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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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St. George's Guild.

by Julia Firth.
Paper II.
On The Education of The Children.
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 276-282


The children of St. George's Guild are to be placed in favourable circumstances; not only are they to live under the happy conditions of those whose parents guardians, employers, and landlords provide homes for them in places where the sky is pure, and the waters are unpolluted, not only will the labours of each month of rural life delight them with "the pleasant order of the guarded and hallowed year," not only will they live in a moral atmosphere of "gentleness and justice," of dutiful industry, and cheerful reverence, but special care is to be taken not to overstrain their powers. Their learning is not to be compelled: compulsory education, in their case, is to have no reference to standards or competition. Compulsion is to be used only, if needed, to make the children clean, obedient, truthful, and industrious.

It will be seen from the last paper that we, of the St. George's Guild, are under law, and that the Master is our law-giver. But there is no servility in our obedience, becuase the law is such as easily commends itself to honest, thoughtful, earnest persons: it is the outcome of what has been believed and experienced by the highest thinkers of all times and countries: it is not founded on sectarian views of religion: it is broad and comprehensive. This law requires no asceticism: when obeyed, it leaves no room for selfish luxury, but promotes reasonable comfort and culture for ourselves and others. The scattered members of the Guild work on a given system, or strive in countless ways to realise the ideal of the Master.

It is obvious that, without any profession of socialism or communism, the dividing of work amongst all, and the consequent spreading over the whole community of the culture derived from literature, art, and nature (all requiring leisure) is a noble piece of just legislation, promoting social life of a beautiful kind, and enabling people to enjoy in common all that the everlasting inequalities of mind and capacity will allow.

The "industry" of the children implies the learning and practice of something useful to the community -- some manual art -- some necessary occupation.

Education, instead of leveling, as Mr. Ruskin often shows, is a great manifestor of differences. We may cut and polish a flint, and it may show some beautiful lines, but it will never be the equal of the agate, with its tender intricacies of line, and its purity and glow of colour. The Master of the Guild would give to each child such aid as he or she is capable of receiving, sparing no pains on the best material, while affording just scope and opportunity to all.

Persons who have to do with children are familiar with the ordinary preference of the volatile little creatures for things rather than for books, and this has been largely recognised in the Kindergarten system. St. George would carry this recognition into more advanced education, and alternate the study of Latin and history with carpentering, gardening, cooking, sewing, spinning. The boys are to be able to make a simple piece of furniture, they are to learn to ride well, or, if by the sea, to manage a sailing boat; the girls are to "cook all ordinary food exquisitely," to make dresses, to do household work with intelligent thoroughness.

The Master writes, "I am myself more set on teaching healthful industry than anything else as the beginning of all redemption;" and again, "together with this manual labour, and much by its means, they (the Companions) are to carry on the thoughtful labour of true education, in themselves and of others. And they are not to be monks nor nuns; but are to learn and teach all fair arts and sweet order and obedience of life; and to educate the children entrusted to their schools in such practical arts and patient obedience; but not at all, necessarily, in either arithmetic, writing, or reading."

Music and dancing are "quite two primal instruments of education;" boys and girls are to be disciplined daily in the strictest practice of vocal music. Though reading is not compulsory, the hearing of good reading aloud is to form the ear and the taste; and most children, imitative as they are, would under these circumstances wish to learn to read for themselves. As they get older they are to learn the natural history of the place they live in -- to know Latin, boys and girls both -- and the history of five cities, Athens, Rome, Venice, Florence, and London."

Mr. Ruskin has been for many years protesting against cramming, and competitive examinations, and insisting that knowledge is not education, and that instruction must begin with the heart. "My final object," he also says, "with every child born on St. George's estates, will be to teach it what to admire, what to hope for, and what to love." "The first essential point in the education given to the children will be the habit of instant, finely accurate, and totally unreasoning obedience to their fathers, mothers, and tutors. The second essential will be the understanding of the nature of honour, making the obedience solemn and constant." They are to be taught "gentleness to all brute creatures, finished courtesy to each other, to speak truth with rigid care, and to obey order with the precision of slaves."

