Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Truth Telling - A Delicate Part of a Child's Education - Karen Andreola

Truth Telling - A Delicate Part of a Child's Education
I was at my daughter Sophia's. She telephoned her husband. My grandson and I were close by. We couldn't help overhear something interesting Mom said to Dad. According to the neighborhood's online community group, two bear cubs were sighted in the vicinity. "That means a mother bear is somewhere nearby, too," Mom said.

I could tell my daughter secretly didn't like the idea of bears rummaging around. I didn't either. But to my 7-year-old grandson this news was exciting. Although the family are suburbanites the house feels like "country." It is backed by woods and borders an expansive Christmas tree farm. A large wooded park is not far away. "Let's keep a watch out for the bears today," my daughter said to me, "and stay close to the house."

My grandson jumped up to the picture window. "I see them! Back there in the trees! The baby bears!" he said.

I got up to have a look."Where?" I said, being mindful to not sound as pessimistic as I felt. I stood beside him at the window. "I don't see them," I said. My grandson was quiet. "You'd like to see them, wouldn't you? The truth is: they're not there," I had to add. This was spoken gently. The subject was closed. We turned our attentions elsewhere. Yet this was not the first time that during her stay, Grandma heard her grandson tell a lie. 

Saturday came and I was leaving. My son-in-law was loading my bags into the back of the van. Meanwhile, I was in the dinning room with my daughter's copy of Home Education in my hand, leafing through it. I was bookmarking some pages for her and leaving the book in a conspicuous place: on top of the buffet.

"What's this?" my daughter exclaimed.

Closing the book and giving it a friendly pat I said, "Oh, just a few helpful words. You might want to read them later."

"Mom. You don't have to beat around the bush with me. What's up?"

"Okay," I said, picking up my purse and turning to go. "I found a page on truth-telling. It's good to understand the different reasons why a child lies, not to be horrified by it and to know how to remedy it. Charlotte Mason's advice reflects a deep sympathy for children. At the same time she stands on high moral ground. I think it will put things in perspective for you."

To my own ears I sounded like a magazine article so I must have to hers. She smiled at her bookish mother. But heavy with unborn baby, and with the stress and anxiety of its complications, I thought she looked weary. I put her on the spot - but tenderly. "Will you read it?" I said. After all, she did ask for it. And I knew it would help - along with her usual method of searching online, with a finger on the tiny screen of the phone she carried around with her. 

"The training of the child in the habit of strict veracity is . . . one that requires delicate care and scrupulosity." *1  

More Tall Tales

The following week she telephoned me. Evidently, while the whole family were in the van, Dad said, as they were about to cross a railroad track, "Look, a train engine is parked on the line."

The seven-year-old loves trains, has an elaborate track set up on his bedroom floor, and is well-versed in Thomas Tank Engine. One glance down the track and he said excitedly, "The coal car's spilled over. The men are shoveling the coal back in the car."

Dad let him down easy. "I don't think so Bud."

Upon hearing this scenario I asked, "Did you read your Charlotte Mason?"

My grandson's cat is funny enough 
"Yes," she said. "And in the car I made my first attempt at correction. She told her son, "You have a wonderful imagination and that's a good - but - we must tell what we see - and nothing more. That's the way we tell the truth."

During the drive home she took advantage of an opportune moment and gave her boys a narration (from memory) of Aesop's fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf," because it demonstrates the importance of honesty. The boys were unusually quiet. They listened intently. (Sophia was a dramatic narrator during our home school years. Therefore, I imagine she told the fable with suspense.)

My grandson continues to inflate the truth (boys like to blow things up bigger) adding immediately afterwards, "Just joking."

"Just joking" is a step in the right direction.
He still needs to learn that "it is possible to be humorous without any sacrifice of truth." *2

One of 6 Causes of Lying

Miss Mason's book, Parents and Children has a larger supply of paragraphs on the duty of truthfulness than Home Education. In it she talks about what she gleaned from an article by an American, Professor Stanley Hall, published in 1891, She must have found his six causes of lying to be enlightening and immensely practical. 

She says:

"Lying arises from secondary causes. . . It is no longer a case of - the child has lied, punish him; but where is the weak place of his character."*3

I found that Cause 5 - "Deceptions of Imagination and Play" particularly suited to my grandson's needs.

A Child's Gesture to Make Life More Interesting

Nothing less than a close observation, and a sympathetic understanding of children could have guided Charlotte Mason's words here:

Let us believe of the children that 'trailing clouds of glory do they come' from the place where all things are possible, where any delightful thing may happen. Let us believe that our miserable limitations of time and space and the laws of matter irk them inconceivably, imprison the free soul as a wild bird in a cage. If we refuse to give the child outlets into the realms of fancy, where everything is possible, the delicate Ariel of his imagination will still work within our narrow limits upon our poor tasks, and every bit of our narrow living is played over with a thousand variations, apt to be more vivid and interesting than the poor facts, and, therefore, more likely to remain with the child as the facts which he will produce when required to speak the truth. *4 

What is the Cure?

The tendency might be to believe that these fanciful children live in a world of too much fiction. And therefore, it would be best to restrict them. Yet, Miss Mason recommends the opposite. Broaden their knowledge with facts, yes. But do not bar them from make-believe, day-dreaming and adventure. Why?

