This post is part of a series. Feel free to visit the series index for more thoughts on the Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles of Education.
Charlotte Mason's second principle is that children are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil, and I love this. She's hit on one of the major purposes of life: to be tested and tried, to see if we will be obedient to God. And she's talking about the reality of Agency in our lives, rather than taking a deterministic view of the children she teaches, as so many did then, believing that a child born “good” will grow up to be good, but a child born “bad” will be bad. Miss Mason understood the reality of the impact of individual choice.
The fact seems to be that children are like ourselves, not because they have become so, but because they are born so; that is, with tendencies, dispositions, towards good and towards evil, and also with a curious intuitive knowledge as to which is good and which is evil. Here we have the work of education indicated. There are good and evil tendencies in body and mind, heart and soul; and the hope set before us is that we can foster the good so as to attenuate the evil; that is, on condition that we put Education in her true place as the handmaid of Religion.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:46
We live in a fallen world, and are subject to the temptations of the Enemy: we all have tendencies toward evil, as do our children. Each one of us must fight the tendency to give into or indulge the natural man. But this is not the only part of us. The Bible teaches that we are also children of God, and that He intends to make us heirs in His kingdom with Christ: we all also have tendencies toward good that come from this divine heritage. It is given to us to choose which of these we will embrace, and to act upon our choice; it is the task of educators to place that choice in its proper context and meaning in the student's life.
It is our business to know of what parts and passions a child is made up, to discern the dangers that present themselves, and still more the possibilities of free-going in delightful paths. However disappointing, even forbidding, the failings of a child, we may be quite sure that in every case the opposite tendency is there and we must bring the wit to give it play.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:47
I love the way that, although she did not know about him, she echos the teachings of Lehi to his son: there must be opposition in all things, and I love the application that she gives: for every tendency toward error in our personality, there is an opposite tendency toward good that can be found and encouraged instead. She then goes on to talk about the development of these positive tendencies and the virtues that grow from them as one of the primary aims of education.
I love, too, that she didn't see the potential for evil and throw up her hands in despair: "Here we have the work of education indicated. ... that is, on condition that we put Education in her true place as the handmaid of Religion." Miss Mason never seems to lose sight of the divine potential of her students - and neither should we.