Some conjurers say that number three is the magic number, and some say number seven. It’s neither, my friend, neither. It’s number one … In a little community like ours, my dear, … we have a general number one; that is, you can’t consider yourself as number one without considering me too as the same, and all the other young people.
– Fagin in Oliver Twist
Welcome back! In the first instalment of this series I wrote about our family’s ongoing journey towards belonging. I looked at Charlotte Mason’s quote that states that we are persons of “many relationships, – to family, city, church, state, neighbouring states,” the world and the universe.
So far I’ve written about our relationship to the Father, ourselves, our family and community. Let us look at what it means to belong to a nation.
Living in a Shifting World
We are living in a world where migration is constantly on the rise. People are moving for a variety of reasons: employment, safety, drought, flooding, poverty, politics and war (Push and Pull factors of Migration). In my home country (and its diaspora) we have witnessed many lives that are fractured because of the displacement of families. Grandparents looking after their grandchildren, big brothers and sisters left to look after younger siblings; families that have gone to ‘greener pastures’ but find it difficult for their children to ‘fit in’ because of language, religious and cultural barriers; young people joining street gangs in search of a sense of belonging.
The list of casualties goes on and on.
And so it is for the wider picture in this world: there are many people who have had to leave their countries, some who no longer feel pride in their homeland. People who have been left with a sense of homelessness and lack of community.
What is the answer?
I’m not sure of the complete answer but I do believe that we can instil a sense of belonging in our children (and ourselves) when we follow the simple practices recommended in a Charlotte Mason Education. Learning what it means to have an intimate, abiding relationship with the Father; awareness that we are His sons and daughters and that we belong to a family, church and community.
What Does It Mean to Be a Good Citizen?
A good citizen must know about the laws of his country, the means of administration, how the constitution has developed; these things he must learn from a pretty wide reading of history — English, European, French, Ancient, — the stirring tales of services rendered to their several countries by great citizens throughout the ages. No boy reads “How Horatius kept the bridge in the brave days of old,” without secret resolves and dreamy eyes. (In Memoriam, p. 11)
In Charlotte Mason’s sixth volume she writes about the resources she used to teach citizenship. Hero tales, fables and biographies show the child the general life of community and examples of great citizens. Plutarch’s Lives give inspiration to preserve and increase the beauty of the child’s neighbourhood; to look carefully at the issues of statesmanship; judge the actions of leaders long gone; to put his country first and to know that he has it within himself to give to those around him. In reading Ourselves he learns to watch over his thoughts and have a sound mind and body so he can contribute to his city and those around him. All these resources are only part of the gentle teaching towards a sense of belonging.
Charlotte has a much broader understanding of citizenship than most currently do: she focuses on teaching the child self-management, virtues and duties that help him serve his city and country (see Volume 6 pp. 185-189).
In a tribute to Charlotte Mason, E. A. Parish wrote of the House of Education, Scale How:
We do not lack moral teaching. We learn the meaning of our duty towards our neighbour, we know that we owe it to the future to prepare a generation better than ourselves. All the time we are learning to know ourselves and this knowledge is important because it helps us to form relations with ourselves and without these we cannot hope to form proper relations with other people. We are taught to understand the power of habit. We are fitted for citizenship by being to a large degree, a self-governed community. We are encouraged by narration to exercise our powers of speaking. We are taught that duty is not optional. (In Memoriam, p. 202)
Duty to Our Neighbour!
This is a drastic shift in thinking to a culture that is focused on individualism and places personal needs above everything else. A culture in which entitlement is wreaking havoc on relationships, communities and nations.
Fagin had it right when he said we are all ‘number one’, and we must love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Unfortunately, his good words were a disguise to advance his own interests. His desire was to be considered the number one above all number ones. Some pigs are more equal than others.
One of the most important tasks of education is teaching students to distinguish between their rights and their duties. We each have our rights, and others have duties towards us, just like we have duties towards them. But it’s not easy to make someone understand that we have the same rights as everyone else and no more, and that others owe us only as much as we owe them. That principle is born within each of us, so it’s within us to understand it and adjust our perception. But it doesn’t come naturally — our eyes must be taught to see. And that’s where education comes in. If education isn’t teaching students to understand justice as it relates to others, then it’s useless. To think in a way that’s fair and just takes knowledge as well as reflection (see Volume 6, p. 60).
