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I'll say it again: I presume to write about home education, but I yield more authority to mothers because they know the individuality of their own children. They know their children and have a rapport with them that a stranger never can. Yet there is a science to education that is separate from a mother's intuition. Understanding this natural law, which comes from God, can allow anyone to raise a child successfully, with or without maternal instincts. Obeying God's laws, including the natural laws involving education, will bring reward.
One of these natural laws is the force of habit. Scientific evidence showing that new brain tissue is grown according to what has been needed proves what people already knew from experience. It's good to know that one is never too old to learn a new habit, although it may take longer for older people. It's also helpful to realize how easily any of us can slip into bad habits. But the nicest thing
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about habit is that it enables us to have what everyone wants: an easier life. We don't mind a little extra work now if we know that it will make our lives easier later. And habit promises to make our lives easier. The mother who takes the time to teach her children good habits makes her days smoother and easier, but the mother who allows bad habits to develop in her children has a tiresome life with constant conflicts and stress with her children. All day she has to nag at her children to 'do this!' or 'don't do that!' and her children do the exact opposite of what she asks. 'But,' you ask, 'if habit is so helpful, there are tons of habits to be taught. It's exhausting just to think of all the habits the poor mother will have to teach! When will she have time to just enjoy her children?'
Once again, we are reminded of the clock who was overwhelmed anticipating how many 'ticks' were to be ticked in his future. But only the next tick needs to be thought about, and he will always be given one second long enough to tick that tick. In the same way, the mother only needs to concern herself with the one habit she's working on. She will also need to keep an alert guard over the habits already corrected, but that's easy and no trouble at all. If the thought of all those habits that still lay ahead are too much to think about, she should make a list of just a few habits to work on, maybe twenty. A child who grows up with twenty good habits is already starting life on the right foot. The mother who knows herself well enough to doubt whether she can persist in habit training can take courage in knowing that even the act of training habits can become a habit! She should also remember that the most enduring
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habits are the ones she hasn't worked to instill--the ones her children absorb unconsciously just by observing how life is at home in words, actions, feelings and opinions.
We have already discussed some physical habits that children pick up without anyone deliberately instilling them--order, routine, neatness. But there are habits of atmosphere that the child also picks up from his home life. These are gentleness, courtesy to others, sincere directness, respect for others. They are taught by example.
For now, let's focus on habits that need some direct training.
We'll start with the habit of focusing the attention, since the child's intelligence is a direct result of how well he can do this. To help understand why this habit is so important, consider a couple of rules about how the thought process works. First, think about how a trained professional works, such as a doctor or lawyer or teacher. He can listen to a long story, sift through the unnecessary stuff to find the bare facts, see the significance of each important aspect and he knows exactly what to ask to fill in any missing information. Now compare this to an uneducated person--his eye wanders and his replies don't address the heart of the matter. It's easy to see that a person's ability to pay attention is a good assessment of their competence.
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Let's consider the nature of attention and what it does. The mind is never idle unless the person is in a coma. Ideas are constantly flitting in and out of the brain, all day, all evening, while walking around, even in dreams during sleep, and even during periods of madness. But we make a mistake if we assume that we are the authors of our own thoughts, or that we can even control what we think about. The best we can do is, when we're conscious of it, to latch onto our thoughts and give them some direction. If we think about the way dreams flit from one impression to the next, we can get an idea of how ideas follow ideas. We see the same dance of thoughts in the mutterings of a delirious person, or the fanciful rambling of an insane person, or the trivial chatter of a little child, or the wandering babble of old men. That's how thoughts flitter through the mind when they're left to themselves. Let's say you want to explain to a child how glass is made and what it's used for, so you try to provoke his curiosity about glass. But the child has his own ideas. He wonders about Cinderella's glass slipper, then he tells you about his godmother, who gave him a boat for a present, then about his Uncle Harold who took a cruise, then he wonders why you don't wear bifocals, leaving you to presume that Uncle Harold must wear them himself. This may seem like a nonsense trail of ideas, but they aren't as illogical as they seem. They follow a logical pattern of association. One idea recalls some other related idea (however distantly related it may be!) So the child's mind goes from glass to slipper to Cinderella to godmother to gift to boat to Uncle Harold to bifocals. This kind of sequence of association can be a useful servant, but a bad master. It can be used to help remember things that happened in the past or facts
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in the present, as people do when they use memory tricks to remember names. But to be at the mercy of those associations, to have no power to choose to turn it off and think what we want when we want, but only to be able to think about whatever thought pops into our head, makes us totally useless.
By putting forth some concerted effort, we should be able to focus our thoughts. However, self-compelling effort is achieved with maturity. Children don't have maturity, they only have the nature they were born with. How, then, is the child supposed to keep his mind on geography when it wants to wander to his spinning top, or how is he supposed to keep his mind on French verbs when it wants to think about doll furniture? And this is the reason lessons are so tedious: children are always thinking of something other than their lessons. They are at the mercy of a thousand fancies that flit through their brains, every one with some association to the one before it. One little girl said to her governess, 'Oh, Miss Smith, there are so many more interesting things to think about than lessons!'
