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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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The Stamp Traffic As a Factor in Education.

by M. Boole.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 214


It is to be feared that a grave question, bearing on moral education, is getting itself settled, and settled wrongly, "by default," i.e., hap-hazard, for lack of attention to what is going on. It used to be generally understood that well-bred children do not ask relatives or friends, and especially guests, for money, or for things which possess a money value. When first children began to make collections of old stamps, the stamps, once used, had no value. A child asked one to keep old envelopes for him, just as he asked one not to burn any other kind of rubbish till he had the opportunity of looking through it to see if he could find anything useful for his purposes, though useless for ours; the favour consisted not in the value of the gift, but in the fact that one remembered his wishes and took trouble to gratify them. It was easy to make a child understand that friends are more likely to accede to requests of this kind if not made at inconvenient times and in an intrusive way; and the result was on the whole good for manners, and the basis of wholesome relations. Parents (quite rightly then) encouraged the stamp hobby; it affords a cleanly and noiseless amusement; it fosters habits of neat manipulation, and promotes the knowledge of history and geography. But now that old stamps are an article of commerce and almost a medium of circulation, children ask for them still. I have heard them beg for stamps from those who were in the habit of selling them. This is surely the thin end of a wedge which may split up many conventions of reserve and good breeding.

But there is far worse behind. Children not only beg for stamps, but traffic in them. If they do not actually sell them, they procure duplicates as a means of exchange. Juvenile bartering is harmless enough when confined to such personal possessions as marbles and knives, which have a real value depending on the cost of production. But the value of a stamp has no relation to the cost of production, is it a fictitious value, like that of certain cards in a game, and is, in fact, a gambling value. Stamps are now an article not only of commerce but of speculation to many adults; surely then the habit of looking out for profitable exchanges brings boys perilously near to something that one would wish to keep as far from them as possible. Stamp merchants employ little boys to sell stamps on commission among their school-fellows. Surely we do not wish our boys to gain their first notions of money transactions from strange and often dishonest speculators and touts! Parents do not quite realize what is going on, or what they are consenting to. I have heard a wealthy woman, a good, careful, anxious mother, say, in presence of her children, that she thought it a good thing for young people to buy stamps, because the collection will increase in value as the years go on. I wondered if she quite saw what she was putting into their little heads!

Till lately, it was a sort of convention in our upper and middle classes that children were to be discouraged from making money by traffic or speculation, till the school age is over. This unwritten law rested on a sound foundation. The children of the poor can actually earn money in holidays by going errands or helping in agriculture, etc. It is difficult for the children of the well-to-do to find any means of actually earning. Some middle-class parents do buy the produce of their children's gardens or poultry yards. But even this has been felt by the majority of well-bred people to be a mistake. Among the really poor the child's earnings are a contribution to the family comfort, and his work is therefore a training for communal life. But where all the pocket-money of which it is desirable that a child should have command can be provided by the parents without their feeling it a loss, the earning of extra money by the child is in no sense a training for family or communal duty. And if the child is able to contribute fruits, eggs, or vegetables to the family table, it is better that he should do so without payment, as a small acknowledgment of his indebtedness to those who liberally supply all his needs. This has been strongly felt by nice-minded parents, even where the children are earning in the true sense, i.e., really adding to the world's stores of wealth; making something or causing something to grow. But the reason against juvenile money-making among the well-to-do is far stronger where the money is made, not by labour but by traffic, because the latter, if begun young, is especially likely to pass over into speculation, which is in reality a polite term for gambling.

The desire to possess money as a means to an end is legitimate; but making money as an amusement is a mere lust. The two things differ as using wine differs from setting up a vicious craving for it; the difference is not in the amount taken, but on whether the wine is taken to promote the digestion of other things, or for the sake of the sensation of imbibing it.

The most gigantic and cruel of commercial frauds are those perpetrated not by men in whom the desire for possession is the chief motive, but by the commercial gambler, who knows that he is as likely to land himself as well as others in the bankruptcy court or in jail, as to enrich himself by ruining others. The passion which sweeps aways all ethical and human considerations is the lust, not for the wealth but for the excitement of gaining wealth. No kind of stock-broking or financing remains honest beyond the point where it leaves off being carried on as a means of earning money that is desired for some purpose, and begins to be carried on for the excitement of the game itself. Finance differs in this respect from most other avocations of man. Agricultural, industrial, artistic and professional work, is better done when done not merely for a livelihood, but also for the love of the work itself: finance is fatal to character in proportion as it is carried on con amore, and not merely for the sake of the proceeds.

