|   CM SERIES HOME   |   CONCISE SUMMARIES   |   PARAPHRASES  |   TOPICAL   |

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

The Way of the Will, Conscience and The Way of Reason


Volume 1, Home Education, pg 317-341

I.--The Will

Government of Mansoul

[The Kingdom of Mansoul is Charlotte Mason's way of explaining how we use our will to control our impulses and actions. The place that those things originate is within us, in our souls. So she calls this the Kingdom of Mansoul--the inner person within each of us.]

Now we need to consider a topic that's of extreme importance to every living being who is obligated to live a reasonable life on earth, and who hopes to go on to a better place after this life. I'm talking about governing the Kingdom of Mansoul. Every child who reaches a certain age will have this duty. It's up to his parents to teach him what's required of him and how to do it. Governing the Kingdom of Mansoul can be likened to governing a well-ruled state. Good government has three branches, each with its own function. But all three branches are ruled by one minister, not by a multitude of counselors.

Executive Power Rests in the Will

Outside of the three branches sits the Will. Like a Roman guard, he has soldiers under his authority to command. He tells one to go, and he goes. He tells another to come, and he comes. He tells a third to do something, and he does it. In other words, the executive power is in the Will. If the Will has learned to have the habit of using his authority, then he gives commands in a tone that seems to expect obedience, and his kingdom is at unity. But if the Will is weak and unreliable, then his entire kingdom of Mansoul will be torn with disorder and rebellion.

What is the Will?

I don't know exactly what the Will is. We can see its effects in all people, but nobody can define exactly what it is. Yet more harmful mistakes are made by educators in this area than any other. Therefore, it's worthwhile to see if we can consider what the Will does, and what its limits are.

Some People Go Through Life Without Any Deliberate Act of Will

First of all, the Will doesn't necessarily enter into any of the subjects we've already discussed. A child can reflect and imagine, be inspired to want to know, be driven by power, or crave attention, may love and admire, may form habits of attention or obedience or diligence or laziness, involuntarily. In other words, he can do all of those things without ever once intending or determining or willing himself to do it on his own. In fact, this is so true that there are people who live their entire lives without even one act of determined, deliberate will. There are people who are good-natured and easy-going who have only known smooth lives [so that no act of will is ever needed], and other poor souls who have never had one stroke of luck and have drifted so far from their homes that those they grew up with would never recognize them. Intellectual ability does not guarantee a strong will. For instance, Coleridge was intellectual, but he had such little power to control his will that others had to take care of him. His thoughts were as much out of his ability to control as his actions. People went to hear him speak great thoughts, but those thoughts were just disconnected ideas pouring forth, and only related to each other by association. Yet his mind was so splendid that his thoughts flowed forth methodically, all by themselves.

Character is the Result of Behavior That is Regulated by the Will

Everyone knows the dignity and strength of character that comes from having a determined will. In fact, character itself is the result of behavior controlled by a person's own will. We sometimes say, So-and-so has a lot of character, or another person lacks character. We could just as easily say, So-and-so has a strong will, or another person has no will. We all know of people who had talent and potential, yet their lives were ruined because they lacked a strong will to chart the course of their lives.

The Three Functions of the Will

The will controls passion and emotions, directs desires to their proper channels, and rules bodily appetites. Note that passions, emotions, desires and appetites were already there. The will gains strength as it exercises its power by restraining and redirecting them. Although it's tempting to think of the will as a thing of the spirit, it works like any other part of the body in its need for nourishment and exercise in order to grow and become more capable.

Some Novelists Forget that the Will Has Limitations

In novels, the villain is an interesting person (at least in old novels!) because he always has a strong will, but, instead of using his will to control his violent passions, his will becomes an accessory in acting them out. The result is an evil being who seems to go against nature itself. And no wonder, because, according to natural law, the part of the body that doesn't do what it's supposed to gets weaker as a natural and logical consequence. Finally, it disappears altogether, or becomes practically invisible. The will is in the seat of authority. It can't transfer its power to the rest of the body. The chaos would be too terrible. It would be like a riotous mob attacking and taking over the government so that confusion is everywhere and there are shootings in the street and attacks on innocent people.

Parents Fall into This Metaphysical Blunder

I feel compelled to draw your attention to the will's limits to do its own work, because parents all too often make the same mistake that authors do. They admire a strong, determined will, and so they should. They realize that if their child is going to influence the world, it will be by his force of will. So what happens? The baby pitches a fit because he wants to play with a forbidden object and the mother praises his 'strong will.' Or the three-year-old has a temper tantrum in the middle of the street and refuses to go one way or the other with his caregiver, and that is credited to his 'strong will.' He insists on having absolute run of the house, and monopolizes his sister's toys, all because of his 'strong will.' And then comes a conflict of opinion. On the one hand, the parents decide that the child's will must not be broken, no matter what, so his temper is allowed to rage with impunity. In another family, the parents are determined to break the child's will at all costs, so the poor little child is subjected to a sad series of punishment and repression.

Stubborn Willfulness Really Indicates a Lack of Will Power

But, all this time, nobody understands that the child's real issue is a lack of will. He is in a state of total willfulness. Unfortunately, that's the word we use to describe the lack of the will to have any power to control. A better word would be willessness, if that were a real word. It is this confusion between willfulness and domination by the will that causes parents to make harmful mistakes, even if the child isn't encouraged to be stubborn, or isn't harshly repressed. The parent's confusion makes them neglect to cultivate and train their child's will. The will is a gift of God and should be used to temper and direct every other gift into useful channels, whether beauty or genius or strength or skill.

What is Willfulness?

If digging in one's heels by sheer will isn't what will is, then what is it? Look at it this way. If the bit and bridle are removed so that there is no means to control the child's appetites, desires and emotions, then the child who is let loose with his own personal tendency, whether it be resentment, jealousy, desire for power, or greed for things, will be just like poor Mazeppa, the Polish nobleman who was strapped to a wild, strong horse and hurtled along swiftly with no power to help himself. There is no limit to passions and appetites and their persistence, if the will, which was appointed to control them, is removed. It is the force and determination of appetites and passions that are called 'willfulness' and mistaken for exertion of the will. But it is really determination that is being manifested, not will. The child is being hurtled along by his passions and appetites with no means to help himself because his will, which should have been his bit and bridle to balance his character, has been left undeveloped and untrained.

The Will has Superior and Inferior Functions

The will has functions that are superior and inferior, or, moral and mechanical. If the will is neglected so that it's too flabby and weak to do its job in the higher moral offices, it may still be functioning enough to control such matters as coming or going, sitting or standing, speaking or being quiet.

The Will is Not a Moral Faculty

Although it's impossible to attain moral excellence of character without a strong, determined will, the will itself is not moral. It is merely a tool. A man can call forth great strength of will to control his appetites and desires, and yet still be an unworthy man. For instance, a man can exert his will to keep his base passions in check because he has other more important yet unworthy motives, such as vengeance.

A Disciplined Will is Necessary to Heroic Christian Character

Although a disciplined will isn't necessary for salvation, it is necessary to develop Christian character. Gordon, Havelock, Florence Nightingale, St. Paul, could not have been what they were without a strong will. This is only one way in which Christianity reaches even the weakest souls. There is a wonderful painting in the Louvre, 'Magdalen' by Guido Reni. Her mouth has obviously never been set with any resolve for good or evil. The lower part of her face has a helpless look of just abandoning itself to the emotions of the moment. But the eyes raised to meet the gaze of mysterious eyes that are not in the picture, seem to totally transfigure the rest of the face. Looking at the eyes, it seems as if the whole face is aglow with a passion to serve, love and surrender to God. God's divine grace can accomplish this transfiguration even in weak, unwilling souls to enable them to do what they can. Yet their ability to serve will be limited by their past. But a child with a Christian mother whose priority is to train him to live a Christian life, won't have that problem. As soon as her child reaches an awareness that he belongs to God and serves Him, his mother can have him already prepared for that high service. He can be a warrior in God's army from the time he is young. He can have an effective will, one that can will and do His good pleasure.

