In education, as in every human endeavor, there exists the possibility of erring to the left and erring to the right. We live in an age in which the responsibility of adults to be intentional and diligent in the formation of children’s habits is largely forgotten. Charlotte Mason was very clear in pointing out the careful formation of habit is a vital tool for the lifting of a child beyond his nature, the deliverance of a student from the power of “chance desires.” However, the fact that our culture so frequently errs to the left does not protect us from the possibility of erring to the right. We must be careful that we do not elevate the formation of habit to a status beyond its rightful one-third of education. Habits are essential tools, tools which must be given to a child if he/she is ever to be well educated. But, a sculptor, who is overly fixated on his tools rather than focusing on the object of his creation, will fail to bring forth the beauty latent in a piece of marble. In like manner, habits are not the heart of education. Overzealous and continuous prodding can both hinder the formation of habit and distract from the heart of education which is the cultivation of a cornucopia of inspiring relations. Consider Charlotte Mason’s writings on education as the science of relations.
Education, the Science of Relations: We are Educated by Our Intimacies.1
"But who shall parcel out
His intellect by geometric rules,
Split like a province into round and square?
Who knows the individual hour in which
His habits were first sown, even as a seed?
Who that shall point as with a wand and say
'This portion of the river of my mind
Came from yon fountain'? "––Prelude.
I need not again insist upon the nature of our educational tools. We know well that "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." In other words, we know that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere) to forward his sound education; should train him in the discipline of the habits of the good life; and should nourish his life with ideas, the food upon which personality waxes strong.
Only Three Educational Instruments.––These three we believe to be the only instruments of which we may make lawful use in the upbringing of children; and any short cut we take by trading on their sensibilities, emotions, desires, passions, will bring us and our children to grief. The reason is plain; habits, ideas, and circumstances are external, and we may all help each other to get the best that is to be had of these; but we may not meddle directly with the personality of child or man. We may not work upon his vanity, his fears, his love, his emulation, or anything that is his by very right, anything that goes to make him a person.
Our Limitations.––Most thinking people are in earnest about the bringing up of children; but we are in danger of taking too much upon us, and of not recognizing the limitations which confine us to the outworks of personality. Children and grown-up persons are the same, with a difference; and a thoughtful writer has done us good service by carefully tracing the method of our Lord's education of the Twelve.
"Our Lord," says this author, "reverenced whatever the learner had in him of his own, and was tender in fostering this native growth––. . . . Men, in His eyes, were not mere clay in the hands of the potter, matter to be molded to shape. They were organic beings, each growing from within, with a life of his own––a personal life which was exceedingly precious in His and His Father's eyes––and He would foster this growth so that it might take after the highest type." (Pastor Pastorum, by H. Latham, M.A., 6.)
…Spontaneous Living.––The laws of habit are, we know, laws of God, and the forming of good and the hindering of evil habits are among the primary duties of a parent. But it is just as well to be reminded that habits, whether helpful or hindering, only come into play occasionally, while a great deal of spontaneous living is always going on towards which we can do no more than drop in vital ideas as opportunity occurs. All this is old matter, and I must beg the reader to forgive me for reminding him again that our educational instruments remain the same. We may not leave off the attempt to form good habits with tact and care, to suggest fruitful ideas, without too much insistence, and to make wise use of circumstances.
On what does Fulness of Living depend?––What is education after all? An answer lies in the phrase––Education is the Science of Relations…. What we are concerned with is the fact that we personally have relations with all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past, and all that there will be in the future––with all above us and all about us––and that fullness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of.
George Herbert says something of what I mean
"Man is all symmetry,
Full of proportions, one limb to another,
And all to all the world besides;
Each part may call the farthest brother,
For head with foot hath private amity,
And both with moons and tides. (The italics are mine.)
Every child is heir to an enormous patrimony, heir to all the ages, inheritor of all the present. The question is, what are the formalities (educational, not legal) necessary to put him in possession of that which is his? You perceive the point of view is shifted, and is no longer subjective, but objective, as regards the child.
The Child a Person.––We do not talk about developing his faculties, training his moral nature, guiding his religious feelings, educating him with a view to his social standing or his future calling. The joys of 'child-study' are not for us. We take the child for granted, or rather, we take him as we find him––a person with an enormous number of healthy affinities, embryo attachments; and we think it is our chief business to give him a chance to make the largest possible number of these attachments valid.
An Infant's Self-Education.––An infant comes into the world with a thousand such embryonic feelers, which he sets to work to fix with amazing energy:––
Nursed in his Mother's arms, who sinks to sleep
Rocked on his Mother's breast; who with his soul
Drinks in the feelings of his Mother's eye!
For him, in one dear Presence, there exists
A virtue which irradiates and exalts
Objects through widest intercourse of sense.
No outcast he, bewildered and depressed:
Along his infant veins are interfused
The gravitation and the filial bond
Of nature that connects him with the world." (The Prelude)
He attaches his being to mother, father, sister, brother, 'nanna,' the man in the street whom he calls 'dada,' cat and dog, spider and fly; earth, air, fire, and water attract him perilously; his eyes covet light and colour, his ears sound, his limbs movement; everything concerns him, and out of everything he gets––
"That calm delight
Which, if I err not, surely must belong
To those first-born affinities that fit
Our new existence to existing things,
And, in our dawn of being, constitute
The bond of union between life and joy."(The Prelude)
He gets also, when left to himself, the real knowledge about each thing which establishes his relation with that particular thing.
Our Part, to remove Obstructions and to give Stimulus.––Later, we step in to educate him. In proportion to the range of living relationships we put in his way, will he have wide and vital interests, fulness of joy in living. In proportion as he is made aware of the laws which rule every relationship, will his life be dutiful and serviceable: as he learns that no relation with persons or with things, animate or inanimate, can be maintained without strenuous effort, will he learn the laws of work and the joys of work. Our part is to remove obstructions and to give stimulus and guidance to the child who is trying to get into touch with the universe of things and thoughts which belongs to him.
Our Error.––Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up. We are the people! and if we choose that a village child's education should be confined to the 'three R's,' why, what right has he to ask for more? If life means for him his Saturday night in the ale-house, surely that is not our fault! If our own boys go through school and college and come out without quickening interests, without links to the things that are worth while, we are not sure that it is our fault either. We resent that they should be called 'muddied oafs' because we know them to be fine fellows. So they are, splendid stuff which has not yet arrived at the making!
1Mason, C., School Education,182-188 excerpts