Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Matter of Principle....

Principle 19

Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas.  To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them.  These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.  

principle = a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning

According to Charlotte everyone has principles - that is, everyone has a few chief and leading opinions upon which every bit of his conduct is based.  She further asserts,
It is an interesting fact, that, though a person's principles of conduct are often not put into words, they are always written in characters of their own.  Everyone carries his rules of conduct writ large upon his countenance, that he who runs may read.  
We gather our principles unconsciously; but they are our masters; and it is our business every now and then to catch one of them, look it in the face, and question ourselves as to the manner of conduct such a principle must bring forth.  (Vol. 4, Ourselves)
I thought of Charlotte's words today as I read aloud Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.  In Chapter 7 we found out that Stacey gave his new much needed coat to T.J.  The coat was originally given to Stacey as a gift from Uncle Hammer, but was too big.  When Mama tells Stacey to go get the coat so she can hem the sleeves, he stammers around until he's forced to admit giving the coat away because it was too big and T.J. told him he looked like a fat preacher in it.  After some back and forth dialog, the story goes like this...
"Now you hear me good on this - look at me when I talk to you, boy!"   Immediately Stacey raised  his head and looked at Uncle Hammer.  "If you ain't got the brains of a flea to see that this T.J. fellow made a fool of you, then you'll never get anywhere in this world.  It's tough out there, boy, and as long as there are people, there's going to be somebody trying to take what you got and trying to drag you down.  It's up to you whether you let them or not.  Now it seems to me you wanted that coat when I gave it to you, ain't that right?"
Stacey managed a shaky "Yessir."
"And anybody with any sense would know it's a good thing, ain't that right?"
This time Stacey could only nod. 
"Then if you want something and it's a good thing and you got it in the right way, you better hang on to it and don't let nobody talk you out of it.  You care what a lot of useless people say 'bout you you'll never get anywhere, 'cause there's a lotta folks don't want you to make it.  You understand what I'm telling you?"
"Y-yessir, Uncle Hammer," Stacey stammered.  Uncle Hammer turned then and went back to his paper without having laid a hand on Stacey, but Stacey shook visibly from the encounter.
A few pages later, we encounter T.J. "obnoxiously flaunting Stacey's wool coat" during the cold days of December.  Apparently, the coat fit T.J. perfectly and he was bragging about the beauty and fit of it.  The author then writes...
Stacey was restrained from plugging T.J.'s mouth by Uncle Hammer's principle that a man did not blame others for his own stupidity; he learned from his mistake and became stronger for it.  
Here we have a perfect example of conduct based on principle.  Stacey carelessly gave his new coat away, giving in to peer pressure.  Based upon Stacey's character earlier in the story, the reader knows it's likely he will fight to get his coat back.  However, after knowledge fitted to him from Uncle Hammer, Stacey realizes his mistake and that he cannot blame someone else for his failure.  Instead of beating T.J. up for his own personal shortcoming, he chalks it up to a lesson learned.  Stacey's conscience remembered Uncle Hammer's principle and steered his conduct.

Next, Charlotte addresses how we should teach children these principles of conduct.
But how is the conscience to become instructed?  Life brings us many lessons: when we see others do well, conscience approves and learns; when others do ill, conscience condemns.  But we want a wider range of knowledge than the life about us affords, and books are our best teachers.
There is no nice shade of conduct which is not described or exemplified in the vast treasure-house of literature.  History and biography are full of instruction in righteousness; but what is properly called literature, that is, poetry, essays, the drama, and novels, is perhaps the most useful for our moral instruction, because the authors bring their insight to bear in a way they would hesitate to employ when writing about actual persons.  Autobiographies, again, often lift the veil, for the writer may make free with himself.  In the Bible the lives of men and the history of a nation are told without the reticence which authors are apt to use in telling of the offences of the good or the vices of the bad.  Plutarch, perhaps alone among biographies, writes with comparable candour, if not always with equal justice.  
Charlotte also includes Psalms, Proverbs, dramatists and novelists in her list.  However, she does caution us, saying,
...not the works of every playwright and novelist are good 'for example of life and instruction in manners.' We are safest with those which have lived long enough to become classics; and this, for two reasons.  The fact that they have not been allowed to die proves in itself that the authors have that to say, and a way of saying it, which the world cannot do without.  In the next place, the older novels and plays deal with conduct, and conduct is our chief concern in life. Modern works of the kind deal largely with emotions, a less wholesome subject of contemplation.
I find that final sentence fascinating in today's world of political correctness.  Heaven forbid we should call a spade a spade for fear that it may be offensive.  Our society is extremely emotionally charged, and therefore, not producing the great thinkers of the past.  There is panic and pandemonium, rather than leisurely contemplation and deep thought.

Ironically, Charlotte didn't encourage reading books simply for their principles, but stated,
...the way such teaching should come to us is, here a little and there a little, incidentally, from books which we read for the interest of the story, the beauty of the poem, or the grace of the writing.  
This ties directly to classical education, which purports truth, beauty, and goodness.  We should choose classic works that have stood the test of time.  They should be interesting, have beautiful language, and will guide our conduct by their grace and goodness.  

