Charlotte Mason Teaching Tuesdays – It Begins With Authority

CM Teaching TuesdaysI’m beginning a series of reflections on teaching and teachers based on Charlotte Mason’s writings.  I decided to do this because in recent reading in Charlotte Mason’s volumes, I just kept coming across these little gems on the topic of teaching, and they really began to stand out to me….and sink in.  I enjoyed visiting with these ideas over the last couple of months for a few reasons:

  1. These thoughts – these ideas – are usually fairly succinct.  And that’s not difficult to imagine, is it?  Because in a Charlotte Mason education, it’s the child that does the work by self effort.  {Volume 6, p. 6}  The teacher’s role isn’t so much diminished or devalued – not at all!!  The role of teacher is properly oriented so that she is not spoon-feeding, over-burdened, or driving the child’s every interaction in the day.  She is alongside.
  2. I found that these little gems of thought from CM on teaching pepper almost every volume of Charlotte Mason.  They’re not difficult to find, and together, they form an inspiring collection that help a CM educator remain focused and on-task – because the fruits of this education are in the long-haul.
  3. I can find ideas and reflections on teaching and the teacher’s role in a few sources outside of CM’s volumes – for example, in Eve Anderson’s excellent example in the Teacher Training Tool video series, and in Cholmondeley’s excellent work, The Story of Charlotte Mason.  And I found a lot in Parents’ Review Articles, too.

I think I’m in a good place for revisiting some of these ideas on teaching in particular because I’m spending some time considering my role as teacher these days.  And probably also because of where I happen to be along this road of home education right now.

My Perspective – Around the Block and Back Again

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be graduating my oldest and we’ve delighted in a Charlotte Mason education from the beginning right on through to graduation.  It was exhilarating – just as Charlotte Mason said it would be. Not perfect.  But exhilarating.  {By the way, I’m going to ask her if she’ll let me “interview” her on the blog at some point – would you like that? – give us her perspective on her CM home education and maybe ask her to share some of her post-graduation plans. She has some exciting plans! }.


So with Sarah done, next year I’ll have a son doing high school work, one son in mid-elementary, one daughter in lower elementary, and a rapidly growing toddler.  I’ve been around the block a bit, and it’s been a worthwhile and truly delightful trip around this Charlotte Mason block.

When my first was younger, I was focused on so much that was just right in front of me.  One step at a time.  And now…I feel like I have a grander perspective.  I’m eager to learn more and apply it.  I see where I’ve been (remember – it wasn’t perfect, ok; it was really good though!), and I’m delighted I’m headed there again…and again…and…and…  So I’m spending some time thinking about teaching.  And of course, that means I want to know what Charlotte Mason said about it.  I really value her thoughts on this because I’m so blessed to be sitting here looking at the fruits of a Charlotte Mason education – a perspective that is both reassuring and inspires me to want to learn more and apply more faithfully.

Teaching from Peace: Our Authority Comes From God

My lovingly worn copies of Charlotte Mason - handed down from my mom to me.  :) And treasured!

You know, in considering where to start this series on teaching I really wanted to start with something foundational.  And in considering that, it was easy to see that place: it begins with authority.  Where does it come from?  Who has it?  How is it exercised?  {Philosophy of Education, p. 73}

The teacher, or other head, may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience.  (I am assuming that everyone entrusted with the bringing up of children recognizes the supreme Authority to Whom we are subject; without this recognition I do not see how it is possible to establish the nice relation which should exist between teacher and taught.)

Our authority derives from God.  If we teach with the understanding and recognition that our teaching authority is from God, and that we are under His authority, we are able to teach from a place of peace.  We exercise our teaching with kindness, respect and an awareness of the child as a person made in the Image of God.  In recognizing that we are in a position of authority, and with our teaching springing from that recognition, the relationship between teacher and taught is rightly ordered.  And with that – peace.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, or all roses and pretty-flowery-tiptoe-ing-through-the-tulips happiness…because that isn’t necessarily peace. In fact, it’s my experience that the above is the anti-thesis of peace – some sort of artificial, forced and contrived atmosphere that exists only in the imagination of one person – usually the mother – who may be idealizing everything…and this artificial feeling is easily toppled by the first challenge.  And challenges do come.

Peace is a confidence that springs from knowing you are doing what God wants you to do.  You’re living His will.  You’re working out your sanctification.  In teaching.  Living out virtue.  Pointing toward the good, true and beautiful, and living out the good, true and beautiful in the ordinary parts of your day.  And as with ANY growth in virtue – there WILL BE stretching…and pruning.  Oh my.  The pruning.  You know that this part is painful, right?  It hurts – the stripping of selfish, dis-ordered ideas of perfect days, perfect children, perfect responses.  {Instead of perfect, seek the best.}

Even in our growth as teachers, even when days are messy, we can teach from a place of peace because we exercise our God-given authority seeking after the good, true and beautiful.

