It is a joy and privilege to teach the children of Detroit. One only has to turn on a news program or pick up a newspaper to learn that Detroit’s children are beleaguered, which causes one to wonder, who can bring hope to them? In our small way, we try to use the methods and philosophy of Charlotte Mason to foster the formation of lifelong learners. However, it is not only the teaching methods, but the atmosphere of goodwill and benevolence that permeates the school that has an impact on children.
It is a revelation to observe our students at work and play. I’ve been reflecting much on their behavior recently as I have been re-reading Ourselves. We serve families who are diverse in race and ethnicity, income, and marital status. The students would not be with us if their parents were not interested in and desirous of a better education for their children. They already come to us, for the most part, with good manners, having compassion for others, and familiar with the teachings of Scripture. Yet, we also enroll children who’ve been in one or more schools and have either been left to fall through the cracks, been bullied, or have not been able to make progress with the methods used. It is heartening to see the generosity and patience of our students as they receive and nurture these new students. Charlotte Mason wrote in Ourselves of “The Way of Love,” which includes Love’s “Lords in Waiting:” Pity, Benevolence, Sympathy, Kindness, Generosity, Gratitude, Courage, Loyalty, Humility, and Gladness. I see these qualities exhibited each day in the children.
Of courage, in the section on the Courage of Reproof, Mason says, “the just and gentle reproofs given by the young to the young are perhaps more convincing and converting than the more natural and usual reproofs of elders” (p. 116). I’ve observed students correcting the grammar of others with a gentle reminder: “That word isn’t the right one—but that’s okay if you want to say it that way.” When playing one of their favorite games, Gaga ball, I’ll hear one say, “No, but the ball did hit your foot,” when another player denies it, then letting it go. Such times give us opportunities to praise the patience of the ones who see the offense and do not complain or become aggressive over it. They show a benevolence that Mason describes in Chapter III, Love’s Lords in Waiting: Benevolence (pages 91-93). What a beautiful chapter. The grace that we show one another, and that we desire the children to show, is “the sort of Benevolence that parents show to their children, that brothers and sisters show to one another” (p.92).
Then there is the Courage of Capacity. A student recognizes that she is slow over her copy work, or another that he is not comprehending a page of text. Encouraged that they can do better, the little girl increases her pace, and finally exclaims triumphantly, “Look at how quickly I finished!,” while the boy says, “I get what it’s about!”
One boy is always quick to come to me if he is concerned that he has acted without permission or broken a rule. Mason speaks of the Courage of Confession, and I see it strong in him. She asserts that “we don’t have to confess our feelings and emotions, but rather our acts and omissions.” His father says of him, he “self-reports more than anyone I know.” He then tells me that his two sons did some cleanup for him on a construction project, along with another adult, and the two of them outworked the adult by a large measure.
“The office of Kindness is simply to make everyday life pleasant and comfortable to others” (p. 99). Without my ever having mentioned it, one boy unfailingly pulls a chair over to a table for a girl who joins us for math class every day. The girl, who was born prematurely, has some vision and learning difficulties. I did not tell the children to “be nice to her.” They just are.
For students to live in an atmosphere of love requires an administration and staff who themselves live in the discipline of love, who show patience, kindness, grace, forgiveness, and integrity every day. Mason says,
Some day, perhaps, we shall know the history of the soldier heroes, the missionary heroes, the saints, who have done good just because they were good. Now , we know only a few here and there, — St. Francis of Assis, Elizabeth Fry, General Gordon; but whenever we learn that people have been raised out of degradation, in countries savage or civilized, we may be sure that it is because someone has lived a blessed life before their eyes. [Italics mine.] (p. 84)
Evelyn Hoey, our Principal, and the main force behind the starting of our school, will be retiring at the end of the school year (although she will continue to work for the good of the school). The staff and students have been the recipients of her love and kindness for these past fourteen years. Her quiet assurance in leading chapel, her firm kindness in speaking to a student about behavior, her constant encouragement of the staff, have undergirded the Charlotte Mason methods and philosophy. Mason knew that the Ways of Love, as she described in Ourselves,” are like a stone thrown into a pond, causing circles to “spread to the very shores of the pond or lake or sea, and from that central point the circle of our love widens until it embraces all men” (p.81).
As our students have been touched by this blessed life lived before them, I see them one day spreading the Way of Love. With gratitude, I think of Evelyn when I read these words:
The joy is not merely that we have received a favour or a little kindness which speaks of goodwill and love, but that a beautiful thing has come out of some other person’s beautiful heart for us; and joy in that other’s beauty of character gives more delight than any gain or pleasure which can come to us from favours. (p. 108)
May the circles that our little stone in the pond causes continue to spread throughout our city and our country.
Mason, C.M. (1925). Ourselves. Book I, Part III, The house of heart. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.
© 2016 by Therese Racklyeft