Thursday, July 13, 2017

School Education Chapter 3: Masterly Inactivity

This blog post is part of an on-going daily series this month as I read (very quickly) through School Education by Charlotte Mason. Join me! Pick up your book and read a chapter, or find it free online at Ambleside Online.

I have not read Sarah MacKenzie's book Teaching from Rest, but I have a suspicion that Charlotte Mason's often misunderstood concept of "Masterly Inactivity" means, if not exactly the same thing, at least something strongly related to it. If you have read Teaching from Rest, I'd love it if you would read chapter 3 of School Education as well and let me know in the comments if I'm onto something here. (Charlotte Mason's title would probably be Parenting from Serenity.)

Quick Summary of Chapter 3

Parents feel burdened and anxious with a strong sense of responsibility. "People feel that they can bring up their children to be something more than themselves, that they ought to do so, and that they must;" (p. 26) and that everything depends on them. They become "fussy and restless," (p. 27), forgetting that "purposeful letting alone is the best part of education." (p. 28)

Masterly inactivity is necessary in education to allow ideas to work themselves out in thought and action. An equivalent phrase is Wordsworth's "wise passiveness." The parent is able and willing to act, but wisely restrains himself when it is better to do so.

Elements of Masterly Inactivity:

Authority - "They are free under authority, which is liberty; to be free without authority is license." (p. 29)

Good Humour - as opposed to complacency and just giving in to whatever the children want to do.

Self-Confidence - "Parents should trust themselves more." (p. 29)

Confidence in the Children - Trust the children to live up to your expectations.

Omniscience of Parents and Teachers - They know what's going on, without interfering too much.

Free Will - "He is free to do as he ought, but knows quite well in his secret heart that he is not free to do that which he ought not." (p. 32)

Serenity of a Madonna - If mothers "would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense," (p. 33) and even give themselves some leisure "without the children," they would find themselves much more able to maintain this attitude of masterly inactivity with their children.

Leisure - "Leisure for themselves and a sense of leisure in those about them" (p. 35)

Faith - We must trust that God Himself is working in the training of our children and realize that it does not all depend on our constant effort. Only then "We shall give children space to develop...and shall know how to intervene effectually..." (p. 35)


"We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, 'late and soon.' We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education." (p. 27-28)

"...once we receive an idea, it will work itself out, in thought and act, without much after-effort on our part;..." (p. 28)

"Parents should trust themselves more. Everything is not done by restless endeavour. The mere blessed fact of the parental relationship and of that authority which belongs to it, by right and by nature, acts upon the children as do sunshine and shower on a seed in good soil. But the fussy parent, the anxious parent, the parent who explains overmuch, who commands overmuch, who excuses overmuch, who restrains overmuch, who interferes overmuch, even the parent who is with the children overmuch, does away with the dignity and simplicity of that relationship which, like all the best and most delicate things in life, suffer by being asserted or defended." (p. 29)

"Every time a child feels that he chooses to obey of his own accord, his power of initiative is strengthened." (p. 31)

" is precisely the distinction which we are aware of in our own lives so far as we keep ourselves consciously under the divine governance. We are free to go in the ways of right living, and have the happy sense of liberty of choice, but the ways of transgressors are hard. We are aware of a restraining hand in the present, and of sure and certain retribution in the future. Just this delicate poise is to be aimed at for the child. He must be treated with full confidence, and must feel that right doing is his own free choice, which his parents trust him to make; but he must also be very well aware of the deterrent force in the background, watchful to hinder him when he would do wrong." (p. 32)

"...the nervous, anxious, worried mother...will find them fractious, rebellious, unmanageable, and will be slow to realize that it is her fault; not the fault of her act but of her state." (p. 33)

"If mothers could learn to do for themselves what the do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have the courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents." (p. 33-34)

"When we recognise that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which it must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise." (p. 35)


My post on this chapter from a few years ago: Masterly Inactivity: A Matter of Trust
Jen Snow's posts: Masterly Inactivity: What is It? and Masterly Inactivity: How Can We Live It?

See you tomorrow with chapter 4!