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Welcome to week 6 of our Home Education book club! This week we’ll be reading pages 96-118.
Below are some journaling pages for you to use as you read the scheduled pages this week. I look forward to discussing this section with you guys in the coming days!
Resources Mentioned in this Week’s Video:
Part III: ‘Habit is Ten Natures’
I. Education Based Upon Natural Laws
A Healthy Brain:
Charlotte recaps what she has already stated in sections past in order to build up to the points she wants to make in this chapter. First, a healthy brain is of the utmost importance in education.
“... it is upon the possession of an active, duly nourished brain that the possibility of a sound education depends.” (pg. 96)
Second, allowing the child ample time in the school room of Mother Nature is also paramount to their growing minds and faculties.
“... the chief function of the child-- his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life— is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses…” (pg. 96)
As parents it’s our duty to put our children before things worth observing so that they can freely exercise their “perceptive power,” which is where most of their education comes from in these earliest years.
The next subject Charlotte covers in her book is the formation of good habits, which she feels is equally important to the first subjects discussed.
Habit the Instrument by which Parents Work:
Charlotte says that “Habit is ten natures,” and implores us to understand this in the sections ahead.
“If I could but make others see with my eyes how much this saying should mean to the educator! How habit, in the hands of the mother, is as the wheel to the potter, his knife to the carver— the instrument by means of which she turns out the design she has already conceived in her brain.” (pg. 97)
II. The Children have No Self-Compelling Power
An Educational Cul-de-sac:
As a new teacher, Charlotte says she was enthusiastic in her work and came to find that most of the children she taught early on were good children with caring parents. But she was disappointed to find that her means of educating them at the time did little to lift them much higher in mind and they kept any bad habits they had already formed. “... where was the lever to lift each of these little worlds? Such a lever there must be.” (pg. 98)
Love, Law, and Religion as Educational Forces:
While she found sound ideas through educational literature and religious teachings, she still felt as though much of education was little more than “a swing forward today and back again tomorrow, with little sensible progress from year to year beyond that of being able to do harder sums and read harder books.” (pg. 99)... something was still missing.
Why Children are Incapable of Steady Effort:
After much consideration she finally zeroed in on the great causing factor of this hole she felt in education: “there was a warm glow of goodness at the heart of every one of the children, but they were incapable of steady effort, because they had no strength of will, no power to make themselves do that which they knew they ought to do.” (pg. 99)
Children Should be Saved the Effort of Decision:
This effort is something that even adults struggle with! The self-will to do what ought to be done is not something that should be placed in the lap of a child without any training or instruction.
III. What is ‘Nature’?
She kept mulling the idea of ‘Habit is Ten Natures’ over and over in her mind until finally she had a lightbulb moment in which she understood exactly what it meant for education. But first she wants her reader to understand what “nature” and “habit” even are.
All Persons Born with the Same Primary Desires:
Charlotte explains that all people, whether “savage or sage,” “children or society” are governed by the same natural principles of action. “...everywhere is felt the desire of esteem— a wonderful power in the hands of the educator...” (pg. 101)
She adds that we all have the same affections and passions as well, along with our conscience and sense of duty.
Content of the Most Elemental Notion of Human Nature:
Even in the most remote civilizations of the world where “civilized and Christian teaching had never before reached,” people live within the boundaries of a natural law. Lying, hatred, disobedience to parents… all of these things are viewed negatively.
“Not only is a sense of duty common to mankind, but the deeper consciousness of God, however vague such consciousness may be. And all this and much more goes to make up the most elemental notion of human nature.” (pg. 101)
Nature Plus Heredity:
Add on top of this the element of heredity, which is the passing down of certain traits within a family line. (Such as a taste for music, or the style of handwriting, etc.) These traits seem to be inborn and immune to change.
Plus Physical Conditions:
And of course, the physical makeup of a person will come into force in regards to their desires, emotions, and capabilities.
Human Nature the Sum of Certain Attributes:
After considering the very convincing arguments of human nature, heredity, and physical makeup, we may assume that much of who a child will become is out of our control.
The Child Must Not be Left to His Human Nature:
When we allow our children to grow into his human nature without push or pull in any upward direction, we end up with a society full of people who are no more or no better than their human nature (think: the economy package)… and they act as a heavy drag on society, while those children whose parents did take their education a step further end up being the few who really make progress in the world.
“It is unchangeably true that a child who is not being constantly raised to a higher and a higher platform will sink to a lower and a lower.” (pg. 103)
“It is true that here and there circumstances step in and ‘make a man’ of the boy whose parents have failed to bring him under discipline; but this is a fortuitous aid which the educator is no way warranted to count upon.” (pg. 103)
After considering all of these things, Charlotte felt that she had put her finger on the pulse of this missing element in education she had been feeling for so long: The will of the child is weak, but their human nature is incalculably strong.
Problem Before the Educator:
“The problem before the educator is to give the child control over his own nature, to enable him to hold himself in hand as much in regard to the traits we call good, as to those we call evil.” (pg. 103)
Our aim is to teach our children that their good traits don’t have to be the leading force in their lives, just as the evil ones don’t either. They have the power to control their own nature in a well balanced manner.
