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Welcome to week 9 of our Home Education book club! This week we’ll be reading pages 154-168.
Below are some journaling pages for you to use as you read the scheduled pages this week. Some thought provoking questions to get the wheels turning!
Part IV: Some Habits of Mind— Some Moral Habits, Continued…
V. The Habit of Remembering
Remembering and Recollecting:
“Memory is the storehouse of whatever knowledge we possess…” (pg. 154) This is what makes us intelligent beings. And we are teaching our children in order that they may remember.
Whether we realize it or not, all of our notions and opinions stem from the groundwork of our memory. We may not be able to recall all the things we’ve ever learned, but they are the foundation upon which our ideas form.
This ability to draw upon our memories is our “most valuable endowment.”(pg. 155)
A ‘Spurious’ Memory:
There is another kind of memory that Charlotte calls “spurious” memory, which are all of the facts and ideas in our brains that really have no foothold and can be “exuded at a single effort.” (pg. 155) She’s speaking about those times when we do things like cram for a test, use that knowledge for the test, and then all of the information is gone forever, never to be remembered.
While this is a necessary ability (we need to be able to dismiss some information sometimes), Charlotte wonders: what about the schoolboy who hasn’t retained any important information when the school year comes to an end?
Memory a Record in the Brain Substance:
How do we have the ability to remember at all? And why is some knowledge only available for a time and then evacuated and lost forever?
“Such an instrument is that function of the brain called memory, whereby the impressions received by the brain are recorded mechanically… the mind takes cognisance of certain facts, and the nerve substance of the brain records that cognisance.” (pg. 156)
Made Under What Conditions:
So under what conditions are these imprints of memory made upon the brain? Is it permanent? Is the brain capable of storing an indefinite number of memories?
It seems that any idea that is regarded with attention makes an impression on the brain and fixes it as a memory. “In other words, give an instant’s undivided attention to anything whatsoever, and that thing will be remembered.” (pg. 156)
If you want a child to remember, you have to secure his whole attention upon that which you want remembered.
Recollection and the Law of Association:
“It is not enough to have a recollection flash across one incidentally; we want to have the power of recalling at will…” (pg. 157)
Charlotte says we must provide more than solitary impressions of facts in order for our children to recall fully. Our lessons on any subject must be many and must be layered in order to make a truly lasting impression.
“This is to make a practical use of that law of association of ideas of which one would not willingly become the sport; and it is the neglect of this law which invalidates much good teaching.” (pg. 157)
Every Lesson Must Recall the Last:
“Let every lesson gain the child’s entire attention, and let each new lesson be so interlaced with the last that the one must recall the other…” (pg. 158)
No Limit to the Recording Power of the Brain:
Mere verbal memory does not get the job done. Instead, there must be time invested where the full “gaze of the mind” is focused on the information at hand. “Given these conditions, there appears to be no limit of quantity to the recording power of the brain.” (pg. 158)
And in order that this information be accessible for a lifetime, it is important that it must be used frequently. Otherwise it will slowly fade and be forgotten.
But Links of Association a Condition of Recollection:
Charlotte speaks about layering lessons like links in a chain, making sure that each link is somehow associated to the last. When there is no association, the lesson becomes almost useless.
VI. The Habit of Perfect Execution
The Habit of Turning Out Imperfect Work:
“‘Throw perfection into all you do’ is a counsel upon which a family may be brought up with great advantage.” (pg. 159)
We may teach children that they will get better at what they do “by-and-by”, or we can teach them to take their time and do it perfectly every time. Charlotte argues that allowing children to form the habit of imperfect work will likely mean the habit will accompany them into adulthood.
A Child Should Execute Perfectly:
Children should not be given work that they cannot execute perfectly. Then whatever work is given to him, he should be required to execute it perfectly.
For example, he may be required to write one letter six times perfectly. He should not turn in a page full of sloppy letters. Instead, he should have six perfectly written letters, evenly spaced with perfect form. If his work is imperfect, allow him to point out the imperfection himself and correct it. Tomorrow he can do the same exercise again, and the next, until his execution is perfect the very first time.
VII. Some Moral Habits-- Obedience
All of the previous talk of the application of habits should be applied just as liberally when regarding moral habits on the child’s part.
The Whole Duty of a Child:
The most important moral habit of a child is obedience. This is what Charlotte calls the whole duty of the child. Every other duty stems from this one.
“Not only so: obedience is the whole duty of man; obedience to conscience, to law, to Divine direction.” (pg. 161)
For example, all of the Lord’s temptations in the wilderness were not overt sins, but the act of willfulness… suggesting that he choose his will over God’s… and willfulness is “that state directly opposed to obedience, and out of which springs all that foolishness which is bound up in the heart of a child.” (pg. 161)
Obedience No Accidental Duty:
It’s the parents’ duty to teach that obedience is not an accidental duty. As parents, we are the “appointed agent to train the child up to the intelligent obedience of the self-compelling, law-abiding human being.” (pg. 161) Every act of disobedience on the child’s part is a direct condemnation of the parent.
