The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care?
— Charlotte Mason (School Education, p. 170-171)
The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer because we can’t actually make someone care. We have no power over the human heart — this is something for the Holy Spirit. And yet, when Miss Mason says that caring — caring deeply and broadly — is the litmus test for a good childhood education, we immediately ask this exact questing: Well, then, how do we make them care?
Unplanted, unwatered seeds never grow, as you know. While we can’t force caring, God always uses means; there are things we can do.
Exposure to Many Orders
The easiest piece of the puzzle to figure out is the one called about-how-many-orders-of-things-does-he-care. This is a reference to Miss Mason’s call for a broad and generous curriculum.
Occasionally, I come across a truly ignorant, very badly educated person. What strikes me as tragic about these people is how very small their worlds are — they have so little to care about.
We want the exact opposite for our children. We want them, as Miss Mason says, to rejoice with the Psalmist that truly Thou hast set my feet in a large room.
A great gift to give to an ignorant person — including our little, limited children — is to enlarge their worlds — to introduce them to new orders of things.
This is the preliminary step in caring: an introduction, the initial planting of seed. Caring is not a guaranteed result, but it remains the First Thing because a people cannot care about that which they do not know.
The other day, O-Age-Six was in rare form. He occasionally has a day where the only solution is to muddle through. He is purposely obnoxious and also not purposely fractious. He thinks it hysterically funny to pester everyone around him, and when they respond with annoyance, he is fiercely angry at how “mean” they are. He can’t seem to hear or process verbal correction, doesn’t really respond to discipline, and often the only solution is to have him sit alone on his bed for extended periods of time.
In a word, he’s impossible.
He had a day like this last Monday, and I felt my temperature rising and my patience running out. He was sitting at the dining table, swinging his legs and eating pears while grinning impishly at his sisters, who were trying valiantly to ignore him and do their math lessons.
Waiting for them to finish, I began to sketch him with a marker on the small white board in my hand. I started with his train engineer hat — the one he’d sleep in if I let him. The placement of his ear. The shape of his jawline. His delicate little eyelashes.
Affection welled up inside me as I drew him — I suddenly liked him again.
In her book The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater reminds us:
[O]ne’s noticing leads to … reverent care …
Bestvater shows us how Miss Mason’s practices were tools of sustained attention — of really seeing. Seeing was where care began to bloom. Everything was done care-fully (the most literal sense of that word).
The nature notebook, with its careful record keeping and sketching. The commonplace, with its scribe-like attention to words. The picture study, with its steady gaze at beauty. Even narration following a single reading, which does for hearing what the others do for seeing — causing the student to forget himself and incline his mind to listening.
We cannot make love grow, but if exposure is the planting of the seeds, surely fully seeing — paying careful attention — is the watering of the seed.
A teacher who models the sort of love and care we’re hoping for in our students is the fertilizer. The Bible says that
[E]veryone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.
In homeschooling circles this is sometimes the great unmentionable because we think we are already under so much pressure. The problem with this is that whether we like it or not, Mom’s interest in the subject at hand matters. Love is contagious and it can’t be faked. We study up and think that knowledge is the thing — and it is.
Laurie Bestvater says:
If we put the cart before the horse and seek only the knowledge … without the caring, we may endanger both …
The Apostle Paul simply says that without love, we’re nothing but noise.
Slow down. We need time to gaze steadily — long enough that we come to see the value of the things before us — what it is what makes them worth caring about.
Wait on God
The rest of the process is a great mystery and only God can make the sun shine. We may plant, water, and fertilize, but ultimately God grants the growth.
So we ask His blessing and be patient, knowing that He works in His own time and way and His hand cannot be forced.
Lord have mercy.
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.