Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 1 "Docility and Authority in the Home and in the School – Part 1"
In this and the following chapter, Charlotte is attempting to explain her principles of authority and docility as they are foundational to the 'curriculum' that she is presenting. She urges us to consider a happy medium between strict, arbitrary autocratic rule ('you do this because I say so!') vs over-permissiveness.
Here are a few of the quotes I highlighted and thoughts I had as I read this chapter:
"…it is far easier to govern from a height, as it were, than from the intimacy of close personal contact. But you cannot be quite frank and easy with beings who are obviously of a higher and of another order than yourself; at least, you cannot when you are a little boy. And here we have one cause of the inscrutable reticence of children. At the best of times they carry on the busy traffic of their own thoughts all to themselves…But it is much to a child to know that he may question, may talk of the thing that perplexes him, and that there is comprehension for his perplexities. Effusive sympathy is a mistake, and bores a child when it does not make him silly. But just to know that you can ask and tell is a great outlet, and means, to the parent, the power of direction, and to the child, free and natural development." (p.4-5)
There's a good question: how can we strike a balance between maintaining our parental authority and yet being approachable to our children so that they will be willing to talk to us about the things that interest and concern them? I remember as a child (and especially as a teenager) not really wanting to talk to my parents about things because I always feared what their reaction would be – they didn't tend to be explosive or angry, but I did fear their disapproval. By the grace of God I have a very good and open relationship with my parents now as an adult, but still have the sense that I would like to approach this differently with my own children. I want my kids to feel comfortable talking to me about what concerns them, but am really not sure how exactly to do this without erring on the side of being too much of a buddy and not enough of a parent. I suppose one way that I am trying to cultivate this is to listen to what they want to say now – even though at the moment it is often recounting their favorite moments from the movie Planes once again – so that they know that I am willing to listen, no matter what it is. I think that homeschooling is another avenue to encourage this - especially since CM style homeschooling is so focused on reading and discussing enriching ideas. Still, I'd love to chat with a parent of adult children who has navigated this successfully and hear your tips, though. J
"For it is indeed true that none of us has a right to exercise authority, in all things great or small, except as we are, and acknowledge ourselves to be, deputed by the one supreme and ultimate Authority." (p.7)
Charlotte notes that the breakdown of a proper sense of authority in her (and our) culture comes from the 'dethronement of the divine'. This was the natural result of some of the influential philosophies of her day (Locke and Spencer are two that she notes). This effect has trickled down even further into our present day postmodern culture as well. If we have no concept of the authority of God, we have no foundation for authority at all. Authority comes from God. Charlotte proposes the restoration of the proper idea of authority as a foundation for the rest of her educational thoughts:
"…restore Authority to its ancient place as an ultimate fact, no more to be accounted for than is the principle of gravitation, and as binding and universal in the moral world as is that other principle in the natural." (p.9)
She warns several times in this chapter against the abuse of authority, something that she notes parents and teachers can often be susceptible to on account of the fact that we are 'big' and our charges are 'little'. But authority isn't an 'inalienable right'. It is something that is deputed to us from God when He places us in a position where the exercise of that authority is needful. Authority ultimately belongs to Him – it is our job to exercise that authority responsibly and 'as unto the Lord'.
"…we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorized; and that he who is authorized is under authority. The person under authority holds and fulfills a trust; in so far as he asserts himself; governs upon the impulse of his own will, he ceases to be authoritative and authorized, and becomes arbitrary and autocratic." (p.12)
It's pretty humbling to think about it like that, isn't it? God has given us a weighty responsibility in asking us to serve as His deputies in the lives of the children He has placed into our care. It can be really tempting to try to carry out that responsibility in our own power, but when we do, we are treading on dangerous ground. However, it is also freeing to realize that the chain of command doesn't stop with me. I have a Higher Authority that I can appeal to for grace, strength, and wisdom to carry out this task. Ultimately, the best thing I can do is rest in Him, daily place the lives of my children into His hands, trust His guidance and direction, and leave the results to Him. I have been realizing again and again lately that my job as a parent is to plant seeds, and it is the Lord who will reap the harvest.
" Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognize it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart. Perhaps the best aid to the maintenance of authority in the home is for those in authority to ask themselves daily that question which was presumptuously put to our Lord – 'Who gave Thee this authority?" (p.24)
(PS: Here is another good post that addresses this topic. Happy Reading!)