Exercising authority can seem somewhat nebulous in living it out in the practical day-to-day.  Sometimes it helps to start with what authority is not:

  • It is not disorder – chaos does not reign
  • Authority does not arbitrarily give commands or dictatums
  • It does not motivate out of fear
  • It does not motivate with treats or rewards
  • It does not yield decisions to the child which are proper to the teacher – especially in the case of a child that may not want to do a particular assignment.
  • It is oriented toward growth in virtue
  • It recognizes that there can be value in the doing of a thing out of discipline
  • It expects cheerful obedience
  • It meets challenges with a spirit of willingness to brainstorm through a challenge {I think this point is really important because a lot of people think of authority meeting a challenge and they think of a result that looks more disciplinary in action, when authority would rather grow and stretch toward virtue within that challenge, as opposed to meeting out dictatorial demands}

Reading More….

There is great joy in teaching from a Charlotte Mason perspective.  To read more about authority in our role as teacher, read pages 1 – 24 in School Education.  And for some excellent background on teaching, authority and atmosphere, view this excellent video from Ambleside Schools International:

Well, in living out my Tuesday, it seems I’m barely going to get this post published in time to still call it a Teaching Tuesday post.  I hope that in considering teaching, you might consider your teaching role as grounded in the authority you’ve been given by God.  There are so many other great insights Charlotte Mason gives us on the topic of teaching – I hope you’ll join along if you’ve come across something in your own reading!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on authority in teaching!  Leave me a comment or write about it and link me!

This post will serve as an index of the posts in this series.  All of the posts in this series are also linked {look up…} in the blue navigation bar, under the title CM Teaching {hover your mouse over the title and a drop down menu will appear}.

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  1. I, too, have been around the block several times and am delighted to be journeying around this educational life block again and again. What a joy, and what a privilege to journey alongside our students. I am finding peace in a greater depth of learning now that I question the CM methods less.
    I would like to encourage those in the early days of their journey to trust the CM methods- They truly stand up to the test of time. The results of a CM education are delightful!

    Jen, I really appreciate your whole article. I was most blessed to read your list of what authority is NOT. In particular:

    “It meets challenges with a spirit of willingness to brainstorm through a challenge {I think this point is really important because a lot of people think of authority meeting a challenge and they think of a result that looks more disciplinary in action, when authority would rather grow and stretch toward virtue within that challenge, as opposed to meeting out dictatorial demands}”

    Our authority under God really does look much different than authority as our culture sees it. It is helpful to have that articulated. Thank you.

    1. Oh, Lisa – I’m so grateful you shared your thoughts! You hit the nail on the head here:
      >> I am finding peace in a greater depth of learning now that I question the CM methods less. <<

      So true!

  2. I haven’t read your post yet, but we have the same dishes! I just got those a couple of weeks ago (thanks to some birthday cash!) and said to myself that those look like something Jen would like (because of the color). LOL!

  3. I’m going to love this series! (laughing and jumping up and down in excitement) This is exactly the kind of “discussion” I’ve been looking for on the CM books. I read a little and get lost in the books. I’m not talking about lost in a good way, either. I’ll be reading the section you recommended on authority and watching the video you posted. I can handle some short readings like that and I have your post to reflect on too. I would love to hear and interview from the grad too! A quote from your post that really got me was, “{Instead of perfect, seek the best.}”. I needed to hear that. I know perfect doesn’t exist, but I wasn’t sure what to strive for and “seek the best” is my answer.

    1. Cassie,
      I know what you mean about reading CM – the material is so rich it can be overwhelming at times. I like reading through topically – like I plan on doing for this series! I’m so glad that you’ll be along for this! 🙂

  4. Dear Jen, you have inspired me to pull out CM’s set of books and sink in to a good and thorough reread this spring! I’m excited 🙂 and looking forward to reading more of your thoughts as you have time and space to share with us.

    1. Wonderful, Ellie! I’m so very glad that you’ll follow along! It’s invigorating to think of all of you pulling out your volumes of CM, doing a little reading here and there, considering how you might apply a little understanding and translate it in your own home!

  5. Okay then, i am firmly Rooted in authoritarianism. I see my kids misbehavior and failings as directly reflective of my own failure. Talk about anxiety!
    What to do now?

    1. That is an exhausting train to ride, Teresa – authoritarianism. I can certainly see how it would cause tremendous anxiety. It puts the weight and the burden for everything on your shoulders. Our Lord said His Yoke was easy and His burden light – perhaps it’s time to let go of a little so that your burden can be lighter? Let go of the idea of your own failures as an albatross around your neck, and instead resolve to view them as a call to grow – find some opposing virtues and read about them, work on incorporating them in your life, keep them front and center in your morning prayers. Not easy! And believe me – I know!! It’s hard work – but trust me here, anything worth doing is worth working hard for!

      I’ll trade prayers with you, Teresa!