"Healthy habits and not mechanical drawing nor church catechism are the staple" of this education, and the Master has always a tender feeling for children whose life is saddened by neglect or ill-guiding. Readers of "Sesame and Lilies" will remember the appeal at the close of "Queen's Gardens"; he often pleads for the rescue of the splendid child-material allowed to waste in our streets, and he feels keenly for the multitudes of English children who are deprived of their natural heritage of joy. "Shall we be content," he says, "to see our broom-maker's children at the best, growing up as willows by the brook . . . while their masters' and lords' children grow as roses on the mount of Sharon, and untoiling lilies in the vales of Lebanon?"

I must not indefinitely multiply quotations from Mr. Ruskin, and I feel regretful as I write that readers should not go directly to his works and read in their charming setting his thoughts on ethics and education. But I am told that not everyone can go so far as to the mountain springs, set though they be in the midst of richly variegated moss, solid rock, or leafy covert; and that the little pipe, small and inadequate as it may appear, which conveys them some of the refreshing water, has its use in the economy of things.

As our labourers' children are to be taught the meaning of the words Beauty, Courtesy, Compassion, Gladness, and Religion, it may be well to think of these as separate heads, and to see how much true education is included under them. First --

Beauty. The sky above and the waters below are to be pure from smoke and all pollution, the earth which bears corn and flowers is to be made beautiful by honourable toil, or left wild for lovely native growth; labour is not to be so severe that the dwellers upon it become more heathenish than the Greek worshipers of Demeter: the children are to see their Father's works, the beautifully illuminated book of Nature is to be open to them and none of its pages are to be blurred. "For one man" (Mr. Ruskin wrote many years ago) "who is fitted for the study of words, fifty are fitted for the study of things, and were intended to have a perpetual, simple, and religious delight in watching the processes, or admiring the creatures of the natural universe."

The children of St. George are to observe and admire the flower in its growth (not the pale corpse of the dried plant), its position as it grows, its trick of holding its head, the grace of its profile, its adaptation to its situation, its pretty ambitions, its humilities, its independence, . . . its life. They need not examine it microscopically, but they are to know its uses, perhaps some of its classical associations, the myths which have gathered about it, or its service in architectural ornament. They are to have access to collections of minerals, and while delighting in the beautiful varieties of crystals, bright thoughts of clearness of purpose and untiring energy are to suggest themselvs as "Ethics of the Dust."

In Art, they are to see nothing but what is worth seeing; standards of excellence are to be given in Educational Series, and lesson photographs are to guide them to the perception of what is truly great. Real dress, person or gesture ought, says the Master, to be more beautiful than any similitude of them.

The beauty of behaviour leads to the second term --

Courtesy. Old-fashioned manifestations of respect are to be preserved, and not only is honour to be given where honour is due, but "finished courtesy to each other" is to be required of the children of the Guild.

Compassion, or feeling with a human friend or a dumb companion, implies an imaginative power of putting oneself in his place, and distinguishes the educated ssensitive being from the callous and vulgar one.* The boy who pores over the mechanism of the defunct megatherium and then goes into the woods to throw stones at a squirrel whose fullness of life and frolic means to him only something to hit, may become a pedant or even a scholar, but hardly an educated gentleman. Gentleness to all inoffensive creatures, the cherishing of all gentle life, and a merciful regard for all companionable and serviceable animals, will give to the children many joys and many friends, besides fostering in their hearts a feeling towards the weak which may grow into the highest chivalry and the most sympathetic understanding of the wants of their fellow-men, so that praise and pity may be bestowed or withheld according to the just guidance of a noble and cultivated insight.

* See "Yeovdale and its Streamlets." -- J. R.

The time may come when a rare bird may be admired on the wing, when men do not shoot it for sport, nor stuff it for science, when butterflies are not impaled by the orderly student, and when savage women of fashion no longer deck themselves with the bodies of the gentlest of their friends, but learn to love the living birds of Love's attendant Meinie. *

* See "Love's Meinie: Lectures on Greek and English Birds," by J. R.