Divine Grace Works on the Lines of Human Effort:
We can’t discount Divine grace as a huge factor in accordance to our efforts. The parents who diligently seek to educate their child well will no doubt receive support from above. But we also can’t expect God to fill in every hole that we refuse to fill ourselves. An example would be Rebecca of the Bible, who Charlotte says failed in many ways in the upbringing of her son Jacob. He managed to “pull though” by God’s grace, but when he came to the end of his days he said that they were “few and evil.” We must do our part in order to receive the Divine grace we are hoping for.
The Trust of Parents Must Not be Supine:
Indeed, many parents depend too much upon God’s grace to prune that which is wild and unchecked in their children. While this trust is not always misplaced, there is still much we can do as parents to spare our children the pains of learning later that certain behaviors and habits are unacceptable. By forming good habits early we assist in their growth toward healthy and strong-willed individuals capable of making good decisions and having a full life.
“Nature then, strong as she is, is not invincible; and at her best, Nature is not to be permitted to ride rampant. Bit and bridle, hand and voice, will get the utmost of endeavour out of her if her training be taken in hand in time; but let Nature run wild, like the forest ponies, and not spur nor whip will break her in.” (pg 104)
IV. Habit May Supplant Nature
If habit is ten natures, then it stands to reason it is ten times as strong as our natural inclinations.
Habit Runs on the Lines of Nature:
However, if left unchecked, our habits run in line with these natural inclinations and only become stronger. For example, a cowardly child continually finds ways to escape blame, a selfish child has a habit of keeping. In contrast, a good-natured child has a habit of giving, and so on. So habit works according to nature.
But Habit May be a Lever:
But when implemented correctly, habit can lift a child out of his less than desirable natural tendencies by working contrary to them. Some straightforward examples would be how children learn not to potty in their clothes; or as they get older they learn not to spill all the beans about what happens in the privacy of their home; or they learn to be courteous and respectful by helping their elders when they see a need. And there are also the children who are in the habit of doing none of these things.
A Mother Forms Her Children’s Habits Involuntarily:
So are these habits, whether good or bad, natural to a child? No, but they are the habits that they have been brought into by their mother over the course of time. In fact, there’s nothing a mother can’t bring her children into! Most mothers have already instilled some habits into their children without even realizing it. And a mother who approaches these habits with intention can easily build the desired results she is looking for. But a mother who worries only about what other people think or how her children are perceived will raise them to be people who only present themselves positively in outward appearance, but who really have no desire to be good, generous, thoughtful people inwardly.
Habit Forces Nature into New Channels:
This statement is obvious all around us! Look at gymnasts, acrobats, athletes… all of their incredible skills are the results of highly refined habits. Even animals can be trained into certain habits.
Parents and Teacher Must Lay Down Lines of Habits:
The idea of habits as powerful forces, Charlotte says, was not new to her. But the application of these habits in order to raise, train, and educate children rightly was a revelation. Understanding how habits impact the brain were also a new idea for her. She began to understand that parents and teachers are responsible for laying down the lines of habit for their children, and this is paramount to setting their children on the right trajectory.
V. The Laying Down of Lines of Habit
‘Begin it, and the Thing Will be Completed’:
Even our “seeds of thought” can grow and manifest into habits, whether they be good or bad. So we must be careful and begin by being intentional about the very thoughts our children think about themselves and their capabilities. Because just as a positive thought can grow and develop into more positive thoughts, so also can negative thoughts grow and develop into more negative thoughts.
We Think as We are Accustomed to Think:
Children are oftentimes too inexperienced and immature to understand that of the many “roads of thought” going on in their brains, some of them are incorrect. So who is to help them in making their way through the many thoughts in their brains in order to follow the correct ones? Charlotte says it is their parents’ responsibility.
“He depends upon his parents; it rests with them to initiate the thoughts he shall think, the desires he shall cherish, the feelings he shall allow. Only to initiate; no more is permitted to them; but from this initiation will result the habits of thought and feeling which govern the man-- his character that is to say.” (pg. 109)
We can’t be responsible for all of the many choices a child will make throughout his lifetime, but we can do our best to place him carefully upon the right tracks to begin with.
Direction of Lines of Habit:
Charlotte uses the metaphor of a train upon tracks because it depicts so well the point she is trying to make about the power of habit in our lives. It is so much easier for a train to run smoothly upon the tracks beneath it than to have a “disastrous run off them.” So as parents, our duty is to consider well which tracks of habit we place our children upon.
“It rests with [the parents] to consider well the tracks over which the child should travel with profit and pleasure; and, along these tracks, to lay down lines so invitingly smooth and easy that the little traveller is going upon them at full speed without stopping to consider whether or no he chooses to go that way.” (pg. 109)
Habit and Free-Will:
Doing a certain thing over and over again creates a habit, and the longer the habit is kept up, the stronger its power over decisions becomes. So, Charlotte wonders, where exactly is the line between habit and free-will?
