Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 3 "Masterly Inactivity" – Part 1
In this chapter, Charlotte notes the weight of responsibility we feel as parents to bring up our children "to be something more than ourselves" (p.26) To feel the weight of that responsibility without knowing exactly what to do about it results in worry, restlessness, and anxiety. Mason's antidote for this is what she calls masterly inactivity. What is that, you may ask? Perhaps it may be best to first think about what it is not.
Masterly Inactivity is not:
- A fatalistic "what's the good of trying" attitude
- License to do whatever one wants
- Fussy complacency
- Giving in to children's whims
Rather, Masterly Inactivity is:
- "Wise Passiveness" – a phrase Charlotte borrowed from the poet Wordsworth. "It indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action." (p.28)
- A sense of liberty and freedom under authority. Masterly inactivity only "works" within the framework of rightful authority. That 'authority must be ever-present but in repose: "But she must see without watching, know without telling, be on the alert always, yet never obviously, fussily so. This open-eyed attitude must be sphinx-like in repose." (p.31)
- Exercised naturally and with good-humor – not forced or contrived.
- Exercised with self-confidence: "Parents should trust themselves more" Mason tells us. (p.29)
- Exercised out of a 'sound-mind'. Children pick up on our nervous, anxious state. We need to act out of rest, peace and serenity.
Have you read Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Understood Betsy? We recently finished it as it is the assigned literature selection for Ambleside Online Year 2 (although absolutely still worth a read even if you aren't an AO user). In that book we see how these two opposing states of being play out in the life of young Elizabeth Ann (Betsy). Betsy's parents died when she was young and she has been raised by her Aunt Frances who is nervous, fussy, and controlling. As a result, Betsy has grown to be a nervous and fussy child who lacks confidence to do just about everything. When she is 9 years old, she is sent to live with her Aunt Abigail, Uncle Henry, and Cousin Ann. At their farm she is looked after with love and care, but also given a great deal of freedom – Uncle Henry lets her take the reins of the horse when they are driving home with the station, Aunt Abigail lets her season the applesauce to taste although Betsy has never made it before, she is sent off to walk to school on her own on the very first day, and so on. By the end of the book we see Betsy growing into a confident young woman. What difference Masterly Inactivity made in her young life!
Next week we'll look at some practical ways that we can learn to live and teach and parent from this state of 'masterly inactivity'.