We Have Made Them So

January 11, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

The first two principles of a Charlotte Mason education are that {1} children are born persons and {2} they are not born either good or bad, but rather with possibilities of good or evil. In my mind, this is basic anthropological theology–these principles naturally flow out of the twin concepts that children come to us as divine image bearers, while they are also fallen and possess a sin nature. {As Christians, we acknowledge that though mankind is fallen, most men are not as fallen as they might be.}

This means that children really do have natural goodnesses in them, even though they are also plagued by natural sin. This is a type of common grace.

A little over a month ago, Si and I took the children to our local Christmas parade. One of the things about parades is that it attracts residents from all walks of life. Next to us that night were a couple of very loud, very rowdy women. One of them was a mother and had brought with her a daughter who was probably around five, and a son who was probably around ten or even twelve.

By observing the mother for a while, I could guess some things about the life these children had to live. They had probably never gone to a church {unless, perhaps, they had a caring grandmother who insisted}. They probably ate a lot of junk food, and very little nourishing food. They probably didn’t get enough sleep {because their mother was dragging them around to places where she could have fun}. They were probably encouraged to walk in the ways of the world, babysat by the television, and so on. They probably hadn’t seen their father in years, if they even knew who he was.

It is possible they didn’t have the same father.

This may sound very judgmental, but really I want to set the stage, so that you understand the significance of what happened next. These were not little church children with a “perfect” upbringing.

The last few floats had been loud–in a fun way. It was a parade, after all. And then, suddenly, it grew dark and  the night sky was filled with slow, sober music. I instantly recognized the Ave Maria, the first Latin song I ever learned to sing. Our local Knights of Columbus won first place in the religion category for floats. It was basically a beautiful living nativity on wheels. What really stood out {in my mind} and separated it from the rest of the floats was that they had chosen reverent music, rather than the various selections of rock and rap and marching band music that peppered the rest of the parade.

{For the record, I think that rock and marching band music, especially, are appropriate for a parade.}

But the Knights chose music for their float rather than for the parade in general. And the crowd quieted down and paid homage to the lowly manger scene.

Before we could see the float, however, when the first few phrases of Ave Maria were just beginning to waft over the crowd, the older brother turned to the sister: “What’s this music for?” he sneered.

It was a sneer. He wasn’t sneering at the Christ Child, mind you, and my best guess is that he emphatically did not like opera {as many young boys before him}.

The sister, though, waited a moment. She craned her neck. She wanted to see better. Once the float was right in front of us, her sweet face looked up, and one hand pointed while the other tapped her brother to get his attention. She pointed at Him.

“Look! That is why the music sounds like that.”

The moment came and went in an instant, and yet I was struck. Here was a child who knew. She didn’t know because someone had spent time bathing her in Scripture and catechizing her, cultivating an understanding of propriety.

It was pure instinct.

She knew that Christ demanded reverence.


The brother was less than impressed, but my heart held out much hope for the little girl.

I think the vast majority of children are born with this type of natural reverence. It is of an ignorant sort, of course, but it is there for the cultivating, if we have a will for the labor.

Charlotte Mason once told a story to illustrate how grave children can be:

I know a person of three who happened to be found by a caller alone in the drawing room. It was spring, and the caller thought to make himself entertaining with talk about the pretty ‘baa-lambs.’ But a pair of big blue eyes were fixed upon him and a solemn person made this solemn remark, “Isn’t it a dwefful howid thing to see a pig killed!”

How is it that this sober mindset, this ability to perceive something with reverence and awe is destroyed? And by ten, if not by six years of age? Mason wrote:

It is a curious thing about human nature that we all like to be managed by persons who take the pains to play on our amiabilities. Even a dog can be made foolishly sentimental; and, if we who are older have our foibles in this kind, it is little wonder that children can be wooed to do anything by persons whose approaches to them are always charming. It is true that…the child… sang her Kindergarten songs with little hands waving in the ‘air so blue’! but that was for the delectation and delusion of the elders when bedtime came. [She] had greater thoughts at other times.

She also wrote:

Grown-up people who are not mothers talk and think far more childishly than the child does in their efforts to approach his mind. If a child talk twaddle, it is because his elders are in the habit of talking twaddle to him; leave him to himself, and his remarks are wise and sensible so far as his small experience guides him.

We look around us, and we see an irreverent, irreligious culture. We wonder how we got here. What happened? Who dropped the ball? We need to remember, when we see the children who cannot talk about anything beyond clothes and shoes and TV programs and technology and petty gossip–who cannot think about an idea–who have not the will power to attend to what is at hand–that they, like all persons, were born with possibilities.

Somewhere along the way, they were mishandled.

If they are less than they ought to be, there is a sense in which we have made them so.

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6 Comments

  • Reply Charlotte Mason, Total Depravity, and the Divine Image | Afterthoughts August 24, 2019 at 8:39 am

    […] Here is a comment — a very good one, by the way — which was left on yesterday’s post: […]

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Anonymous,

    I thank you for the chance to clarify! My answer became quite long, so I will be posting it, along with your question, as a full post today. Thanks!

  • Reply Anonymous January 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    I have been an avid ‘anonymous’ reader for some time and most often wholeheartedly appreciate what you have to say, finding much of it Biblical and Christ-centered. That said, I don’t often comment, but I feel I must at this time.

    I would ask you what is your biblical backing for the statements you have made concerning children and sin? I may be completely mistaken, but it seems you are saying some very dangerous things here…such as children only being taught to sin, not knowing how on their own…and forgetting some of the scriptures which clearly state otherwise, such as Proverbs 22:15 which says “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” and Genesis 8:21 which states, “…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

    Perhaps I have misunderstood you, but if not I implore you to consider these things in Scripture. This is a great article I have come across from Desiring God.

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-is-the-biblical-evidence-for-original-sin

  • Reply ...they call me mommy... January 12, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Wow. Food for thought!! Thank you!

  • Reply Pam... January 11, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Awesome. I think of the way God woos the innocently reverent little girl along with her more ‘unaffected’ brother. The God who entrusts us–even with our whole load of weaknesses and selfish pursuits–with the sacred spirits and personalities of each child he brings our way. Of the way He works beauty and truth in the strangest ways, and plants seeds that grow in the oddest places (like a parade).

    God does a great work through Miss Mason. It’s a work of the Spirit. Through her, he imparts to us a great reverence for many things we once may have been guilty of ignorantly sneering at.

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