The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Boys, Girls, and Character.

by Mrs. Arthur H. D. Acland.
Volume 5, 1894, pg. 241-245

      "Noble Character comes first . . . .
      The whole human being is the teacher's care." Thring. [Addresses on Education.]

It is a little difficult to know how, most fittingly, to introduce a subject which can be summed up in the above heading. But the quotations which follow it show the line of discussion which it is my object to suggest. The question is whether those, who are in charge of children, do well to encourage, or to discourage in themselves the attitude of mind which results in conversations like the following:--

"Missie! you must not do that!" says the person in authority.


"Because you are a girl!"

"But Willie does it!"

"Oh! He is a boy!" or again--

"Johnnie! Johnnie! you must not cry for such little things."

"Why not?"

"It is so like a girl!"

In the one case the girl is to have a higher standard than the boy. He may be rough, she may not. In the other case the boy is to have a higher standard than the girl. He must be brave, she need not.

I once heard a dear and kindly old gentleman speaking to some school children, He was supposed to be a great teacher, and we hoped to learn much from his address. What did he say? He told the girls to be modest and the boys to be brave and also to work diligenty. This set me thinking, "Were not the boys to be modest too? Was bravery less important for a woman than in a man? Was not diligence in work important for everybody? If modesty is good, it is good for all. If bravery and diligence are good, they are good in all. If gentleness and thoughtfulness are good, they are as good in the strong man as in the weaker woman, as important in her as in him."

At the outset of the discussion I would say emphatically, that it is not my object to raise the question of natural differences between the sexes. This is a question for men of science, and educators gratefully accept any light which they can throw on a most interesting and difficult subject. My object is, rather, to suggest discussion on the question whether we, as educators, do well to hinder, by the mental atmosphere with which we surround the children, the development in both boys and girls of virtues and characteristics, common to both, but more generally present in one or the other sex. Our object should be not to eliminate the characteristic qualities of either sex, but rather to stimulate in both boys and girls the growth of what is good and valuable in both.

George Meredith says: "You meet now and then men who have the woman in them without being womanized; they are the pick of men. And the choicest women are those who yield not a feather of their womanliness for some amount of manlike strength."

But it seems as if some of the virtues were easier to boys, some to girls. Boys are generally braver than girls. Girls are more thoughtful and gentle than boys. Is it because they are easy that the trainers of the children select those virtues to teach to each sex? Or is it because they lack breadth of view, and in the future man and woman they overlook the importance of "Character"--Character at once strong and beautiful?

To go, for a moment, away fom the moral point of view and to turn to manual dexterity. Is it a disadvantage to a boy to know how to use his fingers skillfully? Is he not often present at accidents? To say nothing of bad accidents, how many gashes in his own chin might be avoided, and if made how much more quickly healed, in these days of shaving, if men had been trained in the skilful use of their own fingers? Again, is it a bad thing for a girl to be able to mend the lock of a door--or to see what is wrong with the gas? And yet we find that boys are scarcely ever taught that invaluable form of training to finger tips, needle-work, while girls are scarcely ever taught even how to drive in a nail straight and without bruising their fingers.

We parents, now-a-days, are getting a great deal of help about child-training, and one of the things most constantly enforced upon us is the amount of time wasted in quite early life by want of training in matters which are far harder to learn afterwards. That idea comes in here. Do we not, every day, see little boys encouraged, even when in arms, in rough ways? Later "because he is such a little man," our future householder is allowed to lose his temper, and to break his own and other people's toys with impunity. He may roast his sisters' dolls ("dolls are such silly things," he says.) * He may bully the nursery cat, he may bang doors. Even in his mother's drawing-room a boy may tumble about on sofas and chairs in a way of which his sisters would never dream! Because "boys will be boys," are they not allowed to feel that it is their prerogative to rule, and their duty to get what they want, never mind at what cost?