Habit Rules Ninety-Nine in a Hundred of Our Thoughts and Acts:
Charlotte explains that parents don’t make their children into creatures of habit… they already are creatures of habit. All of the decisions we make are based solely upon the habits we have been grown into, and they take no act of will to decide upon. But of course, there are those circumstances that arise in our lives where we must use our free thinking will do make a decision one way or another. And our children deal with the same. We can’t save them from having to make decisions during these times.
“What we can do for them is to secure that they have habits which shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in the miry places.” (pg. 111)
Habit Powerful Even Where the Will Decides:
But even when those times arise, Charlotte says, a child’s habit will still play an integral role in the decision he makes. For example, a boy who loves books will not likely fall into idleness just because a friend does. Or a girl who is in the habit of honesty will not think up a lie in order to get out of a scrape.
So where exactly does this power of habit come from? And how are we certain that we are not simply polishing up outward behavior rather than (our true goal) getting to the heart of these issues?
VI. The Physiology of Habit
Charlotte mentions a book (Mental Physiology by a Dr. Carpenter) that finally gave her some insight into the questions she had regarding habits.
Growing Tissues Form Themselves to Modes of Action:
Dr. Carpenter wrote that it is the “law of the constantly growing tissue that they should form themselves according to the modes of action required of them.” (pg. 112)
It’s not that the child wills his hand muscles to hold a pencil correctly. Instead, his muscles “take form according to the action required of them.” (pg. 112)
This is the difference between someone who is an amazing dancer and someone who is not: one has gone through the process of early training and the other hasn’t.
Therefore Children Should Learn Dancing, Swimming, Etc. at an Early Age:
This is why children should learn such things as athletics and sports at an early age. The earlier they train their muscles to form the habits required for such activities, the easier it will be for them to pick up new physical habits later.
“Of course, the man whose muscles have kept the habit of adaptation picks up new games, new muscular exercises, without very great labor.” (pg. 113)
The longer a person waits to form these habits, the harder it is for them to learn them because they’ve already been trained in other forms of habits.
“... to correct bad habits of speaking, for instance, it will not be enough for the child to intend to speak plainly and to try to speak plainly; he will not be able to do so habitually until some degree of new growth has taken place in the organs of voice whilst he is making efforts to form the new habit.” (pg. 113-114)
Moral and Mental Habits Make their Mark Upon Physical Tissues:
Of course, the effect of habits on our physicality is obvious and goes without saying. But less obvious is the effect that our non-physical habits have on us as well.
“Yet when we consider that the brain, the physical brain, is the exceedingly delicate organ by means of which we think and feel and desire, love and hate and worship, it is not surprising that that organ should be modified by the work it has to do; to put the matter picturesquely, it is as if every familiar train of thought made a rut in the nervous substance of the brain into which the thoughts run lightly of their own accord, and out of which they can only be got by an effort of will.” (pg. 114)
Persistent Trains of Thought:
We can see this in our everyday lives. Depending upon our vocation, our thoughts will create what Charlotte calls figurative “ruts” in our brains… the paths thoughts most travel throughout our day. A mother’s thoughts will constantly run to her children, a painter’s to his paintings, a poet’s to his poems, and so on. And in those cases where our thoughts fail to run along any other channel and we continually worry ourselves along the same line, our sanity can be in danger!
Incessant Regeneration of Brain Tissue:
The brain is constantly having to be nourished and regenerated. And as the brain tissue is regenerated, it will grow into any habits of thought that exist at the time.
“Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated, tends to perpetuate itself; so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances, without any consciously formed purpose or anticipation of results.” (pg. 116)
Artificial Reflex Actions May be Acquired:
Building upon this power of habit in the mind, humans are also capable of learning “artificial reflex actions” as well. For example, a soldier learns his drills and internalizes them until they are second nature. Such is one form of education. And this power within each child is what the educator should be interested in harnessing and guiding.
Intellectual and Moral Education:
“The object of intellectual education is to create such indissoluble associations of our ideas of relation in which they occur in nature; that of a moral education is to unite as fixedly, the ideas of evil deeds with those of pain and degradation, and of good actions with those of pleasure and nobleness.” (Huxley- pg. 117)
As educators our main concern is the interlocking of mind and matter-- the “rut” which Charlotte described earlier. We must make ourselves aware of the “ruts” or lines of habits that our children’s thoughts are running along.
Character affected by Acquired Modification of Brain Tissue:
In understanding these habitual ruts that are forming within the brains of our children, we are more likely to understand the power of the habits already formed in them. No longer can we use excuses like “he’ll grow out of it.” Instead, we must help to actively form the correct habits in our children.
“The actual conformation of the child’s brain depends upon the habits which the parents permit or encourage; and that the habits of the child produce the character of the man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on for ever unless they should be displaced by other habits… Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” (pg. 118)
And because habits are so easy to pick up (especially for children!), it is up to the mother to nip in the bud any bad or unwanted habits that her children may pick up along the way from outside influences.
That concludes our week 6 readings! I hope you’ll jump into the discussion for this week! (Next week we’ll be reading pages 119-134.)