Disposition, intellect, genius, come pretty much by nature; but character is an achievement, the one practical achievement possible to us for ourselves and for our children; and all real advance in family or individual is along the lines of character. Our great people are great simply by reason of their force of character. (Volume 2–Parents and Children)
Character—every school tries to instill good character qualities in the children who study there. Really there isn’t any more important task. Who cares if you can read and write, but you bilk your investors ala Enron? Or the student (boy did I have these) who is incredibly bright but has no desire to learn or work. Character training is the work of education.
The Ultimate Object of Education––Suppose the parent see that the formation of character is the ultimate object of education; see, too, that character is, in the rough, the inherited tendencies of the child, modified by his surroundings, but that character may be debased or ennobled by education; that it is the parents’ part to distinguish the first faint budding of family traits; to greet every fine trait as the highest sort of family possession to be nourished and tended with care; to keep up at the same time the balance of qualities by bringing forward that which is of little account––the more so when they must deliver their child from eccentricity, pitfall to the original and forceful nature;––suppose they have taken all this into the role of their duties, there yet remains much for parents to do. (Vol. 2, Chapter 9)
Miss Mason uses the tool of HABIT as the main way of character training.
This brings us to a beneficent law of Nature, which underlies the whole subject of early training, and especially so this case of the child whose mother must bring him forth a second time into a life of beauty and harmony. To put it in an old form of words––the words of Thomas à Kempis––what seems to me the fundamental law of education is no more than this: ‘Habit is driven out by habit.’ (Vol 2, Chap 9)
I like Miss Mason’s philosophy of training: Get rid of the weeds and foster the flowers. She doesn’t dwell on punishment as so many child-rearing books seem to do, but offers ways to “foster the flowers.” She has an entire volume on the subject of various character issues (Formation of Character) with examples and stories to show how parents can deal with various problem behaviors.
The main requirement of all these though is TIME. As a modern parent, it sometimes feels impossible to devote the time needed to train a child in a new habit. But at the end of the day, it is really the only way. She recommends thinking of the poor behaviors as if your child were ill–wouldn’t you spend whatever time and energy that was needed to make them well?
Now here is a point all parents are not enough awake to––that serious mental and moral ailments require prompt purposeful, curative treatment, to which the parents must devote themselves for a short time, just as they would to a sick child. Neither punishing him nor letting him alone––the two lines of treatment most in favour––ever cured a child of any moral evil. If parents recognised the efficacy and the immediate effect of treatment, they would never allow the spread of ill weeds. For let this be borne in mind, whatever ugly quality disfigures the child, he is but as a garden overgrown with weeds: the more prolific the weeds, more fertile the soil; he has within him every possibility of beauty of life and character. Get rid of the weeds and foster the flowers. It is hardly too much to say that most of the failures in life or character made by man or woman are due to the happy-go-lucky philosophy of the parents. They say, ‘The child is so young; he does not know any better; but all that will come right as he grows up.’ Now, a fault of character left to itself can do no other than strengthen. (Vol 2, Chap 9)
One of my favorite ideas about character that came from reading a book in our curriculum was an episode in Little Britches between the boy and his father. The boy had eaten a bunch of candy bars without permission and then lied about it. The father had these words:
“A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”
Charlotte Mason gives us some tools to assist us as we help our children build their character house and keep it from becoming a ruin. Among those tools are good books, habit, and time.
Charlotte Mason Blog Roundup
Nancy Kelly invites you to hear her new podcast.