The Sole Practical Faculty of Man

Before we consider how to train the will, which is the 'sole practical faculty of man,' we need to know how the will works. We need to understand how it does the work of managing everything that is done and thought in the kingdom Mansoul. 'Can't you make yourself do what you want to do?' Guy asks poor Charlie Edmonston, in Charlotte Mary Yonge's Heir of Redclyffe. Charlie has never learned how to make himself do anything. There are probably some people who haven't even progressed far enough to want to do anything, but most of us do want to do well. The problem we have is how to make ourselves do what we want to. And this is what divides effective people from ineffective ones, the great from the small, and divides truly good people from well-intentioned, respectable ones. The more a man has the power to compel himself and control his impulses and his personal wishes, the more he can depend on himself and be confident of how he'll act in a crisis.

How the Will Operates

How does the ruler in the heart of a person behave? Does he force his members to stay in line with stern reprimands of 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not'? Not at all. Does he do it by applying his reason and mustering his motives? No. John Stuart Mill taught us that 'the only thing man ever does, or is able to do, with physical matter is to move one thing to another.' We shouldn't be surprised if great moral good comes from what seems like inadequate means. A little bit of experience in a daycare can show more effectively than words what the will can do. A baby falls, gets a bad bump and cries piteously. An experienced caregiver may not kiss the bump to make it better, or show any pity at all. She knows that could make things worse. The more she pities, the more the baby cries. Instead, she quickly distracts him by changing his thoughts. She carries him to the window to look at the horses, or gives him his favorite picture book, or most cherished toy, and the child stops mid-sob, even when he is badly hurt. The experienced caregiver illustrates the role of the will in a person. By force of will, a man can distract himself by changing his thoughts. He can transfer his attention from one topic to another, and he can do it with a burst of mental force that he's only vaguely aware he possesses. And this ability is enough to rescue a man. The power to make himself think only of the things he's already decided to think about for his own good can make him a man.

The Way of the Will:

1. Incentives

A man's thoughts might be wandering on some forbidden pleasure and keeping him from his work. But he gathers his wits and deliberately fixes his attention on the incentives that motivate him the most to keep working. Maybe he focuses on the relaxation and pleasure that he'll be entitled to after he finishes his job, or the responsibility that binds him to completing his task. His thoughts stay on the path his will determines them to stay on, and his works seems less burdensome.

2. Diversion

Perhaps a man suffers a slight injustice that brings up a flood of resentment. The offender shouldn't have done it, he had no right, it was mean, and so on, going through all the bitter thoughts we replay in our minds when someone offends our precious self. But if the man has control of his own will, he will refuse to let this go on. He doesn't argue within himself by saying, 'This is not right, it isn't really his fault, after all.' He knows he isn't ready for that yet, the offense is too fresh in his mind. Instead, he forces himself to think about something else--a book he just read, an email he needs to compose, anything interesting enough to distract him. Later, when he allows himself to replay the offense in his mind, he finds that the bitterness is lessened and he's able to reflect on the matter with a more detached and cool head. This doesn't just work for rising resentment. It works for every kind of temptation we run across.

3. Change of Thought

Suppose a man is bored with his work. The mundane sameness of his task, the weariness of doing the same thing over and over again, fills him with disgust and despondency and he begins to slacken his effort, unless he's a man who has control of his will and refuses to allow himself to waste time being idle while thinking of discontentment. It's always within his power to find something pleasant to think about, something outside himself. And he does, and the result is a happier frame of mind so that, no matter what his task is, it seems lighter.

The Way the Will Works Should be Taught to Children

It is useful to know what to do when we're overrun. Knowing how to use our will is the secret of a happy life, and it's worth teaching children about it. Are you irritable? Change your thoughts! Are you tired of trying? Change your thoughts! Are you craving things you're not supposed to have? Change your thoughts!

There is a power within you that will enable you to turn away from thoughts that make you unhappy and tempt you to do wrong, by thinking of things that will make you feel happy and motivated to do the right thing. It's deceptively simple, but it's the one single secret tool that a strong-minded person has over his own self. It's the power to make himself think of what he decides to think about and forbidding himself to think about things that breed trouble.

Power of Will Implies Power of Attention

One can see that the will has great power within its sphere, but when you stop to think about it, that sphere is a pretty narrow limit. It takes a lot of preparation and maintenance for a strong will to have power to control a person's behavior. For instance, the person must also have developed the ability to focus his attention. We've already talked about how important this is in earlier chapters. Some people are so scattered that they can't hold a connected thought for more than five minutes, even if they try or if they are pressured to. If they've never learned to devote all of their focused attention to a subject, then it's likely that no amount of determination, even if they had a strong will, could make them able to keep their mind on one thought, whether it's theirs or someone else's thought. And this is where parts of the intellect overlap. Ability to apply one's will implies that a person is able to focus their full attention when they choose. So, before a parent can train a child's will, the child needs to develop the habit of keeping his full attention focused.

Habit Can Frustrate the Will

We've already mentioned how an impulse to do good that isn't followed through can become a habit. Habit can be a helper or an enemy, and often frustrates the will. The desperate alcoholic might determine with all the will he has in him. He refuses to even cast his imagination on drinking. He forces himself to think of other things. But it's all in vain. His mind can't resist thinking of what it's grown accustomed to thinking. His habit is too strong and his will is too weak. We've all experienced how habit conquers our will in less important issues. All of us have some lazy, procrastinating, persistent habit that our reformed will struggles with daily. But I've already said a lot about the parent's duty to make their child's way easier by creating a path of helpful habits. It's not necessary for me to say any more about how habit can help or hinder the will.

Such an Effective Instrument Must Be Used Reasonably

A person's ability to reason has to be cultivated if his will is going to rule well. He must have some concept of why daily reading is useful, why orthodox faith is proper, why a citizen should do his duty. Otherwise, his will is going to be weak and inconsistent. It won't be effective, and, even worse, he might take up some incorrect or even cruel idea, and do a lot of harm, while believing that he's working up his will for some noble effort. A parent should attempt to make the child conscious of the power of his will only after the child is trained to use his powers of reason in a responsible way.

How to Strengthen the Will

We'll consider another limitation of the will next. But first, once a parent has taken the trouble to prepare his child to use his will, how does he strengthen that will so that the child can depend on it to eventually control his own life? We've already spoken about how important it is that the child be trained to be obedient. But obedience is only valuable as far as it helps a child make himself do what's right. Any act of obedience that doesn't give the child a sense of conquering his own inclinations will enslave him. His resentment for the loss of his freedom may compel him to rebel at the first opportunity. That's why so many children who are brought up too strictly don't do well. But when you have the child's cooperation, and when he himself wants to do the thing, then his own will, not yours, is compelling him. And then he has begun the greatest effort and highest achievement of human life--making himself do what he needs to do. Let him know what a noble thing he has done. Let him enjoy a sense of triumph. Congratulate him when he is able to make himself bring his wandering thoughts back to his tedious math sheet, or when he makes himself complete a task he started, or forces himself to throw off a dark mood and change a sour look into a smile.

The Habit of Managing Oneself

Then, as we said before, let him know the secret method of using his will. Explain to him that, by exerting his will, he has the capability to redirect his thoughts from what he shouldn't be thinking about, to whatever he wants to think about--schoolwork, prayer, chores. He can be brave and strong and make himself think about whatever he chooses. Let him try it out with some experiments on some minor thoughts. Because once he gets his mind on the right thoughts, everything else takes care of itself, and he'll be sure to do the right thing. If he feels irritable, and unkind thoughts come into his mind, the plan is to think hard about something else, something good, like his next birthday, or what he wants to be when he grows up. This concept isn't taught all at once, but little by little, a bit at a time as opportunities come up. Once a child gets into the habit of managing and controlling himself, it's amazing how much self-will and determination a young child can have. I once heard a lady tell her four-year old nephew, 'Restrain yourself, Thomas,' and Thomas did restrain himself even though he had been pitching a fit about some minor annoyance.

Educating the Will is More Important Than Educating the Intellect

In all of this, the child's will is being trained and strengthened. He is learning how and when to use his will, and his will is getting stronger and more capable every day. I'll add one more comment from Dr. Morell's Introduction to Mental Philosophy: 'When it comes to shaping a person's destiny, educating the will is far more important than educating the intellect. Theory, doctrine, consideration of laws, is never enough to develop the habit of doing the right thing consistently. We learn to do by doing. We learn to overcome by overcoming. Every time we do the right thing because we've chosen to out of principle, whether because we've been told to, or because we're following someone's example, a greater mark is made in our character than all the theory in the world.'

