The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Characteristics of Childhood.

by Robert Dunning, late head Master of the Home and Colonial Schools.
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 619-621


Man was not made to be alone.
He that feareth the Lord shall direct his friendship aright, for as he is so shall his neighbor be.

I. The Function.--Man was not made to be solitary, nor is he gregarious, but companionable. Children especially are so constituted as to take delight in the society of other children. We all sympathise with the child who, after having spent some days with a houseful of benevolent grown people, began to cry, explaining, "Because me want a 'ittle girl to play with; me 'ooden't care if me had a 'ittle girl in rags." If these people knew no other " 'ittle girls," could they not bring in one for an afternoon from the street?

A child educated alone (or as a separate individual). whether in a family or a school, having his own occupation and place but partaking of no common employment or recreation, becomes almost certainly immersed in selfishness, and greatly void of generous feeling. On the other hand, the kind of character formed amongst companions depends so much on these that all the efforts of guardians may be rendered utterly powerless after the selection, whether by "choice" or "chance," has been made. The guardian, nevertheless, is usually potent in making the selection; and when childish associates exercise their almost unconscious power their mutual well-being and well-doing are assured; when unholy feelings influence, damage is done that no efforts of parents or teachers can repair--damage at once to happiness and character. Children suffer no misery like that they inflict on each other.

II. Its Modifications.--This feeling, which is the germ of friendship and of personal attachment, is identified with fidelity as regards friends, often seen in criminals and savages, who have been known to suffer torture or to commit suicide rather than betray each other, proving that though friendship is not virtue it is a part of it. When very full it clings to things and overflows on animals, making its subject delight in nursing and fondling creatures which share the feeling with him; for it is that of a dog to its master. Too much of the feeling shows itself in the love of crowds, and marked pleasure in the buzz of society, and the excitement of public meetings. Its deficiency is equivalent to reluctance to go into company, preference for solitude, dislike to strangers, carelessness about others that looks like heartlessness. It is this principle in human nature that makes men more true to their collective than to their individual obligations. Place a disorderly soldier in a well-disciplined regiment, and he becomes exemplary; a gossiping Venetian into a gondolier, and he is found to be discreet; promote a thievish Arab to a cameleer place, and he straightway turns into an honest man. To this tendency of many when together to act and feel alike, Mr. Stowe has given a name--"Sympathy of Numbers." Other motives, as love of imitation and love of approbation, influence children; but with them sympathy of numbers is so potent that unless the teacher gets it on her side it will frustrate all her efforts. How to acquire the power of using and guiding it is the teacher's first trial, and the acquirement of it her greatest triumph.

III. What then is to be done? Gathering the children together in order to subject them to the simultaneous impression of feeling and action, the teacher will engage them in the same physical exercise; she will make them feel that to work and play together is a delight, separately a privation. Must fault be found, she will suppose a case illustrative of the real one, as Nathan did with David, turning thus the moral sense of the class against the fault, while screening the offender. She will find herself able to impress on many minds the same moral and religious truths. To do this she must classify. One lesson will not impress the child of six and the lad or girl of twelve. But classification made, she must never rest till she can wield and mould the vital mass before her till it takes one stamp and breathes one dictum, so that each component part of it shall be affected less by the teacher directly than by the public spirit of the school.

Friendship is the cordial of life, the lenitive of sorrow, the multiplier of joy, the source at once of animation and repose. Friendship is one of the purest productions of the human soul; without it the man most richly endowed by Nature and Fortune, though armed with power and surrounded by admirers, has no resting-place. No course of moral instruction is complete that does not survey the duties of friendship, as disinterestedness, forbearance, &c. The teacher will not merely lead the children to distinguish between friendly and unfriendly acts; she will treat any real attachment between them with observance and regard. She knows that no provision for a child's moral training is complete till he has found congenial friends--first in the family, then in the school. Let us then not overlook the goodness of our all-wise and gracious Creator in making this provision for the happiness and welfare of His creatures. The life of the hermit is as little in harmony with His will as that of him who cannot live out of a crowd. That man should find satisfaction in something beyond himself--in the family, the tribe, the community--is His design Who would have that satisfaction culminate in the Communion of Saints--the General Assembly of the Firstborn of God.

Typed by Barbara McNiff, April 2013