The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Home Training and Teaching in Religion.

by The Rev. E. C. Wickham, Head Master of Wellington College.
Volume 1, 1890, pg. 801

Home training and teaching in religion is a subject which, from some points of view, seems hardly fitted for public discussion. Such discussion may well seem at once scarcely needed and scarcely possible: scarcely needed, because there can be no home in any reasonable sense Christian where the training of children in the habits, and the planting in them of the elementary ideas of religion, are not practiced--no home where children do not learn pray, do not hear from a mother's lips of a Savior, of a Holy Spirit, of their adoption into God's family, of another life: scarcely possible, because it comes too nearly home to most of us. We should be discussing not only what we ought to do, but still more, what we ought to be. For a child's habits, both of act and mental attitude, are determined not so much by what he is taught as by what he sees by the imitative instinct, by example, by the air he breathes, by character as it insensibly reveals itself to him.

The mere title of this paper may, however, serve to remind us, in days when we are continually discussing the machinery of religion in all its minutest and even less essential details, that we have in our own homes and in our own hands, the first and incomparably the most potent engine in that machinery, that for the neglect or inefficiency of which nothing else will compensate--that just as the State is an aggregate of families, so the Church is an aggregate of Christian households--that as the priesthood of the home is the oldest, so is it the most effectual in the true work of a priesthood in bringing God near to man and man to God--that the children of to-day are the rulers and voters, the parents and teachers of to-morrow, whose attitude to religion, whose power, which that question so largely affects, to make or mar their time, will depend more, than on any one other condition, on the character and depth of the impressions stamped upon their souls in the years when impressions are received most easily and most lastingly.

The subject before us is, however, I take it, a practical one, on which one and another may be able to contribute suggestions which will derive any value they possess from the special differences in our experience and points of view. I therefore make no apology for speaking of the question as it appears to a schoolmaster, and a schoolmaster whose experience has lain in one class of schools. Schools have their own place and duty in respect of religious training and teaching. That is quite rightly a matter of frequent discussion in relation to schools of every grade, and for both sexes. I wish it was so not less frequently but more. After all, it is a question primarily for parents. My own experience is not that they question of interfere too much, but that they are often easily satisfied--that they wipe their hands of the responsibility too readily. But, on the other hand, it must be clearly understood that what can be done at school in this matter has from the nature of the case rather strict limits. Home has the start of us in point of time. The youngest child who goes to a preparatory school, or even to a Sunday school, does not carry there a mind like a sheet of paper, only waiting to be written on. He has already formed habits, acquired instincts, attitudes of soul, prejudices, which, positively or negatively for good or for ill, will condition and color all he learns afterwards. And home runs alongside of school. For a boy at a boarding school is at home a quarter of the year, and home habits and examples and ideas have a force which, whether for better or worse, limits, supplements, commends, disparages what is taught or practiced at school. It may be added that at any given school there are children from many homes, and they pass on to one another the influences which they have felt. The tone of a school Is thought of generally as something generated in the school--a local state of atmosphere--but it has antecedents. It reflects to a degree not always recognized the average tone of the homes which feed the school.

Training has to do with habits--teaching with knowledge and ideas. The two cannot be kept, in any deeper sense, apart; but for convenience' sake we may speak first of the outward habits of religion--such as prayer, the observance of Sunday, almsgiving.

Private prayer at school fifty years ago was in many places at least a point of question and difficulty. In the year 1874, good Bishop Selwyn came to Wellington to confirm for our own Bishop, and in talking to the boys he spoke, from his own memory of the large open bedroom in college at Eton many years before, of the difficulty which a young boy might fell in kneeling down, to say his evening prayers amid unsympathizing companions. He did not realize the change which in this particular had taken place since he was a boy or a young master. In many schools a boy has perfect privacy, and everywhere I believe proper silence is kept, and the boy who would be remarked would be the boy who did. But what are the prayers like? How much there depends on the spirit in which that fist and simplest of religious observances has been taught to the little child -- the reverence, the earnestness, the simplicity, the filial spirit. All parents, so far as my experience goes of boys in a public school, teach their children to say prayers. There is one step further which all do not take. Prayers suitable to the nursery are outgrown at ten, still more at fourteen. I do not think parents always remember this, or take care to let the first steps in the passage from the prayers of childhood to those of manhood be under the same guidance which gives such tender and unforgotten associations to the prayers learnt and said first at a mother's knee.

May I stop to say a word on a special from of prayer. I mean the saying of grace at meals. Where this is reverent and real, not wearing the air of something suitable to the nursery, but out of relation to older life, it must surely convey to children in a form that they can understand many religious ideas. It is bringing religion home to weekdays, to actual life, to family life, to the simplest needs and pleasures. It is exhibiting God in the light of the Giver of all. It is not hard for thoughtful children to expand the lesson in many directions--to grasp even, in some degree, the symbolical and sacramental sense of what they do--to argue for themselves that if before and after this particular satisfaction of our needs, then, on the same ground, in heart and spirit at least, before and after any other gift--before and after all pleasures or risks, a journey, a ride, as Charles Lamb suggested, a walk in the woods, or a new book--to be led on to some understanding of the great Eulogia and Eucharistia, blessing and giving of thanks, the great grace before life and after life.