II.--The Conscience

Conscience is Judge and Lawgiver

But the will certainly doesn't govern Mansoul all by itself. The will has the final say, because we can only do what we will ourselves to. But there's something even more powerful behind the will, and the will only expresses what it commands. That something is the conscience, and it sits supreme in the inner chamber of man. Conscience is the one who gives the rules. It says 'thou shalt' or 'thou shalt not' and the will does what it says. It's also the judge. When the soul is guilty of some offense, the conscience calls upon it to give account. And, once the conscience has declared a verdict, there is no appeal.

'I am, I ought, I can, I will'

'I am, I ought, I can, I will.' These are like four steps of the ladder that St. Augustine wrote about when he said we could 'go up on the stepping stones of the old, sinful man we cast off and are dead to, and ascend to higher things.'

'I am' means that we can know ourselves and understand what we're really like. 'I ought' means that we have a moral judge inside us. We feel like we're subject to it. It lets us know what our duty is and compels us to do it. 'I can' means that we know we have the ability to do what we know we're supposed to. 'I will' means that we resolve to use the ability we know we have to do what our inner moral judge has urged us to do. Resolve is the first step in actually doing. These four make a perfect, beautiful chain. Man is designed so ingeniously to carry out right actions, that we wonder how it's even possible for him to do the wrong thing. But the sorrowful mysteries of sin and temptation aren't for me to solve here. The reality is that no life is immune from ruin and loss. That's why I'm so concerned that parents do their duty to prevent that from happening to their children by using the information I share. Probably 99 out of 100 people whose lives are ruined can point to parents who never bothered to do anything about their habits of laziness, sensual appetites and stubbornness when they were young. Their parents didn't strengthen them by teaching them the kinds of habits needed to live a good life.

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.

Conscience Is Not an Infallible Guide

Where the conscience is concerned, parents who let children do whatever they want [and neglect to guide them] do real harm to them. The parents assume that their child is born with a conscience, and they hope his behavior will be checked by his conscience. Other than that, they don't involve themselves. The child will have to work things out with his conscience himself. Parents like this either assume that a totally mature conscience is something a baby is born with, or that it grows with the child like his hair and his legs, and doesn't need the kind of religious guidance that the spirit does. That kind of thinking assumes that the conscience is infallible. But believing that is a delusion when common sense and experience shows us clearly the kinds of erroneous things people feel are the right thing to do. The inconsistence of a conscience that hasn't been taught is so common that there are sayings about it: 'Honor among thieves,' 'Strain out a gnat and swallow a camel,' are about misguided conscience, and 'more wishful thinking than truth,' and 'none are so blind as he who refuses to see,' are about the even more common cases of those who knowingly trick their conscience into yielding.

Conscience is a Real Power

Conscience is not a foolproof guide. It's capable of not even noticing the most outrageous wrongs, yet throwing the book at someone over some trivial, insignificant matter, like the Pharisees who tithed even their spices, but neglected to adhere to the more important laws. Conscience can be tricked and persuaded that evil is good, and good is evil. If the conscience is so prone to weakness, what use is it against man's natural inclination to be selfish? Is the conscience merely a figment of our imagination, or a creation of our own minds? Is it nothing more than my opinion of my actions and the actions of others? On the contrary! The fact that consciences can deviate might be the most convincing proof that it exists and has real power. As Adam Smith said, 'Not just the best men, but even the worst men, feel and acknowledge that the conscience is the supreme authority. Even those who try to present who they really are sincerely to the world, work hard deceiving themselves so as not to see their own character.'

The Spiritual Sense That Helps Us Know Good and Evil

For our practical purposes, it's not necessary to settle obscure questions such as what conscience is, or whether it lies in our emotions or reason, or outside of both. But we do know this--that conscience is as essential to our nature as affection and reason. Conscience is the spiritual sense that gives us knowledge of good and evil. A six-month old baby who isn't even speaking yet will show evidence of a conscience. A scolding look will make him look down and hide his face. If the mother experiments by giving the baby that same look when the baby is happy and not doing anything wrong, the baby will be confused. His conscience hasn't been instructed yet and makes him feel guilty. Until his conscience learns better, it will condemn him on someone else's word.

Incidents like this reveal what a serious responsibility the parents have. The child is born with a moral aptitude, a delicate sense that helps him to discern what's right and wrong. He also has a sense of delighting in good in himself and others, and being repulsed by badness. But the poor little child is like a navigator who has a compass and doesn't know what the letters N, S, E and W mean. He is born to love good and hate evil, but he doesn't really know what's good and what's evil. He doesn't trust his own judgment, but in his simplicity, he trusts in the guidance of others. It's astonishing that the God of the universe would allow imperfect moral parents to be entrusted with the making of an immortal being. But it's even more astonishing that parents take on that trust without considering how important their responsibility is.

A Child's Conscience Isn't a Supreme Authority, but an Undeveloped Ability

If we look at the child's conscience as something that needs to be developed rather than a supreme authority, then we must consider how this immature guide can be educated to do its important job of giving the will information, and telling the person what to do. A badly taught conscience can make serious errors. A man can slaughter the faithful because his conscience tells him that they must die. On the other hand, nobody attains a godly, righteous and controlled life without being ruled by a good conscience. A good conscience doesn't just state right and wrong. It has been taught to know the difference between them. Many people can taste such subtle differences that they could qualify for a job as a professional tea taster, but that subtle discernment is a waste and useless to tea companies, unless he can train his tongue to differentiate between tea. Only then can he make a living from his talent.

The Uninstructed Conscience

When educating the conscience, what's gone on in the child's past will have some influence, just like it does with the will. You can't refine the conscience by staying ignorant. We can't understand the morals of savages who don't know God's rules. We don't know how the Sepoys of India could have let a mixture of pig grease and beef lard in rifles cause them to massacre so many people in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. (Read about it here or here.) Superstition and prejudice results when people let something other than reason dictate right from wrong for them. We can't accept the actions of others as right, no matter how convinced they are, unless those actions are reasonable and right in themselves.

The Processes Implied in Making a 'Conscientious' Decision

So, before conscience can make a decision in any situation, the educated reason has to consider the pros and cons. Then the experienced judgment needs to balance the pros and cons and decide which makes a stronger case. The person must focus all his attention on the question. Habits of doing the right thing must prevent the person from acting on his feelings, and will make doing the right thing seem easier and more comfortable. The person's desire will try to tempt him, but his conscience will be informed about all the facts relevant to the case and will decide what's the right thing to do. Then the will does what the conscience says is right. A conscientious man is one who takes every decision before his conscience. You can be sure of the opinions and actions of such a man. These elaborate steps come more naturally to a person whose conscience has been taught, and is supplemented with a trained intellect. His mind is always ready to judge and counsel him.

The Instructed Conscience Is Nearly Always Right

This is a good reason to give a child some well-rounded training. He needs the highest culture he can get, and thorough training in good habits. That way his conscience will always be alert and supported by all of the mind's powers. Such a conscience is the most important element of a noble life. An instructed conscience almost always makes the correct decisions. But it isn't usually mature until the person is mature. No matter how right-minded and sincere a child may be, he will tend to make mistakes because youths tend to get fixated and obsessed on one particular duty, or one obligation, and neglect the others.

The Good Conscience of a Child

But even a child with an immature conscience and developing mind is capable of saying, 'I can't, it wouldn't be right,' or, 'I will do that because it's the right thing to do.' And once a child is able to decide to do the right thing when confronted with temptations, he is able to really live. His conscience will continue to mature and develop at the same rate as his intellect. Many facets of learning in different areas are necessary for the conscience to be the best it can be. But is there any way to train the conscience directly, any way to refine a child's spiritual discernment so that he is repulsed and rejects even the mere hint of evil?

Children Play with Moral Questions

This is the most delicate part of education, and the one adults are most prone to bungle. Everyone knows how frustrating it is to discuss any nice, moral problem with children. They quibble over insignificant details, come up with all kinds of bewildering side issues to evade the question, fail to be shocked by or to admire the things we expect. They play around with the question and refuse to take it seriously. Or, even more frustrating, they are too harsh and rigidly righteous. They casually and cheerfully dictate damnation. Parents are discouraged when they see this lack of conscience in their children, but it's not really their fault. Their conscience will mature as their mind does. But at a young age, both aren't fully developed yet. These kinds of discussions have no place with children, they shouldn't be encouraged to give opinions about questions of right and wrong. And they shouldn't be given little books that authoritatively declare that specific behaviors are always wrong.

