The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Childhood.--An Appeal.

by Mrs. Brine.
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 612-616

My earliest distinct recollection about reading, was spelling out with much assistance, the parables in my mother's large Bible while she was dressing in the morning. After due explanation and the answering of my many questions, the parable for the day was read a second time, then this delightful exercise, I could not call it a lesson, was over. But it was always held before me that when I met with a parable that I thoroughly understood and enjoyed, I was to learn it gradually by heart. I suppose I was fanciful, or slow of apprehension, or perhaps constantly wanting new ideas, for that learning by heart was long delayed, my mother not approving of mere parrot exercises. At length we came to the parable of the sower, "A sower went out to sow." I read to the end with deep interest, then charmed and thoroughly entering into the narrative, I exclaimed, "Oh mamma! I should like to learn that story--I understand it, every word." And I learnt it, two verses a day, to the end, and afterwards many more beautiful verses.

I must them have been about seven years old, certainly backward therefore in literary acquirements, but my mother, though she had a large family, had a deep respect and tenderness for childhood. "It only comes once," she would say, "and children should never be worried." She was not able personally to do much for us, having many other duties in society and in other lines, but she exercised wise and watchful superintendence, and I can honestly record that up to ten years old my life, and those of my brothers and sisters, were ideal. It might have been said of each one of us "For he shall not much remember the days of his life because God answereth him in the joy of his heart." And one special fruit of this childhood that was so shielded from worry of any sort was, that none of us were restless or quarrelsome, the gentleness of those round us reflecting itself unconsciously in us, and soothing the easily excited nervous irritability of growing little people.

When I was ten years old my mother left her younger children to rejoin our father abroad, but her system of intelligent teaching without pressure was carried on, and though nothing made up to us or could, for the loss of our mother's loving presence, I never remember any trouble over my schoolroom courses, except trifling ones in my dislike to arithmetic, which arose chiefly, I believe, from the mistaken way in which it used to be taught me. I did not understand my sums nor the arithmetical puzzles I had to solve, and now in my sixtieth year I realise more than ever, that at no age do our brains assimilate what we do not understand and feel interested in, any more that we can assimilate the food offered us for our bodies unless prepared in such a manner as to be palatable or reasonably acceptable.

Now having passed so happily through my elementary educational courses, that I have loved literature and the acquirement of knowledge all my life, I am naturally much interested in national education, and while I admit that the present system in Board Schools is open to grave objections, I feel sure that it is not the amount of education that is wrong or the literary character of it, but only the conditions under which it is given. I have said that I was backward in my childish acquirements compared with ordinary children, but I have realised that this backwardness was in fact a great advantage, and was the reason of learning coming so easy to me in the schoolroom. Seven is now the age named by every medical authority I have consulted, for serious mental effort to commence, the brain being, broadly speaking, composed of phosphorous and lime, and the lime before that age being in too small a proportion for the brain to retain impressions without difficulty. It take impressions as the eye takes reflection, but naturally they do not stay, and any attempt to force them to stay, or as we say, to fix them in the memory is hurtful to the child. Up to that age the child's greatest need is its mother's love--all young things are affectionate and clinging; the next greatest need after suitable food and clothing is as much fresh open air as can possibly be obtained. These are all necessities for making the solid strong stock desirable for the race, but they are not offered and cannot be expected from a National Educational Code. Also it is the time for teaching a reasonable self-restraint and discipline, and for training children in the good habits and manners which should be the rule of all family life. The ideal child of three, four and five is fat, good-tempered and loving, with a bovine width of gaze taking its impressions en gros, and developing its separate faculties slowly, "not much remembering the days of its life." It will never willingly concentrate its attention on ugly little things like letters or figures, or struggle to grasp the meaning of silly rhymes, though it may imitate music or any sound for a short time without much effort. Its greatest pleasure is to follow "mother" or the nurse, temporarily occupying the mother's place, and nothing makes up for the loss of this protecting presence, this influence of the best loved being, who is the child's angel, the source of all its loving charm, its highest incentive to be good. To me the Government Infant School is a most objectionable Institution, unnatural and unnecessary in the majority of cases. Compulsory education at seven with all possible inducements for the instruction to be appreciated and continued as long as possible, I do hold to be a great advantage to all classes of the community, but I have seen by watching Board School scholars that five years old is too young for the continued mental effort required, while pressing children of three into schools is a monstrous shame, and disastrous in its physical results.