What's so bad about that? For one, it wastes the children's time. Also, it forms in them a drifting manner of thinking, which becomes a careless mind habit that lessens their ability to keep their attention where they want it.
It isn't the child's will that's the problem. It's that he hasn't learned the proper habit. This habit should be cultivated when the child is an infant. A baby has wonderful powers of observation, but no ability to focus his attention. He wants a toy, but a minute after he has it, it drops listlessly from his hand when his wandering eye spots some new item of interest. But even at this stage, it's not too early to begin encouraging the habit of attention. The discarded toy should be picked up and the mother should say, 'Pretty!' and show interest to get the baby's attention.
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By this, she can keep his eyes fixed on one object for a few minutes. This is the baby's first lesson in paying attention. Older toddlers are eager to see and touch everything. But if you watch, you'll notice that they dart from one thing to another, having less purpose than a butterfly flitting amongst the flowers. They don't stick with any one thing long enough to get a really good impression of it. It's the mother's job to make sure her child doesn't flit from this to that, but that he looks long enough at a thing to really get acquainted with it.
One minute little Margaret is intently staring at a daisy she has picked. A second later, a pebble or buttercup has caught her attention and she's ready to discard the daisy. But her mother steps in. She shows Margaret that the daisy looks like a bright yellow eye with white eyelashes around it. She tells her that all day long, the daisy lies in the grass and looks up at the bright sun, never blinking as Margaret would do. It's called a daisy because it's like a 'day's eye,' always looking at the sun, which makes the day. And she asks Margaret what she thinks the daisy does at night when the sun is not out. It does just what boys and girls do--it shuts up its one eye with its white lashes tipped with pink and goes to sleep until the sun comes back out in the morning. Now the daisy has reclaimed Margaret's interest. She stares at it with big eyes while her mother speaks. Then she cuddles it to her breast and gives it a soft little kiss. So, mothers will come up with all kinds of ways to add interest to every object in their children's world.
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But the real conflict begins with school lessons. Even a child who has been trained to hold his attention on things has a hard time holding his attention on words. This is a turning point in a child's life, and his mother needs tact and vigilance. First of all, never allow a child to dawdle over his copywork or math. Before his mind starts to wander, put his schoolwork away. Let him do another lesson that's totally different from the other one. Go back to the first lesson later, when his mind is fresh. If his mother or teacher has been careless enough that his attention has been allowed to drift during lesson time, she must follow through. Using her wits to make the lesson bright and pleasant, she must draw the child's mind back so that he finishes the lesson. [Note that the child is not to be reprimanded or punished.]
The child's teacher should understand the principles of education. She should know which subjects are suited for each age group, and how to make those subjects enjoyable. She should know how to vary the lessons so that the child's mind can rest after each kind of mental activity by doing something totally different. She should encourage him by making use of the child's desire for praise, for doing well, for making progress, for wanting to know about things, his love for his parents, his sense of duty--but she must not over-use any of these in such a way that the child's character is compromised. Especially, she must be careful that nothing takes priority over the child's desire to know--that, and nothing else, should be the child's motivation to do lessons. Children naturally want to know, and that's enough to make them want to learn.
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Opportunities to discuss this will come up in other chapters later. For now, let's see what a homeschool based on sound principles might look like. First of all, there's a schedule written in enough detail that the child has a good idea what he needs to do, and how long each lesson will last. Teaching him that each subject needs to be done in a specific block of time teaches him that it does matter, and one time isn't as good as another. If he doesn't get his work done the first time in the time allotted, there is no time set aside to do it again. This compels the child to pay attention and get his work done the first time. Each lesson is short, usually twenty minutes or less for a child younger than eight. Knowing that his lesson won't drag on forever but has a twenty minute limit helps children stay focused. A child's mind can only take in so much at once. By allotting only the amount of time that takes and no more, no time is wasted. If lessons are carefully alternated, perhaps doing math first while the child is fresh and then switching to writing or reading, then he will easily go from one lesson to the next without getting bored. Lessons should be alternated so that a mental challenge is followed by one in which he has to do some physical skill carefully. The schedule should be a little different every day to prevent boredom.
Even with short, varied lessons, children may still need help from time to time keeping focused. His desire for praise may make him want some kind of reward, something more than a word of approval. If [when?] rewards are used,
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they should relate to the task. The reward should be a natural consequence of his good conduct.
What would be the natural consequence of completing work quickly and accurately? Wouldn't it be time for leisure? If a boy is given twenty minutes to do math and he finishes in ten, then he is entitled to the remaining ten minutes to go outside or do whatever he wants. But if his task was to write six perfect m's and he writes six lines of m's but only one is acceptable, then he doesn't get time to re-do. The paper and pencil are put away and the lesson is over. But if he writes six perfect m's right off on the top line, then he gets to spend the rest of the lesson time drawing boats or trains or whatever he wants. For homeschool students, this compensates for not getting the praise in front of a class that usually motivates students.
