The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Parents and Children

A Sequel to "Home Education"
by the Editor
Volume 2, 1891/92, pgs. 706-711


The "how" with which our last paper closed is a large question, and the Editor's educational papers in our next volume will be devoted to its consideration. Fully effectual discipline depends on a knowledge of physiology of habit, and of the laws of habit. We know that Discipline is only one third part of education, but it is a third part; and it is not too much to insist that those who undetake the training of children, whether as parents or as parents' assistants, should make themselves acquainted with the principles of character-*moulding* (not making) discipline. There is a practical knowledge of the art of discipline to be gained by common-sense and experience. The practical gardener knows when to draw his blinds and when to open his windows, when to bed out and when to prune. He keeps his eyes open, and knows what answers; and that really does very well for the gardener; all his blooms are not perfect, but the garden looks well on the whole; and then, he is careful in selecting his seeds and his cuttings. Now the practical parent is at a disadvantage as compared with the gardener; experience and common-sense are of infinite use here, too; but the parent is heartbroken over the failure of a single plant of his rearing; and then, he cannot select his seeds and his cuttings; this little plant may grow with a twist, that, straggling and feeble; the blossom here may be poor in colour, unsymmetrical in form, because--"'tis its nature to," and not all the care that he gives to his garden of child-souls appears to touch what he calls the "radical defect" in this one or that. Now here is where, not the practical gardener, but the scientific floriculturist has the advantage over the practical parent. You are startled into delight by the grace and glory of colour of some new flower, not only new to you, but really new. Has God, indeed, as in Leigh Hunt's sweet fancy created a new flower to reward men for the development of some new goodness? Yes, and no; this was a hedge plant, or some common garden-growth which the flower-grower has taken and treated with diligent and enlightened care according to the laws of its development, until he has succeeded in producing this new joy for the world. We must not follow the plant analogy further; it becomes misleading. Only this, the parent must be, not only the practical gardener, but the scientific floriculturist in his little garden of souls.

In "Notes and Queries," letters from "E.F.G." and "F.P." are published, and we propose to attempt to answer them here, but the answers must be very incomplete, as many of the fundamental principles of education are involved in dealing with any one of such failings as our correspondents* speak of, and there is always some risk in following suggestions where principles may not be fully grasped.

* These letters were hardly intended for publication, but we hope we have so far disguised the children that only their own mothers will know them.

In "F.P.'s" letter, little Phoebe (let us call her), aged seven, is "terribly greedy . . . I continually find the cakes and jams tampered with." How to correct this fault, and what punishments to inflict, is what Phoebe's mother wants to know. We are glad she does not hold the laisser aller theory of education--when Phoebe is older she will know better. On the contrary, as Phoebe grows older she will get worse, for no fault ever disappears except as it is corrected. But correction does not mean punishment. Why is Phoebe greedy? Possibly because of a little internal trouble about which the doctor would be the best adviser. Possibly because, all her seven years of life the little girl has been offended in this matter by those about her. "Take heed that ye offend not one of these little ones." Either her appetite has been pampered; she has been led to think much of dainties--what pudding for dinner? What cake for tea? has had food at irregular times, and as much as she could or would eat at meals; or, on the other hand, which is very unlikely, the child has been unduly restricted and not allowed that quantity of sugar in the food or sweetmeats which is really necessary to her health. By the way, why are not our old friends barely-sugar and sugar candy given to children in these days? No other preparations of sugar are so innocent and wholesome, and a bit the size of a child's little finger, given every day, will be really useful to the little bodies which prefer to keep themselves warm with sugar rather than with fat. A regular habit as to time quantity will prevent the constant craving for sweetmeats which is not only a "horribly greedy" habit, but is a fruitful source of ill-health, especially in growing girls.

But we must consider Phoebe as she is; somehow, she has set up a greedy habit, which means that the seat of appetite in the brain and the organs concerned in food-taking have all become appreciably modified by this habit of immoderate eating. No habit, either of thought or action, can be set up without a corresponding physical modification. Supposing there were no possibility of altering this physical modification, a habit once set up would be utterly incurable--would become a factor of character, an arbiter of destiny, and Phoebe, because she is greedy now, must always remain greedy. But how fearfully and wonderfully are we made, in this not least of all, that we carry in our very structure the functions of our cure. How may a habit be cured, seeing that it has, so to speak, made tracks for itself in the very substance of the grey-nerve matter of the brain; how dislodge it? There is only one possible way--by forming a contrary habit which shall make tracks in a new direction, and give the old wastes time to fill up and heal. Here we see the futility of punishment. Punishment neither stops the activity of greedy desire, no sets up mental activity on new lines; all it effects is to paralyse desire for the moment by the transient emotion of fear; but fear passes and desire recovers force, and the child is as greedy as before.

Practically, what is to be done for Phoebe on these lines? She is to be cured of habits of mind and of habits of body by setting up the contrary habits to these. Neither exhortation, reproof, nor punishment need come into play. We talk too much to children; sometimes do them deadly violence by our cruel tongues, and that, even when we speak in gentle and cultured tones, and with affectionate words. Probably no good habit has ever been formed at command.

