[This is my post for the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival. Read the latest edition here.]
Comradeship. What is it? Do our kids need it? And if so, how do we get that for them? If you are a homeschooler, you may already have guessed that this is going to be yet another post dealing with the old socialization issue.
In her third volume, Charlotte Mason throws this word around. She has been discussing the affinities or intimacies that a child may acquire in the course of his education (see my earlier post here). She then turns to the need for “fellowship” and leading and taking an interest in one’s schoolmates (p. 202). These she says are a “sine qua non” — that is to say, they are essential. She goes on to compare Ruskin who was lacking companionship in his youth and Wordsworth who “lived the life of his school-fellows with entire abandon” (p. 202).
What difference, if any, did this make to the men? Ruskin, as quoted by Charlotte, says that he “had nothing to love” and “no companions to quarrel with neither; nobody to assist, and nobody to thank” (p. 202). Now it seems from this brief account that Ruskin lived a life surrounded by servants who did no more than their duty by him and that his parents might also have been distant, so perhaps a lack of friends was not his only issue. Nonetheless, his comments are instructive. He sums up his educational experience by saying,
“‘My present verdict, therefore, on the general tenor of my education at that time, must be, that it was at once too formal and too luxurious; leaving my character at the most important moment for its construction, cramped indeed, but not disciplined; and only by protection innocent, instead of by practice virtuous.'” (p. 202)
I find the last but here particularly intriguing — “only by protection innocent, instead of by practice virtuous.” It is easy to be good when one is not challenged, but other people, by their very differences, do challenge us. They require us to compromise, to see other points of view, to defer to another.
Charlotte offers us a little less on Wordsworth but does speak of his youth, with its many companions, as the shaping time of his life which remained with him and influenced his later work. I love the phrasing she uses — that he “lived the life of his school-fellows with entire abandon” (p. 202). I picture a group of boys free to roam the countryside together, getting muddy, having adventures, not thinking of adults the whole day long. It is an idyllic picture.
So what are the implication for us? My own children’s experience lies somewhere between these two extremes. They have friends whom they see regularly, usually weekly. But they are not unencumbered by the adult world. At our weekly park days, they go off on their own, play games that they invent and have to discuss and agree on, but there are always parents hanging around, within eyesight. They do not have absolute freedom. I do not think this is a bad compromise. The truth is children left completely to themselves can get in serious trouble. But I have also known homeschoolers who isolate their children to such an extent that they pretty much only socialize with their families. I am not willing to say this is wrong, but I will say that my children have learned a lot more about how others approach the world from dealing with kids from other families. Our own choices are highlighted when we see that others do things differently and it has led to discussions about why we do things the way we do.
So, what about you? How do you draw the lines as a family? How do you decide how much free time with friends is appropriate?