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

Masterly Inactivity

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 4-5

Parents naturally stop doing every little thing for their child as they see that he can feed and dress himself, and they encourage him to do more for himself as he is able. The parents are delighted to watch their child's personality develop, but the more a child begins to do for himself, the less the parents feel the need to do for him beyond feeding him, clothing him, and showing affection. With these things the parents only need to provide them. The child can eat and dress himself; the parent's main concern is that what they provide should be nourishing and wholesome, whether it's books, school lessons, the influence of friends, nutrition, or discipline. This is how most parents understand education--focusing more on nutrition, discipline, culture, depending on their own understanding. For the most part, they let their children develop in their own way according to their own environment and hereditary traits.

This leaving alone, or what Charlotte Mason calls 'Masterly Inactivity', is a good thing for the most part. Children should be allowed to develop according to their own nature, and as long as parents don't allow the child to become spoiled, this masterly inactivity can be fine. But this philosophy of letting children be covers only a part of raising children. It does not cover the most serious task of the parents, which includes the continual guidance and guarding of influences according to their understanding of the laws of child psychology so that their child grows up to be the best he can be.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 43

How much time should we dedicate to making our children stay outside? And how can we pull it off? With all the pressure to give our children a good education and adequate socialization, it's good to remember that a mother's first duty should be to provide a secure, quiet early childhood. For the first six years, children should have low-key schedules so they can just be and grow, and they should spend most of their waking hours outside enjoying the fresh air. This is not just good for their bodies; their heart, soul and mind are nourished with exactly what they need when we leave them alone in a stress-free environment among happy influences that give them no reason to rebel and misbehave.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 44

A mother may brag, 'I make sure to send my children outside, weather permitting, for an hour every day in the winter and two hours in the summer.' That's a good start, but it's not enough. First of all, the mother shouldn't send them, she should take them. If at all possible, she should take them outside, because, although they need to be left to themselves much of the time, there are still things that she needs to make sure get done, and things she needs to prevent during their long days in the open air.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 79

The hardest part for the mother will be to keep from filling the time with her talking, and keeping the children from spending their day listening to her instead of going off on their own. Children love pleasant times chatting with their mother, but communing with their greater Mother (earth) is more important, and they should be left to themselves to do it. It should be a peaceful time--the mother can read her book or write a letter, resisting the impulse to chatter; the child stares up at a tree or down at a flower, doing nothing in particular and thinking nothing in particular. Or else the child pretends to be a bird in a tree, or just runs in joyful abandon, as children like to do. And all the time, Nature is doing its part to influence the child, vowing to do what Wordsworth's poem says--to take the child as its own and make him a child of Nature.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 134

Let Children Alone

One last word about habit--the point of training children to have good habits is so that they'll do things without being nagged or scolded. Then the mother isn't constantly chasing them down with a barrage of commands and reminders. She can leave them alone to thrive in their own way once habit has secured a boundary for them to grow in. Gardeners dig and prune and train their peach trees, but that only occupies a small fraction of the tree's existence. Most of the time, the gardener lets the fresh air, sunshine and rain do its work. The result is juicy peaches. But if the gardener doesn't do his small part, his peaches will be more like hard, bitter sloes.

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 169-170

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.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 27-43

There's a transition time between the learning curve where the how's and why's are acquired and fine-tuned, and the time when the process is actually working and we're happier and more useful.

A Fussy and Restless Habit

I want to address this gap of time during the transition by presenting the concept of 'masterly inactivity' to parents and teachers. There are so many things that we should do for our children, and so much that's possible to provide for them, that we can start to think that everything rests with us. We begin to feel like we can't let up even for a minute in our conscious thinking about our efforts in training up our children's young minds and hearts. As a result, our efforts become over-controlling and micro-managed. We're with our children every minute of the day, always on their backs. Even when we can't get them to comply, we try to dominate them too much. We don't realize that wise deliberate letting alone is the best part of education. The defect that makes us take too much on ourselves isn't serious. We just need to make a few adjustments, and that's what I'm going to discuss.