The Bible is the Main Source of Moral Ideas

It would be good if story books and history texts were as reluctant to offer commentary as the Bible. The child might hear an edited reading about Joseph from the Bible, which rarely adds commentaries or explanations. Nobody has to tell him what was done wrong and what was good. He doesn't need anyone to draw out the moral lesson in the story. If that was necessary, then the Bible would have been written in vain. Good and bad actions would have no witness on their own. A child should hear the whole Bible read consecutively, from Genesis chapter 1 to the end, but with appropriate omissions. Every time the Bible is read to a child, it should be a pleasant experience. Maybe he could be in his mother's room, or even on her lap. That fifteen minutes should be a peaceful time of calm and contentment. The child's whole attention should be free to take in the story without the distraction of moral teaching. The less talk, the better. The story will sink in and bring its own lesson, some now, and more little by little as he matures year by year and can handle it. Just one of these stories will plant a moral idea inside him that will continue to grow and bear fruit.

Tales Draw a Child's Attention To Conduct

Appropriate parts of the Bible are the most important elements of teaching morality, but any true depiction of life helps a growing conscience, whether it's a tale of noble deeds, or the story of a flawed, struggling life. The child will get into the habit of thinking about conduct in these stories. He'll start off weighing actions by their consequences. But little by little, his conscience becomes more discriminating and he'll begin judging behavior on its own merit, regardless of the consequences. This silent, subtle growth happens best if there's no chatter about the subject to distract him, because, during this chat, your mannerisms and his curiosity and his simple joy in the discussion, can draw attention away from the moral idea that the story should convey to the conscience. It is very important that the child not be allowed to label people around him as 'bad' because of what they do. It isn't so much an issue of whether he's right or wrong, but the habit of criticizing and blaming will dull his conscience. It will deaden his sensibility to the command, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.'

Ignorance of a Child's Conscience

What about the child's own behavior? Should he be allowed to analyze that? Yes, he should consider his actions and even his words. But he should never be encouraged to judge his motives. That can cause him to get into the bad habit of introspection. Also, as far as children considering their ways, we need to remember that a child's conscience is still immature. Adults are often baffled when they get a glimpse into the ignorance of a child's conscience, although that rarely happens because children, in spite of their constant chatter and open friendliness, keep their deepest thoughts to themselves. They'll often commit grievous offenses against truth, modesty, and love without even realizing how mistaken they are. Yet some trivial, insignificant matter will bother them deeply. Children will bite and hurt each other viciously, steal little things, and do other shocking things that convince their parents that they must have very bad natures. But that's not necessarily the case. It's just that their conscience still hasn't learned and doesn't see a clear line between right and wrong. So they make mistakes on both sides of the line. I once saw a twelve year old who was dying and was wearing herself out with distress because she thought she had committed the unpardonable sin. Nobody even knew where she learned that term. The sin that grieved her so much was that she had neglected to get up in bed to kneel while praying! Children's ignorance about the most common matters of right and wrong is really pathetic. Yet too often children are treated as if they knew all about right and wrong because of the fact that they possess a conscience. But a conscience is merely a spiritual part of the body that needs direction.

Instructing the Conscience––Kindness

It's another matter when children do wrong intentionally, and I don't need to convince anyone that children sometimes do misbehave even when they know better. But that fact doesn't negate the need to teach them the right thing to do. This teaching can't be hit or miss. It needs to be regular and sequential. Kindness, for example, might be the topic for the week. There can be a talk about kindness with their mother, the kind of informal talk that they enjoy. It should be kept short. She might explain that kindness is love in action and word, or in a look. A pool of love in a little boy's heart does nobody any good if it's closed off and hidden. It's only when that love is allowed to bubble up like a spring and flow out that it becomes kindness. Then there might be daily short talks about specific ways the child might show kindness to his siblings, friends, parents, people in pain or trouble, animals, and strangers we can't even see who are in real trouble because they don't know Jesus. The child should be given one thing to think about every day and one nice example of kindness that will inspire him and make him want to do the same.

Jesus' parable of the 'Good Samaritan' is a good model to teach about morals. The story and little talks should make children want to be just as good. Then tell them the command to 'go and do likewise.' After presenting them with the concept of kindness and specific examples, end by giving them the command to 'be kind.' Let them know that this law of God's is for children as well as grown ups. Once their conscience has been taught, their emotions are recruited to want to carry out their duty. Then if the child has to be reprimanded, he will have no doubt what he did wrong: he broke God's law of kindness. Even his conscience will confirm that he is guilty. Don't give children bad examples of what not to do, because human nature might make them want to copy them. Instead, tell them stories of noble actions, great and small, such as those in Yonge's book Golden Deeds. Such examples will stir them to the battle of life like a trumpet call.

The Conscience is Made Effective by Discipline

Be courteous, be sincere, be grateful, be considerate, be honest. There are enough specific attributes to provide weekly topics all the child's life. And during all of this time, the child is developing the concept of duty, and his conscience is learning and maturing. The mother is acting as a friendly, alert guardian angel, always watching. She isn't trying to catch the child in a mistake, she's trying to guide him into doing the right thing that she has already made attractive to him. We only learn to do something by doing it, and we get better at doing it over time. As the mother teaches and guides, she teaches the child to listen to his conscience as if it were the voice of God, and to obey it when it says to 'do this,' or, 'don't do that.' One might protest that we are placing higher value on a conscience trained by man than a conscience divinely implanted by God and untainted by flawed man. And that's true. In every aspect of life, both physical and spiritual, we are expected to put forth some human effort before God gives us power. Even a withered arm must be stretched forth before it can be divinely healed. We have every reason to believe that when a conscience is taught well and obeyed faithfully, God will help by giving divine illumination and understanding.


Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 128-153

Chapter 8 - I. The Way the Will Works

Principle 16. Children have two guides to help them in their moral and intellectual growth--"the way of the will," and "the way of reason."
Principle 17. Children must learn the difference between "I want" and "I will." They must learn to distract their thoughts when tempted to do what they may want but know is not right, and think of something else, or do something else, interesting enough to occupy their mind. After a short diversion, their mind will be refreshed and able to will with renewed strength.
(The sixteenth and seventeenth of Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles.)

The most important aspects of life, indeed, even life itself, are beyond definition. We are told that 'the will' is 'the only practical faculty that man has.' But who can define the will? We are often told that 'a person is as much or as little as his own will,' yet most people go through their entire lives without any definitive determined act of their will. Habit, tradition, society's accepted norms have so much influence over us that we get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, go about our morning routine and evening leisure without even thinking about it, it's second nature. One thing we do know about the will: its function is to choose. It decides for us. It seems certain that the harder the act of making up our minds becomes, the weaker our general will becomes. Opinions are spoon fed to us. We absorb our principles second-hand, or even third hand. 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.

Every attack on a person's flesh and spirit, no matter how subtle, is an attempt to compromise his integrity or will. However, in these days, we're threatened with a war upon us. This war is no longer indirect, but it's aimed deliberately and directly at the will, which is the person. The only thing preventing us from becoming a nation of idiots is that there will always be a few people with strong wills among us who will resist the general trend. Our mission as parents and teachers is to make sure that our children are in this group. It's a serious injury when adults use suggestion to weaken a child's moral strength of character. When we consider what this means, we won't want to do such a thing. After all, consider this: whatever we do with a deliberate, conscious act of the will is described as voluntary. Whatever we do without any deliberate, conscious act of our will is called involuntary. The will only has one function: it chooses. And with every deliberate choice, our character grows stronger.

