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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 Training of Women with Regard to Specialization in Men.

by Douglas M. Gane.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 772


It is a singular fact that, of all the schools of Philosophy of the old Greek world, in the Pythagorean alone did women gain distinction. When we take into account the peculiar features of this order, the problem, at first sight so perplexing, yields a striking lesson. Few of us who are blessed with the companionship of good women can fail to realize how fitted they are to gain honour in a society that has for its aim a reform of the moral life, and whose awards are given on the merit of virtue. But the significance of the success of women in this school cannot be fully estimated until it is understood that, though the Pythagoreans embraced all the elements of culture of the time, yet, in the domain of ethics, they were never specially engaged in seeking to understand the general nature of morality in a scientific way.* Their aim, on the contrary, was to "live the life"; and the analysis of morals, as a scientific pursuit, tending as it did merely to the increase of knowledge, was always subordinate to the practical application of its precepts. We may from this perceive that though, as we are told, no woman ever founded a philosophy, it cannot with equal truth be said that no woman ever lived the philosophic life.

Woman is the exemplar and inspiration of conduct, and she has taken rank as such not by virtue of what she does but of what she is. As man personifies power, woman is the type of wisdom. It is the fate of power to lack wisdom; of wisdom to lack power. Perfection lies in the union of the two, for thereby strength is wisely directed, and wisdom is rendered effective. It is given to man to act, to woman to guide and control. These are the inevitable destinies of the sexes, and any scheme of development that omits to recognize this fundamental distinction will fail to bring out what is most estimable in the character of each.

* Zellers's Pre-Socratic Philosophy, Vol. 1, page 498.

That the system of education that has become traditional in the case of boys has for its aim the development of strength is the plain avowal of our educators.* We live in an age when man has wandered farther and farther from the simple life. Driven from the common centre by the stern conditions of remunerative labour, he is now engaged in the pursuit of minutiae which only the equipment of mental force and organization can enable him to reach. To provide this is the business of the educator. The acquirement of knowledge by the way is discountenanced, being regarded as a reckless expenditure of vital force, and the entire storage is reserved for concentration upon that particular branch of knowledge which underlies the pursuit the scholar may intend to subsequently follow. Thus, his study of the classics is not directed to give him access to the literature of the ancients, nor does he study mathematics for the benefit of the knowledge embodied therein. They are, first and last, mental exercises destines to bring out mental power. Even the teaching of science as it obtains in our schools does not aim at encouraging the general knowledge which brings about a love of Nature, but, rather, at giving the scholar that organization of mind that comes with the grasp of scientific method. Until lately, the curiosity of the child was repressed, and, if now encouraged, it is so less with the idea of satisfying a natural craving, than of establishing a mental process indispensable to the science student--the process of observation.

Though such a method of education has undoubted evils, it is the condition precedent of our civilization. No man could embody in himself all the activities of our times. Though possessing the aptitude for all, he dedicates his vital force to the paramount cultivation of one, and thus sacrifices his natural proportions in view of a large general result. The community of man is a cosmos composed of innumerable differentiated organisms, each squared and moulded to suit the position it is intended to fill, and each contributing by its relative perfection to the symmetry of the structure of which it forms a part.

* More than fifty years ago, Dr. Wiese briefly summed up the objects of the Public School system in these words: "All that a school can teach beyond a certain small stock of knowledge is the way to learn. It is a lamentable misconception of that most important maxim that a liberal education can have any other end in view than to impart and exercise power to be used in after life." That the method of our schools has undergone no change is shown by the recent remarks of a Times reviewer (October 12th, 1897): "To complain of a boy's ignorance," he says, "is to misapprehend the object with which he is sent to school. The best schoolboy of his year has little actual knowledge. He is not an authority on scholarship, mathematics, history or science; he is unripe, unfinished, inexperienced. If he were sent to school to acquire knowledge, our entire system of liberal education might be pronounced a failure. The fact is that he is sent there in order that he may learn to learn, that his mind may be trained and stimulated and may be fitted to do man's work when he comes to manhood."

But at what cost to the individual is this narrowing of his faculties to a fine cutting edge! The fruit-tree is not ornamental. Spread upon our walls, fettered at every point, stripped of its natural growth, it strikes us by its very deformity. Yet we justify the spoliation by the improvement in the fruit it yields. So it is with man. The cultivation that produces an abundant harvest of the intellect is at the cost of whatever makes for beauty in the individual. In the acquisition of profundity which is the basis of power, man has sacrificed comprehensiveness which is the basis of wisdom; and thus it is that education, which in bygone times was associated in the minds of men with virtue, has been charged, with no little justification, with being the cause of half the wickedness in the world.

Beauty is health, and health is wholeness. Whatever sacrifices the legitimate working of one faculty to the undue exercise of another gives rise to an imperfection of organization which tends to manifest itself in some imperfection of conduct. Health lies in the ability of the organism to accommodate itself to its environment, and the process by which the adjustment is made is conduct, and the guiding power that regulates conduct is the general or common sense.

