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    Books & Reading, Educational Philosophy

    Brinton Turkle and Masterly Inactivity

    June 26, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I mentioned before that one of my summer goals is to read more picture books to the littles. They don’t get nearly the reading time that my older two got when they were these ages, and a lot of the reading time they do get is sans pictures. So my goal is a minimum of one reading per child before nap time, but so far I’m actually doing better than that because we’ve been fitting another reading or two in at different times of the day.

    In his timeless picture book Obadiah the Bold, Brinton Turkle gives us the perfect illustration of Charlotte Mason's concept of masterly inactivity.

    The other night at bedtime, I read Brinton Turkle’s Obadiah the Bold two times (because everyone was into it that night) — once in the boys’ room and once in the girls’ room.

    Are you familiar with Turkle’s Obadiah books? They are some of my favorites. Obadiah is the youngest son in the Starbuck family, a Quaker family living on Nantucket Island during the colonial period. We here love Obadiah, as well as his younger sister, Rachel.

    Obadiah the Bold begins with Obadiah carrying around his new spyglass. He takes it everywhere  — to the wharf, to bed at night. He tries to take it to church (called “Meeting on First Day”) but Father says “no” and so Obadiah runs home to put it away.

    Obadiah is obsessed with his spyglass. He decides that when he is grown, he will be a pirate, the terror of the Seven Seas: Obadiah the Bold!

    Now, imagine with me for a minute. Obadiah belongs to a Quaker family. They are pacifists. To Quakers, it was a shame to be a solider, not to mention a pirate.

    It is easy for us to laugh off pirates because we think of Johnny Depp and Raphael Sabatini, but in colonial times, pirates were a very real danger. This is the equivalent of your sweet little boy looking up at you and declaring that he wants to be a murderer and a rapist! And even though it is highly unlikely a little boy understood all the implications of what it meant to be a pirate, I am sure it tore at his father’s heart.

    So what would you do? Let’s say your child declares that he wants to grow up to be something that you consider awful or sinful or heretical or what have you — a Buddhist monk? a beach bum? a hacker? What do you do? What is your response?

    Would you lecture him? Would you tell him how sinful and horrible it is to engage in illegal or unchristian activities? Would you guide him in a more gentle manner, saying, “no, you do not really want to do that”? What would you do?

    I, sadly, would probably lecture — at least if I did not quickly remember all that Brinton Turkle has taught me.

    I think that Obadiah the Bold is good for parents, and not just for children, because it offers a living example of what Charlotte Mason called Masterly Inactivity. Masterly Inactivity is an action (or non-action, as the case may be) on the part of the parents. It is a “wise letting alone.” It is having the power and desire to act, but the insight and wisdom to restrain oneself. Miss Mason suggested this sort of letting alone in so many areas of life. Surely this incident with Obadiah qualifies.

    Obadiah’s parents do … nothing.

    Obadiah suggests to his older siblings that they play pirates. They capture him, put him in the “brig” and then make him walk a “plank” for his crimes. This unsettles Obadiah much more than a lecture from his parents ever would have.

    After this, Obadiah doesn’t play with his spyglass anymore.

    Obadiah finally approaches his father, who is writing a letter in his office. “Do pirates really have to walk the plank?” he asks. (“If they get caught” is the answer.) Obadiah decides that maybe he doesn’t want to be a pirate, after all. And then Father finally has a place to speak. Father takes Obadiah on his lap, and tells him about the brave ship’s captain after whom Obadiah had been named — his own grandfather. He tells of his grandfather’s bravery, of his heroism, in sailing around the Cape without losing a man. And then he takes Obadiah up to the roof to practice using his spyglass.

    Obadiah leaves with his aspirations complete redirected to something that is good and noble: to be a brave and honorable ship’s captain, like his very own Grandfather Obadiah.

    Charlotte Mason once said that we were “too much with our children, ‘late and soon.'” I think of Brinton Turkle, and I smile. I’m pretty sure that he understood the art of wise letting alone, while waiting for that perfect moment when a very few words (and a hug) would go a very long ways.


    Want to Go Deep With Masterly Inactivity?

    Masterly Inactivity: Charlotte Mason's Secret to Successfully Leading Your Homeschool

    The talk Brandy’s been giving (you already own the video version if you purchased the Leading Well retreat in 2017) is now available in the Afterthoughts Shop. Try masterly inactivity! It’s not a hack — it’s a way of life. ♥

    Click here to grab your copy!

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    10 Comments

  • Reply ...they call me mommy... June 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    What a wonderful post, Brandy!! Thanks for the practical application lesson in “Masterly Inactivity”…I always need a reminder! Off to see if I can find these books! 🙂

  • Reply Mystie June 28, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    I haven’t heard of these before, either! And our library doesn’t have them. They’ll go on the wishlist as potential Christmas presents. 🙂

  • Reply Kelly June 28, 2012 at 3:28 am

    Love this post — what a great story! I’ve never heard of the author or the series before. Thanks for pointing them out.

  • Reply sara June 27, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Love the wisdom you’re sharing here about not lecturing, and waiting. Waiting can be very difficult!

    Also – my now 11 year old didn’t get read to as much as my first (18!). However, this year, our second as homeschoolers, I have made it a point to make time for the read-alouds. She loves it! I was encouraged by Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook, when he stated that highschool students respond to being read to. It’s never too late! My son, the elder, listens in too!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    The only Obadiah book I do not yet own is The Adventures of Obadiah, which, I believe, is no longer in print. Cindy: is it worth tracking down? Worth paying a little more for if I find it somewhere?

  • Reply Kansas Mom June 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Oh, I love Obadiah and Rachel! I only wish our library had them all.

    I have a particular love of picture books, so we read quite a few of them. I have to admit, though, that there are more days than I’d like when First Son does the reading with the girls while I wash dishes or something. Sigh. I should be asking him to wash dishes so I can read…but he’d like that a lot less.

  • Reply Mahers Hill Academy June 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great post, Brandy! And thank you for bringing the Obadiah books to my attention – I think they would make great b-day gifts for a certain son of mine who will soon be five. 🙂

  • Reply Cindy Rollins June 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I have happy memories of reading Obadiah books with my oldest especially. I think Turkle captures a boys imagination and the spirit of righteous freedom. I especially loved the warmth of the pictures and how adventures were always tied to the joy of coming home that positively seeped out of the pages. You have reminded me that I need to get these for my grandsons.

  • Reply Trisha June 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Brandy,
    You’re wonderful!

    I don’t think I do well at waiting for those moments. 🙁 And I would probably lecture, too.

    Also, you’ve encouraged me more than you know by sharing that your younger two aren’t read aloud to as much as the older ones were. I carry this guilt with me everywhere I go. 🙂 I’d love to replicate the same childhood for all of my children, and I just can’t do it. I’d go crazy if I didn’t trust in His provision.

    Thanks for great encouragement for the day!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 27, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      Instead of feeling guilty over my younger two, I’ve started to do two things: 1–make hay while the sun shines. I try to do what I *can* do *when* I can do it. 2–remember where the situations with my older two fell short. For instance, I felt badly, so some of the reading aloud was because that was *all* I could do. My youngers get much more outside time and nature time. That sort of thing helps me realize that they all “get” whatever works at the time, and some of that is fortunate and some of that is unfortunate, but that is life, for the most part.

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