Ordo amoris in real life: making kids care

posted in: homeschooling 6

The math page looms.

“But I don’t want to,” the child moans.

The book awaits.

“But I don’t like it,” the child whines.

Maybe you start off homeschooling with grand visions and high hopes. Maybe you change your approach and your style and think that will fix the bad days and the bad attitudes.

It turns out that even in spite of best laid plans, principles, and practices, we’re teaching real children.

They don’t always like what they should. They don’t always want the true, good, and beautiful. Sometimes (oftentimes) they even complain.

What’s a homeschool mom to do?

Maybe you spot it in the sloppy work, or the sighs and slouching. Often the children are not reluctant to voice their opposition: They don’t like the book. They hate fractions. They don’t want to write an a that way.

And then you come upon those “inspiring” quotes at the end of a bad day:

The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? – Charlotte Mason

And you know you’re in trouble, because your child is certain he doesn’t care, not one bit.

In fact, maybe just that morning he muttered or even exclaimed, “I hate nature walks!” True story. It happens.

Have I failed? 

Is it time to give up?

No, not yet.

I haven’t failed. I just know what my task is now.

As both the mother and the teacher, it is our job to make our kids care.

Our job isn’t to help them pass tests or memorize facts or check boxes.

Our job is to make them care.

C.S. Lewis, Augustine, and Aristotle tell us it is so:

St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.

It’s our aim. It’s our job, not a byproduct we hope for, but what we’re trying to do.

And it’s oh so much harder than checking boxes, isn’t it?

C.S. Lewis goes on to say:

The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. 

Ordo amoris sounds manipulative. How can we control their emotional response to their work? If that’s our job, how do we go about it?

Our usual mode of response is typically all backward.

If they’re supposed to care, we tailor their schoolwork to be what they already care about, what they already enjoy.

That’s not training. That’s not ordo amoris.

How can we make him love what he says he hates? How do we get her to care? Ordo amoris.

Our job is not to make their school days pleasant at all costs. Our job is to ensure, at the end of their education, they love and care for the right things, that they admire what is admirable and find pleasure in what is truly pleasant.

If left to themselves to menu plan, a child would likely consume 10x the amount of sugar he should. It is the same with time and interests. That’s why they need ordo amoris.

Our job isn’t to make sure he gets the nutrients vegetables provide, although those are important. Our job is to educate his tastes, to teach him to enjoy vegetables, because they are objectively good food, whether he currently likes them or not.

After all, someday he will feed himself. Rather than forcing him to eat vegetables in order to get a dessert (where the dessert is all that is loved by all), so that when he is older he simply bypasses the veggies and goes straight for the dessert, we train his palate and stomach to want real, whole food and to moderate sweets.

We look not at what he likes right now, but at what he should like, and we help him take the next step from where he is to where he should be.

It’s the same with education of all sorts – of the mind, of the stomach, of the body.

Those baby steps starting from where he is might not be enjoyable, pleasant, or full of interest and care. But after his tastes and habits have been trained with careful, persistent, consistent attention, he will reap a bountiful harvest.

That he thinks math is interesting and not a necessary evil is our goal, but not our barometer. That he notices the world around him and finds it interesting is our goal, therefore we do not let him choose whether or not to make a nature journal entry today.

In fact, if we let him choose whether or not he does something based on today’s feelings, we are dooming him to shallow interests and a lifelong struggle with apathy – his education will not have taught him how to discipline his feelings and his responses to do what is good and right and true rather than what he wants to do in the moment.

What is good and true and beautiful and worthy takes time and attention and time and affection and time to appreciate.

Unless we hold that line and insist upon the right course, our children will not develop the taste or the interest. They will not learn to care.

Cease endlessly striving for what you would like to do and learn to love what must be done. – Goethe

Just as we must learn to love what must be done, so do our children.

Ordo amoris takes work.

Just as we must cease striving after what we are naturally inclined to do, so we help our children do the same. The goal is not to develop an iron will that continually grits its teeth and eats gravel. Rather, we give up our momentary, selfish desires and practice a godly desire by doing it, so that – eventually – we find the desire for the good and right and beautiful springs up of its own accord. That’s the fruit of cultivation.

It’s our job as parents to give our children that practice.

We give them that practice by practicing it ourselves. We might not want to hold the line, to be consistent, to ensure the work is done and done well, but we do it – like they will do it – because it is the right thing to do.

Don’t let your child’s frustrations, bad attitudes, or complaints rule the school day. Hold on until they are overcome. That’s our goal.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11

If your child – or yourself – needs discipline, that’s not failure, it’s just want needs to be done today.

Let’s do it.

6 Responses

  1. Kelly
    | Reply

    Spot on, as usual Mystie! Now, to implement. For my children and myself:).

  2. Stephani
    | Reply

    Wow. I loved this. You articulated this concept perfectly. Thank you.

  3. Ann-Marie
    | Reply

    Wow, Mystie! This is so timely for me. I have a teenager and just about teen that don’t so much love much of what I try to put in front of them these days….whether it is school work, food or work in general. There is lots of attitude, eye rolling and the like going on here lately. I spend time trying to model what should be done and trying to enjoy it and make the best of things that I do not necessarily love and we’ve had many talks about perseverance as well. I know in my heart that ordering these loves takes much time and that there will be fruit, but, when you are in the trenches it can be pretty tough going some days (or even seasons). Some days are good and some you feel so beaten and worn and just wonder why you are doing this. Fortunately, as I pray my way through the day it tends to cover much shortcomings on all of our parts. Always love that Goethe quote. I think I will have to print that up and place it around the home! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts :)

  4. Lauren
    | Reply

    Wonderfully helpful article. My kids are still young and still pretty excited about things in general, but this is good encouragement for me to stay the course even when the pouting comes (whether from them or from me). Thank you!

  5. Nicole
    | Reply

    I really needed to hear this today, thank you for putting it into words for me. I have that Goethe quote copied out on my fridge as a reminder to myself, now when I look at it I will remember that we are in it for the long haul. Through the grace of God we will see it in our children. Eventually.

  6. Trish Campana
    | Reply

    I’ve so needed to hear this! Best lines for me:

    “In fact, if we let him choose whether or not he does something based on today’s feelings, we are dooming him to shallow interests and a lifelong struggle with apathy — his education will not have taught him how to discipline his feelings and his responses to do what is good and right and true rather than what he wants to do in the moment.”

    “Don’t let your childn’s frustrations, bad attitudes, or complaints rule the school day. Hold on until they are overcome. That’s our goal.”

    So good. Thanks, Mystie. I think I need to commonplace the entire article. Seriously. I will!

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