The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

by the Rev. Canon Parker
(Principal of the Theological College, Gloucester.)
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 161-166

Part 1

The word discipline may have a restricted or a more extended meaning. Strictly speaking, I take it, the word has a significance wide and comprehensive. Discipline means learning--the learning of anything and everything, the learning of anything that is unknown and can be known, and that can be taught and can be learned. And when it is used of men and women, it refers to the learning of anything and everything that it is useful to men and women to know, and useful especially to them in their several positions, occupations, and duties of life.

But it was in my mind when I chose this subject for our consideration to somewhat narrow and limit the meaning of the word, both as being more to the convenience of my treatment and your discussion, and also as more in accordance with the modern and accepted use of the word.

I propose, therefore, to narrow the word to the learning of one particular thing--the learning to obey, the learning to submit, the learning to recognise the supremacy of law, the learning to yield unquestioning and implicit obedience to law, as being altogether right and good.

I am aware that even now my definition, though I think fairly exact in itself, is not quite in accord with the meaning popularly ascribed to the word; nevertheless, it will, I think, on consideration be found that my definition does really cover and include the popular meaning, and that the ordinary use of the word will be found to be included in one or other of the sides of the definition which I have given.

Discipline, then, is the act, or means, or process, by which the disciple learns obedience to law: learns it, not as a theory, but in practice; not as an ideal, but as a habit. We are most familiar with not only the idea, but the reality of discipline in those two great occupations or vocations of life in which men are trained, and learn on sea and land to contribute all their energies and powers of body and mind, of limb and life, of patience and endurance, of absolute inaction or rushing onset, in subordinated and connected harmony and unison to strenuous defence of fatherland. The thin red line at Waterloo, in its prolonged and strained endurance, and the death ride at Mars-la-Tour [battle during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870] in its headlong rush are each, in their peculiar character, evidences of the absolute perfection which can be reached by discipline, and of the momentous results which it is possible for a perfect discipline to produce.

I would, however, endeavour still to define even more precisely the exact nature of discipline, as applied to the character and lives of men and women in ordinary society. Discipline for all means the learning the supremacy of law, the ready, perfect obedience of law. But there is this difference between the discipline of the soldier and that of the merchant or professional man, or their wives and daughters, that in the case of the latter they are not only to learn to obey, but are to receive their orders from the officer within their own breast. Their own character is to be trained and developed, that the law of what is right is written upon their hearts: they become a law unto themselves: their own will issues marching orders to the members whether of body or mind, and those members have each and all learned to obey.

To learn the law, to have learned the law, to obey the law, to obey it unhesitatingly, at whatever cost, and however irksome and difficult it may be, this is the aim and work of discipline.

It may then next be considered, how can those who are responsible for the training of men and women bring about this end? How can they promote and develope this discipline.

That it is of the utmost importance is evident from the analogy of the regiment; until the will of the commanding officer is respected and obeyed; until the powers of each soldier are disciplined and trained to instant and complete obedience, they are not a regiment, but a mob; they have no rex, no king, no law, no obedience, and like the Dutch Belgians at Waterloo, are not included by the commander-in-chief amongst those on whom he may rely in actual warfare. In like manner, the powers and activities of the boy or girl, the man or woman, are a disorganised and tumultuous mob, useless for real work, until they have been disciplined into submission and obedience, and the act that the establishment and maintenance of discipline are of such vital importance in the army or navy as to justify the most extreme measures of severity, even to the drumhead court-martial, does suggest by analogy that no means should be neglected to produce and maintain the discipline of obedience to law in the powers and activities of men and women.

We proceed next to inquire what are some of the means which are most available and most useful for inculcating this discipline.

It is here, of course, that our difficulties commence. Military men are not agreed as to details of discipline, and educationists, however agreed they may be as to the object and aim in discipline, have a difficulty in seeing clearly and agreeing as to the most effective means of attaining it.

I will content myself on the present occasion with indicating, so far as I can, the main lines on which, as it appears to me, a right discipline should proceed; trusting that my outline will be corrected or completed by those of greater experience than my own.

For convenience, let me divide the process of discipline into means introductory and means corrective.

By introductory means I would imply all those means and influences which lead up to and introduce to the discipline of obedience, whatever paves the way for obedience and inclines the will to obedience, whatever tends to reduce to order and discipline the various powers and passions, whether of body or mind.