    2. I didn’t know how rooted I was until I watched that video! It actually scared me a little! I knew authoritarianism was wrong, but I didn’t realize how much I was doing it. I took a lot of notes in pages 1-24. I think this is the third time I read that section and it didn’t click until Jen’s post and watching that video. I get it now! CM didn’t come out and directly say it, but she pretty much said turn to the Lord for help in this area. Honestly, I have a little talk planned with the oldest (13) now too. We have some character issues to work on in this authority area and I got lots of inspiration (perhaps answered prayers) from the video and reading. It’s something we will all have to work on fixing together.

  6. Thank you for the reading assignment and this wonderful post. I really appreciate perspective and experience and I think this will be a wonderful and helpful series. I was struck by the same quote that Lisa mentioned because I have seen the results of doing this versus solving problems in a dictatorial way and I definitely know which is better in the long and short term! But it can still be hard to remember in th heat of the moment…

    1. I completely agree about “the heat of the moment”, Amber. Reading/philosophy and application are two very different things. I think that may be one of the reasons I find revisiting some of these ideas so helpful to me right now. You know – it’s like when you read a book and you enjoy it, but you pick it up again a few years later and you’re at a different time and season of your life, and the book speaks to a different person that has an altogether different perspective. And in meeting that book again, I learn something new. And that’s how I feel about looking at CM teaching right now. I’m looking at it through a different lens than I did 12, 8, even 4 years ago. The philosophy and ideas haven’t changed, but I’ve learned (and I’m still learning!) ways to live out the application of it. I love ideas – just love them! That’s where I find inspiration!! For me, an idea has potential energy. It’s not until I live it out in the practical that the idea becomes kinetic, active and livable. And that’s where I really hope to take this series – from the potential in an idea to the kinetic and practical in the every-day living it out.

  7. Can’t wait to read your interview! That video – waaaah! Maybe I shouldn’t have watched it on Mother’s Day, LOL, but I realized that is *exactly* how I was raised and what damage it has done! I need to pave a different path and am so inept at it on a day to day basis. I can understand what to do and then not know how to apply it. We are going to have 4 out of 5 of our kids home again next year and I want to redouble my efforts to be more CM and also not let my past color my parenting.

  8. Jen, you chose words like “grander” and phrases like “around the block” that grab me and make me yell, “hooray!” If you will go through the great effort to share your gifts, to include experience, discernment, and details 🙂 I will gladly ride along with you. I want to carve out an hour or two a week, which doesn’t sound like much but can be life-giving none the less, to focus on myself as a teacher and how that translates into me teaching my children and others. I’m all about claiming the principles that have worked, and ditching those that haven’t stood the test of time. It is a spring cleaning of sorts as I launch into this new season of my and my family’s life. I’m so blessed to call you friend and I hope to be a good friend to you. YAY! Oh, Sarah is GORGEOUS…just like her mama 🙂

  9. Hi! So… I often feel lacking in this area of motherhood. Not a bad mother in the sense that my kids don’t know they are loved – they do… but in the sense that they struggle with authority. And I struggle with enforcing it. I have two very strong growth willed boys – which I can recognize as a blessing. They’ll stick their ground, be great leaders, etc. Etc. What are some good techniques to teach disciple? What do you do if your child refuses to listen/obey and whatever you are asking is not arbitrary? Our homeschooling journey has been a struggle just because I don’t think know if am viewed as an authority. What are ways to remedy this? I know nothing is a one size fits all …. I have been researching the charlotte mason approach and am eager to dive in…. but I also cringe knowing there will be resistance

    1. Hi Milissa! Thanks for your note!

      Claiming your sense of authority is pretty important, as you know. I have children that are strong willed, too, but that doesn’t mean they are allowed to trample on my authority, or disregard it.

      You ask: “What do you do if your child refuses to listen/obey and whatever you are asking is not arbitrary?” If my child is younger than 6 and refuses to obey, I get up, take the child’s hand, and physically walk them through the action they’re refusing. I use simple, straightforward language like, “When I ask you to do ‘x’, you must do ‘x’.” I watch my tone – keep it neutral!! (Practice role playing this in the mirror with yourself if you have to.) For an older child, I’d use the same simple language and neutral tone, except I would force them to sit in a corner, or on a bench (but not in a room or play area) – somewhere that I can still be aware of the child. I’d say something like, “as soon as you’re ready to be obedient and do what I asked, you may get up.” Be ready for drama and don’t take the bait! Keep your cool, keep the child in place, and say again (but not too often), “as soon as you’re ready to be obedient and do what I asked, you may get up.” If a child really needs to test your authority you may have to wait this one out for a bit of time. Don’t cave! Keep them in place until they are willing to do what was asked. Even if that means you bring them a lunch of water, and a slice of bread with peanut butter (no five course meals!!) while they sit in protest. Trust me, at some point, they will recognize that YOU are in authority and will be compliant.

      Of course, you never want to have to exercise your authority in this way, but if a child pushes a boundary like that, as parents with God-given authority, we must answer in polite but firm ways that indeed, yes, I am in authority here.

      Absolute BEST book on this topic that will serve you well ALL the years of parenting is Dr. Ray Guarendi’s Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime: The Best Gift You Can Give Your Kids. It’s humorous, practical, and HELPFUL!!

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