The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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The Mental and Moral Training of Children, Part I.


by James Welton, M.A.
Volume 5, 1894, pg. 102-109


I propose this evening to set before you what I believe to be the general principles on which all true education must be founded, and to leave it to each one of you to apply those principles, so far as you accept them, to the details of the training of your own children. I do not doubt that there are such principles; for, in addition to the fact that every one of us is an individual, there is the equally significant fact that we each share in the common nature of humanity. For each of us, truth and goodness are to be found in the same direction; to each of us the world appeals in fundamentally the same way. In a word, we are men; and as men we are at once both members of a living community, and individual personalities. And this leads us to see that we must find our general principles of education in a study of those sciences--or rather of those branches of philosophy--which are concerned with the general nature of man. To ethics, we must turn to ask what we are to primarily aim at in that education, whose one object is to truly prepare for life; and to psychology we must direct our attention that we may learn how, in general, man's nature does develop and progress if we would aid that development and progression. Individual differ; but their differences are, after all, but variations of a common type, and we shall deal with the differences better, I think, if we clearly apprehend the nature of that common type.

This is a question for parents; it must always remain so by the very nature of the parental relation, and we cannot, if we would, escape from it. For by birth a child becomes a member of a certain family, and his relations to the various members of that family are, in consequence, of a much closer and more direct character than are his relations to any other individual whatsoever. On the heads of the family, therefore i.e., on the parents, falls the first duty of educating the child. That this is so follows from the very nature of the family--that it is not a mere arithmetical sum of units, but an organic whole, held together by those ties of blood which intrinsically relate everyone of its members to every other member, and to the whole family itself. And this involves that the family has a true and rational life of its own, of which life the personal life of each of its individual members is an expression. Into this life the child is born, and into this life it brings certain inherited tendencies derived from its forefathers. Moreover, from the moment of birth it is surrounded, and profoundly influenced, by the mode of thought, the ideals of life, the standard of morality, and the general way of looking at things prevalent in the family. But the fact that the family is a living organism implies that it has an ideal, towards which it progresses; for such progress is of the essence of rational and conscious life. The ideal may be a high and noble one, or it may be a mean and grovelling one, but in some form or other it must be there, or the family as such ceases to exist. And the endeavour to approximate to the corporate family ideal involves, in its very essence, the education of the younger members of the family by the elder; for that education is nothing but preparing for the continuity of the family development. Hence we see that the family is, in strict theory--what we shall all be ready to grant it to be in practice--a fundamental and primary factor in the education of children. And for this work it is specially fitted by the smallness of the family circle, and by the close bonds of mutual interest and affection which unite its members. In the common hopes, common aims, common fears of family life, with its close and affectionate intercourse, the young child's tender life can develop under the most favourable conditions. Moreover, this special fitness of the family to be an instrument of education is increased by the facilities given by the close and familiar intercourse, quickened by mutual affection, and pervaded by mutual trust, for the study of the child's nature by the parents. No one can obtain such an intimate knowledge of the child's disposition, tastes, and aptitudes, of his strong and weak points, in a word, of his whole nature--physical, intellectual and moral--as an affectionate, observant and intelligent mother. And the smallness of the family renders easy an amount of individual attention to, and consideration of, these personal points which would be possible in no other sphere. Hence it is true, especially in the case of young children, that, as Rein says: "both care and development of the body, and the formation of the mind and character, can thrive nowhere so well as in the domain of home education." No doubt, as the children grow up into boyhood and girlhood, it becomes necessary to call in the aid of the school for the greater systemization of the educative process. But the teacher of the school is only the representative of the parents on the one hand, and of the State on the other, delegated to train up future heads of families who shall be useful and worthy citizens of the social community. Rather it must be the extension and systemization of it, if the education is to truly attain its greatest possible success.