'Masterly Inactivity'

[Apparently, 'masterly inactivity' was a term used in CM's time to describe a 'wait and see' attitude by legislators in response to political incidents, or, as one British letter puts it, 'trusting to the helping influences of time.']

It's a blessing that our minds are made so that, once we receive an idea, it will work itself out in our mind and actions without too much after-effort from us. If we allow the concept of 'masterly inactivity' as an aspect of education, we'll find ourselves relating with children from this standpoint without even consciously thinking about it. But we need to have an accurate idea of what we mean when we say 'masterly inactivity.' The phrase used by Carlyle has nothing to do with the attitude of, 'who cares?' or 'why bother?' and it has even less to do with the sheer neglect that just lets things happen because it's too much trouble to take any action to influence the outcome. 'Masterly inactivity' indicates an exquisitely capable moral attitude, and it's worth our time to analyze it. The concept is perhaps most accurately phrased in Wordsworth's words: 'wise passiveness.' It suggests the ability and authority to take action, a concern for the outcome, with the insight and restraint that keeps a person from interfering. But, for our purposes, the phrase conveys one more idea. It isn't just that we're restraining ourselves from direct involvement, there's also a sense of our authority that our children need to be aware of whether we're giving them a command or not. The sense of authority is the foundation of the parental relationship. If our children don't respect our authority, then I doubt that either our direct involvement or our inactivity will do much good. This element of strength is the backbone on which our position as parents rests. 'We couldn't even if we wanted to,' and the children know it. They're free under authority, which is liberty. To be free without any authority is license.


The next element of masterly inactivity is a sense of agreeability--candid, friendly, natural, good-natured ease. This is very different from lack of concern or a general giving in to childen's every whim. One comes from a foundation of strength; the other from weakness. Children are good at spotting the difference! 'Please, Mom, can't we pick blackberries this afternoon instead of doing school?' A masterly 'yes,' and a defeated 'yes' are two different things. The first makes the break doubly enjoyable, but the second creates a restless desire to see what else can be gotten away with.


The next element is confidence. Parents should have more faith in themselves. It doesn't take a whirlwind of restless activity to get things accomplished. The mere presence of a proper parental relationship, with the rightful authority that goes along with it, is to the children what sunshine and water are to seeds in fertile soil. But a parent who's picky, anxious, constantly explaining, demanding, making excuses, over-restraining, too interfering, or who is simply with the children too much, destroys the dignity and simplicity of the parent/child relationship. Like all of the best and most delicate things in life, that relationship suffers if it has to be asserted or defended.

The Casual, Easy Attitude of Fathers

Fathers are often more comfortable than mothers assuming that casual, easy attitude with their children that comes with their relationship. But that's just because fathers tend to be preoccupied with so many outside things, while the mother is often wrapped up in her children. It shames all of us to see a careless, selfish mother whose children are her personal slaves and are happy rushing around to serve her whims. The point isn't that mothers shouldn't be careless and selfish, but that they should provide their children with the space and freedom that come from letting them alone. Young people shouldn't be oppressed with the concerns and worries of their parents. A ten-year-old who wants to know if she's performing as well as average ten-year-olds, or who discusses his bad habits with you and asks for suggestions to get rid of them is a cause for concern. We instinctively feel that such a child is worried about things that should be the parent's concern. The burden of a child's training is the parent's responsibility, but the parent should bear it with an easy grace and erect posture, like a Spanish peasant carrying a water-jug.

Confidence in Their Children

The next element is that parents should have confidence, not only in themselves, but in their children. This should be a goal for them to try to live up to. If the parent trusts in the relationship between them and the child, the child will believe in it, too, and rise to the occasion to fulfill his part. This will happen if the children aren't worried [flustered and over-burdened with too many demands].

