I recently met a new student who made his way to Ambleside through an unusual series of events that began at a children’s home in Latvia. His integration into the sixth grade class, growing command of the English language, and benevolence toward others were delightful to see, and I wanted to offer encouragement to him. As I spoke to him, his smile grew wide and he responded, “I am so thankful to God.” I was touched by his genuine thankfulness and humility, a lovely reminder to turn our hearts and minds outward and upward, toward our God of provision, our friends and neighbors, and away from the awareness of “me.”
Charlotte Mason inspires us in the way of humility -
There are many ways of getting away from the thought of ourselves; the love and knowledge of birds and flowers, of clouds and stones, of all that nature has to show us; pictures, books, people, anything outside of us, will help us to escape from the tyrant who attacks our hearts. One rather good plan is, when we are talking or writing to our friends, not to talk or write about 'thou and I.' There are so many interesting things in the world to discuss that it is a waste of time to talk about ourselves. All the same, it is well to be up to the ways of those tiresome selves, and that is why you are invited to read these chapters. It is very well, too, to know that Humility, who takes no thought of himself, is really at home in each of us:––
"If that in sight of God is great
Which counts itself for small,
We by that law humility
The chiefest grace must call;
Which being such, not knows itself
To be a grace at all."
Ourselves, Book I, 129-130
We share concerns for the children, yet we fall short of true humility and thankfulness in our own lives. How do we inspire and support a sense of caring, duty, thankfulness, and sacrifice? How are the influences of our modern world misdirecting our youth? As a teacher and a parent I have to ask myself, “How am I contributing to the problem?” My awareness of just one of these influences was kindled by a recent email.
The parent of a former student reached out to me to share a memory her child still has from the year she was in my class at Ambleside (my first year of teaching first grade). She described the day I brought in George Washington Carver’s favorite food, “corndodgers” (as noted in our history readings). I was happy to hear that I was so fondly remembered, recalling the excitement of the students that day. But then I thought, “No! No! That was so off-method!” It had fueled days of begging and disappointment. “Are we having more corndodgers? Why not? Please!” I wonder if they even remember why we had the treats.
Some might say that I was well intentioned; that I was allowing my students to more fully experience a part of Carver’s life; that I was encouraging them to participate more fully in our studies. And back then I would have agreed. But now I see that entertaining activities often have deeper implications, and the end results are less than desirable. Entertainment turns our attention toward ourselves and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to experience a peaceful consideration and enjoyment of another’s delight.
Consider this text from Little House in the Big Woods when Jack Frost comes to visit.
Ma said that Jack Frost came in the night and made the pictures, while everyone was asleep. Laura thought that Jack Frost was a little man all snowy white, wearing a glittering white pointed cap and soft white knee-boots made of deer-skin. His coat was white and his mittens were white, and he did not carry a gun on his back, but in his hands he had shining sharp tools with which he carved the pictures.
Laura and Mary were allowed to take Ma's thimble and made pretty patterns of circles in the frost on the glass. But they never spoiled the pictures that Jack Frost had made in the night.
When they put their mouths close to the pane and blew their breath on it, the white frost melted and ran in drops down the glass. Then they could see the drifts of snow outdoors and the great trees standing bare and black, making thin blue shadows on the white snow.
With the best of intentions we might think of ways to help the children share the experiences of the Ingalls girls. We sprinkle a baking sheet with sugar and invite the children to draw in it. Or we pull out hand mirrors to breathe on. These activities, though seemingly harmless, plant seeds of self focus. We lose something far greater and more important to our development as a person when we trade entertainment for the exploration of ideas. We miss out on a practice of reflecting and imagining; on wondering about the experiences of another; on delighting in another’s delight without any thoughts of self. Using this example, we miss out on sharing the wonder and experience of that wintery morning long ago through the words of the author. Under the influence of entertainment, the attention immediately turns to thoughts of Me: “I like this! This is fun! Can I have another turn? Can we do this again?”
Isn’t this the mindset we are hoping to shed in ourselves and in our children? Don’t we want to pursue a life of humility? As followers of Christ we are called to die to self and seek to serve. Let us redirect our thoughts and hearts to a higher place where, with the inspiration of the Spirit and through the exploration of ideas, we too may experience each new day with a deep thankfulness to God.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests
but each of you to the interests of the others."
Philippians 2: 3-4