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Mondays with Miss Mason–Starting with “A”

August 22, 2011

Note: this post is part of an ongoing series. For more information on Charlotte Mason and Mondays with Miss Mason, please read the first post.

It’s been a while since we have delved into the wonders of Miss Mason, but now that school is back in session it is time to get back to it.

I’ve decided to try an ABC approach this year to help me focus my topics and hopefully prevent last minute “what do I write now?” moments.  Of course, Miss Mason often has much to say on many topics so today I have chosen to briefly visit 3 beginning with the letter “A”.

ATMOSPHERE– What Mason post wouldn’t be complete without a nod to one of her triumverate of education essentials–“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.”

Honestly I’m still trying to come to terms with this one. I know it isn’t necessarily about the physical atmosphere but I have some distance to go on “orderliness” and other habits she thinks highly of.  If you want a fuller picture of atmosphere, I’m still working through this wonderful CM Blog Carnival on the topic from a few months back.  Much wiser minds than mind have good things to say on the subject.

In closing I’ll give you Miss Mason’s words (Book 6, Chapter 6):

What if parents and teachers in their zeal misread the schedule of their duties, magnified their office unduly and encroached upon the personality of children? It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us. It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense. We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby’s needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges. (more)

ATTENTION-The habit of attention is one of Miss Mason’s most important. From it flows many of the other intellectual habits. Attention is “the act by which the whole mental force is applied to the subject in hand.”

When I used to teach high school, I would start the first day by taking time to create class rules. One of mine was to change the inevitable “pay attention” to “invest attention”– you aren’t just paying it or giving it, you are getting something back.

Miss Mason goes into great detail about how to shape this habit with such tactics as short, varied lessons and avoiding the habit of inattention.

Miss Mason has much to say on the topic in Book 1, Part IV but here is a favorite part:

As the child gets older, he is taught to bring his own will to bear; to make himself attend in spite of the most inviting suggestions from without. He should be taught to feel a certain triumph in compelling himself to fix his thoughts. Let him know what the real difficulty is, how it is the nature of his mind to be incessantly thinking, but how the thoughts, if left to themselves, will always run off from one thing to another, and that the struggle and the victory required of him is to fix his thoughts upon the task in hand. ‘You have done your duty,’ with a look of sympathy from his mother, is a reward for the child who has made this effort in the strength of his growing will. But it cannot be too much borne in mind that attention is, to a great extent, the product of the educated mind; that is, one can only attend in proportion as one has the intellectual power of developing the topic.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention. It is, to quote words of weight, “within the reach of everyone, and should be made the primary object of all mental discipline”; for whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them.

Last but not least AUTHORITY–This is an area I have really struggled with as I have become a parent. I’ve really had to look at what authority means, to whom does it belong and what are the responsibilities of one in authority.

Miss Mason has much to say on the subject and in a time of much confusion on the issue I find her thought very compelling and helpful.  (from Book 2, Part 1)

The Limitations and Scope of Parental Authority––Having seen that it does not rest with the parents to use, or to forego the use of, the authority they hold, let us examine the limitations and the scope of this authority. In the first place, it is to be maintained and exercised solely for the advantage of the children, whether in mind, body, or estate. And here is room for the nice discrimination, the delicate intuitions, with which parents are blessed. The mother who makes her growing-up daughter take the out-of-door exercise she needs, is acting within her powers. The father of quiet habits, who discourages society for his young people, is considering his own tastes, and not their needs, and is making unlawful use of his authority.

Again, the authority of parents, though the deference it begets remains to grace the relations of parents and child, is itself a provisional function, and is only successful as it encourages the autonomy, if we may call it so, of the child. A single decision made by the parents which the child is, or should be, capable of making for itself, is an encroachment on the rights of the child, and a transgression on the part of the parents.

Once more, the authority of parents rests on a secure foundation only as they keep well before the children that it is deputed authority; the child who knows that he is being brought up for the service of the nation, that his parents are acting under a Divine commission, will not turn out a rebellious son.

Further, though the emancipation of the children is gradual, they acquiring day by day more of the art and science of self-government, yet there comes a day when the parents’ right to rule is over; there is nothing left for them but to abdicate gracefully, and leave their grown-up sons and daughters free agents, even though these still live at home; and although, in the eyes of their parents, they are not fit to be trusted with the ordering of themselves: if they fail in such self-ordering, whether as regards time, occupations, money, friends, most likely their parents are to blame for not having introduced them by degrees to the full liberty which is their right as men and women. Anyway, it is too late now to keep them in training; fit or unfit, they must hold the rudder for themselves.

As for the employment of authority, the highest art lies in ruling without seeming to do so. The law is a terror to evil-doers, but for the praise of them that do well; and in the family, as in the State, the best government is that in which peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, are maintained without the intervention of the law. Happy is the household that has few rules, and where ‘Mother does not like this,’ and, ‘Father wishes that,’ are all-constraining.

I hope these thoughts inspire you to read more of Miss Mason for yourself.  What is your favorite Mason “A”?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2011 3:36 pm

    I like your strategy of just going through the alphabet – sometimes you just need a framework to keep moving on! Of the three you posted, I like –
    “It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention.”

    It’s one of the keys to a successful high school experience with CM, I think. Making it a habit in the early years will make those later years much smoother.

    Nice to see you at the carnival!

    Sursum Corda,

    • August 31, 2011 9:28 pm

      Thanks Nancy! I think it will definitely help keep me motivated.

      How did you first learn about Charlotte Mason?


      • September 3, 2011 11:21 am

        I think my first conscience encounter with her ideas were at a L’abri conference in Rochester where the theme was education. Susan Schaeffer Macauley mentioned her in her talk. This must of been 17 years ago or so. Then I read For the Children’s Sake and very slowly moved that direction. How about you?

  2. September 3, 2011 11:23 am

    Oh, and I was at a Carole Joy Seid seminar around the same time. She had Mason’s works on her recommended reading list.

  3. September 3, 2011 11:53 am

    When I first began thinking about homeschool, I read everything I could get my hands on. When I read For the Children’s Sake, it really spoke to me. I also attended a Simply Charlotte Mason conference to see it in action. I taught high school English when I first graduated so I had thought some about what I liked and didn’t like about the educational system. I really liked so much of what Charlotte’s philosophy was that it was an easy choice. Of course, living it out is more difficult 🙂

    My high school English teacher and mentor was a great influence on my educational thoughts. When I first learned of Mason I wanted to share her with him thinking it was right up his alley. When I finally got in touch with him this year, I learned that he actually became a headmaster at a Charlotte Mason-themed school and had traveled to England to study her more in depth! I knew we were on the right page then 🙂

    Thanks for your wisdom!

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