The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Parents' Association of America.: The Purpose of the Parents' Association.
by George William Winterburn.
I have been asked to state to the Association the scope and purposes that it is proposed shall be fulfilled through this organization. We are but a mere handful here to-night compared with the great work we have undertaken, but I for one do not consider that at all a reason for discouragement. The greater the movement the slower, naturally, must be the starting of it. And certainly, at no time and at no other place was a movement commenced of such magnitude as this, because it involves an entire change in our methods of education.
At present, the parent who feels any great personal responsibility about the education of his children is rare indeed, and far superior to the average. The ordinary parent imagines that he can buy training, education, character-- whatever he wants for his child--with money. That he can send him to the school-master and have him turned out a finished product. The great problem before the best teachers, those who really try to do something, is the indifference and ignorance of the parent as to what constitutes a real education, and where it must begin.
There are now in the United States every year nearly half a million marriages, and of all that large number of persons how many, think you, enter into the marriage state with any idea whatever as to the training of the children which will probably follow. In fact, merely to suggest it seems ridiculous. People do not marry for the sake of the children , and when the children come-- largely as the result of accident and very largely not wanted--they receive just such an education, just such a training as might be expected of anyone who took up anything unprepared. In every other occupation of life it is supposed that a person must prepare himself, whether it is to lay brick, or to preach the
Gospel, or to doctor sick people, or to do anything else, and yet in this, the greatest occupation of life, the one real thing, in the presence of which all other occupations sink into insignificance, people take up the work without the slightest preparation or the slightest thought of preparation.
Now, if this society can do anything whatever towards establishing a thoughtful parentage, toward inducing people to reflect upon the responsibility which they assume, and in some degree prepare themselves for this responsibility, the society will have done a great work, and that is just what we hope to do. We do not expect to accomplish all this during this year, or next year, or in this generation, but we do hope that we may do something towards securing juster treatment for the unborn child.
As a matter of experience--and I have been studying this subject with considerable care for a score of years--as a matter of my own personal observation, I know that the destiny of the child is largely fixed in its first year. Those experiences which are all new and which seemingly pass away forgotten, leave an impression upon the character, upon the mind, upon the intention of life, which are never eradicated, and which have a stronger influence than any succeeding experience. Of course, back of this are the prenatal influences which are of overwhelming importance. But if we can but secure a trained motherhood so that in the first few years the children may have a better chance than they do now, we will have done a great deal.
Now, not to take up time, I will say one word in regard to how we propose to carry out this work. Just what the Association will do through its Trustees I do not know, but it seems to me that the wisest course would be to act through other organizations as far as possible. In the first place, there are the churches reaching great multitudes of people everywhere. I think it is through the churches we should endeavour to work, interesting the clergy first, and through them the fathers and mothers of the congregation, and so starting the nucleus of a local association. Not only in the churches, however, but in the workingmen's clubs, in the Temperance Associations, and in all organizations where we can get a hearing, I think it would be well to attempt to draw attention to these subjects. And then, again, a great deal can be done through the press, through periodical literature, by well prepared articles calling attention to these subjects, and perhaps we may thus reach a great many persons who might not be reached through any organization.
This is the general sketch of what is in my mind, the details will be worked out by the trustees on broad grounds, and the success will depend, in great measure, upon the character of those who take up the work, upon the earnestness with which they carry it on, and upon the number of persons they can interest and associate with them. And although we do not start with any very large number, I think that there is enough vitality in this idea to carry it on to a successful issue.
The Close Relation Between the Parents' Association and the Kindergarten.
By Edward A. Bradley.
I am not quite sure but that the Association is held one block too far down town. I think perhaps we ought to have been in the institution upon whose gas lights is the title "Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children." It teaches the idea as thoroughly as anything, the idea which all have so much at heart, with which I sympathise so earnestly, and which I hope to help so far as it is possible for me to help.