And here, I have hinted at what I should like to be taken as the key-note of these remarks--the unity of the educative process. This unity is very apt to be forgotten by enthusiastic reformers, and from this is has far too often followed that educative practice has not gone straight on and on towards perfection, but has oscillated from one extreme to the opposite in a very discouraging way, as this or that school of extreme partisans, each with its half or quarter truth magnified and exalted as the whole truth, has come into a temporary fashion. If we remember that education must always be relative to, and an expression of, the social culture of the day, we shall not expect with Pestalozzi to "turn the car of European progress round and set it going in a new direction;" nor shall we think with Rousseau that the surest way to do right in education is to find out what has hitherto been done, and then to do the exactly opposite. No; there must be continuity in educational practice with the race as well as with the individual; in educational reform as in social reform we must promote evolution, not seek for revolution. And this caution is, I think, necessary just at the present, which is a time of ferment and transition in educational as in other departments of thought. Our desire for progress must not make us lose sight of the fact that the educational end is not different in kind now from what it was two thousand years ago. The purpose of education is now, as then, "to give to the body and to the soul all the beauty and all the perfection of which they are capable;" and even our conception of what that beauty and perfection consist in has not fundamentally altered. We can still say with Plato, that the end of education is to produce the truly cultured man--"a lover, not of a part of wisdom, but of the whole; who has a taste for every sort of knowledge, and is curious to learn, and is never satisfied; who has magnificence of mind, and is the spectator of all time and all existence; who is harmoniously constituted, of a well-proportioned and gracious mind, whose own nature will move spontaneously towards the true being of everything; who has a good memory, and is quick to learn, noble, gracious, the friend of truth, justice, courage, and temperance." Yes, that is still our aim. No doubt out interpretation of some of the terms used in tis statement has changed to some extent. And this, indeed, must be so. For such an ideal end as that is necessarily the goal of progress. And such a goal, in the educational as in the moral life, is always being attained, and yet never is attained; for, indeed, as soon as we reach one point in our upward progress new vistas open out before us. It is like climbing a mountain. As we labour up the side, shoulder after shoulder appears to us to be the summit, till, when we reach it, we find there are heights still beyond. And so it is both in education and in morality, with this not unimportant distinction--that we do ultimately reach the top of our physical mountain, but the mountain of educational and moral progress is one whose highest peaks are in the clouds which close around the ending of this our earthly life. Nor can we, I think, separate the end of morality from the end of education, for the true training of every child is the training of him as a strong and virtuous character. And this is not merely one opinion amongst many equally possible and tenable ones. It is the end given us by the consideration of the very nature of man itself. For the very essence of man's nature is that it is active, and as such strives for free expression. But this essential striving for freedom is met and hindered, on the one hand by the claim of equally free and active beings--those claims which we call duties--and on the other hand by the limitations imposed by the material universe. As in the latter case man can only exercise his activity freely when he does it in harmony with the laws of nature, so in the former case he can find freedom only in so far as he identifies his own will with the calls of duty. And this very identification of will and duty is what we mean by virtue. Hence the true perfection of man's nature is found in virtue, and the aim of education is to train in virtue. In a word, as Hegel puts it, "the end of all education is ethical." And here I would emphasize the word all. My point is that there cannot be a plurality of ends in education. We cannot train a child at once in a plurality of directions any more than we can a tree. This aspect of educational unity is apt to be forgotten, as well as the aspect I have already dealt with. The very complexity of the nature to be trained leads to the mistake. For men talk of education as being physical, moral, and intellectual, and often they would seem to imply that we can separate these, the one from the other. But it is not so. As old Montaigne puts it, "it is not a soul, it is not a body we are training up, but a man, and we must not divide him." There must be but one supreme end, and to that all else must be subordinate. And this end may, as I have said, be briefly expressed as the formation of a good character. This the true educator will keep in view throughout. This will determine what he will teach, as well as what he will try and lead the child to do. In other words, instruction, as well as guidance and training, will have a moral aim. And it is not difficult, I think, to see that this should be so. For, if you think of it, there is a very intimate connection between a man's knowledge and his conduct; a connection which is mediated by desire. For one's desires are certainly bounded on the one side by one's knowledge--it is impossible to desire that of which we have no knowledge whatever, for we can form no idea of the absolutely unknown, and all desire is the contemplation of an idea as the object of possible and welcome attainment. And, on the other hands, an act of will is nothing but the attempt to realize a desire which has been accepted by the ever-active self as a motive for action. Now character is simply organized and systemized will. Evidently then the organization and systemization of knowledge is a potent factor in the formation of character. But when we speak of organized will we mean that the man has set before himself some one main object in life towards which he, more or less completely, bends all his energies, and to which he subordinates all transitory purposes and desires. The more fully this is done, the stronger and more consistent is the man's character.