* [Here is a muddle! We encourage our girls to love dolls, but we encourage our boys to break them. "Oh no, I don't encourage him, I am very vexed about it," says an indignant mother. Pardon, Madam! I mistook--you have only encouraged him to grow up rough, and unsympathetic towards other people's likes and dislikes and to think destruction "manly" and worthy to be admired, that is all you have done. But the consequences ought not to surprise, though they may vex you.]

In later life, with what trouble grown men have to learn their deficiencies! With what bitter grief they have often to realise that life contains problems too complicated to be solved by courage alone, and intricacies so subtle that something more is required than a mere "manly" determination to conquer. We have heard of exquisite butterflies being crushed by the hard fingers of the would-be tender examiner.

Then think of girls, "My tender little maiden, she is afraid of being alone, Nurse! she must never be left." "Put on your best frock, my sweet. People like litle girlies to look smart." "Oh! Hush! you must not ask such things. Little girls must not know anything about that." "If people ask you, dear, say 'so and so.'" What do these things mean? The future woman is to be so timid that she would walk weary miles rather than face a cow. She is to dress to be looked at. She is to be unknowing of truth, She is taught to tell small fibs. Her life is often so sheltered that she becomes periously near to being, mentally, like an old-time Chinese footed woman. Being sensitive, imaginative, inclined to love admiration, and very secretive, she is never to be taught fom babyhood upwards that the perfect woman is noble, brave, truthful, loving and dependable. When she, left a widow, has a son hurt by an accident in Switzerland she cannot go to nurse him unless she is "taken." She cannot sleep without a man in the house, "she is so nervous." She has work to do--she is all soul, and does not know by which end to take it. More, she has boys to bring up--she knows only the outsides of men's lives--such lives as she has been allowed to see. She has no common meeting ground with them. She cannot help them, she wrings her hands and cries in the darkness, imagining, fearing and trembling, helplessly floundering along, where her steps should be strong to lead.* Why are girls so often brought up like this? Are we afraid, though Tennyson is not, that they will "lose the child-like in the larger mind?"

[Ought there to be any wonder that there is fear in so many people of a "revolt of the daughters," if troubles are manufactured like this.--Princess]

In looking at the lives of men and women, we must not, now, think too exclusively of married couples and of the difficulties which must and do occur. But are not some married lives spoilt because of the half training each of the couple has received--something after the manner of a badly-made pair of fire-tongs? Look at it this way--In the beginning, the "lover" stage, all seems well. They are united and blissful in the thought that a common life and a common interest is to be theirs for ever and ever. But what does he know about a woman's interests or ways of looking at things? What does she know of his? Often there is no more in common for them than is implied in running side by side, but without contact, their minds are quite shut to each ther. Then comes old age, comrades of earlier days die off--their pleasures are curtailed, their lives dulled down to arm-chairs and gruel. And now they begin to make attempts to meet again, but ten to one they cannot! They pass each other, they grasp at empty air. If they do meet. it is probably on some third person--perhaps by good luck one of their own children, who gives them something in common to hold on to. But, of each other's souls they know nothing. If by some twist of fortune they do happen to knock against each other, it is for too short a time to bring anything but regret, "I never knew!" How should they know? She was a "girl." He was a "boy." They were not "characters."

Do not let us drift into discussion of what games are suitable for boys, and what for girls. Neither let us stray away to consider what are the varying duties which have to be done by men and women when mature life is reached. Let us look at life as a whole, let us realise clearly that we are training "human beings," and let us see whether much that we lament in the world is due to the spirit which makes mothers cry, "tell me how to deal with my 'girls';" "advise me how to bring up my 'boys.'"

Is this attitude of mind mistaken, or is it not?

Is it not a fact that what makes a human being either valuable to the community or a mere hindrance to civilization,"is "Character?"

How then shall we best contribute to the good of the future? Is it by thinking of and treating our children as "boys" and "girls," or by never failing to look at them as "Characters?"

It is Character as a whole which makes or mars the life.

Tesseract OCR; proofread by LNL, Oct. 2023