By Andrew Hayes, Principal

We are living in distressing times. In recent months it seems like we need to muster the limits of our internal strength of character and will just to face the reality of each day, doesn’t it? As a principal, my thoughts frequently turn to the children. How does one raise children well in 2020? How can I prepare my child to not only endure, but to face times like these with strength, joy, and fortitude? Is a successful or fulfilling life even possible when so much in our world seems to be a mess?

I believe, with Charlotte Mason, that hard times like these reveal true character (or lack thereof) in ourselves and our children. We, too, seem to be living in the midst of an American crisis that makes Thomas Paine’s famous words from The American Crisis (1776) extremely fitting: “These are the times that try men’s souls… yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” It is our character that is revealed in trying times.

Charlotte Mason said that “character is the result of conduct regulated by the will.” Character, that great achievement that we talk so much about at Ambleside, is the cumulative product of our sustained behavior and actions governed by our will. And now, perhaps more than ever, we have the opportunity as parents to invest in our children’s character. Mason’s book, Home Education, has a brilliant chapter about the role that the will plays in our children’s development, and how we can intentionally cultivate our child’s will as parents. I’d highly recommend reading it. What follows is just a few reflections from me on her wisdom:

  • Our will is our executive function. To will is to choose thoughts, actions, behaviors, decisions, etc. The will has three jobs: to control our passions and emotions, to direct our desires, and to rule our appetites. It is the key to being a healthy and successful adult.

  • When we engage our will collectively, as a family, in our homes, to divert our talk at the dinner table from a complaint about the headlines (or anxiety about the unknown, or a vilifying remark about those of the opposite political persuasion, the list goes on…), to something we enjoy or appreciate as a family (however trivial it might seem) we actually train the will of each family member to be strong, resilient, and joy-filled in the midst of hardship.

  • Discussing our duty as parents and Christ-followers: “…the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train [her son or daughter] for the Christian life. When [her son] wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, she would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty [mental or physical power] in training – a man of war [for a spiritual battle] from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

  • On building an alliance with our child as we train his or her will: “Invite his co-operation, let him heartily intend and purpose to do the thing he is bidden, and not yours; he has begun the greatest effort, the highest accomplishment of human life – the making, the compelling of himself. Let him know what he is about, let him enjoy a sense of triumph, and of your congratulation, whenever he fetches his thoughts back to his tiresome sum [math work], whenever he makes his hands finish what they have begun, whenever he throws the black dog off his back, and produces a smile from a clouded face.”

Feel free to share your thoughts with me; I’d love to hear them! And take heart! It isn’t our job to overcome the world, because we serve One who has already won the battle for us. His is the victory, today and forevermore. I’m grateful that we serve a good God together, and also that we have a strong community like Ambleside, where we can lean on each other for encouragement and wisdom during these trying times.