In her very thorough manner, Charlotte helps us understand justice as it relates to those around us.
Truth is ‘justice in speech’; integrity is ‘justice in action’; sound opinions are ‘justice in thought’ and sound principles are ‘justice in motive’ (Volume 6, pp. 60-62).
This is a far cry from a Let-it-Go society that shouts out that there is “no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.”
A Thinking Love Toward Our Brothers
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matthew 25:34-36)
In writing to the young person Charlotte writes,
[W]e are never too young or too much engaged with work or pleasure to escape the duty of understanding how other people live. What are their needs? What things will do them good, and what things will do them harm? It behoves us all to think about the housing of the poor, the drink question, the care of the sick, the best way of dealing with crimes and offences, the teaching of the ignorant, whether they be persons or nations.
[But] we content ourselves with a few subscriptions to certain public charities. In this matter, as in so many others, we err through the lack of an instructed conscience. It behoves each of us to lay ourselves out for instruction, to read, inquire, think, to look about us for a way of acting, believing
That Circumstance, a sacred oracle,
Speaks with the voice of God to faithful souls
and it is usually in our way, and not by going out of our way, that we shall find the particular piece of brotherly work appointed for us to do.
But we must keep our eyes open: the right thing is never obtrusive, and we may pass it by without observation. We must bear three things in mind. We must get a wide care and knowledge concerning the needs of men; we must devote ourselves, with understanding, to some particular effort for the needy; and, in all our endeavours, we must bear in mind our Master’s way: “What wouldst thou that I should do unto thee?” he asked of the blind beggar at the roadside. (Volume 4 pp. 104-106)
We are all required to give a considerate love to the needy amongst us and this includes a liberal education for all and not just for the rich elite. Charlotte believed this type of education, like justice, religion, liberty, fresh air, is the natural birthright of every child: her methods were used to teach children of mining communities and slums – we all belong.
Are there people of another ethnicity in your neighbourhood? Can you learn their culture and language?
It is the duty of the nation to maintain relations of brotherly kindness with other nations; therefore it is the duty of every family, as an integral part of the nation, to be able to hold brotherly speech with the families of other nations as opportunities arise; therefore to acquire the speech of neighbouring nations is not only to secure an inlet of knowledge and a means of culture, but is a duty of that higher morality (the morality of the family) which aims at universal brotherhood; therefore every family would do well to cultivate two languages besides the mother tongue, even in the nursery. (Volume 2 p. 7)
A universal brotherhood because we are family.
Rebuilding the Ancient Ruins: One Stone at a Time
Is not this the fast that I choose …
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
In reaching out to the people around us we are rebuilding nations, one person at a time.
We have a medieval city in the south-eastern hills of Zimbabwe called Great Zimbabwe. It is believed to have served as a royal palace for the local monarch. It has walls that are over five meters high which were constructed without mortar. The Shona word Zimbabwe is believed to be derived from ‘dzimba-dza-mabwe’, meaning ‘large houses of stone’, or ‘dzimba-hwe’ which means ‘venerated houses’. I picture each person from my nation as a living stone, uniquely formed to slide into a particular spot in a large house of stone; holding one another up without mortar and bound by our relationships to a house that gives glory to God.
This past week our nation held its elections. The last few months we have been asking ourselves some hard questions. Are we endeavouring to create an atmosphere that encourages authenticity to who we are, loyalty to those around us, a sacrifice that serves others, honesty that costs, trust and perseverance?
It is my prayer that we consider these things.
My space has run out and I was supposed to write about our relationship to the nature around us and the world at large. I guess I’ll have to write a third part to this series! Until then let’s remember Charlotte’s words to devote ourselves to some special effort for those that are in need and to always remember our Master’s desire that we feed the hungry, give water to those who are thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, and visit those who are sick or in prison.
We do it all for His Glory.