From our infancy until the day we die, suggestions surround us, crowding upon us. These suggestions help to educate us because we have to choose between them, and that's a learning experience in itself. But a suggestion given intentionally to influence us by someone we respect carries added weight. Few are able to resist and make an unbiased choice when we feel like the decision has already been made for us by someone else. Our human nature tends to make us take the path of least resistance and just accept the decision someone else has made. Of course, some of these kinds of decisions are made for our own good, either for our health or to instill willing obedience to authority. People who propose that suggestion be used as a means to educate a child forget that every attempt to use suggestion to influence a child weakens the child's own power of choice, the very force that should be making him a person of integrity. The compliant creatures who let habits, principles and opinions be dictated to them by others may easily turn into criminals. All they need is some opportune popular mania to be carried into a wave of mob fury, as happened with the crimes of the Gordon Riots. We've had terrible examples of this kind of mad fury in our own day, although we've failed to find the root source. When people don't learn how to manage their own will, which should be their main function, it's easy to undermine their power of choice. A person's will is his safeguard against the unlawful intrusion and control of someone else. We're taught that offenses against the physical person of someone else is wrong and not to be tolerated. But who teaches us that it's just as wrong to intrude and influence someone else's mind and override their will? Who teaches us that it's immoral to let one person probe the thoughts of the unconscious mind of a child or adult? We should all be conscious of the fact that we make our own choices. The teacher's job is to provide each of her students with a full tank of noble, right thoughts to draw from. Right-thinking doesn't come from self-expression. It flows when an idea stimulates the thoughts. And the best place to get these noble, right ideas to fill a child's mind is from books and pictures and histories of individuals and nations. That's what trains a child's conscious and stimulates his will, and it's his will that makes the choice. One successful politician, Count Witte, wrote in his memiors recently how a great empire was reduced to nothing because its rulers were weak and they allowed others to influence them by tampering with their will-power, swaying their better judgement and manipulating their actions.

We don't need to be alarmed quite yet about our own country. But we should realize that one of education's primary purposes is to strengthen the will of students. If we acquaint ourselves with how the inner person works (I like to think of the inner person as 'the City of Mansoul') then we'll be better able to help students recognize at least some of the rich resources they have within themselves. They need to know the tools they have to help them as they live in and enjoy the world. We all have these tools as a gift from God to every human. All the beauty of the world and all the thoughts of its great thinkers are available to everyone. Everyone may take what he needs from what the world offers. Everyone has access to the heavenly places from which he gets a glimpse of eternity. But the student needs to know some facts about himself. He needs to know about his body's senses and appetites. He needs to know about his intellect, imagination and need for beauty. He needs to know how important it is for love and justice to control his moral nature. Mansoul has so much potential and possibility open to it. But it also has enemies that assault and endanger it. The child must understand that he has a duty to be in control of his own inner 'Mansoul.' The tools that give him the ability to direct himself are as much a part of him as his intellect, imagination and hunger. Those tools are his conscience and his will. The conscience can't do its job without regular, consecutive education. That's why we're so careful about including an ordered sequence of history, poetry, math and art in our curriculum. We want to train the child's conscience. Training is also needed for the will. People tend to assume that the will responds automatically. But nothing in 'Mansoul' acts all by itself and for itself. The will is like the president in the kingdom of 'Mansoul,' and manages all the other parts. A little knowledge about how the will works might help us to understand exactly what it does.

At the very least, a young teen should understand plainly that his life is in danger of drifting into complacency if he allows any of his desires or appetites to lead him, instead of allowing his will to lead and keep those desires under control. It's up to him to take responsibility and use the tools he's been given to will himself to act in the right way. He must be sheltered from fallacies. He's probably heard about what a strong will his baby brother has because he cries to play with the knife and insists on pulling the tablecloth off the table. He reads at school in history or literature how certain famous characters did famous deeds spurred by their own willfulness. He reads about Phaeton's rashness and thinks he's funny, he carefully analyzes Esau's character and decides he likes him better than Jacob, even though Jacob was more favored by God. He observes that Esau may be stubborn and willful, but Jacob is the one who has a strong will. With this and lots of other examples, he learns that having a strong will doesn't guarantee that you'll be good. It isn't the same as being determined to have your own way. As he reads, he begins to discern which characters are willful and stubborn, and which are self-governed as an act of their will. Yet even that doesn't define whether the characters are good or evil.

But dividing characters between willful and will-controlled does show which ones are impulsive, thinking only of pleasing themselves, seeking what's in their own best interest, and the characters who have a goal beyond and outside of themselves, even if their goal is as evil as Satan's in Paradise Lost. So he learns that he not only needs to have a determined will, but he needs to keep a goal beyond himself in view. He will recognize that, even though Louis XI wasn't very nice, he was a great king because his corrupt policies weren't to make himself richer, they were for the good of France. The will develops slowly but surely. It's nourished by the ideas offered to it, and all things work together for good to strengthen the will of a child who receives the proper education. Children should learn that unstable, untamed people are not controlled by their will. They're ruled by their impulses and passions. At the same time, a person can be calm and controlled by their will, yet have unworthy or evil ends. Or they might have a worthy goal beyond themselves, but get there through disgraceful means. A simple, conformed will, what Jesus calls 'a single eye,' seems to be the one thing we need to live right and serve others faithfully. And having a strong, focused will requires some goal outside of itself, whether good or bad. A child who understands this isn't going to accept self-culture as the ideal, or wonder if eastern religions have something to offer him, and will involve himself with the problem Browning raises in The Statue and the Bust. Little by little, the student will come to understand that, as kings have a duty to rule their kingdoms, all men have a duty to use their will to control their own inner kingdoms. A king is not a king unless he rules, and a man is less than a man if he doesn't use his will for a good purpose. It's a fact of life that the will, like most other things, has its ebbs and flows when it feels strong or falters. One of the secrets of life is discovering how to survive the times when the will is weak without compromising one's integrity.

Students have to learn that the will is subject to temptations from many areas--physical comfort, wanting material things and raising one's status in society. The will is just one tool and doesn't act all by itself. It takes all of a person's being to will oneself to do something. A person can exercise his will wisely, justly and with strength only if all of his powers have been trained and instructed. We have to have some understanding before we can set our will with any determination. Jesus asked the Jews, 'How is it that you won't understand?' And most of us are the same way, we refuse to try to understand. We look for undeniable proofs before we'll believe, failing to see that belief is a matter of our own will making a choice to believe. Thus, it's important to train ourselves to use our will properly. Then we'll do what's right and appropriate any time the occasion arises.

Unlike the other agents in our 'kingdom of Mansoul,' our will is free to do what it wants. Its function is to prefer one decision over another. Every day we're faced with decisions, and the duty before us is to 'choose ye this day.' It's the job of our will to make those choices. But the very act of being torn between two decisions is stressful and hard, whether we're trying to choose between two prospective spouses, or two dresses [or two homeschool curriculums! ;-) ] A lot of people avoid this difficulty by just doing what everyone else is doing. They let magazines dictate how their rooms are decorated and what they wear. They let bestseller lists tell them what to read. They let TV commercials determine how they'll spend their leisure time and what movies to see. They even let popularity decide who they'll spend time with. Often, we're quick to know what the other person should do, but we resist thinking through and making decisions for ourselves.

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.

It's important to understand what we're choosing between. Things are just things; they symbolize deeper ideas. Several times a day, we're faced with two ideas represented by things, and we have to choose based on right and reasonableness. We need to be on guard against letting ourselves be carried along and then calling it 'tending to our duty' instead of consciously making a decision. We need to guard against dishonest fallacies, like the erroneous idea that our duty is to get the best there is at the lowest price [instead of the fairest price!] And we don't just chase after the cheapest new fashions and home furnishings. We chase opinions and ideas with the same restless urgency and fickleness. We eagerly adopt any fad, any notion we read about in the paper. A man is no more than the strength of his will. The will's job is to choose. We can find all kinds of ways to get out of committing to a decision, but our duty is to 'choose this day whom ye will serve.' There are two ways we can go: we can serve God and others, or we can serve ourselves. If all we care about is making sure our needs are met, doing well for ourselves, getting as much comfort, luxury and enjoyment out of life as we can, then we're only serving ourselves. And serving ourselves takes no act of resolved will. Our own appetites and desires are always there to spur us to do whatever is necessary. But if we serve God and others, we always have to be alert to the choices that present themselves before us. What springtime is to a year, is like school days are to our lifetimes. We often meet a person whose only business in life seems to be eating, drinking, working out at the gym and boating. It's possible that he has a deeper side and another facet to his life than we're aware of. But, as far as we can see, he is living to serve his own self. Or we might meet another man in an influential position who does important work, and his ideas are what he remembers from his wonderful teachers at school and college. He's interested in Greek plays, is open to great thoughts, and is always ready to serve as a result of his education. Whatever we receive when we're young, we keep all our lives.

