Books build character

character building

A few months back a friend and I exchanged our thoughts on how we can warn our children about the dangers of certain character flaws or the negative results of some of life’s poorer choices. I prefer to use books. This is one reason why we don’t limit our reading to books where the characters are all wholesome and practically perfect in every way. Another is that we don’t wish to be more holy than the Bible, which also includes stories about men and women who were deeply flawed.

The Book of Books is, naturally, the best teaching tool of all.

But this post is about other books and how they may be used to teach character. I think there are some important benefits to teaching our children through the use of literary examples from books rather than from real life, although, of course, both can be used with good success. But, again, this post is about books.

So, here are some of my reasons why I think in some circumstances a book is a useful tool for educating my children about real life:

1. Many of us live in small towns and attend small congregations. In my family’s case, there are almost no other young people at our local congregation except our own. There are no young married couples just starting out. We won’t be seeing a Lucy Steele (Sense and Sensibility) for many years. There are so many personality types and character flaws and specific situations that require wisdom and experience to understand, yet my children may not be exposed to any of them personally until they are actually threatened by a real life example. I think books have the edge on real life because of the simple proximity issue.

2. Gossip. I was able to discuss Lucy Steele with my daughters comfortably when they were about 12 years old. For those sad and deprived souls who do not know who Lucy Steele is, she is a character in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. She pretends to befriend Elinor, our heroine, but she is really interested in herself and using Elinor to get to a young man both ladies care for. The first time my children read the book, they thought Lucy Steele’s friendship was genuine, and were quite puzzled at the way she seemed to turn on Elinor later. We went back through Lucy’s actions slowly, and I was able to point out subtle clues that her friendship was not what it seemed.
There are real ‘Lucy Steeles’ in the world and in the church buildings where we worship on Sundays. They do not all limit their attentions to unmarried men. I want my daughters to be forewarned and thus forearmed against this type of predator.

But teaching my girls about this is a delicate matter. I cannot use real life examples, even if they exist. I would never, ever, ever tell one of my young people that the woman sitting in the pew in front of us is after the husband of the woman sitting in the pew across from us. At the very least, consider the implications if an unwise, unwary or simply tired and thoughtless child let that slip in the wrong place! Oh, my!

I would also not like to tell my children too much about the unwisdom and sinful attitudes of people they know personally because children are such black and white creatures that I would fear I was making them very judgmental and harsh critics of their brethren. I think pointing out the flaws of our brothers and sisters in church to our children as an object lesson is a very dangerous route to take and bad for their characters. It can be done, and there may be times where it needs to be done, but never without the greatest tact and delicacy.

Dealing with fictional characters permits me to kick off my shoes a bit and get comfortable with the discussion.

3. With books you get a microcosm of human experience in a very small space of time- sometimes the problems that we experience are only the result of years of wrong thinking, sinful attitudes and/or bad choices. A book can span a life time in a few hundred pages.

4. The possibility of my own error- let’s return to my original example- the flirtatious woman who worms her way into friendships in order to attract the male- in a book, we can know without any doubt that this is the motivation of the Lucy Steele types. In real life, we must admit that only God knows the heart. What if I am wrong about the reason a woman behaves in a manner I view as flirtatious? What if I see somebody who seems to be encroaching her way into the affections of a married man, but I am mistaken? How hurtful would my unjust suspicions be if I voiced them publicly to anybody else- even my children!

Even in matters far less serious than this, if I am not careful about what I say to my children about others and I turn out to be incorrect in my assessment, how much damage have I done to my credibility with my children?

Perhaps I am right, but I do not know the full circumstances. Perhaps the woman in question actually knows she has a problem and is working quietly to overcome it. Is it possible I have unfairly planted a seed of mistrust of her personally in my children’s hearts? I cannot really know her heart or her goals and desires. Who am I to judge the *intentions* of the servant of another-

I think with books, I can warn my children against certain character types long before we actually meet any of them without encouraging a judgmental and critical spirit, and without exposing them to personal unhappiness in the process.

You may also be interested in some of our other posts on Charlotte Mason’s approach to language arts, grammar, composition, spelling, etc.

Part One
Part 2
Part Three

See also:
Books and Literature in The Common Room  (March 27, 2010)
Reading and Literature in The Common Room (March 20, 2010)

Posted in Books, Charlotte Mason | 7 Responses

Non-Musical Ruminations of the HeadGirl

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, to the older women as mothers, and to the younger women as sisters, in all purity. (Paul’s instructions to Timothy, 1 Timothy 5: 1,2)

I happen to like this passage very much. It sketches an appealing image. It is the image of a family. Families have fun together. Brothers and sisters carry on conversations about all sorts of topics.

