Monday, February 9, 2015

"Children are not born either good or bad..." - How Far Does Heredity Count? - Part 2

Principle 2: Children are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and evil. 

In Part 1 of this series, I proposed that Charlotte Mason's second principle was her rejection to the evolutionary theories taking root in her time. Charlotte is careful not to suggest an alternative scientific theory, but she clearly does not accept the evolutionary psychologists of her day. 
I am considering a child as he is, and am not tracing him, either with Wordsworth, to the heights above, or with the evolutionist, to the depths below; because a person is a mystery, that is, we cannot explain him or account for him, but must accept him as he is...Having brought ourselves face to face with the wonder of mind in children, we begin to see that knowledge is the aliment of the mind as food.  (A Philosophy of Education, p. 238-239)

Charlotte states that all possibilities of good and evil are present in a child.  When we acknowledge that a child's character is not determined by heredity, then the first task of education should be a moral one, putting "Eduction in her true place as the handmaid of Religion" so we can "foster the good" and "attenuate the evil" possibilities of each child.  However, Charlotte cautions us against spoon feeding moral lessons. 
This education of the feelings, moral education, is too delicate and personal a matter for a teacher to undertake trusting to his own resources. Children are not to be fed morally like young pigeons with predigested food. They must pick and eat for themselves and they do so from the conduct of others which they hear of or perceive. But they want a great quantity of the sort of food whose issue is conduct, and that is why poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums must all be pressed into service. No one can tell what particular morsel a child will select for his sustenance. One small boy of eight may come down late because "I was meditating upon Plato and couldn't fasten my buttons," and another may find his meat in 'Peter Pan'! But all children must read widely, and know what they have read, for the nourishment of their complex nature.
As for moral lessons, they are worse than useless; children want a great deal of fine and various moral feeding, from which they draw the 'lessons' they require. It is a wonderful thing that every child, even the rudest, is endowed with Love and is able for all its manifestations, kindness, benevolence, generosity, gratitude, pity, sympathy, loyalty, humility, gladness; we older persons are amazed at the lavish display of any one of these to which the most ignorant child may treat us. But these aptitudes are so much coin of the realm with which a child is provided that he may be able to pay his way through life; and, alas, we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues.  (A Philosophy of Education, p. 59)
Here we see Charlotte encouraging a "moral education" through "the Bible" and "the best that we have in art and literature", being careful not to "undertake" "moral lessons" based on our own thoughts, views, and "resources".   Charlotte furthers this point here.. 
That is the capital charge against most schools. The teachers underrate the tastes and abilities of their pupils. In things intellectual, children, even backward children, have extraordinary 'possibilities for good'––possibilities so great that if we had the wit to give them their head they would carry us along like a stream in spate...Indeed, the more the teacher works, the greater the incuria of the children,...I can touch here on no more than two potent means of creating incuria in a class. One is the talky-talky of the teacher. We all know how we are bored by the person in private life who explains and expounds....Another soothing potion is little suspected of producing mental lethargy. We pride ourselves upon going over and over the same ground 'until the children know it'; the monotony is deadly.  (A Philosophy of Education, p. 52-53)
Because children are born persons with a desire for knowledge and because they have possibilities for good and evil, by giving them the best books and getting out of the way, we allow them moral teaching to bloom where they are planted. 

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