The will affects everything we do and what we think--yet what it actually does is a small action. It's confined to a very little place between the conscience, and the reason. That's where all ideas have to present themselves. Should we accept a new idea, or reject it? Conscience and reason each have their say, but the will is supreme and makes the decision. The will's behavior is determined by all the principles we've collected, and all the opinions we've formed. At first, we entertain the novel idea and ponder it. We vaguely intend to do something with it, then form a definite purpose about what to do, then we resolve. And the result is that we take action or change our thinking to embrace or reject the idea. We hear how Rudyard Kipling's great ambition and desire at one time was to have a tobacco shop. Why? Because then he'd be able to get in touch with men as they came to buy their weekly tobacco. Luckily for the world of literature, he did not keep a tobacco shop. Yet the foundational idea that drove him then continued to act on his life. He always had his men around him, and who knows how many of those young men he has inspired to become 'Captains Courageous' by talking with them, as well as writing books!

But what if an unworthy idea presents itself in the mind? Suppose the idea is supported by popular opinion, by logic, and even the conscience finds it acceptable? The will soon gets tired from fighting with sheer force, and what then? Should the will fight it out? That's how the medieval church handled the bad ideas that it called temptations. The lash, rough shirts, stone couches, starved bodies witness that they weren't very successful at these battles.

When the overstressed will needs a break, it can't relax so much that it gives in. But it can and should find some diversion, some kind of recreation (Latin provides beautiful words that say exactly what we mean!) A change of physical activity or a mental challenge is helpful, but if no diversion is available, then we have to think about something else, even if it's something trivial. A new pair of socks, the sweater we'd like to buy, a story we're reading, a friend we hope to see, anything at all, as long as we don't tell ourselves what we should be thinking about the thought our will is struggling with. The will doesn't want arguments and suggestions. It needs a break, some kind of diversion to do something else. In a surprisingly short time, it's able to go back to that matter and make a decision to be faithful to duty, even if that duty is boring, a bother, difficult or even dangerous. This is the 'way the will works.' And this is the secret to having the power to govern oneself that everyone should have. It not only makes it easier to do the right thing in a practical sense, and develops our spiritual growth, but it also helps our intellectual well-being. The phrase 'free will' is correct. Our will is free to choose right or wrong. It's all up to our will, and the will has complete freedom to make that choice on its own. But we tend to think that free will means free thought, so we allow ourselves to let our thoughts wander towards intellectual anarchy. We forget that our will also has the job of deciding what we'll allow ourselves to think about, as well as what feelings we'll nurse in our hearts and which lusts we'll allow our flesh. Our thoughts are not our own, and we are not free to think whatever we want. 'Choose ye this day' applies just as much to the thoughts we allow to nest in our minds. Our will is the one free agent in our 'kingdom of mansoul' that accepts or rejects. Therefore, our will is responsible for every intellectual dilemma or moral quandary that has ruined a man's sanity. We are not free to think whatever we want about anything, whether trivial or profound. An instructed conscience and a trained reason can help the will to make the right decisions, both great and small, that affect our lives.

Having a strong, firm will doesn't happen because one day we resolve it. It is the result of a long, ordered education in which we receive guidelines and examples from the thoughts and lives of great men in history and in our own time. These examples flow into our minds as unconsciously and spontaneously as the air we breathe. Training the will is a long process, but the moment of decision is instantaneous, and the will acts voluntarily. Therefore, the object of education must be to prepare us for those immediate choices and voluntary actions that will face us every day.

While we explain to students the secret about 'the way the will works,' we probably should be careful about presenting the ideas of 'self-knowledge, self-reverence, and self control.' Proper education needs to be outer-focused. The mind that's focused inwardly, on the good it's doing for itself, even though the good may be virtuous, will miss the higher, simpler secrets of living. Doing one's duty and being useful to others should be all the motivation that's needed to help a child develop the kind of will that will make good decisions without undue effort and stress. Slowly strengthening the will is hardly noticeable to the child, but the impact on his community or country can be great. A person's will, his free will, needs to be focused on something other than itself. Tennyson has said it well,

'Our wills are ours, we don't understand how;
They are ours so that we can make them Yours.'

Chapter 9 II--The Way Reason Works

Principle 18. Children must learn not to lean too heavily on their own reasoning. Reasoning is good for logically demonstrating mathematical truth, but unreliable when judging ideas because our reasoning will justify all kinds of erroneous ideas if we really want to believe them.
Principle 19. Knowing that reason is not to be trusted as the final authority in forming opinions, children must learn that their greatest responsibility is choosing which ideas to accept or reject. Good habits of behavior and lots of knowledge will provide the discipline and experience to help them do this.
(The eighteenth and nineteenth of Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles.)

Every person who is stopped in their tracks by witnessing their own reason in action is as much of a discoverer as Columbus. We normally let reason do its own work without really even being aware of it. But there are times when we stand in startled admiration as we watch our reason unfold arguments point by point in favor of buying one carpet instead of another, or defending our old friend against some rival. We see every argument that our reason presents for something opposed with another argument in the background. How else can we explain that there is no one subject that two people won't have very different opinions about--food, dress, games, education, politics, religion? The two people have opposite opinions, and each of them has infallible arguments that would convince the other--if he didn't have arguments just as valid to strengthen his own opinion. Every character in history and literature illustrates this. Probably the best way to train children to reason intelligently is to let them work out opposing opinions in their own minds and decide for themselves which has more validity.

Shakespeare's Macbeth returned as a conquering general after a brilliant victory. His head and heart were inflated. Was there anything he couldn't accomplish? Couldn't he govern a kingdom as easily as he had governed his army? His reason outlines some logical steps for him to accomplish great things--but the methods for doing them aren't all honorable. And just then, he meets the 'weird sisters,' who illustrate the way we all fall into fatalism when our conscience can't condone our actions. As he contemplates the prophecy of becoming Thane of Cawdor, he receives word that he is the Thane of Cawdor! He is also prophesied to be king. If it's decreed, how can he change it? He is no longer a free agent, he is merely a victim of fate. And many logical arguments present themselves to him, convincing him that Scotland, the world, his wife, himself, will be enhanced and flourish and be blessed if he has the opportunity to carry out the plans within himself. Opportunity? He's already been promised the opportunity, the thing is decreed. All he needs to do is figure out what steps to take to make it come to pass. He had a sensitive nature and shrank from the horrors he vaguely foresaw in the future. But reason stepped in and played out the whole bloody tragedy in a vision to his mind. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth has honors, lots of friends, and the trust of his king. The change is sudden and complete, and reason justified every step of the way. But, although reason convinced him during the process, it didn't begin with reason. His will had been tempted with ambition and had already accepted the concept of his own ascent to power and greatness even before the 'weird sisters' shaped his inner desire into prophecy. If his own will hadn't already opened his mind to ambition, then prophecies of fate couldn't have influenced his actions any more than they influenced Banquo's.

But that doesn't mean that reason is totally unworthy and always giving bad counsel. Nurse Cavell, Jack Coruwell, Lord Roberts, General Gordon, Madame Curie, are all examples of people whose reason led them to glorious deeds. We know how Florence Nightingale was obsessed with the feeling of pity. She welcomed it and reasoned it out, and was led through many difficulties in her work of saving sick, suffering soldiers in her country's army. She was even able to convince those in power with the same arguments that her own reason had used on her. The medieval church had a wonderful thought when they presented the foundational idea of each of the seven Liberal Arts by having each one represented by a person who was great in that field and who could convince others with the same reason that had convinced themselves. [I think this is referring to the Santa Maria Novella fresco in Florence]. Thus, Priscian is represented as being the one through whom grammar came to the world, Pythagoras is represented as teaching the world arithmetic, and Euclid represents the science that he applied his reason to. But reason isn't just for great intellectual advances, or discoveries, or events that change the world for good or evil. There is no gadget we use, great or small, that some person hasn't exhausted his reason on. A sofa, a chest of drawers, a box of toy soldiers, have all been thought out step by step. The inventor had to consider the pros and work out the cons to make his invention practical enough to be useful. Hardly anyone ever takes time to consider how the useful, or even beautiful item, came into existence. It's good to sometimes ask a child, 'How did you think of this?' when he tells you about a new game he's just made up, or a country he's named in his imagination, complete with people and a government. He'll probably tell you what first put the idea into his head, and then how he reasoned it out step by step. And after he's considered the question, 'How did you think of it?' it will occur to him to ask the same of other inventions--'How did he think of it?' And then he'll understand that there's a distinction between the first spark of inspiration that puts the idea into someone's head, and the reasoned steps that go into completing the object, or making the discovery, or writing a law. Sometimes a child should even be exposed to the psychology of a crime. He needs to see how reason can bring what looks like infallible proofs about how right the crime is. From Cain to the most recent convict, every crime has been justified in the opinions of every perpetrator by reasoned arguments that come all by themselves into their minds. We know the arguments that convinced Eve to eat the fruit when the serpent persuaded her like the weird sisters persuaded Hamlet. It's pleasant to look at, delicious, and it will make you wise so that you know right from wrong. Those are good, convincing arguments, deceptive enough to stand up to the protestations of Obedience. Children need to know that they will face this, too. Any time they're tempted to do the wrong thing, good reasons for doing it will occur to them. But, fortunately, when they want to do the right thing, reasons that are just as convincing will also appear.

