CHILDREN ARE BORN PERSONS
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
(section from) Intimations of Immortality by William Wordsworth
The Foundational Principle
Charlotte Mason’s first and foundational principle is that children are born persons. Everything comes back to this one principle. In Mason’s time, many of the leading theories about children and education believed that children are born “tabula rasa” meaning blank slate. These theorists believed children have potential to become a person, to develop a valuable mind. They did not view the child as a person with value right now as they are. This is an important distinction that determines how you will approach education.
“If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and beautiful as his little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for these occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education, and that his education does not produce his mind.” -Charlotte Mason
The statement that children are born persons may seem obvious, but think about it : do you really believe that children are born persons? Take a close look at our societal norms and you will begin to see how adults truly view children: daycare, age-segregated schools, and separate adult workplaces (where children are not allowed). Think about the curriculum and books that have been created especially for children; they are so full of fluff and watered-down material that adults wouldn’t think of using for themselves.
If you spend time with children and closely study them, you will notice that they want to engage in meaningful, serious projects; they want to learn real-life skills. In their play, children reenact events from their life or books they’ve read. In reality, children are not so different from adults.
Lack of Experience, Not Intelligence
In her book, The Importance of Being Little, Erika Christakis writes convincingly of the truth that Charlotte Mason uncovered one hundred years before:
“Why should we settle for unimaginative goals (as we find in so many early education settings) like being able to identify triangles and squares, or recalling the names of colors and seasons? Recognizing visual symbols is something a dog can do. Surely we can aim higher than those picayune objectives and demand preschool classrooms based on a more advanced understanding of developmental processes, an understanding that is bounded only by the limits of a young child’s growing brain, not by a superintendent’s checklist of what needs to be covered before June rolls around.”
Think about it: if an adult asked you to teach them a subject they know nothing about, how would you teach them? What would you use? Would you use the same methods and materials created for children? Probably not. The language, graphics, and activities would offend an adult’s intelligence. A person, no matter what their age, learns line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept. If a person has no desire to learn a skill, they probably have not encountered a need for it in their life and require more life experience to see the value in gaining it. If a person has difficulty understanding a more advanced concept, it simply means they need more time to understand the previous stage. It’s a child’s experience that is incomplete, not their intellect.
Some of the most successful books written about leadership are just as applicable to children as they are to adults. Poor teaching and parenting is based on bribery and punishment because the adults don’t understand basic principles of leadership. Christ was considered the master teacher and leader. To become like Christ, we need to truly believe that children are born persons with equal mental faculties as adults.
Christ’s Three Directions
In the scriptures, Jesus gave only three directions on how to treat children:
- “Despise not.” (Matthew 18:10) We despise children by having a low opinion of them. Notice how many adults ignore children when they speak or don’t take them seriously. We chastise and correct them in front of others as if they can feel no shame or embarrassment. We put value on who they can be someday, not in who they are right now. We despise them by not having high expectations for them; we don’t believe they are capable of intellectual thought.
- “Offend not.” (Matthew 18:6) When we dumb things down for children, read books to them that no adult would read, and organize activities for them that adults would consider a waste of time, we are offending a child’s intelligence. If an adult would find it offensive to their intelligence it is not fit for a child either.
- “Forbid not.” (Matthew 19:14) How do we forbid children? They are not allowed in adult conversations, activities, or workplace. We forbid them from making mistakes and shield them from consequences. We forbid them from moving on to more advanced subjects or books because they must stay at their grade level. Young children may not have the attention span for advanced activities, but they have the intellectual capacity to understand in small doses and if presented in the right way.
“It is not only a child’s intellect but his heart that comes to us thoroughly furnished.” (Charlotte Mason) It is the child’s brain that is still developing, and it takes a long time: twenty-five years to be exact. This process cannot be rushed, no more than we can force our child to walk before they are physically ready. Treating children with respect while also being patient with them as their brain matures can be a difficult balance to achieve. Children are essentially a walking paradox: they are a mature spirit in an immature body. This truth is what makes teaching children so difficult. The solution is to see people as Christ sees them: free from earthly constraints. (Brooke Snow podcast) We should look at our children and see their mature spirit as it really is: free from the constraints of a developing body, free from developmental disorders, free from the effects of the natural man (hunger, tiredness, overstimulation), free from impulses and behavioral issues. The only way to help our children reach their full potential is to see them as Christ sees them.
Mothers, you may feel guilty because you are too busy with real life to prepare special activities for your children. But remember: children are born persons. You simply need to include them in your life and they will gain the desire and skills they need. Children may lack experience, but they do not lack intelligence. When you are planning lessons, remember you are teaching people, not lessons.
“The person rises to understand, master, and enjoy whatever he is surrounded with in language, ideas, literature, and in appreciation of beauty. If you share with children the very best, carefully chosen to meet their needs, they will amaze everyone.”
SUSAN SCHAEFFER MACAULAY
Which of my children do I need to get to know better? What can I do to get to know them better?
How can I change my curriculum to meet the needs of my children and respect them as people?
How can I show my children that I am more interested in them than in completing a lesson?
Apply general leadership skills (See list below).
Let your child live their own life and fulfill their own purposes, separate from your own. Do not make your children an extension of yourself.
Notice your child’s intellectual questions; desire to engage in serious work; ability to gain meaningful skills.
Treat Your Child Like a Person
Basic Leadership Skills from How to Win Friends and Influence People
- Show respect for your child’s opinions. Never tell them they are wrong. Instead, ask follow-up questions.
- It’s best to avoid arguing with your child. Avoid reviling with your child ( explained in “Love” section)
- If you are wrong and your child is right, admit it!
- Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing your child.
- Begin any suggestions in a friendly way–with praise and honest appreciation.
- Call attention to your child’s mistakes indirectly. Make statements that praise yet subtly suggest improvement.
- Let your child do a great deal of the talking.
- Let a child feel that an idea is his.
- Try to honestly see things from your child’s point of view.
- Be sympathetic with your child’s ideas and desires.
- Appeal to their nobler motives, and assume they had good intentions.
- Make your ideas come alive! Make them appealing.
- Throw down a challenge.
- Ask questions instead of giving direct order — “What is the first thing we do when we get ready for bed?”
- Praise the slightest improvement and every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
- Give your child a fine reputation to live up to.
- Use encouragement. Make the thing you want your child to do seem easy. Start with small steps.
- Make your child happy about doing the thing you suggest. Give them authority and responsibility. Find a way to make them excited to do it.