In the last section of our assigned reading, Charlotte addresses conscience.
Everybody knows that the affairs of his body and those of his heart should be ordered by his conscience.  
Charlotte gives examples that illustrate how easy it is for an idle mind to "lie in wait for any chance notion that comes floating their way, take it up zealously, and make it their business in life to spread it."  She demonstrates how fallacies work and concludes with,
There is ever some new fallacy in the air which allures its thousands, and no one is safe who is not cognisant of danger, and who does not know how to safeguard himself.  Perhaps no rules for the right conduct of life are more important than the following: (a) that we may not play with chance opinions; (b) that our own Reason affords an insufficient test of the value of an opinion (because Reason, as we have seen, argues in behalf of Inclination); (c) that we must labour to get knowledge as the foundation of opinions; (d) that we must also labour to arrive at principles whereby to try our opinions. 
In the end, Charlotte calls us to labour, form with toil and care, till, and cultivate to help our children obtain knowledge.  We must then allow them to form opinions based on that knowledge that can be tested under the safety of our wing.  Giving them principles on which to base their conduct so they can soar at the highest possible level.


  1. HI Melissa,
    I am a faithful follower of your blog, I just don't make myself known (: This is my first comment to your writing because I found something you stated to be a worthy thought and something that has been on my mind lately. You pointed this out: Modern works of the kind deal largely with emotions, a less wholesome subject of contemplation (as per Mrs. Mason). A little one-sentence background: my children and I have been following her teaching for about a year now; my oldest is 6 so that is all we have been following (: Praise the Lord for His guidance! Going back to that comment, I am curious as to your thoughts about it? What would you consider 'modern' to be? How modern is modern? We were reading a bio of Beethoven and something in there caught my attention that said "He came up with new, thrilling, and expressive ways of putting musical sounds together that changed the history of music forever. Ludwig's music let people FEEL things about the joy, sadness, stress of life. It was something loud and exciting, and often beautiful enough to give your goose bumps all over..." Now, Ludwig was born in 1770. We are talking VERY OLD. Yet, since his composing, the music industry has changed and we are now driven by music that plays very heavy on our emotions. One example, most of his music had a continues melody through the symphony that was only 4 notes (the shortest). That was the 'tune'. I know some great modern music that only has few notes repeating and repeating itself and is absolutely amazing. But, again, emotional. I often hear in CM circles to choose books that would 'touch the heart'. Oh, they often do. But again, would you consider that to be under 'emotions driven' and most importantly, is that what CM meant? Because if so, what we think to be today's modern stuff, might not even be close to what she meant by it. Anyway, I am just thinking about this...appreciate your direction here in my lost brain activities. LOL
    I have been following your research on Classical Edu, thanks for all your wisdom (:
    By the way, we are in MN (: I know you came up here not too long ago. Blessings to you

  2. Julz, I think you pose an excellent question and I've been trying to find the words to respond. However, every attempt gets quite lengthy as it's caused me to think of a variety of ideas. Therefore, I'm working on a post because I think this is definitely worth discussing further.

    Yes, I do wander across the border from time to time :) For whatever reason, I tend to find more classical Charlotte Mason educators to my west.

    Thanks so much for your comment....stay tuned. Also, please continue the dialog and feel free to comment there.

    Thanks Again,

  3. Hi Melissa!
    Thanks for your reply. I have read your post and trying to take some time to think about it and internalize all you have said. I have all boys in my family and want to make sure I raise strong young men who aren't too swayed by emotions when making choices. I am not plugged in with any CM folks where I am. Anywho, I will be responding soon to the post! You are so kind for taking your time to write all that... I so value your time and research and knowledge.
    Blessings to you and your family,

  4. Ah yes, boys!...I have no brothers and was raising three girls when our boys came along so I've been feeling a little ill equipped...ahem ;-) So far, I think some great boy books for showing character are:

    Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin
    Little Britches series by Ralph Moody
    Robin Hood
    King Arthur
    G.A. Henty books
    Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    Plutarch's Lives
    Rascal by Sterling North
    Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
    Robinson Crusoe by Defoe
    The Hobbit by Tolkien
    Sergeant York by John Perry
    The Wright Brothers by Quentin Reynolds
    Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
    Gentle Ben by Walt Morey
    Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield
    By the Great Horned Spoon by Sid Fleischman
    Andrew Jackson by Clara Ingram Judson
    This Dear Bought Land by Jean Lee Latham
    Carry on Mr. Bowditch also by Latham

    Our son also loves reading about pioneers like Daniel Boone and Jed Smith, who showed great faith and perseverance. In this modern culture, I think it's especially important to read about men from history that showed strength and Godly character.

    If there's any possible way, I would highly encourage you to reach out to even one other CM homeschooler. It's so helpful to have some one to bounce ideas around with or complete a book study together....maybe even your husband if he's game. There wasn't anyone in my area when I began studying Charlotte's philosophy either so I learned all I could online and reading, then started my own group. Building community is great!