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08 September 2010

Habit vs. Nature

While the power supply on my computer was dying a lingering, stinky death, I've been thinking about my blog. Specifically, I've been wanting to blog about some of Charlotte Mason's ideas. I was given a copy of Laying Down the Rails about 2 weeks ago, and I'm loving it! I have the original series, but it's a tough read, and it got put into storage a while ago. Not doing me much good there. The thing I'm loving about this new book is that it's got Miss Mason's ideas grouped by topic. I kept getting bogged down in trying to read the original series, but this book makes me think AND keeps me turning the page. Can't argue with that combination!

Right off the bat, Mrs. Shafer, who compiled the book from Miss Mason's original writings, with some additions of her own, starts with a section on the importance of habits. A lot of this is section is stuff that I'd read from the original already, but having it all together like this, arranged topically, I saw it differently, and understood better what Miss Mason was getting at.

'Habit is ten natures.' If that be true, strong as nature is, habit is not only as strong, but tenfold as strong. ... But habit runs on the lines of nature: the cowardly child habitually lies that he may escape blame; the loving child has a hundred endearing habits; the good-natured child has a habit of giving; the selfish child a habit of keeping.

But habit, to be the lever to lift the child, must work contrary to nature, or at any rate, independent of her.
(Page 12, emphasis added)

The idea of habit as a lever really caught my attention; it made me sit up and think. Of course, Miss Mason's emphasis is on education, and as Monkey gets closer to "school age" my desire to practice being consistent with doing school has increased. That is, I want to make sure that my habit of attending to my children's education is firmly in place before we get to our state's compulsory school age.

We're not doing too badly in that department, I don't think. It's a rare day that slips by without reading several stories at some point in the day. Allowing a little more wiggle-room for my efforts to NOT go into preterm labor this summer, I think we really did pretty well. Monkey is in the early stages of becoming a reader, and although there was very little forward progress in his reading this summer, we did well enough that there wasn't really any loss of skill either. Now I need to shore up the habit of doing school and I think we'll see some nice progress over the next few months.

However, the interesting thing about Miss Mason is that so much of her emphasis is not on the subjects one learns in school, such as reading and math, but rather on the virtues that make education possible and effective. Laying Down the Rails divides them into several chapters: Decency and Propriety Habits, Mental Habits, Moral Habits, Physical Habits, Religious Habits, and the book gives a whole chapter to the family's habit of reading aloud. She talks about habits of cleanliness, attentiveness, remembering, integrity, and many others. I've scanned through some of the sections already, and I'm looking forward to reading more!

One thing that surprised me when I first started looking through this book is the emphasis on character development in an educational philosophy. Many, perhaps most, of the habits she touches on are things that I would have placed under a religious, not an educational, heading, were I to have made a list of things that I'd like to teach my children. Perhaps this is a result of my own public school education, where the focus was, of necessity, on subjects such as reading, math, science, and music, rather than on the formation of character. Good character is closely bound up in religion and morality, and thus a sticky, dangerous topic when dealing with public education. But I'm beginning to realize that this is a false separation.

The old classicists called theology the "queen of sciences" because it ruled over all other fields of study. Theology still does, either in its presence or its absence. In it's most honest form, the debate over the teaching of creation and evolution in public-school science classes is not about whether the species evolved over unimaginable years or were created in the span of one word. ... the debate is over the presence of absence of a Creator. This presence of absence has immense implications for every area of the curriculum: Are we animals or something slightly different? Do math rules work because of the coincidental shape of space and time or because God is an orderly being, whose universe reflects His character? Is a man who dies for his faith a hero or a fool?

Public schools, which have the impossible task of teaching children of many different faiths, must proclaim neutrality.
We don't deal in matters of faith, the teachers explain. We're neutral.

Think about this for a minute. Arguing for the presence of God is generally considered "biased." Assuming His absence is usually called "neutral." Yet both are statements of faith; both color the teacher's approach to any subject; both make a fundamental assumption about the nature of men and women.

To call this neutrality is intellectually dishonest. ...

Let's take biology as an example. Mammals are characterized by, among other things, their tendency to care for and protect their young. Do mothers love their babies because of sheer biological imperative? If so, why do we come down so hard on fathers who neglect their children? It's a rare male mammal that pays much attention to its young. Do fathers love their children because fathers reflect the character of the father God? How should a father treat a defective child? Why?

We don't blame the public schools for sidestepping these sorts of questions. In most cases, it's the only strategy they can adopt.

Yet this separation of religious faith from education yields an incomplete education. We're not arguing that religion should be "put back" into public schools. We'd just like some honesty: an education that takes no notice of faith is, at the very least, incomplete.

The Well Trained Mind, pages 204-205

Morality, the contents of a "good character," these are things that are unavoidably bound up in questions of faith. My own Christian faith teaches that "men are that they might have joy." This is in direct opposition to the first of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths: "Life means suffering." Which you believe will unavoidably impact what you value in a good character. It will most certainly affect what sort of habits you want your children to acquire.

But habit, to be the lever to lift the child, must work contrary to nature, or at any rate, independent of her. (Page 12, emphasis added)

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
-Mosiah 3:19

Education is the formation of habits. (Page 12)

The habits of the child produce the character of the man. (Page 14)


mommyx12 said...

Great post. So you've been reading Laying Down the Rails hey? Very good literature. Hope you and baby are doing great!

Ritsumei said...

We are wonderful. I have quite a few pictures that need to come off my camera and have something done with them, but there's a TON of stuff I usually do on the computer that hasn't been getting done, so pictures may have to wait a few more days.

I actually paused in reading Laying Down the Rails, until after I finished this post. I know myself well enough to know that I would have lost this train of thought, had I let that much time pass (which was unavoidable) AND moved on in the book. It's clear that there's plenty to think about in this book. Now that I'm finished writing this post I'll keep going again soon in the book. It's dense and thought-provoking. I'm looking forward to it.

misskate said...

Very interesting approach to teaching - create habits. Very thought provoking, indeed.


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