The All-Knowing Wisdom of Parents and Teachers

Parents and teachers must, of course, be omniscient. Their children expect them to be. A mother or father who can be fooled is a person who's easy to be taken in, even in the mind of the best child. Children are always playing a game of half chance, half skill, to see how far they can go, how much control they can get of their own lives, and how much they have to leave in the hands of the stronger authority. A mother who isn't wise to her children is at their mercy, and shouldn't expect them to go easy on her. But her omniscience must be the kind that sees without watching, knows without telling, is always on the alert without being obvious about it. Her attitude must be open-eyed, but calm like a sphinx. The children should know that they've been left alone, whether it's to do their assigned duty, or to amuse themselves. The constraining power of authority must be ever-present, but passive so that the child doesn't feel like he's confined against his will. The pattern and role model is man's free will. For ages and ages, having a free will has been good exercise for faithful souls who would have preferred the easy way out by being coerced into obedience and righteousness. A child who behaves because he isn't given any other choice will lose more in his ability to have initiative than he'll ever gain with the appearance of good behavior. Every time that a child feels like he's behaving because he made a free choice of his own accord, his initiative is strengthened. Parents must not control children with bearing reins [or, with a short leash]. When it occurs to a child to reflect on his own actions and behavior, he should have enough of a sense of freedom that his good behavior feels like something that was his own choice and preference.

'Fate' and 'Freewill'

This is the kind of freedom that a child has when his parents trust him as far as his comings and goings and his childhood activities, all the time within the bounds of parental authority. Such a child is getting the training that a person needs as a being whose life is conditioned by 'fate' and 'freewill.' His liberty has a sense of 'must' behind it. That relieves him of the kind of anxiety that comes from the constant stress of having to make decisions. He's free to do what he should, but in his deepest heart, he knows very well that he's not free to do what he shouldn't. But the child who grows up with no strong sense of authority behind what he does, who hears over and over again to 'be good,' is aware that he can choose good or evil, he can decide to obey or not, he can tell the truth or he can lie. Even when he chooses to do the right thing, the decision-making process itself causes him some stress. His parents have removed the support of their authority, which is supposed to sustain him in the difficult choice to do right, so he's left all alone in the most difficult effort of all--the effort of decision. Is it too subtle a distinction, the difference between freedom to choose the right thing by one's own choice, but not being free to choose to do wrong? Is that difference too elusive to grasp? Maybe, but it's the very distinction that we ourselves are aware of in our own lives when we consciously keep ourselves under God's Kingship. We're free to walk in the ways of righteous living, and we have the delightful sense of liberty to choose--yet we know that the way of the transgressor is hard. We're aware of a restraining hand in the here and now, and we know that there's sure, certain punishment in the future. This is precisely the subtle distinction that we need to aim for with our own child. He needs to be treated with full confidence, and he must feel like choosing the right thing is his own free choice that his parents trust him to make. But he must also be aware of a deterring force in the background that's always alert and ready to hinder him when he wants to makes the wrong choice.

The Component Parts of Masterly Inactivity

We've listed authority, cheerfulness, self-confidence, confidence in our children, as some of the elements of masterly inactivity. But there are other components that have to be there, too. A healthy, sound mind and body is necessary. If a sound body is impossible, then get the mind sound. A nervous, anxious, worried mother can't have an easy, happy relationship with her child. She might be the best mother in the world in all other respects, but all her children will pick up from her when she's like that is a touch of her nerves, which is the most contagious of bad habits. She'll perceive her children as grouchy, rebellious, and unmanageable, but she won't realize that it's her own fault--not the fault of her actions, but the fault of her mood.

The Serenity of a Madonna

There's a reason why the old painters, no matter how different their ideas about other matters might have been, all had the same idea about the proper role model for a Mother. The Madonna, no matter whose painting you look at, is always serene. This is a great truth. If seeing this lesson with the eyes would have a calming influence on the heart, then it would be worthwhile to hang our walls with Madonnas from all the early Master painters! Does this seem unattainable for mothers in these anxious, stressful days? It may seem hard, but it's not impossible. If mothers would learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when they're over-stimulated, households would all be happier. Let the mother go out to play! She should have the courage to let everything go when life becomes too stressful, and just take a day, or even a half day, alone, to go out into the fields, or enjoy a favorite book, or go to the art gallery and gaze long and intensely at just two or three pictures, or relax in bed, without the children. Life would go on more smoothly for both parents and children. The mother would be more able to have the attitude of 'wise passiveness,' and she wouldn't frustrate her children with her continual interference, even if her involvement is only with her hand or eye. Instead, she'd just let them be.