After lots of experience in reasoning and following the process of reason in others either in real life or in their books, children will be ready to conclude that reasonable isn't the same as right. Reason is their servant, not their master. It's just one of the servants that helps to govern his 'kingdom of Mansoul.' But reason shouldn't be trusted to govern a man, much less a nation, any more than appetite, or ambition, or love of comfort. Logical reasons can be brought forward to prove a wrong course of action as easily as a good course of action. He'll see that reason works involuntarily. All the nice-sounding arguments follow one after another in his mind without any action from him. But that doesn't mean that he's a helpless victim hurried into sin by thoughts he couldn't help, because it never starts with reason. It starts when he allows himself to contemplate some course of action, like Eve standing by the fruit tree. That's when reason enters the picture. So, if he chooses to think about doing a thing that's good, then lots of logical reasons will rush into his head to convince him to do it. But if he chooses to entertain a wrong notion, it's like summoning reason to present a whole lot of logical arguments why the wrong thing is really a good idea.

Recognizing what Reason's job is should be a tremendous help to all of us in these days when fallacy is everywhere, and when our desire to be agreeable makes us willing to buy into public opinion about things, especially when those opinions are shared by people we respect. It's also good to remember that no wrong has ever been done, no crime has ever been committed that wasn't justified in the mind of the perpetrator with so many sound arguments from his own reason in such numbers that he couldn't oppose them. Has Shakespeare ever been wrong? Perhaps, in the case of Richard III, who recognized his own villainy and not only accepted it, but gloated over it. That's hardly human nature. But at least he wasn't a hypocrite! Richard may be the only exception to the rule--most men, when finally confronted with their own villainy, go out and hang themselves. Even Richard says at the end, 'I myself can't even find pity for myself.' It's enough for us and our children to know that reason will make any matter we propose look good and acceptable. Just because we're convinced that we're right doesn't justify anything, because there's no theory or action we can contemplate that our reason can't affirm. We can convince ourselves with many 'proofs' that Bacon really wrote the Shakespeare plays, and some ingenious person has devised an elaborate string of arguments that prove that Dr. [Samuel] Johnson wrote the Bible! And why shouldn't that be a valid opinion? Considering that France is known as a nation of logical thinkers, they made a curious blunder when they elected to give divine honors to the Goddess of Reason. But maybe they did it because they're a nation of logical thinkers. After all, logic is very close to reason, and just because something can be proved by logic, that doesn't make it true or right. It's no wonder that two equally honorable and virtuous men from any place will hold opposite opinions on almost any issue, and each will support his views with logical arguments. So we have people who cling to dogma in religion, and politicians who sway voters with emotional sentiments, and those whose understanding of science is nothing but dreams, and those who hope to stay one step ahead by keeping current with the latest popular opinions. But that won't happen to us if we've been raised to understand that reason is beautiful and a marvel, but that it has its limits.

We need to be able to counter popular current opinion, not with logical counter-arguments, but by exposing fallacy and then proving the merit of the correct position. For example, Karl Marx, who has been described as 'a very lovable, very exasperating, sincere but misguided zealot,' dominates today's socialist thinking. Point by point, for better or worse, his Marxian Manifesto of 1848 is gaining popularity. We are told that, 'the following measures might become general practice in the most advanced countries:'

1. 'Property and rent income will pass to the State.' We don't have time to examine this proposition in detail, but let's consider a single fallacy. It's assumed that rent income lines the pockets of property owners. But the records of the Duke of Bedford, to name just one example, shows that rent from his park property is barely enough to maintain the property and pay property taxes. Landowners generally employ many workers with fair pay and benefits, and most provide a public service by making their property a beautiful park for public use, maintained out of their own pocket.

2. 'Heavy progressive taxes.' The fallacy is this: the poorest working class citizens who are supposed to be helped by the Manifesto will have to pay taxes because they make up the bulk of society. In other words, the ones who will be most burdened by heavy progressive taxes will be the poor working class, whose very existence will be threatened as a result, as has happened in Russia.

3. 'Abolish all inheritance.' This is supposed to reduce everyone to the same economic level. Of course, eliminating class is the main aim of socialism. But the fallacy is the assumption that class is a permanent, stable thing. But, in truth, classes fluctuate like particles in ocean waves moving upward and downward with the tides. The man at the bottom of society may be at the top tomorrow, as we see in Soviet Russia and all other civilized countries. Trying to control this natural fluctuation of classes is like King Canute trying to tell the tide not to rise.

4. 'Confiscate property of rebels and emigrants.' It takes tyranny to maintain assumed authority. And the worst tyranny of all is penalizing people to intimidate them into powerlessness, as they do in the Soviet state. The fallacy here is in underestimating human nature. There is nothing that men won't sacrifice for an idea. Threat of losing property won't keep men from taking a stand for a grand idea, like freedom to think and move with liberty.

5, 6, and 7. deal with transferring factories and tools for producing things into the hands of the State. Since the Proletariat [the working class] makes up the government in a communist society, it's a way for Everyman to control all the wealth and means of getting wealth.

This is actually a logically thought-out similarity to a government of the people, by the people, for the people. But the fallacy here is that it results in a revolution that doesn't really bring any changes. It just results in a change of rulers, who might end up being better or worse. In the Soviet Republic, according to the law of perpetual social flux, new tyrants would work their way in because there are no longer precedents and customs in place to hinder them. And the children will have a great example of how the last stage of their country is worse than it was before.

8. 'All will be forced to work.' The original idea was to grant equal freedom and living conditions to everyone. But in reality, it means that everyone will have to serve in the army.

9. 'Agriculture and manufacture will be combined into one group.' The goal was to take away the difference and inequalities between towns and rural areas. It's a good idea, one we'd all like to see happen. But is it really possible?

10. 'Free public education for all children.' We are happy to see that this has come to pass with the added condition, 'for those who need or want it.' The downside is that the Soviet's concept of education is brainwashing the next generation in revolutionary propaganda.

To continue our examination of point number 10., the next clause (b) gets rid of child labor in factories 'in its present form.' We are glad to see child labor ended, but that clause could leave a loophole for something just as sinister. But, on the surface, everyone seems happy with this point.

(c) 'Education and production of goods will be united.' Motivated by motives of economy, England is copying this communist trend with its Continuation Schools. The fallacy affects us as well as them in our efforts to better educate the people. It assumes that a child who learns a specific trade at the expense of his overall academic education will do better in the future than a child who spends all his school time on educating his whole person. But employers themselves don't confirm this. On the contrary, if a child is fairly bright and willing, an employer will be happy to have him and can teach him the specific skills he needs on the job. The purpose of education isn't to train for a technical skill, it's to develop the whole person. The more fully a person meets his potential, the better his work will be, no matter what that work is. Like I said before, the concept of British Continuation Schools should be teaching humanities. By that, I don't mean a traditional classical education. Whether ancient classics are the best really isn't the issue. But our English language has a wealth of its own rich humanities to offer.

