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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 Father's Place in Education

by Mr. J. H. Badley
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 621-


At 12:15, Mr. J. H. Badley, read his paper on The Father's Place in Education.

It is one of the best proofs of the reality of our new interest in education, and the most hopeful sign of educational change, that not only are professed educationalists awake, or at least awaking to the need for change—the readjustments of their aims and the reconsideration of their methods, but parents also are coming more and more to realise how much of education rests with them, and are anxious to fit themselves for responsibilities which, in old days, they accepted without a thought, discharged without knowledge or plan, and finally, when those responsibilities became too burdensome, were glad to devolve them entirely upon the shoulders of others. To their world-old devotion, mothers are adding a knowledge without which much of that devotion must fail of its purpose; and the father, too, has come to see that his whole duty is not comprised in the occasional application of the horsewhip to his young hopeful. In paying for his schooling, or even, later, in paying his debts, varied by occasional threats, by way of moral discipline, to cut him off with a shilling. If I venture, therefore, to speak of the part a father can take, even the busiest, in his childrens' education, it is as one who feels in his own case the need of some reasoned course of action, and also as a teacher who has seen the result of the action and inaction of parents, and who learns continually to attach more value to the influences of home.

What I have to offer is only a few notes, the outcome of such experiences and reflection, somewhat disconnected, I fear, and strung on no thread of theory, but following only the course of growth during the two stages of childhood.

First, then, for the early or nursery stage, in which, of course, the father has a very secondary part. Of course, I say, not because of any masculine antipathy or inability to hold a baby, but for the truer reason that the child wakes first to the consciousness of the mother's love and care—I speak of those mothers who do not leave it wholly to a nurse—love and care to which it turns for well-being, solace, refuge. In this inmost chamber of a child's heart, the father is a visitor, not the hourly inmate; and has not the instinctive wisdom and the tact that comes of long living there. So that in the earliest stages of education, if you agree with me that education begins in the cradle, and is shaped, for good or bad, in the nursery, the father's first care has to be not to intrude harshly or unwisely. You remember, no doubt, the old joke in Punch, "Mary, run up into the nursery and see what baby's doing, and tell him not to." It sounds so natural that it requires a moment's thought to recognize the full enormity of it; for it is only a step beyond the continual "Don't do that," which is irritable human nature's first notion of education, whether at home or at school. Of course, I do not mean that we must not at times say "No"; and when we say it, there must be no doubt that we mean it. But for most fathers, I suspect that it is more difficult to refrain from a "Don't" than to enforce it when necessary. Children, like all the rest of us, learn by making experiments, and it is short-sighted wisdom that would save them from all mistakes by forbidding all experiments. Our problem is, from the first, to adjust the claims of freedom of action and safety from danger, and so to let knowledge be gained, wherever it safely can, at first hand, and small mistakes, save big ones.

I begin then, as you see, by using to you the word I would have used as little as possible to children, "Don't." Don't interfere with them more than necessary, or hem them round with any but the most necessary restrictions. Looking back on my own childhood as one naturally does in thinking of one's children, the one thing for which I am most thankful is the almost unlimited freedom we were allowed during our summer visits to the country. There were lesson-times and meal-times, of course, at which we had to report ourselves: but, except for these, we children were free to play our plays and wander with our dogs through the Savannahs and Pampas and enchanted woods whose names recalled our favourite stories—by the Hill Difficulty and the Slough of Despond and the Pool of Content and the rest; to gather blackberries or explore the windings of the brook; to play in the barn or ride in the harvest waggons, regardless of the dangers of pitchforks, and to make companions of horses and cows and farm-men, without fear, and certainly without harm; though neither nurse nor governess was there to watch, and one at least of us as too small to climb the stiles. It was an ideal education, those three months of freedom, summer by summer, and one which colours much of what I have to say to you to-day.

