In Parallel: The Limits of Habits

Sometimes it seems that if we could just get the knack of habit training, that we would immediately be better parents, educators, and human beings. Imagine doing the right things on autopilot! No power struggles, no internal arguments, just the “smooth and easy days” that Charlotte Mason mentions in Home Education

I do agree that habits are important – we do well to build good habits and to help our children do the same. But I also see that habit – like any other part of education – can devolve quickly into what Charlotte Mason called a system. We see habits as the means of procuring particular results: compliant children, friction-free homeschool days, even greater devotion in our personal faith. 

A ‘system of education’ is an alluring fancy; more so, on some counts, than a method, because it is pledged to more definite calculable results. By means of a system certain developments may be brought about through the observance of given rules.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education

Human beings are creatures of habit. Charlotte Mason, along with countless people before her, noticed this and incorporated the cultivation of habits into her method. As she did so, however, she warned against reducing her ideas into a system. After all, “the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being.” Our approach to habits must rest on an accurate understanding of what it means to be a person.

Habit training is not the be-all, end-all of the Charlotte Mason method. After all, we have three educational tools. I find that when we hold habit training together with education as an atmosphere and a life that we are best able to let it be what it is: a tool for education, and not the end.

I invite you to read the following articles on the limits of habits, and comment with your thoughts on the limits of habit.

To read in parallel:

The Power and Danger of Habits: In this short article, Darryl Dash distinguishes between habits (crucial) and habituation (detrimental). 

“Simply put, the challenge of the Christian life is to develop well-worn paths — ruts — along the God-ordained means of grace: Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship, while maintaining our wonder at what God has done for us. Our challenge is to develop strong habits and at the same time to guard against becoming dulled to the news that’s meant to delight.”

Limitations in Theory: I’m linking to this Parents’ Review article for the first five paragraphs especially. Mrs. Backhouse shares candidly about her experience with the Charlotte Mason philosophy and gives wise encouragement to view our theories as elastic. On habit training, she writes,

“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.”

How do you avoid habituation while still building good habits? How do you balance habit training (yourself and your children) with other efforts to renew the heart and retain joy in the Gospel, approaching habit training as a method, not a system?

A letter from me to you, every week.

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