The word "training" as used in the phrase "training in good habits" has a problematic side for me, and probably for other people as well. I don't think it's an unschooling term, for one thing. It seems to miss the point of a child/parent relationship as one of love and respect and mutual responsiveness. I practice a form of "attachment mothering" (even before I knew the term) and in that context, I don't tend to think a whole lot about "how to train" because good results seem to proceed naturally out of the relationship of trust and attachment. Beate mentioned in my combox that she disliked the dichotomy of "accepting love vs transforming love" because she didn't think they were opposed to each other like that. It ought to be just love -- purifying, integrated love informed by God's grace, and transformation for both the loving one and the loved one proceed from there.
I think this "training" difficulty, for me, comes from the same source. What is this thing called training, anyway? Doesn't it seem to put a distance in the relationship, a kind of conscious effecting, that seems to set conditions for acceptance? Aren't you saying, "you have to meet MY standard of what is best for you?" -- doesn't that take a bit of hubris, to say that by implication to a child, even one's "own" child?
I was thinking about this today and decided to try to work out some of my thoughts on the keyboard. I don't have easy answers. Even though this is going to be a long post, it probably won't even begin to say what I want to say. I can see why Clay Trumbull wrote a whole book, and why Charlotte Mason addressed the topic over the course of several of her books.
I also see this whole subject of "habits" and "training" and "parenting" is a vast and tricky one. It's difficult to say things in a way that can be easily understood. Whenever we're talking about the balance between authority and obedience, we get into areas that are invested with different contextual meanings by different people. Plus, applications may be different depending on our different circumstances.
When I hear the word "training" used my first thought is of doggy obedience school. Many authors often use that exact analogy and it strikes me as very unsuitable when we are discussing the nature of a human being, and especially one so vulnerable and impressionable as a child. Dogs do not have free will and their choices are ordered towards animal motives -- appetite, reproduction, pack loyalty, etc. Chesterton said that one says to a man acting wrongly towards a child, say, "Be a man!" but does not say to a crocodile opening its jaws to consume a victim "Be a crocodile!"
You train an animal to be what you want him to be -- a dog is trainable because he is a pack animal, while a crocodile is not -- but doing that to a human is using him as a secondary agent rather than a primary one. In other words, trying to mold a person into what YOU want without reference to his own personality as created by God is a form of slavery. Unfortunately, some people have used the "train up the child" directive as a power mechanism and become very invested in the outcome that THEY want. The child basically becomes an outcome, a product, and this is very wrong. (This is why Charlotte Mason emphasizes so frequently that parenting is stewardship -- an immense obligation and trust, not a power to be wielded arbitrarily even with good intentions)
On the other side of it, there are some societal and moral obligations and regulations, and refusing to acknowledge this doesn't change the fact that these exist. If you train your child to look before crossing a busy street, you have done him a lasting favor. If you train him to a habit of truth-telling, you've laid the groundwork for a mature understanding of the importance of honesty and fair dealings. And so on. The training isn't enough in itself, but words without corresponding actions aren't worth much either.
Clay Trumbull, author of "Hints on Child Training," (he was the grandfather of Thomas Howard and Elisabeth Elliot) made this distinction between "teaching" and "training,":
"It has been said that the essence of teaching is causing another to know. It may similarly be said that the essence of training is causing another to do. Teaching gives knowledge. Training gives skill. Teaching fills the mind. Training shapes the habits. Teaching brings to the child that which he did not have before. Training enables a child to make use of that which is already his possession." Clay Trumbull, Hints on Child Training.
If you look at it this way, you can see that training is meant to actuate the potential of the child and direct it towards competence, and this use of the word "train" has other applications in our language. For example:
- You train a new employee -- you're not judging his adequacy as a human being or even proposing that you are superior to him -- sometimes training is even done by inferiors, perhaps like a drill sergeant might train officers. You are instructing him in what needs to be known and done to meet the requirements of his job.
- You go "into training" in order to achieve athletically. This example comes to mind as I watch my son lift weights and do drills and workouts in order to improve at his football game. His father and coaches direct him and in that sense "train" him, but the motivation and the work are his. A related use would be the "personal trainer" -- the trainer does not have authority over you, in a way he is a servant, but he is helping you maximize your own personal potential.
- You have training wheels on a bicycle when you are just starting to learn to ride. The "training" here is a kind of support or scaffolding to help you bridge the gap between pedaling a trike and actually riding a two-wheeler. The wheels help keep you in balance while you focus on mastering other skills.
