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Taking pains to educate – Seneca on parenting

Let’s dig back into our reading of The Great Tradition: Classical Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being! This book is a collection of the writings about education from Plato to the modern era, the writings that have informed the development of western civilization and classical education.

Most Wednesdays here in 2016 (and at the rate I’m going, through 2017!) I will be sharing a quote and a musing. I’d love to get some discussion going about what it means to be carrying on this tradition.

CH072: Teaching is Hard & Worth It: Seneca on Education

Today’s quote is from Seneca, a Roman statesman who lived as a contemporary of Jesus and Nero. He wrote several influential treatises, some of which included considerations about education.

Education isn’t an easy gig.

Guidance [of children], however, is difficult, because we ought to take pains neither to develop in them anger nor to blunt their native spirit.

Seneca here warns us of two opposing dangers, two ditches on either side of our right path: either building resentment and anger in our children (how he says this happens might surprise you) or by stifling and smashing their personalities and energy.

We each probably tend toward one or the other side, but sometimes we even careen back and forth in attempts to be balanced.

I agree. We ought to take pains.

What does this mean for us?

We need to be taking pains.

Bringing up our children isn’t an easy task. It requires attention, intention, and a willingness to change and to sacrifice.

The matter requires careful watching…like things easily deceive even a close observer.

How often do we stop and really take note of the dynamic happening in our homes?

Homeschool moms need to hold the line.

There is nothing that makes the child hot-tempered so much as a soft & coddling bringing up.

When we molly-coddle and act as handmaid or nursemaid to our kids, they never learn how to handle the buffets of life and curb their bursts of passion. Of course we treat babies that way, but we need to let our kids grow up and experience hard work, consequences, and problems without rescuing them.

He should be subjected to nothing that is humiliating, nothing that is servile; it should never be necessary for him to beg submissively.

On the other hand, we are not to beat down our children, either. They should be responsible and able to submit to authority, but also to be an authority themselves, which they will not be if they are subservient.

Homeschool moms need to allow freedom.

If [his spirit] is commended and is led to expect good things of itself, it mounts up, but these same measures breed insolence and temper; therefore we must guide the child between the two extremes.

Bottom line: We’re going to have to always be paying attention. Hard truth. It’s our job. We can do it.

I’d love for you to share either another implication you draw from this quote or your thoughts on my own musings.

There is nothing that makes the child hot-tempered so much as a soft & coddling bringing up.
Learning what classical education really means from primary sources.

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  1. This reminds me of so much that I have been reading about in CM’s School Education about exercising authority but respecting the child’s personality. Just one quote of many I could cite, from pg. 17: “Authority is alert; she knows all that is going on and is aware of tendencies. She fulfils the apostolic precept – “He that ruleth (let him do it), with diligence.” But she is strong enough to fulfil that other precept also, “He that showeth mercy (let him do it), with cheerfulness”; timely clemency, timely yielding, is a great secret of strong government.” Easier said than done, for sure – I need to pray for wisdom!

  2. This reminds me of Cindy Rollins. She used to talk about being impervious. She meant that your sons will make great arguments but that doesn’t mean that you give in to them – be a wall. She is not a coddler! Not provoking your children to anger is also clearly in Scripture. I think that sometimes we don’t realize how being “gentle and helpful” can lead to anger in kids (maybe especially boys). Good food for thought.

  3. I agree with the soft & coddling bit – especially with boys, as Missy said. It also tends to make the children miserable companions; running off and complaining about others when things don’t go their way.

  4. “To take pains…”, meaning, the pain is ours to take. How often we think they(the children) need to take pains : to do their chores well, to monitor their attitudes, to be kind to each other, to walk with integrity, etc. How will they learn to do these things if the mother cannot display painstaking care in doing those things herself, and then lovingly requiring of them what she expects of herself. Mothers must indeed be stalwart for such a task as ours! Thank you. This book is on my reading list for 2017.

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