The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

by the Rev. M. R. Lutener.
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 176-181

Part II.


In the earlier part of the paper we looked at a great principle and a great instrument; or, to put it differently, consistency of principle made operative by persistency of suggestion is the formula or moral education; this formula we do not leave behind us when passing on to intellectual training.

In heading this section of my paper, the correspondence between moral and intellectual education, I want to emphasise the fact that the first object of intellectual training, of instruction, of the lessons you give your children, is still not the acquisition of knowledge, but the formation of character. Does this sound Quixotic? I say it is the highest utility: you have in view the bread-winning profession, the doctor, the soldier, the business man, the carpenter, the gardener, or even the scholar? Of course I don't deny that special qualities and special knowledge are required in each separate profession, or that later a special line of study is required for each; but I do say that there are three qualities on which success in the battle of life, no matter how or where it has to be fought, mainly depends, that the development of these three qualities is the main object of all elementary instruction. These three qualities I believe to be the following: power of perseverance, power of observation, power of attention. As you set your children their tasks, as you choose what nature those tasks shall be, and the duration of each, banish the question what must my child know, and put for it how shall I lay in him the three great foundations of all intellectual progress. No man, I believe, ever really failed in life for want of knowing the names of the rivers of India, the dates of the kings of England or of Israel, or even (preserve me from the gods of the business world) from want of knowledge of the multiplication table. Many and many a million has failed for want of the perseverance, the attention, the observation, which probably was itself the cause of such a want of knowledge.

And I may impress this on you, that geography and arithmetic, history and science, modern languages and the ancient classics have often served by the wrong method of their teaching to kill the very qualities towards the attainment of which they should be the stepping-stones. A word as to the cultivation of each of these qualities in so far as they are separable from each other, for, of course, they are very closely connected.

Perseverance--I put it first partly because it represents the one of the three qualities that is most essentially a part of the moral as distinguished from the intellectual side of development, and partly as a protest against the great tendency of the present day to represent the ideal of children's tasks as games to be enjoyed, not victories to be won.

And may I utter a word of warning against the captivating elusions on this point of those two most delightful of educationists, most suggestive of writers, and most untrustworthy of oracles, Herbert Spencer and Count Lyof Tolstoi [Leo Tolstoy]. Any of you who know the charming chapter on natural reactions by the farmer, or the most delightful account of that theory of practice in the latter's "School Scenes at Yasnaya Polyana," will, I think, realise the meaning of my epithets and the danger of the fashion they have set of treating children's tasks as a new sort of game.

Kant was right when he said: "It is a fatal thing to accustom the child to look at everything as a game, it is of the utmost importance to teach children to work, for man is the only animal compelled to work."

How do you teach this--the habit of perseverance, this faculty for work? How are you to take this into the consideration of the lessons you set your children? The two main things to consider seem to me simple;--First, that the task shall be such that, at first, a very little perseverance shall be sufficient to secure victory; secondly, that the actual victory in itself, apart from an accidental reward of marks or otherwise, shall, as far as possible, be felt by the child to be worth having. For instance--well, in so simple a matter, it is hard to give one that does not sound idiotic in its simplicity; but, for instance, in place of a copy, set the child to write a letter to his father or mother; make much of the pleasure of receiving it, of the astonishment and interest of the news contained in it. For the dates of the kings of England, substitute an account from memory of things seen when the child has been for his walk. Send the child definitely out to discover something for you, taking care to supplement the child's want of observation by your intelligent leading questions, not your answers. But, you see, I have already overstepped the shadowy boundary line and reached the second quality on the development of which intellectual progress so much depends--the power of observation.

It is a wise saying, that of Leonardo de Vinci, "That all the discoveries have been made by the eye." The eye must be, in early childhood to a far greater extent than in later life, the doorway to the mind, and I think, also, to the soul. I am sure that the true method of education should, in its early stages, be concrete--not abstract--teaching by things and actions more than by words. For instance, M. [Jean-Marie] Guyau [Guyau, "Education and Heredity," p. 168] suggests the American practice of giving the child a miniature model of a steam-engine, which he has himself to take to pieces and put together again, instead of having it explained on paper; or Herbert Spencer's suggestion for teaching the weights and measures by experimental use of scales and quart pots; or his practical demonstration of the laws of perspective by means of the window-pane, [Herbert Spencer, "Education," p. 83] or the adaptation of geometry to practical gardening or house-building. Many such illustrations might be easily piled up, the point of them all being, of course, not only that the act of learning in this way becomes far more attractive and interesting, and the facts far more effectually impressed upon the mind, but, what is of much greater importance, the thinking and observing power of the child is apt to be much more fully developed.

