Appealing to the Conscience?

Dear Reader,

So among the quotes I underlined in Charlotte Mason’s first volume, Home Education, is this one:

“But the child’s own conduct: surely he may be called upon to look into that? His conduct, including his words, yes; but his motives, no;  nothing must be done to induce the evil habit of introspection.”                                                                                  [Home Education, p. 219]

The gist of this passage, if I am understanding it, is that when a child has done wrong, Miss Mason would not have us focus our children’s attention on their own motivations. She has quite a lot to say on consciences and how to develop them in children. And she would certainly have us correct children for wrong actions and words. But she does not seek to get behind these things.

What intrigues me so much about this is that it seems counter to modern Christian parenting advice. The book I am most familiar with in that regard is Ted Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart (I have written earlier on Mr. Tripp’s book here and here). It was given to me when I was pregnant with my first child, and I have heard it cited and recommended many times since. My memory of it is that it is all about not just focusing on the wrong behavior in front of us, but directing the child to think about their own motivations. The goal is to get to the root of the problem. We know that sin comes from the heart, and when we see sinful behavior it is not just the action that needs to be addressed but the root of the problem. For example, if a boy hits his brother (which of course would never happen around here), we deal not just with the hitting but with the anger or hatred or frustration or jealousy that lies behind it. The hitting is seen more as a symptom of a larger disease that needs to be cured.

So who is right? Should we address motives or not? Miss Mason’s reason for not doing so is to avoid “the evil habit of introspection.” This phrase itself has a very dated feel to it. This is not something we talk about at all. Mr. Tripp’s approach would seem to do just the opposite, to encourage the habit of introspection.

I am not quite sure where I come down on this. On one hand, examining ourselves and our hearts for sin seems like a good thing.  How are we to conquer sins if we don’t know them? And how are we to root them out if we don’t see the roots which only lie within the heart? Though even this can go too far. Being an ex-Catholic, I am all too aware of the temptation to spend too much of one’s time trying to uncover any missing sin. But just because this process, mixed with a little wrong theology, can lead to extremes does not mean it is inherently misguided.

On the other hand, our society as a whole is much too self-focused. We seem to think everyone else should be interested in every little thought and feeling we have (and yes, I realize the irony of complaining about this is my own blog). It is easy too to get so wrapped up in examining one’s own feelings that we never act. And often we fail to do good because we do not feel like it. We justify a lack of action by saying, “well, if I don’t really feel like loving my neighbor than it would be hypocritical to help him and I am better off to do nothing for him.” Miss Mason spends a lot of time on training the will, that is, teaching children to do what they know is right (or not do what they know if wrong) because it is right or wrong regardless of their own desires in the matter. That is something we could all use a bigger dose of. It is very foreign to our modern mindset which says “I must follow my heart” and  “If I feel it, it must be good.”

So, honestly, I don;t know where I come down on all this. I would love to hear other’s thoughts on it.

Nebby

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One response to this post.

  1. […] have written previously on the topic of the conscience, most recently here, but also here, here, and here. My general thoughts on the topic remain unchanged. They can be summed up as […]

    Reply

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