etc. Children's muscles are forming themselves to accommodate their habits every hour. Shuffling, hunching the shoulders, mumbling are not just quirks to be outgrown when the child is ready. Every day that he continues these habits, they are becoming part of him, making their mark in the very physical substance of his spinal cord. His mind has already pre-set its instructions to the muscles, and reversing it means re-growing all those muscles to a new pattern. For example, correcting a bad habit of speech will no longer be a matter of trying to speak plainly. The child's muscles are grown to do something else and it will take some effort to get them to do what they aren't developed to do. It won't feel natural until some new muscles have grown to a new pattern in his speaking muscles as he uses them properly.

Moral and Mental Habits Make Their Mark upon Physical Tissues

Everyone knows that the body will grow to accommodate whatever we make it do. A child who habitually stands on one foot will be prone to having a curved spine. A child who lets his shoulders droop instead of letting his chest expand to breathe deeply will be more susceptible to lung disease. We see evidence of bad habits affecting the body so often that we can't deny the cause and effect relationship. But we don't realize that the habits we can't see, like being flippant, or truthful, or neat, make a physical mark just as much. They influence the way tissue develops in the brain. Habits of mind become physical reality on brain tissue and that's why habit is so powerful. It isn't all in the mind, it's physical, too. The brain is a delicate organ, so it shouldn't be any surprise that what we think leaves its mark in a physical way. Every thought or line of reasoning we entertain a lot makes a well-worn rut in our brain. These ruts make tracks for the train of our lives to glide along, and our trains can only get out of these tracks with extreme effort of our will.

Persistent Trains of Thought

That's why a housewife, when she has a few minutes to let her mind wander, tends to think about household matters. She thinks about the day's dinner, or winter clothes. Her thoughts naturally run into the rut she has worn for them by constant repetition of the same thoughts. Mothers tend to think about their children, painters think about pictures, poets think about poems, fathers fret about finances until stressful circumstances drive his anxieties deeper and deeper into those ruts and he goes crazy with being unable to get his mind off his worries. In fact, all of us are susceptible to driving ourselves crazy by continuing to dwell on one thought and wearing out the rut. Any line of thought that takes control of the mind will endanger a person's sanity--pride, resentment, jealousy, something created with much effort, an opinion thought up.

Constant Regeneration of Brain Tissue

If even non-active thinking and feeling expends brain energy and causes tissues to be replaced, how much more strain on the brain must it take to do physical movement, like walking or writing! Yet such is the case. To repair brain tissue, the brain needs a lot of nourishment. In fact, a fifth or sixth of the body's blood is dedicated to feeding and replacing brain tissue. New brain tissue is growing at a tremendous rate. One wonders how long it takes before the entire brain has been totally replaced, and at what age a child no longer has any of the original tissue of the brain he had at birth!

The new brain tissue is not an exact replica of the old. Just like any muscles that are grown to accommodate the kind of activity they'll be required to do, the brain also grows its new tissue to accommodate the activity required of it, whether it be telling the body how to work or just non-active thinking that the person has been doing. One physiologist said that the brain grows to accommodate the kind of thinking that it has gotten used to. Dr. Carpenter said that any sequence of brain activity that has been done again and again tends to continue in the same way until it becomes automatic. That's why we tend to think or do what we've done before without ever having made a conscious decision to do it that way. The brain is not an exception to the rules that govern the rest of the body. Just like muscles that grow to best perform what has been required of them, the brain also regenerates new tissue to accommodate what has been required of it. In other words, even the act of thinking, if it's done habitually, makes a real impression in the physical substance of the brain [what was abstract becomes tangible.] Once that physical impression is there, any suggestion or stimulus later will rouse it.

We Can Acquire Reflex Actions

Huxley said that the brain develops many acquired reflex actions. The first time we respond to something, it takes our full concentration at each step. The second time, it's a little easier. After a few times, we can do it without much thought. If we do it often enough, we can practically do it in our sleep. We do it without even thinking about it.

It takes a soldier a long time to learn instant response, such as snapping to attention the instant the command is given. But after he learns, just hearing the word will cause his body to snap to attention without his even thinking about it. There's a story about a practical joker who saw a discharged soldier carrying his dinner home. The joker called out, 'Attention!' and the poor soldier automatically snapped to attention with his hands at his sides--and dropped his burger and fries all over the sidewalk. The soldier's training had been so thorough that its effects were embedded in the man's mind and muscles. Military drill is only one kind of education. All education is based on the ability of the body to process actions so that they become reflex or semi-automatic. If any two actions are habitually done one after another, the connection will be made until eventually the first action will automatically cause the second action, whether we like it or not.

[Think of Pavlov's dog: following a bell with food eventually caused dogs to salivate from just hearing the bell alone; the first action--the bell--caused the second--salivating--without the dogs even trying.]

Intellectual and Moral Education

The purpose of academic education is to create these kinds of associations with the outside world. The purpose of a moral education is to create automatic associations so that the idea of doing evil is associated with pain, shame and blame while doing the right thing is associated with joy, satisfaction and honor. [End of Huxley's comment]

But it's the concept of mind and matter coming together so that abstract becomes physical tissue that's important to the teacher. We have described this process rather unscientifically as the brain making a rut. Habitual thoughts produce a rut in the brain tissue. A new thought, when it encounters this rut, will find it to be the path of least resistance. As thoughts travel along this rut, making a well-worn path, it becomes a busy highway for successive habits and thoughts.

Character is Affected by Changes in Brain Tissue

What does this mean? It means that the ruts that make up the paths that a child's thoughts will travel on depend on his parents to lay down. Whatever habits they encourage or allow will become the child's character. Once certain mental habits are established, they are inclined to continue forever--unless a new habit displaces them. This should end the idea that 'It doesn't matter,' or 'Oh, leave him alone, he'll grow out of it,' or 'He's so little, what do you expect?' Every hour, every day, parents are either passively allowing, or actively encouraging, the habits that will determine the future character and behavior of their children.

Outside Influence

And now we must consider the influence of others. We adults often do something a certain way because we saw someone else do it--we do it a few times and it becomes our habit. If it's this easy for us grown-ups to adopt a new habit, it's ten times easier for children. This is the trouble of training good habits. The mother must always be on the alert, watching her children for any bad habits they may be picking up from caregivers or other children, and she must nip them in the bud.

VII. The Forming Of A Habit: 'Shut The Door After You'

Do the Next Thing

If you don't do it now, you'll be in the same state
Tomorrow, the next day, you will still hesitate.
Trying to decide causes more delays
And some day you'll weep over all the lost days.

is a paraphrase of a poem by Marlowe who, like many of us, knew the misery of wasted days because his laziness prevented him from simply doing the next thing. All matters concerning the raising of children are important, and dealing with procrastination is very important. We have already mentioned that the stress of making decisions is the greatest effort we face in life. It isn't doing a thing that's hard, but making up our minds which thing to do first. Often, indecision causes a person to be shiftless, which grows into a habit of dawdling. How is a procrastinating child cured? By hoping she'll grow out of it with time? No, 'tomorrow, the next day, you will still hesitate,' will be the story of her life, with the exception of short bursts. Can it be cured with punishment? No, a procrastinator is often passively resigned to her fate, and will endure punishment without ever trying to change. Can a reward tempt her to change? No, because getting so close to attaining the reward and then watching it slip through her fingers will seem like a punishment, which she will endure stoically. What can be done if rewards and punishments are ineffective? How about the educator's remedy--Replace one habit with another one! Chronic dawdling is a bad habit that can only be cured by replacing it with the opposite habit. The mother should plan to spend a few weeks working on the cure as steadily and consistently as she would tend her child if she was sick. She should point out as briefly as possible how a life can suffer because of dawdling, and that the child has a duty to overcome it. The less talking about it, the better. Once the child agrees that changing this habit is the right thing to do, the mother simply makes sure that the child doesn't dawdle. The child might be dressing to go for a walk. Her mind wanders as she ties her sneakers; her hand is motionless over the laces, but she remembers her commitment and she suddenly looks up. She sees her mother watching her, hopeful and expectant [rather than exasperated and impatient]. She goes back to her shoelaces. Then, while tying the other shoe, there's another pause, but shorter this time. She looks up again, sees her mother, and resumes her tying. The pauses becomes less and less frequent, she manages to stay on task more and more often. Her young will is getting stronger, and prompt doing becomes her habit. After the initial talk, the mother shouldn't say another word on the subject. Her look (expectant, not scolding) and, when needed, a light reminding touch, are the only tools that will help. After a while, the mother might say, 'Do you think you can get ready in five minutes by yourself today?' 'Oh, yes, Mom.' 'Don't say yes unless you're absolutely sure.' 'I'll try.' And she does try, and she succeeds! At this point, it's very tempting to relax a little and overlook a little bit of dawdling since the poor girl has been trying so hard. But this is absolutely fatal. The truth is that the habit of dawdling has made very real and physical impressions in the brain--ruts. During the weeks that the child has been learning the new habit, brain tissue has been growing and replacing the old tissue, wiping out the rut, and a new rut for the new habit is being laid down with new tissue. To let the girl revert back to her old ways even once ruins everything. It takes a few weeks of work to build a new habit. Once the habit is in place, it must be guarded diligently to prevent a reversion to the old ways, but keeping watch is not stressful or difficult once the new habit is secure. One more thing--prompt action from the child deserves to be rewarded with leisure time to do whatever she pleases. This shouldn't be granted as a favor. She earned it and has a right to it. But the mother shouldn't use this as an opportunity to lecture.

Habit is a Delight in and Of Itself

Acquiring a habit takes some effort, but once the habit is in place, it is rewarding because a habit is pleasant in and of itself. It's easy to do something on auto-pilot, something that doesn't take a lot of thought or will power. This is what mothers often forget. They forget that habits, even the good ones, are a pleasure. When the child has formed a habit, the mother thinks that continuing to act out of habit is as tedious as it was at first when the child was having to make a conscious effort to form the habit. So she admires his effort and starts to think that he deserves some relaxation from doing the habit, a sort of reward. So she lets him break the habit every now and then to give him a rest, and then he can continue on keeping the habit. What she doesn't realize is that, after a break, he isn't continuing on, he has to start all over, only now it's harder because he has both habits and must make a decision each time about which one to follow. The little relaxation she thought would be a treat turns out to form a new bad habit that now has to be broken. In fact, the mother's misguided sympathy is the one thing that makes it so hard to train children in good habits. It is children's nature to take to habits as naturally as a baby takes to his mother's milk.

Tact, Watchfulness, and Persistence

Let's illustrate with an example. We'll use a habit that isn't of any major concern except as a courtesy to others--the habit of shutting the door when leaving or entering a room. The mother must arm herself with tact, watchfulness and persistence. With only these tools, she'll be surprised how readily her child picks up a new habit.

Stages in the Formation of a Habit

'Johnny,' says the mother in a cheerful voice, 'I have something I'd like you to do. I'd like you to remember that every time you go in or out of a room that someone else is sitting in, to close the door.'
'But, what if I forget?'
'I'll try to remind you.'
'But what if I'm in a hurry?'
'Even if you're in a hurry, I'd like you to stop and close the door.'
'Because it's polite to make others comfortable.'
'What if I come into the room just to get something?
'Then you can shut the door when you come in, and then shut it on the way out. Do you think you can remember?'
'I'll try.'

'Okay. I'll watch to see how many times you forget.'

Johnny remembers the first couple of times, but then he's in a hurry. Halfway downstairs, his mother calls him back. She doesn't yell, 'Johnny, get back here and shut that door!' because she knows that summoning in that manner would be exasperating to anyone. Instead, she goes to the door and calls pleasantly, 'Johnny!' Johnny has made it outside by now and forgotten all about the door. He wonders what his mother wants. Stirred by curiosity, he comes back and finds her sitting in the room as if nothing happened. She looks up, glances at the door and says, 'Remember, I said I'd try to remind you.' 'Oh, I forgot,' says Johnny, a little sheepishly. He shuts the door, and he remembers a few more times.

But Johnny is rather young and forgets frequently. His mother will have to come up with a few means of reminding him, but she will be sure of two things: that Johnny never slips off without shutting the door, and that this matter is never a source of friction between them. Instead, she takes on the role of friendly ally, helping him to remember since his memory isn't always reliable. After twenty times of shutting the door without one slip-up, the habit begins to form. Johnny begins to close the door as a matter of course. His mother watches with delight as Johnny comes into the room, shuts the door, takes something from the table, and leaves, shutting the door behind him.

The Dangerous Stage

Now that Johnny always remembers to shut the door, his mother's satisfaction and sense of victory start to mingle with unreasonable pity. 'Poor Johnny,' she thinks. 'It's so good of him to take such trouble over such a little thing just because I asked him to.' She thinks that Johnny has been making an effort all this time for her sake. She forgets that now it's a habit and comes easily and naturally. Johnny doesn't even think about closing the door anymore, he just does it automatically. Now comes the critical moment. One day, Johnny is so preoccupied with some new treasure that his habit, which is not yet fully formed, lapses and he forgets. He's halfway down the stairs before he even thinks about the door. When he does think of it, he has a little prick of conscience, but not enough to make him go back and close the door. He pauses for a moment to see whether his mother will call him back. Meanwhile, she has noticed, but she's thinking, 'Poor thing, he's been so good about it for so long, I'll let it go this once.' Since he doesn't get called back, he thinks, 'Oh, it doesn't really matter,' and goes off to play. And the whole thing is undone.

The next time, he leaves the door open, but not because he forgot. His mother calls him back, but there's no conviction in her voice. Johnny hears the feebleness in her tone and doesn't even bother to turn around. He cries, 'Oh, Mom, I'm in such a hurry!' She says no more and closes the door for him. He runs off again, leaving the door wide open. 'Johnny,' she says, in a warning voice. 'I'm just coming in to get something,' he says. After ten minutes of rummaging for something, he goes back out--and forgets to close the door. His mother's ill-timed easing of the habit undoes all she gained from her efforts.

VIII. Infant Habits

All habits, both physical and moral, that make everyday life run smoothly and properly, are accepted passively by the child as a matter of course. He doesn't put forth any attempt to form these habits, but he sees everyone around him doing things a certain way and his mind forms impressions that this is the way things are done. These first impressions become his strongest and most enduring habits.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 160

VII. Some Moral Habits--Obedience

With so much to cover, there's only time to barely mention in passing some moral habits that are very important for the mother to teach. Just remember that everything we've already said about cultivating habits applies just as much here.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 166-168

Reverence, etc

As far as reverence, consideration for others, respect for persons and property, it is important to be zealous about forming these moral qualities until they become a daily habit. They are the distinctive marks of a fine, gracious character. In our times, a self-assertive, aggressive, self-seeking temper is all too common.

Disposition is Born in a Child

I am eager to say something about cultivating the habit of a good-natured disposition. We tend to think that our temperament is something we're born with and that we can't do anything about it. 'Oh, she's such a sweet spirited little thing; nothing bothers her!' 'He has his father's temper, the littlest thing sets him off in a rage,' are the kinds of comments we hear all the time.

Not Temperament, but Tendency

It is certainly true that children inherit a tendency to anger easily, to be anxious, discontent, irritable, sullen, complaining or impatient; or cheerful, trustful, good-humored, patient and humble. Whether a person is happy or wretched, and whether those who live with him are content or miserable will depend on which of these qualities dominates. We all know someone who has integrity and many excellent virtues, but who is unbearable to be around. The tragedy isn't that this person was born sullen or petty or jealous. That could have been cured. The tragedy is that he was allowed to grow up with this fault. Here, more than anywhere else, the power of habit is most helpful. It's up to parents to correct the bent quirks of their child's personality, especially if the tendency came from their side of the family. Parents should send their child to face the world with an even, cheerful temper, inclined to make the best of things, to look on the bright side, to assume the best and kindest of the motives of others, and not to feel he has a right to special treatment. These things are what commonly upset people. But parents can teach their children better because inborn traits are no more than tendencies that can be changed.

Parents Must Correct Tendencies with New Habits

Force of habit turns a tendency into a temperament. It's up to the mother to discourage the formation of ill tempers and promote good tempers. It isn't difficult to do when the mother knows the child's expressions and moods well, and can read the thoughts of his heart before he is even aware of them himself. Remember that every jealous, complaining, discontented thought leaves a physical track in the child's brain tissue for more of those kinds of ugly thoughts to settle into and continue to run on. This track, or rut, gets wider and deeper with every ugly thought. The mother can nip it in the bud by watching her child and catching the first sign of a bad mood before it manifests itself. That is the best time to act.

Change the Child's Thoughts

The mother should change her child's thoughts before the bad temper has even had the chance to register in his consciousness, before he acts on it. Take the child outside, send him to get you something, tell him or show him something interesting. In other words, give him something else to think about, but in a natural, casual way so the child never suspects that you're doing it. Since every incidence of sullenness makes a track for future sullen incidences, then every incident that the mother can avoid prevents one track for sullen thoughts to settle in. At the same time, she is laying down new tracks for happier thoughts that will obliterate the old tracks.

My suggestions aren't for a course of academic and ethical training. These are for forming certain habits that will be displayed in a child's character. With this limited program, there are issues just as important that I haven't even had time to mention. With so many possibilities, I've had to be selective. So I've chosen to focus on those aspects that aren't of specialized interest only to educated parents, but rather those that every thoughtful person recognizes as important.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 192

As far as habits, the most useful, powerful habit anyone can have is the habit of personal initiative. Resourcefulness will enable a family of children to invent their own games and things to do through a whole, long summer.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 331

Divine Grace Won't Make Up for Parental Neglect

We live in a redeemed world and God's divine grace and help assists us when we try to do something right in raising our children. But there's no reason to hope that divine grace will step in as a substitute for every area we choose to neglect when we don't have to. We don't expect miracles to make up for our neglect in the physical realm. If a child gets rickets because his parents neglected his nutrition, he'll have deformed limbs for the rest of his life, even if he has other blessings to thank God for. A weak will, bad habits, a conscience that hasn't learned to discern right from wrong, limit many Christians all their lives because their parents failed to do their duty, and the person didn't have enough power as a child to overcome the lack.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 10-18

Chapter 2 - Parents As Rulers

The Family Government is an Absolute Monarchy

Let's continue our illustration of the family as a miniature nation that has the same responsibilities, rights and requirements that nations have. The parents are like the 'government,' but the parental government is always an absolute monarchy. It makes adjustments according to the needs of its citizens, but it rules in accordance to whatever laws the parent has engraved on his own conscience. Some parents reach levels of higher thinking and are like Moses when he came down from Mt. Sinai beaming, with the tablets of The Law whole and complete in his hands. Other parents never reach those challenging heights and have to be satisfied with whatever scraps and fragments of broken tablet they can find lying at the bottom of the mountain. But whether a parent's knowledge of the law is thorough or only a fragment, he can't escape his responsibility to rule his household.

The Parent's Rule Can't Be Delegated

The first thing we want to know about any ruler is, 'Is he capable of ruling? Does he know how to maintain his authority?' A ruler who can't rule is like a biased judge, or an immoral priest, or an uneducated teacher. He's incapable of the most essential attribute of his role. It's even more true in a family than in a State government.

A king can delegate the rule of his country to someone else. But a parent's functions are so urgent that he can't delegate the job to anyone else. He can have helpers, but the minute he abdicates his rule and gives over his functions and authority to someone else, the rights of parenthood pass to that other person and no longer belong to the parent. British parents in India have felt the heartache of coming home to England only to find that their children's affections belong to someone else and their duty is owed to someone else, while they, the parents, are relegated to the role of a fairy godmother who can have fun with the children, but has no authority over them at all. And this isn't anyone's fault, because the guardians who have kept the children at home have done their best to keep the children loyal to their parents while they were away overseas.

Reasons Why Some Parents Abdicate

This is an example of one obstacle that the head of the family can stumble over. Parents sometimes think that parental authority is built into them, a trait that might lie dormant inside of them, but that can never be separated from parenthood. Such parents think it's okay to let their children do whatever they want from the time they're babies, but then they find themselves complaining along with King Lear,

'It's more painful than a snake's bite
To have an ungrateful child!'