The instinctive perception of this truth has led well-bred parents, until lately, to be careful to utilize the early years of children's lives in fostering tastes and setting up hobbies and interests, undistracted by the excitement of barter or traffic, lest the latter should gain possession of the soil, and become in after years, not a mere means of earning money for the purpose of spending it or of providing for the future, but an amusement followed for its own sake. But the need of this caution seems in some danger of being forgotten; not because anyone on reflection really doubts its wisdom; but, as I said, by default, for lack of reflection. So many old conventions are being discarded now because the time has come when they are no longer useful, that people who mean well are in some danger of imagining that progress involves the discarding of all conventions, without any reflection as to whether we can safely do without them yet. "Traditional convention is to morals what the shell is to the nut; it is useless in itself; but if it is broken away too soon the nut will decay without germinating." The world is not yet in so spiritual a condition that wealthy people's children can engage early in any sort of trade without grave risk of becoming precocious stock-jobbers and gamblers.

There seems to be creeping in a sort of idea that encouraging children to be "sharp" in little exchanges and bargains is "a good preparation for business," that it will tend to make them successful as merchants or bankers. Surely this is a mistake. It seems to me that there could hardly be a worse preparation for any sort of business than premature sharp-practice. It trains the qualities which go to make the brilliant company-promoter rather than the successful merchant; it has no tendency to train men who will and to the wealth of the nation while consolidating their own position; it does not form the habits which are needed in the counting-house, bank, or insurance office; it does inoculate prematurely the lust for the vicious excitement of making smart bargains at other people's expense, of trusting to irregular advantages due to strokes of luck, aided by skilful playing on other people's blindness and ignorance. The "business habits" fostered thus are such as give their possessor an equal chance of becoming a millionaire or a pauper, an ostentatious patron of public charities or a criminal in the dock; they make him in either case equally a curse to his country's commerce, and an injury to her reputation. Juvenile smart-bargaining does nothing to foster that other kind of business habit which gives the all but certainty of an honest living along with the possibility of wealth; and which makes the business man a blessing to all around him. Those who wish to train children for real success in business should give a fixed allowance of pocket money, and permit no irregular money presents from relatives. They should encourage the children to keep strict accounts. They should give the children every opportunity for realizing how much power one gains, both to buy what one really needs and to give generously to others, by avoiding careless expenditure and by making one's own tools and toys as far as possible. They should let the children see how much more friends value a gift form a child if made by his hands than if purchased with his money. And they should protect the children from all chance of making money by bargaining, until an interest has been set up and has grown strong, in several kinds of study or pursuit; amongst these there should be at least one by which money can in future be legitimately earned. As for the educational value of juvenile collecting, there are many sorts of collections which are instructive and quite harmless, which depend on contributions gathered by the children themselves, not bought in shops: shells, pebbles, twigs, seeds, mosses, and best of all, paintings of flowers. It is as easy to make a child look out in the map the country whence comes a plant, the flower of which he has painted, as it is to make him look for the town where a stamp was issued. The secretary of the Bayswater Branch of the P.N.E.U., in inviting children to send Natural History collections for the annual exhibition, expressed a wish that shells, seeds, etc., should be sent in boxes not bought, but made by the children. This seems to me calculated to lay a far sounder basis for business training than is likely to be laid in stamp shops. The principle which lies at the rest of this whole question, because it is obvious and indisputable, is sometimes forgotten. The foundation of good business habits is the belief that every good shilling is worth exactly twelve pence, and that no bad coin is worth anything at all. Such ideas as that there is an off chance of one's own particular shilling turning out worth thirteen pence if one is lucky, or that if one is smart one may get thirteen pence for it by persuading some one else to believe it is worth fourteen pence; or that it is legitimate to accept twelve pence for a shilling which one got for sixpence because the former owner doubted its being good, lie at the root of habits which are commercially dangerous and socially degrading. To what extent it is possible for adult business men to keep a perfect straight course in the present condition of commerce, I do not know, nor is this journal the place for discussing such a topic. Our duty surely is to see that we cause not the little ones to take a fatally wrong road at the outset of their life's journey.