And we must also remember that strong-arming children into obedience typically backfires, and does not strengthen a child’s self-compelling power. Instead, they should be taught that obedience is right and honorable.
Children Must Have the Desire to Obey:
Children should be taught the desire of obedience. “... he obeys because his sense of right makes him desire to obey in spite of temptations to disobedience-- not of constraint but willingly-- that the habit has been formed which will, hereafter, enable the child to use the strength of his will against his inclinations when these prompt him to lawless courses.” (pg. 162)
It’s often said that children who are strong-armed into obedience end up rebelling the older they get. This is true because they have been taught to “obey because I said so,” and they have not been taught over the course of time that obedience is their willful duty, a good and upright decision which strengthens their moral will the older they get.
A mother should even train obedience into her infant. This is an easy task because the youngest children naturally have the principle of obedience within them. There is no need to scold, threaten, or use violence to receive obedience. It is enough to say “do this” and expect it to be done.
She often loses her authority when her children detect the doubt in her voice… she doesn’t expect them to obey and they can sense it. “She does not think enough of her position; has not sufficient confidence in her own authority.” (pg. 162)
Her greatest tool is the habit of obedience. If she begins by requiring obedience, then they will always obey. But once they discover otherwise, the struggle for obedience has begun.
“To avoid these displays of willfulness, the mother will insist from the first on an obedience which is prompt, cheerful, and lasting-- save for lapses of memory on the child’s part.” (pg. 163)
As he gets older and matures, the mother can let him know what a noble and upright thing it is to have the ability and be in the habit of doing those things that must be done with a joyful heart, even if it is a thing he would rather not do.
To secure this habit of obedience, the mother should never give a command that she doesn’t expect to be “carried out to the full. And she must not lay upon her children burdens, grievous to be borne, of command heaped upon command.” (pg. 164)
Law Ensures Liberty:
The children who have been trained in the habit of perfect obedience can be given a great deal of freedom eventually. This is because they have obtained a good and powerful self-will and know right from wrong. They can be given a few directions that they know they must obey and from there they can direct their own actions and decisions. They may of course make a few mishaps (as is the way of life for all of us!), but they will learn from their mistakes and adjust, without having to be told “do this and don’t do that” at all times.
It’s common knowledge that truthfulness is most valuable. But teaching a child how to be truthful requires delicate care and consistency on the mother’s part.
Three Causes of Lying— All Vicious:
Charlotte says that lying stems from three causes:
Carelessness in ascertaining the truth
Carelessness in stating the truth
Deliberate intention to deceive
All of these are vicious because even careless talk can ruin the reputation of another person.
Only One Kind Visited on Children:
Charlotte says that of the three types of lying, children only seem to be reprimanded for the third type (deliberate lying). We tend to let them get away with exaggerations or stating facts that aren’t quite true because they are young. But, she says, the more we allow these inconsistencies, the more likely there is to be damage to a child’s sense of truth, “a blade which easily loses its keenness of edge.” (pg. 165)
Accuracy of Statement:
When we train our children to speak accurately, we help strengthen their will to be honest at all times in all things. He won’t “colour a tale to his own advantage, suppress facts (or) equivocate.” (pg. 165)
Exaggeration and Ludicrous Embellishments:
As mothers, Charlotte says, we should be very careful to prevent our children from getting into the habit of exaggeration or over embellishing.
“A reputation for facetiousness is dearly purchased by the loss of that dignity of character… it is possible, happily, to be humorous without any sacrifice of truth.” (pg. 166)
Charlotte puts an emphasis on the importance of teaching our children reverence, consideration for others, respect for persons and properties. In her time and in ours these attributes are too often neglected, and we see the repercussions of that neglect in the society around us.
Temper— Born in a Child; Not Temper but Tendency:
While it is true that people are born with certain dispositions, whether good or bad tempered, these things can be mended if need be. The real trouble comes when they are allowed to grow into that ill temperament as if there is no helping it.
“Here, if anywhere, the power of habit is invaluable: it rests with the parents to correct the original twist, all the more so if it is from them the child gets it, and to send their child into the world blest with an even, happy temper…” (pg. 167)
Parents Must Correct Tendency by New Habit of Temper:
“It is by force of habit that a tendency becomes a temper.” (pg. 167) As mothers, we have the ability to stop these bad tendencies in their tracks before they make an unremovable mark in the thoughts of our child. While they are very young their minds are still tender and pliable, and this is when we have the greatest chance of redirecting any ugly, envious, or discontented thoughts toward more positive ones.
Change the Child’s Thoughts:
We should step in before the negative thoughts even take a foothold. “In a word, give him something else to think about.” (pg. 168)
And of course, we should make every effort to encourage those thoughts that are of a positive nature.
Charlotte wraps up this chapter by saying that while there are so many more topics she could cover regarding ethical training, her intentions are to focus on important ethical training that all thoughtful people view as important.
This concludes our week 9 reading! Next week we will start Part V: Lessons as Instruments of Education by reading pages 169-181. See you then!