This whole idea is the bringing about of right relations between parent and child. It has begun as all large ideas have begun, with a small following, which shall mightily increase in good time if it is God's work. And that it is God's work, I have no question myself. I don't know of anything that needs a reforming touch more absolutely and unquestionably than this whole idea of parentage in our American life today. I sometimes wonder where the children are; at least, I wonder where the children are that are like the child Jesus. I find little women and I find little men; little women that are buds of society, that are "out," that know it all; and little men that think of their fathers as the "governor," "the pocketbook." And the little women have learned to gossip and the little men have learned to swear and to smoke cigarettes.
So I don't know that there is anything in American life that needs teaching more absolutely than this matter of parentage. It wants reforming, root and branch, if anything wants reforming. I don't know how this is to be done; it will have to be thought out. We will have to create the sympathy of public sentiment, and I believe this institution is the organ that is going to help in that direction. I believe the responsibility is upon you to create this public sentiment; talk about it to your minister, as suggested; talk about it at the church where you worship and among the friends that you meet. You talk about your children fast enough when you meet, if you have them, but what do you talk about in reference to your children? The serious side of their lives? Their future? Their education, on any real line of what that word means?
Or is it not a frivolous touching on the mere froth and foam of life that occupies your thought and fills your talk. I speak of the average way men and women have of talking about their children to their friends. There is no thought in it, no purpose, it is mere idle, useless gossip.
Years ago I felt all this matter of education very strongly, and I began to advocate the introduction into the public school system of the kindergarten idea, and remember doing so on the platform in the West many years ago. I remember seeing many people laugh. And when I talked to some of the authorities in the Board of Education and the directors connected with our public school system, they said, "that is a mere idea; that is entirely up in the air and can never come to the ground to be a reality. It costs too much; it is impracticable," etc. It was hooted at entirely. I thank God I have lived to see the day that it is a part of the public school system, sure to become an important part as is entirely right that it should be. As Dr. Winterburn justly says, the cast of the character is struck in the die of the first year, and the outward expression that the character assumes takes form before the child is six years old. If that little fellow is left to himself, because he was not wanted when he came, if he is neglected and his evil propensities left to develop themselves unchecked, before he is six years old, if he had any inclination that way, he will have already developed into an artistic liar or thief. If he is going to become a thief he will probably be one before he is six years old, and the characteristics he takes on before he is six years old, as a general rule, he is going to carry through life. Watch it; look back on the lives you have known. But take a little child between the years of three and six, place it under the splendid and ideal training of the kindergarten, that has grown out of the life of Jesus Christ; let him be taught the practical value of the Golden Rule; incline him toward gentleness, cleanliness and truthfulness, some of the great principles that go to make up character, and as he works them out through his little plays and exercises, these ideas will grow into his growth, and so, like the child Jesus, he will grow in favour with God and man as he grows in years. You have done something to prevent that child from developing into a crooked stick. And so this great country has taken into its heart and life the idea that it is responsible for the education of its wards, the children of the masses. I will not stop to discuss the philosophy involved in this, as to whether it is the State's business. We have accepted that fact here in America. We take it as part of the American idea and we work it out as well as we can. I want to see it extended until we take every child as soon as it has capacity for the little Froebel games--which may be at three, or even two years--off the streets, out of the tenement houses, away from pernicious, down-dragging influences, into the public kindergarten under trained teachers, and so begin its life aright.
Now, this Parents' Association will come in, giving more effectiveness to the whole idea. You begin to prepare the child for that kindergarten training at birth, and before it; and so as the years go on it will develop a grander manhood and a sweeter and better womanhood than that which we see around us today. I say the whole inspiration of the thought comes consciously or unconsciously from the ideal child, the child Jesus. And we must go back to the mother of Jesus, to Mary, and to the father, Joseph, although he was not the natural parent of our Lord, and we must study those characters; and also study the characters of the parents of the grandest men and women the world has seen, that shine out from the past like splendid archangels, the men and women who have lifted the race and saved us from demoralization.
It ought to commend itself to us--the object of this Association--and to every thoughtful man and woman in America. And I am sure it will, and that we shall secure their help just as soon as they are thoroughly interested.
