The Lens of a Label: I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will, part 2

Charlotte Mason motto

Last week we introduced Charlotte’s motto for students and how it emphasizes helping our children to grow in all areas, not just academics. In this post, let’s look a little deeper at the first phrase: I am.

The other day a friend recounted the time that she was driving on a long trip. The daylight hours were filled with bright sunshine, so she put on her sunglasses. Hours later, as day turned into night, she switched on her headlights. But strangely, they didn’t seem to shed much light. For several miles she fought with those lights, casting about in her mind to discover what might be wrong with them. Finally, she realized that she had forgotten to take off her sunglasses.

My friend’s experience rings true when I think about seeing the child as a person. “My child has cancer.” “My child has sensory processing disorders.” “My child is an auditory learner.” “My child is an introvert.” “My child is . . . “ (you fill in the blank).

Those labels can be an aid as we seek for ways to help our children know themselves and navigate their limitations. However, sometimes it’s easy to allow those labels to so color our perception of the child that we forget to see him, first, as a person. We get so used to thinking in terms of the label, that we don’t remember to remove those lenses. We forget that we have on our “label glasses.”

What Do You Expect?

I was thinking about this just the other day in connection with my daughter who has autism. It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking mainly in terms of what she can and cannot do. I get used to thinking about her limitations and, without realizing it, I start viewing her primarily through the lens of those limits.

But it dawned on me that when I fixate on the label, I neglect to look at her as a whole person. And when I neglect to look at her as a whole person, my expectations for her are lacking. That is when I need to remember that what we expect from our children subconsciously shapes what they expect from themselves and who they become.

Charlotte reminded us that people will generally live up to (or down to) expectations. “Now one of the secrets of power in dealing with our fellow-beings is, to understand that human nature does that which it is expected to do and is that which it is expected to be” (Vol. 2, p. 251).

“Expectation strikes another chord, the chord of ‘I am, I can, I ought’ which must vibrate in every human breast, for ‘ ’tis our nature to.’ The capable, dependable men and women whom we all know were reared upon this principle” (Vol. 2, p. 251).

If I want to help my child become the best person she can be, I must not allow a label to blind me. Yes, my child has this condition and it affects many aspects of her life, but it is not the sum total of who she is. She is much more than her autistic tendencies.

And I encourage you not to let the lens of a label blind you to who your child is down deep inside. There are most likely hundreds, if not thousands, of other children on the Earth with a similar label. What makes your child different from them? That’s part of your child’s personhood.

When Charlotte lists her main principles of education, this foundational one is always listed first:

“1. Children are born persons” (Vol. 1, Preface).

So rather than growing accustomed to looking at our children through the limiting lens of their labels—whether learning style, personality type, special need, diagnosis, or something else—let’s take off the glasses and see the persons standing right in front of us.

Next week we will talk a little about I can.


  1. This is so true! For so long I limited my daughter because she was was LD. at least that’s what we thought. She definitely has a harder time to sit and listen to lessons or really pay attention. I tried to find a curriculum that I thought would help, but it wasn’t working. We are going into our 3rd year using the CM method and I am, I can, I ought, I will has transformed all of our lives. My daughter scored off the charts this year. I stopped trying to fit her into a category and just allowed her to soak up all she wanted. She more than surpassed any expectation we could have imagined. I am so thankful my friend “introduced” me to Charlotte Mason! We aren’t perfect CMers, but we are working on getting better. I am also thankful for this website and blog. The booklists, guides, and posts have helped more than you could imagine! Thanks to you and your ministry!

  2. Oh, I so agree! As a homeschool graduate, I have experienced first-hand the blessing of parents who encouraged, enabled, and allowed me to undertake things that “teens” do not ordinarily accomplish. They did not foster the low expections many people have for teenage years. For this I am truly grateful!

  3. I was at the ICHE convention this previous weekend and I heard your workshops. From the first one I knew that CM is the way I want to homeschool. This article has also helped me to take the lens of Dyslexia, which my daughter was diagnosed with, off. I will work hard to see her as the loving, intellegent child she is and she is capable of learning and doing many things.

Comments are closed.