These ten maxims give us plenty of material--not for lectures, but for discussion. This gives an example of how current events should be used as opportunities to talk with our children. This kind of thing should be a part of the school curriculum. Students need to know how to follow an argument and detect fallacies for themselves [rather than accepting our opinions and arguments.] Just like every other function of the mind, reason needs raw material to work on, whether it comes in history or literature, or news of a strike or revolution. It's crazy to send youths out to face a confusing world with nothing but one specialized skill, such as the ability to solve math problems. An education that only trains a child to reason has its uses, but, really, children already have that ability. What they need is material to practice on.

A word of warning: reason, like everything else in a person, is subject to habit. It works on what it's used to handling. Plato formed a fair judgment about this when he wrote about Education of the Young in his Republic [read an essay/overview here] and perceived that math wouldn't help in the complex affairs of life, whether public or private.

I've shown why students' reading and current events need to be wide enough to provide opportunities for them to enjoy the kind of logical, methodical reasoning they need. When they find fallacies in one instance, it will sharpen their ability to detect them somewhere else.

Does that mean we should spend lots of time discussing every frivolous or profane premise they come across? Of course not. But we should give them some principles to help them identify what's frivolous or profane for themselves. A premise is idle and frivolous when it rests on a foundation of nothing and leads nowhere. And a premise is profane and blasphemous sin when it's irreverent and flippant towards God. We all know, without anyone telling us, that God is terrifying, wonderful, loving, just and good, as surely as we know that the sun shines or the wind blows. Children should be brought up understanding that a miracle is no less miraculous because it happens so continually and regularly that we call it a law of nature. For instance, sap rising in a tree, a boy born with his uncle's eyes, an answer we can identify comes to us while we pray in earnest. These things aren't any less amazing because they happen frequently, or even all the time, so that we take them for granted and cease to wonder about them anymore. That's the way it was for the people of Jerusalem when Jesus did so many miracles in their streets.

The guiding principle that should control people and countries is, 'My Father never stops working, so why should I?' [John 5:17, NLT] 'My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time' is a dire warning to every individual and every nation. God and Jesus work every day to hinder people and nations from doing the wrong thing and encourage them to do good. To the child who understands this, miracles won't be so unusual because all of life will seem like something full of wonder and adoration.

If we want our children not to get confused by all the trends and thoughts about religion, then we need to help them understand exactly what religion is. In What Religion Is, Bernard Bosanquet wrote:

'Will religion guarantee me happiness? Generally, we have to say, no. If we become a Christian just to attain personal happiness then we definitely won't find happiness.'

Here is a final and clear answer to the psuedo-Christianity that's offered so often to hesitating souls. It promises physical comfort, no more sorrow or anxiety, replacement of what's been lost, even going so far as to offer reuniting with loved ones who have died. We might call on mediums, go to séances, visit faith healers and put our faith in some man who only wants to manipulate us. We don't worry about sin or feel remorse for our past. We might live detestable lives, yet be satisfied and content with ourselves, totally oblivious to the anxiety and struggle of those around us. We think that we can will away sin, sorrow, worry and suffering through faith. In other words, we think that Christianity will guarantee us personal happiness. We use religion to make ourselves immune to every distress and misery of life, and we believe that this wonderful immunity is within the power of our own will. 'The only person who matters in my Christianity is me, and the only purpose for religion is to keep me from any physical or mental discomfort and keep me floating in some cloud of undisturbed Nirvana.' Is that what Christianity is? We must agree with Professor Bosanquet: absolutely NOT! Real Christianity isn't about me, and any religion that does these things is idolatry, self-worship, concerned with nobody but myself.

To continue our quote:

'If religion doesn't guarantee my happiness, then what does it do? We value religion as being good and great, but if it doesn't do anything for me, then why should it be anything to me? But the answer changes if you word the question just a bit differently and ask, 'does it make my life more worth living?' And the answer to this is, 'It's the only thing that makes life worth living at all!'

In other words, 'I want, am made for and must have a God.'

Since children have a sweet faith and pure love, they have immediate access to God. Is there anything better than that? What more could a person desire? Children have complete trust that gentle Jesus is always with them, wherever they go, even while they sleep. Angels care for them and they enjoy all the immunities of the Kingdom. They have as much Reason as anyone else. A hundred years ago, there was a simple, straightforward way to give children a foundation for their faith. All the tenets of Christianity were outlined in a little catechism of 'Scripture Proofs.' That method had its good points. But today, if we use Scripture as our authority, we first have to prove that Scripture itself can be trusted. We also have to change tactics. We need to make it clear to children that the most important things of life can't be proved with conclusive evidence. We can't even prove without a doubt that we're living! So we must cling to what we know is true and doesn't need proof. We also know with conclusive certainty that our reason isn't infallible. It's susceptible to persuasion and open to influence from either side. It's a faithful, yet simple servant--whatever the will decides to accept, it can find ways to prove it. When we understand that our reason can be unreliable, we'll be able to detect the flawed bias of our opponent's arguments. And we'll be less likely to be confused and persuaded by every new notion that comes our way. Every mother has faced the intense logic of a child who asks very logical but difficult questions and has drawn the wrong conclusion. So we know they're not too young to deal with serious matters, but only as they come up. Our first priority is giving them a sense of reassurance, not boring or distressing them with the complex questions of life.

Children can drive us crazy arguing a trivial point to death just because they enjoy using their reasoning power. Yet many dislike the very school subjects that seem like they'd give an outlet for their reasoning ability, and might even strengthen it. But very few children enjoy grammar, especially English grammar, which depends so little on inflection. Arithmetic and Math don't appeal to most children, either, no matter how intelligent. Most children are baffled by math, although they may love reasoning out questions of life in literature or history. Since so many dislike those subjects, maybe we should take that as a hint and stop putting so much pressure on those subjects. It would make sense to push grammar and math if children's reason was waiting for us to develop it. But when we see that they have plenty of ability to reason in other subjects, we have to face the fact that they have plenty of reason. They have as much ability to reason as they have ability to love. They don't need us to give them subjects to develop their reason. Our job is to give them lots of material for their reason to work on. If their reason gets sharper, it will be a side effect as they learn their other subjects. At the same time, we can't let them skip grammar and math. Some day they'll delight in language, and in the beauty of the most appropriate words to express a thought. They'll see that words are the vehicle of truth, and shouldn't be carelessly thrown around, or mutilated when written. We need to prepare them for that day. We should probably wait before we have them parse sentences until they're used to analyzing whether they make sense. We should let them play with figures of speech before making them try to break sentences down to small parts. We should keep proper grammatical terms to a minimum. The truth is, children can't really draw conclusions about abstract things. They're good at busily collecting particulars, but they don't commit themselves to deducing anything definite, and we shouldn't rush them. And if language has its own confounding rules, imagine how much more baffling it is for children to work with abstract lines and mathematical figures! We remember how John Ruskin amazed and taught us with his thesis that two and two make four, and the universe has no way of ever making two and two equal three or five. Children should approach math from the perspective of that unalterable law. They should understand how impressive it was when Euclid said that two and two equals three or five is an absurd possibility, as absurd as a man claiming that, on his tree, apples fell upwards. It's absurd to think that apples would break the law of gravity. Figures and abstract lines work just like an apple falling. They are confined to an unchangeable law. It's a great thing to understand the nature of these kinds of laws by experiencing them in their lowest application, gravity. A child who understands how immutable the laws of math are will never divide 15 pennies between five people and give them the wrong amount. He will understand that math answers aren't arbitrary, they're logical, and even a child can use reason to come to the right answer. Math can be enjoyable for a person who loves perceiving a law of nature and figuring out the law behind why things work the way they do. But not every child can be a star wrestler, and not every boy 'takes' to math. So perhaps teachers should make it their duty to expose the child to as many interests as possible. Math is just one subject in education, and it's one that not everyone excels at. So it shouldn't monopolize too much time in the school day. And youths shouldn't be denied good jobs because the subject they're the worst at is one that test examiners love. They probably love it because the answers are final and easy to grade. There are no essay questions to have to make subjective judgments about.

We want to send youths out into the world with 'solid reasoning powers, stable will, endurance, preparedness, strength and skill.' ['She Was a Phantom of Delight,' Wordsworth] To those qualities we should add determination. We can hardly expect to turn out such a person of character from a steady course in only one discipline, such as mathematics.

               


Copyright © 2012-2014 Ambleside Online. All rights reserved.
Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.

|   CM SERIES HOME   |   CONCISE SUMMARIES   |   PARAPHRASES  |   TOPICAL   |