Amongst these introductory influences, I would include first, in order of time, those influences which required obedience simply as obedience. By which I mean all those commands which are given, and which are to be obeyed because they are commands, whether the reason for them be understood and known or not. This unreasoning obedience is obedience comparatively of a low order, but it is obedience, and has its value in accustoming and habituating the character of discipline to the act of obedience; in fact it contributes to the formation of the very power of obedience.

At the same time, care should be taken to make it evident that the commands are not in themselves unreasonable; that the very fact that they are given carries with it not only a presumption but a certainty that they are reasonable, and that there are very good reasons why the reasons of the command should not be always made fully apparent to the disciple.

But, as soon as possible, this elementary stage should give place to something higher. The object to be aimed at is to make each individual a law unto himself, and it is well, as soon as possible, to begin to sow the seed of self-discipline and self-control, and voluntary submission and obedience to law.

The boy or girl must be led to feel the influence of certain principles of action; in other words, to be moved to obedience by certain causes which have found entrance into their minds, and henceforth become to them motives of action.

These motives are various, and may be enumerated in an ascending scale.

But it is not necessary that each and every child should be led to entertain all these motives at any time, or always in the same precise order.

But to enumerate them: They resolve themselves into the conception of law, and the sanction of the law.

There is, first, the conception of law as a thing which is inconvenient and irksome perhaps, but still in existence; an evil, but, as things go, a necessary evil, so far at any rate, that it cannot be left out of count; and so the child recognises the existence of law and bears it in mind, and feels it on the whole desirable not to disobey it more than it can help, because to the breach of the law certain unpleasant consequences are attached. The child does not care a rush for the law in itself; were it not for the unpleasant consequences it would utterly disregard the law, and it will disregard it just so far as that disregard is likely to be unobserved, undetected, and not productive of the said unpleasant consequences. Such discipline is clearly inadequate and imperfect, but it has its use in producing to some extent a recognition of law as existing, and in contributing to the formation of the power and habit of submission and obedience.

There is next the obedience to law, which is rendered with more or less readiness and completeness because the law is the expression of the will or wish of a parent or teacher who is personally the object both of respect and of affection. This discipline, again, is useful, but useful only in degree.

If it goes no farther, it is inadequate. It is dependent on, and it may be conditional upon the personal character and personal influence of parent or teacher. Thus a child will obey the law which comes from the lips of one teacher, but will not obey the same law if it comes from the lips of another teacher. The child obeys the law, not because it likes the law or desires to obey the law, but because it likes the teacher and desires to obey the teacher. The inadequacy, therefore, of this motive is abundantly apparent: the teacher is removed, the parent dies, the boy leaves school, and goes out into the world; the girl leaves home, and marries; the governing, restraining influence of parent or teacher is withdrawn, and obedience to law is yet unknown. at the same time, even this motive, though imperfect, is yet useful in the development and growth of character. The child has learnt that there is law, has learned to associate obedience to law with the pleasure of receiving the approval and avoiding the disapproval of some one who is respected and loved; and has habituated itself to the practice and habit of obedience, has, in fact, learned that it is under certain circumstances possible and even pleasant to obey.

The next motive is the motive of Duty. The child learns to recognise law as law, as that which is right in itself, as that which ought to be obeyed, altogether independent of the person from whom the particular command proceeds. The child will thus respect and obey the command which is given by a junior teacher just as loyally and readily and submissively as if it came from the head teacher. It will obey a law or command which comes from a teacher it likes as readily as one which comes from a teacher it does not like. It obeys laws even when disobedience would not be detected, and would not entail unpleasant consequences.

And this attitude only needs the sanction of religion to make the discipline perfect. In the religious motive, all lesser motives find their representation, their perfection, and their completion.

In religion, the law is law, and disobedience will entail consequences which it is well to avoid.

But in religion, the law is the law of the true teacher and the true parent, for whom there is the most perfect respect and the most perfect love, who never leaves the disciple, and from whose presence and helpful influence the disciple is never separated.

And the law of religion is the law of that which is everywhere and at all times in itself true and righteous, a law which claims the obedience of all who would be among the upright and virtuous.

And, lastly, the law of religion is the law of God--the law which is not only true and righteous, but true and good; the law of moral and spiritual excellence and perfection and utmost human happiness. And under this motive, all obedience which is rendered to the law is the obedience of love, of love of the lawgiver, and, because of the lawgiver, of the law itself.

(To be continued.)

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023