But an exclusive and narrow occupation tends to produce a sense peculiar to that occupation, and in the measure in which this special sense operates, the common sense becomes inactive. The consequence is that men thus employed come in time to adjust their conduct to the dictates of their special sense, which serves them well enough so long as they remain within the little world their occupation has created for them, but which is powerless to guide them honourably through the mazes of the great and common world. "The question with me is not what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason and justice tell me I ought to do." In metering these memorable words, Burke testified to the limitations of the special sense, and to the need for a broader basis of action. Many men, realizing their deficiency in this respect, have sought to regain their lost general powers by means of culture, but in place of the delicate process of intuition, have only set up the cumbrous machinery of the reason, with the result that their power for action has diminished.

It would seem, therefore, that since the habit of reflection that comes of culture is inimical to action, and the concentrated power of action is acquired at the cost of general intuition, the man of action has no sense of conduct beyond what his particular avocation affords, and that in the common affairs of life he has no alternative but to submit to such standards of conduct as are externally imposed. Were our private life ordered on the lines of a monastic community representing in its members the various activities that men have specialized, then the general sense of the body might afford a comprehensive ethical sanction for every member of it. But it is not. The home is the social unit, and the administration of the home demands the same universal sense that regulates society at large. What society has for its guide in the collective special intuitions of its members, the home has in the general intuition of woman. and this is woman's primary work, to direct the home, as man collectively directs the state.

In saying that the qualifications of women fit them to undertake the direction of the home we only repeat a venerable and self-evident truth. But in determining the nature of these qualifications we point to what is not so apparent, and in endeavouring to suggest what is conducive to their development we enter controversial ground, for we here come upon the difficult subject of female education. In showing what the mind of man has become under the regimen of a liberal education and an exclusive pursuit, we at the same time show what it is desirable in the interest of humanity that the mind of woman should not become. For it must be remembered that women are, before all else, the conservators of health. It is their work, as wives and mothers, to maintain the physical, mental and moral well-being of those who come within the sphere of their influence. By means of woman nature corrects in man the bias that special pursuits have given him, and restores to the new generation those universal qualities that mark the identity of the species. Through her the character transmitted by ancestry is modified in favour of a more general approximation to a common type, and the taint of hereditary vices is gradually dissipated. Woman is to humanity the great reservoir of elemental life, the solvent of new forms and idiosyncrasies. By her, mankind is born again, rich once more in the possibility of the fulness and beauty of life.

Whatever makes man stronger and woman wiser, best assists the natural growth of each. For though not all men are strong nor all women wise, yet the qualities by which we identify the sexes, manliness and womanliness, are none the less determined by the respective attributes of power and wisdom. Thus it results--in the interrelation of the sexes--that it matters little to what extent man concentrates his faculties, provided woman does not concentrate hers.

The more closely do men or women conform to the condition of life of the sex opposite to them the more nearly will the come to resemble that sex. When woman concentrates her faculties, her growth is in the acquisition of power. But these acquired characters, however beneficial they may be to the individuals they concern, render them less eligible for union with the other sex. The concentration that gives women's work a marketable value tends to deprive her of that general sense of conduct which is at the bottom of her home influence; and while comprehensiveness in man promotes his growth of character it unfits him for the special labour by means of which alone the home can be maintained. It is not without cause that men are less apt to ally themselves with the learned, the business, or the professional woman than with the woman of common sense and intelligence; nor that woman are more susceptible to the man of action. The affinities, in fact, are governed by considerations that encourage the completion of the human organism, that ensure the addition to the man and woman of what is the deficiency of each. So uncompromising is the demand of nature for the preservation of this distinction in the sexes that in cases in which the woman specializes and so encroaches on the functions of the man, the man not unfrequently tends to acquire the characteristics of the woman. Nothing is more common than to find concentration relax in men whose wives have become breadwinners. The traditional view of marriage that makes the man and woman one person would. therefore, appear to have a scientific basis.

"Either sex alone
Is half itself, and in true marriage lies
Nor equal nor unequal; each fulfils
Defect in each, and always thought in thought,
Purpose in purpose, will in will they grow,
The single pure and perfect animal,
The two cell'd heart, beating with one full stroke."

From the foregoing, it would seem that, if man is to be strong and woman wise, the education that is suited to the one is not suited to the other. As we have shown, profundity gives strength; comprehensiveness, wisdom. Except in the case of those oceanic minds where depth co-exists with expanse, the general rule obtains that intension is acquired at the sacrifice of extension. We cannot, therefore, expect to often find amongst women those whose qualities for special work have been attained without the loss--or at least the partial loss--of that true insight and comprehensive intelligence that are at the root of woman's regenerative powers. If, as many profess to hope, the redemption of society will come from the co-operation of men and women in the work of the world, women must bring to bear on the councils of men, not those qualities that men themselves already possess--in which case their presence is superfluous--but that influence of their sex which, exercised in private life, is man's chief incentive to high endeavour.