Free Entrance to the Land of Make-believe

How beautifully sensitive I find Miss Mason's discernment to be here:

Give the child free entrance into, abundant joyous living in, the kingdom of make-believe. Let him people every glen with fairies, every island with Crusoes. . . . Let us be glad and rejoice that all things are possible to the children, recognizing . . . their fitness to . . . believe . . . as alas! we cannot do, the things of the kingdom of God. The age of faith is a sowing time, . . .  designed in the Divine scheme of things, especially that parents may make their children at home in the things of the Spirit before contact with the world shall have materialized them.*5 

Narrating Exact Truthfulness

. . . [T]he more imaginative the child, the more essential is it that the boundaries of the kingdom of make believe should be clearly defined, and exact truthfulness insisted upon in all that concerns the narrower world where the grown-ups live. . . . Daily lessons in exact statement without any righteous indignation about misstatements, but warm, loving encouragement to the child who gives a long message quite accurately, who tells you just what Miss Brown said and no more, just what happened at Harry's party without any garnish. Every day affords scope for a dozen little lessons at least, and gradually, the more sever beauty of truth will dawn upon the child whose soul is already possessed by the grace of fiction. *6
Yolanda 1987, New Jersey

In A Charlotte Mason Companion I mention how I needed to provide my little girls the practice of informal narrating, to tell exactly what they observed (outdoors) and nothing more. I mention "girls" plural (on page 137) but I remember it was little-sister Yolanda (age 4-5) who especially could use some truth-telling practice.

Her chance-experience of watching a hungry squirrel (that we had fed with our cookies) run up a tree with a gingerbread man in its mouth helped teach her that truth can be interesting all on its own - and something to smile about.

"You can tell Daddy about it when he gets home," was the invitation I gave to her older sister Sophia. But it was little-sister Yolanda who would benefit,  too.

End Notes
*1  Charlotte Mason, Home Education, page 164
*2  Ibid, pg 166
*3  Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, page 207
*4  Ibid, pg 210
*5 & *6  Ibid, pg 211

Paintings: Morning in a Pine Wood by Ivan Ivandvich Shishkin, Hide & Seek by Fredrick Eduard Meyerheim, Red Riding Hood and Day Dreaming by Joseph Guy Seymour.

Dean helps tidy up and size all the images for my posts. This time I couldn't resist adding another photograph of Yolanda - one from her wedding day. She hold lilacs in her bouquet. Our children are really with us for such a short time.
Yolanda 2007, Pennsylvania
Post Script
Could your student use practice in narrating exact truthfulness?

I know my readers are gathering ideas. Mindful of this, I prepared this post with chunky quotes, to point out an aspect of character training. I'd like to think that, in some way, this blog is a helpful shoulder to lean on. The desire to disciple our children is what gives many of us the greatest courage to home teach. For further reading see Chapter 16 of A Charlotte Mason Companion, Chapter 19 of Parents and Children. Also "Mrs. Sedley's Tale" page 77 of Formation of Character. 

I wish you steadfastness in love and duty, with rest and Mother Culture mingled in.

'Til We Meet Again.

Opinions are Invited,
Karen Andreola


  1. Dear Karen, what a timely post! My 3 yo has some interesting "tales" lately and I've been praying for wisdom on how to work with her on this. :) Thank you.

  2. Hello Karen,
    Do you think we should also separate the "tall tale" from the lie intended to hurt another person? It seems to me that in the case of your grandson, he was hungry for a little excitement. :-) But then there are the lies told to hurt someone's reputation or get them in trouble--- "bearing false witness against thy neighbor." I do love the way Miss Mason goes straight to the "why" instead of getting hung up on the "what." Yes---"Just joking" is a good start, and one used by many elderly gentlemen I know who are still boys at heart when it comes to exaggerating. :-)

  3. Thank you for this post! My almost 3 year old has been lying about all sorts of things lately. He almost always cries when I talk to him about it. Another child can really exaggerate and we're working on telling only the truth of the story. I love your squirrel and the gingerbread man example! God bless!

  4. Thank you! I will look these up! I have a son who struggles with lying. It has been a weak spot in his life for a few years now and as he is getting older.... I fear it will become his habit if soon not snipped. :/ wendy

  5. A delicate part, yes...and an important part as well! Blessed is the child who has a wise grandmother and a diligent mother and father who gently lead him into truth and good choices!

    I remember asking my mother to "please tell 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' story again!" It made an impression on my young mind and I have told it to all of my own children too.

  6. I can honestly say that I have lived in my own little fairy land my whole life. Mother was great about allowing my creativity while reminding me to speak the truth and knowing what is real and not.

    PS you have an email forthcoming, I promise.

  7. We are struggling with a child who wants to take credit for others' good deeds. We try to grant the child's wish in fantasy by saying things like, "Oh, yes, wouldn't that have been a wonderful thing to do? What can you think of to do yourself?" Character training is a long and arduous process.

    I love the dignity Charlotte Mason was so careful to bestow on children.


  8. Interesting post. I love the pictures that accompanied the article. Yolanda looks beautiful in her wedding outfit.

  9. Karen, we, too, have a child who has been prone to overuse his imagination. "...where is the weak place in his character" has given me much food for thought. Thank you for sharing a part of your family with us. It is comforting to know others share the same struggles.
    I hope this finds you feeling well and enjoying your summer. We are very hot at this time, but thankful for a recent rain. Have a lovely weekend.