Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

What is to be said for a ‘wise passiveness’?

on March 10, 2016

The title comes from a set of study questions in the back of the “pink book” editions of Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series. Initially, when I glanced at some of these questions, I thought they sounded very un-CM. Some sounded like fill-in-the-blank. Some sounded redundant. I wondered if the well-meaning Karen Andreola, who had worked so hard to put these books back in print, had created these questions. It turns out I was wrong. Those questions were meant for mothers taking her Mother’s Education Course, which another blogger has expounded on very well. Which helped me see them in a whole new light. And also made me wish that course still existed. But maybe some day . . .

This question is more open ended than it first appears. Charlotte dedicates nearly a page and a half to the discussion of what ‘wise passiveness’ is. Firstly, it is the approach that method takes in education that is opposed to system. The approach of system is too much interference, or to use Charlotte’s word, “fussy”. Method, on the other hand, at least hers, follows nature’s lead. She instructs parents “to discriminate between the role of Nature and that of the educator”. That’s where wisdom comes in.

The trouble is the word “passive” brings to mind “doing nothing”. Even Charlotte anticipated this argument:

“Oh, then you have no discipline. I thought not. I daresay it would answer very well to leave children to themselves and make them happy. . . .” Not so fast, dear reader. He who would follow a great leader must needs endeavor himself, Ohne Hast ohne Rast [without haste but without rest]; . . . .the way [of Nature] is steep to tread and hard to find, and this uphill work is by no means to be confounded with leisurely strolling in ways of our own devising.

So secondly, it is not inactivity. It’s why I don’t think Charlotte Mason should be grouped with unschooling or Delight Directed learning. I won’t state opinions or make judgements on those approaches to education, but if someone is interested in Charlotte Mason they should understand that it is not either of those things.

Still, though she speaks of education here, the focus of the chapter is on the use of discipline in education, yet not only in education but also generally in the home. So I won’t digress on that any further.

The point is: what is meant by ‘wise passiveness’? And we have to recognize what it is not: it is not doing nothing. It should also be noted that her opening sentence in this section is, “Method pursues  a ‘wise passiveness’.” It is a thing to seek after, follow after, do constantly. It is not folding of the hands to rest. It is active. But it’s active in a way that does not instruct the children in how to assimilate information, or even how to behave. It instead is active in finding ways to direct the child to make his or her own discovery. An imperfect analogy would be a scavenger hunt. You don’t tell a person what they are going to find at the end, or even how to get there. You simply guide them into the next step.

(Don’t put too much stock in that, it’s probably wrong.)

So what is to be said for a ‘wise passiveness’? I don’t think this is asking for a straight definition, but rather, what can we say about this approach? What does it do for us? It first of all takes the pressure off the parent and teacher. It is not up to me to make the child learn. I will give him or her the materials, the ideas, the food to live on. I will give them the opportunities. Then I will sit back and watch them use what God gave them for the express purpose of finding out about the world. I think what can be said for it is, it requires humility and trust. Humility because it’s hard to let go of the thought that I can teach them everything there is to teach. Trust because I have to trust that they will learn what they are meant to learn without my interference. Not that I don’t teach them, but I’m not to tell them how to learn it.

That’s what I think is to be said for ‘wise passiveness’. If anyone wants to discuss this, please go to one of these links. The first is the original series in the original, Victorian language. The second is the modern English updated version. In both, go to Chapter 16 and look for the heading “Wise Passiveness”:

Then feel free to contribute in the comments.



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