Sunday Observance--That is a great difficulty in organizing school life, and one of the chief factors in difficulty is the great variety both of language and practice which prevails in homes on the point. You are sure to outrun some and fall short of others. The variety proceeds, no doubt, not merely from indifference, but from differing views as to the origin and nature of the obligation, and these perhaps cannot be altered. But, speaking from the educational side, it is of great importance that these differences should be minimized--that they should be treated as St. Paul recommends such differences to be treated--that on the one side no harsh or exaggerated words should be used; that on the other the shocking of scrupulous consciences should be avoided. We can meet surely on two points--Sunday should be a bright and happy day; Sunday should be different from other days. What shall be allowed is a matter that must be left to the judgement of individuals and this will not be unanimous. But if children at home find it a dull, severe, depressing day, or if, on the other hand, they see their elders read exactly the same books, play the same music, talk of the same subjects, join in the same games on Sundays as on weekdays, any attempt to persuade schoolboys to make Sunday at school a day by itself, except in the matter of substituting the Church Services, for ordinary lessons, is foreordained to failure. And the loss is very great, even at school--still more afterwards. The one place kept in an engrossing life, whether of pleasure or of business, for higher thoughts for refreshment of the spirit is discarded and lost.

Almsgiving--Anyone who has tried knows how easy it is to lead children both to give and to love giving--to value any money that is given them chiefly because they can give it; surely it is habit to be cherished early. Boys are infinitely different from one another in this matter--and we must not lay too much on nature. The difference comes greatly from early habit, from the tone which they hear at home about giving, from the care with which the idea of need, and of the pleasure of relieving it, are put before them or kept from them.

Training in religious habits, as I have implied before, is in the fullest sense religious teaching. Ideas are conveyed by it, and conveyed in a way that gives them the easiest access and the deepest and most enduring influence. And so far I think no conscientious Christian parents are likely to fail to attempt at least to for their duty. More question arises when we pass from this indirect acquirement of religious ideas to direct teaching -- teaching I mean of Bible stories, of the Catechism, of collects, psalms, and hymns. It is here that there are often complaints that parents in these days are apt to leave undone--or to leave to others--what should be done, and done by them. My own experience of examining boys between the ages of nine and twelve, many of them straight from home, makes me feel that the complaint has in one class of society some justification. When I have put the question to preparatory schoolmasters, I have frequently met with emphatic confirmation of it. There are many reasons to explain such a result. The hurry of our modern life, with its increased facilities for moving about, more frequent visitors and journeys, our later hours, the larger claims of society--all these have to some extent broken up quiet home life, and have led to the delegation of much of a parent's duty to governess and tutors. Add the great growth of schools for all classes--the earlier age at which schooling is begun--add also the raised standard of accuracy in teaching, which has gone with all this, and which inclines people to be shy of teaching what they feel they cannot teach as thoroughly as those who have more especially studied it.

In part, no doubt, the sense in the air of religious questioning, of criticism of which the effects are not yet calculated, makes some people feel relieved at not having themselves to deal with dogmatic statements, or face a child's home questions. Some of these difficulties are real ones, and hard to get over. But none the less we must be allowed to mourn at the results. It is an incalculable loss that the first lessons in religious and moral truth through the simple stories of the Bible should not be given by a parent's lips--that they should even be practically postponed till a child goes to school. I we are to learn from the Bible what it is able to teach us, we must approach it in the right attitude; and it is just this which differences the home lesson, loved and looked for, given in sympathetic tones, with infectious reverence, given when the moral aspect of what is taught can be simply and naturally dwelt upon as the very heart and meaning of the whole--from the school lesson, it may be more complete and scientific, but too like other lessons, given under circumstances which, to say the least, must be less favorable both to interest and to reverence. The bloom, the freshness, the poetry are gone. There is and must be constraint and conventionality. Any appeal to the conscience is much less effective--much less possible.

It is the same with the learning of the Catechism. Most children at home, at all wisely managed, like learning by heart, and learn tolerably easily. By the time a boy leaves home he may know the Catechism by heart, and understand as much of it as suits his years, and never have dreamed of thinking the learning a drudgery. And there is a framework in familiar words, with pleasant home associations, ready prepared for the fuller exposition of duty and belief which, as the time of confirmation draws on, should be given them. But of this first learning of the Catechism by heart is left, as it too often is, for school, it is too apt to be learnt as a task, and with some friction--not learnt so well, not remembered so well, never loved. And so all the further teaching which is to be based upon it is delayed, and the grace taken from it beforehand. I would extend this to the learning of the Collects, of hymns, learning of short and beautiful passages from the Psalms and Gospels. All this is an invaluable furnishing of the religious life. The ideas which we want to fix embodied in perfect words that will come at will. And all this has been done, as only it can be done really, not against the child's will, but with it and through it. A right attitude towards religious truth and religious learning has been attained, which we may hope will communicate, even to the religious lessons of school, some little portion of the old fragrance.

May I, before I close, name a little book on the subject before us which seems to me extremely wise and practical, and hardly as much known as it deserves to be. It is called "Practical Hints on Moral Training," and is published by Burns and Oates. It is by a mother, and I ought to say that, as the publisher and the preface seems to imply, she is a Roman Catholic -- but there is not a word of controversy in it, nor a word that a good Protestant might not have written. This is the key of what she says on this question of teaching, especially religious teaching: "We are apt to attribute too much importance to the amount of instruction a child is to receive and to lay too little stress on the preparation needful to enable the mind to accept it and take it in. We should never try to teach anything to anybody without trying to secure his own concurrence and co-operation. We can't pack a mind as we pack a trunk."

This is why home teaching on religious subjects as far as it will go is so infinitely better than school teaching -- you may not give the most accurate and complete teaching of facts -- but you have greater power of communicating the right spirit -- of putting the mind into the right attitude -- of fitting it, so far as human influence can fit it, to love learning, and think the Bible different from other books, and the service of God a beautiful and happy service.

(The foregoing is the substance of a Paper read to a Conference of Clergy and Laity in the Rural Deanery of Sonning, Berks)

Typed by Bhooma, July 2017