Rivalry can be an effective means to interest children's attention. But some might object that a desire to win and do better than everyone else implies that a person is unloving, and that kind of attitude should be discouraged. Some criticize grades as a way encouraging competition between students. But it's a fact of life that, in the real world, people are rewarded with prizes or praise, depending on the activity--football, tennis, art, writing
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poetry. There is envy and grudging among many who come in second place in the real world and there always will be. Some think that children headed for the real cut-throat world should get used to it by experiencing competitiveness at school. But a mother teaching at home can do better than that. She can teach her child not to be conceited when he wins, and not to be resentful when he loses. She can bring up her children with so much love and acceptance that one sibling can have enough joy in his brother's success to offset disappointment at his own loss. And sadness when his brother loses removes any egotism when he wins. Also, if grades are used to stimulate attention and effort, they should be based on conduct and effort rather than natural talent. Marks should be given in areas that every child has a fair shot at, such as promptness, order, paying attention, carefulness, obedience, and gentleness. Grades in these things can be given without any danger of causing a peevish sense of injustice to the child who doesn't do well. But rivalry is disastrous when it's used to motivate children to learn, because it sometimes replaces the love of learning in education. In fact, even grades for conduct encourage children to do right for the wrong reason--for reward rather than for its on sake. Learning is interesting enough that rewards shouldn't be necessary to encourage attention, promptness and carefulness.
It's fine for a child to want to do well and work hard to please the parents who do so much for him. It's okay to use this as a motive sometimes, but not often. If the child's affection is called on too often to do something to please his father or so as not to upset his father,
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then he may begin to feel uncomfortable with that. What should have been the real motivation for doing something is hidden under sentiment that the child may begin to resent. But, since he doesn't want to seem unloving, he may be forced to work to honor a feeling he no longer feels, and he will be untrue to himself.
The most obvious motivator to hold a child's attention is knowledge itself. Knowledge is fascinating and children are naturally hungry for it. But bad teachers cure children of that pretty quickly, and proof of that is evident in many classrooms. More on that later.
It's clear that attention is not a faculty of the mind. In fact, the various operations of the mind aren't accurately described as faculties. Attention isn't really an operation of the mind. it just means applying all of oneself to the matter at hand, and it can be developed so that it becomes a habit. [Attention isn't a muscle in the brain to be exercised. It's something you do rather than something you have.] A parent teaches this habit by using some motive to attract and hold the young child's attention. [Note that the child isn't cajoled and reprimanded into it; it's up to the parent to make the environment conducive so that the child is interested.]
As children get older, the responsibility shifts to them to use the volition of their own will to make themselves focus, even when things try to distract their attention. Children should be taught to feel a sense of triumph at being able to compel themselves to focus. Let them know how thoughts are always flitting in and out of the mind, and they will drift from one thought to another. The struggle and victory is to be able to fix their thoughts on
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the task at hand. A child who succeeds deserves a reward of a sympathetic look from his mother and her words of praise: 'You have done well, you've done the right thing.' But keep in mind that a person can only pay attention if he has the intellectual capability to grasp the subject.
The importance of attention can't be emphasized too much. It is within everyone's reach and should be the mental discipline most coveted. No matter how clever a child is, he can only make use of his intelligence in the proportion that he's able to focus his attention when and where he wants.
Mothers should avoid constantly hassling with their children over doing their lessons. For one thing, it's stressful for the mother! It is worth her while to make sure that her children never do a lesson that they don't put their whole heart into. This isn't as impossible as it seems. The key is to be on guard from the very beginning that children never develop the habit of not paying attention. Overpressure has been discussed a lot recently and we have already touched on a couple of causes of overpressure. But, honestly, one of the main reasons that brains are overworked is because of not paying attention. We all know that it isn't the things we accomplish that wear us down with a sense of urgent rushing, but the mental burden of the things we leave undone. And the only real reason that a student might be stressed is because their attention wandered so that they didn't fully grasp the lesson when it was given.
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That lesson becomes like a thorn in the side, there's always a vague sense of something missing that they can't fill in. That burden stresses a student more than attentively learning a dozen lessons!
Parents can still be involved in their children's education even after their children start going off to school. They can be involved with homework, although not by helping to complete it. Students should be able to do the work by themselves. But suppose a mother says, 'Poor Amy has so much homework, that she never finishes until 9:30!' or, 'Poor Thomas is studying til ten o'clock; we rarely see the children in the evenings anymore.' But the parents, by letting this continue, may be allowing their children to develop habits that will ruin their bodily health and thinking ability.