But it was King Lear's own fault. All along, he had been stripping off the honor and authority that should have been his, and handing his rights as parent over to his children. This quote tells us why he had been doing this: his disappointment is in his children's ungratefulness. His goal and what he had been working for had been the thanks of his children. His desire for them to think of him as an affectionate father was more important to him than his duty towards them. And in proportion to how much he neglected his duty towards them, they were oblivious of their duty towards him. I suspect that parents' unrestrained desire for approval is to blame for more ruined families than any other single cause. One current author has a mother saying,

'But aren't you afraid of me, Bessie?'

'No, of course not. Who could be afraid of a dear, sweet, kind little mother like you?'

That kind of praise is sweet to many affectionate mothers who yearn for the love and approval of their children. But they don't recognize that words like these from their children are as treacherous as words of outright defiance.

Popularity isn't the only shrine where parents sacrifice their authority. Prospero [The Tempest] describes himself as,

'Wholly dedicated
To studying and improving my mind.'

Meanwhile, his authority over his dominion is given over to Antonio. Is it any wonder that Antonio found that having authority fit him like a glove, and that Prospero found himself usurped from the role he failed to fill? In the same way, many busy parents who are preoccupied with many cares suddenly find that the authority they failed to hang onto has slipped from their hands. That authority may have been picked up by someone less fit to wield it. Perhaps a daughter has been given over to the care of a neighbor family because her own parents are always out looking for rare art prints.

In other cases, the desire for an easy life tempts parents to let things slide. Their children are good kids and won't go too far wrong, we're told. That may be true. But, no matter how good the children are, the parents have an obligation to society to make them better than they are, and to bless the world with people who are more than good-natured and agreeable. Their children should be raised to have a determined purpose, and perseverance to meet that purpose.

The love of convenience, the desire for popularity, preoccupation with other work--these are just some of the causes that lead to parental abdication, which is disastrous for society. When we understand the nature of parental authority and how it's used, we view parental abdication as more than mischievous. It's also immoral. And I'd like to add that all the reasons why parents abdicate their role as leader of the family really boil down to one underlying cause: the job is overwhelmingly hard and too much trouble to bother with. The temptation of parents to neglect their duty is the same one that tempts kings to escape from their duty by becoming monks.

'The head that wears the crown rests uneasily,'

even when the crown is the natural crown of parenthood.

The Majesty of Parenthood

Paul's advice that rulers should rule 'with diligence' [Rom 12:8] helps to shed light on the nature and goal of authority. Authority isn't an issue of personal honor and dignity. Authority is something to use and serve with. The honor that goes with it is only to help those in authority to serve better. An arbitrary or severe parent who demands compliance and duties 'because I said so' for his own honor and glory, is even more hopelessly wrong than the parent who abdicates his role. The majesty of parents is hedged in with obedience only because it's good for children to 'faithfully serve, honor, and humbly obey' the leaders God has placed them under. Only family life can properly train children to have the noble character of 'proud submission and dignified obedience.' If their own parents don't inspire and cultivate obedience, reverence and loyalty, how will these glorious graces of character survive in a harsh, competitive world?

It can be a challenge to keep an attitude of authority these days when democracy is such a dominant concept and when even educational advice says that children should be treated as equals from infancy. But the children themselves confirm that authority is fine for parents. Children naturally have a sweet humility and dependence on us, and it fosters a gentle dignity and trace of reserve in parents that is very agreeable. Parents don't have the option of laying aside the burden of honor that rests upon them, or sinking under it. All of us have witnessed families full of confidence, sympathy and love where the mother is like a queen among her children and the father is honored like a king. When there are two parents who honor each other and are still free and relaxed with each other, it's easier for them to maintain the elusive state of parenthood. The first element in raising children who are loyal, honorable, reverent and able to command respect is to have a slight, undefined sweet sense of dignity in the household.

Children are a Public Trust and a Divine Trust

Parental authority rests on the fact that the parent's role is that of a deputy, in two ways. First of all, God, the Ruler of all of us, has personally appointed parents as His immediate deputies. Not only are they required to fulfill His duties towards the children, but they have to represent Him. To a little child, his parents rule over him like gods. And, even more seriously, in a little child's eyes, God is like his parents. He's not capable of conceiving a greater and more wonderful personality than that of his own parents. Thus, his first approach to the infinite God is through them. They are his standard for the best and highest. If the standard by which he measures God is as small as weak as his own small self, how will he ever have the reverent attitude that he needs to grow spiritually?

Besides that, parents hold their children in trust for society. A child is only 'my own' in a limited sense. Children are entrusted to parents to be raised for the good of their community. In this sense, parents are the ones who have been given the authority that's needed for carrying out their job. If they fail, they can be replaced. The one State [Sparta?] whose name is no more than a proverb that encompasses a group of virtues that we have no other word to describe, is also a State that practically deprived parents of their right to parent because they failed to raise their children with the virtues that were good for the society. Naturally, the State reserves the right to raise its children in the way it deems best with the least possible co-operation of parents. In our own day, a neighboring nation [Germany?] has decided to take charge or rearing its infants itself. As soon as they can crawl, or even earlier, but well before they can run or speak, they're brought to a 'Maternal School' and nurtured to have the values that a good citizen should have, as carefully as if they were being fed on mother's milk. The plan is still in experimental stages, but I have no doubt that it will be followed through because this nation discovered long ago that, if you want a certain kind of adult, you have to train the child to be that kind of person, and that nation has acted consistently on that discovery.

Perhaps the State taking over the parental role is the last disaster that can happen to a nation. These poor children will have to grow up in a world where even the name of God isn't allowed to be heard. They'll never know about the loyalty to parents, brotherly love, and kindness to neighbors that all children learn from living in families, except for a very few unnatural families. After a certain age, or at certain hours, these children might be allowed to visit their parents. But once the alienation from their parents has been established, and the strongest, sweetest bond has been broken and the parents have been publicly absolved of their duty, the destruction of the home is complete. What we'll be seeing is a generation who have grown up like orphans from their birth. This is unprecedented in the history of the world. Even Lycurgus left children with their parents for their first six years. Some newspapers applaud this nation's plan and advise us to follow their example in England, but God forbid that we should ever lose faith in the value and blessing of family life. Parents who recognize that their children are both a public trust and a divine trust, and who understand that their authority is deputed authority that shouldn't be treated lightly, laid aside or abused--such parents keep the home immune for the nation, and safeguard the privileges of their role as parents.

The Limitations and Scope of Parental Authority

Now that we recognize that it isn't the parent's decision whether to use or set aside the authority they hold, let's look at the limits and extent of this authority. First of all, this authority is to be asserted and used only in the best interests of the children, whether it's to benefit their mind, their body or their situation. And this is where there's leeway for the individual discrimination and delicate intuitions that parents are blessed with. A mother who makes her adolescent daughter get the exercise she needs outside is acting within the limits of her rights. But a reserved father who enjoys quiet evenings and discourages his children from social activities, is only thinking of his own preferences rather than the needs of his children. That's an invalid use of his authority.

As I said, the authority of parents only rests on a secure foundation as long as their children understand that their parents' authority has been delegated to them. A child who knows that he's being brought up to serve his country, and that his parents are fulfilling a Divine role that they were commissioned to discharge, won't turn into a rebellious teen.

Even more, although the child's independent emancipation is a gradual process as they learn the art and science of self-management day by day, there will come a day when the parents' right to rule is over. The only thing left for them to do will be to pass on the reins gracefully and leave their grown sons and daughters as free agents--even if they still live at home, even if their parents don't think they're fit to be trusted with their own self-management. If they fail to manage themselves with self-control regarding how they spend their time, what they do, their money, who they choose as friends, then it's most likely their parents' fault for not gradually introducing them to the full liberty that's their right as men and women. At any rate, by then it's too late to make them stick around for more training. Ready or not, it's time for them to take control of the reins of their lives for themselves.

As far as how to use authority, the best way seems to be the art of ruling without seeming like you're ruling. The law inspires dread in evil-doers, but it's for the praise of those who do well. In families, just like in States, the best government is one where peace, happiness, truth, justice, religion and purity are maintained without having to invoke the law. A household is happy if it has only a few rules, and where a simple, 'Mom doesn't like this,' or 'Dad wants us to do that,' are all it takes.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 19-22

Chapter 3 - Parents as Inspirers: Children Must Be Born Again Into a Life of Intelligence

Parents Owe Their Children a Second Birth

M. Adolf Monod [1802-1856, celebrated Protestant Reformed preacher in Paris] said that children owe their mother a second birth--the first birth is their natural, physical birth, and the second is into the spiritual life of intelligence--and they also owe their mother a moral sense of right and wrong. If he'd been writing for the general public and not just for mothers, I'm sure he would have said that the work of achieving this second birth requires the equal efforts of both parents. How did he come to such a surprising concept? He observed that great men always seem to come from great mothers--mothers who are gifted with an unlimited ability to take great pains in raising their children. He compares this work to a second birth that launches the child to a life on a higher plane, and the higher this life is, the more blessed the child's life will be. He says that every child has a right to this kind of second birth into a more complete human being, and that it's up to his parents to secure this kind of life for him. If Monod's conclusions were only based on his own deductions, we might ignore them and not trouble ourselves with this second birth. After all, parents may and often do neglect to secure it for their children. Or we might bring up examples of good parents whose sons turned out badly, and indifferent parents whose children sincerely tried to do right, therefore, what good is it to try? We think that a pat response like that lets us off the hook.

Science Supports Monod's View

The appeal to be a good mother to your son because great men always have good mothers is inspiring and rousing, but it's not the only argument. To confirm how urgent this view is, we can look at the inductive methods of science. Although science still hasn't found all the answers, what it's already discovered is the truth that should be adhered to for all parents who believe it. The parable of Pandora's Box has some truth for us today, and a careless mother can let a thousand misfortunes loose on her children by her disregard. But there's also a 'cup of blessings' ready and waiting that parents can dip into to provide health, strength, justice, mercy, truth and beauty for their children.

Some may object that 'every good and perfect gift comes from the father,' and that therefore it's presumptuous for human parents to think they can bestow spiritual gifts to their children. But this is just superstitious thinking and has no part of true religion. It results in the disaster of many badly managed households and badly governed families. We need to recognize that God uses people, especially parents, as His vehicle for distributing gifts, and that He is honored when His law is kept. He isn't honored when we take the attitude of a royal attendant waiting for special favors. When we recognize that, then we'll make the effort to understand the laws that are written, not only on stone tablets and paper, but on the hearts of our children. And when we understand the law, we'll perceive with thankfulness and enlarged hearts all of the natural ways in which God shows mercy to thousands of people who love Him and keep His commandments.

But His commandment is 'exceedingly broad' and it seems to become broader every year as science discovers new revelations. We need to gird up our minds to keep up with all of these new revelations. We'll also make an effort to keep the attitude of focused expectancy that it takes to recognize the unity and continuity of scientific discoveries with God's Word. It could be that only as we accept both scientific discoveries and God's Word, and harmonize them in a willing and obedient heart that we'll enter into the heritage of glad, holy living that is God's will for us.

Steps and Methods of Attaining This Second Birth

In the light of current scientific thought, let's consider the steps and methods needed for this second birth that is the child's right to expect from his parents. 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,' isn't just a promise. It's a statement of fact expressing the effect that results from a reasoned process. The author of those words had lots of opportunities to arrive at his conclusion. He'd watched lots of children grow up, and his observations taught him that children could be divided into two groups--those who were well-brought-up and turned out well, and those who were badly-brought-up and turned out bad. Undoubtedly there were exceptions, but the fact that they were exceptional only confirms the truth of this rule.

But in this passage as much as in other scriptures, the promises and warnings of the Bible will stand up to being tested with reasoned methods. We may wonder why that's the case. And we aren't satisfied with an answer as general as 'because it's natural and right.' We may observe and look for evidence until we finally come to the conclusion that this result is inevitable, and (unless there are unusual influences), no other result is even conceivable. How much we obey the rule will be in direct proportion to how much we recognize that the rule is inevitable.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 60-68

Chapter 7 - The Parent as Teacher

'The Teacher'll Straighten Him Out!'

'Straighten him out' apparently means 'make him come when he's called,' because this comment was made about a child who kept playing with his toy nonchalantly, ignoring his mother as she nagged at him because she had decided it was bedtime. The circumstances are different in every case, but it's not unusual in the upper classes of society for a parent to put trust in the teacher to make a child straighten up after years of mental and moral sprawling at home.

Reasons Why This Task is Left to the Teacher

'Oh, he's just little; he'll outgrow it when he's older.'

'My opinion is that children should be allowed to have a stress-free childhood. There's time enough for rules and restraint when he starts school.'

'We don't believe in punishing children. Just love them and let them be is our motto.'

'They'll have enough limit and stress when they have to face the world. Childhood shouldn't have any unpleasant memories associated with it.'

'School will break them in. Let them grow up as natural and wild as young colts until it's time to break them. All young things should be free to kick and run.'

'Whatever traits they inherited are going to be part of their character, anyway. I don't see any sense in all this training and shaping of children. It destroys all of their individuality.'

'He'll know better when he's older. Time cures lots of faults.'

And so on. We could fill pages with the wise-sounding things people say who, for one reason or another, prefer to leave it up to the teacher to straighten out a child. And does the teacher live up to his reputation? How much success does he have with a child who comes to him with a total lack of disciplined self-management? His real and proud successes are with those children who were already trained at home before they ever got to school. Teachers take a lot of pleasure in such children. They take unlimited time with them. They're able to get them started in successful careers that exceed the ambitions of even the most ambitious people--quiet, sensible, matter-of-fact parents. But the teacher doesn't take all the credit for such successful results. Teachers tend to be a modest lot whose virtues aren't always recognized.

A Teacher's Successes Are With Children Who Have Been Trained at Home

'You can do anything with So-and-so. His parents have disciplined him so well.' Notice that the teacher doesn't take any credit himself, not even as much as he deserves. Why not? Experience makes even fools wise, so you can imagine what it will do for a person who already has some wisdom! 'People send us their untamed cubs to whip into shape, and what can we do?' The answer to this question especially concerns parents. What and how much can a teacher do to get a child into shape when he hasn't been disciplined at all? No coaxing will make you 'straighten up' if you're an oyster--no, not even if you're a codfish. To straighten up requires a backbone, and the backbone needs to be trained before it can be physically possible to stay straight and upright. Yes, it's possible for a human oyster to develop a backbone, and a human codfish might learn how to sit up. Maybe someday we'll know about all the heroic attempts teachers have made to prop up, haul up, pull up and use whatever methods they can think of to keep children who are used to sprawling and slouching sitting upright and alert. Sometimes the results are surprisingly effective. They sit up in a row with the rest of the class and look just like everyone else. Even when the props are taken away, they can still perform the trick of remaining upright for awhile. The teacher rubs his hands in glee and the parents say, 'See? Didn't I always say that Jack would turn out just fine in the end?' But just wait, it isn't over yet.

The Habits of School Life are Mechanical

School habits, like military habits, are pretty much mechanical. It's the early habits that stick. A person will always revert to the habits he learned first, and Jack, as an adult, will sprawl and slouch just like he did as a little boy, only more so. Various social pressures will keep him propped up--he's clever enough to appear to be upright and alert, he's affectionate and leads a respectable life. And, thus, no one would ever suspect that Mr. Jack Brown, who had elements of greatness in him, is a failure. He could have been useful to the world if he had been brought under discipline from the time he was a baby.

Mental 'Slouching' is Illustrated in 'Edward Waverley'

Slouching and sprawling aren't pretty words, yet they can be done in a way that they have a look of style and elegance. Sir Walter Scott gives a charming illustration of one kind of mental sprawling in his book Waverley:

'Edward Waverley's ability to understand was so quick that it seemed almost like intuition. His teacher's main concern was to keep him from 'overrunning his game,' as sportsmen call it--in other words, to prevent him acquiring knowledge in a shallow, half-hearted way. And he had his work cut out for him, because he had to combat another tendency that all too often accompanies creative brilliance and high-spirited talent: a laziness that has to be motivated with some kind of reward, and abandons study when the reward is in hand. As soon as the pleasure of accomplishment or curiosity is satisfied, the novelty of pursuing the goal ends.' And, without ever blatantly pointing out the moral, the story goes on to show how Waverley was true to his name. His very nature was wavering. He was always at the mercy of circumstance because he had never learned to direct his own course when he was young. He blunders into many misadventures, most of them quite interesting, because his studies never taught him how to keep his mind alert, and how to mature into a man by learning self-restraint. Many pleasant things happen to him, but not one of them was earned by his own wit or talent, unless we count the love of Rose Bradwardine, and women are never fair and just about who they fall in love with. Every lucky break and success that came to him was earned by someone else. His uncle was not only rich. He also had a strong enough character to make friends, so his friendly young nephew who we're made to feel sympathy for never lacks for friends. He never does anything to carve out a path for himself in the world. Everything he does actually hinders him because of his lack of self-direction. But, because of his uncle's friends and money, everything works out well. But not all young people have such fortunate circumstances or parents who can provide for the children that they failed to bring up to conduct their own lives. For their sake, Scott makes it a point to mention that education was to blame for Edward Waverley's personal failure in life. He was gifted with brilliant talents, but he had never learned 'I ought.' He had only lived by 'I want' from his earliest days. He had never learned how to make himself do the things he should.

Parents Tend to Leave It Up To the Teacher to Teach Children To Make Themselves Do What They Should

This is the kind of training that parents tend to leave up to teachers. They don't discipline their children in a way that teaches them to compel themselves. Later, when it's time to hand the job over to the school, the window of opportunity is gone. They're past the age of learning to master themselves, and what might have been an excellent character is ruined by their laziness and stubbornness.

'But what's wrong with letting the teacher teach a child to straighten up? It's natural for children to be left as free as a wild colt in areas that have no moral significance. We understand that he needs to learn that lying is wrong. But if he hates his school lessons, maybe it's nature's way of saying that he's just not ready.'

We Are Not Meant to Grow up in a State of Untamed Nature

We need to face facts. We were never meant to grow up like wild and free animals in Nature. It sounds simple, clear and idyllic to say that a person is 'natural.' What could be better? Jean Jacques Rousseau advocated natural learning and has had a greater following than anyone else. When volatile little Harrison grabs his toy drum from Jack, or when Megan, who isn't quite two, screams for Sidney's doll, we say, 'it's just human nature.' And that's true. But that's the very reason why it needs to be dealt with. Even little Megan needs to learn better. One wise mother [Susanna Wesley?] said, 'I always finish teaching my children obedience before they're a year old.' Anyone who understands the nature of children and the possibilities that the teacher has will say approvingly, 'Why not?' If obedience is learned in the first year, then all the virtues of good living can be learned in the following years. Every year will have its own specific character training issues, progressing as the child gets older. If Eric is a selfish child at five years old, that fact could be noted in the parents' yearbook with the resolve that, by the time he's six, with God's help, he'll be a generous child. Those who still don't recognize that exercising discipline is one of a parents' most important duties will get this far and smile and talk about 'human nature' as if it's an unanswerable argument.

The First Function of the Parent is that of Discipline

But, fortunately for us, we live in a redeemed world. One of the facts of human nature is that it's the duty of whoever's raising children to get rid of ugly, hateful traits and to plant and encourage the fruits of the Spirit within children who have been delivered from the fallen world of Nature, and are now in the kingdom of grace. That includes all children who are born into this redeemed world. Parents who truly believe that the possibilities for instilling virtue are unlimited will set to work eagerly and confidently. They'll reject the twaddly idea that Nature, because of its beauty, must be all good, and the notion that Nature is an irresistible force that can't be overcome. They'll understand that the parent's first priority is the discipline that many parents are so content to leave up to the teacher.

