Principle #3 “The principle of Authority on the one hand and Docility [teachableness] on the other are natural, necessary, and fundamental.”
Although Charlotte Mason placed a great deal of emphasis on the personhood and ‘sacredness’ of the child’s personality, she in no way meant that we should just allow children to go along in their own merry way to do whatever they want. She recognized that a child won’t choose to do right on their own, and left to their own devices they will grow up to be selfish tyrants and of little use to society. She notes that all people who grew up to be “great” in a historical sense had parents who exercised their authority. We should give children a certain degree of freedom, yes, but always within boundaries. Learning to obey parental authority at a young age lays the groundwork for growth in other virtues, helps children learn how to respect others, and helps to prepare them for adult life – even as adults there are certain laws and constraints that we must obey, like it or not. (Traffic laws, for example, or our boss at work.) And we all, no matter our age, must learn to submit to God’s authority.
Much of the parenting “wisdom” out there today goes to one extreme or the other – complete permissiveness on one side, and harsh, exacting control on the other. As a new parent I read as much parenting advice as I could get my hands on and ended up thoroughly confused – even in Christian circles, we see both extremes. In her writings, Charlotte shows us another way. We aren’t to rule over our children arbitrarily – we rule as those who are also under Authority. We must recognize that we are under God’s authority, and any position of authority we are given comes from Him. Recognizing this keeps us from sliding into despotism that rules by fear and punishment. We too must be docile – teachable. We come alongside our children/students and learn together with them. Even in our authority, we need to remain approachable.
What does this look like? As much as I like this idea, I struggle to know how to flesh it out in real life. Some of the ideas I gleaned from my reading on this principle:
- Authority considers and tries to understand what our children truly need. We need to be willing to keep our priorities straight and be willing to sacrifice for them.
- Our requirements must be just – based on what is right according to the Bible, not arbitrary or capricious (or merely what is convenient for us at the moment.)
- Authority needs to be consistent, faithful, and dependent on the Father.
- Authority shepherds our children gently and positively towards good habits and good character, rather than slamming them and leading them to believe that they ‘can’t do anything right’. We need to exercise tact and good judgment.
- We have no excuse to be angry and aggressive with our children or to take out our own failures and frustrations on them. If we do, we should acknowledge we have done wrong and apologize.
- We should view ourselves as our children’s allies in this endeavor – we are working with them.
- We need to remember we are encouraging our children towards autonomy – that which a child CAN do or decide for himself He should. As they grow, we need to gradually release our control, and recognize that when they reach adulthood they will no longer be under our authority.
- Authority expects obedience, but out of the context of a trusting, sympathetic, loving relationship with the child.
- Authority expects obedience ‘because this is right’ not ‘because I said so’.
- Authority has foresight and anticipates what the child needs and helps to divert the child from tempting situations.
- Authority does not become weary in well-doing.
I admit that I often fall short of this ideal. (There are reasons why this is primarily an education blog, and not a parenting advice blog!) But I appreciate that Charlotte lays a clear, balanced goal for us to work towards as parents and teachers.