Just as I was coming away from him I thought of a little poem, and I scratched off a copy of it to read to you. A child is represented as speaking to its father and mother in a sort of dream, as if lying sick and possibly about to die. And so the child says:
If I should die to-night,
If I should die to-night,
O Father, Mother, the child-voice cried to-night,
We Should Have Faith In Our Child. By S. S. Packard.
I am afraid I shall not say anything very important on this subject, and certainly cannot follow along the lines of thought of the previous speakers. So the question may be asked by you, "Why did you come at all? why did you consent to speak?" I came because Dr. Winterburn asked me, and because he has my confidence. I love Dr. Winterburn. I believe he is trying to do a good work; whether he accomplishes it or not. But what he undertakes he will carry out. I got into the way of saying yes to him, and when Dr. Winterburn asked me to subscribe to the magazine "Childhood," I said "yes," and got quite a number of my friends to subscribe. I am not sorry, and I don't know anyone that is. I am glad a man exists who can think of somebody besides himself, who will take up a forlorn cause and have enough confidence in the cause itself to run the risk of establishing a periodical to carry out his views. I am glad to subscribe for such a paper and to subscribe for my friends. So when he asked me if I would make a few remarks to-night, with that same fatality I followed out in responding to that request I said "yes." I thought nothing of it at first, but after I had a little conversation with others I invited him to come to my office and then asked him why he had desired me to speak, and he told me that the reason was that I had had a great deal of experience, as a teacher, of the danger growing out of the failure of parents to train their children properly, and in trying to make something out of these crooked sticks, and that perhaps I had reflected enough upon the subject to know where the difficulty is.
I am not going back to prenatal condition; I am not even going to accept the position taken by Dr. Winterburn that the work must be done in the first year. I don't' get them in the first year, nor in the second, or third, or fourth year, but when they are fifteen years old or so. All that you can do then you cannot change their associations nor undo what has been done up to that time. So if you will permit me to devote what little time I have to considering what we shall do for the boys and girls after they get to be boys and girls, I will be very much obliged. I can talk on that subject a little, but I cannot say anything on the other.
It is helpful when a man has been in one line of business for thirty-five years and has had the opportunity of seeing many go out from under his tutelage and instruction, to see these people, perhaps, take up some of his thoughts and carry them out. He has a right to consider that some time when with him he has had something to do with those lives. This is the think I want to say to you. Begin way back and have the child trained from the time it is brought into existence. I don't know as I want to take away my business, for if the raining was all done up to six years, there would be very little comparatively for me to do. I might find some other line of work, but not in which I could do as much as in this line.
Dr. Winterburn asked me to say to you that the great difficulties that come into my professional life grow out of the fact that the boys and girls are not well trained at home. I am sorry to say that, but must tell the truth. And I absolutely believe the great difficulty with parents is that they don't know their children; they have to be introduced to them. They don't know where they live. They don't know what they think. They don't know anything about them. They can't see them; they have no perspective; they are too near to them. I have the advantage in that regard. I am not so much hampered by affection, although I have some affection for them all. A great majority of my boys and girls have no parents in this sense. Their fathers and mothers don' t understand them. Why, I once had a boy, the son of a Methodist minister-- you would think a minister ought to understand his boy, a man who studied other persons' children. This boy came to my school. His father thought he was converted; he belonged to the Church and attended the Sunday school. His father brought him to me and said, "I want you to take this boy; he is very bad, but I can do nothing with him. You do a very good work here; I should like you to try him." I looked into the boy's face. There was a talismanic (that is not the right work, but it will do) look passed between him and myself, and I thought I could do something with him. There came a time when it was necessary to decide as to truthfulness of this boy. The teacher brought certain charges which the boy denied. The teacher did not understand the character he was dealing with, but I felt a perfect assurance that the boy's story was straight, and when the charges had been made I said to the boy, "State your case." And when he was through I said, "I believe you." The boy burst out into tears. He did not know what to say. Why, it was the first time in his life that he had found somebody who absolutely believed him. He turned all kinds of colors. He went to his seat and I dismissed the teacher. The boy came into my office a few minutes afterwards and took me by the hand, still sobbing. He said, "Mr. Packard, I will never do a bad thing again in your school as long as I live." I said, "Why?" "Because you believed I told the truth, and I did tell the truth and I am going to show that I deserve the confidence."