Education is a Discipline

Discipline doesn't mean a rod, or a time-out corner, or a paddle, or being sent to bed. All of these are last resort measures that feeble-minded people rely on. The sooner we realize that God's plan includes more than the shame and pain of punishment, the sooner the intermittent use of the rod will end in families. I'm not saying that the rod is never useful. I'm saying that it should never be necessary. Many of us only think of education as the process where we get a specified amount of knowledge. The concept of education as a means of methodically dealing with every character flaw doesn't even enter our minds. But this is exactly what I mean when I say Education is a Discipline. If a person's parents fail to teach him discipline, he still has one more opportunity to learn the hard way, through life's hard knocks. We need to remember that it's the nature of children to willingly submit to discipline. But the nature of undisciplined adults is to stubbornly resist circumstances that should train them. A parent who willingly leaves his child to be reigned in by his teacher is leaving him to a fight where all the odds are against him. A man's physical condition, temper, disposition, career, affections, and aspirations are all mostly the result of the discipline his parents brought him under, or the lawlessness they allowed him to grow up with.

Discipline is not Punishment

What is discipline? Look at the word--there's not even a hint of punishment in it. Discipline is the state of being a disciple. A disciple is one who follows, learns and imitates. Mothers and fathers need to remember that their children, by the order of Nature itself, are their disciples. No person attracts disciples unless he wants to indoctrinate them and teach them certain principles or behavioral rules of life. The parent who is discipling his children should have some concepts of life and duty at heart that he works unceasingly to instill into his children.

How Disciples are Attracted

A person who wants to draw followers can't rely on force. There are three ways to attract disciples: an appealing doctrine, a persuasive presentation, and the enthusiasm of the followers. A parent has all three: the teachings of a perfect life, and the ability to continually present them with winning persuasion until their children catch such a passion for virtue and holiness that their zeal carries them forward with leaps and bounds.

Steady Progress Using a Careful Plan

A teacher doesn't indoctrinate his students at one time. He teaches them a little here, a little there, making steady progress along a careful plan. In the same way, a parent who wants his child to have Christ's nature has an outline, a progressive list of virtues to instill in his young disciples. The child is born with a rich measure of faith. To that faith, the parent adds virtue. To virtue, he adds knowledge. To knowledge, he adds self-control. After the child has acquired some self-control, he trains him in patience. To patience he adds godliness. To godliness he adds kindness, and to kindness he adds love. Wise parents systematically cultivate these and other virtues with results that are as definite as if they were teaching the 3R's.

But how? That answer covers such a broad field that we'll have to leave it for another chapter. I'll just mention this here: every good quality has its own defect, and every defect has its own good quality. Take a look at your child. He has his own individual qualities. Perhaps he has a generous spirit.

You need to make sure that the affectionate little guy who would give away his own soul isn't allowed to also be impulsive, volatile, self-willed, passionate, his own worst enemy. It's up to parents to make the high places in his character lower, to make the valleys higher, and to make straight paths for the feet of their little child.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 22-25

Disposition and Character

If heredity is so important as it seems to be if a child comes into the world with his character all ready laid out, then what's left for parents to do except to stay out of the way and give him room to work out his own salvation along the lines of his own individuality without their interference? The strong tendency to naturalism in our day makes us inclined to accept this view of the goals and limits of education. Yes, it's a fact and it's the truth, but it's not the whole truth. The child brings disposition into the world with him, but not character. He's born with tendencies that might just need to be reinforced, or re-channeled, or even repressed. His character--that flowering of the person that prepares the fruit of his life--is a formula consisting of the disposition he was born with, with modifications, direction, and expansion provided by education, circumstances, self-control and self-culture when he's older, and, most of all, the supreme power of the Holy Spirit, even when that power isn't evident or even requested.

The great labor of creating character is the single most effectual work that people can attempt. How is it to be accomplished? We'll start our question from a physical perspective. Yes, it's the lowest basis, but that's why it forms the foundation for the rest. The rooms on the first floor of any building are pleasant, but nobody starts a building with the first floor. What would it rest on? The difference between the physical gray brain tissue and the mind that works through it is like the difference between a song and the vocal chords of the singer. The distinction is even more physical than the difference between the physical brain and the spiritual person. The brain registers and effects every movement of thought and feeling, whether it's conscious or unconscious, with detectable molecular movement. It supports the unlimited activities of the mind by balancing an enormous amount of activity with an enormous amount of waste. The brain is the physical organ of the mind that, under present conditions, is inseparable from, and indispensable to, the vital spirit. Every time we think a thought, there's a distinct series of activities set into motion in some area of the physical brain tissue, in the same way that there's a series of activities that have to happen within the arm muscles in order for the hand to write a sentence. Once we recognize this, we'll understand that the way the brain tissue behaves provides us with a possible key to guaranteed effectiveness and a systematic approach in our educational efforts, speaking of education in its most worthy sense of character formation.

We heard Dr. Maudsley's comments about heredity. Now let's hear what he has to say about environment, which practically lets us define the possibilities that education can have.

Dr Maudsley's Comments About the Physical Effects of 'Certain Experiences in Life'

'Anything that's existed with complete consciousness leaves something behind it after it leaves the mind or brain. It leaves behind a functional tendency to reproduce or reappear in the consciousness later. No mental activity is as fleeting as something written in water. Some evidence of it always remains behind to make it easier if it needs to be repeated. Every impression of the senses, every nerve impulse from one area of the brain to another, every cerebral action that generates movement of the muscles, leaves behind some modification in the brain nerves that it relates to. It leaves an impression, a memory of itself to make it easier to do the same thing again. The more often it's repeated, the easier it is to repeat it again. On the other hand, because a trace is left behind, it's impossible to say that the action could never happen again under some circumstance, no matter how trivial or insignificant the action is. If any kind of stimulation happens in a nerve cell and none happens to an identical nerve cell right next to it, that stimulation will create a difference in them so that the two cells will never be the same as one another again. Whatever the nature of this physical process might be, the process is the physical basis of memory, and it's the foundation of the development of all of our mental functions.

'The change that happens in the nerve cells after the activity or function is over has been called different things--residuum, relic, trace, disposition, or vestige. It's also been called a potential or latent or dormant idea. It isn't just definite ideas that leave physical impressions behind and lay the foundations for later modes of thought, feeling and action. Everything that affects the nervous system, feelings of pleasure and pain, desires, and even the outward reaction to desires leave impressions behind, too. Sometimes certain talents are formed practically or completely involuntarily. Complex actions that were first done with total application of effort and attention become automatic after enough repetition. Ideas that had to be deliberately thought of as related to each other begin to converge and become associated with each other without our conscious thinking about it, so that a person with enough experience in the world begins to have quick perception or intuition. Once feelings are active, they leave behind a lot of unconscious residual impressions that affect the way the character of the person evolves. That's how, apart from the original inborn nature of a person, contentment, depression, cowardice, bravery, and even moral feelings, a moral sense is created from certain experiences in life.'

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 26-28

Maybe Science has finally revealed the rationale for education as a Divine sign that we've become more fit for the task because we've arrived at a higher sense of moral responsibility. Imagine what would happen if immoral people were able to fully discern the possibilities that education could bring! But we're so slow!

'Tradition lays on us like a heavy weight,
As heavy as frost and almost as deep as life!'

It's been a whole generation since Dr. Maudsley wrote his words about the physical impressions of mental activity, and since other physiologists wrote similar things to the world. I've chosen wording that has stood the test of time on purpose because, in our day, a hundred leading scientists in England and overseas are saying the same thing. Every scientist believes this! And what about us? We go on doing everything the way it's always been done as if nothing had been said. It's as if, every day and every hour, we're letting seeds of corn, hemlock, bramble and rose drop from our careless hands.

Let's go over the outline of our liberties according to the passage of Dr. Maudsley that I quoted above.

Some Articles Contained in This Outline

One thing we can do is to lay the physical basis of memory. When the wide-eyed baby reaches out with aimless kicking on the rug, he's unconsciously receiving the first impressions that will form his earliest memories. We can influence those early memories. We can make sure that the earliest sights he sees are orderly, neat and beautiful. We can make sure that the first sounds that his ear drinks in are musical, soft, tender and happy. We can make sure that his nose only smells delicate purity and sweetness. Those first memories are engraved on the unconscious memory, where they stay for life. As we'll see later, memories have a certain ability to accumulate. Where some memories exist, other ones of the same kind will gather, and all of life is ordered along the lines of those first pure, tender memories.

Another thing we can do is to lay the foundation for the development of all the mental functions. Is there such thing as a child who doesn't wonder, or revere, or like fairy tales, or think wise child-thoughts? Maybe not. If there is, it's only because the pollen grain was never delivered to fertilize the seed that was waiting in the child's soul.

According to Dr. Maudsley's Physiology of the Mind, there are certain things that parents can arrange for the adult the child will become, even in his early childhood:

His definite ideas about certain subjects, such as how he relates to other people.
His habits in things like neatness or disorder, promptness and moderation.
Whether the general way he thinks is affected by generosity or selfishness.
The way he feels and what he does as a result of the way he thinks.
What he thinks about--the trivial affairs of daily life, nature, the way the mind works, how God relates to people.

His distinguishing talent--music, speaking, creativeness.
The way the disposition of his character shows and affects his family and others he interacts with regularly--reserved or open, sullen or friendly, depressed or cheerful, timid or confident.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 62-64

Maybe someday we'll know about all the heroic attempts teachers have made to prop up, haul up, pull up and use whatever methods they can think of to keep children who are used to sprawling and slouching sitting upright and alert. Sometimes the results are surprisingly effective. They sit up in a row with the rest of the class and look just like everyone else. Even when the props are taken away, they can still perform the trick of remaining upright for awhile. The teacher rubs his hands in glee and the parents say, 'See? Didn't I always say that Jack would turn out just fine in the end?' But just wait, it isn't over yet.

The Habits of School Life are Mechanical

School habits, like military habits, are pretty much mechanical. It's the early habits that stick. A person will always revert to the habits he learned first, and Jack, as an adult, will sprawl and slouch just like he did as a little boy, only more so. Various social pressures will keep him propped up--he's clever enough to appear to be upright and alert, he's affectionate and leads a respectable life. And, thus, no one would ever suspect that Mr. Jack Brown, who had elements of greatness in him, is a failure. He could have been useful to the world if he had been brought under discipline from the time he was a baby.

Mental 'Slouching' is Illustrated in 'Edward Waverley'

Slouching and sprawling aren't pretty words, yet they can be done in a way that they have a look of style and elegance. Sir Walter Scott gives a charming illustration of one kind of mental sprawling in his book Waverley:

'Edward Waverley's ability to understand was so quick that it seemed almost like intuition. His teacher's main concern was to keep him from 'overrunning his game,' as sportsmen call it--in other words, to prevent him acquiring knowledge in a shallow, half-hearted way. And he had his work cut out for him, because he had to combat another tendency that all too often accompanies creative brilliance and high-spirited talent: a laziness that has to be motivated with some kind of reward, and abandons study when the reward is in hand. As soon as the pleasure of accomplishment or curiosity is satisfied, the novelty of pursuing the goal ends.' And, without ever blatantly pointing out the moral, the story goes on to show how Waverley was true to his name. His very nature was wavering. He was always at the mercy of circumstance because he had never learned to direct his own course when he was young. He blunders into many misadventures, most of them quite interesting, because his studies never taught him how to keep his mind alert, and how to mature into a man by learning self-restraint. Many pleasant things happen to him, but not one of them was earned by his own wit or talent, unless we count the love of Rose Bradwardine, and women are never fair and just about who they fall in love with. Every lucky break and success that came to him was earned by someone else. His uncle was not only rich. He also had a strong enough character to make friends, so his friendly young nephew who we're made to feel sympathy for never lacks for friends. He never does anything to carve out a path for himself in the world. Everything he does actually hinders him because of his lack of self-direction. But, because of his uncle's friends and money, everything works out well. But not all young people have such fortunate circumstances or parents who can provide for the children that they failed to bring up to conduct their own lives. For their sake, Scott makes it a point to mention that education was to blame for Edward Waverley's personal failure in life. He was gifted with brilliant talents, but he had never learned 'I ought.' He had only lived by 'I want' from his earliest days. He had never learned how to make himself do the things he should.

Parents Tend to Leave It Up To the Teacher to Teach Children To Make Themselves Do What They Should

This is the kind of training that parents tend to leave up to teachers. They don't discipline their children in a way that teaches them to compel themselves. Later, when it's time to hand the job over to the school, the window of opportunity is gone. They're past the age of learning to master themselves, and what might have been an excellent character is ruined by their laziness and stubbornness.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 73-74

Developing Character is the Bulk of Education's Work

And now we're back to the point we started from. If developing character rather than developing mental faculties is education's main work, and if people are born already prewired with all the building blocks of their future character, and that character is already destined for them with enough time and circumstances, then what's left for education to do?

Justifiable Reasons to Do Nothing

Often, the course of action that's chosen is to do nothing. That plan of action is usually justified in three or four ways.

First, 'What's the use?' If the fathers ate sour grapes, the children's teeth are doomed to be set on edge. Maybe Thomas is as stubborn as a little mule, but what can you expect? So is his father. All of the Joneses have been that way for generations. Therefore, Thomas's stubbornness is accepted as an unalterable fact of life that can't be helped or avoided.

Second, Maile might be as flighty as a butterfly, never still for five minutes to follow through on anything. Her mother says, 'She's just like I was, but a little time and maturity will steady her.' Or, perhaps Felicia sings herself to sleep with the Sicilian Vesper Hymn that her babysitter taught her before she's even old enough to talk. Her parents comment, 'It's strange how an ear for music seems to run in our family!' but no effort is made to develop her talent.

Another child asks bizarre questions, tends to joke about sacred things, calls his father 'Tom,' and is prone to show a lack of reverence in general. His parents are sincere, earnest-minded people and cringe to remember Uncle Harry's flippant opinions. Fearing their child will take after Uncle Harry, they decide to nip this in the bud with a strict policy of repression. 'Do as you're told and don't say a word' becomes the rule at home, so he finds outlets elsewhere that his parents never even suspect.

In another case, the thinking is closer to current science. A tendency for lung problems runs in the family. The doctors deal with the situation by not allowing a habit of delicacy to get started. The necessary precautions are taken, and the child has every reason to look forward to a long, healthy life.

And here's one more example. Some parents are aware of the advances that science has made in the field of education, but they don't think it's valid to expect science to help them in developing character. They see the faults that their children have inherited, but they consider them 'the natural fault and corruption that every person's nature has suffered because of the sin of Adam.' They don't believe that it's their role to deal with sin, unless, that is, the child's sin happens to be one that's inconvenient or disturbing, such as a violent temper. In that case, the mother thinks there's nothing wrong with beating the sin out of him.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 76

The Duty of Cherishing Certain Family Traits

But the dutiful father and mother aren't like that. When they recognize any positive family trait in one of their children, they set to work to nourish and cherish it like a gardener nurturing the peaches he wants to exhibit at the fair. Benjamin West's mother was so thrilled with a sketch he made of his baby sister that she kissed him, and he later claimed, 'that kiss made me a painter.' Her encouragement warmed whatever artistic ability he had and set it to life. Gardeners say that rare, more valuable plants require more painstaking attention. Some of the most beautiful, affectionate natures that the world has ever seen have been lost and wasted because they lacked the kind of care that their delicate, sensitive systems needed. Think how Shelley was left to himself.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 83-91

Chapter 9 - The Culture Of Character: The Treatment of Defects

The Ultimate Purpose of Education

Suppose that a parent realizes that the ultimate purpose of education is to form good character. Suppose the parent understands that character is comprised of the child's inherited tendencies, still in their rough stages, but modified by the child's environment, and character can be debased or elevated by education. And this parent knows that his role is to spot the first signs of family traits. Positive traits are to be valued as the most excellent kind of family inheritance to be nourished and carefully tended. The parent also needs to encourage the child in activities he may not think he's interested in so that the child will be balanced. This is even more important if the child is eccentric. Eccentricity can be a pitfall of the original nature, which can be a powerful force. Even if the parent has accepted all of this as part of his parental role, there's still much more to be done.

The Defects of our Qualities

We're all prone to what the French call 'defects of our qualities.' In the same way that bad weeds grow quickly, the defects of even an excellent character can choke out positive traits. For instance, a little girl may love with as much devotion and passion as a woman, but she's possessive and jealous of sharing anyone's affection, even when it's her mother. Perhaps a boy is ambitious. He likes to be the leader in the playroom and his leadership is healthy for his siblings except for his argumentative little brother who refuses to follow anyone's lead. The two of them are such odds that they can barely be in the same room together, and the older brother acts like a tyrant when anyone crosses him. A shy, affectionate little girl isn't above lying to protect her sister. A high-spirited little girl never lies, but sometimes she bullies others. And so on, without end. What is the parents' responsibility here? To make the most of the good quality by making the child feel like that quality is a virtue to guard--a family possession that's been inherited, and, at the same time, a gift from above. A bit of simple, reasonable teaching might help, but be careful of overdoing it with too much talking. 'Are you just about finished, mommy?' said one bright little five-year-old girl in the most polite way possible. She'd been listening a long time to her mother preaching at her, and she had her own things to do. A wise word here and there might be useful, but it's more effective to carefully hinder every quality's 'defect' before it ever gets started. Don't give the bad weeds any room to grow. Or, defects can sometimes be reclaimed and turned around to feed the quality they come from. For instance, the ambitious boy's love for power can be turned into a desire to win his restless brother by love. A loving girl's passion can be turned around to include everyone that her mother loves.

Children with Defects

Heredity and the duties attached to it has another aspect. In the same way that a child with an admirable family tree may very well inherit the best of his ancestors, such as a well-proportioned body, clear intellect, or high moral sense, he also has some risks. As one person puts it, not all the women have been brave, nor have all the men been pure. We all know how the tendency to have certain diseases run in families. In the same way, temper, temperament, moral sense and physical nature can be carried down through the lineage with a taint. Some unfortunate children seem to have inherited all the negative traits and none of the good ones. What can parents do in a case like that? They can't reform him, that's beyond human skill and ability once a person has realized all that's within his nature. But they can transform him so that the person he was calculated to become never develops at all. Instead, another person comes to light who's blessed with only the virtues that originated from his defects. This brings up a useful law of Nature that underlies the whole subject of early child training, especially the case of a mother who finds that she needs to birth her child again into a life of beauty and harmony. The old words of Thomas a Kempis seem to me to be the fundamental law of education, and it's simply this: 'Habit is driven out by habit.' People have always known that constant use becomes second nature, but no one understood why, and how much it implicates, until recently.

A Malicious Child

Perhaps a child has a hateful habit that's so constant, it threatens to be his only quality and become his character if nothing is done. He's spiteful, sneaky, and sullen. No one is to blame for it; he was born that way. What can be done with such a chronic habit of nature? It can be treated as a bad habit and dealt with by developing the opposite good habit. Perhaps Henry is not just mischievous, he's a malicious little boy. Someone is always crying in the playroom because he's constantly pinching, biting and hitting, making some child miserable. Even his pets aren't safe. He's killed his canary by poking at it with a stick through the bars of his cage. Howls from his dog and screeches from his cat are evidence of more of his cruel tricks. He makes terrifying faces at his fearful little sister, and he sets traps with string for the gardener as he goes about his work with watering cans. There's no end to his mean-spirited pranks. They go beyond the usual mischievousness of untrained boyhood. His mother hears about his latest tricks and wonders what's to be done. An optimistic parent with blind faith in the changes of time says, 'Oh, he'll grow out of it.' Many experienced mothers will say, 'There's no cure for him. You can't change what he is. He'll be a nuisance to society all his life.' Yet this same child could be cured in a month if the mother would determine to stick to the task wholeheartedly with a will and all her effort. If he isn't cured by then, at least the cure will have begun, and that's half the battle.

