One doesn’t have to look far to see the devastating effects that modern society has had on relationships. Divorce rates are through the roof, and that is for the decreasing number of people who still choose to get married in the first place. People can hop from friend to friend, church to church, or club to club with a consumer mentality that approaches all of life like a wine-tasting party. Try it, get whatever enjoyment out of it that you can, spit it out, and then critique it as you move on.
God’s purpose for creating us was for fellowship. We have a need for intimacy with God and to be united with others in love as a part of the fabric of our beings. The consequence of the current lifestyle is a wake of brokenness, inability to trust, feelings of isolation, and searching for fulfillment in unhealthy ways. Thus, it is critical that our children be equipped to enter into God’s plan for relationships.
I have heard that teens these days are so lacking in intimate relationships that they will refer to somebody as “a really good friend” because they have put clichés in code as comments on their MySpace page. I have also heard the growing murmur rising about the decline in healthy communication since the obsession with text messaging has taken our culture by storm. Email has also gotten its fair share of blame in the public conversation. I wonder however, if it is unreasonable to say that the education that most are receiving, with vocabulary deficient and dumbed-down texts, contrived shallow materials with which to think upon, and the lack of discussion of ideas (even to the extent that many schools now forbid talking during lunchtime), is also contributing a lion’s share to the destruction of our community life.
As Charlotte Mason educators, our little pupil’s minds are filled with adventures, great ideas, inspiring heroes, and appreciation of beauty. That richness of soul affords them much more interesting conversation than being limited to talking about a video game that is played obsessively and never touches on thoughts with any consequence or lead to an intimate connection. It seems that the deeper things to which a Charlotte Mason student is introduced awaken their own depths. Additionally, they are equipped with the language to express it in an articulate and engaging way. Surely this is a foundation that serves to facilitate and strengthen fellowship.
The most important ingredient I see that Charlotte Mason included in her recipe of life with children is duty to God and duty to man. Even the word “duty” is hardly ever used these days, let alone lived out as an example before us. Charlotte Mason had a hearty sprinkling of that word throughout her writings. She charged a child’s authority figures in terms that left no uncertainty in statements such as “you will see that it is because of the possibilities of ruin and loss which lie about every human life that I am pressing upon parents the duty of saving their children by the means put into their hands. Perhaps it is not too much to say, that ninety-nine out of a hundred lost lives lie at the door of parents who took no pains to deliver them from sloth, from sensual appetites, from willfulness, no pains to fortify them with the habits of a good life.” There would be a transformation in our culture if that advice were heeded.
A community that embraces a sense of “duty to man” would understand commitment. People would keep their word, following through even when it was inconvenient or stopped being fun. There would be greater honor for one another, consideration of how actions impact others, and self-control; all things that God uses to bring us life, blessing, and to grow us up.
Many stories of days gone by have heroes that are moved by a sense of duty that puts others first and shine with nobility. We are struck with reverence for those heroes and their actions resonate in our hearts as ones that are right and true. We are inspired to rise to that standard because inside something is telling us it is greatness. So, why do the masses shy away from instilling such character?
I believe many are harmed by abusive authority. For some it was authority that tried to instill right behavior without regard to the fact that they were working with people. In the church-world we would call it legalism. There is such a fear of legalism that we don’t know how to embrace discipline or administer it. For others it was authority that was negligent in training or supervising. I appreciate how Charlotte Mason presented the whole picture by always approaching children as persons, even when speaking of duty, as demonstrated in this quote: “Be courteous, be candid, be grateful, be considerate, be true; there are aspects of duty enough to occupy the attention of mother and child for every day of the child-life; and all the time, the idea of duty is being formed, and conscience is being educated and developed. At the same time, the mother exercises the friendly vigilance of a guardian angel, being watchful, not to catch the child tripping, but to guide him into the acting out of the duty she has already made lovely in his eyes; for it is only as we do that we learn to do, and become strong in the doing. As she instructs her child in duty, she teaches him to listen to the voice of conscience as to the voice of God, a ‘Do this,’ or ‘Do it not,’ within the breast, to be obeyed with full assurance. It is objected that we are making infallible, not the divinely implanted conscience, but that same conscience made effective by discipline. It is even so; in every department of life, physical or spiritual, human effort appears to be the condition of the Divine energizing; there must be a stretching forth of the withered arm before it receives strength; and we have every reason to believe that the instructed conscience, being faithfully followed, is divinely illuminated.” Can anything else so beautifully illustrate how life-giving grace can walk hand-in-hand with the proper training of our students?
I want the atmosphere of my school to be infused with that kind of honor, depth, and intimacy. I want my kids to aspire to that degree of nobility of character. I want to impart a value of relationships by modeling it in the way that I interact with them. How about you? If we take this mandate afresh to heart we might just save a life from emptiness, loneliness, being a quitter, casual sex, irresponsibility, divorce, broken relationships with their own children, and many other devastating things. Instead, they might live righteously, thriving in family and community, being stable, and reliable.