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    At School with Charlotte: Making Heroes (Part 2)

    September 28, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    In my last post, we discussed that, in physical training, Charlotte Mason aims for no less than the making of heroes. Her aim is “a serviceable body,” meaning one that is able to serve others with ease and agility. Today, we’ll list out all of what she calls the “unconsidered aspects” of physical training. These are the essence of the hero culture we are building.

    Charlotte Mason believed we have a duty to be healthy. Here is advice from her on the habits that make heroes.

    Ye are not Your Own

    The foundation of the hero culture is one of duty and obligation, both to God above and to our neighbor beside. Ye are not your own. Have the children say it like a mantra.

    You cannot do with your body whatever you like. You cannot be self-indulgent. You cannot engage in habits that jeopardize your health. This is so because ye are not your own.

    You, my child, are called to something higher and greater. Because of this, you are being given a noble education; the first tenant of which is, with great learning comes great responsibility.  You are obligated to greatness; you must consider others.

    You are not your own.

    There is stinginess in every family, and there is some hidden in each heart — none of us want to completely surrender ourselves to the Lord. We all have to fight the monster, and training our children in their youth is doing them a favor. We all know the diabetic who refuses to eat correctly, to give one example. We all know those who knowingly jeopardize their health in some way (or many ways) and the answer is that they do not feel obligated to others.

    I think this is something we all grow into. I know when I was 20 I certainly felt like I had the right to do what I wished with myself, within reason at least. It wasn’t until I had children that I began to feel the press of obligation. Without them, I would still be a caffeine addict.

    It’s true!

    How many of us have decided to change something about our lives because we were suddenly faced with our obligations to others? How many of us realized we ought to take care of ourselves now so that we are not a burden upon our children later?

    And so on.

    But it goes beyond our own small worlds to this: if we are raising a culture of heroes, our children must learn to deny themselves for the greater good.

    Or, as Charlotte puts it: God has given you a body for His service. Therefore, you must preserve the body in health, nourish it in strength, and train it in fitness. She tells us that health is a duty, and trifling with it is of the same nature as suicide. All of this is so, she says, because life is held in trust from a supreme Authority.

    Use of Habit in Physical Training

    Just as in every other area, Charlotte wants us to harness the power of habit for physical training. We are to bring the body into subjection — to place it under Authority. The body must be under the Authority first of the parent, then of the self, and, ultimately, of God. But the effort involved in consciously putting ourselves under Authority is exhausting.

    Habit is the easy path.

    Do something 100 times, she says, and it becomes easy. Do it 1000 times, and it becomes mechanical.

    Once again, though, we have to fight through the early days of resistance in order to arrive at that place of ease.

    The “Habitudes”

    Many of these habits have been discussed by Charlotte earlier in Volume 3, but now she is applying them to the specific area of physical training. Here we have the transcendent aspects of physical training, which are oft overlooked because, once again, they are intangible and immeasurable.

    1. Self-restraint.
      • Many of us build good habits in our children during nursery age (for instance, we don’t give babies lots of sugar or overindulge their other appetites), but as the children get older, we allow these habits to fall by the wayside
      • Lethargic, self-indulgent intervals were simply not allowed in the past — meaning we do not have to allow them now
      • Women of old knew how to occupy themselves profitably (i.e., handwork)
      • Question: On the other hand, ought we to allow exercise to be so “frequent or excessive that it leaves us fatigued in the intervals”? In other words, some children will have to be stopped from over-doing it
    2. Self-control in emergencies.
      • This is an outcome of a general habit of self-control
      • This is the heroic quality we call “presence of mind”
      • Train the little ones to bear small hurts to body and mind without a sign
    3. Self-discipline.
      • Don’t allow nursery children to be sloppy and careless — do we realize that taking care of their toys (not breaking them and being generally careful with their own things and things belonging to others) is a habit?
      • Build the habit of self-discipline

        …being clean, neat, prompt, orderly, is so much towards making a man of him.

      • Don’t allow habits to become localized, where the child acts one way at home and another at other houses.
      • HINT: a habit is not fully formed if it still requires supervision.
    4. Alertness.
      • Learn to seize opportunities — this is largely a physical habit.
      • Help them see when they have missed opportunities, and the consequences of this.
    5. Quick perception.
      • This is a trained mastery of the five senses (think about spies that have been trained to be super-aware of their environment, and know that our children are capable of so much more if we simply ask them some questions and help them to notice).
      • Train them to pay attention and remember what they have seen (walk down the street, and play a game — ask “What color were the flowers two houses ago? What was the lady standing on her front stoop wearing?” and so on.)

    Notice that all of these “habitudes” are founded on ideas.

    Likewise, Charlotte suggests that the seven virtues and seven deadly sins might be of use here. She offers us her own list of virtues that dovetail with physical training.

    1. Fortitude.
      • Do tiresome things with self-compelling power.
      • Bear pain and inconvenience without making a sign.
      • Endure hardness.
    2. Service.
    3. Courage.
      • Teach that the thing done is of more consequence that the doer.
    4. Prudence.
      • Worrying about health is not prudence. It is fretting and it is not a heroic quality.
      • Regard every physical power as a means of service.
      • Know that it is foolish to make the body unable for its due service.
    5. Chastity.
      • Founded on the single idea that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.


    I look through these lists, and I see all sorts of training opportunities for my children. I see one child who takes health too seriously and is guilty of fretting rather than simply taking reasonable care. I see another child who is overly aware of every little bruise or offence and needs to toughen up. I see yet another child who needs to be trained to have open eyes and better observe the world around and take notice, rather than drifting on the clouds of imagination all the time.

    I have a toddler who is not careful with things.

    And I need to remember that this is something I must train.

    How about you?

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts September 29, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Kristine, I bet! You are tackling such a difficult area, and my prayers are still with you.

    Mystie, Well, you (and Charlotte) have inspired me to be more deliberate about exercise. I am very tempted to try your plan…

  • Reply Mystie September 29, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Exercising is making my own body more serviceable.

    But I’ll keep my coffee. You have motivated me to keep my consumption in check, though, so that I won’t have to give it up entirely. 🙂

  • Reply Kristine September 29, 2010 at 3:45 am

    Those are so good, Brandy. I am not my own. I have some “habitudes” to address that are coming to surface with our diet change, for me and my children. Thanks for deliniating some important ones.
    I remember when our discussion group read about CM’s perspective on being physically fit, ready for service. It was refreshing and meaningful. Glad to have you making her words fresh.

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