But, once again, it is obvious that I have unwittingly crossed the shadowy boundary line between the faculty of observation and that of attention. Attention, that has been called the secret of all intellectual training, what is it, after all, but perseverance applied to observation--the faculty of observing not only separate facts, but the connection between them? What has been said in practical illustration of the last two points will, therefore, hold good also, I think, with this; perhaps with this one educational suggestion--that to read aloud a chapter of a story to a child, and see how far the child is able to repeat the story for the benefit of another child, will form an admirable method of developing attention, because it is a claim on the two things which make attention--intensity and continuity of observation at the same time. M. Guyau says, when a child passes a long time over learning a lesson, the learning is probably done the help of only a few moments of real attention, and the ideal of good education is to increase the intensity of attention and to diminish the time that is given neither to work nor rest. One last suggestion in this connection I would specially call to your notice. I believe the cultivation of attention is the true cultivation of the memory. I am convinced that, amidst all the painful and unprofitable hours I have spent in the schoolroom, the most hideous, the most idiotic, the most intensely useless, were those spent in what my persecutors were pleased to call the exercise of my memory; and, with the utmost feeling, I would commend most earnestly to your minds these words of M. Guyau before you next proceed to exercise your children's memory:

"The phrases to exercise, to develop the memory are of common occurrence; but, as a matter of fact, we can only exercise and develop particular forms of memory--memory for words, for figures, &c. Memory is a habit, and memory in general is no more developed by cramming the children's brain with masses of words and figures than habit in general is developed by contracting the habit of leaping with the feet together or of playing cup-and-ball. When we force a child to remember trivial details, we do not strengthen, we really weaken, its memory, because these useless details take the place in his brain of more important ideas."

Memory is a habit that is best exercised simply by the development of the power of attention. Attention is itself the registration in the brain of facts whose relation to each other have been duly noted. Attention means the habit of grasping and retaining in the mind the significant points and links of a subject, and rejecting what is irrelevant and unimportant. This, I fancy, is just the habit of memory we need to develop.

In passing from this subject, I should, of course remind you, that I have only attempted a mere suggestion as to the central idea in elementary education, and the general line of practical conduct that it indicates.

Before concluding, one word on an important subject often forgotten, "The Ethics of Rewards." The great qualities you want to cultivate are the altruistic qualities, the side of the child's character that sets the happiness of others as the highest good; the great qualities you want to subdue and suppress are the egotistic qualities, the side of character that makes the pleasure of self the highest good. There is no mistake more fatal than the very common one of leaving this fact entirely out of sight among the incentives to intellectual activity, the prize and reward question. I think any one who observes children closely will notice that the altruistic qualities are strong and active in them, that they feel an intense pleasure and satisfaction in being able to do something for those they are fond of. No one who has ever watched the great delight of a child giving a surprise present to his parents can fail to realise this.

"It is more blessed to give than to receive," is the text on which scientific education is ever enlarging, and half the dullness of our schoolroom, half the inefficiency of our intellectual training of children, is due simply to the fact that their lessons are receiving, receiving, receiving from beginning to end. If you can remedy this, you have made a very long stride in the right direction. Some of the instances I have already used will illustrate the kind of thing I mean, that, as far as possible, the tasks should be either actual doing of things to be given to others, or the acquiring of information which has the appearance of real interest and novelty to the person to whom it is retailed; or, where neither of these is convenient, that the reward should be as far as possible the natural result of the pains expended. That is to say, make the lessons not a game, but as certainly not a mere treadmill of meaningless toil, with sugar-plums after a certain number of turns.

In conclusion, taking one hasty glance backwards over the considerations that have passed before us, the prevailing note seems to be the indivisibility of the educational work; the religious training, the moral training, the intellectual training are not separate, or even separable items, but indivisible parts of one complete whole. All moral progress depends on the consistency with which the great religious idea is made to permeate every suggestion: and yet all intellectual progress is possible only through the constant development of such qualities as perseverance, observation, and attention, which are themselves but a continuation of moral growth; even in the case of physical training the motto of one and indivisible is still continued, and Bousseau's saying: "The weaker the body is, the more it commands; the stronger it is, the more it obeys," will perhaps serve to remind you of what I am thinking, and how the disregard of even this lowest point in the educationalist's programme is sufficient to bring to ruin a work that aims at the building up the stature of a perfect man. Your work is one, indeed, that reaches literally from the low level of the animal creation to the infinite height of the throne of God, and from the consideration of conditions under which your children may indeed see God, you dare not refuse to pass to the consideration of the conditions which shall secure the adequate digestion of a mutton-chop; from the grandest principles and the deepest and highest thoughts that the soul of man can reach to, you must not hesitate to descend to the minutest details of practical management. It is the highest work you can have to do, certainly the most difficult, and yet certainly--to you, at any rate--the most interesting; and to you alone possible in its perfection. For coming through all your work and all your perplexities, will be Augustine's great words of encouragement:

      "Ama et fac quod vis." [Google Translate: 'Love, and do what you want.']

Note--In preparing for the above lecture I had at first in view as my title, "Time's Modern Educationalists: England, France and Russia," and many of the suggestions in the above outlines will be found fully discussed and illustrated in Herbert Spencer, "Education"; Guyau, "Education and Heredity"; and Tolstoi, "The Long Exile." In apology for the slipshod English in which the suggestions are doled, I would point out that they were cast simply with a view to oral delivery.
M. B. L.

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023 [Guyau was originally spelled "Guyeau" in this article, but he is more commonly known as Guyau.]