Another necessary element is leisure. Sometimes we're in a hurry because of events. But, we have to admit, sometimes we're hurried simply because we enjoy the excitement of a bit of a rush. The children like it, too, at first--Dad's birthday is coming and Nicole must recite a poem for him, but the little performance was only thought of a week in advance, so Nicole is summoned at all sorts of random moments to have some lines of the poem crammed into her. At first, she's pleased to have so much attention, and enjoys the task of memorizing. But gradually, it starts to become a nuisance. She starts to resist and gets sulky about it. She's reprimanded for not loving her father, tearfully learns her verses, and although she finally delivers the performance charmingly enough, Nicole has suffered physically and morally. Yet if the project had been thought of a month earlier, the whole process could have been healthy and fun. It's even worse for children after their mother or teacher has had a busy day. Company is coming for dinner, or the family's summer clothes need to be taken care of, or drawers and cabinets need to be cleaned out, or there's a test coming. It's one of those busy, fussy days that women tend to love. We try to do more than we can really handle ourselves, our nerves are on end, we're tired, and, with all the stress, everyone in the school or house feels uncomfortable because of the pressure. The children seem to take advantage of this stress to act up. The truth is, their mother's mood has affected them and made them whiny and annoying. The result of the mother's bottled nervous stress will probably be tantrums in the children's room.

Idle time to relax, and a sense of calm leisure in the adults around them is as necessary to children as the strong, kind parental attitude I'm talking about.


There are more ingredients in the recipe of 'masterly inactivity,' but I only have space to list one more. The highest form of confidence is what we know as faith. There can't be full rest and peace of mind and behavior without it. We need to recognize and remember that God doesn't leave the training totally up to their parents. He Himself works in ways that it's not our place to hinder. He helps the training of every child. When we understand this, then we'll learn passiveness, humility and wisdom. We'll feel better about giving children space to develop their own character in their own individual way, and we'll know the best way to intervene effectively to prevent the bad tendencies that their particular character is prone to.

Next, we'll consider some of the different phases of children's lives that need some 'masterly inactivity' from their parents and teachers.

Chapter 4 - Some of the Rights of Children as Persons

Children Should Be Free in Their Play

We've just finished discussing how right and wise it is to include 'wise passiveness' or 'masterly inactivity' in our plan of bringing up our children. Now we need to look at the different areas of a child's life where we should use 'masterly inactivity.' The first area is in the child's play. In these days when there's so much emphasis on education, we risk crowding out time to play, or, just as bad, managing and arranging it until children have no more choice in the way they play than they do in their work. We have nothing against the educational value of games. We know that there's a lot to be learned from sports. The qualities we think of when we think of an English gentleman are mostly learned from such games. There's a move to bring these games with their benefits to girls, so that they too can grow up with a concept of abiding by rules, moral stamina, and resourcefulness that usually result from playing organized sports.

Organized Sports are Not Play

Although there are benefits to organized sports, they are not the same as playing in the sense we're talking about. Children need time to make up episodes, carry on pretend adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and defend forts, even if the fort is only an old armchair. Adults must not interfere or tell the children what to play. They need to accept the fact that this is something they don't understand, and, even more, their very presence carries the cold breath of reality that makes the pretend illusion dissipate and fade away. Think what it must be like for a commanding general leading his soldiers when some intruder into his play-world tells him to tie his shoes! There's an idea going around that children need to be taught how to play--and that we need to teach them to pretend how to be little fishies and lambs and butterflies [Froebel's novel idea called 'kindergarten!'] Children undoubtedly enjoy these games that are made up for them, but they carry a risk. A child who gets used to crutches may never learn to walk on his own. Children who spend a lot of time playing with grown-ups won't learn to create their own games and make believe, so they miss the education that comes from being allowed to go their own way and live

'As if his whole job
Was continual imitation.'