But I must go back again to the nursery to suggest one or two more "don'ts"; though I hope they are unnecessary. First, then, don't talk about children in their presence—I don't merely say in their hearing, for if a child sees that he is being talked about, it is even worse than if he hears what is openly said. It is by no means easy to avoid, especially with admiring relatives and friends: but on its avoidance, from babyhood on, depends the absence of that curse of childhood, self-consciousness. And, connected with this, don't over-praise the first efforts of children. It is only too easy to persuade a child that he is brave or clever or good on account of some very moderate effort; and the schoolmaster knows with what difficulty and at what a price of unhappiness such notions are afterwards corrected. It is in these days less necessary, perhaps, to urge the converse: don't discourage or laugh at the first efforts at self-expression, story or verse or drawing, or the kindergarten mat or brush work blobs, however crude in colour or halting in execution. You want a child to feel that all his occupations are natural and pleasurable in themselves, not subjects orfwonder or amusement to his elders, nor done for their admiration and for reward.

So much for the "don'ts." We must not suppose that the father's part is merely or mainly negative; it soon becomes active enough.

Literally so, if he will be his children's play-mate, and join, when occasion offers, in romps and games: help, for example, to make of the brick box (which should be one of the first and longest-used of toys) a source of living and varied pleasure, keeping pace with the growing interests of life and storyland. And the mention of that word toys sets me thinking how much more a father can do by making (and mending) simple toys such as have delighted generation of children, than by buying all the modern collections of stamped tin-ware, and mechanical contrivances that invite destruction, and that can do little more than blunt the sense of wonder and imagination, which are the real fairy keys for opening magic doors of knowledge as well as fancy. A doll or an animal (the simpler and more unbreakable the better) on which to lavish affection; a spade with which to build veritable castles in the air; a rocking-horse on which to ride into the enchanted forest upon some heroic quest; a gun to transform him into hunter, settler, or prate, as occasion demands; a few things like these are better than a whole cupboard full of costly mechanical toys that are wound up with a key and run about the floor, but are impossible to play with in any real sense. Toys, like stories, should demand and encourage imagination.

Perhaps, you will not agree with me in the value I set on the fairy tales, the best of entrances, in my opinion, into the treasure-house of literature and art. No need, so it seems to me, to fear the world of make-believe in which children live. Those who do not live there as children will live but dull lives afterwards, and the time will come soon enough, even for those for whom the "p'tence" world and its "p'tence" actors are most vivid, when the question, "Is it true?" will be the first criterion of a story's worth. So, tell them all the old fairy-tales that belong to the imperishable childhood of the world, and, with them, the myths and legends of the great nations, and the stories of times when legend merges with history. And let Sunday have its stories, as well as other days, and Joseph and David be living and well-loved friends. I need not dwell on the use of pictures in story-telling; but I would say, read the stories, or, better still, tell them, again and again, until they become penetrated through and through with the child's imagination, are far better than constant novelties and snippets that only dull the interest they are intended to stimulate. It is the old stories heard and learnt in childhood, the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, The Round Table, and all the tales of chivalry and fairy-land, that form our taste and leave with us the love of literature, the sense of style, the power of entering into other worlds that opens to us, not only books, but hearts.

Of course, if we are not ourselves interested in these things, we cannot interest our children in them, but who does not, in the company of children, become more of a child, recall something of the glamour of his own childhood, and live again in the old plays and the old tales? But, even if years and business seem to have narrowed the range of our imagination, we can enter more prosaically into the child's world by asking what has happened in the day, hearing its events and doings, the new lessons learnt, the efforts and failures and triumphs that seem so little and mean so much. And then there will be the questions to answer, the knotty points of knowledge or of others to solve, the new wonders that have come within the child's ken, and have to find their place in his scheme of things, his universe, however small. There is a part of the father's work; to be to the child the embodiment of justice, and encyclopedia of knowledge, to settle all his difficulties and answer all his questions. For, to my thinking, a child's questions should be answered, and answered truly, not put off with refusals or evasions, or half-answers, but followed out as far as his interest or capacity of understanding—and the two things are closely allied—take him. I do not mean that children should be allowed to ask questions at all times, or for the mere pleasure of repeating "Why?" But if they know that there will be a quiet time when they can bring any question that has puzzled them, and that they will be told the truth, it will make a clean wholesome open atmosphere for their minds, and a close bond of union between parent and child. Of course, as their interests widen and they grow more observant, they will ask questions that we cannot answer off-hand. Then we can teach them one of the uses of books by hunting up the point, whatever it may be, explaining and presenting it more simply at first in our own words, then later reading it with them, and lastly, leaving them to read for themselves; thus reaching them one way in which information may be gained, and calling in books as the willing helps, not, as they are apt to appear to children, the grim forbidding sentinels of knowledge.