Why am I posting this? Because it gets very wearisome to have people ignore this verse. I was feeling very angsty about this recently, after (yet again) having conversations my sisters and I had shared with a single young man misconstrued as romantic flirting. The DHM said I should blog about it, do something with this frustration, let my message be heard… <-- there could very well be some paraphrasing in that suggestion. So. When you see a young woman talking to a young man, please do not instantly assume there must be “something” going on. The only “something” occurring is called Christian Fellowship. It happens to be Good Stuff. I like to have all sorts of friends. It is true that I will never be as close with guys as with girls, unless marriage is part of God’s future for me (and then it will be one guy, not any who comes into my life). And, yes, we need to be careful to maintain purity as singles.
This is something that could violate this purity:
* Two people choosing not to mingle with the group, but only each other, for long periods of time.

These things are scriptural and should not harm the purity:
* Being hospitable to a guest, no matter what his age or marital status.
* Talking to a guy for longer than five minutes about topics other than the weather

If I saw Mr. Jones (a married man) talking to Mrs. Smith (a married woman) , or offering her a chair, I would not assume they were flirting. That’s disgusting. And since there are no romantic intentions on either side when I talk to guys, but we each may be involved with someone else later on in life, it’s also disgusting to tease us.

Relationships have been cheapened. I’ve heard tell a romantic relationship is really special and I believe it. I also know, though, that relationships in the Christian family (brother/sister, sister/sister, mother/daughter, father/daughter) are one of the greatest blessings here on earth. Please don’t make it hard for me to enjoy this blessing by treating each interaction with a single guy as a Hunt For a Mate. It isn’t, and I resent the implication that this is the only potential I see in these friendships.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Responses

Stopping Time

Most mothers get terribly excited when a child transitions out of one stage into another. The first lost tooth, the last diaper, the first step in independent reading, the last time a child needs help with shoelaces, birthday parties- these are all supposed to be joyful events. I have always found these milestones to be bittersweet. I am joyful over the accomplishment, but grieved over the ending of another phase of life.

One thing I have observed in my own life is that there are compensations. So often I have wanted to clutch my children to my breast and scream at time to just stop, right now, forever, in this perfect, perfect, perfect moment- and time doesn’t even blink for me. It keeps right on rushing by, leaving me gasping, trying to keep up with it.

But when I stop and think of some of those perfect moments, I realize that if I had been able to halt time right there, at that perfect stage, I would have missed later, equally joyful and perfect moments that would not have existed if I had been granted the ability to just freeze time. I would be missing some of my dear children, and I can’t imagine the hole that would exist in our lives without each of these precious little people entrusted to us.

I would be missing other lovely, wonderful stages in our children’s lives. I would be missing the blessing of new friends. I would never know what I was missing, but having experienced the blessings that come with the changes of time, I know God is wiser than I.

I cried on my firstborn child’s sixth birthday. She was growing up so fast, too
quickly. I didn’t have time to savor and enjoy it like I wanted. I wanted her, like the A.A. Milne poem, to stay six forever and ever. Yet when she was 16, she was such a joy, so much fun, such a treasure of a young lady- I can’t imagine what it would have been like not to have experienced that stage of her life. I thought
teaching her to read was really the last big milestone we’d have together before she left home forever, but it wasn’t. I wouldn’t have any of my children six again for anything. Each one of them is too much of a delight right now, at this moment, in the place where they are. I ache at how fast they are growing, while I delight in it at the same time. I had no idea mothering teens could be such a wonderful, joyous, experience, and now that I have some out of their teens, I am finding that the joy just continues.

And yet, and yet… I hear other milestones rushing nearer and nearer. One of them will say that when (if) she marries, she wants a younger sibling to come spend weekends with her, or will share some future plan only possible for a young person all grown up and independent, and I still want to scream, “No! Stop growing up right this instant!”

I want all this, even though I know that each of them will continue to bring me ever
increasing amounts of joy and delight with each new stage in their lives. No matter how much joy I experience in each new stage, I still ache at the passing of the old stages.

Babies are so much , and they do grow up too fast it seems. But toddlers, preschoolers, grade-schoolers, pre-adolescents, adolescents, teens, and beyond are all equally fun- just in different ways.

Enjoy each stage of life now, while it’s happening, but do not clutch at the past. Open your hands and arms wide and receive the blessings of the future when they come, too.

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Kerrynitions and Instruction in His Faith

Kerrynitions: Words defined Kerry style

“Forces outside the mainstream now seem to effortlessly push Republican leaders toward conduct that the American people really don’t want in their elected leaders, inserting the government into our private lives, injecting religion into debates about public policy where it doesn’t apply.”

Some Kerrynitions:
Forces: People I don’t like
Mainstream: The Democrats in the Senate
Inserting the government into our private lives: Controlling what you make, how you spend it, where you shop, what you smoke and drink- these areas are not private. Murder of the unborn and the disabled, however, is a private family issue in which the government should not intervene
injecting religion into debates about public policy where it doesn’t apply- What you believe should have no bearing on what we do, unless I approve of what you believe

“Jumping through hoops to ingratiate themselves to their party’s base while step-by-step and day-by-day real problems that keep Americans up at night fall by the wayside here in Washington.”