Special Treatment

Let the month during treatment be an enjoyable and happy month for the child. Let him live the whole time in the warmth of his mother's smile. Don't let him be alone long enough to think about or do mean-spirited pranks. Let him always feel like he's under a watchful, loving and approving eye. Keep him pleasantly occupied and always busy. The purpose of this is to break him of his old habit, and that will happen when a certain length of time has gone by without him repeating the habit. But a new habit needs to be established to take its place, since one habit drives out another one. Lay new thought patterns over the old ones. Provide him with opportunities to be kind. Every hour of every day, let him experience the joy of pleasing others. Get him started planning little schemes to please everyone else. Maybe he could make a toy, gather a dish of strawberries, make wall shadows to amuse the baby. Take him on errands to help poor neighbors, and let him give, carry and deliver something of his own. For an entire month, the child's whole heart will be overflowing with deeds and schemes and thoughts of kindness, and the clever mind that he previously used to think up mean-spirited pranks will become a valued treasure to his family when he uses it to do good. This all sounds like a great idea, but where is a mother supposed to find time in her busy schedule to give Henry a month of special treatment? She has other children and other duties. She can't just give herself up for a month, or even a week, for one child. But what if her little one was seriously sick, perhaps even at risk of death? Wouldn't she make the time somehow? She'd let all of her other duties go so that she could devote herself fully to her little boy, who would be her first priority.

Moral Sicknesses Need Urgent Attention

This is a point that all parents don't recognize: serious mental and moral sicknesses require urgent, deliberate healing treatment. The parents need to devote themselves wholly to the child's cure temporarily, just like they would if their child was hospitalized. Neither punishment nor neglect, which are the two most popular treatments, ever cured a child of any moral fault. If parents recognized the powerful and immediate effect that treatment could have, they would never allow ugly weeds to sprout in their child's character. Remember that, no matter what ugly fault spoil the child's beauty, he's simply a garden that's been allowed to grow weeds. The more weeds there are, the more fertile the soil is. Even a child who has lots of weeds has every opportunity to develop a life of beauty and character. Get rid of the weeds and nurture and tend the flowers. It's not inaccurate to say that most of the failures in life or character that people make are directly caused by the casual, optimistic philosophy of their parents who believed that 'she's so young; she doesn't know any better. She'll grow out of it once she matures.' But, like a weed, a fault left to itself will only grow bigger and stronger.

Someone may object to my advice for a short, determined round of treatment. They'll say that the good results won't last. After a week or two of neglect, everything that was gained will be lost. Henry will be just as likely as ever to grow up as cruel and fierce as a tiger, like a Steerforth [from David Copperfield] or Henleigh Grandcourt [from Daniel Deronda]. But, fortunately, scientific evidence is on our side.

One of the most interesting issues right now is the interaction between the thoughts of the mind, and the physical configuration of the brain. At this point, it appears that each is very much caused by the other. The kind of thoughts that are persistently thought actually have the power to shape the brain tissue, and the configuration of the brain depends on the kind of thoughts we think.

Automatic Brain Action

For the most part, thought is automatic. Without intending to or trying to, we tend to think in the way we've gotten used to thinking, in the same way that we walk or write without consciously arranging and directing our muscles. Mozart could compose an overture, laughing the whole time at the little jokes his wife made to keep him awake. Of course, he had thought out the whole piece in his head beforehand, and he just needed to write it all down. But he didn't consciously try to create these musical thoughts, they just came to him in their correct order. Coleridge thought up 'Kubla Khan' in his sleep, and wrote it all down when he woke up. When you consider the rest of his thoughts, maybe he would have been better off if he'd done most of his thinking while he was asleep!

'She falls asleep while sewing on the buttons,
And stitches them on as she's dreaming.'

That's not only possible, but very likely. For every one thing that we deliberately make ourselves think about, there are a thousand words and actions that come to us on their own. We don't actually think of them at all. But just as it takes a poet or musician to create poetry or music, the words and actions that come from us without our consciously trying to create them, are what define the true measure of what we are. Maybe this is why so much emphasis is put upon every 'idle word' that we speak--words spoken without intention or conscious will.

Little by little, we're getting around to Henry and his bad habits. Somehow or other, the gray tissue of our brain grows to accommodate the thoughts that we allow to have unlimited access to our mind. Science hasn't even speculated on how that happens yet. To illustrate, let's imagine that certain thoughts in the mind run back and forth along the nerves of the brain tissue until they've worn a path there. Busy traffic of the same kind of thoughts will continue to travel that way because the path is well-marked and broken in to make it easy for them. Imagine that a child has inherited a tendency to have a resentful temperament. He's begun to have resentful thoughts. They're easy for him to dwell on, and he finds it satisfying to nurse them, so he continues. Before long, more of these ugly thoughts travel into his mind easily and naturally. Resentfulness is starting to become a part of who he is, the defining characteristic that people know him by.

One Habit Overcomes Another

But one habit overcomes and replaces another one. A watchful mother sets up new paths in other areas. She makes sure that, while she's leading new thoughts in through a new route, the old, well-worn path of the old way of thinking is abandoned and unused. Brain tissue is in a constant state of rapid waste and rapid growth. New growth takes on the shape of the new thoughts, and the old thoughts are lost in the steady wasting of the old tissue. Before long, the child is literally reformed, not just morally and mentally, but physically, too. The fact that the gray tissue of the brain acts like an instrument of the mind shouldn't surprise us when we consider how the muscles and joints of a gymnast, the vocal organs of a singer, the fingertips of a watchmaker, or the tongue of a tea-taster develop to accommodate what they always do. It's especially true that the brain and all other organs develop to accommodate the earliest things they've had to do.

This is perfectly suited for the parent who wants to cure his child's moral fault. All he needs to do is to set up the course of new thoughts, and hinder the old thoughts, until the new thoughts become automatic and run on their own. Meanwhile, the paths where the old thoughts used to travel are disintegrating as the brain replaces tissue. And here is the parent's advantage. If the child returns to his old thought patterns, which he may do, if it's a tendency he inherited from birth, then he finds that there's no longer any place for them in his brain. It takes some time and effort to create new paths for them, and it's not difficult for his parents to hinder his efforts.

A Physical Record of Educational Efforts

It's truer here than anywhere else that, 'unless the Lord builds a house, those who build it work in vain.' But that doesn't mean that our intelligent cooperation isn't our obligated duty. Training the will, educating the conscience, and, as much as it's within our power, developing the child's divine life, all happen at the same time while we're training the child to have the habits that will allow him to live a good life. Good habits and divine life will carry the child safely past his early years when his will isn't strong and his conscience isn't trained, until he's able to take the reins of his own life conduct and character-molding, under God's direction.

It's comforting to believe that even our educational efforts leave a physical record in the child's brain tissue. But it also makes us aware of the danger of leaving bad habits alone in the hope that they'll be outgrown in time.

A Mother's Love Isn't Enough for Child-Training

Some parents might think that all of this is too serious to think about. Even 'thinking on these things' is enough to take the joy and spontaneity out of the sweet relationship they have with their child. After all, isn't parental love and God's grace enough to bring up children? No one can be humbler about this subject than those who haven't had the honor of being parents. The insight and love that all parents are blessed with, especially mothers, is a divine gift that fills onlookers with awe, even in many poor village families. But we have enough instances of tender, affectionate parents who have reared fools to recognize that it takes more than love. There are specific paths, not always the old ways, but new ones, that are revealed step by step as we go. The mother who determines to understand her role and task doesn't find her labor increased. Her load is actually infinitely lightened. Life isn't made more burdensome by thinking of these things because, once we understand them and own them, we'll act on them without even thinking about it as surely and naturally as a teacup falls when you let go of it. With a little bit of painstaking effort in the beginning, it will all become easy.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 123-125

The wave of naturalism seems to be declining, and it hasn't left anything of substance for him, except for some stranded fragments of Darwinian theory. Yet it's this very natural, materialistic thinking that's been responsible for giving us the physical foundation of education [i.e., the fact that habit makes physical changes in the brain.]

When we believed that thought, like an elfish sprite, was too light and vaporous to have any physical impact on matter, our educational philosophies had to be vague. We couldn't even catch Ariel, our sprite, so how could we school him? But now physiologists have given us evidence that our sprite has at least the tips of his toes on solid ground, enough to leave footprints behind. There's an impression made on the comfortable, familiar physical world. Our intangible thoughts leave their mark on the tangible tissue of the brain. Physiologists tell us that these marks create connections between the brain's nerve cells. To put it simply, the brain 'develops to accommodate whatever it gets used to doing earliest and most often.' This fact has a lot of implications for one particular aspect of education that Fouillée barely mentions.

That aspect is the formation of habits--physical, intellectual and moral habits. It's been rightly said, 'Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.' And one of the most important jobs of the educator is to train certain actions regularly, with a purpose, and methodically so that the child will develop the habits of thinking and doing that will make his life smoother, and he'll be able to do them without much thinking about it.

The Minor Morality Issues Become Matters of Habit

We're only just now beginning to realize how beneficial the laws that govern our lives are. If a person is trained to have the right habits as a child, then his life will run smoothly in those habits as an adult without the stress and anxiety of having to make decisions about each one of them. There might be a few times during the course of a day--maybe once, or twice, or even three times--when he'll have to stop and go through the decision-making process to choose between the noble and the less noble, or what seems good and what's truly best. But all the minor, more routine matters of morality will become mere habit to him. He's been brought up to be polite, prompt, on time, neat, and considerate. And he'll do all of these things without any conscious effort. It's a lot easier for him to do what he's used to doing than to deviate and create a whole new habit pattern. And the reason this is true is because God has graciously and mercifully set it up so that our educational efforts leave a tangible record and physical change in the brain. Therefore, we only have to face the emotional strain of making moral decisions and striving to do the right thing occasionally. 'Sow a habit, reap a character.' In other words, forming habits is one of the main ways that we can modify the inborn disposition that a child inherits, and his habits will become the character he'll have as an adult.

The Idea That Initiates a Habit

But even in this physical effort, the spiritual power of ideas has a part, because a habit is developed when we act on an initial idea by carrying out a corresponding action many, many times. For instance, a child may hear that Duke Wellington slept in a bed that was too narrow to turn over in because he said 'when I feel like turning over, it means it's time to get up.' The child doesn't like to get up in the morning, but he wants to be like the hero of Waterloo. You, as his parent, stimulate him to act on this idea every day for about a month, until the habit is formed. By that time, it's just as easy to get up on time as it is to sleep in.

Education has two functions: (a) forming the right habits, and, (b) presenting inspiring ideas. The first is more dependent than we realize on a physical process. The second is totally spiritual. Its origin, method and result are intangible. Could this be the meeting point where two philosophies come together that have divided mankind ever since men began to think about their thoughts and actions? Both views are right and we need both. Both have a role to play in helping people develop to their highest potential. The essence of modern thought, and, in fact, of all profound thought, is, Might the spiritual world have some kind of impact on the physical world? Every issue, from the question of how to educate a little child, to the mystery of the Incarnation, boils down to this point. If one can conceive that the spiritual might possibly impact the physical world, then everything else becomes clear, from the ridiculous stunts that people do under hypnotic suggestion, to the miracles of Christianity.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 155-156

The Law of Nature That's Against Us: Habit

Those Who Are Immoral Because of Ingrained Habit

We often say that use becomes second nature. Habit is as strong as ten natures. Habit starts out like a frail cobweb, but ends like a strong cable. 'You'll get used to it,' whatever it is. Do we dare to face the habits that make up the very being of these people? It isn't just their obscene talk and impure actions that makes people who they are--it's the thoughts they think. Talk and actions are only the outward results of thought. Whatever man is in the habit of thinking is what shapes him and becomes his character. And it seems logical that every imagination of their heart is nothing but continual evil. We say that use becomes second nature. Let's consider what we mean by that phrase. What is the philosophy behind habit according to the latest research? The foundation of habit is the brain. It originates in the gray tissue matter of the cerebrum. And, briefly, habit works like this: 'The brain tissue of humans grows to adapt to the kind of thinking that it gets used to.' The concept that intangible thought can mold the physical brain doesn't have to surprise or shock us. After all, we see with our own eyes how intangible thought molds the face, what we call expressions. A person's face can be lovely or repulsive depending on the kind of thinking it reflects. We don't yet understand how this kind of brain growth happens, and this book isn't the place to discuss it. But, when we consider that physical structural change does happen as a result of confirmed habit, we have to ask again--can a project work when it depends primarily on regenerating corrupt people who are not only corrupt by inherited nature, but by unbroken, deeply ingrained habit?

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 159-160

Education is Stronger than Inherited Nature

A child's future doesn't depend so much on what he inherits, as on his upbringing. Education is stronger than inherited nature, so no human ever needs to despair. We don't need to lose hope in the regeneration of corrupt people because they inherited an irresistible tendency towards evil.

The Law That's In Our Favor: 'One Custom Can Overcome Another One'

But bad habits are so difficult to overcome! We already know that 'use becomes second nature,' and man is just a bundle of habits. We become hopeless when we consider the rationale of habit and realize the strength that a habit must have in order to cause a physical modification in the structure of the brain tissue. Brain tissue adapts to the kind of thoughts the person thinks, and habit is merely the outward manifestation and expression of this growth. Once the growth has happened, it seems final and unable to be undone. When a person's way of thinking has created physical changes in his brain tissue, isn't the person changed for life?

No, not really. Just because a habit has been formed and made changes in the brain, there's no reason why another opposite habit can't be learned and registered as change in the brain. In a physical, practical sense, today is the day of salvation because habits are things you can do something about now. You can start a habit in a moment, form it in a month, confirm it in three months, and that habit can become your character, the very essence of who you are, in a year.

Habit: Physical Preparation for Salvation

New brain tissue grows in accordance with the new thoughts in the mind, and 'one custom overcomes another.' This is the natural, physical preparation for salvation. The quote is old, it's from Thomas a Kempis, but the understanding that habits can have a literal physical aspect is something we've just discovered. Only one chain of thoughts can be active at any one time. When a person decides to think better thoughts, the old connections between nerve cells are broken, and kind Nature helps by busily building up and covering the old abandoned paths, even if they were worn deep over many generations. A sign saying 'No Road' is placed in the old path that used to be heavily trafficked with corrupt thoughts. New tissue is formed and that old wound is healed. The place becomes as healthy and sound as the rest of the mind, except for maybe a scar and some slight sensitivity.

That's how one custom overcomes another one. There's no struggle, no arguing, no coaxing. If the new idea is secured with an impressive introduction, then it will accomplish the rest on its own. It will feed itself, grow, increase, and multiply. It will do its thing all by itself. It will even usher in the unconscious involuntary thought that shapes the person's character. And, viola! It's like a new person. We're told that we must be born again, but we challenge that concept with our superior knowledge about the laws of Nature, asking, How can a person be born again? Can he enter his mother's womb a second time and be born all over again? That would require a miracle, and we've already smugly determined that 'miracles don't happen.'

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 162

We don't need to be intimidated by insurmountable inherited tendencies towards evil. Even the strongest lifelong habit can be conquered by the power of an idea. New habits of thought can be established in an instant, and these new thoughts can be nurtured and encouraged until the habit becomes as strong as ten natures, and then becomes the habit of a new life, and the thoughts that seem to think themselves are thoughts of purity and goodness.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 168-177

Chapter 16 - Discipline: A Serious Study for Parents

Discipline is not Punishment

People sometimes ask, 'How is Discipline handled in your educational system?' We'd be encouraged that such a question showed a spark of interest in our work if we didn't suspect that the person asking the question probably uses the word 'discipline' synonymously with 'punishment.' That suspicion puts me in an attitude of protest. First of all, we don't have a 'system' of education. We believe that great things like nature, life and education are secluded from living when they're systematized. Yes, it's true that we do have an educational method, but method is merely a means to an end. It's as relaxed, flexible, and accommodating as Nature herself. Method only has a few broad laws and the details are worked around them to make them fit in the same natural way that a person works around the law that fire burns after he's recognized that law. But system, on the contrary, has all kinds of rules and instructions about what to do and how to do it. When it comes to education, method humbly follows Nature. It stands aside to give Nature first priority.

A Method is Not the Same as a System

System seeks to lead Nature. It tries to assist, supplement, and rushes in to take over >the very tasks that Nature has taken care of herself since the beginning of the world. Nature provides every young thing, whether it's a kitten or a child, with a wonderful capacity for inventive play. But that's not enough for System, who says, 'I can help out here. I'll invent games for the child and help his play along. With my help, I can make more use of the child's ability to play than Nature knows how.' So Mrs. System 'teaches' the child how to play. The child enjoys it, but, unfortunately, the spirit of play is taken from him. When he's left to himself, he has no initiative to play by himself. And System does this in many areas. System is meticulous and enthusiastic and produces impressive results--in the teacher!

Wise Passiveness

But Method, on the other hand, seeks a 'wise passiveness.' If you watch Method's teacher, you're hardly aware that he's doing anything. It's the children who take the initiative rather than the teacher. But, somehow, the result is in the children instead of the teacher. Every day they develop and become persons more and more, with

'Firm reason, temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill.'

These are the golden fruits that ripen under the eyes of parents who are wise enough to know the difference between the role of Nature, and the role of the educator, and who sympathetically and dutifully follow the lead of Nature, the great mother.

Some may say, 'So then, you have no discipline. I didn't think so. I imagine anyone could get results by leaving children to themselves and keeping them happy. Aren't children always good when they're happy?' Not so fast. A person who seeks to follow a great leader needs to make an effort himself, patiently and persistently. Nature is a divine leader, and anyone who follows her leading will be blessed, but the way is steep to climb, and the path is hard to find. This kind of uphill work should never be confused with leisurely strolling along, making up the rules as we go.

Any parent who wants to provide the substantial part of his children's education needs to prepare himself for noble thinking and humble living--I'm talking about the highest kind of thinking that's possible for human beings, and the most simple, direct kind of life.

The whole concept of discipline, for example, is one of the major, comprehensive ideas that will inform and direct the life of the parent. It can't be compiled into one neat, simple rule that's easy to remember and easy to apply from time to time. 'If Thomas is naughty, spank him and send him to bed.' That's the kind of simple rule that's handy to have around, and it's what many people mean when they talk about discipline. Now, I'm not saying that punishment will never be used--quite the contrary. In the same way, I'd never say that a laxative would never be taken. But punishment, like laxatives, should be a last resort measure that only happens occasionally at the worst. The use of punishment and laxatives can be decreased according to how careful we are to maintain healthy conditions of the body and mind. I'm in no hurry to lay down specific rules about punishment. Herbert Spencer might not have said the final word, but he has given us a convenient rule to go by.

Punishment by Consequences

Let the natural consequences of the offense punish the child. Carrying out this suggestion to the letter could sometimes mean permanent, or even fatal injury to the child's body or emotional well-being. You can't allow a lazy child to be punished by letting him remain uneducated and ignorant. You can't allow a stubborn, reckless child to break his arm.

But, if the situation has gone far enough to make punishment necessary, then the punishment should relate to nature of the offense. A child who refuses to eat his oatmeal should have to do without his cinnamon bun. At any rate, this is a type of punishment, and possibly the closest thing to natural consequences that should be used.

Children Sometimes Enjoy Punishment

But parents should face the fact that children sometimes enjoy punishment. When they're punished, they find the opportunity that's common in storybooks but rare in real life, to show resolution in the face of a difficulty. Often, a child who is being punished is enjoying himself immensely because he's respecting himself so much.

Heroism in Suffering Penalties

There's a bit of heroism in suffering a penalty that can remove any sense of remorse for the offense. An adventurous little boy who accepts his punishment with a dignified air isn't so much a bad, hardened young offender--he's an opportunist, making the best of what comes his way to get his own real education. But the distress of his mother, or his father's disapproval, are very different. They don't carry any compensating sense of fortitude. These kinds of considerations make us think twice about corporal punishment--not because we're over-sensitive to the suffering of the child, since we need to enable him to endure hardness in order to make a man of him, but only because it's not easy to find a punishment that doesn't defeat its own ends.

Wrongdoing Followed By its Own Penalties

A light slap from the mother when her little child is naughty can be effective and educational. It changes the direction of the baby's thoughts, and he no longer wants to pull his sister's hair. But a slap should be a last resort, to be used only when no other way can be found to divert his thoughts. With an older child, the aim of punishment is less on distracting the thoughts and more on forming a new association of ideas. The goal is to attach certain forms of inevitable pain and penalty to certain forms of wrongdoing. We know all too well that this is what life itself teaches, and we should make sure our children learn this in their education. Our own experience goes to prove that every time a law is broken in thought or action, there's an immediate or remote penalty attached. A child who never learns that 'every deed will be punished or rewarded in due time' is sent out into the world like a new, untrained recruit being sent out to the front line.

