From My Commonplace- On Docility and Authority

I recently started reading School Education by Charlotte Mason, and wanted to reflect on what I’m reading. They probably will be of no interest to anyone but myself, however…

Chapter 1:

“Truer educational thought must of necessity result in an output of more worthy character.” (p. 4)

Education shapes our character. Ideally, we focus our educational efforts on what is true, beautiful, and good. I think the utilitarian education of the 21st century is not producing men and women of character.

“You cannot be quite frank and easy with beings who are obviously of a higher and of another order than yourself; at least you cannot when you are a little boy.” (p 4)

Charlotte is speaking here about the dangers of autocratic parenting. This hits home a bit to me– I want my children to feel at ease with me, yet it is so easy to drift into authoritarian parenting: “because I said so!” There must be a balance, because parents are in a position of authority. But authority does not mean authoritarian.

Authority- person in command, in charge, with the right to make decisions.

Authoritarian-  expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws; not allowing personal freedom.

My goal is to be authoritative, but not authoritarian. Charlotte talks much elsewhere of respecting the child as a person. Keeping that in mind, I think will help me to be more sympathetic to my little ones.

“It is much to a child to know that he may question, may talk of the thing that perplexes him, and that there is comprehension for his perplexities. Effustive sympathy is a mistake, and bores a child when it does not make him silly. But just to know that you can ask and tell is a great outlet and means, to the parent, the power of direction, and to the child, free and natural development.” (p 5)

This, too, is a goal.

Charlotte warns, however, against the doctrine of the infallible reason, promulgated by John Locke:

“That doctrine accepted, individual reason becomes the aultimate authority, and every man is free to do that which is right in his own eyes. Provided, Locke would have added, that the reason be fully trained, and the mind instructed as to the merits of the particular case; but such proviso was readily lost sight of, and the broad principle remained.” (p. 5)

It’s hard to imagine that she is writing this in 1904!

She warns against the implications of Herbert Spencer‘s rationalistic philosophy:

“[Spencer} sees that the principle of infallible reason is directly antagonistic to the idea of authority… So long as men acknowledge a God, they of necessity acknowledge authority, supreme and deputed. But, says Mr. Spencer, in effect, every man finds his own final authority in his own reason.” (p. 6)

“From the dethronement of the divine, follows the dethronement of all human authority, whether it be of kings and their deputies over nations, or of parents over families. Every act of authority is, we are taught, an infrigement of the rights of man or of child…” (p. 6)

Mr Spencer’s work on education is so valuable a contribution to educational thought that many parents read it amd embrace it, as a whole, without perceiving that it is a part, and a carefully worked out part, of a scheme of philosophy with which perhaps they are little in sympathy… It is the labor of the author’s life to eliminate the idea of authority from the universe, that he repudiates the authority of parents because it is a link in the chain which binds the universe to God.” (p. 7)

She agrees that

“None of us has a right to exercise authority, in things great or small, except as we are, and acknowledge ourselves to be, deputed by one supreme and ultimate Authority”. (p. 7)

But Mason is operating from a strongly theistic, Christian worldview, and it is from this her philosophy of education is based:

“Nothing less than the Infinite will satisfy the spirit of a man. We again recognize that we are made for God, and have no rest until we find Him.” (p. 7)

Mason views authority and docility as fundamental principles on which the world exists. In short, someone always has to be in charge, whether it’s a football team, a corporation, or a family. Someone has to be the final decision maker. The rationalistic philosophers, she argues, have served to show us the dangers of authoritarianism.

“We know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorizied; and that he who is authorized is under authority. The person under authority holds and fulfills a trust; in so far as he asserts himself, governs upon the impulse of his own will, he ceases to be authoritative and authorised, and becomes arbitrary and autocratic.” (p. 12)

For my own life, when I discipline my children, I need to be carefully considering why I am disciplining. Believing that I am under God’s authority– I need to consider whether their behavior is an affront to God’s laws (loving Him, loving others), or simply a matter of my inconvenience or against my personal preference. If they are being noisy and I am irritated, I have no right to snap at them or discipline for that infraction. They are people, and I am called to love them. If, on the otherhand, one hurts or injures the other, then a consequence is necessary, as they were not loving their neighbor as themselves.

Just my midafternoon musings, as I seek to work this this out in my mind…