To Like and Dislike What We Ought

The aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.

Aristotle

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

Part III of Series….

Educating children must highly prioritize the teaching of virtue; guiding children to “like and dislike what they ought.”  Plato made the same point (as Aristotle’s quote above) with his thoughts “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.

This does not naturally just occur.

We have to purposefully and consistently teach our children to “order their loves.”  Otherwise the culture (which is accessible to them at all times) will prioritize their desires for them.  Something will command their attention and affections whether it is ambition or a love for leisure, possessions or recognition. And what they are passionate about will define them over time.

We simply cannot NOT love.  We were not created to be void of sentiments.

My six-year-old grandson Joey is obvious about what he loves.  At the top of his current priorities is his desire to be the “commander in chief” and he employs all sorts of tactics, often at the expense of others, to accomplish this. NO rule or consequence is as significant to him as striving to get what he wants manipulating and pressuring others to comply with his demands. 

He wants what he wants when he wants it!

Josiah and Kate

Kate, his four-year-old sister, is a more of a natural born people pleaser. She also wants what she wants and high on her list of “likes” is approval from others. To get this, she figures out what others want her to say or do and then goes about trying to accomplish it.  Yet behind closed doors, Kate’s heart can be as defiant as Joey’s but in a less showy fashion. Both can be crafty and sneaky. Both can be self serving.

Their path to purity will be dictated by what they choose to like and dislike.

What kind of an adult leader will Joey be if he does not learn to rightly order what he is passionate about?   What does an adult leader look like who insists on always getting his way, who has honed the art of coercion and manipulation?  And what about Kate? What kind of an adult woman will she become if approval and recognition from others is something she strives for at any cost?

Rules and limits, although important for training, aren’t going to purify Joey’s heart. He may comply, especially when consequences for not doing negate getting what he wants, but they serve merely  as external controls and do little to order his passions.  Because Kate likes to be the “good girl” she is relatively easy to parent.  Or so it seems!  But pleasing others can easily stand in the way of gaining a virtuous heart because she may actually struggle to comprehend her need of a Savior.

While different in nature, both Joey and Kate must learn the same ideal; that obeying those in authority is good and right and pleasing to God- and pleasing God is something worthy to love!   Joey needs to mature to where he consistently chooses to obey without external controls and Kate needs to learn the importance of obedience for the right reason and not merely to gain approval.  They are both on the path to getting there!

Both Joey’s and Kate’s actions are often still pulled out of what they want however. (Isn’t this often the case with adults as well?)  While they likely know what’s right, wanting still tends to win over knowing.  This is because their actions still want to bubble out of desires. Thus their education and training must not merely be informative but also formative in nature.  Before they reach adolescence, – “the age for reflective thought” –  they need to be “thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ ” (Aristotle) so that they will readily make the right choices during the age when choices can hold major consequences for their lives.

APPLICATION

When your preschool age child or older behaves foolishly or defiantly, learn to not react immediately.  Reacting to children rarely brings about positive change.  Instead, send them first to a designated spot where they can think and pray until their hearts are repentant, open to correction and willing to allow the gracious love of Jesus to change them. I guarantee that you will know when their hearts are moldable and they are sincerely repentant. Be patient. For some, it will only take a few minutes;  others will stubbornly hold out for a time. It’s in the waiting that the learning through thinking takes place. Nothing good comes out of emotional reactions, especially before their sentiments are ordered.  (Even when you are away from home, you can put off reacting by calmly telling them that as soon as you arrive back home, they will need to go to the designated place.)  Patiently teach them priorities which will take root through thoughtful reflection as well as trial & error.

The most influential teacher is the example you set by how you conduct your own life. Learn to respond and not to react. Let Jesus change you slowly as well so that your own heart is ordered by His priorities and your actions show that you love what He loves.

1 Comment

  1. This is such GREAT wisdom. Thank you, Ellen. We so often seek a method to teach our children right and wrong instead of trusting that patient love and prayer will make space for God to draw them to Himself. I recently felt hopelessness setting in when we faced the exact same character flaw in one of our young children AGAIN. Then I realized that if they never face their weakness they will never see their need for grace. That thought continues to take the pressure off of my “mommy skills” and pushes me to give them grace and boundaries together.

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