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We hope these little thoughts on Charlotte Mason’s motto for students are encouraging you as you educate the whole persons who live in your house. So far we’ve looked at I am and I can. Today let’s talk a little about I ought.
My husband and one of my daughters are becoming tea connoisseurs. They each drink several kinds of tea and enjoy the distinct flavor of a particular kind at certain times of the day. They know their way around local tea stores and can discuss subtle differences of taste with their fellow tea-drinkers.
How did they come to have this taste for tea? Were they born with it? No, this taste was trained from many experiences with tea. And there are other people in the world with a more heightened sense of taste for tea because they have had more training and cultivation.
Charlotte likened a trained conscience to a trained taste. She defined a good conscience as “a conscience with not only the capacity to discern good and evil, but trained to perceive the qualities of the two. Many a man may have the great delicacy of taste which should qualify him for a tea-taster, but it is only as he has trained experience in the qualities of teas that his nice taste is valuable to his employers, and a source of income to himself” (Vol. 1, p. 334).
A child’s conscience has a large part to play in helping him determine whether to accept or reject an initial idea. But we cannot assume that a child’s conscience is infallible; it is not. It must be trained and cultivated in loving, noble, and good ideas. Charlotte gave several practical suggestions for how we can train a child’s conscience.
Training the Conscience
- Read Bible stories without sermonizing.
Charlotte considered “The Bible the Chief Source of Moral Ideas” (Vol. 1, p. 336). But she specifically cautioned adults against beating children over the head with those morals and sermonizing about them. Let the Bible account speak for itself.
- Read other tales that present good and inspire the child toward it.
“Any true picture of life, whether a tale of golden deeds or of faulty and struggling human life, brings aliment to the growing conscience” (Vol. 1, p. 337).
- Teach and train one character trait at a time.
Parents need “to instruct them in their duty; and this, not at haphazard, but regularly and progressively. Kindness, for instance, is, let us say, the subject of instruction this week” (Vol. 1, p. 339).
- First, give a short talk about kindness and what it is.
- Give “short daily talks about kind ways, to brothers and sisters, to playmates, to parents, to grown-up friends, . . . . Give the children one thought at a time, and every time some lovely example of loving-kindness that will fire their hearts with the desire to do likewise” (Vol. 1, p. 339).
- “End with the law: Be kind, or, ‘Be kindly affectioned one to another.’ Let them know that this is the law of God for children and for grown-up people” (Vol. 1, pp. 339, 340).
- Enforce the moral law that the child now knows. “Now, conscience is instructed, the feelings are enlisted on the side of duty, and if the child is brought up, it is for breaking the law of kindness, a law that he knows of, that his conscience convicts him in the breaking” (Vol. 1, p. 340).
Help your child develop a taste for what is good, noble, and loving by cultivating his conscience with those living ideas.
Next week we will look at I will.