Tuesday, February 24, 2009

System vs Method, and the limitations of habits

From Some Preliminary Considerations: in Charlotte Mason's Home Education.

System––the observing of rules until the habit of doing certain things, of behaving in certain ways, is confirmed, and, therefore, the art is acquired––is so successful in achieving precise results, that it is no wonder there should be endless attempts to straiten the whole field of education to the limits of a system.
She goes on to say that though it is tempting to do this, and would be fine if a human were a machine, humans are not machines and cannot be educated mechanistically. There has to be more to education than just what it would take to train an accountant or secretary, or a "lady of society".

I've read about CM's distinction between "methods" and "system" many times, and never noticed it quite that way before, but this has to do with the limitations of habits. It seems she is saying that mechanical habits, useful as they may be, are not sufficient. This is helpful to me, both in measuring what role habits SHOULD take, and what shouldn't be expected from them.

I just recently read an article in the old Parents' Reviews, from 1902, called Limitations of Theory. It makes somewhat the same point.

I believe strongly in the importance of cultivating right habits, and in the power they exert over us; but sometimes I have felt that there was a danger of putting habit almost in the place of God--of thinking that everything can be accomplished by careful training, and that a child can simply, by care and watchful oversight, be turned out a great and good character. Valuable as habit is, it cannot renew the heart, and the mother who trusts entirely to her training is in danger of sad disappointment. It seems to me that those who place too great importance on habit run the risk of leaving God no room to work.
... To change an old saying, we might say, "Habit is a good servant, but a bad master." What is done merely through habit is more or less mechanical, and there is a danger of want of adaptation to surroundings in those who are too much bound by it.
And I already quoted the Catholic Encyclopedia which reiterates this:

At the same time that habits grow, attention has to be paid to their dangers, and the child must not be allowed to become a mere automaton. Habits of reflection and attention, together with determination and strength of will, will enable the child to control, direct, and govern other habits.
Reflection and attention....similar to vigilance for mothers, perhaps.

In School Education Charlotte Mason remarks repeatedly that while habits form the physical self in many ways, ideas feed the mind. She also says that every habit has its origin in an idea. This is something I want to think over. Also, Dr Carpenter too wrote about the limitations of habits. I'm going to type that out for a separate post.

1 comment:

Katie said...

Willa, you make excellent points. I've been wrestling with an attempt to reconcile habit-training with the idea of poetic knowledge. This post has put some things in order for me.