In imitation of fellow-blogger Jen at Snowfall Academy, I've decided to start reading and blogging through Charlotte Mason's Volume 3: School Education. I started my Charlotte Mason reading with her Volume 1, and it has been such a blessing to me. I highly recommend it to anyone with little children. I have not blogged through that volume completely, but I'm sure I will come back to it again some year soon. I think Volume 3 will begin to help me think through the school years...years that are coming sooner than I ever thought!
Chapter one is entitled "Docility and Authority in the Home and in the School," and I immediately realized that I did not have a clear idea in my mind what "docility" means. I have always thought of it as sort of a dull passivity in obedience, the extreme opposite of strong-willed. I must have picked up this perception from a negative example in my childhood reading; the dictionary definition is more neutral: "Ready to accept control or instruction; submissive." As I read Charlotte Mason, though, I think her definition is slightly more nuanced. I imagine her definition to be: willing (since it involves the child's own will) and ready to respond in obedience to authority as set in place by God.
Charlotte Mason's views on the authority of parents are very carefully balanced. She had seen a pendulum swing from the autocratic (and arbitrary) authoritarianism of her parents generation to an emphasis on freedom from all authority in the educational writings of Herbert Spencer which were popular in her day. She is positive about how relationships between parents and children had become much more "intimate, frank, and friendly" in her day, that they now could talk to their parents about their troubles. And yet she warns parents against accepting the "spirit of the age" without examining where (particularly Herbert Spencer's) ideas come from and what their implications are.
"Mr. Spencer's work on education is so valuable a contribution to educational thought that many parents read it and embrace it, as a while, without perceiving that it is a part, and a carefully worked out part, of a scheme of philosophy with which perhaps they are little in sympathy. They accept the philosopher's teaching when he bids them bring up children without authority in order to give them free room for self-development; without perceiving, or perhaps knowing that it is the labour of the author's life to eliminate the idea of authority from the universe, that he repudiates the authority of parents because it is a link in the chain which binds the universe to God." (p.7)The thought at the heart of this chapter is that "Authority is not inherent, but Deputed."
"...none of us has a right to exercise authority in things great or small except as we are, and acknowledge ourselves to be, deputed by the one supreme and ultimate Authority."In other words, I should not expect obedience from my children just because I'm the Mom, and I said so. I've been appointed as Mom to carry out God's will, not my own will, in the lives of my children. That should stop me from making arbitrary demands and give an immediate focus on what is important and what is not.
"Authority is neither harsh nor indulgent. She is gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial just because she is immovable in matters of real importance; for these, there is always a fixed principle."God has put me in a position of authority that also requires my own submission to His own authority.
And that made me think of something Charlotte doesn't really get into in this chapter: the motivation for "docility". I want to do what God requires of me because He has saved me and I love Him. This is also the motivation God wanted and asked for when He gave the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament. Before He laid down a single command, He said: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." (Exodus 20:2) The motivation for obedience is love, and gratitude. This is something that comes from the heart, and it's a response to a love already shown by the Person in authority. I think we must model this in our own small way to our children as well.