The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Discipline, Part 2

by the Rev. Canon Parker
(Principal of the Theological College, Gloucester.)
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 241-246

Part II.

We have seen that the ultimate end and object of discipline is the learning by the disciple the existence of law, and the formation of the habit of ready obedience to law.

It will be recognised by all, that just in proportion as this ideal is a lofty one, so it involves no little time and no slight endeavour to make much progress towards it; consequently, the parent or teacher cannot afford to lose any time in commencing this course of discipline, cannot afford to lose any opportunity during that course, and cannot afford to neglect the use of any means which may tend to contribute to the desired end. To this end it will be imperative to accustom children as soon as possible to the reign of law. As soon as they can understand it, and so far as they can understand it, the universality of the reign of law should be explained to them, with the advantages consequent upon the observance of order, and the disadvantages which ensue upon disorder. It may be shown how and why the sun sets, and the seasons follow each other in orderly succession; how and why the leaves burst from the buds, and the blossoms open, and the seeds form, and the leaves drop; how and why the rain falls, and the winds blow, and the frost and the snow succeed in their order. It may be shown that the sun and the moon and the stars have each and all their law assigned to them, a law which cannot be broken, and it is only on their enforced obedience to that law of their Creator that the harmony and beauty and happiness and life of all created things is maintained. and then it may be shown that there are laws of bodily well-being, by obedience to which we may avoid pain and disease and death, and secure a moderate amount of health and life; laws of society by which we may secure affection and happiness; and, finally, laws of moral truth and goodness, by obedience to which we may attain moral health and goodness. But this great and all-important truth can be best, and at first only, taught, not in theory, but in practice. The child should as soon as possible be made to feel, to know by actual personal experience, the existence and the prevalence of law.

The child should live in an atmosphere of law. There should be nothing arbitrary, fickle, capricious, or unreliable in its surroundings. The experiences with which the child comes daily and hourly in contact should be such that the identity of the experience should so press itself upon the unconscious mind that the child gradually learns to regard the experience as a matter of course, and of regular and invariable recurrence--one that must be practically taken into account. Thus the child learns experimentally that invariably and without exception the sun is hot, and the ice cold, and the rain wet, and the stone hard. Thus the child learns experimentally that fire burns, and wet feet result in cold, and excessive surfeit of pudding in internal discomfort. And in like manner he may learn that at a certain hour every day dinner is ready, or a lesson has to be learned. To which end law and order should pervade the life, whether at school or otherwise. At such an hour the child gets up, by a certain hour he is down; breakfast is at such an hour, work begins at such an hour; and thus the whole week, and every day of the week, is mapped out, and the time-table arranged with its respective work for each hour of the day. And this reign of law should exist, not on paper only, but really and actually in practice, and should be so constant and effective that any breach of order should be instantly and actually felt. The law should so reign that the child feels it the most natural thing in the world to obey the law, regarding the law as law--a thing not to be questioned or reasoned with, but to be obeyed; a law which will take no refusal, which must be obeyed sooner or later, and may therefore just as well be obeyed at once; a law which never makes itself felt as irksome or burdensome as long as it is obeyed exactly and fully, but a law the very least departure from which is immediately and assuredly followed by discomfort of some sort. And at length, the child learns to regard the law as absolutely paramount, as not dependent on the pleasure or caprice of the teacher, and from which it is impossible to appeal even to the teacher, for the teacher is not the master but the servant of the law. But to secure this, teachers or parents must have learned to be themselves servants of the law. They must themselves be seen and felt to be governed by law, and they must themselves be seen and felt to be, not kings and tyrants governing with uncertain and changeful temper, with arbitrary judgment and caprice; but, as far as is possible for them, calm and firm administrators of law. To be this, the teacher needs a constant self-control; to be himself disciplined; to be himself a representative of law, with even and consistent action, so that it will always be known what he will be, and say, and do. He will be consistent; unvarying, even as the law is unvarying; he will not overlook a breach of the law one day, and take notice of it severely another; neither will he speak and act as if the disobedience were against himself--he will rather try to concentrate the child's attention upon the law, and make the child feel that the law has been broken, and that the law must be obeyed; that no breach of the law must be overlooked; that the law must be obeyed everywhere, at all times, and by all.

Discipline, therefore, essentially consists, first, in placing full and clear before the eyes of the taught the solemn majesty of the law; and secondly, discipline consists in a firm and watchful teacher being always at the back of these laws, superintending the way in which obedience is rendered to them, and never allowing an act of disobedience to pass unnoticed.

