The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
By the Way--
That very young children may be much influenced by the books they read is shown in the following reminiscence:--I was about five years old when somebody gave me a very ugly-looking paper-covered book called "Chambers's Educational Course," which became the delight of my heart; as far as I can remember now, it simply consisted of anecdotes under different heads, one of which was "Presence of Mind," a subject always much impressed upon us by my father, and therefore, I suppose, the anecdotes under this head made the most impression, for I remember two of them to this day. Not long after the book was given me, we all went to the seaside (if Portishead can be called seaside), and there I made the acquaintance of a small boy of my own age, and his little sister of two, and we three small mortals were allowed to go about where we pleased, the boy and I being supposed to take care of the little girl. One day we were playing in a little wood close by the lodgings, and for a time quite forgot the little girl -- and, when I began to look for her, what was my horror at seeing her sitting at the edge of a quarry with her little feet hanging over the side. Oh! the horror of that moment, I shall never forget it. What could I do? Instantly there flashed through my mind all the anecdotes about presence of mind; surely now was the time for me to act with presence of mind, but how? I thought of the story of the painter who nearly stepped off the scaffolding, till his friend, dashing the pot of paint in the middle of the picture, caused him to start forward again, and many other anecdotes as I crept up cautiously behind the baby -- but none were exactly suitable to this case; only one idea became fixed, whatever I did the baby mustn't be startled, or she would fall over the side of the precipice, but I knew I wasn't big enough to lift her, and if I attempted it most likely we should both go down together. Thought travels rapidly, and by the time I was near the child my course was plain; I crawled on all fours just behind her, put my arms round her waist and rolled over backwards with her into a safe place. Shaking with fright I took her back, and gravely informed her mother that we were too young to have the charge of her! Twenty years after I again visited Portishead, and went to see the quarry, thinking my childish ideas had perhaps magnified the height and danger, but after seeing the fearful place over which the baby's feet hung, I marvel more than ever at the escape we both had.
Having given the serious effect of reading this book, I think I must give a ludicrous one. The winter after this adventure I went to the nursery one day, and found no one there, but a heavy towel, which ought to have been hanging on the large iron guard, smouldering in the fender. What an opportunity for presence of mind; what commendations might I not gain! what a clever child they would think me! I took tongs and with much difficulty carried the burning towel and put it -- up the garret stairs! then went down with a self-satisfied air to tell my mother of the burning towel, adding, "you needn't be frightened, it is quite safe. Why did my grandmother look amazed, and my mother fling down her work, push me aside, and fly? Such a want of self control, I was quite ashamed for them both, and followed slowly -- in time to hear Ins mother say, "There's no harm done mercifully, but you endospore little owl, what made you do such a mischievous thing when you knew that the firty clothes are put there, and the wood of the stairs is old -- it would catch fire directly -- instead of leaving it where it was quite safe under the grate?" I have met with some mortifications in my lifetime, but never a worse one than that.
The sufferings of children, though they may be thrown off for the moment, go deep and often cause life-long resentment, especially if they are borne in silence, enforced, perhaps, from respect to parents. A mother is frequently irritated by qualities which her child has inherited from its father, qualities which suit her in her husband, but which do not suit her in her daughter ; and yet the child feels like Jean Paul, "I am an I," and very probably, "I am like my father, and I wish to be like him."
A loving mother once told me, till her daughter married she had always wished her to be different, but when she was married she saw she had been wrong, for her husband liked her as she was. While guiding and correcting it seems to me much pain might be spared to both mother and child, if the mother reverenced the way , God had made her child.
Our esteemed correspondent, "Vera," writes that she has been in the habit, since she became a mother, of jotting down in a notebook such passages from her general reading as she found most stimulating and practically helpful in the bringing up of her children. She adds, that, by reading in this way, pencil in hand, a mother may do a good deal to educate herself for the fulfilment of her duties. "Vera" has been good enough to place her notes at our disposal for the "By the Way" columns of the Parents' Review, and the following, from Dr. James Martineau, is our first extract from these:--
GREAT PRINCIPLES AND SMALL DUTIES.
A soul occupied with great ideas best performs small duties.
Even in intellectual culture this principle receives illustration; and it will be found that the ripest knowledge is best qualified to instruct the most complete ignorance. It is a common mistake to suppose that those who know little suffice to inform those who know less; that the master who is but a stage before the pupil can, as well as another, show him the way; nap, that there may even be an advantage between the minds of teacher and of taught, since the recollection of recent difficulties, and the vividness of fresh acquisition, give to the one a more living interest in the progress of the other. Of all educational errors, this is one of the gravest.
The approximation required between the mind of teacher and of taught is not that of a common ignorance, but of a mutual sympathy; not a partnership in narrowness of understanding, but that thorough insight of the one into the other, that orderly analysis of the tangled skein of thought, that patient, masterly skill in developing conception after conception, with a constant view to a remote result, which can only belong to comprehensive knowledge and prompt affection. With whatever accuracy the recently initiated may give out his new stores, he will rigidly follow the precise method by which he made them his own; and will want that variety and fertility of resource, that command of the several paths of access to a truth, which are given by a thorough survey of the whole field on which he stands. The instructor needs to have a full perception, not merely of the internal contents, but also the external relations, of that which he unfolds; as the astronomer knows but little, if, ignorant of the place and laws of moons and sun, he has examined only their mountains and their spots. The sense of proportion between the different parts and stages of a subject, the appreciation of every step at its true value, the foresight of the section that remains in its real magnitude and direction, are qualities so essential to the teacher, that without them all instruction is but an insult to the learner's understanding. And in virtue of these it is, that the most cultivated minds are usually the most patient, most clear, most rationally progressive, most studious of accuracy in details, because not impatiently shut up within them as absolutely limiting the view, but quietly contemplating them from without in their relation to the whole. Neglect and depreciation of intellectual minutia are characteristics of the ill-informed; and where the granular parts of study are thrown away or loosely held, there will be found no compact mass of knowledge, solid and clear as crystal, but a sandy accumulation, bound together by no cohesion, and transmitting no light.
And above and beyond all the advantages which a higher culture gives in the mere system of communicating knowledge, must be placed that indefinable and mysterious power which a superior mind always puts forth upon an inferior; that living and life-giving action, by which the mental forces are strengthened and developed and a spirit of intelligence is produced, far transcending in excellence the acquisition of any special ideas. In the task of instruction -- so lightly assumed -- no amount of wisdom would be superfluous and lost, and even the child's elementary teaching would be best conducted, were it possible, by Omniscience Itself.
The more comprehensive the range of intellectual view, and the more minute the perception of its parts, the greater will be the simplicity of conception, the aptitude for exposition, and the directness of access to the open and expectant mind. This adaptation to the humblest wants is the peculiar triumph of the highest spirit of knowledge.
Typed by happi, January 2016
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