This habit isn't usually the fault of the homework itself. It's usually the children--they daydream over their books. A little healthy treatment should cure them of that ailment. Give them no more than 1 1/2 hours to do their homework. Without reprimanding them, treat them as if they had failed if they don't reappear at the end of their allotted time. Don't let them weasel sympathy out of you with excuses. At the moment their time is up, begin some fun time downstairs, perhaps a family read-aloud, or a game. They will soon find that they can get their homework done in time to have some family fun, and their schoolwork will benefit because they'll be putting all of their attention into it. It must be said here that children under fourteen years of age shouldn't have homework anyway. It sacrifices their home life.
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A thorough education should be possible by skillfully planning the morning hours.
In our discussion of how to get children to pay attention, we've mentioned discipline--rewards and punishments. Every novice caregiver or teacher thinks they can handle discipline. But even discipline has its scientific principle. There is a natural law for managing rewards and punishments: they should be natural consequences related to the circumstances. They should give the child a taste for the consequences he might experience from the same kind of behavior in the real world, although in childhood, parents are around to prevent permanent injury to the child. This concept is illustrated in the story of Rosamond and the Purple Jar, although it's not totally realistic--little girls don't usually long for purple flower jars in drug store windows. But living with the consequences of our impulses to buy what we don't really need is a life lesson that we all need to learn. So it's a good lesson to allow our children to experience.
[Note: The concept of 'natural consequences' as Charlotte Mason is describing it, how to use it, how not to use it, is a main tenet of Jane Nelsen's Positive Discipline materials, which you can read more about on her website.]
Administering rewards and punishments this way takes some careful consideration and consistent judgment from the mother. She must consider where the fault lies, where the character weakness stems from, and aim the consequence to deal with that. She must brace herself to witness her child suffer the consequences of his actions in the short term, for his long-term good. If children are brought up conscientiously, not many of these incidents will be necessary to learn about life. The child who has done something right
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gains some natural reward (such as ten minutes to play after getting his lesson done early) and the child who doesn't get his work done on time misses out. The mother will have to brace herself and her child to endure the consequence. If she treats both children the same, she injures the child--not the one who did well, but the one who didn't finish his work early. She is teaching him to continue dawdling over work. In submitting her child to the discipline of natural consequences, the mother must use courtesy, understanding and discernment. There are times when the natural consequence is exactly what she wants to avoid, so she must find some logical consequence that will have a related educational value. For instance, the natural consequence of a child neglecting schoolwork is that he stays ignorant, but no mother can allow that to happen!
The methods of training mental activity and application are the same ones used to train the habit of attention. A child who plods through his work diligently can be trained to think more nimbly. The teacher must be alert herself. She must expect immediate answers, quick thinking and prompt work. Just as a tortoise will never be as fast as a hare, children have limits. But even a tortoise can be trained to be just a trifle quicker every day. That is done by aiming for quick apprehension and work.
The same goes for applying himself. Children must be prevented from getting into a mood
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where they say, 'I'm so tired of math,' or 'of history.' His interest must be stimulated. There must always be something pleasant for him to learn about. At the same time, the teacher should commend the applying of oneself to work as honorable, but disapprove of restless attention and haphazard work.
The actual working effort of the mind goes by different terms to psychologists, and they divide the brain's work into different operations. That's accurate as it relates to education. For our purposes, thinking will include conscious efforts of thinking, but not the random fancies that flit through the mind by themselves. We'll quote Archbishop Thompson's book Laws of Thought, which is so good that I'll quote it more than once. He says that Captain Head was traveling across the grassy plains of South America. Suddenly his guide halted, pointed at the sky and cried, 'A lion!' This surprised Captain Head. He looked up and, after straining his eyes, he could barely make out some condors circling high in the air in a particular spot. Apparently, on the ground under this spot, out of sight of either Captain Head or the guide, must be the carcass of some large animal, and a lion must be feeding on it. The condors were watching enviously as they circled, but they didn't dare land. Seeing the birds was as much confirmation to the guide as the actual sight of a lion would have been to anyone else. He knew there was a lion ahead.
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This line of reasoning took no extra effort for the guide. It was easy for him, as he looked up, to draw his logic. Unlike Captain Head, he was used to condors and their behavior, so the thought process that might have taken Captain Head many steps came instantaneously to the guide. Seeing the condors convinced him that a carcass lay ahead. But why did the condors keep circling? Why didn't they land? Another animal must have beat them there. But what? A dog? A jackal? No, condors wouldn't be intimidated by them, they'd just drive them away or share the feast with them. It must be a very large beast. Since this was an area where lions lived, he concluded that that's what was up ahead. And this entire thought process was articulated in two words: 'A lion.'
Children should go through this kind of thought process in every lesson. They should trace a resulting effect back to its cause, or trace the cause to its final effect. They should compare things to find out ways they're alike and how they differ. Then they should postulate why.
