Plants of Renown

This photo was snapped by Marit last summer. The blue dazzles me every time I look at it.  You can see the morning glory clear enough, but did you notice the honeysuckle behind it or the canna lilies starting on the ground?  In some ways my children are  like plants and plant metaphors sound mighty fine about now as the Minnesota landscape is all white and ice. But the plant-as-metaphor-for-children is a bit tired.  In my reading this past week, I've been considering a fresh view on this topic.

The late Indian scientist, Jagadish Chandra Bose (a real Renaissance Man, I might add), was a pioneer and expert in many fields, from archeology to science fiction. He had this to say about plants:

"A plant carefully protected under glass from outside shocks looks sleek and flourishing but its higher nervous function is then found to be atrophied. But when a succession of "blows" (electric shocks) is rained on this effete and bloated specimen, the shocks themselves create nervous channels and arouse anew the deteriorated nature. Is it not the shocks of adversity and not cotton wool protection that evolve true manhood?"

Charlotte Mason, in her assertion that "Education is an Atmosphere", takes this quote from Bose to make an argument against artificial and overly protected environments in the raising and education of our children.  She warns against the "...hot house atmosphere, fragrant but emasculating, in which children grow apace but are feeble and dependent." Vol. 6 p.99

I suppose this could mean everything from having only child-size furniture and tools to making sure you only have certain classical sculptures and masterpieces for decoration.  But it could also mean teachers or parents who aren't sincere or who sugar-coat and shield excessively.  Truth and sincerity should be paramount in any school.  Here is a favorite quote on what a school atmosphere should be:

"What if parents and teachers in their zeal misread the schedule of their duties, magnified their office unduly and encroached upon the personality of children? It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us. It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense. We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby's needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges." Vol. 6, p. 96
Isn't that refreshing?  Freeing, even?  Interestingly enough, she chastises both home and classroom situations in their violations of this principle. Here's the goal:

"we may not keep them in glass cases; if we do, they develop in succulence and softness and will not become plants of renown."  Vol. 6 p. 97

Plants of renown, stemming from the proper atmosphere - a hopeful thought for our children on this cold winter's day.


  1. I wonder if most modern families fault on the side of having about them "artificial relations carefully constructed"? Do they even take their calling seriously enough to look about and see that the atmosphere is not edifying?

    Could it be that these days, we are accustomed to the opposite end of the spectrum? The young parents I encounter haven't yet grown up. They reach in, not outward to their families. It is the acceptable way. Parents absorbed with their own pursuits, enriching their own personalities, enraptured in technology; alone. The children are left by the wayside. Families together, yet disconnected.

    I suppose it depends upon the circle of people we relate to. As a midwife and veteran homeschool mom, I tend to draw the younger moms.

    Just food for thought.

  2. "Families together, yet disconnected."
    Interesting observations about some families, Pam. You're right, much food for thought.

  3. Just to say that I agree with Charlotte against having a contrived atmosphere. Yet, I embrace what Edith Shaffer promotes in her Hidden Art of Homemaking; which is in essence the cultivating of the home atmosphere in it's simplest forms. Making our homes not fake, but sincere; as you stated. May the everyday home life be worthy, and sacred...and effortlessly radiate out. That is my prayer.

  4. Sorry to say that most families I know do not understand the value of what CM shared in the quote. It seems as if all the time we are bombarded with more artificial surroundings. I treasure our outdoor time and guard it as one way we spend time getting to know our Creator.

    Thanks for sharing this post with the CM Blog Carnival.

    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  5. Hi Nancy,
    Like Barb, I appreciated you sharing this thought-provoking post with us at the CM blog carnival! I hope to visit your blog again soon!


  6. Hey there,
    I'm so glad I found you... I got your link from the cm email list. I can't wait to read more from your blog, I have a feeling I can learn a lot! I just posted my pictures from our Nature Walk just a day or two ago... I have one that's similar to yours :)

    You're more than welcome to come and visit me anytime at:

    amy in peru

  7. I love this topic! And can wholeheartedly agree with the tend toward the superficial in our culture today. But as Ms. Mason restates: the is nothing new under the sun. Thoughtful parents have strained against the popular current in all ways and always.

    Although I'm truly horrible at pretense, making me at times socially awkward but entirely and happily able to "keep it real" at home, I'm truly challenged to more deliberately shape the atmosphere of my home in other ways, having brushed against the wisdom of this multitude of keen women. Thank you.

  8. Ahem: "There is nothing new under the sun." ;D

  9. Thanks Nancy. I love the quote about the plants too. It's the same in our spiritual life isn't it - we need to go through the trials and hard times in life to be drawn closer to God and these things will strengthen our faith.

  10. Charlotte is always so thought-provoking, as are the things we can learn from the creation. I guess it's about balance once again, isn't it? Charlotte herself did believe in structuring the atmosphere purposefully and exposing only to quality literature, etc. It could be argued that this is also "artificial" since it is not what will be encountered in much of "real life" outside the home and educational atmosphere. However, the point stands that overly sheltered plants do not do well, and even those seedlings which benefit from being sheltered early on (b/c the natural atmosphere is not conducive to their growth at the time when they are young and fragile) benefit from a period of "hardening off" through gradual exposure before being put into the ground. I like the idea of making sure our atmosphere is sincere, and also grounded in truth. That is the only REAL atmosphere to strive for anyway, isn't it? Everything else in this world is passing away.

  11. Imagine what CM would have to say about the hothouse approach of child raising today!!

  12. Nancy, thanks a lot for this reflection. Before I forget, I love your children smiles in that picture.
    CM never ceases to amaze me. How could she know so much about all these important issues?
    Your post made me "consider" our own atmosphere. Thanks for that.
    Pam, I did not know you were a midwife too... Like Nancy, I kept thinking about your statement of families together yet disconnected.
    Just yesterday I wrote in the blog in Sp. about where the children are. I don´t know about you, but they are hardly outdoors anymore, and when home, they are driven from activity to activity, with little chance to explore who they really are in real relationships with others around, but more as artificially programmed robots, with little or no chance to "mess up" and grow, or to test and fortify good habits.
    Like Laura, I am benefiting from all of your contributions to this topic.

  13. Nancy, it's fun to see my old comment on here! I remember the day I found your blog, I was so excited :) ...and I'm SO glad I did!

    So, now to actually comment on this post, hahahah!

    I LOVE that quote. The natural home atmosphere without doctoring it up, sweet easy relationships, etc. For what do we strive, to the neglect of what can come so naturally?

    In our situation, we certainly do not think we over nurture. We may actually need to protect/shelter more than your average American homeschool family. But then again, it is such a delicate balance. My kids are exposed to 'real' life, as it were, too often a little more raw than I feel comfortable with. I have to concentrate on providing more of a sense of stability and regularity, and I'm afraid I fail often. It is easy to get up on one side of the horse only to fall off the other... it is important to prayerfully maintain balance, working inside the set of circumstances God has placed us in; a great responsibility.

    Thanks for these thoughts...

    amy in peru