Monday, March 9, 2015

"Authority is among us and in us" says Charlotte Mason

Principle 3: The principles of Authority on the one hand and Docility on the other are natural, necessary and fundamental...

While reading Chapter IV of A Philosophy of Education in preparation for our monthly book club discussion, I felt like I was floundering.   Initially when I read principle three, I was thinking of authority as a person (an adult...namely parent/teacher) in command.  I immediately had an image of a gavel hitting the table and I wondered how in the world docility, being teachableness, could go hand in hand with authority, someone standing over me with a gavel.  I was thoroughly perplexed!

Then, on page 69, I read, "That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal."  Upon further investigation of word meaning and origin, I realized Charlotte was speaking of authority as the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior in one's self, not from an external schoolmarm holding the gavel.  If one aspires to be teachable (having docility), one must have power (authority) over one's own mind.  This was my light bulb moment! 

In Charlotte's words....
There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist and, except it be abused, is entirely congenial to those on whom it is exercised: we are so made that we like to be ordered even if the ordering be only that of circumstances.  Servants take pride in the orders they receive; that our badge of honour is an 'Order' is a significant use of words. It is still true that 'Order is heaven's first law' and order is the outcome of authority.
That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal. If a man in the pride of his heart decline other authority, he will submit himself slavishly to his 'star' or his 'destiny.'  It would seem that the exercise of docility is as natural and necessary as that of reason or imagination; and the two principles of authority and docility act in every life precisely as do those two elemental principles which enable the earth to maintain its orbit, the one drawing it towards the sun, the other as constantly driving it into space; between the two, the earth maintains a more or less middle course and the days go on.

The same two principles work in every child, the one producing ordered life, the other making for rebellion, and the crux in bringing up children is to find the mean which shall keep a child true to his elliptical orbit.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 69-70)

So how does Charlotte propose we, as educators, guide, enable, or lead, our children to a position of authority and docility...

The sense of must should be present with children; our mistake is to act in such a way that they, only, seem to be law-compelled while their elders do as they please. The parent or teacher who is pestered for 'leave' to do this or that, contrary to the discipline of the house or school, has only himself to thank; he has posed as a person in authority, not under authority, and therefore free to allow the breach of rules whose only raison d'ĂȘtre is that they minister to the well-being of the children. Two conditions are necessary to secure all proper docility and obedience and, given these two, there is seldom a conflict of wills between teacher and pupils. The conditions are, - the teacher, or other head, may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority [Parents and Children. By the Writer.] that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience. (I am assuming that everyone entrusted with the bringing up of children recognises the supreme Authority to Whom we are subject; without this recognition I do not see how it is possible to establish the nice relation which should exist between teacher and taught.) The other condition is that children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher. They do choose and are happy in their work, so there is little opportunity for coercion or for deadening, hortatory talk.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 73-74)

All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught. To this end the subject matter should not be repeated.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 74)

To return to our method of employing attention; it is not a casual matter, a convenient, almost miraculous way of covering the ground, of getting children to know certainly and lastingly a surprising amount; all this is to the good, but it is something more, a root principle vital to education. In this way of learning the child comes to his own; he makes use of the authority which is in him in its highest function as a self-commanding, self-compelling, power. It is delightful to use any power that is in us if only that of keeping up in cup and ball a hundred times as (to the delight of small nephews and nieces), Jane Austen did. But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a kingdom, all the more satisfying to children because they are so made that they revel in knowledge.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 76-77)
For further study, you can read my thoughts on principle 1 and principle 2.  Also, I really appreciated and found wisdom in the article posted on the Charlotte Mason Institute blog by Tara Schorr titled Authority in Perspective.  I love the biblical references she applied to Charlotte's third principle. 

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