My point is twofold: (a), that the need for punishment can mostly be prevented, and, (b), that fear of punishment is rarely as strong a motive as the temptation to do the wrong thing.

Punishment Does Not Reform

If punishment always reformed and could always cure us of all those sins we tend towards, then the world would be a very pleasant place. After all, no kind of crime goes unpunished. I don't mean that punishment isn't necessary, or that it's useless. But it is inadequate, and it barely addresses our goal. Our goal isn't to address and avenge the offense. Our aim is to correct the issue of character that's behind the offense. Perhaps Jesse tells a lie and we punish him for it. That appeases our sense of justice for the offense. But I doubt any punishment could be invented that would be drastic enough to cure Jesse of telling lies in the future, and this is the very thing we're after. We need to look deeper. We need to find out what weakness of character, or what false habit of thinking, is leading Jesse to tell lies. Then we have to deal with this bad habit in the only possible way--by forming an opposite habit of right thinking that will make Jesse grow up into a true man. One lady described a single conversation when her father cured her of lying by setting up a totally new train of thought when she was a child. 'I don't think I've ever told a lie since then,' she said.

Good Habits are the Best Teachers

Our idea of discipline isn't sporadic spurts of punishment, but the constant watchfulness and attempts that form and maintain the habits of right living. Looking at it from this perspective, the best disciplinarians are those parents who work along the methods we've indicated. Every habit of courtesy, consideration, order, neatness, punctuality, or truthfulness, is a teacher itself, and each of these habits manages life with unfailing diligence.

A habit is formed very easily, and compels right action strongly. Most parents would work diligently if every month of work could guarantee their children a large amount of money in the future. But a single month is all it takes to begin to form a habit in his child that will be so valuable that mere money is trivial in comparison. We've often emphasized that modern science has discovered a great aid for educationalists--the fact that every habit of life makes a physical impression in the brain tissue. Everyone knows that we think in the way we're used to thinking, and we do the things we're used to doing. Ever since man began to notice how his own mind worked, this law of habit has been common knowledge, and has been acted on more or less by parents and others who raise children. A well-brought-up child is always a child who has been carefully trained to have good habits. But it's only been in our current time that we've known how to lay down definite laws about forming habits. Until now, any mother who wanted to train her children to have a specific habit was discouraged by a sense of helplessness.

Always Reminding

'It seems like I'm always reminding her'--to keep her closet neat, or to hold her head up and speak politely, or to be prompt and careful when doing a task, says the poor mother, with tears in her eyes. And, to be sure, this constant reminding is wearying for the mother and discouraging because it's so hopeless. She continues to remind only to clear her own conscience, because she stopped expecting any results a long time ago. And everyone knows how dreary a task can be without hope. But maybe the child's own mother doesn't realize how incredibly wearisome this unproductive nagging is to the child. At first he's annoyed and impatient under the chatter of idle words. Then he tolerates it because it's inevitable, and, finally, he's hardly even aware that she's said it. Does this make an impression on his character, truly form the habit? No. All this effort is wasted. The child does the thing when he doesn't have any other choice, but he evades it as often as he can. And his poor disappointed mother says, 'I know I've tried as hard as anyone to instill good habits in my child, but I've failed.' She's not totally disheartened, though. Her children may not have the habits she wanted to train in them, but they grow up to be warm-hearted, good-natured, bright adults, children that she has no need to be ashamed of. Still, her sense of failure is something to be taken seriously.

Perhaps our failures in life are mostly due to our own faults. For that reason alone, it's not enough to send children into the world with no more than the character they inherit from their parents.

Some Practical Suggestions

Let me offer a few specific practical suggestions to the parent who wants to deal seriously with a bad habit. First--Remember that this bad habit has made a real, physical impression in the brain. Second--There's only one way to obliterate that physical impression, and that's to absolutely stop the habit for awhile, say, six to eight weeks. Third--During this six to eight week interval, new growth in the form of new cell connections are somehow being created, and the physical foundation of the bad habit is being naturally healed. Fourth--But the only way to get this to happen is to introduce some new habit that's as appealing to the child as the wrong bad habit you want to cure. Fifth--Since the bad habit generally comes from some fault in the child's character, it shouldn't be too difficult for the parent, who knows his character better than anyone, to introduce the opposite good habit. Sixth--During a time of cheerful conversation between parent and child, use a tale or example or other way to introduce the new idea. Get the child's will on your side. Seventh--Don't tell him to do the new thing. Instead, quietly and cheerfully watch to see that he does it in every instance. Diligently watch, and during this whole time, keep stimulating the new idea until it captures the child's imagination. Eighth--Watch extra carefully for any recurrence of the bad habit. Ninth--If the old habit pops up, don't let it go. Let your disapproving estrangement be felt acutely as a kind of punishment. Let the child feel ashamed not only because he did something wrong, but because he did wrong when it was just as easy to avoid doing wrong and do the right thing. Most of all, be disciplined in praying and teach your child to rely on God's help in this spiritual battle while not neglecting to work hard himself since it can't be done without his own effort.

The Nosy Child

Sarah is an inquisitive little girl. Her mother is surprised and not always pleased to find out that her little daughter is constantly trying to find things out. Even the servants talk among themselves about her prying and poking. If her mother is engaged in conversation with a guest or the nurse, there's Sarah, right beside her, from out of nowhere. If a confidential letter is being read aloud, Sarah manages to be within earshot. When her mother thinks she's put a certain book out of reach where the children won't find it, Sarah volunteers to bring it out. If she tells her husband that the cook has asked for a couple days off, Sarah jumps up and volunteers all the details about why. 'I really don't know what to do about her. It's difficult to put my foot down and insist that she shouldn't know about this or that. Each individual thing in itself is harmless, but it's unnerving to have a child who's always poking around looking for gossipy information.' Yes, it is tiresome, but it's no cause for despair. It's not even a reason to think badly of Sarah, or accept the inevitable.

The Fault in Her Character

Attributing Sarah's problem to an excess of curiosity that's gotten out of hand, her mother looks for the positive quality that this stems from, and she feels encouraged about Sarah. Her problem is a passionate desire for knowledge that's gone too far and has been allowed to occupy itself on unworthy objects. When an opportune moment comes, Sarah should be introduced to some fascinating subject, such as nature, that will occupy all of her prying tendencies. Once the new idea has taken possession of the little girl, there should be some discussion about how unworthy it is to fill one's mind with trivial matters so that there's no room for anything really interesting to get in. For a few consecutive weeks, make sure that Sarah's mind is too busy with big matters to entertain trivial ones. Then, once the nosy habit has been checked, encourage her active mind in some kind of definite progressive work on subjects that are worthwhile. Then Sarah's nosy curiosity will no longer to be a trial to her parents.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 173-174

Good Habits are the Best Teachers

Our idea of discipline isn't sporadic spurts of punishment, but the constant watchfulness and attempts that form and maintain the habits of right living. Looking at it from this perspective, the best disciplinarians are those parents who work along the methods we've indicated. Every habit of courtesy, consideration, order, neatness, punctuality, or truthfulness, is a teacher itself, and each of these habits manages life with unfailing diligence.

A habit is formed very easily, and compels right action strongly. Most parents would work diligently if every month of work could guarantee their children a large amount of money in the future. But a single month is all it takes to begin to form a habit in his child that will be so valuable that mere money is trivial in comparison. We've often emphasized that modern science has discovered a great aid for educationalists--the fact that every habit of life makes a physical impression in the brain tissue. Everyone knows that we think in the way we're used to thinking, and we do the things we're used to doing. Ever since man began to notice how his own mind worked, this law of habit has been common knowledge, and has been acted on more or less by parents and others who raise children. A well-brought-up child is always a child who has been carefully trained to have good habits. But it's only been in our current time that we've known how to lay down definite laws about forming habits. Until now, any mother who wanted to train her children to have a specific habit was discouraged by a sense of helplessness.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 199

But our feelings depend on what we are, just like our thoughts. We tend to have the kinds of feelings about things that we've become used to feeling. But the point I want to make is that our feelings can be trained, and by educating the feelings, we can modify the character. A serious risk in this day and age is that we might exchange the delicate task of educating the feelings for the simpler task of blunting them. This is almost inevitable in a system where training is given to students as a group. But it doesn't necessarily have to happen, because the attitude of the head teacher is almost always spread to the whole school. Still, the perfect blossoming of feelings can only be preserved under individual care and instruction--in other words, it can only be done by parents!

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 201-202

People are Differentiated by their Ability to Appreciate or Depreciate

The habit of feeling appreciative is a source of peaceful joy to the person who possesses this attitude, and it makes the people in contact with him relaxed and contented. The habit of criticizing everything, on the other hand, might stimulate a bit of excitement because it appeals to the ego--it says, 'I dislike this person or thing, which proves that I know more and am superior to other people.' That kind of attitude disturbs tranquility. It puts a person out of harmony with himself and his surroundings. No stable contentment comes of depreciation. Yet, even when dealing with our children's feelings in this area, we have to remember that the only tools at our disposal are tact, sympathy, and communicated feelings. Feelings aren't like thoughts that can be reasoned with. They aren't moral or immoral by themselves, so we can't praise them or chastise them. We have to be unassertive when we deal with these feelings in our children, and diligently watchful so that a careless slip doesn't bruise a tender blossom of feeling.

There's Danger in Teasing

Here's the problem with the habit of joking banter in family conversation: a little bit is fine and perfectly harmless, but this kind of fun should be used with a great deal of tact, especially by the adults. Children understand each other very well, so there's less risk of hurt feelings from a tormenting peer than there is from a respected grown-up.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 213

Children Must be Trained to Be Truthful

It's good to bring the subject of truthfulness to the attention of parents because, although children may be more prone to one tendency than another, truthfulness doesn't come by nature any more than the multiplication tables do. A child who seems totally truthful isn't that way by chance. He's been carefully trained to be truthful, even if his training has been indirect and unconscious. It's better to take the trouble to cultivate the habit of truth than to deal with lying later on.

Moral teaching should be as simple, direct and definite as intellectual lessons. It should be presented with religious authority and inspired by religious impulses, but not limited to the Scriptural mandate or Biblical penalties against lying.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 228

The Teacher Should Help the Children Develop Habits

Scientific evidence limits the kind of work we can do in the area of developing the so-called faculties, but it expands what we can do in the area of forming habits. We have nothing new to announce about habits. Thomas a Kempis said, 'One custom overcomes another one,' in the 1400's, and that still says it all. But now physiologists have discovered why this law of habit works. We know that a parent's most important duty is to form the right habits of thinking and behaving in his child. We know that this can be done successfully for every child within a specific timeframe. But we've already discussed all of this. All that's needed is to remind parents of what they already know.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 233

Here are the things we believe:

1. Temperament, intelligence, and talent are things we're pretty much born with.

2. Character is something that's achieved. It's the one practical goal that's attainable for anyone, child or adult.

3. All real progress in individuals, families or nations, is in the aspect of character.

4. Therefore, directing and helping character development is education's main priority.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 234-239

What is character?

It's what results from conduct; it's the consequence of what we do. In other words, a person becomes whatever he makes of himself by the thoughts he's allowed himself to think, the words he's spoken, and the deeds he's done.

Where does conduct itself come from?

For the most part, it comes from our habitual ways of thinking. We think in the way we're used to thinking, and, therefore, we do what we're used to doing.

And where do these habits of thinking and doing come from?

Generally, they originate in the temperament we inherited. A person who is generous, or stubborn, or short-fused, or devout, is usually that way because that strain of temperament runs in his family.

Ways to Modify Temperament

Are there any ways of modifying the temperament we inherit?

Yes. Marriage can bring fresh blood to the gene pool and modify the temperament of a race. Education can modify the temperament of an individual.

Life-History of a Habit

How can a bad habit that was passed on genetically be corrected?

By developing the opposite good habit. As Thomas a Kempis said, 'One habit overcomes another one.'

The Beginning of a Habit

Let's trace the beginning of a habit.

Every action comes from a thought. Every thought modifies the physical structure of the brain tissue a little. I mean that the nerve substance of the brain grows in response to the kind of thoughts we think. Habits of action are the result of habits of thought. A person who tends to think, 'That's good enough, it'll do,' or, 'It doesn't really matter,' is forming a habit of negligent and sloppy work.

Correcting a Bad Habit

How can this kind of bad habit be corrected?

By introducing the opposite kinds of thoughts, which will lead to the opposite kinds of actions. 'This must be done well because . . .'

Is it enough to think that kind of a thought only once?

No. The stimulus of the new idea needs to be applied again and again until it's at home and comfortable enough in the mind to arise involuntarily and automatically.

Involuntary Thought

What do you mean by involuntary thought?

The brain is at work unceasingly. It's always thinking, or, actually, always being acted upon by thought in the same way that a piano is played by the fingers of the pianist.

Is the person aware of all of the thoughts that act on the brain?

No, the person is only aware of those that are new and different. The old, familiar way of thinking continues to beat on the mind without the person even being conscious of it.

What We Do Depends on Unconscious Thinking

What is this kind of thought called?

Involuntary thinking, or unconscious cerebration [brain action].

Why is that important to an educator?

Because most of our actions come from thoughts that we aren't even aware of, or that are involuntary.

Is there any way to alter the direction of our unconscious thoughts?

Yes, by diverting them into a new path.

The unconscious thoughts of a greedy child are always in the area of candy and treats. How can this be corrected?

By introducing a new idea, such as the pleasure of giving joy to others by sharing these good things.

Wellsprings of Action

Is a greedy child capable of receiving this kind of new idea?

Absolutely. Benevolence--the desire to do something good for someone else--is one of the wellsprings of action that's in every heart. It only needs to be stimuated to put it into action.

Can you give an example to prove this?


Mungo Park, the missionary, was dying of thirst, hunger and exhaustion in the African desert when he found himself near a tribe of cannibals. He gave himself up for lost, but a woman from the tribe found him and took pity on him. She brought him some milk, hid him, and nourished him until he was recovered enough to take care of himself.

Are there other wellsprings of action that can be touched and have an effect in every human being?

Yes. The desire to know, the desire for the company of others, the desire to be noticed for some distinction, the desire for wealth, friendship, gratitude are just a few. In fact, it's not possible to inspire a human being to any good and noble deed without touching one of these responsive wellsprings.

Then how is it possible for human beings to do such wrong things?


Every good feeling has its opposite bad feeling--bad wellsprings also waiting to be stimulated. Malevolence is against benevolence. It's just as easy to imagine that the tribal woman might have been the first to devour the same man she nourished and protected if one of her tribe had given impulse to the wellspring of hatred that was within her.

Knowing that we all have these internal impulses, what is the teacher's duty?

He needs to familiarize himself with the wellsprings of action that are within humans and learn how to touch them with wisdom, gentleness and moderation so that the child, without being totally aware of it, is being led into good habits that will help him to live a good life.

Habits of a Good Life

Habits of Well-Raised People

What are some of those habits of good living?

Diligence, reverence, gentleness, truthfulness, promptness, neatness, courtesy--actually, all of the graces and virtues that people have who have been raised well.

Will simply stimulating one of these wellsprings of action once, such as curiosity, or the desire to know, be enough for the child to develop a habit?

No, the stimulus has to be repeated, and the behavior that it inspires needs to be done again and again before the new habit is formed.

What common mistake do people make in forming habits?

They let lapses happen. For instance, they might train a child to shut the door after himself twenty times, but then allow him to leave it open the twenty-first time.

What's the result of such a lapse?

The training has to be done all over again because the physical growth of brain tissue and forming of cell connections that accommodates the new habit has been disturbed. The result seems to be the same kind as when a wound in the skin is disturbed just when the healing process is knitting the flesh back together.

Time Needs to Be Committed to Forming the New Habit

So then, the teacher should commit to a certain time period in order to form habits? How long does it take to replace a bad habit with the opposite good one?

About 4-6 weeks of constant diligence should be enough time.

But that seems like an impossible task for the teacher to be constantly vigilant and careful for that long!

Perhaps, but it's no more time than a parent would spend nursing a child through a physical illness like the measles or scarlet fever.

So then, a person's thoughts and actions can be regulated mechanically, so to speak, by setting up the right nerve paths in the brain?

Sort of, but only in the same sense that you could say that the piano keys are what produce the music.

Thoughts Follow in Sequence

But don't the thoughts, which are like the fingers of the piano player, run their course without the person being fully conscious of his thought process?

Yes, they do. I'm not talking about vague, flitting thoughts, but definite thoughts that run their course and follow one another in a mostly logical sequence according to what the person has gotten used to thinking.

Can you illustrate this?

Mathematicians have been known to think out some pretty complicated problems in their sleep. Poets are able to improvise, authors can reel off pages of text without any prior plan or deliberate intention of writing what comes out onto the paper. Their thoughts follow each other according to whatever habits of thinking they've already formed.

Thoughts Travel Into New Developments

Do you mean that thoughts go around and around a subject like horses working a grain mill?

No. It's more like a horse pulling a carriage, always staying on the same high road, but following that road into new, ever-changing scenic landscapes.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 289-290

Humility is the Highest Road to Godly Character

This matter of humility isn't just a path to godly character, but might possibly be the highest road to godly character. It's a noble effort, and we suggest it to parents because we're confident that no endeavor is too difficult, no aim too high for those who are doing the most important part of advancing Christ's Kingdom by raising godly children.

Volume 3, School Education, Preface

The primary principles of authority and submission are discussed first because they're so foundational. But, since they are so foundational, they should be present, but they shouldn't be noticable, in the same way that the foundation of a house is there providing structure but isn't visible. And submission to authority should be instilled by respecting the children's personalities. In order to give children the space to develop freely in the way that's right for them, parents and teachers need to adopt an attitude of 'masterly inactivity.'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 3

Arbitrary Rule Isn't Always a Failure

We have to admit that arbitrary rule wasn't a complete failure. It turned out men and women who were reliable, competent, trained, self-controlled, and well-mannered. In our own moments of doubt, we look at the children of our day and age and wonder whether they'll measure up to their fathers and grandfathers. But we don't need to worry. Educational thought evolves like the incoming tide. The waves come and go and you can't tell whether the tide is ebbing or flowing, but if you wait an hour, it will be obvious.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 6-8

Once God Almighty is dethroned, all human authority follows--kings, those given roles of authority in nations, even parents in authority over their own families. This teaching says that every act of authority is an infringement of the rights of man or child [could this be where the concept of non-coercive parenting comes from?] Children are to be brought up right from the start deciding for themselves, doing what seems right in their own eyes. They're governed by their own reason, which supposedly learns to choose the right thing from its own mistakes by experiencing right and wrong choices. Life has natural consequences for those who violate the law of reason. Children should be allowed to learn those laws by experiencing the penalties of those consequences. 'You must' and 'you mustn't' are to be eliminated from a parent's vocabulary. Spencer's scheme for the emancipation of children is so complete and thorough that he even objects to studying languages in school because, as he says, the rules of grammar violate the concept of liberty!

Authority is not Automatic or Inborn, but Appointed

Spencer's contributions to educational thought are so valuable that many parents read his work and embrace all of it without realizing that his educational ideas are a small part of his whole philosophy--and they might not agree with rest of his ideas. They accept his teaching when it says to bring up children without any authority so that they'll have room for self-development without realizing that Spencer's life work as a social Darwinist is to eradicate the concept of authority from the universe. He renounces the authority of parents as one link in the chain binding the universe to God. And he's correct that none of us has any right to exercise authority in anything, great or small, unless we acknowledge and accept our authority roles as positions appointed by the one supreme and ultimate Authority. When we peruse his book about education, [Essays on Education? The Rights of Children?] although it's small and easy to read, we need to remember that, by reading it, we're putting ourselves under the leading of a philosopher who doesn't overlook or leave out anything. He regards the most trivial things from the far-sighted perspective of their final result. He doesn't want children obediently doing as they're told because he's afraid that they'll grow up and learn to obey another authority outside their own reason--that authority which we believe is ordained by God [or perhaps even God Himself].