In a week his father came to see me. He walked up to me and said, "You have given me a son and I want to thank you." I said, "I don't understand."
He answered, "I didn't know my own boy. I thought him converted, but he was not converted before. You converted him; he is the talk of the neighborhood; he cannot think anything wrong; he cannot do anything wrong."
In spite of all that father's affection for his boy, in spite of the fact that he was his own son, in spite of the fact that he was a minister himself and made it his business to preach these doctrines of care for children and how to influence them, he failed to get inside of that boy. There was no confidence between them; he had turned the boy out. He thought he did not amount to anything. He said to me, "If you can make anything out of him, I shall be very glad to have you do so."
I know another father of this kind, who loves his son as dearly as a father can, and yet there was no possible understanding between them. He told me time and time again, with tears in his eyes, that he would give anything if somebody would take his boy and treat him fairly. "I can't do it," he said, "I don't understand him." The point I want to make is this: To train children, even when you love them dearly, they must be understood. We must not forget that we were once children ourselves. We are so anxious that the child shall do right that we destroy its individuality. We don't allow them to develop the right way. We don't allow them to think why they were born, or what are their conditions, and the result is that we get out of sympathy with them and they go sometimes to the bad.
I am sure I join with this large assembly (which is much larger than is represented in this room), those who love children, those who desire children should be good, those who desire that parents should be deserving of children that are good. I sympathize with any movement which will benefit the world by giving us men and women, and the only way that we can have men and women is in some way to make them understand themselves.
Now I am a believer, a very great believer, in what might be called indirect education, you might call it chance education, if you choose. It is a pretty good thing to always say the right things in the presence of young men and women, trusting that the good seed may fall on good ground and bring forth an hundred fold. That education which consists in the learning of lessons correctly and in direct instruction, I think is no education at all. I do think a person should talk with the boy or girl; see as to their associations; fully sympathize with them, even though they may be bad, letting that boy or girl understand that whatever they may do or think, they never can get out of sympathy with you. That you are always ready to understand them; always ready to go to them; always ready to hear what they have to say; always ready to put their own interpretation on their acts. We shall thus arrive at the very best results in the training of children. It is a mistake to suppose boys and girls want to be bad. It is a mistake to suppose anybody wants to be bad. I think there are fewer persons desire to do bad things than we are aware. The difficulty is to be able to distinguish from our point of view which is the good and which is the bad.
A boy badly trained, the son of an expert burglar, understands that the best and finest thing that he can accomplish is to break into a bank and explode a safe. He thinks it a glorious thing to do. This is lack of education. He is not properly directed. The boy in breaking into a bank and cracking the safe open thinks he is doing right. I have never yet in all my experience as a teacher found that if we place fairly and squarely before the boy his duty that he will fail to do it. Let him feel that you understand him; let him feel that it is his duty, and he will try to do it. If he fails to do this it is owing to circumstances ordinarily beyond control. A plant in a cellar will grow toward the light; there is always a reaching after the open. There is always that in our inner natures which desires to attain even in ourselves that which is good. Although I have not spoken on this subject and did not expect to speak upon it, and have taken up time which belongs to other people, I am very glad that I have had the privilege of saying the few things which came to me and that have grown out of my profession. I want Dr. Winterburn when he takes up the subject to carry it a little further along and not devote his entire sympathy to the prenatal period or the period of the first year, for the world is full now of boys and girls and men and women who want a little of this education. Let us do and say something for them, even though they have reached the period of adult life. There will never come a time in any of our lives when we cannot be benefited by good conversation, by hearing the truth spoken, and by listening to a kindly word. [The full report of this most important and interesting meeting is published in Childhood, the magazine of the
American Parents' Union, edited by Dr. Winterburn.]
(To be continued.)
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