In a letter to his father, the young C.S. Lewis wrote,
I wonder is there some influence abroad now-a-days that prevents the growth of rich, strongly marked personal peculiarities. Are any of our contemporaries “characters” as Queen Victoria or Dizzy or Carlyle were “characters”?
(February 25, 1928)
He goes on to conjecture that perhaps there really is no such influence and that the feeling that "characters" are dying out is an illusion.
I would say, however, that what Lewis wrote about in 1928 is a reality in our own time. In fact, it isn't even difficult to name some of the "influences abroad" that "prevent the growth of rich, strongly marked personal peculiarities." For one thing, our society punishes rather than valuing strongly marked personal peculiarities. This begins in school, where it is (understandably enough) easier to teach children en masse if the class contains no "characters." Ritalin is one solution to what would otherwise be the problem of "characters."
Eccentricity can, it's true, cause pain to the eccentric person and difficulties in coping with life, and I certainly do not mean to downplay that, but there is something just a tad perverse about our society's present inclination to regard all eccentricities as symptoms of a medical condition, a "syndrome" or "disorder" of some kind. How many people now diagnosable as "having" Asperger's Syndrome or ADHD would, a hundred or even fifty years ago, simply have been thought to contribute to the interesting stock of different human personality types?
Aside from those perhaps rather knotty questions we should consider the standardizing ideological effect of public school education. College tends to continue the standardizing process. Young people certainly don't learn to think outside of the box. I heard of one young woman in a college class recently, challenged about her facile, sweeping cultural relativism, who replied, "Well, I'm an Anthropology major, so that's what I've been taught." Well, try thinking for yourself, sweetie! Hitler was bad!
Victorian and Edwardian middle-class children raised in their own homes were able to develop family personality types, a family culture. These family cultures were varied and interesting. Agatha Christie in her autobiography sketches some of these types. There was, for example, the family of friends who were always late for everything because they were so easy-going. (She very nearly married a brother of that family.) There was another family who "got up" ambitious in-home Gilbert and Sullivan musicals. There was Agatha's mother herself, a strong personality and a "character" indeed--a woman of great authority and eccentricity, given to sudden flashes of inspiration which might be either brilliant or silly but were never, never boring.
The novelist Elizabeth Goudge paints a somewhat similar Edwardian picture of her own mother and of her aunts: each one different, all strongly marked characters. Goudge's mother believed herself to be a medium but refused to exercise her mediumistic powers out of a sense that it would be dangerous to do so. One of her aunts worked as a governess for royalty and talked matter-of-factly about the value of dumping cold water over some small prince in a temper tantrum ("But you needed tile floors, so it was a good thing that foreign palaces had tile floors.")
I'm not saying that having your children grow up to be "characters" is an end in itself. After all, "characters" sometimes have a rather hard time in this life.
What I am recommending, though, is not simply allowing your children to be absorbed into the mass and cranked out of "the system" like parts on a conveyor belt. Obviously, home schooling is one excellent way to try to avoid this. But beyond that, giving your children some good passion, preferably not a trendy passion like "saving the planet," is another part of it. Not long ago a wonderful young woman from a local home schooled family was telling me with some puzzlement about her attempts to lead a Bible study at a local home school co-op (or something like a co-op). The Bible study was supposed to be a brief one before they got going on what they were doing, and she was frustrated to find that the other young people didn't seem all that interested in her passionate advocacy of total commitment to Jesus Christ. She said they seemed disconnected, as though they weren't taking it into their hearts. They were, though home schooled, more typical of the standardized mass than she, and they found her passion and spark off-putting rather than attractive. To my mind, that's a problem. We should want our young people to be alive. They should interact directly and with interest with other people and with the world around them, not withdraw into a world of texting, time-wasting, and mind-numbing. And even home schoolers can be subject to such dangers.
Let's at least not be afraid to be different, either on an individual or on a familial level. The word "diversity" has now been debased, so instead I will advocate variety, the fascinating variety of created human nature.