Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Self-Governance, An Ordering of the Will...

Principles 16a and 17

There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, [the first] we may call 'the way of the will'....

The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between 'I want' and 'I will.' (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will.  (c) That the best way to turn out thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour.  (This adjunct of the will  is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may 'will' again with added power.  The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated as tending to stultify and stereotype character.  It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)

I remember a time when I believed a strong-willed child was simply stubborn and tenacious, not necessarily a bad thing, but rather more irritating than troublesome.  However, since my Charlotte Mason education, in addition to studying scripture, I have come to see the seriousness of the problem at hand and how a strong will is in fact, a weak will.  

Initially when I read this chapter, it didn't spark much thought.  Even at our CM Book Study, the attending mothers felt we had already hashed these principles over in the discussion of habit training.  However, in now taking a closer look, re-reading portions to write this post, I see there is more to the story.  In essence, I believe we habit train to order the will...but, I think I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, Charlotte starts the chapter...
The great things of life, life itself, are not easy of definition.  The Will, we are told, is 'the sole practical faculty of man.'  But who is to define the Will?  We are told again that 'the Will is the man'; and yet most men go through life without a single definite act of willing.   Habit, convention, the customs of the world have done so much for us that we get up, dress, breakfast, follow our morning's occupations, our later relaxations, without an act of choice.  For this much at any rate we know about the will.  Its function is to choose, to decide, and there seems to be no doubt that the greater becomes the effort of decision the weaker grows the general will.  (Vol. 6, p. 128-129)
So, a habit is based on routine, a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.  The will is the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.  It's a decision or a choice.  Later in the same opening paragraph, Charlotte goes on to state....
But the one achievement possible and necessary for every man is character; and character is as finely wrought metal beaten into shape and beauty by the repeated and accustomed action of will.  We who teach should make it clear to ourselves that our aim in education is less conduct than character; conduct may be arrived at as we have seen, by indirect routes, but it is of value to the world only as it has its source in character. (Vol. 6, p. 129)
In other words, character is shaped by the will.  Character is the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.  Conduct is the manner in which a person behaves, especially on a particular occasion or in a particular context.  I envision conduct to be more closely aligned with habits.  It can be influenced, but it's also rooted in character.  If you are of shady character, your conduct or behavior, having it's source, will shine through in a negative light.  On the contrary, if you have upstanding character, your conduct will support it. 

Charlotte begins the second paragraph with this...
Every assault upon the flesh and spirit of man is an attack whoever insidious upon this personality, his will; but a new Armageddon is upon us in so far as that the attack is no longer indirect but is aimed consciously and directly at the will, which is the man; and we shall escape becoming a nation of imbeciles only because there will always be person of good will amongst up who will resist  the general trend.  The office of parents and teacher is to turn out such persons of good will;... (Vol. 6, p. 129)
It is our duty as parents and home educators to produce children of "good will".  I believe providing a broad and liberal education is the key in doing so.  By exposing the child to truth, beauty, and goodness through the best literature, art, music, etc., we will cultivate affinities toward a will that is true, good and beautiful.  Being born a person, whose mind is an instrument of his education, the child is able to digest what is honest, lovely, and of good report.
For right thinking is by no means a matter of self-expression.  Right thought flows upon the stimulus of an idea, and ideas are stored as we have seen in books and pictures and the lives of men and nations; these instruct the conscience and stimulate the will, and man or child 'chooses'.  (Vol. 6, p. 130) 
This quote is directly in line with providing pabulum or nourishment for the mind.  When our students read the Bible, Plutarch, Ourselves, it is providing food for thought, giving the child options in order to strengthen the will.  This is the purpose of education!  Charlotte asserts that the way of the will is not automatic.  It must be trained.

Self- Governance

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. 
Proverbs 16:32

Charlotte uses the example of Jacob and Esau to demonstrate guiding the will...
He...measures Esau with a considering eye, finds him more attractive than Jacob who yet wins higher approval; perceives that Esau is wilful but that Jacob has a strong will, and through this and many other examples, recognises that a strong will is not synonymous with 'being good,' nor with a determination to have your own way.  He learns to distribute the characters he comes across in his reading on either side of a line, those who are wilful and those who are governed by will; and this line by no means separates between the bad and good.  
It does divide, however, between the impulsive, self-pleasing, self-seeking, and the persons who have an aim beyond and outside of themselves, even though it be an aim appalling as that of Milton's Satan.  It follows for him that he must not only will, but will with a view to an object outside himself...  
It is well that children should know that while the turbulent person is not ruled by will at all but by impulse, the movement of his passions or desires, yet it is possible to have a constant will with unworthy or evil ends, or, ever to have a steady will towards a good end and to compass that end by unworthy means...   
The boy must learn too that the will is subject to solicitations all round, from the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life; that will does not act alone; it takes the whole man to will and a man wills wisely, justly and strongly, in proportion as all his powers are in training and under instruction...  (Vol. 6, p. 132-133)
I remember studying this idea of self-governance while using Beautiful Feet's Early American History guide.  We were reading Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire.  Over the course of his life, Leif became strong and cunning.  He learned early how to navigate his own ship and went to visit the King of Norway.  Leif showed great respect upon his arrival, practicing good manners and courtesy, remembering the counsel of his father.  On the other hand, Leif's father, Erik the Red, was hot-tempered and lacked self-control.  It was not difficult for the children to quickly catch which character was self-governed and the importance of this concept based on the results of each character's actions.  

While reading, I was also reminded of one of the very first homeschool meetings I ever attended.  A veteran mother was speaking about child rearing and biblical teaching, among other things.  She said she taught her children early on, "There are two choices on the shelf, pleasing God or pleasing self."  I thought it was quite clever and never forgot it.  You can imagine my surprise upon reading p. 135 where Charlotte wrote...
There are two services open to us all, the service of God, (including that of man) and the service of self.  
I was brought right back to the living room of the host of that early homeschool gathering.

Unfortunately, this post is getting much longer than I intended.  Charlotte left us many gold nuggets, I could go on, but I will suffice to say providing an education based on the liberal arts is intended to bring about the improvement, discipline, or free development of the mind or spirit, in which,there will be ordering of the will.  It does take time, but it is well for us to plant the seeds.  I will leave you with one last quote from p. 137...
The ordering of the will is not an affair of sudden resolve; it is the outcome of a slow and ordered education in which precept and example flow in from the lives and thoughts of other men, men of antiquity and men of the hour, as unconsciously and spontaneously as the air we breathe.  But the moment of choice is immediate and the act of the will voluntary; and the object of education is to prepare us for this immediate choice and voluntary action which every day presents.  

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