All their school lessons will provide varying opportunities for children to exercise their thinking skills. Their lessons should be carefully alternated so that a mechanical skill is scheduled right after (or before) an intellectual lesson, and a fun use of imagination comes before or after use of logical reason. As an aside, it's too bad when a taste for ludicrous nonsense is cultivated with ridiculous children's books at the expense of teaching them better things. Alice in Wonderland is 'a delicious feast of absurdities,' and children and grown-ups can't
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afford to miss it. But the child who reads it doesn't create the same wonderful, rich pictures in his mind, the imaging of the unknown, that he does when he reads Swiss Family Robinson.
This issue is worth thinking about when considering what kinds of books to get children as Christmas gifts for their free reading. Silly nonsense books only cultivate a sense of the comical. Although a sense of humor makes life more amusing, cultivating too much of it makes a child flippant. A book like Diogenes and the Naughty Boys of Troy [I have no clue what this book might have been like!] may be tempting, but it isn't the sort of book that children will re-live over and over in their play, like they do with Robinson Crusoe and his finding of the footprint. Children should have some humorous books, but they shouldn't have too large a place in their literary diet.
Stories about Christmas holidays, or John and Emily, or the fun times, peculiarities and upright morality of children just like themselves, living in circumstances just like their own, leave nothing to the imagination. Children are so familiar with that kind of thing that it rarely occurs to them to play at the situations in any of those stories. They wouldn't even read it a second time. But they love tales of the imagination, people from other lands and other times, heroic adventures, death-defying escapes, wonderful fairy tales in which they can suspend reality and believe the impossible. Even when they know the story is impossible, they can surrender themselves to it and believe.
Imaginary tales have more use than just amusing children. It would be tragic if future generations had no creative imagination. They would be less likely to conceive of great ideas and do heroic
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deeds. It is only when we can let a person or cause fill us so much that even our own self-interest is pushed aside that we're able to make great sacrifices and do great things for that person or cause. Our novelists claim that there's nothing left to imagine, and that's why they just write about real things. But imagination is creative. It should see not only what's there, but what is possible and what is artistically suitable in a given circumstance.
Imagination doesn't come down from above fully developed, and plant itself into a mature mind like a man moving into an empty house. Like any other function of the mind, it starts as the merest seed of a power. It grows according to what nourishment it gets. Childhood, the age of wonder and faith, is its window of opportunity to grow. Children should know the delight of living in faraway lands, of being someone else living in a different time, a wonderful double life. They can experience this through books. Children's history and geography books should also cultivate their ability to imagine. If children don't imagine what it was like to live in the times they read about in history, or feel familiar with the places described in geography, then their lessons aren't doing their job. But even if their lessons serve their purpose, then the picture gallery of the child's mind will still be sparse if the child hasn't been introduced to imaginary worlds of fancy.
We'll think about how to plan lessons to induce habits of thinking later. For now, just know that thinking, like writing or skating, takes practice. A child who has never had to think won't think, and probably never will. Aren't
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there enough people already going through the world without any deliberate attempt at thinking or use of their wits? Children must be made to think every day of their lives. They should have to get at the 'why' of things for themselves. Children and parents should take turns asking 'why' questions and then trying to answer them. If a child asks 'why?' then many parents are proud of this evidence of intelligence in their child and they tell him the answer. Asking 'why' does indeed show some intelligence, but only at a superficial level. But let the parent be the one to ask 'why' and the child have to think of the answer! After the child has gone over it in his mind, it's fine to give him the answer. He'll never forget it [and he's already gone through the mental process of trying to work it out.] Every walk should suggest some kind of puzzle for the child to have to figure out--'Why does that leaf float on the water, while this pebble sinks?' and so on.
Memory is like a giant storehouse for all the knowledge we have. Our intelligence is in proportion to our storage. Children learn so they can remember. We can't recall all of what we learn and experience as children, yet it forms the groundwork of our knowledge. Our later notions and opinions are grown out of [and may be a reaction to] what we learned and knew in our childhood. That is the basis of what we enjoy and have interests in, although we may never be able to bring it clearly to mind as adults. As in a bank account, much of what we have learned and experienced is not only stored
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in our memory, but it's our available funds that we can draw out whenever we want. The memory that is available to draw out is our most valuable asset.
There is a third kind of memory, but it's not dependable. We have facts and ideas that float through the brain but never latch on and stay. That's the kind of memory a lawyer uses when he collects facts for a case but forgets to use them in his case, or a student who crams for a test by writing down everything he learned but doesn't commit it to long-term memory. John Ruskin said that students cram to pass tests rather than to really learn the material. So they do pass their tests, but they end up not knowing what they studied. It's no great loss for a lawyer or doctor to forget the case they've finished with, or for a publisher to forget a book he read but rejected. The art of forgetting has its uses. But what about a student who has no more to show for a year's work than a high ranking in his class's roster?
To thoroughly explain the subject of memory would be impossible here, but we can answer a couple of questions. How do we remember anything at all? How do we get the ability to make use of stored memory--in other words, how do we recall memory? Under what conditions do we acquire short term memories that don't lodge in the brain, can't be recalled, but are only in the brain for a little while and then discarded easily? We are currently  interested in a wonderful invention that can record spoken words and
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repeat, maybe a hundred years from now, a speech or lecture in the very same words and voice of the original speaker. Well, that's what the part of the brain called memory can do! It receives impressions and records them mechanically. At least that's the current theory according to physiologists. In other words, the mind understands certain facts, and the nerve substance of the brain records that understanding.