Not the least drawback, is the moral wrong done to the parents by taking from them their duties and responsibilities towards their offspring, at those tender years when individual attention is absolutely necessary for healthy growth and good training. Of course I shall be told that their parents are so ignorant that it is better for their children to be taken from them among the working classes, but, if so, that speaks badly for more than twenty years national education of these very parents, and does not encourage perseverance in it. In truth, however, I do not find parents so ignorant or so eager to get rid of their little children as is represented; the large majority of infants have been pressed in since the late Government offered a grant for all over three years of age without individual examination, because numbers in the Board Schools mean a certain advantage to the master and more money from Government to work the schools.

Now it seems to me that in all educational matters it is the children who must primarily be considered, not the parents, or the teachers, or the money. I would therefore earnestly implore all those interested in children, and intelligently acquainted with the medical and moral aspect of the question, and especially all School Boards, to memoralise the Government to raise the age of compulsory education to seven years, and only to permit widows and indigent people who are unable to take care of their little ones, to send them at five free--the Boards providing for such, a training as much as possible on the Kindergarten system under women teachers. In crowded towns where it is charity to get the infants into purer air than that in which they live, provision might with advantage be made for a nursery, and nurses skilled and tender-hearted women to take care of them for the working hours of the day, but this has nothing to do fairly with with an education department, any more than a crêche or babies home, which is just as much needed in such places. One special advantage of the age of compulsory education being raised to seven would be, that mothers of large families would always be able to have some of their children at home of an age to assist in the care of the younger ones, therefore it is urgent that no inducement be offered, but rather difficulty made in the way of receiving any under the compulsory age.

Let me conclude by a short review of what some other countries, who have been longer at this work of State education than we have, are doing in this matter. In Germany generally, the age for free education is six, and the children are obliged to remain in the National schools till fourteen, leaning trades, handicrafts, and all kinds of house work, besides the literary instruction. In Austria the compulsory age is seven. In France there is an école maternelle for infants, but only, I believe, for special cases--ordinarily the children enter school at six, the boys and girls being educated separately and both by women only, until eight years of age. In New York the compulsory age is eight, and should the parents be indigent and require assistance of their children at home, these children may pass out of school as soon as they can read, write, and cipher well, otherwise every inducement is offered for children to study various branches of knowledge until sixteen. Please to observe that no country makes education compulsory at five but Great Britain.

While writing the above I have received the following communication from the wife of one of out leading educationalists, Mr. T. H. Bastard, of Charlton Manor, near Blandford, Dorset:--"Here the infant schools are crowded, producing cripples, idiots, blindness, every evil, and one feels like beating at a brick wall to try to combat this; and one is miserable with the thought of what it is all to result in." I can certainly bear witness to the visible deterioration of the working people's children in this village of late years, and when one remembers that all legislation is or should be in a manner educational, it is sad to reflect that the people can legally thrust their infants of tender age into the common schools to be dealt with, in a mass, by teachers, only with certificates for passing children through a literary educational course!

If ever there were a matter calling for the judgment and the energetic interference of women, it is this, and I appeal earnestly to mothers and all with motherly hearts, to save the children by protecting the childhood of the race. We are constantly appealing against the right of men to legislate for women--surely they have still less right to legislate for infants of tender years without our aid and consent. But, alas, we govern by parties, and with the noisy wrangles of party questions, the low wails of the little ones is overpowered.

[Discussion is invited.--ED.]

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