Clay Trumbull says that the Hebrew word that we translate as "train" occurs only twice in the Old Testament. The etymology of the Hebrew word has to do with "rubbing the gullet" and evoked the ancient custom of opening the child's throat at birth by anointing it with blood or some other sacred liquid, thus "as a means of giving a child a start in life by the help of another life". This is interesting, he says, because it implies that training starts at birth.
The etymology seems to imply the notion of *help* in accustoming someone to a new situation. This seems similar to the uses of the word "train" that I mentioned just now. Personal trainers, training wheels, employee training are helps and support in developing the skills to meet a new situation.
In English, the word "train" derives from the Latin word that means "drawing out". This is also a helpful implication because there is no way to draw out something that is not there in the first place. You can't train a newborn to walk or a five year old to solve algebra problems. There has to be a prior foundation laid and capacity has to be there, too.
In a way, the training here is "error control" -- look at training wheels, for example, or personal training. The wheels, and the guidance of the personal trainer, help you avoid harmful mistakes or wrong directions. This is where Charlotte Mason's mechanical analogy of "laying down the rails" comes in. You practice the better way until it becomes second nature. Then you can build on that.
One more implication I get from the idea of rubbing a newborn's gullet that Clay Trumbull mentions. We don't do gullet-rubbing in civilized cultures because we don't see it as necessary. However, the natural first step in dealing with a newborn is to encourage him to cry, to clear his lungs, and then bundle him up and lay him on his mother's breast to nurse. This could be a comparable early form of training in the first essentials of life... breathing, eating, warmth, and intimacy. Most infants take to this easily, but some for various reasons have to be encouraged more consciously to latch on, to suck and breathe alternately, to get accustomed to touch and closeness.
At older ages, John Holt makes the point that children are somewhat comparable to new visitors to a strange land. "Training" in the sense of accustoming a newcomer to the rules of the game naturally takes place in these situations, but does not have to involve anger or power plays or even a strict procedure.
Toilet training is another early example. Certainly, some toilet-training events become epic struggles. But it doesn't have to be that way, and really shouldn't be that way. Some mothers use "elimination communication" where they train themselves to become aware of the child's signals and respond quickly. Others (that would be me) wait until the child shows signs of readiness and then the training process takes place almost by itself in just a few days. Most successful training in skills, especially where children are concerned, involve some sort of interaction, a back and forth reciprocal element. More on that later.
The vast bulk of training, Charlotte Mason and Clay Trumbull and most other advocates of humane habit formation would agree, happens in a passive sense as the child observes what is going on around him and conforms himself to it. If you look at your child through the course of the day, you can see that he has all kinds of habits that direct how he interacts with the world and the society he lives in. Most of them are shaped by what he observes and picks up from around him. Yes, they have his own unique personal stamp to them, but they are also influenced directly by his surroundings and the skills he sees used. Frank Smith calls this, "joining a club" and suggests that most children want to belong to the club they are born into, and will work hard to develop the skills and habits they see in regular use around them. (This can be good or bad and at any rate makes one think seriously about the example one is setting).
This post is getting long. I am trying to rehabilitate the word "training" which I've seen used as a punitive, mechanical system of manipulation of a human towards outcomes planned by someone else. I am trying to show that in its more essential sense, "training" can contribute to the human person's welfare by giving him or her the skills and tools to be successful in a moral and logistical sense. And that "training" whether acknowledged or not is a factor in any adaptation to a new situation or developmental level.
The connotation of the word "training" still seems sometimes to be too top-down, even after all that. Can't, and doesn't, a child train himself? (more on that later) Doesn't the parent have to train himself first? (definitely). Isn't there a role for humility in a parent in using authority to form a child? You think of people who have been "deformed" by training or who have a great set habits narrowly speaking, but don't measure up as virtuous human beings (think the Pharisees who persecuted Jesus). Right-brained intuitive people like myself have real doubts whether "training" will actually activate a child's capacities -- one is afraid of clipping and molding and narrowing and turning out a "product" of one's will rather than helping foster the unique human potential of the precious individual child.
This is certainly a big issue, to me at least, and so I will probably have to write another post going into the subject from that perspective. For now, I just wanted to establish that taken in its essential meaning, the word "training" can be used in a different sense than simply the mechanical obedience required for, say, a canine or a mercenary soldier. It can be taken to mean a respectful attention and response to the child's need for support in development. It can and should be something that is done in cooperation with the child's personality and developing will.