Personal Initiative in Work

Even in children's work, adults tend to interfere too much. We all know how much personal initiative is valued and how much children love doing anything that they're allowed to do their own way. They love doing anything that gives room for building skills, using their imagination, or developing their thinking ability. Our current philosophies of education don't leave much room for children to have any personal initiative. There's so much busy work to be finished, so many things that need to be learned about (but not really learned), that it's only rarely that a child gets an opportunity to create anything himself. We should use opportunities as they come up. At the School Field at Hackney (1884-1905), Edmund Beale Sargent tried an interesting and eye-opening experiment. He got eighty children together much like any other elementary school except that he personally paid for his school instead of it being funded by educational taxes or private tuition. The results were wonderful. The students learned to draw very well. That's probably because, as soon as they could outline the flower and leaves of a specific plant, they were encouraged to create designs using those shapes. After just a short period of art training, these children were able to create truly beautiful floral designs that might surprise other parents whose children have had years of art training but still can't draw. These students at School Field produced much of their own school magazine, too. They wrote stories, poems and essays--not because it was assigned as school work, but because they wanted to. Their minds had been stimulated to think so that they felt like they had something to say about topics like a doll's ball, or Peter, the school cat. They experienced the feeling of thinking and creating for themselves. Our failure in education is largely due to the fact that we carry our children through their school work instead of letting them expend their own effort and concentration.

Children Need To Succeed or Fail by Their Own Efforts

There's another way that we don't leave children alone enough to do their work, and this is even more in our control. We prod them constantly and don't let them stand or fall as a result of their own efforts. One of the characteristics (and disastrous features) of modern society is that we've become lazy and dependent on being prodded. We've encouraged a whole system of various prods to get us to do anything. We have to be prodded to do our social duties. If we help support a charitable institution, we expect to be reminded when it's time to pay. If we go to an event, do we go on our own because we've decided we want to, or do we go because someone else asked us to and reminded us of the day and time a half dozen times? Maybe the odd division of labor is a result of our hurried lives--our society seems to be divided into those who prod, and those who are prodded [prodders and proddees?] I don't mean that some people do nothing but pressure everyone else about everything, and some people just suffer under the pressure. What's more accurate is that all of us prod in some situations, and all of us are prodded in others. An occasional prick to remind us can be healthy and stimulating, but the sluggishness of human nature makes us more willing to lean against a wall that has spikes than to stand unsupported in our strength! When we train children, we need to be careful that they don't get into the habit of needing to be reminded to do every one of their duties, and prodded to make any kind of effort. Our entire educational structure is mostly a system of prods. A system of prods is likely to obscure a child's sense of 'must' and 'ought' if he gets used to mentally and morally resisting prods.

Children are Generally Dutiful

It would be better for children to suffer the consequences of not doing their work from time to time, rather than to always do their work because they were so urged and prodded from all sides that they were never given a choice in the matter. The more we're prodded, the lazier we get and the less we're able to expend the effort of our will, which is supposed to get us started on our tasks and help us follow through and complete them. Children are, for the most part, good enough to want to do what they should. If we expect a chore to be done at a certain time without urging, pleading, rewarding or punishing, nine times out of ten, it will be done. The mistake that many of us make is in relying on our own wisdom and our own efforts instead of trusting the dutiful impulse within our children that will carry them through the work that's expected of them.

Children Should Choose Their Own Friends

When it comes to choosing friends and people to hang out with, we should train children so that we'll feel we can trust them with a generous confidence. If we give them that kind of confidence, we'll find that they will be worthy of it. If Franklin has started spending time with Haskell Jones and Haskell isn't a very nice boy, Franklin will figure that out as quickly as his mother if he's left alone. He'll probably come and ask for advice and suggestions for getting out of a friendship that he doesn't feel comfortable with. But if the parents ban Haskell and forbid Franklin from doing things with him, or put different boundaries on what they can do together, then Franklin, if he's a kind-hearted child, will feel bound in honor to side with his friend. As a result, a friendship that might have been easily discarded becomes cemented. Emily won't understand why she, as the daughter of an upper middle class family, shouldn't make friends with Melissa, who sits next to her at school and is from a lower-class neighborhood. But these are minor issues and should be left to chance. A mother who questions her children's choice of friends on the basis of outward things like social class or appearance is clouding the consideration of the more important issue of character, which is the most common cause of ruined lives. In this matter, just like other matters, the parent's inactivity must be masterly. In other words, the child should be able to tell whether his parents would approve or disapprove, and he should be able to base that on general principles of character and conduct, even though his parents never say anything or even give disapproving looks about this week's new buddy.