Much might be said of the singular readiness with which even the youngest child falls at once into the habit of obedience to law. A visit to a well-ordered infant school would soon convince the most sceptical that obedience to law and order can be very soon taken as a matter of course, and obeyed as a matter of course, certainly without discomfort and almost without effort even by the very young.

I must, however, pass on to consider the not altogether remote possibility that the said watchful representative of the law may discover some representatives of lawlessness among his subjects, and may discover some acts of disobedience to laws established--may discover unpunctuality, inattention, idleness, obstinate refusal to learn a lesson or to execute a particular command. I have said that under good discipline there must be a practical certainty that a breach of law will be discovered and will not be overlooked. The action of law must be invariable, consistent and absolutely reliable. Good discipline must operate so that as long as the engine keeps the rails, all goes evenly and smoothly forward; but that any and every attempt to leave the lines is immediately and certainly followed by a crash. Now, what is that crash to be? On this experts differ. Each generation of exponents of the law has its universal remedy: our forefathers extolled the merits of the rod; our present generation of teachers has adopted the ingenious device of impositions which have the doubtful merit of shortening the hours of physical recreation, tiring the brain, and spoiling the handwriting. Mr. Herbert Spencer, in his little book on education, holds that teachers and parents should in their correction and punishment adhere, when it is possible, to the principle universally observable in nature, according to which there is a natural connection between the breach of law and punishment, so that the one follows the other as a natural consequence; for example, if a man tread upon hot coals, his feet will assuredly be burned.

We must not overlook the fact as indisputable, lament it how we may, that there will always be many whom this gradually enlarging discipline will never deeply influence, and some with whom it will altogether fail. Into the question of what is best to be done with such failures, I need not now enter. Rather let me emphasise the thought that it should be the earnest effort of every parent and teacher, by prudent and wise discipline, to make those failures as few as possible.

In order to avoid as much as can be the possibility of failure, it is necessary to be aware of certain dangers on either hand. The object of discipline is always one and the same--to form and fashion the character, to educate and inform and strengthen the will; to unfold and inculcate the highest ideal of law, and the highest sanction of law. But the means by which the object is to be attained must be regarded as distinct from the object itself. The certainty that our object is right does not always carry with it the certainty that our particular means are right.

If all children were exactly alike, and if all ages of the world were exactly alike, the matter would be easy and simple enough; but as these two factors introduce elements of almost endless variety, abundant scope is afforded for the exercise of watchful study of individual character, quick perception as to what is suitable or otherwise in the case of different individuals and under different circumstances.

On the one hand, the teacher must not allow himself to be the sport and plaything of the transient fashion of every passing age; nor must he allow such freedom to the individual child as that the child shall be tempted to abuse his free will in licence and lawlessness. On the other hand, he must be careful not to suffer the reign of law to become the reign of mere machinery; rules and laws must not be the empty husks of systems, once full of force, but long since superannuated and obsolete--the outer form, which has outlived its inner meaning; neither must they be laws simply for the sake of being laws, utterly irrespective of the consideration of whether they are wise and good and prudent, for such laws, if they are thought or felt to be the expression of caprice or despotic tyranny, not only do not win respect, but awake vexation, resentment, and resistance. Rules and laws must be instinct with life and reason, so that the mind of the child, as it year by year opens and expands, recognises more and more the wisdom and excellence and usefulness of the law, and learns to accept it voluntarily and thankfully, and becomes a law unto himself.

Thus the aim of the teacher is not by a cast-iron system of legal and irritating restrictions to bind and fetter and imprison the will of the child, to repress and kill out all spirit and energy and individuality, and to reduce the child to a tame and lifeless and colourless thing; but rather to give full play to the utmost spirit and energy of which the child is capable, to awaken and develop in the child the idea of obedience to law as the absolutely necessary condition of the highest usefulness and the highest happiness--in fact, to put into the child's hands the bit and bridle wherewith to curb and guide himself, and show him why and how to use them. It only remains to say that if the view that I have taken of discipline be approximately correct; it is a work not restricted in its operation and influence to the days of childhood and youth, but a work continued throughout the whole course of life; not only administered to the boy or girl by the teacher or parent, but pressed upon the man or woman by the course of Divine Providence. The Providence of God acts by laws, and it takes a lifetime to learn those laws, what they are how and to obey them.

But it is clear that if the discipline in mature life is to be watched for, and listened to, and obeyed, the habit of teachableness and obedience will be more possible and easy for those who have learned more or less of it in childhood and youth. Thus the fixed and final results of life are more or less determined by the influences which tend to moult the child:

       "Look, the clay dries into iron;
              But the potter moulds the clay.
       Destiny to-day is master;
              Man was master yesterday."

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023