I have portrayed the father as play-fellow and handy man, story-teller and universal referee; a varied role indeed: but one character I have omitted that perhaps you may have looked for—that of "bogey-man."

I have known nurseries, it is true, in which the father was rather an awful figure, a kind of Jupiter wielding thunderbolts, and in which "I'll tell your pa" was the nurse's direct threat. But I do not fancy this is so common nowadays as once. It is largely, of course, a matter of temperament. Some find it hard to unbend, to put on the magic ring that makes them small again and able to enter the child's world, and so are always something of aliens and shadows in the sunlight there. But, as a rule, I think it is the other way, and our very sense of alienship makes us a little too anxious to lay down all authority, and enter the magic world as a giant perhaps, but if so, as a giant Genie toiling uncomplainingly to carry out the smallest wish of the prince or princess who rules there. You know how ready nations are to attach the name of another nation to things that they suspect. This method of bringing up children we are accustomed to attribute to our American cousins. It may be international jealousy, or it may be that the specimens of childhood from which we form hasty generalizations are spoilt by European travel. Be that as it may, the products of this method, whether practised by others or ourselves, are not pleasant, and not satisfactory, I cannot think either to parent or child. It is possible for the former to push unselfishness too far until it breeds selfishness in the other. Discipline is as necessary to growth as freedom, and children, like horses, like to feel the rein, if they trust the hand that holds it. To be a playmate without becoming a slave, and to preserve discipline without losing fellowship, is the test of wise authority. And when punishment is necessary, let it be short and sharp. Repeated protests and appeals are more likely to produce nervous irritability than to mend faults. Threats and scoldings are alike demoralizing—far more demoralizing, I am old-fashioned enough to believe, than the corporal punishment from which it is the fashion nowadays to shrink.

It is when children grow out of the nursery stage, and before the time comes to go to school, that the father probably sees most of them. There will be holidays even for the busiest of men, Sundays and evenings at home and meal-times, and each of these will bring opportunities for direct influence more frequently, perhaps, than is likely to be the case again. At the sea-side or in the country the father who shows his children how to enjoy a holiday, encourages them in all healthy occupations, leads them to walk and climb and row, digs with them on the beach, teaches them to swim, takes a part now and then in games, and, better still, lets them take a part in his hobbies and pursuits, fostering in them habits of observation and a love of Nature in some form—the father who does this is doing true educational work. Or, again, in the evenings, if he can help them to employ their fingers in some occupation—drawing or carving, and so forth, and reads to them, or lets them read in turn, some book that even the younger will enjoy because they see the older enjoying it—story or poem or play, he is doing them a great and lasting service.

For my own part I can never be thankful enough that the love of drawing and of books, of Scott and Tennyson and, above all, of Shakespeare, was deeply planted in me in this way long before I went to school. It is then, for the most part, that the tastes of a life-time are formed; and, naturally enough, the father's tastes do much to shape them. Even the choice of birthday presents, a book, a chess-board, a set of tools, will help to determine a child's bent. And yet again, at meals, how much depends on talk the child hears and is encouraged to take part in. Talk freely, I would say, of current events, not with a view to giving information after the fashion of some Mr. Barlow, or to make budding politicians and unreasoning partisans, but in order to awaken interests outside themselves and their immediate surroundings, and gradually, without effort, to instill the consciousness of a world in which some day they will have a part to play. Even if the talk is sometimes above their heads, no matter. More or less consciously they will listen, and receive some impression from what might seem altogether beyond their interest. If I may speak once more of my own early memories, amongst them are conversations, the keenness of discussion, the cogency of logic and clearness of expression, have left an indelible impression on my mind and set me wishing they had been more frequent.