The majority part’s base would be, um, the majority, yes? So wouldn’t these also be Americans? Do we elect candidates and then want them to ignore us, or do we elect candidates with an expectation that they will be interested in the same issues that interest us. Are senators supposed to ignore the people who elected them?
And just what are ‘step by step’ real problems? I mean, really. Stop and think about it. He seems to be substituting cliches for thought.

“We each have to ask ourselves, ‘Who’s going to stop it? Who’s going to stand up and say “Are we really going to allow this to continue?'”

And at this point, somebody really should have responded to that altar call, and stood up and stopped him.

“Are Republicans in the House going to continue spending the people’s time defending Tom DeLay or they going to defend America and defend our democracy?”

Is this really an either/or proposition? Is he really saying that defending DeLay is a traitorous act, equivilent to giving aid and comfort to the enemy and permitting democracy to fall under attack (another question- wasn’t DeLay elected by a democratic vote?)

“Are we really willing to allow the Senate to fall in line with the Majority Leader when he invokes faith, faith, all of our faiths over here?”

Why, yes, yes, as a matter of fact, ‘we’ are, and here he goes:

“Joe Lieberman’s a person of faith. Harry reid’s a person of faith. And they don’t believe we should rewrite the rules of the United States Senate”

The procedural rules of the Senate are a matter of religious faith? Who knew?

” and we certainly shouldn’t allow this issue of people who believe in the Constitution somehow challenging the faith of others in our nation.”

I don’t even think he knows what he means by this, and nobody knows what he actually said.

Are we going to allow the Majority Leader to invoke faith to rewrite Senate rules to put substandard, extremist judges on the bench? Is that where we are now?

You mean, like the way you just invoked people of faith like Joe Lieberman and Harry Reid?
And just what is his definition of substandard, extremist? It appears to me to have quite a lot do with the faith of the judges he’s denigrating.

“It is not up to us to tell any one of our colleagues what to believe as a matter of faith.”

Except for John Kerry. It is, apparently, up to him:

I can tell you what I do believe though.

“When you have got tens of thousands of innocent souls perished in Darfur, when 11 million children are without health insurance, when our colossal debt subjects our economic future to the whims of Asian bankers, no on can tell me that faith demands all of a sudden that you put the Senate into a position where it is going to pull itself apart over the question of a few judges. No one with those priorities has a right to use faith to intimidate anyone of us.”

It appears he put together a list of Things He Does Not Like, wrote each item on a piece of paper and pulled out three at random from a paper bag. They none of them have anything to do with the other. Innocent souls are dying in Darfur, but refusing to simply close debate on judicial nominees is not going to save one of their lives. Eleven million children may or may not have health insurance in this country, but refusing to allow judicial nominees to have an up or down vote is not going to suddenly confer health insurance upon them. Our economic future may or may not be ‘subject to the whims… of Asian bankers’ (and isn’t that an ugly and bigoted thing to say), but I’m a little unclear on exactly how refusing to let judicial nominees receive a vote is going to protect us from that unpleasant future Kerry projects for us.
Perhaps it’s a matter of faith, and only True Believers can understand.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Responses

News and Stuff

If you want to read the transcript from the Senate hearing on Bolton’s nomination, here it is.

Powerline has another transcript, an excerpt of one of the funniest exchanges between Biden and Bolton.

Hugh Hewitt has this pithy explanation of the filibuster issue:

All weekend long every GOP senator should tell every newsman and constituent:

“There was exactly one refusal to close debate on a judicial nominee in the entire 20th century, and that was a favor to a sitting Supreme Court justice about to be embarrassed by defeat who withdrew his nomination immediately afterwards and resigned soon after because of ethics problems.

Since January, 2003, there have been 20 different refusals to close debate on judicial nominees. This disfigurement of Senate tradition, disguised as the appropriate application of a rule intended for legislative debates, must and will end.”

That is it. That is all there is to the argument on the filibuster.

Michelle Malkin puts together a nice collection of links and quotes on yet another Cinton scandal- fundraising, this time, so it’s all clean, family friendly fun. As you read this, do compare these details to the accusations surrounding Delay, and compare the media coverage of the two as well.

Glenn Reynolds has an update on the Canadian scandal- the company Saddam Hussein invested a million dollars in belogs to Canada’s Prime Minister.

Economic revival in Cuba, where Castro more than doubles the minimum wage, bringing it up to ten dollars. A month.

You’ll want to read Tarranto today, especially his comments on Bolton and the Dems and want each really wants from the U.N., and keep scrolling to read his excellent analysis of the fetus/unborn baby doublespeak.


Captain Ed sums up the Wendy’s/Finger episode, and explains what happened when ‘nobody won the Frodo Baggin’s Look-Alike Contest. Eww, but funny.

A father explains libertarian principles to his college student daughter.

We blogged about a hair-braiding hero before, here. Minnesota (amongst other states) still has to catch up to the notion of freedom for hair-braiders, and you can read about that here.

If you have not read this, by Davy Crockett, before, you should.

Delightful, absolutely delighful, discussion between parent and son on boys and bikinis.

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