The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

By The Editor. (Charlotte Mason)
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 1

The parent begins instinctively by regarding his child as an unwritten tablet, and is filled with great resolves as to what he shall write thereon. By and bye, traits of disposition appear, the child has little ways of his own; and, at first, every new display of personality is a delightful surprise. That the infant should show pleasure at the sight of his father, that his face should cloud in sympathy with his mother, must always be to the fact, by the time the child shows himself a complete wonderful to us. But the wonder stales; his parents are used human beings like themselves, with affections, desires, powers; taking to his book, perhaps, as a duck to water; or to the games which shall make a man of him. The notion of doing all for the child with which the parents began gradually recedes. So soon as he shows that he has a way of his own he is encouraged to take it. Father and mother have no greater delight than to watch the individuality of their child unfold as a flower. But Othello loses his occupation. The more the child shapes his own course, the less do the parents find to do, beyond feeding him with food convenient, whether of love, or thought, or of bodily meat and drink. And here, we may notice, the parents need only supply, the child knows well enough how to appropriate. The parents' chief care is that that which they supply shall be wholesome and nourishing, whether in the way of picture books, lessons, playmates, bread and milk or mother's love. This is education as most parents understand it, with more of meat, more of love, more of culture, according to their kind and degree. They let their children alone, allowing human nature to develop on its own lines, modified by facts of environment and descent.

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Nothing could be better for the child than this "masterly inactivity," so far as it goes. It is well he should be let grow and helped to grow according to his nature; and so long as the parents do not step in to spoil him, much good and no very evident harm comes of letting him alone. But this philosophy of "let him be," while it covers a part, does not cover the serious part of the parents' calling; does not touch the strenuous incessant efforts upon lines of law which go to the producing of a human being as his best.

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Those of us who have come face to face with the problem of education have had some such experience as this. The children are bright, loving, docile, as "'tis their nature"; take kindly to their sums, their story-books, their play, their lessons, to whatever in the way of food or exercise is provided for their manifold nature. They get on, of course, surprisingly, if they be quick children of a good stock; and the educator cannot enough plume himself upon his easy success, until, one day, it dawns upon him that all this delightful progress is no more than natural growth; the child is growing, every part of him, under favouring conditions, upon the food of various sorts that you provide him with, in the atmosphere that you surround him with. If no more is wanted of him than to grow, you may sit at your ease. But if you are not content that he should grow as he is, if you see that this must be strengthened and that reduced, it is a source of deep distress to parent or teacher to perceive that, in all that makes for character--the one sterling achievement of human life--the children are where they were; the bright, impulsive child is as hopelessly idle; the slow child is no quicker; the reticent child no franker; the sullen, no more amiable; the volatile, no steadier. Clearly, there is more to be done; but what more, and how much more--are questions to answer which, by "here a little, and there a little," the Parents' Review stands committed.

Anent the "Principles of Froebel" we should like to emphasise "story-telling." Every father and mother should have a repertoire--a dozen stories will do, beautiful stories beautifully told; children cannot stand variation. "You left our the rustle of the lady's gown, mother!" expresses reasonable irritation; the child cannot endure a suggestion that the story he lives in is no more than the "baseless fabric of a vision." Away with books, and "reading to"--for the first six or seven years of life at any rate. The endless succession of story-books, scenes, shifting like a panorama before the child's vision, is a mental and moral dissipation; he gets nothing to grow upon, or is allowed no leisure to digest what he gets. It is contrary to nature, too. "Tell us about the little boy who saved Haarlem!" How often do the children who know it ask for that most hero-making of all tales! And here is another advantage of the story told over the story read. Lightly come, lightly go, is the rule for the latter. But, if you have to make a study of your story, if you mean to appropriate it as bread of life for your children, why you select with the caution of the merchantman seeking goodly pearls. Again, ni the story, read, the parent is no more than the middleman; but the story, told is food as directly and deliberately given as milk from the mother's breast. Wise parents, whose children sit with big eyes pondering the oft-told tale, help us in this! Let us know the one tale your children love the best.

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To appropriate an anecdote from an admirable little volume; "But yesterday, in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the faculty was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other day, his successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the University to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject that were no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: 'Take every text-book that is more than ten years old, and put it down in the cellar.'" So far as education is a science, the truth of even ten--much more, a hundred--years ago is not the whole truth of to-day.

"Thoughts beyond their thought to these high seers were given;"

and, in proportion as the urgency of educational effort presses upon us, will be the ardour of our appreciation, the diligence of our employment, of those truths with the great pioneers, Froebel and the rest, have won for us by no less than prophetic insight. But, alas, and alas, for the cravings of lazy human nature--we may not have an educational pope; we must think out for ourselves, as well as work out, those things that belong to the perfect bringing-up of our children.

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All our great educational reformers have been men. The reforms of women have taken the direction rather of practical application than of original thought. This is worth thinking of in connection with the theory that the home-training of the children is the mother's concern. Happily, it does not fall to each of us to conceive, for the first time, the principles which underlie our work. But when we take the conceptions of other minds into ours so that we are able to work them out--to handle them as the skilled artisan handles his tools, to produce by their means--why then we do originate. Such exercise of original thought on the subject of the bringing up of their children falls to both father and mother. "O that all children were born orphans!" cries an irate schoolmaster. They are not so born, and neither are they born fatherless; and, that the male should be ever on the wing homewards with a worm in his bill is not, however praiseworthy, the sole duty that attaches to human paternity. This is not a protest against the practice of fathers. The annals of fatherhood would, no doubt, furnish as fine reading as those of motherhood. But it is a protest against that notion that early education is the concern of the mother alone.

The Editor.

Typed by Whitney Townsend, Sept 2015