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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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Home Training in Relation to the Day School

Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 590-595


In these days when the education of girls is carried on partly at home and partly at the High School, it is absolutely essential that teachers and parents should keep the same end steadily in view. There are many advantages gained by the special training, now happily, considered necessary for teachers, but it would be still more satisfactory, if all others who venture to undertake the grave responsibility of training children, would first prepare themselves definitely for so important a work. In a school managed by trained and skilful teachers there is comparatively little friction, punishment being reduced to a minimum, because all the details of school-work are methodically arranged, and all rules are made with some definite object and for the good of the children. If however, careful preparation, even years of training and study, forethought, patience and forbearance are so needful on the part of the teacher, how much more on the part of the mother, who has the children under her care, certainly for eighteen hours out of twenty-four for five days of the week, to say nothing of the whole of Saturday and Sunday. No experienced teacher can fail to come to the sad conclusion that in many cases there is a sad lack of discipline at home. Many mothers, either from thoughtlessness or ignorance, or because they lack all sense of their responsibility in the matter, seem unable to realize the tremendous and lasting issues involved in the training or non-training of their children. People are only too ready to blame the school or the teacher, if the child does not in all respects fulfil their expectations. By all means let the teacher be answerable for her own shortcomings and failures, for this is only just, but at the same time let us remember that much rests with the parents ; and mothers shall endeavour in the sphere of home life to support and help the work of the School. There are many ways in which a mother may do this, and again I would insist on the fact that the aim both of mother and of teacher should be one and the same--the true education of the child. This being granted it follows that many of the principles that form the basis of school government are equally applicable at home.

All those in charge of children expect, or hope for, obedience from those under their care--it is well known however that the nature of the obedience is largely determined by the mode of government, and it is impossible to ignore a fact of every-day occurrence, that, too often, children rule their parents, and this too, from a very early age. How then can such a lamentable and unnatural state of things be prevented? How can a mother best promote the present comfort and happiness of her children, while at the same time preparing the way for school life?--In order to answer these questions several points must be considered--Some may be surprised to hear that children prefer a firm rule, but none the less it is true--indeed they are much happier in a well-disciplined home or school. An order when given should be obeyed at one, and not repeated ; if this rule were carefully adhered to from the first, rash and impossible orders would soon cease, for parents and teachers would reflect carefully before giving an order. If it is urged that in some cases, it is impossible to gain a ready and cheerful obedience, I would answer that this is because obedience has not been insisted on from an early age.

It is most cruel kindness to allow a child to have its own way on every possible occasion. We sometimes hear mothers say "it is so hard to have to tell them not to do this or that," this is only another form of cowardice and selfishness. Not only must we see that our orders are obeyed, but we must also keep all promises made to children, and this of course implies that foolish promises must be carefully avoided. When once a child has grasped the fact that its mother can easily be influenced either by continued persistence, by coaxing or even by tears, there will be a constant struggle on the child's part to gain the upper hand. It is not uncommon to see a mother and child having a downright argument--the child on the receiving a simple order, says--"Mother, need I do it"? "Why must I do it"? and so on, the poor mother in desperation at last yields with a bad grace, making some trivial condition as a sort of compromise, or possibly as a fancied means of keeping up her own dignity ; the child easily able to see through such concessions, knows perfectly well that it has triumphed.

We must surely then, whether as teachers or parents, carry out the first principles of good government in the home and school, and these may be well-considered, all orders consistently carried out, and all promises to children faithfully kept, always remembering that promises must be sparingly made. This is a difficult standard than would seem at first sight, and one that can only be reached by considerable self-control and self-denial on the part of mothers and teachers.

The best way of reaching this standard is to make the laws of the home and school as few and as simple as possible, to obey and respect those laws, ourselves, and above all, not to get into a habit of worrying about trifles.

The usual and natural result of disobedience is punishment. It is truly pitiable to see a child punished and made miserable, when perhaps by a little care and forethought on the mother's part, the so--called offence would never have been committed. We must bear in mind too that there is a great danger of error in our very definition and conception of what is, or is not, a fault ; children are often punished severely for what has been done in mere thoughtlessness or ignorance, and cannot therefore be justly called disobedience--I have even seen a child punished for falling down and naturally soiling his coat! More often than not children are punished because some one feel irritable, and because the best outlet for such irritation is found in the person of the unoffending child--it is a significant fact too, that what is punished as a fault one day, is in many cases allowed to pass without rebuke on another--a plain proof that sometimes the mood of the parent or teacher, play no unimportant part in determining the magnitude of a fault ; this should teach us that punishment ought never to be determined or administered without due thought and consideration, and that if on our part, there is any personal feeling in thematter, we must on no account even decide on the punishment until we are in a fit mood to weigh the merits of the case. Any person who punishes a child in an angry moment, does the child much harm and is really the worse offender of the two. There is however little need of punishment in a well-ordered school or household.

