Monday, June 29, 2015

Vision for Children, First Installment

Last week I had the joy of returning to the Charlotte Mason Institutes national conference. This annual event is something we look forward to all year long; it is a highlight of our year, a time of refreshment, friendship building, and learning. This year, I had the great honor of being asked to address the 300 attendees on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky (across the street from my alma mater) as the final plenary speaker. I thought I would publish this speech in ten installments over the summer for those of you who were unable to attend.

I said yes when Carroll asked me to speak about living books and the moral development of the child because that seemed like a topic close to my heart. Then, as I began reading and researching, I thought I had offered to serve up the ocean with a teaspoon. This subject is huge. More time and more ability on my part could not begin to do it justice.

Because, reading has an enormous impact on a child’s moral development. I’m not going to try to convince you that books are the only influence, but stories are key, even critical, and I will unequivocally say, your children’s reading is essential to their moral growth and development. When I was first introduced to Charlotte Mason through Macaulay’s book For the Children’s Sake, I was initially drawn to Mason’s method because of “living books.” I knew I couldn’t recall the title of a single textbook I’d had, but had learned very much from books I read on my own. Immediately, I began using living books for my children’s lessons. Over the last ten years, I focused on studying Mason’s Home Education Series, gleaning specifics on the how and why of teaching Plutarch or picture study, to find out about “the way of the will and of reason,” or “masterly inactivity.” So when, this past December, I resolved to read nonstop, straight through all six volumes, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was surprised, (actually shocked is more accurate), at how much she says about books. This “big picture” view showed me how easy it is for us to see these books as a means to an end, as vehicles to transport information for “school,” a useful technique that’s superior to traditional textbooks.

Mason knew living books were far more than useful, far more than a tool, but the most effective and powerful instructors for a child’s life, reaching beyond school lessons, able to penetrate their whole person - to enlighten the eyes of the heart, instruct the conscience, illumine the understanding of themselves, others, their world, and even God Himself. Living books influence character almost mysteriously. Character, who a child is and becomes, was Mason’s higher goal, not the level of academic prowess he need attain.

Character is who we are. Our thoughts affect our beliefs, beliefs affect our decisions, decisions affect our actions, actions reveal our character. Throughout her writing she quotes such Bible verses as, “As
a man thinketh in his heart, so is he;” “A child is made known by his actions;” “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Mason puts it: “A man is what he has made himself by the thoughts which he has allowed himself, the words he has spoken, the deeds he has done.” (v2, p236) Since stories determine what we think about, they are key to who we become.

I’m confident every parent and teacher here deeply desires their children to be strong in virtue and moral character. Think, parents, about the first time you held your baby, the daunting responsibility
you suddenly felt, your overwhelming sense of inadequacy not just for their survival, but to show them how to live. Remember realizing that bringing them into the world was the easy part? If changing diapers and teaching them how to play baseball was all there was to parenting, we wouldn’t tremble. But they are infinitely complex individuals, made in the image of God. Understanding them is nearly as challenging as understanding God is, something no theologian claims to do. We can’t imagine who this child will become. Feed and shelter, sure, but direct moral development? - how in the world do we manage that?

This is where living books, Mason knew, could assist us, by giving us vision. I am certain her confidence in books had something to do with her very first principle of education - you know the one that’s seemingly easiest, because it’s stated most simply: “children are born persons.” This is why children need a wide and varied feast spread, not just because there are varieties of children, but because each whole person, complex and multifaceted, needs to be fed. Stories feed the whole person, not just the mind. Mason was on to something here, had a glimpse into this mystery. She felt she was standing on holy ground – because she was, and so are we. This teaching of children is sacred work, sowing stories, like spreading seeds of all kinds, trusting they will bear fruit.

(to be continued)

For the joy of reading,

Liz

14 comments:

  1. Oh my. Thank you so much. I am SO looking forward to this series and someday hope to attend CMI!! I love what you said here, so true!

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    1. I hope it's not too difficult to follow the thread with it being spread over many weeks. I hope you can make it to CMI some year too.

      Liz

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  2. If my lending library ever comes to be, it will be largely because of the way God has used you as His instrument. Thank you for this - so much to ponder!

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    1. Kelly,

      Just keep movig forward, because God is leading. It will happen in His time. I am glad the speech is helpful to you.

      Liz

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  3. Dear Liz,
    I did not get to attend the CMI Conference this year, but just yesterday afternoon my local CM mom's meeting took place at which one of our attendees shared with us her experiences at this year's conference. The bulk of the time was spent in reflecting upon your words and we all soaked in as much as she could remember from your talk. I came away wishing that next year would already be here so that I could purchase the volume with your plenary talk in it....and what should I receive today in my inbox but the first installment of this very essay. What a wonderful treat! I very much look forward to reading the continuation posts as well. Thank you so much for sharing!

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    1. Dawn,

      Grace and I both looked for you this year and were sorry you had to miss the conference. I'm glad I can share this little bit of it.

      Liz

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    2. That's very sweet of you. Thank you ! And I understand that congratulations are in order for Grace so please be sure to extend them from me.

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  4. This is great! I am looking forward to the next installments.

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  5. Liz, Thank you so much for posting your plenary speech here. I look forward to reading the whole thing, as I always look forward to your posts. (And maybe they'll have a regional CMI conference in the northwest someday, so I can come!)

    Warmly,
    Kimberlee

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    1. You're very welcome, Kimberlee, and I also hope a regional conference is in the making for your area of the country.

      Liz

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  6. Liz, I keep coming back to read this installment; not only is your post beautifully crafted, the content resonates so deeply with me.
    Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. Isn't it amazing that through words, one person's thoughts touch another's, mind meets mind, and there is understanding? I'm glad you appreciated these thoughts.

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    2. Indubitably!
      (& then there are the rabbit trails ones mind takes after the reading ☺).

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