The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Parents' Educational Union.

By Dorothea Beale, Principal of the Ladies' College, Cheltenham.
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 117

And glorious Hector took the helmet off,
And laid it gleaming on the ground, and kissed
His darling child, and danced him in his arms,
And spoke in prayer to Zeus and all the gods:
"Zue, and ye other gods, oh grant that this
My child, like me, may grow a champion here--
As good in strength, and rule with might in Troy.
That men may say, The boy is better far
Than was his sire."
(Trans. by Kingsley)

What right have we teacher in a Parents' Educational Union? Are we so bent on teaching that we cannot be content with the children, but want to gather in parents also?

Ah no! It is not as teachers and learners that we would meet; but as fellow-workers, as friends, that together we may learn from and with one another, how we may best carry forward that which is the supreme work of woman, and, in dying, leave as witnesses that we have lived, men and women, stronger in body, abler in mind, nobler in character, than we have been-- that in each age of the world, the wish of the true man may be fulfilled, and the upward progress of humanity be realised-- of which the earliest Scriptures spoke, when they said that man was created in the image of God, that he might grow into His likeness; and of which the latest speak, when they tell of man's comprehending the love of God which passeth knowledge, and of being filled with the fulness of God.

Now what is it that parents and teachers will respectively contribute? Well, I think this will generally be the division of labour. Parents will contribute those minute observations which must precede the recognition of law, and form the basis of the science of education; teachers will have a more limited experience with each child, but a wider experience of many children, and will furnish rather generalisations. The parents will be cheered in view of temporary failure by the larger experience which has proved the power of education; and the teachers will be cheered by the personal experience which tells them that the "must be" is; and faith will be strengthened and hope quickened, and the sympathy between teacher and child and parent will form a teaching and learning circle from which influences for good will be constantly passing, blessing, not only the child, but the teacher, as he echoes the words "For their sakes I sanctify myself," and there will be, as M. Legouvé has said--l'education des pères par les enfants. I will begin by giving the teachers' side of the matter, which I suppose, I see most clearly, and then ask parents to give us theirs?

Now, where I venture to think many parents are wrong is in this. They regard the child as theirs; they have an ideal for the child, and they think that they have a right to direct the education, and that the teacher is to help them in fashioning the child to their ideal.

Now the teacher regards the child as the child of God, as the heir of humanity, as a member of the great social organism. He regards the child rather as the foster child of the particular parent, and he thinks more of the responsibilities than the rights of the parent.

Let me illustrate. A parent brings a child to a doctor for some bodily disorder. The doctor listens to all the parent has to say, and then, out of his own special knowledge and wide experience, prescribes a certain treatment. The parent comes perhaps again and again, telling the result of the treatment, and the doctor profits by the special experience, and between the two, the desired result is brought about. This is legitimate co-operation.

But suppose a parent were to come and say, "Doctor, my child is short, and I want him to be six feet high at least." The doctor must point out that there are certain unalterable conditions, and decline to stretch the child. He would say, "My object is to co-operate with, not to contravene nature. In endeavouring to make feet preternaturally small, or heads abnormally flat, or human beings with the waists of wasps, people have done much harm; and we may not, as self-respecting men, to please anybody, do what is not for the good of the patient."

Now in intellectual things the evil done is less apparent, and parents, who would not consent to tight lacing and high heels, do sometimes come to a teacher and say, "I want my child to be a musician," when God has not given to the child the necessary qualities; or, "I don't want my child to be a 'blue,' so she shall not learn mathematics."

A musical father paid for years £20, annually, to have the unmusical and only daughter taught the piano. I pressed upon her that it was her duty to do her best to satisfy his great wish. She laboured diligently, and succeeded in attaining much skill; but the time was worse than wasted for artistic purposes, and sense of duty, that determination to do right, however unpleasant it might be, which has characterised her throughout her life.

I have heard of daughters who have no sufficient home duties, who have reached maturity, and who have a duty to God and their country, who are yet kept in idleness, and forbidden to do that which God and their conscience call upon them to do, by a father who does not realise his responsibilities, who thinks of his children as his own. If it is wrong to try to bend the mind to our ideal, instead of seeking to discover the intellectual gifts, and develop these, far worse is it to try to subject the conscience to our will. Guidance and advice we must always give, and obedience within the limits of what seems right, will be dictated by the conscience of the child; but no error can be more fatal than to teach a child that it is ever right to disobey conscience. I do not mean that the child ought to be allowed to disobey, unless he agrees with the parent, but that he should never be moved to do what seems to him wrong, or to omit doing what he feels to be right. Let us ever have courage to say to our children "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it." The categorical imperative must be obeyed. It may be that the child is wrong, but it is by the experience of the mistakes that we have made, that each of us has gained wisdom; and the mistakes of child- hood are not irreparable as in later life.

I do think that such an association as ours might do something to solve what is a very pressing question of our time, viz, "What are the relative duties of parents and children?" Certainly, truer views would tend to increase that mutual reverence, which makes tyranny and rebellion alike impossible, and the want of which is, alas, sometimes too evident in the familiar nicknames of the son for the father, and in the arbitrary tones of the parent. It was the work of the prophet of old to "turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the children to their fathers"; it is a work which we teachers feel to be of supreme importance to-day. Especially in religious matters have earnest, loving, faithful parents sown sorrow for themselves by forgetting the words, "Call no man your master upon earth," and have often alienated their children from spiritual things, because they have not remembered that in religious faith, as in every faith, there must be--first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear; because they cannot trust to God the supreme teaching of their child.

I have said that the parent has the more special knowledge that we teachers lack; but it is not true sometimes that relations, because they live side by side, believe that they know one another, and therefore cannot learn to do so? Surely the duty of parents and teachers is defined by the first work given to man by the higher relationship, which is manifested more or less in all living things, but above all in the highest creature, self-conscious man.

Man was set "to dress the garden of this world." He can create nothing; the ideal tree is enfolded in the seed; it is his to plant and water, to dig about and prune it, to graft in the higher life, from kindred stock; not to change the nature which it has received from the "Word of life," but to seek to develop it to the utmost, that it may bear good fruit "after its kind." How can we adequately fulfil our part in the work of education, as workers together with God! That wretched simile of Locke's, which makes the mind a tabula rasa and education the writing of characters, is, I suppose, the worst extant. The comparison of Socrates, the sculptor, who thought of education as of the artist's work, is nearer, but inadequate. The idea exists first, and the artist contemplates that, yet as he works, the vision becomes clearer, and at times it seems as if the idea were an animated thing--his own creation, and yet something apart from him. Perhaps it is this feeling which developed the beautiful myth of Galatea, and Acis is the true educator, rapt in joy and wonder, as the lovely form develops, dream-like, into a beauty at which he marvels-- and the soul looks forth from eyes once stony and dead. But Frobel has better described the work of the true educator as that of a child-gardener; the nature, the needs, of the plant he knows; but its form he cannot foresee, nor the glory of its blossoms, nor the fruit it will bear. It has a life of its own which is ever unfolding some new beauty. As the lover of flowers finds joy in watching the unfolding bloom, and is discovering ever new and unexpected beauties, so does the true educator find an unfailing joy and interest in watching the unfolding character. He does not claim that the work is his; and his joy is to feel that he is not alone, but one of a great company of workers, and that all are together carrying forward the divine purpose, which they see only in part, but which cannot fail,--he cries with the patriot of old--What hath God done!

Do I seem to some to be using high-flown language, which has no reality? The true teacher, inspired with the passion of love for the little ones, will not think so. I can only say with the Great Teacher--"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

Typed by Mandy, Sept 2015