The next logical question is, what conditions are necessary for an imprint of a fact or experience to be made? Is the imprint permanent? Does the brain have a limit on how many imprints it can store? So far, from common experience and from many examples given by psychologists, it seems that any fact or experience that is focused on with attention makes enough of an impression to fix it in the memory. In other words, if you give an instant of undivided attention to any one thing, that thing will be remembered. Even the way we describe this phenomenon is accurate. We say, 'Such and such a sight or sound made a strong impression on me.' And that's exactly what has happened. If we hold the attention on any fact or experience, we'll remember it. It will be impressed on the surface of the brain tissue. Clearly, then, if you want a child to remember something, then fix his whole attention so that his mind gazes fully upon it. Then he will have it. By some sort of photographic process, his minds takes an image of that fact or experience and imprints it on the brain tissue. Perhaps when he's
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an old man, the memory will flash across his mind.
But having a memory flash randomly across the mind is not good enough. We need to be able to call up the memory when we want to. To do this, we need more than isolated incidents of focusing to create mental impressions on the brain tissue. If you use your adept teaching skills to get a child to focus on the French verb avoir, he will remember it. But memorizing one verb is not enough to make a child fluent in French. To teach French, you need to fix the child's mind on the single isolated lesson, but you must also link today's lesson to the previous lesson so that each lesson is linked [like a chain] in his memory. When he remembers one, he'll remember the rest of them, too. Physically, it appears that this works so that, as new brain tissue is laid down, the links are laid side by side so that you end up with what amounts to a track of French. This is a good way to make practical use of the concept of associations. A lot of good lessons are forgotten because the memories of them aren't linked together. Too often, the teacher is content just to create a single isolated impression that is forgotten until some random suggestion brings it to mind. Instead, the teacher should link those memories together so that the memory of one pulls the others into mind, too. A Dr. Edward Pick developed a system of 'mnemonics' that used attention and association to aid the memory. Although not everyone would like the way he applied it, the principles behind it do work.
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Every lesson should grasp the child's whole attention, and every new lesson should be so intertwined with the previous one that they are remembered as a string of connected lessons.
The kind of easy come, easy go rote memory doesn't follow the rules of association. The child learns his list by heart, rattles it off like a parrot, and then forgets it. There is no record of it on his brain at all. To create a record of a memory, there has to be enough time to focus the attention, and to allow brain tissue to grow to the new impression. Under these conditions, it appears that the brain has no limit to how many impressions it can record. However, sometimes a girl who has learned enough French to speak it will forget it by the time she's a grandmother. What has happened is that she hasn't used it by speaking, hearing or reading French all along. So the path in her mind to those memories isn't kept clear and open and she can't go back to retrieve them.
To go through the trouble of learning something and then allowing it to grow rusty in some neglected corner of the brain is a waste. If no links of association are created to connect to the memory, then it's like trying to get water from an empty well. How are these links formed? As each subject is studied, a way will present itself. A child may have a lesson one day about Switzerland and Holland the next day. One lesson is linked to
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the other by pointing out how different the two countries are. What one country has, the other doesn't. 'The association is one of similarity, and not of contrast.' [?] In our personal experience, colors and sounds and smells recall familiar people or events. But experiential sensations can't be used in education. So the teacher will have to find links in the nature of the things themselves.
'Do it right the first time' is good advice for bringing up any family. England, as a nation, tends to think too much about the individual and not enough about things and work and performance. Children are allowed to write or sew stitches or assemble doll clothes or make small carpentry projects any old way, with the idea that they'll do better later. Other countries, like France and Germany, take a philosophical perspective. They know that if children get into the habit of turning out careless work, then they'll grow into men and women who don't think it's important to do their best. I was impressed with children's work from a class of about forty students, aged six and seven, in an elementary school in Heidelberg. They were doing a writing lesson and the teacher was doing a lot of talking as he wrote each word on the blackboard. When their slates were shown, I didn't see even one defective or irregular letter on any of the forty slates! I saw the same principle of perfection in France at a display of
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children's schoolwork. No imperfect composition was displayed and justified because it was 'only the work of children.'
A child should not be assigned work that he isn't capable of doing perfectly, and perfect work should be expected as a matter of course. For example, if he is supposed to write a series of strokes and is allowed to turn in a page of sloppy stroke-marks unevenly spaced and sloping irregularly, then his moral integrity is compromised from getting by on less than his best. Instead, just assign him six strokes to copy instead of a full page. Require that they be six perfect strokes, evenly spaced and with uniform slant. If one isn't right, have him show you what's wrong with it and let him re-do it. If he can't do six perfect ones today, let him try again tomorrow, and again the next day. When he finally writes six perfect strokes, celebrate the occasion! Let him feel a sense of triumph. The same with other little tasks that he wants to do--painting, drawing, making things. Let everything that he does be done well. If he builds a house of cards, he should be ashamed if it's rickety and uneven. Along the same lines, he should finish whatever he begins. He should rarely be allowed to start on a new project until the last one is finished.