The number of children who are by nature incorrigible, must be comparatively few, and it is certain that many girls who seem to be persistently tiresome, rude and ill-behaved, owe most of it to defective early training and to lack of firmness in the home discipline. The very best way of healthy occupation, to enter into their little pleasures, to provide them with games and toys, and above all to lead them to take an intelligent interest in what they see around them, especially in the world of nature.

So much then with regard to the early period of a child's life, and we may rest assured that the seed sown at this stage will bear fruit later, when the child shall have entered into school life. When a mother entrusts her girls to the care of a Head--Mistress and her staff, she undertakes perhaps unconsciously certain duties and responsibilities with regard to the school. Foremost among these is the duty of inculcating a due respect for the laws of the school, and of seeing that the rules laid down for home work are faithfully obeyed. If it is found that the work cannot be done in the specified time, there is always the option of speaking to the Head-Mistress on the subject. Then too, the mother must put down with a very firm hand all idle gossip about schoolfellows and the school, in other words, all criticism of their companions and teachers, whether as regards dress, personal appearance or position in life, all discussion of modes of teaching, or of the reasons for this or that rule of the school, because children are most incompetent judges of all these points, and even were it otherwise, such discussion is most unbecoming on their part. Parents can quite well judge whether their children are being well educated and instructed without listening to such very unreliable evidence--unreliable it must be, for if people with trained minds cannot always give a correct and accurate account of what they have seen, how much less can children with immature and untrained judgement, give a correct version of what they may have heard of school gossip? It would be easy to quote examples of serious mischief done by the idle chatter of thoughtless school-girls--mischief which might have been prevented by a little forethought and care. If there is any special grievance or injustice in connection with school life, which a girl may have confided in her mother, it is better at once frankly to lay it before the Head--Mistress and the matter can safely be left in her hands. There is no doubt that the habit of gossip among school girls is most pernicious, and it is certainly the best way of preparing them to play a most unworthy part later on, in their own town or village. If this tendency were resolutely put down during school life, girls would grow up with a wholesome hatred of all gossip and slander, and the carping and fault-finding spirit so prevalent amongst women would have no scope for development.

Another point of great consequence, as regards both school and pupil, is that of unnecessary absences on the part of girls who are quite healthy and strong. Some parents regard this as a very trifling matter, and actually keep girls at home merely for the sake of some passing pleasure--true, it is good of the girls to have variety and out-door amusements, but it is most injurious to their character never to be called upon to bear small disappointments. Why should girls be encouraged to think that everything, event he most earnest work must give place their pleasure? But setting aside the question of moral discipline, and considering it on lower grounds, we must bear in mind the actual loss to the pupil and the great inconvenience to the teachers. Lessons are not given at random, but on some definite plan and in due sequence, and it is no uncommon occurrence for a girl to lose a most important lesson, solely because she has been absent for her own selfish pleasure--surely the necessary absences due to bad weather or illness are quite sufficient without any others ; to be an understood thing, that all pleasure-parties and picnics in which school-girls are to join should take place on Saturday, and that all birthday parties should be deferred to that day. If the elder girls find that the preparation for Monday will thus be cut short, let them work a little longer on Friday evening and rise a little earlier on Saturday.

One hears much about the manners of girls who attend the large High Schools--the lack of gentleness, the forwardness and pertness, the use of slang, disrespect to their elders and so on ; of course there is no need of very careful supervision when large numbers of girls are brought together, and we know that in all well organized schools nothing is wanting in this respect, whether in the class-rooms, cloak-rooms or playgrounds. The real source of mischief lies outside the province of the school. It would be useless for a Head-Mistress to make any rules with regard to the walk to and from school, for she would have no means of enforcing them ; this matter can only be regulated by the parents themselves, and the best way of silencing very natural objections to the present method of education for girls, is to take care that all pupils who attend a day-school have a suitable escort. It is most unwise to allow girls constantly to travel alone to school by train or omnibus, or on foot. Parents are usually last to hear the very uncomplimentary remarks made about the behaviour of their girls in public--behaviour, which is in no way sanctioned or encouraged by the school staff, but on the contrary is viewed with the strongest disapproval. It is the duty of parents to see that their children, when once outside the school gates, go home in an orderly manner, for when once the girls are outside the school boundaries, the parents are responsible for their behaviour. It may be safely affirmed that if all parents would guard their children as carefully and watchfully as they are guarded at School, and would insist on a proper obedience and respect for their own sacred authority, we should hear fewer disparaging remarks about the girls of the present day.