These are some of the things in which the father may do much in the earlier stages of education. Of direct character-training, he has much less to do than the mother, of direct mental-training, much less than the teacher. But this does not mean, as I have tried to show, that the father's part is either small or unimportant. All education is far more indirect and unconscious than we think. Whether at home or at school, we teach more, I suspect, by our example, our unpremeditated words and actions, than by our precepts and formal lessons; and in proportion, I suspect moreover, not to our earnestness of eloquence or piety—or even to our knowledge of Herbartian psychology—but in proportion to the child's respect and affection. And it is this that makes the father's place in education so important, though by no means easy to define. If we look only at the definite and conscious training that he can give, it may seem a comparatively small matter; not if we think of all the influences of daily life at home, in which, as the children grow older, he must have a constantly increasing share.

Up to this point, in all or in almost all that I have said, I have been thinking of children of either sex without distinction. But as, from the time the school age is reached, there is, unhappily, in most cases a complete separation of the two, a difference of school, of the methods and objects of education, in fact of the whole outlook, I had better, in the few points I wish to touch upon connected with the stage of school, confine myself in speaking of boys, with whom the father may be thought to be most concerned. I will only, therefore, say this in passing: that I do this, not because I believe any such differences of outlook to be necessary; and indeed most of what I have to say about boys seems to me to be equally true of girls.

It is not possible, of course, to discuss now all the questions connected with school that will present themselves to the father, beginning with the choice of school itself. There is one point, however, connected with the day school which will probably, in most cases, be the first stage of school, upon which I would like to say something, and that is as the amount of home-work to be expected from children. I do not wish to discuss the good or evil of the home-work system. As day schools are at present constituted, more or less home-work is usually a necessity, and the father's first concern appears to me to be to assure himself that it is not excessive in quantity, nor a heavy tax on the child's powers. This assured, to see that he does it as soon as possible without procrastination or dawdling, and without help, for, if it is properly set, on this its whole value depends. If it takes him too long, or is beyond his power, it is the fault of the school, and some change is necessary there. To help him is either to give, instead of the school, the teaching it is supposed to give, or to give extra teaching—a dangerous way of burning the candle at both ends. See that the boy does his best both at school and at home, provided he is not set to do what he does not understand or what will take him an unreasonable time; but let there be no sitting up late or getting up early to finish it. That is bad enough in the case of the so-called "stupid" child—the one, that is, who cannot go through certain mental processes as quickly as most. With such an one, "pushing" soon proves its uselessness. But it is still worse with the clever child who responds to the push, just because he seems to enjoy the strain. There is always a great temptation, both to parents and teachers, to let a clever child work its hardest, to spur him on with some praise, and to push him on for some prize, such as an entrance scholarship at a public school. Well, if we look beyond the immediate object, it is simply not worth while.

In most cases, the process is bad enough in all conscious for healthy physical development, coming as it does just at the time when the bodily growth ought to be making great demands on the total energy. And what is the result regards brain-power, the very faculty it is intended to develop? In the first place, all competition examinations, and most of all those for children, are concerned with the extent of head-knowledge rather than intelligence and its application; for the one is easy to test on paper, the other not. In the second place, the range of the knowledge required is necessarily extremely limited. If what is in reality abstruse scholarship is demanded from children, it can only cover a narrow field. We have therefore, as aim, set before the child, exactitude of memory and acquisition of head-knowledge, remote for the most part from any practical application; as motive, we have the desire of gain and the excitement of competition rather than interest in the work and pleasure in the use of faculty: and, as means, we have an early specialization which takes little account of natural bent and gives little play to half the faculties. It is, as I said, worth while even to gain the prize at the cost of all that is of most real worth in education?

When the time comes for the boy to go off to school, I hope there is no father who will not feel this to be an opportunity he must not miss, a time to say something to him about the new life he is going to lead, and to give him some counsel.

