Monday, December 5, 2016

Reflections from Consider This - Chapter Two

Chapter Two of Consider This, Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass brought two questions to mind:

1. What is my view of man?

2. How does my view of man affect the way I educate my children?

Right off the bat, Glass asserts,
No educational philosophy can be consistent or valid unless it is underpinned by a just and comprehensive view of man. (p. 12)
I immediately thought of Charlotte Mason's Principles One and Two:

1. Children are born persons. 

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

As I've noted in the past, Charlotte lived in England at the same time as Charles Darwin.  She would have been about seventeen years old when he published On the Origin of Species, his theory of evolution. No doubt, this among other scientific views of hereditary determinism, prompted these two first principles, where Charlotte refuted the notion that infants needed to evolve a bit more before coming into full personhood and that a child was born either good or bad in so that education could not change their disposition.

In relation to Consider This, Glass states that our view of man affects the way we choose to educate.
If you believe that a child is born "bad," and no education will change his nature, you might very well leave him alone to reap the consequences as they come, and the sooner he is out of the way the better.. If a child is born "good," that good nature may be riled upon, and no special effort to inculcate good principles or character is particularly necessary....
In other words, if you assume that character (whether good or bad) is "born" into children, then formation of character and virtue will not play a vital role in your educational program. (p. 15-16)
Charlotte believed quite the contrary. She felt that both good and bad were possible. Therefore, she taught to nurture the good and to help the child see and hopefully correct their bad character. I believe, as did Charlotte, that children are complete and whole persons at birth. Their souls are formed at the time of conception and their minds are brought to fruition in the womb. This means that all possibilities are present and possible from day one.  Glass sums up by stating,
...educators throughout history have made wisdom and virtue a primary goal for education, and Charlotte Mason shared their vision. (p. 16)
As a mother, I know best each of my child's strengths and weaknesses.  Because I love and value them as born persons, I am their best teacher.  Now, this does not mean that I am the fountain head of all knowledge. It simply means that it is my job to find the best possible resources to strengthen their good possibilities, build character, and nourish each of my children's minds. My view of man definitely affects the way I choose to educate. I want stories with good morals and virtuous characters to lay down a model before my children.  I am of the mind that if we surround ourselves with truth, beauty, and goodness, then we will become true, beautiful, and good.

In summary, I wanted to mention one other point Glass made in Chapter Two.  She cited the fact that popular literature from Charlotte's general era is filled with examples of genetic determinism.  Interestingly, I recently found two instances of this quite naturally.  The first being in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which was published in 1884. In Chapter 31, Huck is trying to decide whether or not to write Miss Watson and tell her the whereabouts of her "nigger" Jim, whom he had run away with.  Eventually, Huck thinks better of it and rips up the letter he was considering sending to Miss Watson and he says,
'All right, then, I'll go to hell' - and tore it up. 
It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said.  And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.  I shoved the whole thing out of my head and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, begin brung up to it, and that other warn't. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog. (Chapter 31 - Huck Finn)
Here we see Huck thinking it was in his line and that he was "brung up" or born wicked so he may as well play the part.  There are other additional references to this type of thinking throughout the story.

A second example I found was in Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, in which Anne believes it's her destiny to be horrible because of her red hair.  She says something to the effect that red hair makes it easier to be bad than good.  She further states that anyone who doesn't have red hair could never know how horrible it is.  Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908. Before reading Consider This, I hadn't noticed these significant references to hereditary determinism.  


  1. The whole genetic determinism thing reminds me of the end of Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles where the resolution hinges on proving the main character's parentage. The main thrust of it isn't money or aristocracy, it's his moral nature that's at stake. None of the characters are at all ashamed that in their minds moral soundness comes from a certain genetic background. My kids are adopted, so this kind of thing annoys me, not to mention that it runs so counter to biblical thinking.
    Course, it doesn't stop me from absolutely loving Anne of Green Gables! We were watching the movie just last night! Rilla of Ingleside, the last in the series, contains a couple of my all-time-favorite literary scenes.

  2. Hey Ivy Mae, Glass actually uses the example you mention of "Freckles" in "Consider This". I have not read "Freckles" so I can't comment on it, but I agree, genetic determinism is definitely not biblical thinking.

    On the other hand, I also have two adopted kiddos as well as many years experience with foster care. Based on my experience, there are many common predispositions/characteristics among abused and abandoned children that could be mistaken for genetic determinism. However, you got me thinking it's most likely not lack of personhood at birth nor good or evil born trait, but rather cyclical associated with conditions in utero or relative conditions after birth. Of which, of course, could be nurtured if the way of the will allows it...bringing us around to principles 16, 17, and 18 :)