We, therefore, return to the well-worn idea that the education of woman should be directed upon the lines of general culture; not to the mere accumulation of stray facts, that

Rude unprofitable mass,
The mere materials with which wisdom builds,

but rather to a familiarity with the general principles of human conduct that go to make up the wisdom of life. She should know these so entirely that they may be a part of herself, and that she may as readily employ them as the professional man employs the special knowledge that, "smoothed and squared and fitted to its place," has become the wisdom of his life. Mrs. Jameson, in a passage of marvellous insight, has pointed out the secret of the unerring sagacity of "Catherine of Arragon." "The character, when analysed," she says, "is, in the first place, distinguished by truth. I do not only mean its truth to nature, or its relative truth arising from its historic fidelity and dramatic consistency, but truth as a quality of the soul; this is the basis of character. We often hear it remarked, that those who are themselves perfectly true and artless, are in this world the more easily and frequently deceived--a commonplace fallacy: for we shall ever find that truth is as undeceived as it is undeceiving, and that those who are true to themselves and others may now and then be mistaken, or, in particular instances, duped, by the intervention of some other affection or quality of the mind; but they are generally free from illusion, and they are seldom imposed upon in the long run by the show of things and superficies of characters. It is by this integrity of heart and clearness of understanding, this light of truth within her own soul, and not through any acuteness of intellect, that Catherine detects and exposes the real character of Wolsey, though unable either to unravel his designs or defeat them.

My lord, my lord,
I am a simple woman, much too weak
T'oppose your cunning.

She rather intuitively feels than knows his duplicity, and in the dignity of her simplicity she towers above his arrogance as much as she scorns his crooked policy."*

* Mrs. Jameson's Characteristics of Women, page 350.

This is the jewel of great price in the character of woman--this truth as a living quality; and it is of this that modern educators seek to dispossess her. Stendhal remarks: "What an excellent adviser a man would have in his wife if she knew how to think." To think, indeed! The navigator of human destinies stopping to think! Imagine an advocate in the midst of his pleading, or a doctor with life and death in his hands, stopping to think! What better qualifications can they have than that perfect knowledge of their work that precludes the necessity of thought. So it is with woman. She need aim to acquire only so much knowledge as the alimentary process of her mind enables her to assimilate--in other words, to acquire intuitively. All else is an encumbrance.

As in the case of the lawyer, for instance, whose special knowledge so leavens his mind that it transforms its very shape and character, converting the natural into what we term the legal mind; so, in the case of woman, her knowledge must be so digested that it become incorporated in and form a part of herself; so that, as the nutriment of the body loses its identity in process of assimilation, she no longer recognizes it as knowledge. It must impart quality, not quantity. For culture is a refining process, and has nothing whatever to do with scholarship--in fact, a woman of culture is probably not a learned woman, but she is a gentlewoman.

Women should, from childhood, be led to acquire a love of nature; not necessarily a thirst for enquiry into its more remote processes, but a dislike to all artifice, growing and culminating in a demand for the natural in its perfection.* Thus she will preserve this quality of truth in the soul, a quality which, unfolded and enlarged by that process of true development--the acquisition of human experience--will, as an active principle, enable her to comprehend and reduce to simpler form the tangled maze of rights and duties that are the product of our complex civilization. It should be the object of woman to acquire understanding. But as she cannot hope to pierce the secrets of nature to the depth attainable by man collectively in his concentration individually upon narrow fields, she must take the general results of the various sciences and apply them in the philosophic method to the perfecting of the general art of conduct. + The office of woman, it must be remembered, lies in government, in directing and controlling the conduct of others, not in one phase of life, but in all. The same faculties that make her a good administrator of the home enable her to direct the destinies of larger bodies. As in the home, so in wider fields, she typifies wisdom directing power, and her wisdom is not the less effective because her instruments of power are more numerous. As queens, women have won renown, as much by the control as by the choice of their ministers. In fitting themselves for these larger functions, however, women must remember that the fulness of their influence will come not in cultivating the narrow and artificial growth of man, but in the perfecting of the richness of their own natural development.

* I have here borrowed from Leigh Hunt's definition of taste. See Criticism of Female Beauty, page 142

+ The connection between knowledge and conduct is well described by Mr. Charles Waldstein in The Balance of Emotion and Intellect, page 18. He says:--"Philosophy contemplates phenomena in their more immediate bearing upon man. When a chemist makes an analysis, he does not at the moment he experiments consider the relation between this phenomenon and his own self or human mind; he does not consider the relation between the object of his examination and the subject that examines. It is the business of philosophy to do this. Philosophy is more conscious knowing, because it brings everything nearer the focus of the subject itself. And so it again reacts upon science and individuals. Individuals, in common thought, classify their experience on certain subjects, thus generating the special sciences; and this experience forming the special sciences, when further generalized, gives us philosophy. Philosophy reacts upon individual thought, making it more methodical, less liable to go wrong, and giving a firm ground on which to collect all experience--so again influencing the philosophy that follows this ameliorated special thought and science."