Volume 3, School Education, pg 9-20

Authority and Submission are Fundamental Principles

One of the answers is reconstructing a whole new philosophy. This new philosophy is like a new temple for our spirits, like a house not built by human hands. Part of its foundation is restoring the concept of Authority to its traditional place, accepting it as a fact. It can't be accounted for any more than the law of gravity can. The concept of Authority is as binding and universal in the moral sense as gravity is in the physical sense. And fitting together with the concept of Authority like a ball fits into a socket is Submission. The concept of Submission is also universal and fundamental. Authority and Submission work together like two halves of a pair of scissors. All possibilities of law and order, government and progress hang on the joint concept of Authority and Submission. Benjamin Kidd's book Social Evolution helped draw attention to these two fundamental concepts. He asked questions such as, Why should a football team obey its captain? Why should an army obey its commanding officer? Why should a crowd on the street be controlled by two or three policemen? Why should anybody bother to respect property when so many want what so few have? To be more direct, why should there be rule and order in the world instead of anarchy? Benjamin Kidd turns to Reason to answer these questions--but she has no answer to give. The best she can offer is the appeal to self-interest: individually and as a group, we tend to do whatever is shown to be in our best interest. But how does that account for the sailors who stood at attention when commanded and drowned as their ship 'The Royal George' sank? Or the six hundred who rode 'into the valley of death' because it was,

'Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die'?

Deep reflection can find only one possible motivation for that kind of sacrificial obedience: the single simple motive of authority acting on submission. These men were told to do something, so they did it. It's as simple as that. And our hearts confirm that they did the right thing. We consider such things heroic, but we should note that these wonderful examples of human nature at its best can be boiled down to willingly obeying authority. Abuse of authority causes slavery and tyranny, but even they couldn't exist if they weren't founded on fundamental principles of human nature. All of us have it in us to serve or to lead, depending on the need of situation. To dream of complete freedom with every man his own sole governor is as pointless as dreaming of a world where apples don't always drop to the ground from the tree, but fly off in all different directions.

The Work of Rationalistic Philosophers is Inevitable

What is Authority? The fact that we're even asking the question shows how inevitable the work of rationalistic philosophers has been in the evolution of thinking. We owe them our deliverance from tyrants in both governments and families.

Rationalistic philosophers have provided a service by asserting and proving that every soul is born free with an inalienable right to liberty, and that offending the liberty of another human is a serious crime. They're right. Children are so submissive and weak that it's tempting for teachers and parents to become like dictators and say, 'Do this because I said so.' Therefore, it's teachers and parents, more than anyone else, who are indebted to rationalistic philosophers for reminding them about freedom, especially children's right to freedom within the family. This seems to be the way God educates the world. It isn't just one good custom that can 'corrupt a world,' but one infallible principle can corrupt, too. When a true principle comes to light in the mind of a philosopher, he sees its truth. It possesses him until that's all he sees and he forgets that it's not the whole truth. So he proclaims it as if it's the only truth there is until he becomes ridiculous. Then, in reaction, the totally opposite point is illuminated and glorified in the same way by the next school of thought. Finally, it's discerned that neither principle is the complete truth, but that men need the balance of both to live by.

Authority is Vested in the Office

It's this point and counterpoint of minds that has helped us to correct our concept of authority. It wasn't long ago, in fact, within our lifetimes, that we were on dangerous ground. We acted like authority was vested in certain people, and that arbitrary actions were appropriate for them, and that it was good for others to slavishly obey them. We got that notion of government from religion. We believed in the 'divine right' of kings and parents because we thought it was God's arbitrary will for it to be that way. But now we know better. Now we know that authority rests in the office and not the person. The moment the person in the authoritative role acts like dictating is his personal attribute, he forfeits his authority. A person in authority is a person who has been authorized. And he's been authorized by someone that he's under authority to himself. A person under authority is holding and fulfilling a trust. Every time he asserts his own self, or commands on the whim of his own will, he stops being authorized and authoritative, and becomes arbitrary and domineering. Arbitrary domineering tyrants require punishments for minor infractions to stay in control. That's where the confusion about the relationship between authority and punishment comes from. A tyrant rules by terror. He punishes right and left to maintain his power. But a person who's vested with authority doesn't need punishment to back him up because a higher authority is behind him, and the corresponding principle of submission is in front of him.

Chapter 2 - Submission and Authority in the Home and in the School

Part II. How Authority Behaves

Mistakes made on Principle

Mr. Augustus Hare has what some would call a bad memory--he remembers every single insult and offense that's ever been done to him since his birth! That's why his book, The Story of My Life, isn't pleasant reading, even though it's full of interesting details. But that's just more evidence we need to consider about childhood. Hare has provided us with a very valuable lesson about childhood--although his instruction tells us more about what not to do! His adoptive mother's fine character and beautiful nature might never have been known to the world if he hadn't published her book, Memorials of a Quiet Life. She dearly loved the son she adopted, but she misinterpreted her role as mother. Yet the mistakes aren't the errors of an unworthy or even an ordinary woman. Mrs. Hare always acted on principle. When she erred, it was because the principle was faulty. She mixed up the two principles of authority and absolute rule. She thought there was some intrinsic value in the arbitrary actions of a parent, and the better a child is at doing what he's told, the better a person he is. The more outrageous the command, the better the child for obeying it. Here's an example [from Augustus's memoirs] of what even a loving mother can do under such confusion: 'In the past, I had never been allowed to have anything but roast mutton and rice pudding for dinner. But now everything was different. The most delicious puddings were talked about, described in tempting, mouth-watering detail, until I became, not so much greedy, but curious in wonder about them. Finally, the grand moment arrived. The wonderful puddings were set on the table right in front of me. But then, just as I was about to take my first bite, they were snatched away and I was ordered to get up and take them to a poor family who lived in the village. I remember that, although I didn't care a bit about the deprivation of the delicacies, I did care about Lea the cook's outrage at the fate of her beautiful puddings. But, after all, it wasn't my fault.' And here's another example of an arbitrary ruling: 'Even the pleasures of being home on Sundays were spoiled in the summer because my mother gave in to Aunt Esther's suggestion that I should be locked in the church vestry [a room where clergy store robes and/or hold meetings] between services with a sandwich for dinner. The three hours I had to spend there every week were miserable. Although I didn't expect to see ghosts, the total isolation of Hurstmonceaux church, which was in the middle of nowhere, made me feel eerie during my imprisonment. Sometimes I would climb over the tomb of the two Lords Dacre. It rises like a screen up one side of the room. I'd be overtaken with a vague horror by the two statues lying down on top of it silently and unearthly still, making even a rat scampering across the floor seem as loud as a whirlwind. . . . It was sort of a comfort to me during the church service to forcefully repeat all the curses in Psalms, the ones where David showed his most shocking hatred, and apply them to Aunt Esther and people like her. I supposed that, since all the Psalms were considered beautiful and used by the Church of England for edification, their sentiments must have been acceptable.'

And yet, when his mother trusted her own instinct instead of unsound principles, she was actually very wise: 'I find that, when giving an order to a child, it's always better not to check up on him to see if he obeys, but to take it for granted that he'll do it. If a parent seems to doubt that the child will obey, then there's room for the child to hesitate, 'Should I do it, yes or no?' If you don't even appear to question the possibility that he might not comply, he'll feel that a trust has been committed to him, and he'll keep it. It's best to never repeat a command, or to answer questions about why it should be done.'

The Difference Between Authority and Absolute Rule

Like many other rulers, Mrs. Hare seems to have erred, not because of laziness or harshness, but because she never defined for herself the nature of the authority she had to exercise. Absolute Rule is independent or self-derived power. Authority, on the other hand, is neither independent nor self-derived. In Matthew 8:9, the centurion says, 'I'm also a man placed under authority, and in charge of soldiers. I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; to another I say, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it.'

This shows us the powers and limits of authority. The centurion is placed under authority, or, we might say, authorized. That's why he's able to say to one soldier, 'go,' and to another, 'come,' and to a third, 'do this,' with the calm assurance that it will all be done just the way he said. He holds his very position for that purpose--to make sure that specific things get done. He is himself a servant with specific tasks, although his are the tasks of authority. Even Jesus Himself assumed this position. He said, 'I didn't come to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.' That was His appointment, and the permanent rule of His life. That's why He was able to speak as someone who had authority. He Himself knew that he had been given that commission and was backed up by a higher authority.

How Absolute Rule Acts

True authority isn't unpredictable--demanding one minute, harsh the next, and then suddenly indulgent. That's how absolute rule acts. Since it's self-derived, it has to stay in power by its own force. That's why it has to be impatient, resentful, always on guard for the slightest transgression, and quickly offended. Absolute Rule has a stiff code of penalties, whether it's in a kingdom, a school, or a family. It has a long list of commands and rules to provide a stern barrier, protecting the terrible majesty of the tyrant. We all have a natural tendency to assume self-derived power, even the meekest ones of us. That's why we need to be on guard. This tendency is exhibited just as much in letting duties slide and granting special privileges as in inflicting punishments. It's flattering when a child approaches us in that charming, pleading way that any monkey can mimic, and begs, 'Pleeease let me stay home with you this morning, just this once!' If we give in, the next stage becomes, 'I don't want to go!' and finally, 'I won't!' At that point, the parent or teacher who's been relying on the power of his own autocracy will learn that children can be dictators, too--they can be alarmingly stubborn and belligerent.

How Authority Acts

Authority isn't harsh or indulgent. She is gentle, and easy to reason with about nonessential matters--because she's uncompromising when it comes to matters of real importance. For those matters, there's always an established principle. For example, parents and teachers have no right to trifle with issues that affect the health or duty of their children. They don't have authority to allow excessive indulgences--like too much candy--or habits that compromise health. They also can't allow children to shirk any clear-cut duty regarding obedience, courtesy, respect or work. Authority is always alert. She always knows what's going on and where the tendencies towards weakness are. She fulfills the command that 'he who rules should do so with conscientiousness.' [Romans 12:8] But she's also strong enough to fulfill the other part of that command: 'Let the person who shows mercy do so cheerfully.' Leniency at the right time, giving in when it's needed, is the secret of a strong government. Sometimes it's children, and not their parents, who are right about an issue. They register a complaint or resist a mandate, and now it's the children against the parent or teacher. It's best for the parent or teacher to be in the habit of quickly reviewing the situation without being obvious. Then, if the children are right, it will be possible for the adult to gather his wits in time to yield the point graciously, and send the children away warmed with love and loyalty.

The Qualities a Ruler Should Have

Nobody understood this better than Queen Elizabeth. She managed to compartmentalize her personality in such a way that she could be a model ruler, and, at the same time, a woman who had all the distinguishing delicacies and vulnerabilities of her femininity. It was said that she knew when and how to give in. Her skill at dealing with dangerous crises was highly praised by historians. But it's possible that it wasn't so much skill as it was tact that comes from having the qualities that people in authority should have. Those qualities include the humble reserve of one who's been given an appointed duty, the willingness to think through an issue and listen to advice and consider suggestions, the realization that she wasn't the be-all and end-all because she was a queen, but that she existed to serve her people, and the quick, compassionate, open-minded sympathy that made her able to see other sides of an issue besides her own, or, often, in preference to her own. These qualities are just as appropriate for the 'ruler' of a family or classroom as they are for the ruler of a kingdom. If a parent has these qualities, he'll be able to manage and control a lively young brood full of energy and high spirits as well as Elizabeth was able to manage her kingdom at a time when men's minds were grappling with new ways of thinking and life was intoxicating with the delights of new possibilities.

Mechanical Obedience and Reasonable Obedience

It's not easy to distinguish the line between mechanical and reasonable obedience. I heard a very successful mother say, 'I teach my children obedience by the time they're a year old,' and that does seem to me the age when children should begin to have the habit of obeying lawful authority that will make their lives easier and more comfortable. Mr. Huxley told a story of a man who had been a private but had left the army. He had bought his Sunday dinner from the deli and was carrying it home. A sergeant recognized by the way he walked that he was a retired soldier and decided to play a practical joke on him. He called out, 'Atten-TION!' and the man snapped to attention while his meat and potatoes rolled into the gutter. This kind of response is a matter of nerves and muscles, an automatic habit that has nothing to do with deliberate moral consciousness. It's fashionable these days to write off anything except reasonable obedience, as if we were creatures made of nothing but mind and spirit, or as if our bodies responded to a bidding of the spirit as immediately as a ship responds to the turn of the helm. But, unfortunately, we're weak. Our bodies only respond to spiritual biddings if we've trained them to respond in automatic mechanical obedience. We all know children who are wholeheartedly willing to do the right thing mentally, but their bodily inertia is strong enough to resist torrents of good intentions and noble resolutions. If we want our children to be able to keep their bodies under control when they grow up, we need to do it for them now, while they're still young.

Submission's Response to Authority is a Natural Function

The daily routine of obedience in small things helps children to fulfill a natural function--submission's response to authority. Some might say that a child who has acquired the habit of involuntary, mechanical response has lost that much power as a free moral agent. But the actions that are usually trained in this way are physical efforts: 'Hurry back,' 'Sit up straight,' 'Tie your shoes quickly.' They're part of the same training that it takes to master the body so that it's a machine that's able to do many different things.

To be able to manipulate a machine like a computer keyboard or a bicycle, the most important element is practice. It takes being able to do it automatically, without having to think about it. Giving a child this kind of power over his own human machine, in the beginning because someone else is making him, but later because he's making him do it himself, helps to make a man of him.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 20-21

The Habit of Prompt Obedience

We hear all the time that people don't fail in life because they lack good intentions. Usually it's that their physical bodies have never acquired the habit of prompt, involuntary obedience. The man who has the power to make himself do what his mind wills can achieve anything. It's up to parents to give their children this kind of power by making it a matter of habit. Someone may ask, isn't it better and superior to train children to always respond to spiritual direction as it speaks through their conscience? The answer is that we can do both. Most conscientious parents are going to involve their child's conscience in the course of their upbringing. And life itself will provide enough opportunities in the lives of both children and grown ups when decisions will need to made based on spiritual reasons, times when it will be up to us to consciously and voluntarily choose good and refuse evil because we know that's God's will for us.

The Effort of Decision

One famous preacher was right when he said that the effort of decision is the greatest effort in life. We know it's true from our own experience: should we take this action or that? Should we buy cut pile or loop pile carpet? Should we send our son to this school, or that one? We all know how difficult such decisions can be, and the stress and wear on the nerves caused by a heavy decision is apparent by the nervous headache we sometimes get afterwards. That's why it's a blessing that we're created so that many of our decisions are already made for us. Ninety nine out of a hundred things we do are done, for better or worse, by habit. Our brain tissues have a wonderful ability to record repeated actions and, with the right stimulus, reproduce them. That helps to ease the burden of life, making it easier for us to be light and happy like children, which is what God intended. Yet, even with this provision for building habits, it's an appalling shock to find that there are lots of thoughtful parents whose children spend their lives in day-long struggles over decisions that their parents should have settled for them. Megan is nervous, high-strung, her mind can't keep still, she's obsessively organized, looks pale, and is developing compulsive mannerisms. She's taken to the doctor. He doesn't know much about her home life and decides that she's exhibiting symptoms of over-pressure. He suggests that Megan not do school lessons for six months, be taken to a different location for a change of air, and be put on a bland diet. Somehow none of that helps. She doesn't improve, and the parents fail to see that it wasn't the routine of her school lessons causing the exhaustion, but the fact that poor Megan is having to go through the labor of decision-making twenty times a day. Added to that is the stress of daily battles of will to get her own way. Every trivial matter in the course of a day becomes an issue of debate, nothing is ever just a matter of course. The child always wants to do it some other way, or to do something else altogether, and usually does. No wonder she's so worn out!

Volume 3, School Education, pg 64

In other words, the brain is where habit starts. Education has an unlimited potential to teach a child the best habits of behavior, and the most noble habits of thought. Education can make sure that these wonderful habits are etched deep into the mind, ready to be spurred to action with the right stimulus. We believe all of this. Even more, we believe that the possibility for a rational education depends on the physiological foundation of habits etched in the brain. This is a new discovery, only learned in our generation.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 66

We as teachers have two concerns. First, we need to facilitate this by exposing children to the right ideas at the right time, and making sure that children have good habits that will allow them to make the most of their exposure to these ideas. And second, we need to stay out of the way so that our interference doesn't prevent the very relationships we want them to form.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 68-69

We also suggested that, once a relationship is made, it leaves a permanent mark in the tissue of the brain. In other words, the physical impression that a thought or experiential memory leaves on the brain has the potential to become a habit. About ninety percent of our lives runs according to habit. So, if we want to be successful at education, we need to know something about the psychological and physical aspects of habit. We need to know how to start a habit and how to develop it. And we need to understand that a person being educated has two tasks--forming habits and assimilating ideas.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 71

Every habit we've ever formed originated with an initial idea. And every idea we receive is capable of initiating a habit of thinking or doing.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 87

We know that 'one good habit can replace a bad one,' and that one idea can displace another one. We don't give up and abandon a child to his selfishness, greed, or laziness. These are faults that can be treated. A child who has experienced a bad habit cured with his mother's help will be more likely to believe in the possibility that others can be reformed, and that simple, practical methods can be effective.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 98

As far as we can tell, Herbart's own theory of education is mostly ethical rather than intellectual. In other words, developing and sustaining the intellect is only secondary. Building character is the first priority for humans, because, a) if we train character, then intellectual 'development' will take care of itself, and, b) the lessons created for intellectual learning have high value for the character, either by training the discipline or stimulating character. We're familiar with this concept. We've always taught that building character is the goal of education. So far, we're in total agreement with Herbart, but, if we may say so, what we've learned of physiology has brought us to a clearly defined aim that Herbart desired but never could reach.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 99-100

Studying the vague area between mind and matter is what's most helpful to educators. The brain is where habit originates. The culture of habit is a physical endeavor, to a certain degree. The discipline of habit makes up a third of education. The advances in the field of physical science give us an advantage that Herbart didn't have fifty years ago. We 're in total agreement with him about the importance of great formative ideas in the education of children, but in addition to formative ideas, we believe in the forming of habits, and we work to form habits that will effect the physical tissue of the brain. Character doesn't just come from exposing children to great ideas. It's also the result of habits that we strive to instill based on those ideas. We recognize both principles--idea and habit. The result is that we have a wide range of possibilities in education, practical methods, and definite aim. Our goal is to produce a human being who is the best he can be physically, intellectually, ethically and spiritually; a person who will have the enthusiasm of religion, full life, nature, knowledge, art, and physical work. And we're not clueless about how to achieve it. I've tried to share in a previous chapter what I see as the root problem with Herbart's educational philosophy: it tends to eliminate individual personality, and therefore leads to odd futilities in teaching. It's more pleasing to note that certain basic ideas that have been around for a long time and are part of our own educational scheme, also appealed just as much to a brilliant, original thinker like Herbart.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 104

All we're saying is that every child should be brought up with a sense that they're under authority when it comes to governing, managing and training their bodies. They should recognize that health is their responsibility, and that toying with their health, either deliberately or by being careless, is related to suicide. Their life is held in trust by a Supreme Authority.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 104-109

Use of Habit in Physical Training

It's good for a child to learn to control his body and keep it under subjection to his parents, and, as he matures, to his own will, and, even more than that, to the God who made him. We always need to keep ourselves under subjection to God because that's the very least that's required of us. But if we had to constantly make ourselves be subject to those in authority over us all the time, it would take a constant amount of conscious deliberate work, and life would be a struggle of constant effort. That's why staying under authority needs to become a matter of automatic habit. We all know a little about how a habit starts, and most of us recognize that habits have a physical aspect. If you say or do something often enough, it will leave a physical mark on the brain tissue, like a rut, that makes it easier to do it again, and eventually becomes automatic. When it comes to our physical body, it's easy to see that after you do something a hundred times, it starts to get easy, and after a thousand times, it becomes mechanical so that it's as easy to do it as it is to not do it. This principle is used all the time in baseball, boating, golf, cycling, and the other labors that we enjoy. But athletics develop habits of life that are half physical, half moral. If those habits aren't practiced steadily and regularly at home, then they become associated with the sport and are put on and taken off with the team uniform. It's the duty of parents to give their children these habits. They do make up part of the training of well-raised children, and it's still good to keep them in focus and not to lose sight of this aspect of raising children.