We have all heard of the father, who, after seeing his boy off to school for the first time, complacently related how at parting he had not missed the golden moment of giving him some good advice that ought to bear fruit; he had done his duty by the boy in advising him to go in for bowling rather than batting, as he would be most likely to sin his colours in that way. I don't mean exactly that sort of counsel, though it was not bad advice of its kind, and quite as likely to be productive of good as the more usual: "Now look here, Tommy, be a good boy, and here's a half-a-sovereign for you." It seems to me that if ever there is a time in a boy's life when a father should find it easy and natural to talk seriously with him, it is now when he is going to face dangers and trials which will make a man of him if he learns to face them in the right way, and for which his father can help to arm him. And yet, there is an almost ineradicable shyness on the father's part, as a rule, to say more than a few vague generalities about "being good" and "getting on." We are apt to argue to ourselves that you can't get wisdom from the experiences of others, and the boy must find it all out for himself; or we shelter ourselves behind the comforting assurance that "schools now are very different places from what they were in out time," which is probably true enough, but does not alter the faults of human nature, or excuse us from seeing that our boys shall not fall into folly through sheer ignorance.

There are many points upon which it seems to me a wise father will wish to speak to his son, such as his behaviour towards his schoolfellows and towards the school authorities, honest in work, the sort of language he is likely to hear, and so on. But, there is one matter in particular on which, for my part, I feel it to be the father's duty to speak, and to speak plainly, and this is concerning the facts of sex. So strongly do I feel this to be the father's duty that I hope you will bear with me if I speak a little more fully on a subject whose misfortune it has too often been to be wrapped round with silence and false shame by those whose privilege it might be to enlighten and purify, and lift it above the reach of all shame and degradation.

I will assume that the mother's part has been already done; that from the earliest years the child's questions have been met, not by repression or evasion, or that most fatal of wet blankets, "Wait till you are older," but by the truth, so far as he can understand it and wishes to know it, keeping the whole subject pure and reverent in his mind, only a special bond of union between mother and child rather than matter of common talk; above all, a thing not treated as a mysterious and forbidden topic, the surest way to invest it with an unwholesome attraction. If this has been done, the father's task is easy, for there is both natural knowledge and natural feeling on which to base, not only further knowledge or the bodily organs and the need of saving them from all misuse, but also motives for right conduct. Only he should not, I think, confine himself to vague exhortations to keep from low talk or bad companions, nor, on the other hand, try to frighten the boy with warnings of possible consequences of wrong-doing. What is wanted is that the whole matter shall remain in the child's mind as something quite as natural as any other on which his parents speak to him; as something that is clean and free from shame if he will keep it so, and as something about which he can always bring any question to his father or to those who stand in this father's place, and therefore need not seek knowledge from others than these. I know that some persons shrink from speaking to their children because they think them too young to understand, and are afraid of putting unsuitable ideas into their heads. But if a boy is old enough to go away to school, he is certainly old enough to understand something about these things; and far better that simple, clean and true ideas should be put into his head by those whom he loves and respects, than run the risk of letting him get foul and false ideas from others without being able to tell true from false or good from bad. Let the father speak simply and frankly to him of fatherhood, in order to enlist his best thought and feeling on the side of purity; let him explain the meaning of the time of puberty, and the possibility of harm being done then.

Let the boy know what he should avoid—far better that he should know it from you than from any other source. Let him feel that, while there is no atom of shame in all such talk, he must keep absolutely from all talk of other kinds, from all that he would be ashamed for the father to hear. Personally, I would not try to extract from a boy a promise never to speak of such subjects at all, for I have known more than one instance in which a clean-minded boy, to whom the truth had been told in this manner, has done much good by speaking of them cleanly and naturally at times when some question of the sort arose, and, but for him, the talk might have drifted in the wrong direction. Most of the bad of every kind at school is thoughtless, boys following one another like sheep; but they will follow a good lead no less, and it is difficult to overrate the share that home influences have in forming and maintaining the tone of school.

