Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Cultivating a Life-Long Love of Learning (Part 2) ~ Education is a Discipline

Admiral William H. McRaven delivered a commencement speech to over 8000 graduating students in 2014. Recently, a condensed video clip of his speech has been bouncing around social media.

You want to change the world? Admiral McRaven says you can do it by beginning with one small and simple task. He explains how each day of his six month basic Navy seal training began with an early morning inspection in the barracks. The mundane task he was required to perform was to be completed to perfection. Corners were to be square, covers pulled tight and pillow and blanket were to be neat and centred. The task he was to execute each morning: make his own bed.

And, now, this edited version of Admiral McRaven’s speech has been floating around the internet three years later and viewers are commenting that they need to go make their bed so they can bring change to the world.

Everyone is eager to change the world with the hope of making it better.

But, you have to wonder, how in the world, have we arrived at this place that a short motivational speech on a screen is inspiring adults to go make their bed. In part, this challenge is just one of twenty clever metaphors being employed to influence the listener to go out and make a difference.

But, the comments are telling. We have dropped the ball when it comes to completing simple and small tasks to perfection. We would rather accomplish great and noble things. Or maybe we just prefer to watch a five-minute video. How many of us begin each day with such a mundane task as making our bed?

Stop and think for a second, this task, although mundane and simple, is not insignificant.

It has been said, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; Sow an act and you reap a habit; Sow a habit and you reap a character . . . ”

If the formation of character is the aim of education, then it must begin with building on the proper foundation with the right instruments.

The first instrument of education, advocated by Charlotte Mason, a British educator at the turn of the twentieth century, is atmosphere.

The second instrument is discipline. As Charlotte Mason explained in her book, ‘A Philosophy of Education’:
 “By ‘education is a discipline,’ we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body.”
Charlotte Mason likened this instrument of education—this responsibility of parents—to the laying down of the rails for a train. Parents and teachers are to lay down lines of good habits on which the child is to run the course of his life.

Charlotte Mason supposed in her book ‘Home Education’:
 “This relation of habit to human life . . . is perhaps the most suggestive and helpful to the educator; for just as it is on the whole easier for the locomotive to pursue its way on the rails than to take a disastrous run off them, so it is easier for the child to follow lines of habit carefully laid down than to run off these lines at his peril.” (p. 109)
The habits sown in the child will reap the character of the adult. As parents and teachers we can permit or encourage habits that will either be life-depleting or life-giving.

The formation of life-giving habits has the power to raise a child beyond his or her nature without destroying his or her personality. Charlotte Mason maintained that children are born persons, created in the image of God, and every child has the potential to be a “person of infinite possibilities”. Yet, children are ignorant and need to grow in knowledge.

These life-giving habits are tools in the spiritual, physical, moral and intellectual development of the child in the realm of relationships with God, others and oneself.

This is not new thinking. The apostle Paul exhorted in his letter to the Philippians that this is a life-long learning and practicing. He wrote:
“ . . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” {Philippians 4:8-9}
The things we have learned—we need to practice these things. Lay down the rails and keep the train on the tracks.

The discipline of habits is vital in the education of a child. Like a three-legged stool, the formation of habits nurtures the child toward growth along with atmosphere and feeding the mind with living ideas.

How do we lay down these rails on which the child can live out his or her life? How do the parent and teacher use the discipline of habits to encourage growth and development of the body, mind, and soul?

We start small and we build up. Miss Mason pointed to the three of the most vital habits to be learned: obedience, truthfulness, and attention. And we move on to respect, thankfulness, kindness, neatness, mental effort, imagining, thinking and more and more. Focus on one habit at a time and keep watch over the habits that have been laid down. When one section of the track is laid well, build on to the lines of habit to allow the child to grow with healthy progress.

Next, we need to be diligent. This is a process that requires discipline in the life of the parent and teacher as much as the child. Pursue excellence in an atmosphere permeated with grace.

Furthermore, we motivate the child with living examples of real people in his or her life or in biographical stories. Paul referred to an old proverb when he wrote to the Corinthians: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” The original Greek word translated ‘character’ suggests that character is based on or comes from habit.

Additionally, we must allow for natural consequences. To develop a healthy growth mindset, a child must come face to face with failure as well as successes.

Finally, it is essential we encourage rather than nag. Children need our loving affirmation, not false praise. Children need realistic expectations—not ones set too high or too low.

This is more than a metaphor in a motivational speech. It is wise to begin small by teaching a young child to make his or her bed, to pull the covers tight, to put their full attention to the task at hand. It is a simple thing, but not insignificant to lay down life-giving habits for a child to form the character of the man or woman he or she is becoming.

So tomorrow, when you wake up to a new day, be sure you sow one small habit—lay down another rail in the education of your child—to reap a great character. Do not miss this opportunity to be a living example and invest in the life of a child—a person with infinite possibilities.

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