The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Plea for Home Influences

by Mrs. Alfred Osler
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 273

To all of us the expressly appointed schoolmasters and schoolings we get are as nothing compared with the unappointed, incidental, and continual ones, whose school hours are all the days and nights of our existence, and whose lessons, noticed and unnoticed, stream in upon us with every breath we draw.--Carlyle

The attention now given to methods of training, as evidenced, inter alia, by the existence of the Parents' Review, is leading to searchings of heart among parents on many points--not the least interesting or important being the question of Home versus Boarding-school life for boys.

The fashion of recent years, among parents of the wealthier classes, has been to send their sons from the nursery to a private boarding-school, from which they pass to one of our great public schools, and thence to the University. Fathers and mothers, having patiently and even cheerfully endured the regularly recurring holidays, and uncomplainingly found a continuous supply of funds, have rested satisfied that their whole duty was discharged; for all besides, schools and schoolmasters are responsible.

Englishmen rightly place a high value on physical culture, and the enjoyments of companionship and emulation. In these our public schools excel; and there being at present little demand for day-schools of an equally high class, the supply of these is chiefly inferior.

I am not here concerned to make any attack on public schools as they exist. It is easy to sympathise in the pride and enthusiasm of our public-school boys, as one reads such pleasant sketches as that of "Lyonesse" by Mr. T.G. Rooper in the Parents' Review for May; nay, have we not all yielded to the charm of dear "Tom Brown's Schooldays," despite the cruel and brutal side of the life it brought before us? This brutality is mitigated in modern schools, but the habit of mind from which is sprang still exists. I lately listened to a discussion among schoolboys on their own manners and customs. One, who had attained the rank of Praeposter, commented on the presumption of a new boy who ventured to join in the conversation going on in his dormitory, and the necessity for treating such insolence with severity. His companion (brought up at home till the age of fifteen, and then keenly enjoying his public school life) declared that he should always make a point of speaking to new boys and bringing them into the talk if they would join. The debate was warm, the school-bred lads maintaining that it was derogatory to the position of an elder boy to notice "new scum" (sic); the home-boys seeming to have caught something of that chivalry which makes weakness and loneliness a claim for help.

It is this part of education which school, divorced from home life, does not supply. Lady Frederick Cavendish, in her paper on "Two Extremes in Education," which forms a suggestive sequence to that of Mr. Rooper, says:--"Mothers and daughters often bear the brunt of life, while all crumpled rose-leaves are smoothed away for the sons and the brothers; and in our anxiety to make everything pleasant for these latter, we forget the danger of leaving out, on their behalf, all the sterner lessons of Christianity.

Women are pre-eminent in the exercise of Christianity's sternest lesson--self-sacrifice. This is not only because they are women, but because they have been trained and accustomed to this one virtue, perhaps to the exclusion of others equally desireable. As if to adjust the balance, our boys are not only not so trained, but are removed at an early age from the natural surrounds which tend to develop self-sacrifice--the confiding dependence of younger children, the parents' claims to loving consideration, the weakness of old age,--all those sacred relationships by which we learn the highest lessons from the best teacher--love. In a life arranged solely with reference to the tastes, habits, and dispositions of boys, these subtle daily influences are lacking; therefore we abstain from seeking unselfishness among youthful masculine virtues, and hear without surprise the excuses made by long-suffering parents: "You cannot expect boys to be considerate; they are only at home for a short time,--they must enjoy themselves."

In comparing the direct moral and religious teaching of School and Home, we cannot insist too strongly on the superiority of the appeal of what is right rather than to what is commanded. This can hardly be better illustrated than by the helpfulness inspired by the affection and a sense of responsibility to the family life as contrasted with the habit of submission to superior force.

It may be salutary for a boy to learn by means of the fagging system to be obliging and obedient while in the power of his senior; but it would be an interesting, though perhaps a delicate enquiry, with how much readiness schoolboys at home for the holidays will render small services for others, and whether the performance of necessary errands, even for their own outfitting or advantage, is not regarded as an unwarrantable infringement on holiday liberty.

It is a startling assertion that from school pulpits boys hear lessons of a wider life, a nobler duty, than any they ever hear of in their own homes--of "positions in life where the first thought must be not to promote your own interests but those of others."

I venture to think there are many English homes where (to quote from an old-fashioned writer on education) not the least valuable part of the young folks' education, is "the witnessing of their parents' efforts for the good of others, for the improvement of society, and the promotion of general happiness;" and where no day passes without some insensibly absorbed lesson in high thinking, true speaking, and right living.

Are not parents too distrustful of themselves when they resign so soon to the hands of strangers the highest duty which can be entrusted to human beings? We may fairly hope that one result of the increased attention given to Education may be to inspire fathers and mothers not only with a deeper sense of their responsibility, but with a hopeful, if humble, faith in their own power to fulfil them.

VOL. II.-NO. 4. T

Typed by Jeanette DeFriend , Mar 2013