Phoebe's meals should be inviting, with enough pleasant variety from day to day to satisfy the child's natural craving for certain food-stuffs. We know of the children of a vegetarian who were in the habit of devouring snails in the garden. Then, let the child have amply sufficient, but only sufficient, food at each meal, in two rather small helpings of each sort, with a pause between; no heaped up plates; no talk about what is on the table, but diverting talk about other things. For three or four days the old habit of over-eating may make the child uncomfortable; but, all the time, new brain and muscle growth to the new habit is taking place, and by the end of a week the child will have no desire for more than the customary helping. Appetite may be vitiated, and is not a trustworthy guide, but the vivacity and energy the child exhibits will soon show whether she is duly fed. Suppose a very active brain or the little trouble we have alluded to should make undue feeding necessary; let the extra food be given in some concentrated form--cod-liver oil, Parrish's chemical food, &c; stuffing is never advisable.

But the pilfering--how deal with that? While the training of the new habit is going on, cakes and jams should be put out of the way. Phoebe must get out of the habit of picking, and into the equally natural habit of not touching not desiring food that is not given to her. It is simply a matter of training; we all know children who eat with their elders and never think of wishing for the less wholesome dainties put on the table for the latter. But "habit" is only one third of education; another and a bigger "third" (may we have one "third" bigger than another?) is the idea which is the spring of conduct and excites the play of the nerves, whether of "self-control" or of desire. It is only as the ideas of the good life inspire her that the child will gain the power of self-management. Habit is no better than the scaffolding for the workmen, it must not be mistaken for the building itself. But on the other hand, the good idea has not free play while the road is obstructed by the bad habit. But while the new habits are being laid down day by day, carefully, diligently, and without pause, Phoebe's mother is instilling the inspiring ideas; by tale and pleasant talk and sweet example, avoiding all direct reference to Phoebe's faults, her mother is making the little girl's heart rise to "whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report." Phoebe "thinks on" these things, and grows to what she thinks on. But there is another "third" to every part of education.

Education is an atmosphere as well as a discipline and a life. Phoebe should eat with her parents if possible, at a table laid for grace and beauty as well as for need; that is, the atmosphere she lives in should foster the Idea she has received, and good habits should help her to control of appetite.

One more word; all this should not be the leisurely work of a lifetime, nor of Phoebe's whole childhood. Assiduous unremitting care should be given by the mother for the three or four weeks the good habit is in course of formation; then, the habit is gained, the idea received, and the comparatively easy work of seeing that Phoebe does not lapse is her mother's light care in this matter. But what are called "constant"--i.e, intermittent efforts, are absolutely useless; most children go through a fatiguing course of desultory efforts at the hands of their parents or guardians for the removal of some fault. There is a good deal of friction, crossness on both sides, perhaps, the slipper or the rod; the child is not cured, "though I have done my best to correct him," says the parent. But nobody thinks of putting a new spring in a watch if he has not learned how; far less can a parent who has not studied the subject correct any fault in his child. The fact that nullifies all intermittent effort is simply this, that the new growth of tissue to the new habit is suspended for the interval, while the habit that is being cured becomes physically more secure in its seat. Trying again means, not going on from where we left off, but beginning afresh. When parents realise that children must be nursed through the cure of a habit as they are through an illness, with just the same sort of undivided attention, we shall cease to hear of their resisting the efforts of parents who have "done their best." Nor need any timid parent shrink from an undertaking that looks arduous. How much easier, to say nothing else, the gentle and pleasant, if constant, care of a few weeks, than perpetual uneasy friction during all the years of childhood and youth, ending perhaps in that saddest of all alienation, the alienation between parent and child!

We have said so much about general principles in considering "Phoebe" that there is less need to amplify about Edward's vicious habit of cruelty to dumb animals. Why is he cruel?

Because he has been allowed to become so, to form the habit.

Because the desire for dominion is common to human beings, and power to hurt is pleasant confirmation of this dominion.

Because, possibly, there is a strain of cruelty in his inherited disposition.

Because his imagination has not been cultivated in the direction of realising the sensations of being outside himself.

Because he as not received the inspiring Idea of love for the inferior creatures.

Because, possibly, there is some strain of hardness or cruelty in his environment.

We know the treatment; he must be kept happy, glad, and fully interested and occupied, so that he has neither time nor opportunity for cruelty to any living thing for a month at least. Meantime let some helpless or injured creature have his devoted care--a puppy, a kitten, a chicken with a broken wing; and give him the inspiring Idea; tell him tales of the loving-kindness and intelligence of dog or horse, of the marvelously gifted bee, of the structure of the common house fly--a wonderful thought of God--until he is filled with esteem and sympathy for the creatures that cannot speak; and in picturing their pains let him feel a little, a prick with a pin point, say, to help him to imagine what they bear; and let his love of mastery be shown in a loving mastery for the creature's good, as when he catches Harry Long-legs to carry him out-of-doors. One more word, punishment does not cure faults, but for the sake of Madame Bedonebyasyoudid, the boy who hurts must himself be hurt with, when possible without injury to him, just as bad a hurt as he has given. This cure, like the other, must not be intermittent, but must be carried on steadily and watchfully for a few weeks. It will not be difficult to judge when the cure is completed, but it would never do to risk a relapse.

We have, alas! reached our limits of space, and must postpone the consideration of "E.F.G.'s" letter.

Typed July 2013 by Jodie Druce