Gladness. All education which does not make people glad, and glad justly, Mr. Ruskin holds to be a failure. He thinks there is no heavier charge against a nation than that it has made its young girls weary and sad. He asserts that you cannot make a girl beautiful if you do not make her happy. With gladness he associates the beautiful quality of alacrity, the grace which lends to obedience so great a charm, and "frankness--pure French openness of heart--the source of joy and courtesy and civility and passing softness of human meeting of kindly glance with glance." One is reminded of Chaucer's words in the Praise of Women--

Good, and glad, and lowly, I you ensure
Is this goodly and angelic creature.

St. Ursula, in the Italian legend quoted in "Fors Clavigera," is described as "learned and frank and fair"; and Mr. Ruskin writes, "There is no fear for any child who is frank whi its father and mother; none for men and women who are frank with God."

By Religion, he means "primarily obedience--binding to something or someone. To be bound or in bonds as apprentice; to be bound or in bonds by military oath; to be bound or in bonds as a servant to man; to be bound or in bonds under the yoke of God. These are all divinely instituted, eternally necessary conditions of religion; beautiful inviolable captivity and submission of soul in life and death."

In the introduction to Grimm's "Fairy Tales," Mr. Ruskin wrote thus:--

"Parents who are too indolent or self-indulgent to form their children's characters by wholesome discipline, or in their own habits and principles of life are conscious of setting before them no faultless example, vainly endeavour to substitute the persuasive influence of moral precept, intruded in the guise of amusement, for the strength of moral habit compelled by righteous authority; vainly think to inform the heart of infancy with deliberative wisdom, while they abdicate the guardianship of its unquestioning innocence; and warp into the agonies of an immature philosophy of conscience the once fearless strength of its unsullied and unhesitating virtue. A child should not need to choose between right and wrong. It should not be capable of wrong. Obedient as bark to helm, not by sudden strain or effort, but in the freedom of its bright course of constant life; true, with an undistinguished, painless, unboastful truth, in a crystalline household world of truth; gentle, through daily entreatings of gentleness, and honourable trusts, and pretty prides of child-fellowship in offices of good; strong, not in bitter and doubtful contest with temptation, but in peace of heart and armour of habitual right, from which temptation falls like thawing hail; self-commanding, not in sick restraints of mean appetites and covetous thoughts, but in vital joy of unluxurious life, and contentment in narrow possession, wisely esteemed."

The writing of the children of St. George's Guild is to be as easily legible as printing, or it may be as beautiful as an illuminated missal. The result must be right, but the process may be slow. The Master, of course, condemns the hasty carelessness and the mean succession of slanting upstrokes and downstrokes which characterise a certain style of account-keeping and letter-writing. Speech is to be distinct and beautiful: writing is to be legible and beautiful: reading is to be confined to what is worth reading: newspapers are to be excluded. "In all schools the books necessary for their work will be given to the pupils: and one of their earliest lessons will be the keeping of them clean and orderly."

The children are to have little gardens, "a yard or two square, of St. George's ground," instruments suited to their strength, and seeds for sowing: perhaps, also, a beehive close at hand, and books about bees, if they happen to wish to read them.

Mr. Ruskin has made out a carefully chosen list of books which he regards as classical; he has published some of them in his Shepherd's Library [Bibliotheca Pastorum]: and he gives much useful direction as to what and how to read.

To sum up: "In the school itself the things taught will be music, geometry, astronomy, botany, zoology to all: drawing and history to children who have gift for either. And finally, to all children of whatever gift, grade, or age, the laws of Honour, the habit of Truth, the virtue of Humility, and the happiness of Love."

"Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know--it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave. . . . It is training them [the youth of England] . . . into the perfect exercise and kingly continence of their bodies and souls,--by kindness, by watching, by warning, by precept, and by praise,--but above all, by example."


Typed October 2013 by Susan Flowers