Most educated mothers carefully train their children to have a habit of restraining themselves in the area of indulgences. They feed their children healthy, appetizing foods, and their children don't crave a little of this or a taste of that. It doesn't seem to matter to these children whether they're limited to one or two pieces of candy a day, or none. Children in lower economic areas, even when they get plenty to eat and are sufficiently clothed, still seem to have an animal instinct to bask in the heat of the fire. But the real danger is that, after learning good habits at home and in the early years of school, children might lapse into bad habits as they get older. It's so easy to get in the habit of lounging on the sofa with a novel in between scheduled amusements. In past days, this kind of idleness was a matter of principle. Lazy, loitering intervals simply weren't allowed. When people weren't using their time for physical work, they were doing something useful. We might not value the cross-stitch that our grandmothers left behind, but it was better for them morally and physically than the leisure of lounging around with some light book. Maybe we tire ourselves too much with strenuous sports. It's worth considering whether it's healthy to exercise so frequently and so intensely that we have no mental or moral energy left when we're done playing.


Children who aspire to live a disciplined life should be trained from the beginning to have the habit of self-control in a crisis. This stems from having a general habit of self-control. We've all seen how ice accidents, boat accidents, fires (like the tragic disaster in Paris recently - possibly referring to the Paris Metro train fire of 1903?) could have been minimized if just one person there had kept his head and been able to organize and lead everyone else. Having presence of mind in an emergency comes from keeping control of oneself, being unaffected by small annoyances, staying cheerful about minor inconveniences, and being ready to act in minor crises. If children went into the world fully equipped with presence of mind, then we wouldn't have so many embarrassing examples of ill-tempered British men and fussy British women at foreign customs.

There wouldn't be so many people jostling for the best spots at public events. Women wouldn't be so fretted and stressed by mistakes that their maids make. All kinds of little hassles of social life would be soothed if children were trained to tolerate little physical discomforts and emotional offenses gracefully. It's good to teach children not to show when they're annoyed, because every kind of exasperation, impatience, resentfulness, or nervous irritability usually increases if it's vented, but decreases with self-control. It's good to remember that our physical actions affect our mental state as much as our mental attitudes affect us physically.


Disciplining a person's habits is never complete until he has self-disciplined habits. :-) It's not a trivial thing that doesn't matter when a preschooler makes a mess at the table, spills his milk, breaks his toys, and dawdles about his little tasks. A well-trained child enjoys achieving good habits in these things. He knows that being clean, neat, brisk and orderly are helping to make him a man, and, in his mind, a man is like a hero. Some parents don't secure good habits in their child before he starts school. They assume that school will take care of it. But habits that are only practiced at school and never at home because 'it's summer vacation,' don't really become life-long habits.

Local Habits

Habits can have a tendency to become local--in one house, a child will be neat, alert, and diligent, but he'll be messy, dawdling and lazy in another. This just shows how important it is for even young children to have self-discipline.

'Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
Only these three lead life to sovereign power.'

We all understand the concept of training the proper habits so well that I don't need to convince anyone that these habits aren't really habits if the child only does them while someone is making sure he does them. Children need constant supervision at first while they're learning, but gradually they're left to do what they should be doing on their own. Habits of behavior, posture, addressing others, tones of voice, etc., are all the habits of a gentlemanly bearing and courteous manner. They're part of the self-discipline of the physical body.

'When you first arrived, there was such courtesy
In your every movement and even in your voice, that I knew
You had to be one of the men who dines with King Arthur.'


Many good men and women regret the opportunities in their lives that have slipped through their fingers because of their passiveness. They missed the chance to do some little service or act of courtesy because they didn't notice it in time. It's a good idea to bring children up to feel a certain sense of failure if they miss a chance to relay a message, open a door, carry a package, or do some other small act of kindness that presents itself. They should also learn to seize every opportunity to learn something. It's natural for children to regard every adult they meet as a fountainhead of knowledge about some particular subject. They should be trained so that they never grow out of this inquisitiveness. Success in life depends to a large extent on how alert they are at seizing opportunities, and this skill belongs to the category of physical habits. Opportunity is often symbolized as a figure flying by so fast that there's no way to catch it except by grabbing its forelock as it approaches.

Quick Perception

Closely connected to alertness is the habit of quickly perceiving everything there is to see, hear, feel, taste and smell in a world that gives out unlimited information that can only be taken in through our five senses. A Mr. Grant did some studies of character in Naples and described the training of a young Camorrist (Camorrists are a dangerous political group notorious for violence and blackmail; nevertheless, their training methods are worth looking at). 'The major goal of his training was to teach him the habit of being observant to every minute detail, and with accuracy. Here's how they would do it: They'd be walking down the street and suddenly the instructor would ask, 'What was the woman wearing who was sitting by door of the fourth house on the last street we passed?' or, 'What were those two men talking about that we met at the corner of the third to the last street?' or, 'Where was cab number 234 asked to drive to?' or maybe, 'How tall is that house, and how wide is its upper window?' or, 'Where does that man live?' ' This is also a habit that falls under the category of physical skill, and is trained by learning to be observant in other areas. Young children are naturally quick to notice everything, but that can't be relied on. As they get older, especially as they get preoccupied with school lessons, they lose the powers of perception they had when they were little. But if they're trained to see everything around them, and to hear all there is to hear, that habit will stay with them all their lives.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 118-121

Forming Intellectual Habits

The second part of our subject is forming intellectual habits. It shouldn't take long to discuss it. We know that 'ability' means having about a half dozen of these intellectual habits. They make a person able to do whatever he wants to with his mental ability, and to use only a tenth of the wasted brain tissue to do the same amount of mental work as a person without disciplined mental habits. We also know that the mental habits we're talking about are acquired by training, they aren't a natural gift. It's been said that even genius itself is really only an unlimited ability to exert oneself. We might say that genius is the habit of exerting oneself with infinite pains, and every child is born with the capacity to do that.

We Put Blind Trust in Disciplined Subjects

We put too much blind trust in the training that's supposed to give certain mental habits. We suppose that the classics cultivate one habit, math cultivates another mental ability, and science still another. And they do, as far as each of those subjects is concerned, but they probably don't form those habits in a general sense like we expect. If you take a mathematician out of his field of math, he's no more superior than anyone else. In fact, he's apt to make a blunder like making a big hole in a door for a big cat, and a little hole for a little kitten! Studying the humanities doesn't always make a man humane--meaning broad-minded, tolerant, gentle and honest when it comes to the opinions and situations of others. It isn't the fault of the individual subjects. It's our lazy habit of trying to misuse each of these subjects as if it was some sort of a mechanical tool for plowing and planting that's to blame. Parents don't get off the hook. Even more than teachers and curriculums, it's up to them to form the mental habits that will give their children an intellectual advantage all their lives.

Some Intellectual Habits

I don't need to refer again to how habits begin. But perhaps most of us are more diligent and definite when it comes to forming physical and moral habits than we are about intellectual habits. I'll just mention a few intellectual habits that should be carefully trained in children during their early childhood. Attention is the ability to focus the whole mind on the subject at hand. Concentration is a bit different from attention because it's actively working with some problem instead of just being passively receptive. Thoroughness is the habit of not being satisfied with a vague, fuzzy understanding of a subject; the mind feels unsettled until it can gain a clearer knowledge of the subject. An encyclopedia is a great help in clearing up any confusing points. Intellectual Determination is the ability to make ourselves think of a specific subject at any given time. Most of us know how unruly our own minds are. But, if a child gets used to enjoying effort for the sake of effort, then he'll find it easier as an adult to make himself think about what he wants to think about when he wants to think about it. Accuracy isn't only taught via math. It's also taught through repeating little statements, delivering small messages and doing daily routine tasks and errands. Reflecting is the ability to mull over ideas and thoughts. It's usually well-developed in children, but it somehow gets lost with a lot of other precious natural abilities as they mature. Nothing is more pitiful than the way we let intellectual impressions pass through our minds without even making an effort to consider and retain them.


I'll just mention one more mental habit. Mr. Romanes, a young scientist, asked Darwin how he maintained his intellectual life. 'Meditation,' was his answer. Apparently Romanes placed great value on this advice. Meditation is another habit that children should acquire. Actually, it needs to be preserved more than acquired, because we believe that children are born knowing how to meditate, just like they're born knowing how to reflect. Reflection and meditation are closely related. When we reflect, we mull over knowledge we've received. When we meditate, we don't just go over the past, we let our minds wander and consider the subject from all angles and to its logical conclusion. Christians have known for a long time that spiritual progress depends a lot on meditation. In the same way, intellectual progress needs more than mere reading and studying a subject diligently. It takes an active surrendering of all of the mind's abilities to work on the task at hand. That's what the word meditate infers. It would be easy for any of us to add a dozen more intellectual habits to this list, and considering them would undoubtedly be valuable and interesting.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 126

Habit has a physical basis, and forming habits is an important part of education.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 126-128

Authority is the Foundation of Moral Teaching

First let's consider the principle of authority, which is the foundation of moral teaching as well as religious teaching. The word 'ought' comes from the verb 'to owe.' We owe a personal debt to a Lawgiver or Ruler, or whatever people want to call the final authority. Even if some choose to use the name of Buddha or Secular Humanism, they can't escape from the sense that there's a moral authority. They recognize that what they ought to do is the same as what they owe--it's a debt to some higher power or person outside of themselves. God has created us in such a way that, no matter how much we're in the dark about God's name, we can't for a minute escape from our sense of 'ought,' which is the law. The farther we are from the light of revealed truth, the more flesh-torturing and spirit-quenching the awareness of 'ought' will be. The concept of authority holds no vague anxiety for those of us who know the name of God and have the revelation of Scripture. We know what's required of us. We understand that the requirements are never dogmatic or frivolous. They're an essential part of the way things are, necessary for the moral government of the world, and necessary to satisfy the unquenchable desire that every soul has of rising to a higher kind of existence. Parents are great in the eyes of their children, and that's as it should be, but that fact should make them more careful not to forget that their authority is derived from Someone else.

Principles, Not Rules

'God doesn't allow' us to do this or that shouldn't be said all the time, but it should be consciously in the minds of parents. Parents should study the nature of divine authority in the place where it's revealed most fully: in the Gospels. There, they can see that authority works by principles, not by rules. Since they're the deputy authorities assigned to manage their household, they should consider the methods that the Divine government uses. They should discern the signs of the times, too. We tend to think that people can only act according to how much information and wisdom they have within themselves, therefore, it's right for them to do whatever seems to be right in their own eyes. In other words, every man is his own final authority about what's right and wrong. It's urgent that parents keep this tendency in mind so that they can counteract it if they need to.

Limitations of Authority

On the other hand, it's good for them to understand that authority has its limitations. They must not force unwilling compliance. Even the Divine authority doesn't compel. It shows the way and protects the misguided traveler and strengthens and guides people's ability to compel themselves. It allows a person to make a choice about whether to obey or not, rather than forcing him whether he wants to or not. When we're trying to teach morals, arbitrary actions almost always make children rebel. Parents think they're succeeding if they only rule their household, but they don't always consider the nature of their authority, the principles behind it, and its limitations.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 135-136

The Habit of Thinking Pleasant Thoughts

Moral habits--that's a subject that's on many of our minds: how to form them, and the responsibility of every parent to send their children into the world with a good collection of them. I don't need to go into that any more here. Once the moral inspiration has been planted using some of the inspiring ideas I've mentioned, the parent or teacher's next job is to keep that moral impulse at the front of the child's mind. This should be done with tact and delicacy, never with insistence. And casual opportunities should be provided to try to put those moral impulses into action. Children need to be constantly aware that it's the kind of thoughts they think that count. When a child is young enough that the parent can tell what they're thinking by looking at their face, the parent should work to give the child the habit of thinking pleasant thoughts. Every time the child's face betrays a selfish thought, or resentful or unkind thought beginning, his thoughts must be changed before he's aware of it.

Virtues that Children Should be Trained to Have

One more thing: parents should make it a point to have a clear idea of what kind of virtues they want their children to have. Impartiality, backbone, moderation, patience, humility, courage, generosity--in fact, the whole range of virtues would be an interesting subject for thinking about, teaching and finding illustrative examples. But I'd like to offer a word of caution. A child's whole concept of religion is 'being good.' He needs to know that 'being good' isn't his whole responsibility towards God, although it is a big part of it. A love relationship with God and being of service are also his duty. He owes that to God as a child owes love and service to his father, and as a subject owes it to his King. That's more than just 'being good,' although 'being good' also makes God pleased with His children.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 140-144

Habits of the Religious Life

The next thing we need to consider is laying down the habits that distinguish a religious life. We don't need to go over the physical evidence for the power that habits have. My purpose right now is to look at how much we can use this power to help develop the religious life of our children. Let's consider how religious habits relate to thought, attitude, life, and words. Those are all actually the same thing because everything we do and say starts in our thoughts, even though we may not be consciously aware of what we're thinking.

The Habit of Having God in our Thoughts

The Bible says that the wicked 'don't have God in all their thoughts.' But it might be said that children have God in all of their thoughts: their restful thoughts, their dutiful thoughts, their thoughts of loving and giving and serving, and the abundance of beautiful thoughts that overflow from their hearts. We tend to think that children are a little bit morbid and unusually advanced when they ask questions about God and imagine spiritual things, so we try to distract them and get them to think about something else. What children need is to be guided into thinking true, happy thoughts. Every day should bring them 'new thoughts about God and new hopes about heaven.' They understand spiritual things better than we do because they haven't had to conform their ideas to conventional dogma, and thoughts about God seem to them like a way to escape to the infinite realm, away from the limitations that make them anxious, and from their perception that some of their bitter experiences can seem like prison bars. We must keep children in the habit of always having God in their thoughts so that losing it, even for a little while, will be like returning home to find that their mother has gone out. This is a very delicate part of a parent's work.

Reverent Attitudes

We tend to overlook the importance of reverent attitudes these days. We're extremely sincere and that makes us hesitant to insist on 'mere formality.' We feel that it's best to leave children free to express their own heartfelt emotions naturally. But we might be wrong about this. It's as true that formality can inspire feelings as it is that feelings can result in form. Children should be taught to take the time to be reverent while saying grace before meals, during family prayers, as they pray on their own, and in church when they're old enough to sit through the service. Maybe some of us remember standing beside our mother every day with an attitude of reverence while reciting the Apostles' Creed, and the memory of that childhood reverence set the tone for our attitude towards God all our lives. 'Because the angels will see' should be a thought that keeps children from misbehaving. We're wrong when we assume that forms of reverence are always boring to children. They love little ceremonies. If they were taught to kneel properly while saying their little prayers, it would help to instill a feeling of reverence in their later lives. We can't expect reverent feeling and formalities from children in church if we take them when they're too young, or make them sit through services that are too long, or expect them to pay attention for the whole time. If children are taken to long services, they should be allowed to have a Sunday picture book, and they should be told that the songs and memorized rituals, such as the Lord's Prayer, are parts of the service that children can participate in.

Doing Devotionals Regularly

It's important to develop the habit of regularity in devotional time. A mother may not always be with her children, but I've seen children who are more determined about doing their devotions on time when they're away from their mother because they know that's what she would want, than they are when she's with them. One four-year-old friend of mine said, 'Mommy, I always worship idols.' 'You do, Megan? When?' 'When I say my prayers to the chair.' It's wonderful for all of us to get into the habit of 'saying our prayers' at a specific time and in a specific place. Wherever that may be, it will become like a holy place for us. Whether it's a chair, the side of the bed, a little prayer table, or, best of all, the mother's knee, that place will play a major part in guiding the child's soul to develop a habit of devotion. While I'm on the subject, it's worth mentioning that children's prayers, even for school aged children, shouldn't be left until they're so tired that they nod off before they're finished. After evening tea [or dessert?] is a good regular time for prayers if it can be managed.

The Habit of Bible Reading

The habit of reading the Bible should be established when the child is young enough that his Bible readings need to be read aloud to him. This presents a challenge because the Bible is actually an entire library, and some of its books and passages aren't suitable for children. Many parents get around this by using little compilations of devotional Scriptures. But I'm not sure this is such a good idea. I think that a narrative teaching of the Scriptures is a lot more helpful for children than the isolated texts chosen to stimulate morals and spiritual devotion. The Bible Society publishes [at least, they did in 1904 when this was written] inexpensive copies of individual books of the Bible. Those are a nice resource for parents. A child who's old enough to enjoy reading for himself would probably love reading through the whole book of the Gospel of Mark or another book of the Bible little by little as part of the morning devotion, using a nice copy of the book.

Children Naturally Love Formality

But, while emphasizing the importance of developing the habits of prayer and devotional reading, we need to remember that children are little formalists by nature. They shouldn't be encouraged to read long passages or pray long prayers with the erroneous idea that there's some inherent benefit in those things [i.e., praying longer prayers doesn't make them a better person].

The Habit of Praise

We probably don't place a high enough priority on the habit of praise in our children's devotions. Praise and thankfulness flow freely from the young hearts of children. It's natural and good to be glad, and music is fun. Singing hymns at home and singing worship songs at church should be something to enjoy. The habit of singing soft, reverent songs and offering our very best when we praise should be deliberately formed. The best hymns for children are probably the ones that tell a story, such as 'A Little Ship Was on the Sea,' 'I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old,' and 'Hushed Was the Evening Hymn.' Children should be trained to pay attention and have an attitude of sincere devotion during short services, or during parts of the service. Instructing children to find their places in the prayer book and Bible during the service helps them to pay attention to what's going on during the service, but it might be better to have children even as old as 10 and 11 occupy themselves during the prayer or sermon by going over the hymns they know silently in their minds.

The Habit of Observing the Sabbath

The habit of keeping Sunday observances that are special and reverent without being severe or dull is very important. Special Sunday stories, Sunday songs, Sunday walks, Sunday conversations, Sunday painting, Sunday knitting, even Sunday card games, should all be suitable for the Sabbath--quiet, enjoyable, peaceful. The people who want to make Sunday like any other day don't realize how healing the change of pace of a weekly rest can bring to a weary soul. One of the most precious inheritances we can hand down is the traditional English Sunday, especially if we can hand it down without its strictness but still retain its quiet joy and communion with Nature and God. But I can't pursue this subject any further. The topic of religious habits provides lots of subjects that will be beneficial to teach and reflect on. For example, there's the habit of thinking about God as a family, the habit of having reverent thoughts, attitudes, actions, and words, the habit of praying about certain things at a certain time and in the same way or the same place, the habit of praise and thanksgiving, the habit of an attentive and devotional attitude during church services, things that can help devotional habits, and the habit of devotional reading.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 151

The third part of the motto, 'Education is a discipline,' has always had its supporters, and it still does. Everyone recognizes that disciplined moral and intellectual habits make up an important third of education. But we go too far if we imagine that certain qualities of character and behavior can be produced like factory-spun thread if we use some educational system, or math, or science or athletics. In other words, it's excessive when the notion of developing supposed 'faculties' displaces the physical fact of how intellectual habits are formed. The difference between the two may seem small, but two streams that originate a foot apart from the same mountain can end up watering two entirely different countries. Two educational concepts may seem similar, but in practice, they often branch off in totally different directions.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 182-183

I don't need to emphasize what kind of educational tools we should use. We know that 'Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.' By that, we mean that parents and teachers should know how to make the best use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere) in order to advance a solid education; they should cultivate his self-discipline by training him to have the kind of habits that will make his life run smoothly (discipline), and they should nourish his mind with ideas, since that's the kind of mental food that develops their personalities (life).