If confidence is once established on this subject between father and son, it should be easy to keep up; and, for my part, I cannot imagine that such a talk now and again could do anything but deepen the affection between them; indeed, I know nothing so likely to make the confidence between them on other matters also real and lasting. And, if so, it has no small value on this account, too. For often, parents feel that when their children go off to school, the confidence that up to then has existed between them grows somehow less complete; a something often seems to come between them; do what they will, they do not seem able quite to enter the new world that has opened for their children. And, indeed, to some extent, this is natural and inseparable from all growth and the change it brings. But it rests largely with the parents whether or no there shall be a sudden change, and how far the old confidence shall be maintained. It is not an easy problem, for in avoiding the Scylla of want of interest or sympathy in all the new interests and occupations and companionships, all the trifles now so important to the child that make up his daily life, it is easy to fall into the Charybdis of listening too readily to his complaints and grumbles, encouraging him to attach far too much importance to the small roughnesses there must be in every such life, and so preventing him from entering fully and whole-heartily into it. Parents are sometimes apt to forget the influence that the home attitude towards the school must have upon their children. The talk about the school that he hears at home, the tone commonly adopted towards it and its requirements, whether one of criticism or of loyalty to all its rules, and the carrying out, so far as possible, of its regime through the holidays, instead of allowing it to be a time of indulgence—these indirect influences do much to determine the child's own mental attitude toward the school, and the consequent good he can get from it, or, equally unconsciously but no less certainly, his mental attitude towards the home. And indeed, this is true, not of the school only, but of all those under whose authority children are placed—the nurse or governess or tutor of earlier days, for instance. None so quick as children to see how these are trusted by their parents, whether with courtesy and consideration and real respect, or not, and to adopt a like attitude on their own part. The secret is, to put in charge of our children only those whom we ourselves respect. So much depends on the choice of the school, that, in making the choice, the father should spare no trouble to assure himself that it is in all ways suitable, that he knows and approves the methods employed, and can have confidence in those to whose hands he is entrusting his boy. When he has made his choice, he should surely in all possible respects try to carry on at home the training of the school, to work with it, and to guard against all possible conflict of influence. And, with this object, it is desirable in order to bridge over the gulf between home and school, that parents and teachers should meet more and should discuss the questions of character-training that concern them both; and that they should regard each other as fellow-workers for a common end, each of whom can help the other. It is only when school and home work together, that the child can derive the full benefit from each.

There is only one other subject on which I have time to touch, which belongs to the later stages of education—that is the choice of profession.

In those cases where a decided bent early shows itself, the wisest course, as I believe, is to leave the boy free to follow it, no matter what tempting openings there may be in other directions. There are two courses that seem to me equally unfortunate; the one, to let a boy grow up without any thought about the matter, without ever realizing that he will have to earn his own living; the other, to settle all for him without waiting to consult either his wishes or his capacities, but to decide that he must enter his father's profession,—or perhaps the profession that the father would have chosen, had he been free to choose for himself,—or take this line or that merely because there happens to be an opening there. If there is such an opening, so much the better for the boy, provided there is no compulsion in the matter, but he is free to take it if he develops the requisite bent and fitness, or to follow his tastes if they turn strongly in another direction. And though he should know from the first that he will have to decide before his education is completed, I do not think there is anything gained by bothering him about the decision too early. By the time he is 16 or so it will generally be plain (if not earlier) where his bent lies, or where at least it does not lie, and whether, for example, he should be given the added years of University training. If so, the final choice may well be left still later; otherwise if, by this age, no decision tendency has shown itself, the choice may well be decided by what openings are available.

But, in all cases, I would have the boy feel that he is free, that he is treated as one who is to be his own master. For I will end as I began by urging the need of freedom for all true growth. It is hard to realize that our children are not always children. Every mother knows the feeling of surprise, a certain regret mingling with the pleasure, when something shows that her baby has turned into a boy; and I fancy we fathers are even less ready to recognise that our boys are turning into men, and needing recognition as such in growing freedom and equality of intercourse. And yet the paradox is true, that we cannot keep the old home feeling unless we recognize that the old basis is gone. The old relationship of parent and child must be gradually replaced by a new; and it is precisely in the growth of this new relationship of the father with the full-grown son, the free companionship and equality of thought, that is to be found the best reward of all the father's efforts, the crown of his work. If it is the teacher's task to render his pupil able to do without him, so is it the father's, as years go on, to become (if you will allow me to express my meaning in familiar schoolboy language)—to become less and less the "Guv'nor" and more and more the "Dear old Dad." Both these terms of endearment express great and abiding facts. In them, and in the gradual evolution to each of us, as our children grow, of the one into the other, lies, to my thinking, most of the father's part in education.


Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, Mar 2009