With so much to cover, there's only time to barely mention in passing some moral habits that are very important for the mother to teach. Just remember that everything we've already said about cultivating habits applies just as much here.
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First and most important is the habit of obedience. In fact, obedience is the whole duty of a child. The reason is that, if a child obeys his parents, every other duty will be taken care of. Not only that, but mankind is obligated to be obedient. Even we adults have to obey our conscience, the laws of the world around us, and God's guidance.
Someone has said that when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, each of three temptations wasn't a suggestion to commit outright sin, but to be willful and choose his own way, which is the opposite of obedience. Willfulness is where all the foolishness that's bound in the heart of a child comes from. [Prov 22:15]
Parents must understand that obedience is not just a casual issue between them and their child. The parent is the chosen representative to ultimately teach the child that real obedience is having enough self control to choose to obey laws because it's the right thing to do. The parent has no right to neglect teaching his child obedience. Every time the child willfully disobeys, he is directly challenging the parent. Parents should also understand that children shouldn't be obeying just because their parents told them to, but because the Bible says 'Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.' [Eph 6:1]
The habit of obedience is only really formed when the child's will is involved and he obeys because he wants to do the right thing even when he's tempted to disobey. He must obey willingly, not because he feels compelled. Only then will he be able to use the strength of his own will to
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resist temptation when his inclinations prompt him to do the wrong thing. They say that children who have the strictest parents in demanding instant obedience often turn out badly, and children brought up with strict authoritarian discipline rebel as soon as they get their first chance. It's true--because these children haven't been trained over the years to have a habit of real obedience. Their will hasn't been wooed to the side of willing service and voluntary yielding to the highest law. Instead, these poor children have been bullied into complying to the will (or, more accurately, the stubbornness) of someone stronger. They've given in, not because it's right, but in order to avoid punishment.
The most sacred duty a mother has is to train her infant to instant obedience. It's not difficult to teach, since, as Wordsworth said, the infant is still 'trailing clouds of glory' [and is therefore receptive to things of God.] The concept of obedience is already in him and hasn't been marred. It's just waiting to be called into use. The mother doesn't have to criticize, threaten or spank. She has been entrusted with authority and the child instinctively recognizes it. All she needs to do is to say, 'Do this,' in a quiet voice that conveys that she's in charge, and expect it to be done. The mother often loses her hold over children because they can tell by the tone of her voice that she doesn't really expect that they'll obey. She isn't convinced of her position and doesn't have enough confidence in her own authority. The mother's best advantage is a habit of obedience. If she begins by always demanding that the children obey her, they just will, as a matter of course. But if they even once get a wedge in that suggests the possibility that they have an option to disobey, then a tragic struggle
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begins. That struggle often ends with children doing what's right in their own eyes.
Here is just the kind of thing that is fatal: The children are in the formal living room and the doorbell rings. 'Go upstairs and play in your room.' 'But, please, Mom, can't we just stay in the corner by the window? We promise to be quiet.' The mother is proud of the polite way her children ask, so she lets them stay. And, of course, they aren't quiet, but that's not the worst thing. The worst thing is that they have been successful in doing what they wanted instead of what they were told. Once their necks are out of the yoke of obedience, it's very hard to get them back in again. It's in small seemingly trivial matters that the mother is defeated. 'Bedtime, William.' 'Oh, Mom, please, just let me finish this.' And she yields, forgetting that the current situation isn't the point. What matters is that the child should be confirming and perpetuating a habit of obeying by having an unbroken chain of incidents where he obeys. Children are amazing in their ability to find ways around the spirit of the law, but to still hold on to the legalistic letter of the law. 'Mary, time to come in.' 'Okay, Mom.' but her mother has to call her four times before Mary actually comes. 'Put away your blocks,' and the child puts them away, but slowly and reluctantly. 'Always wash your hands when you hear the first bell.' And the child does it that one time, but not again.
In order to avoid the child's display of disobedience, the mother needs to start from infancy insisting that the child obeys right away, cheerfully, and that he does this all this time, except occasionally when he forgets. Slow, reluctant, unwilling obedience some of the time is hardly worth having. It's easier to teach a child the habit of perfect obedience by never letting him know anything else, than it is to compel an outward show of obedience by
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constantly wielding heavy-handed authority. Later, when the child is old enough, take him into confidence. Let him know that it's a noble thing to be able to make yourself do in a minute the thing that you don't feel like doing. To train a habit of obedience, the mother must be very careful never to give a command that she doesn't intend to enforce. At the same time, she must not burden her children with the tedious weight of one command after another.
