Truth Telling

Truth Telling

Grandma was visiting. (I’m Grandma.) I was staying at my daughter Sophia’s house. One misty morning she telephoned her husband when he was at work. My grandson and I couldn’t help overhearing. According to the neighborhood’s online community, two bear cubs were sighted in the vicinity. “That means a mother bear is somewhere nearby, too,” Mom said.

I knew my daughter secretly didn’t like the idea of bears rummaging around. Neither did I. We had planned to be out back with the children and this news made us nervous. But to my seven-year-old grandson the news was exciting. Although the family lived in the suburbs, their place felt like country. It was backed by woods and an expansive Christmas tree farm. “Let’s keep a watch out for the bears today,” my daughter said, “and stay close to the house.”

A moment later, my grandson jumped up to the picture window. “I see them! In the trees! The baby bears!” he said. His brown eyes sparkled, and he wore one of those round-faced expressions that touch a grandmother’s heart. But I sobered. I got up to have a look.

“Where?” I said, in a way that managed to hide my pessimism nicely. We stood at the window shoulder-to-shoulder. “I don’t see them,” I said. My grandson was quiet. I put a hand on his arm and said gently, “You’d like to see them, wouldn’t you? The truth is: they’re not there.” The subject was closed. We turned our attentions elsewhere. Yet this was not the first time during my stay that 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 dining room with my daughter’s copy of Charlotte Mason’s 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.”

“Mom. You don’t have to beat around the bush with me. What’s up?”

“Well,” I said, picking up my purse, ready to give my goodbyes. “I found a page on truth-telling. It would be good to understand the reasons why children lie and 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. She smiled. Yet behind the smile I thought she looked weary. She was heavy with unborn baby and with the daily anxiety and discomfort of pregnancy complications. On top of this, her two boys were energetic tumblers. The patient part of motherhood, I remembered, is that problems do not get solved overnight. Miss Mason says, “the training of the child in the habit of strict veracity is … one which requires delicate care and scrupulosity.”[1] I knew opening the book would help Sophia. It would be a boon to her usual method of searching for topics on the tiny screen of the phone she carried around with her.

Less than a week later, Sophia telephoned me. Evidently, while the whole family was in the van, Dad had said, slowly crossing a railroad track, “Look, a train engine is parked on the line.”

The seven-year-old loved trains, had a toy track set up in his bedroom, and was well versed in Thomas the 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 said, “Did you read your Charlotte Mason?”

“Yup,” 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 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. She gave him, and his younger brother, a narration from memory of Aesop’s fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” because this tale demonstrates the importance of honesty. The boys were unusually quiet. They listened intently. Back when she was a homeschool student, Sophia loved stories and was a dramatic narrator. Therefore, I imagine she told the little tale with colorful description and suspense.

For some time, my grandson continued to inflate the truth (some boys like to blow things up bigger) adding immediately afterwards, “Just joking.” “Just joking” was a step in the right direction. He is still learning that “it is possible … to be humorous without any sacrifice of truth.”[2]

Causes of Lying

In Parents and Children, Miss Mason has further things to say on the duty of truthfulness. Here 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 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 in his character”?[3] I found 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 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 entirely. Yet, Miss Mason recommends the opposite. Broaden their knowledge with facts, yes. But do not bar them from make-believe, daydreaming, 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 materialised them.[5]

Narrating Exact Truthfulness

She says:

… [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. … [d]aily 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 severe beauty of truth will dawn upon the child whose soul is already possessed by the grace of fiction.[6]

I remember welcoming my children’s informal narrating. When I listened, I listened with the expectation of hearing accurate tellings. It was Little Sister who especially needed truth-telling practice. She was a fanciful child. One day, she had a chance experience of watching a hungry squirrel that we had fed with some Christmas cookies run up a tree with a gingerbread man in its mouth. The squirrel settled on a branch to nibble its treat while its audience giggled at the window. It was this episode that helped teach Little Sister that truth can be interesting. “You can tell Daddy about the poor ‘you-can’t-catch-me’ gingerbread man when Daddy gets home,” I suggested.

Happy truth-telling.

For further reading: Chapter 19 of Parents and Children as well as “Mrs. Sedley’s Tale” (p. 77) of Formation of Character.

Karen Andreola is the author of A Charlotte Mason Companion, one of the most trusted and referenced books in the home school world. She also authored A Pocketful of Pinecones and Lessons at Blackberry Inn. She and her husband Dean were instrumental in bringing Charlotte Mason’s six volumes back into print in the 1980’s. Karen’s latest book, Mother Culture – For a Happy Homeschool, is available now from Simply Charlotte Mason.

Copyright 2020, Karen Andreola.

[1] Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 164.
[2] Ibid, p. 166.
[3] Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, p. 207.
[4] Ibid, p. 210-211.
[5] Ibid, p. 211.
[6] Ibid.

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