Near the end of Jane Austen’s classic book, Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy makes a startling statement that sums up why he struggled so much in winning Elizabeth Bennet’s regard. It is startling because he puts his finger on a practice that many parents might inadvertently be doing today.
“I was given good principles,” Darcy confessed, “but left to follow them in pride and conceit.”
Especially in the homeschooling atmosphere of today—with its resurgent (and commendable) emphasis on noble ideals, high thinking, and excellence—we need to be careful we don’t make the same mistake Darcy’s parents did.
High thinking is good, but it must be combined with lowly living.
High ideals lived out in an attitude of Christlike humility and service to others. That’s our goal.
As Charlotte Mason put it:
“The parent who would educate his children, in any large sense of the word, must lay himself out for high thinking and lowly living; the highest thinking indeed possible to the human mind and the simplest, directest living” (Parents and Children, p. 170).
How do we do that? Well, as with any parenting situation, there is no simple formula. But we can head in the right direction if we keep three things in mind.
1. Present high ideals in great books.
Choose excellent, well-written, literary-quality books that present admirable ideas. Ideas that will shape who they are becoming. Ideas that flesh out principles of good and noble living, of perseverance under trial, of courage and strength in adversity.
Most of us are doing this. Carefully-selected book lists and recommendations abound. And that is the first step. We must make sure the high ideals are being presented in an interesting and attractive way. A child who is unacquainted with noble ideas will not have that aim to aspire to.
2. Talk about high ideals through narration and discussion.
Just presenting the ideals and hoping the children pick them up is not enough. We need to hear what has penetrated their hearts and made it into the inner court of their minds. We need to get them talking and keep those lines of communication open, so we have a window into their growth as a person.
Good discussions will bring to light those all-important relations that they are making between ideas and situations and life. It will expose faulty reasoning and give us opportunities to speak into their lives, offering gentle recalibration as needed.
But simply reading and talking about high ideals does not good character make. We must go one step further.
3. Put high ideals into practice, serving others in humility.
This is the missing ingredient. We spend a lot of thought, time, and effort in selecting good books and in guiding our children through those reading and narrating assignments. But how much time and thought and effort do we put into guiding them through everyday living out of the ideals that they are gathering?
Do we make it a priority to walk our children through conflict resolution in a spirit of humility, or do we just yell at them to stop bickering so we can get on with the lesson?
Do we urge them to practice kindness and graciousness, even when insulted or offended, or do we simply tell them to quit pouting and get over it?
Do we remind them what it looks like to treat brothers and sisters with honor, or do we excuse their disrespect because we expect siblings not to get along?
Do we model generosity and hospitality with a heart of gratitude, or do we complain and covet and keep our eyes locked on our own needs and wants?
Do we actively look for opportunities for our children to demonstrate courtesy and good manners, because it is a form of looking not only to their own interests but also to the interests of others, or do we overlook their rudeness as a fact of childhood?
Humility is not thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking of yourself less.
If we want to encourage our children toward high thinking and lowly living, we need to make sure that we are modeling what it looks like to ponder good and noble thoughts while maintaining an attitude of unselfishness and service to others. Then we need to guide their hearts and minds along those same lines.
“Humility sits within us all, waiting for pride to be silent that he may speak and be heard (Ourselves, Book 1, p. 129).
So yes, let’s give our children good and noble principles presented in great books; then let’s be careful to walk them through living out those principles in humility and service, not pride and prejudice.