Children who have a habit of consistent, perfect obedience can be trusted with a lot of liberty. They are given a very few rules that they know they have to obey, but, for the most part, they can be left to direct their own actions, even though they might make a few mistakes. They don't have to be barraged with a perpetual fire of, 'Do this,' and 'Don't do that!'
I don't need to convince parents about the importance of truthfulness. But how to train a child to be honest and accurate is another matter. It requires painstaking effort and tactical vigilance from the mother.
The bad habit of lying stems from three causes: being careless about making sure that something is true, being careless about stating the truth, and deliberately trying to deceive. It's plain to see that all three reasons are damaging because a man's character can be ruined by nothing more than a careless mis-statement said about him, or someone repeating a damaging remark without taking
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the trouble to see if it's true, or someone telling what he has seen or heard without relaying facts accurately, effectually making his words nothing but lies.
Of the three kinds of lying, only the third kind [deliberate deceit] is cause for guilt in a child. The first and second kinds are simply his immaturity. He might say that he saw lots of spotted dogs in town, when he really saw two. Or, all the boys are collecting the latest trading cards when he knows of three. Or everybody says that John is sneaky, when he's only heard Bobby say so. These detours from accuracy are so trivial that mothers may tend to overlook them as childish prattle. But, actually, even a trivial lapse damages a child's sense of truth, which is like a sharp blade that easily loses its razor-sharp edge.
Training a child to be meticulous about making accurate statements, no matter how trivial the subject, will fortify him against temptations to make gross exaggerations. He'll be less prone to revise a story to make his part in it sound better, or withhold facts, or avoid a question if his binding habit has been to state the plain, simple facts and if he hasn't been allowed to get into the habit of being too casual and loose about what he says.
Two forms of evading the truth will be very tempting to the child. His mother will need to use great vigilance to prevent him from exaggerating or embellishing a story with ludicrous additions. No matter how much funnier a story may be with such enhancements, the ruthless mother must train him to strip all but the factual truth from his story. A reputation
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for being amusing is not worth the price of the dignity of character that goes along with the habit of strict truth-telling. Fortunately, it is possible to be funny without sacrificing truth.
As far as reverence, consideration for others, respect for persons and property, it is important to be zealous about forming these moral qualities until they become a daily habit. They are the distinctive marks of a fine, gracious character. In our times, a self-assertive, aggressive, self-seeking temper is all too common.
I am eager to say something about cultivating the habit of a good-natured disposition. We tend to think that our temperament is something we're born with and that we can't do anything about it. 'Oh, she's such a sweet spirited little thing; nothing bothers her!' 'He has his father's temper, the littlest thing sets him off in a rage,' are the kinds of comments we hear all the time.
It is certainly true that children inherit a tendency to anger easily, to be anxious, discontent, irritable, sullen, complaining or impatient; or cheerful, trustful, good-humored, patient and humble. Whether a person is happy or wretched, and whether those who live with him are content or miserable will depend on which of these qualities dominates. We all know someone who has integrity and many excellent virtues, but who is unbearable
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to be around. The tragedy isn't that this person was born sullen or petty or jealous. That could have been cured. The tragedy is that he was allowed to grow up with this fault. Here, more than anywhere else, the power of habit is most helpful. It's up to parents to correct the bent quirks of their child's personality, especially if the tendency came from their side of the family. Parents should send their child to face the world with an even, cheerful temper, inclined to make the best of things, to look on the bright side, to assume the best and kindest of the motives of others, and not to feel he has a right to special treatment. These things are what commonly upset people. But parents can teach their children better because inborn traits are no more than tendencies that can be changed.
Force of habit turns a tendency into a temperament. It's up to the mother to discourage the formation of ill tempers and promote good tempers. It isn't difficult to do when the mother knows the child's expressions and moods well, and can read the thoughts of his heart before he is even aware of them himself. Remember that every jealous, complaining, discontented thought leaves a physical track in the child's brain tissue for more of those kinds of ugly thoughts to settle into and continue to run on. This track, or rut, gets wider and deeper with every ugly thought. The mother can nip it in the bud by watching her child and catching the first sign of a bad mood before it manifests itself. That is the best time to act.
The mother should change her child's thoughts before the bad temper has even had the chance to register in his consciousness, before he
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acts on it. Take the child outside, send him to get you something, tell him or show him something interesting. In other words, give him something else to think about, but in a natural, casual way so the child never suspects that you're doing it. Since every incidence of sullenness makes a track for future sullen incidences, then every incident that the mother can avoid prevents one track for sullen thoughts to settle in. At the same time, she is laying down new tracks for happier thoughts that will obliterate the old tracks.
My suggestions aren't for a course of academic and ethical training. These are for forming certain habits that will be displayed in a child's character. With this limited program, there are issues just as important that I haven't even had time to mention. With so many possibilities, I've had to be selective. So I've chosen to focus on those aspects that aren't of specialized interest only to educated parents, but rather those that every thoughtful person recognizes as important.