Children Should Be Free To Spend Their Own Pocket Money

Spending pocket money is one more opportunity to give children initiative and give parents practice in restraining themselves. The father who distributes the weekly pocket money has probably never given his children any principles about handling money--namely, that no matter how small an income is, it can be divided into a portion to give away, a portion to keep, and some to save so that after a few weeks or months, there's enough to buy something that's really worth having. As far as wasting money on treats, that should be a rare indulgence, and only if we're going to be sharing it. As far as thinking carefully before making a purchase, the lesson of Rosamund and the Purple Jar will be useful. If a father hasn't taught his children these things, then he shouldn't be surprised when his children think of money merely as a way to indulge themselves. Lessons like these shouldn't have any bearing on the week's pocket money. That should be theirs to spend however they want, after they've had some instruction about handling money. Little by little, weekly allowance should include the cost of belts and scarves until, finally, when a girl is in her late teens, she can be trusted with her own allowance for clothing and personal expenses. If a parent can't trust their older child with money after training them, then they haven't properly prepared their child to survive in a world where wise, fair and generous handling of money is a mark of character.

Children Should Form Their Own Opinions

We only have room to mention one more area where we should practice 'masterly inactivity.' There are compelling issues being discussed these days, controversial opinions burning in people's minds--issues of religion, politics, science, literature, art, every kind of social project, and we all tend to have strong opinions. A person who hasn't kept abreast of the latest evolution of thought in the world about these matters should be ashamed of himself. It's our responsibility to form opinions carefully, and to hold them loyally unless facts persuade us to change our mind. But we have no right to pass these opinions on to our children. It's so easy to make strong partisan followers of our children, at least children who appear to be loyal. But with every action comes an equal and opposite reaction, and the swinging of the pendulum will probably carry our children to the totally opposite opinion of ours. The mother of the Newmans [probably Huegenot Jemima Fourdrinier, mother of Cardinal John Henry Newman and atheist Charles Robert Newman] was a devoted evangelical. When they were children, she passed her ready-made opinions over to her sons. Maybe she thought that the ideas they received from her on the matter was their own reasoned opinion. But when they were out from under her domineering influence, one allied himself with the Catholic Church in Rome, and another refused to have any restriction on his freedom to think and do what he wanted, so he chose to create his own creed, which was a rejection of God altogether. Perhaps this religious mother would have saved herself some grief if she had given her children the living principles of Christianity, which aren't matters of opinion. Then she could have let them accept her particular denomination as children without requiring that they believe that her evangelical opinion was the only real way of salvation.

In politics, too, children should be allowed to be proud of their country and taught what their duties are. But it's best to keep them away from the partisan conflict of elections. Children are more likely to adopt their parent's opinions when they reach the age where they're ripe for forming opinions if their parent's opinions haven't been forced on them all their lives, when they were too inexperienced and lacked knowledge to form opinions for themselves. It's only by 'masterly inactivity,' or 'wise passiveness,' or capable 'letting alone' that a child can be trained

'To respect his conscience enough to let it rule him.'


Being naturally good, as if spontaneously, is something we all admire. But, even in children, this grace isn't something inborn, like a native wild-flower. It's the result of training. It's the product of years of pleasant chats about the general principles of how we should act, and years of self-restraint from parents who were practicing 'masterly inactivity' to let their children work out those guidelines in their own lives as they saw fit. Parents have the ability to guide the direction that the next generation takes. Since they have such a big responsibility, they need to be even more careful [not to make their children mirror-images of themselves, but allow them to choose their own paths, live their own lives, decide what's best for themselves. The old ways of the parents must give way to the new ways of the next generation.]

