I just finished reading an excellent book on Contentment: The Secret to a Lasting Calm, by one of my favorite modern-day authors, Richard Swenson. Contentment is a quiet confidence that what I have is enough; an inner satisfaction that this is all that is needed.
Discontent, on the other hand, is an anxious desire for more and more, faster and faster.
As often happens when you are fed ideas, my mind started looking through its files for other ideas related to being content. Up popped a quote from Charlotte Mason in which she encouraged the teacher to “be content to proceed very slowly, securing the ground under her feet,” and I wondered if she used that word anywhere else.
So I went on a search to find out what Charlotte Mason said about being content. The results are very telling.
Charlotte Mason on Being Content
As you read through these eight key quotes from Charlotte on contentment in teaching, keep in mind the definition of “content”: a quiet confidence that this is enough; an inner satisfaction that this is all that is needed.
In beginning reading lessons, be content to proceed very slowly.
“The teacher must be content to proceed very slowly, securing the ground under her feet as she goes” (Vol. 1, p. 204).
When teaching mathematics, be content to go slowly and work very gradually.
“It will be found that it requires a much greater mental effort on the child’s part to grasp the idea of subtraction than that of addition, and the teacher must be content to go slowly—one finger from four fingers, one nut from three nuts, and so forth, until he knows what he is about” (Vol. 1, p. 257).
“When the child is able to work freely with shillings and pence, and to understand that 2 in the right-hand column of figures is pence, 2 in the left-hand column, shillings, introduce him to the notion of tens and units, being content to work very gradually” (Vol. 1, p. 258).
In history, geography, and other studies, be content to focus on the ideas that are shaping the children as persons, rather than just the facts.
“The very limitations we see to our own powers in this matter of presenting ideas should make us the more anxiously careful as to the nature of the ideas set before our children. We shall not be content that they learn geography, history, Latin, what not,—we shall ask what salient ideas are presented in each such study, and how will these ideas affect the intellectual and moral development of the child” (Vol. 2, p. 127).
In habit-training, be content to lead by slow degrees when replacing a bad habit.
“Let us not despise the day of small things nor grow weary in well-doing; if we have trained our children from their earliest years to prompt mechanical obedience, well and good; we reap our reward. If we have not, we must be content to lead by slow degrees, by ever-watchful efforts, by authority never in abeyance and never aggressive, to ‘the joy of self-control,’ the delight of proud chivalric obedience which will hail a command as an opportunity for service” (Vol. 3, p. 23).
Be content to allow the children plenty of time and space for free play, rather than adult-planned activities.
“But organised games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make. They must be content to know that they do not understand, and, what is more, that they carry with them a chill breath of reality which sweeps away illusions. Think what it must mean to a general in command of his forces to be told by some intruder into the play-world to tie his shoe-strings! There is an idea afloat that children require to be taught to play—to play at being little fishes and lambs and butterflies. No doubt they enjoy these games which are made for them, but there is a serious danger. In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk; he who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself; and so he misses that education which comes to him when allowed to go his own way and act,
“As if his whole vocation
Were endless imitation.” (Vol. 3, p. 37).
Be content to let good living books have the primary position of teaching, rather than your being the fountain-head of all knowledge.
“Having found the right book, let the master give the book the lead and be content himself with a second place” (Vol. 3, p. 229).
Be content with knowledge for knowledge’s sake, not for the sake of prizes or competition.
“It is only in so far as Knowledge is dear to us and delights us for herself that she yields us lifelong joy and contentment. He who delights in her, not for the sake of showing off, and not for the sake of excelling others, but just because she is so worthy to be loved, cannot be unhappy. He says, ‘My mind to me a kingdom is’—and, however unsatisfactory things are in his outer life, he retires into that kingdom and is entertained and delighted by the curious, beautiful, and wonderful things he has stored within” (Vol. 4, Bk. 1, p. 78, 79).
In nature study, be content that the children should have the freedom to form nature-friendships through their own observations and much looking.
“We are awaking to the use of nature-knowledge, but how we spoil things by teaching them! We are not content that children should know the things of nature as we know our friends, by their looks and ways, an unconscious comprehensive knowledge which sinks in by dint of much looking, but we set them to fragmentary scraps of scientific research. They intend investigation, and lose the joy of seeing. Their attention is concentrated upon this or that, and they lose the all-round alertness which is the chief equipment of the nature-student. We shall awake some day and find that nature-study, as we have taught it, adds not at all to the joy of life. The child of the future will feel no thrill at the disclosure of the red under the tail of a little brown bird; now, every small boy likes to know such things, and it will be a weary day when we have ‘nature-studied’ such knowledge out of existences” (Vol. 5, p. 395).
Did you notice? Those eight areas seem to be the ones in which many CMers struggle with Charlotte’s methods being enough. Those are the areas in which we often want to add something more or see faster results. Those are the areas in which we tend to be discontent. Perhaps that is why Charlotte chose to use that word in her counsel: be “content.”
Charlotte encouraged us to be content with
- proceeding very slowly in beginning reading lessons.
- going slowly and working gradually in mathematics.
- focusing on ideas, not just facts, in geography, history, Latin, what not.
- progressing by slow-degrees through ever-watchful consistent authority in habit-training.
- not initiating or entering into all of our children’s free play.
- giving good living books the primary teaching place.
- knowledge for knowledge’s sake, rather than for show or reward.
- children knowing things in nature as we know our friends, not over-directing those friendships.
A quiet confidence that this is enough. An inner satisfaction that this is all that is needed in these areas. We don’t have to add more. We don’t have to push for faster results. We can be content.
Content in teaching the Charlotte Mason way.