"I will" vs. "I want"

Charlotte Mason has an interesting and insightful idea about the purpose of education regarding the development of the will. Will, she says, is that part of us that separates man from beast. It is the thing in us that gives us freedom, makes us true moral agents, able and obliged to discern right from wrong and act accordingly. Will is also that part of us that allows us to choose something that we do not desire. It allows us to rise above our base instincts and passions and choose what we will over what we want.
I have often heard it said of children who are being particularly naughty that he or she has a strong will. In fact, precisely the opposite characteristic is being shown. The child with a strong will is able to behave himself when what he wants to do is throw a tantrum. The strong willed child can do those activities that are contrary to her desires, while the willful child is a slave to her passions. How many of us have had the experience of watching a child make himself miserable because he doesn't want to clean his room (or some other simple chore)? He pouts and he mopes and he cries and acts generally wretched, when if he would just "decide to do it.", he could be quickly done and go play.
One of the purposes of education is to teach children to use their will to master their desires. The educated child should set his will upon those things that are good and right and pursue them. The end result is a life lived more fully. Of course, this is easier said than done. The nurturing of a child's will takes time, patience and a steady supply of good examples to follow, both present and historical. It also requires that teachers and parents have at hand good techniques to help the child along.
Charlotte Mason maintained that one of the best helps to a child in learning to use his will is diversion. When a child (or an adult for that matter) is finding that concentrating on the task at hand is too great a strain, diverting focus to some other more refreshing pursuit for a time allows the child to return later to the task with renewed vigor. For example, a child may on a particular day be finding his mathematics lesson to be frustrating. Rather than manipulating the child through extrinsic motivation (threats or bribes) to concentrate on his lesson, the wise teacher will allow him to take a break and come back with his will restrengthened . This gives a much preferable result, because the child has learned, with help, to use his will to master his desires. He has also mastered his mathematics lesson for its own sake, using his own strength. This triumph allows the student to find satisfaction in an accomplishment that would not have had otherwise.

Comments

Where does obedience and discipline fit into all o...

Where does obedience and discipline fit into all of this? While I like the idea of not just "bullying" your child through their education, I also know that we are not living in a "Caillou" world (sorry for the t.v. reference), where a child can and should be reasoned through everything. Teachers must be obeyed, right? There are consequences for disobedience, right?I'm confident that this all fits together somehow, so I'm just asking for you to expand and clarify things a bit. Thanks!

Mrs. C.<br><br>You have highlighted a very importa...

Mrs. C.You have highlighted a very important point, one that I should have included in the original post. When CM talks about the will, she actually does so in a rather value-neutral way. A person with a strong will is one who has mastered his passions, not necessarily one who has become virtuous. History is filled with examples of strong-willed men and women, some who are virtuous, others villainous. Virtuous use of the will comes under the heading of "I ought." In fact, the motto of the PNEU schools was: "I am, I can, I ought, I will." I will try to post more on this topic as I read further.