'The old ways change and are replaced by new ones
And God fulfills Himself in many ways
So that one good custom doesn't corrupt the world.'
               [from Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur]

[One preacher noted about the Tennyson quote, 'It is ordained, the new generation must have their chance to test their ideas and skills.']

Volume 3, School Education, pg 65

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 66-67

The Art of Staying Out Of The Way

I've known of teachers who have gone so far as to even compose the songs and poems their students use. Imagine! Not even our immortal poets are allowed to come between the poor child and the mediocre minds of our teachers! The art of staying out of the way means that the child is allowed the freedom to develop the relationships that are right for him. That is the art of education: when a teacher recognizes the two things he needs to do, and how to do them. The natural result of the teacher's success in doing these two things is the personal growth of the individual student.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 122-123

In H. King Lewis's book The Child and Its Spiritual Nature, there's a cute story told by Miss Martineau about the intellectual awakening of 'a ten year old boy who plopped himself down on his tummy with Southey's Thalaba on the floor in front of him on the first day of his Easter vacation. In spite of his inconvenient position, he turned the pages quickly as if he was looking for something. A few hours later, he was done. He took it back to the library and came back with Southey's Curse of Keharna. He went on to do this with all of Southey's poems and some others for the entire short vacation, hardly wanting to move except to run to the library. After this process, he was so changed that his family couldn't help noticing it. The look in his eyes, his facial expression, the way he phrased things, even his walk was different. In ten days he had matured years intellectually, and I've always thought of this as the turning point in his life. His parents were wise enough to kindly leave him alone. They were well aware that school would end the opportunity to indulge in his new interest soon enough.'

Volume 3, School Education, pg 162

The teacher's job is to point things out, stimulate interest, give guidance and provide limits in order to help the child as he acquires knowledge. But in no way is the teacher supposed to be the wellspring and source of all knowledge herself. The less parents and teachers interpret for the child and lecture from their own personal supply of information and opinions, the better for the child. Pre-digested food fed to a healthy person doesn't help to strengthen the digestion. Children must be allowed to reflect for themselves and sort things out in their own minds. If they need help, they'll ask for it.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 178-179

The children need to enjoy the book. Each of the ideas in the book needs to make a sudden delightful impact on the child's mind, causing an intellectual awakening that signifies that an idea has been born. The teacher's role in this is to see and feel for himself, and then to prompt his students with an appreciative look or comment. But he needs to be careful that he doesn't deaden the impression of the idea with too much talking. Intellectual sympathy is stimulating, but we've all been like the little girl who said, 'Mom, I think I'd be able to understand it if you'd stop explaining so much.' One teacher said this about a student--'I find it so hard to tell whether she's really grasped the concept, or whether she just knows the mechanics of getting the right answer.' Children are like little monkeys. All they usually get from a flood of explantions is the trick of coming up with the right answer.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 183-184

We Manage Too Much of Children's Lives

I don't think we allow life and normal circumstances to just naturally occur in children's lives. We control too much, as if we were shielding little lambs from the wind. We shelter them from knowledge about pain, sin, need, suffering, disease, death and other hazards in ordinary life. I'm not saying we should expose children's tender souls to distress with careless abandon, but we should recognize that life has a calling for them, as much as it does for us. Nature provides them with a subtle protection, as subtle as the scent of a violet, that screens them from traumatic shocks. Some parents won't even read their children fairy tales because they're afraid that they'll expose the children to the ugly facts of life too suddenly.

Volume 3, School Education, pg 212

The Angel Stirs The Still Pool

I'd like to make one more point. We remain faithful to whatever affinities captivate us until death, or even longer. I'd like to say a word about the 'advantages' of special instructors and classes that a big city like London offers. [Too many activities aren't a good idea.] I suspect that it's most often the still pool that the angel comes down to stir. A steady, unruffled routine of work without privileged extras lends itself best to the angel's 'stirring'--which takes the form of what Coleridge calls a 'Captain Idea,' striking our mind, and initiating contact with an affinity.


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