Only Three Educational Tools

We believe that these are the only three tools that we can validly use in raising children. Any shortcut we take by taking advantage of their sensitivities, emotions, desires, or passions will bring grief to both us and our children. The reason is simple: habits, ideas and circumstances are all external and it's never wrong to help any person to improve in those things, but it's wrong to directly interfere with someone else's personality. It isn't right to play on his ego, his fears, his affection, his ambition, or anything that's his by right and is a part of what makes him the unique individual that he is.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 53

When it comes to the mind, habit is useful as a tool, but shouldn't be the rule that drives curriculum. It has been trendy to focus teaching on specialized skills [such as magnet schools that focus on specific subjects like science or math?], but that's a bad idea. It's not good for people to focus too long on one topic.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 68-74

Chapter 4 - Authority and Docility

Principle 3. The concepts of authority and obedience are true for all people whether they accept it or not. Submission to authority is necessary for any society or group or family to run smoothly. (The third of Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles)

Since WWI, new discoveries don't excite us as much as they used to, but before the war, we were amazed at the wireless telegraph. To think that a message could travel through space unseen and unheard, and arrive almost instantaneously at another place seemed unbelievable. We were wise enough to value the discovery for its own sake, not just for its practical application. We were in awe at discovering a law that had always been there, but that we never knew about before. In a similar way, we were awed when our common soldiers fighting in France displayed amazing heroism--it had always been there, but now it was revealed to us. And now, discoveries just as exciting are waiting for us in the field of education. Any educational worker might be the one to make some startling new discovery that will enrich the world. In the Bible, the citizens of Genneserat made a startling discovery: they found out that Jesus spoke with authority, not like the scribes.

It's not for us to speak with that kind of authority. That supreme authority belongs to God. Yet, we do have some authority given to us. A person can be 'an authority' on a particular subject if he has studied the subject so much that he's made it 'his own,' and he has the right to speak about it. The ability to accept delegated authority seems to be imbedded in everyone, ready when needed. Benjamin Kidd once said that the London Police was the very embodiment of authority. Even strangers were surprised at how implicitly they were obeyed. Every king, every commander, every mother, older sister, school official, work foreman and team captain finds something within himself that ensures he will be faithfully obeyed--not on the basis of his own assets, but on the basis of the authority that goes with his role. Without this principle, society would fall apart. Practically speaking, there's no such thing as true anarchy (absence of authority). Rather, what we think of as anarchy is really just transferring authority, even if the anarchist finally submits to no other authority but himself. Some people say that authority leads to tyranny, and that compliance, whether willing or forced, is kin to slavery. But that isn't so. Without authority, there can be no freedom. Unless authority is abused, it exists in happy harmony to those placed under it. We're made so that, by nature, we like to be under some kind of order, even if it's circumstances that order our lives. Servants take pride in the orders they receive. Our badge of honor is called an 'order.' It's true that 'order is heaven's first law' [Alexander Pope] and order is the result of authority.

The principle working within us that makes us submit to authority is docility, or compliance, or teachableness. It is universal. Even if a man is too proud to submit to any other authority, he will still submit meekly to his fate, or his destiny. It appears that the very act of submission is as natural and necessary as reason, or imagination. The two principles of authority and docility are at work in each person's life to do the same thing as the two forces that keep the earth in orbit. One force draws the earth to the sun, the other pulls it into space. Between these two forces, the earth maintains a middle course and the world goes on.

The principles of authority and docility are at work in every child. One draws him to an ordered life, the other pulls him towards rebellion. The key to raising children is to find the middle ground that will keep him in his proper orbit. The solution we have these days is freedom in our schools. Students should be governed, but so cleverly that they don't realize they're being governed. They should feel like the rule is, 'Do what you like,' but the moving force is really, 'Do as you're told.' The result is an ordered freedom. That kind of ordered freedom defines the lives of 999 out of 1000 citizens of the world. The only drawback is that, when indirect methods of securing compliance are used, children aren't really learning to be subject to authority. It just looks like they are. They're not learning the habit of proud subjection and dignified obedience, which is what sets great men and noble citizens apart. Undoubtedly, it's nice when children are natural and free to get up and wander around, or sit still, or play if they feel like it. But it's important for them to learn conscious, willing obedience. A great part of their happiness (and ours!) depends on obedience being pleasant and peaceful.

It's up to the teacher to secure willing obedience, not so much to himself, but to the school's rules and whatever the situation at hand calls for. If a student is supposed to read a certain passage, he obeys the bidding of that duty before him. He reads his passage with full attention and is happy to do so. We all know the sense of importance we have when we say, 'I have to be at Mrs. Jones's by 11:00.' 'It's necessary that I see Mr. Browne.' A person who doesn't obey the necessities of such situations has his life out of orbit and is useless to society. It's necessary for us to follow an ordered course. Children, even babies, should begin in the way they should continue to go. Fortunately, they come prewired with two inherent forces, centripetal and centrifugal. Those two forces bring about their freedom (self-authority) on the one hand, and 'proud subjection' on the other.

But parents and those who care for children have a delicate task. There must be subjection, but children should feel proud to submit. It must be a distinction, an accomplishment. The way to do this is to avoid coming between children and the laws of life and behavior that ultimately rule us all. The higher the authority, the greater the pride in obeying it. Children are quick to spot the difference between a teacher exercising his own arbitrary will and pleasure, and the submitted authority who is himself under a greater authority. The final tragedy for any country, family or school is when subservience replaces docility. Docility implies equality. There's no huge chasm between the teacher and student that makes one superior to the other. They are both pursuing the same ends. They are busy with the same task, enriched by mutual interests. It's possible that the pleasant quest for knowledge gives the only real freedom there is for both the teacher and student. 'He who the truth makes free is truly a free man.' The steady pursuit and delightful acquiring of knowledge give us freedom day by day. 'The mind is a world unto itself,' they say, 'it can make itself a heaven or a hell.' And what is a heaven of the mind, if not continually growing and expanding in an ordered freedom? And what hell is more restless and irritating than continually chafing against natural righteous order?

As far as the superficial freedom of sitting or standing or coming or going as one pleases, that usually settles itself, like all relations between teachers and students, once children are allowed to have some part in their own education. Their education isn't a benefit we bestow on them. It's a feast for them to take and enjoy. Our main concern, whether for the mind or for the physical body, is to provide a carefully planned table with plenty of delicious, healthy and varied food.

Children will take what they need and deal with it for themselves in their own way. But their food must be served in its natural state, and without being predigested so that it's sucked dry of all of its stimulating, life-giving properties. No force feeding or spoon feeding is allowed! Hungry minds will come to such a table with the greediness of hungry little children. They absorb it, digest it, and grow and are enlarged at an astonishing rate as compared to children in schools where they regurgitate textbook lessons. When teachers avoid exhorting with lectures, students change their physical position if they need to, but they're usually so intent on their lessons that they sit still and are less inclined to mentally wander. But the physical body does get the exercise it needs because the teacher makes sure to include physical movement, whether it's games or calisthenics. But schools already know about physical education, so I'll just add that, although mental activity is good for the body's physical functions (an American discovered that people can live 160-1000 years if they continue to use their minds!!), the reverse isn't true--physical activity alone doesn't have the same effect on the functions of the mind.

These days, it seems like educators are mostly concerned about making it easy for the mind to work. But I must urge that, while physical activities like hand crafts, gardening, dancing, etc., are useful to train the nerves and muscles to be ready and responsive, physical exercise does nothing to keep the mind alive. We also must not put the focus of children's education on drama--even when it's Shakespeare--or poetry--even when it's beautiful, lyrical poetry. Yes, children need these things, but they come into the world waiting to connect with lots of different things. They need to establish relationships with places far and near, with the expanding universe, with the long-gone days of history, with current social economics, with the earth we live on and all of its delightful plants and trees, with the affectionate families who love them, with their home country and foreign countries, and, most of all, with the highest of all relationships--their relationship with God. With all these things to learn about, only the most ignorant teacher will let his students spend most of their time on math, or crafts, or singing, or acting, or any one of a hundred specialized subjects that try to pass for a complete education.

Children need to have a sense of must. It's a mistake to give children the impression that they're the only ones who have to obey a higher law, while grown ups can do whatever they want. The teacher or parent whose children pester for permission to do this or that, even though it's against the rules, has only himself to blame. He has given the impression that he, as a person, has the authority, rather than given the impression that he's a person under authority. Therefore, children think that it's okay to break the rules so long as their well-being isn't jeopardized. In order to guarantee proper submission to authority, two things are required. If these two requirements are met, there is seldom a conflict of wills between adult and child. The conditions are (1) The adult can't be rigidly arbitrary, but must give the impression of being so much under authority himself, that the children sense it and understand that he, too, has things he has to comply with. In other words, they need to see that the rules weren't made for the adult's convenience. (I'm assuming that everyone who is entrusted with the teaching of children recognizes that we are all under God's authority. Without that recognition, I don't see how it's possible to establish a healthy relationship between teacher and child.) (2) Children should understand that they have the freedom to put to use whatever they learn in any way they choose, without the teacher's interference. Children will choose, and they will be glad to do their work. Therefore, there's no need to use coercion or pep talks to try to gain their cooperation.

But the principle of docility/authority is inborn in children. When teachers use tact and judgment to help students put this principle into use properly, children will be prepared for their future duties as citizens of society and contributing members of their families. The trend to have students serving in positions of authority in their schools [such as elected class president] shows that schools recognize the importance of teaching students about docility and authority. It allows children to become familiar with the idea of representative authority because they are governed by chosen members of their own group. It's a form of self-government. To make full use of the educational opportunity of this practice, the student officer should be elected and voted on by the children, and they should be encouraged to think carefully about their choice. But this allows only a few to experience what it's like to be in a position of authority. Even more should be done to teach children this concept. Every classroom should have small offices that can be rotated for students to vote on. Many times, a person will rise to the office he's given, and, often, even incompetent students will do very well at the duties they're given.

All school work should be done in such a way that students are aware of their responsibility in their own education. It's their job to know what's been taught. We all know from experience how we tend to skim halfheartedly over daily news when we know it will be repeated in a weekend edition. And if there's a monthly review, we only skim the weekend edition! These crutches make us feeble-minded, unable to remember and prone to wandering attention. In the same way, repeating and reviewing lessons shifts the responsibility of learning from the student to the teacher. It tells the child, 'I'll make sure you know it.' So students don't put forth any real effort to pay attention.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 99-104

2.--Education is a Discipline

Principle 7. "Education is a discipline" means that we train a child to have good habits and self-control. (The seventh of Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles.)

Unfortunately, education doesn't 'just happen' by taking a casual, careless approach to school. Both students and teachers are limited, and both need to apply some deliberate effort. Yet, with my approach, we can have a totally new point of view. If we can only allow ourselves to believe it, we really don't have to manipulate children to learn their lessons. Nature has already taken care of that. If the lessons are the right kind, children will enjoy learning them. The most strenuous effort comes when instilling good habits. But, even then, there is relief. Good intellectual habits form themselves if the appropriate curriculum is followed in the right way. And the right way is this: children must do the work for themselves. They need to read the assigned pages and tell it back. In other words, they need to actively engage their minds with a concerted effort to 'own' the knowledge. We all know the tragic waste of the copious amount of reading we've done that was simply forgotten because we didn't actively work to know it while we read it. Yet this kind of effort is as natural as breathing, and, believe it or not, just as easy. The ability to focus the attention at will is the most valuable intellectual habit there is. It's also what distinguishes an educated person. With practice it can become second nature, and a good habit can overcome ten bad natures. Imagine how much our workload would be decreased if those who worked for us paid full attention to instructions so that they remembered the first time. Paying attention isn't the only habit that grows when one applies himself to learning. The habits of appropriate and prompt speaking, of obeying, of cheerful willingness, and an unbiased perspective all come naturally to a person educated this way. The habits of thinking right, making sound judgments, tidiness and order naturally follow when children have the self-respect that comes from the kind of education that respects who they are.

Physiologists say whatever thoughts become habit will make a mark on our brain tissue, although the mark may not be something we can visibly measure. Whether the mark is tangible or not, we do know for certain that one of the most fundamental jobs of education is to teach children the right ways of thinking so that their lives will result in good living, usefulness, clear thinking, enjoyment of beauty, and especially, a life lived for God. We can't understand how spirit, which is intangible and invisible, can influence a real, physical brain. But we know that it does happen every time we see a dark mood manifested in a scowling face. And we see it in--

'A sweet, appealing grace
Approval given with assuring looks.
There's comfort in the face of one
Who finds peace in the gospel books.'

We all know how forcing ourselves to smile can lift us out of a dark mood.

'The soul doesn't help the physical body any more than the physical body helps the soul.'

Both the soul and body are tools to help lay down the tracks of good habits that make life run more smoothly.

In the past, children have been abused and tormented by conscientious parents and over-zealous teachers who attempted to force good habits into children with severe punishment. And some adults exploited children for their own selfish gain. Now the pendulum is swinging the opposite way and parents are often too permissive. We've forgotten that people need good habits to live well, in the same way that trains need tracks to run on. It takes careful planning to lay railroad tracks, and it takes planning to develop good habits. Whether we plan or not, habits will be established one way or another. But if we don't resolve to make life easier by establishing good habits of thinking right and acting appropriately, then bad habits of faulty thinking and wrong behavior will establish themselves on their own. And, as a result, we'll avoid making decisions, which will cause us to procrastinate even more until we end up 'wasting our days crying over all the days we've wasted.' Most children are raised to have a minimum of decent, orderly habits that keep him from being a total misfit. Consider the amount of work it would take if every act of taking a bath, brushing teeth, sitting at the table, lifting fork and spoon to the mouth, had to be carefully planned and thought through just to decide what to do next to accomplish the task! Thankfully, that's not the case! But habit is like fire--it's a bad master, but an indispensable servant. A likely reason for our second guessing, hesitation and indecision is that we never learned good habits to begin with. Our lives weren't smoothed by those who should have laid down tracks of good habits when we were little so that our actions could run along them effortlessly.

I don't think we need to list the specific habits that we should try to form. Everyone already knows what they are, even if most of us don't actually do them. We admire the tall, straight posture of a soldier, but we don't have the discipline to produce it in ourselves. We admire a lady who can sit elegantly through dinner and who prefers a straight chair because her muscles are so accustomed to sitting straight from years of discipline. Discipline is the only way to form a good habit, although it's usually internal self-discipline that a person has over himself. A certain amount of deliberate work in establishing good habits is necessary because of the conflict between good and bad habits. An easy, bad habit is always pleasant and more tempting, and it's uncomfortable and difficult to resist it. But we can be sure of overcoming our bad habits because, built into us, we have everything we need to learn whatever good habits of body and mind that we deliberately attempt to. We entertain the general idea, and that gives birth to the act of actually doing it. If we do the action again and again, it will become a habit. We've all heard, 'sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character.' But we need to go even one step further back--we need to first sow the idea or notion that motivates us to act in the first place. A lazy boy might hear the story of the Great Duke who wanted to sleep in a narrow bed while on the battle field so that, when he rolled over in bed, he'd have to get up. The story plants the idea of getting out of bed promptly. But his teacher or mother will instinctively know when, how often, and in what creative way to repeat the story before the habit of promptly getting out of bed is formed. She knows that the motivation has to come from the child himself, a desire to conquer his own self that becomes an impulse of chivalry that he can't resist. It's possible to sow great ideas casually, and this may be the kind of idea that needs to be sown informally because, as soon as a child picks up on his mother's deliberate attempts to influence him, he may resist the whole idea. When the parent or teacher has an air of expectancy that makes good habit seem like a matter of obeying authority, the child won't be so resistant. But if a child has been trying to start his lessons on time, and is late one morning, a good-natured teacher who doesn't rebuke or require a penalty is teaching the child that it doesn't really matter. And the child begins forming the habit of being late to class. The teacher's mistake is in thinking that being on time is difficult for the child, so he overlooks it. But, really, having orderly habits allows a person to be free and spontaneous. [Think how much free time one has when they stick to a schedule, but how tasks can overwhelm a person who doesn't plan time to do them.] The only hard work of having a habit is during the first few times that the habit is done.

Imagine how painstakingly wearisome life would be if it weren't eased with habits of hygiene, tidiness, order and courtesy. If we had to make a decision about every detail of getting dressed, eating, going anywhere, life wouldn't be worth living. Even the most lowly mother knows that her child has to learn habits of decency. Entire routines of etiquette are learned because a slip in the area of protocol is embarrassing and no child has the courage to face that kind of humiliation. Physical fitness, morality and manners are mostly a matter of habit. Even some parts of a devout life can become habit, and can become a pleasure that brings comfort and support as we try to be godly, sober and righteous. We don't need to be afraid that teaching children religious habits will doom their relationship with God to an empty, mechanical routine as long as they understand the concepts that make the routines worthwhile. Listen to what De Quincey thought about going to church when he was a boy:

'On Sunday mornings I went to church with my family. It was a building in the ancient British style. It had aisles, galleries, an organ. Everything was old and distinguished, and the proportions were majestic. Every time we entered, and the people were kneeling during the service, or praying for all sick people and prisoners, I would secretly weep and raise my eyes to the upper stained glass windows. There I saw the sun shining through, illuminating a spectacle that not even the prophets ever experienced. I saw pictures of the Apostles who suffered trials on earth, and the beauties of nature on the earth, and martyrs who had endured persecution. And behind it all, in the clear center pane, I watched white billowy clouds against a deep blue sky.' [from Thomas de Quincey's 'Autobiographical Sketches]

And the young De Quincey had visions of sick children that God wanted to help:

'These visions needed no outside support. Just a hint from the church service, a fragment of the fleecy clouds and the pictures on the stained glass windows were enough. God also speaks to children in dreams and unseen messages. But in solitude, especially as a still small voice heard in a meditative heart while hearing truth at a congregational church service, God communicates with children undisturbed.'

With this kind of testimony, confirmed by our own memories, we can confidently believe that Divine service is appropriate for children. It will be more appropriate as they develop the habit of reading beautifully written books that sharpen their sense of style and their unconscious appreciation of the beautiful articulated words in the church liturgy.

We have discussed how important it is to have good habits of mind, morality, religion and physical development. We've seen the disaster of children or adults who learn to think in such a rut that the mere thought of a novel idea makes them shiver like a hesitant swimmer on the steps of a pool. This danger might be avoided by exposing children every day to the wise thoughts of great minds, and lots of them. That way they can gradually gain confidence in their own opinions, without even being aware of it. If we fail in this duty, then, as soon as our children gain some freedom, they'll follow the first fad that comes along, then discard that for the next one. The end result is that they'll be ill-guided and wavering in uncertainty for the rest of their lives.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 129

Our habits are whatever is most convenient and accepted as mainstream. What more do we need for a decent, orderly life? However, the one thing that's within reach of any person to accomplish, and the one thing that's necessary for every person, is character. Character is like wrought iron beaten into shape and beauty with the repeated and habitual action of the will. We teachers must make ourselves understand that our aim in education isn't so much conduct as it is character. We can get decent conduct from students via various indirect methods, but good behavior is worthless to the world if it doesn't stem from inward character.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 134

What about obedience? Obedience is due to the head of the household first of all, then to the government and church, and always to God. How well we obey is the test of our character, but only when obedience is our choice [not when forced compliance leaves no other option!] Very young children need to be trained to have the habit of obedience, but only those children who have made a decision to obey by choice are truly noble-hearted.

That kind of obedience is the essence of chivalry, and chivalry is the opposite of a self-absorbed, self-serving attitude. An honorable person is a person of steadfast will. It's not possible to continue exerting the will continuously for reasons of personal gain.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 147

A word of warning: reason, like everything else in a person, is subject to habit. It works on what it's used to handling.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 277-278

It's this life-giving vitality of many minds that we want. We beg educational workers and thinkers to join us in forming a collective body of thought that will be common to everyone. Then England will surely be great in both art and life. This is the way to make great men. Petty attempts to form character in one direction or another won't work. Let's admit that great character only comes from great thoughts, and those great thoughts need to come from the minds of great thinkers. Only then will our purpose in education be clear. Character originates in thought, not behavior.

Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 297

Could there be some mistaken ideas about our fixation on progress? Are we confusing progress with motion, assuming that wherever we see activity, there must also be improvement? Yet much of the activity we see is like the waves of the ocean, always churning, but never going anywhere. What we really need is the still progress of growth that comes when a tree sends strong, solid roots downward, and results in abundant fruit growing upward. This is what progress in character and conduct is like. It doesn't come from environmental manipulation, or pressure to conform. It can only come from the inner growth of ideas received by the mind with deliberate, active involvement.


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Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.