But we cannot separate this from the organization of what we call his intellect. For intellect and will are not two separable functions or faculties of the man. Each is the man looked at in one aspect. Each by itself is an abstraction which has no existence but in our own thoughts. If the will is organized the intellect is organized--one involves the other. For to have the will fixed on one main purpose--to judge each possible action by its relation to that purpose; to reject all that oppose it and throw the whole force of the self into all that make for it--involves that the relations of life, with reference to that main end or purpose, are clearly grasped; in other words that the thoughts as well as the will of the man are centred round the same point. And this gives us what is certainly one of the most important of the general principles which govern all truly educative instruction, viz., that the subjects of instruction must be so connected together that they form one organized whole of knowledge. One may have a great deal of miscellaneous information, but so long as it remain in isolated scraps, out of all relation to each other, it cannot aid in the formation of character. In so far, indeed, as each separate and isolated piece of knowledge is a possible seed-plot of desire, such unorganized knowledge makes for weakness of character; for the weak and vacillating character is just he who is at the mercy of every stray impulse, in other words, of every new desire.

It follows then that we seek the same ultimate end in instruction that we do in that training and guidance to which the name moral education is more definitely applied. And it is the recognition of this which enables us to clearly apprehend in what sense it is true that education should be "natural." For, indeed, this term "natural," or "according to nature," is a very pitfall for the unwary in education, because of its apparent clearness and real ambiguity. By education according to nature we may mean two quite opposed ideas. For where shall we seek the "nature" which is to determine our course of education? Some would, with Rousseau, seek it in the past; nature was the original state of man, now most fully represented by the savage; all civilization is a degradation, and the truest education is that which will cause the child most nearly to approximate to the savage ideal. But even were this true--even were man's progress a degradation, yet it would remain that we must educate the children of the present to play their part in the civilization of the present. They do not and cannot start from the same point or under the same conditions as the primitive savage, and all attempts to give such a natural education must revolve themselves--as they did in the theories of Rousseau--into the most elaborate artificiality . Others again would see it in the present. Education we are frequently told means to draw out, to develop the faculties of the child. And this position is supported by a faulty derivation of the word education. Now, the derivation of a word has often no direct bearing upon its present meaning; but when a theory relies upon a derivation as one of its main props, it is as well that the derivation in question should be accurate. And so it may be remarked the word education is not derived from educere, to draw out, but from the cognate word educare, to train up. And this suggests the extent to which, I think, we should object to the "development of faculty" view of education. To train up implies to develop, to draw out; but it implies that there is a predetermined end to the whole process. In other words, if we regard education as a fundamentally and essentially one process--and that a process of training--we seek the nature of man by which education is to be guided in the future; in the ideal that is to say, that our present position in the forward march of the race enables us to form, of what man both can and should become. We do not want simply to "draw out" what is in the child; we want even while we draw it out to direct the latent energy into the path of right development. In a word it is not merely development--any and every development--that we seek, but a true development, one which makes for the realization of the highest conception we can form of human nature. And there is another objection which must be urged--and strongly urged--against the theory that education is a mere development of faculty; and that is that under that theory the subject-matter of instruction is of but small importance, the manner of imparting it is all in all. "It matters not," say the extreme partisans of this view--"or at any rate it matters very little what you teach, but it matters a great deal how you teach it." And when not openly expressed this view has yet had a great influence in all our schools. To it is due the extreme formalism of education--a formalism seen in the one extreme in the mere verbalism into which classical instruction has too often degenerated, and in the other extreme in the undue exaltation of the mechanical aspects of the three R's in our preparatory schools of all classes. In opposition to this view I maintain that it matters a very great deal both what we teach and how we teach it. And I will ask your indulgence whilst I indicate the principles which should, in my opinion, guide us in determining both points.

(To be continued.)



Typed by happi, July 2018