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Continuing a summary of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles, we arrive at number 3:
If you need to go back and read about the first 2 principles, click here.
3. The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental
Notable: When Charlotte discusses this principle in Volume 6, it’s striking that she mentions The War.
Her first book on education was written in 1905. Volume 6 was 1922 – after she had seen the devastation of the first World War. It’s hard to overstate how surprisingly terrible this war was to people alive at the time. People suspected that Europe had reached a time of such peace, and humanity was on a trajectory that war was impossible. So 20 million deaths was unthinkable, but that’s exactly what happened.
The war informed Charlotte’s later ideas.
And onto number 3:
She makes a point that authority is necessary to society. When we are under a proper authority, and obeying that authority, we are the most free. A Tim Keller sermon illustration that stuck with me is of a fish that wants to be free to walk on the land, but he is only actually free when he follows the rule to stay in the water. That’s what these ideas remind me of.
“Without this (authority), society would cease to cohere. Practically there is no such thing as anarchy; what is so-called is a mere transference of authority, even if in the last resort the anarchist find authority in himself alone. There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist and, except it be abused, is entirely congenial to those on whom it is exercised: we are so made that we like to be ordered even if the ordering be only that of circumstances. Servants take pride in the orders they receive; that our badge of honour is an ‘Order’ is a significant use of words. It is still true that ‘Order is heaven’s first law’ and order is the outcome of authority.
That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal. If a man in the pride of his heart decline other authority, he will submit himself slavishly to his ‘star’ or his ‘destiny.’ It would seem that the exercise of docility is as natural and necessary as that of reason or imagination; and the two principles of authority and docility act in every life precisely as do those two elemental principles which enable the earth to maintain its orbit, the one drawing it towards the sun, the other as constantly driving it into space; between the two, the earth maintains a more or less middle course and the days go on.”
I’ve heard some folks mistakenly say that the Charlotte Mason method is “child-led.” It’s certainly not that, and this principle should illustrate the point. The child is under the authority of the teacher. The child should understand that the teacher is under the authority of God and that they are both under the authority of God.
4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.
The delicate balance of teaching from authority and having children willfully obey and learn the first time, is something I have not mastered. But, going back to the first principle, “Children are born persons:” when you treat children with respect, they are far more likely to respect you back. Put knowledge in his hands, don’t force it down his throat and see what happens.
There’s no need to use fear or manipulation.
This also reminds me very much of the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk. I read it when my oldest was young and it influenced my parenting so much that I’m sure it’s one reason I’m draw to the CM method. I used to get it for every new mom. If you haven’t read it, stop and read it now.
So – authority and obedience should be natural but children are not puppies – Children are persons and should be treated with respect.