The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

by W. J. Tyson, M.D.
Volume 8, 1897, pgs. 17-25

[William Joseph Tyson worked for 50 years at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Folkestone. He died in 1927.]

Read before the Parents' National Educational Union, Folkestone.

My adjective before the subject under discussion points to a line of treatment which is not always intended when the word Education is employed. Education, in this paper, is used to describe the training of the whole man, physical, intellectual and moral (spiritual) from birth to old age, in their due order of growth and development. I wish to say a few words touching these three parts of our being, beginning with the first.

In speaking of the physical side of our nature, it is essential that something should be known of the physiology of the body. Human physiology has been defined as the science which treats of the life of man, of the way in which he lives, moves, and has his being. It teaches how man is begotten, and born, how he attains maturity, and how he dies. The essentials of life are: birth, growth, development, decline, and death. Birth is not the beginning of life, but a period in the life of the animal when it can exist more or less independently apart its parents. Though, it must be remembered, this power to live without maternal help becomes less and less as we ascend the animal scale. Growth is the inherent power, possessed by the body, to increase in size. Development refers rather to quality than to quantity. It means the functionising of the organs of the body, so that they become more and more fitted to perform those duties for which they were originally intended. Thus, a body not only grows, but develops, and development is of even higher importance than growth. It would be difficult to say when development ceases and decline begins. The two may even exist together, but the decline soon becomes more and more apparent and is ultimately followed by death. At this stage of our enquiry one is tempted, before coming directly to the physical training of the child, to say something of the evolution of the mother and father; this subject, however, has been well summarized in [Henry] Drummond's last book, The Ascent of Man. Suffice it to say that the relationships of the mother and father to the offspring is such that Parental Education in all its phases is absolutely necessary for the full growth of the child. To begin with our physical side; think for a moment on the growth and development of the child into the full grown man or woman of twenty. A more or less helpless life-mass of nine months' old, weighting about eight lbs., comes into the world, and at once begins to grow at such a rapid and astounding rate that within a few weeks its size and weight are doubled. The child is almost seen to grow. Now it is during the first fifteen or twenty years of our lives that it is practically decided whether or not we are going to grow into strong, healthy men and women. Of course, I do not forget the law of heredity by which many start in life heavily handicapped, when not only the sins but the weaknesses of the fathers and also of the mothers are visited upon future generations. I have always been of opinion that the physical qualities are more frequently transmitted than the intellectual and the moral. In other words, children resemble their parents more in appearance or in physical characteristics than in mental and moral qualifications, and, if this be true, it is a most comforting thought that the highest parts of our nature are more under the control of our teachers and ourselves than the lowest.

There are men, however, so engrossed with the importance of the laws of heredity that their children are, as it were, allowed to take their chance in the world. The parent considers that the germ, already implanted in the young child, must grow up in the likeness of its progenitors, overcoming all obstacles in its course of growth and development. But, after all, the law of environment is of greater practical importance to us than the law of heredity, because the former is more or less under our control, and the more we study and value all the results that follow from environment, the more we shall endeavour to improve those qualities which we transmit to our offspring. If anyone doubts the use afforded by the knowledge of our surroundings, and everything connected with them, let him for a moment look round in any town or district, and observe the number of people, of about middle life, women especially, who, from mental or physical causes, are practically unable to carry on the common duties of life. He will find that a large proportion of these invalids have to thank (or should we say blame?) their parents or friends for the ignorance they have shown in the bringing up of their charges. Eyes are injured from overstudy, bad lights or the lack of proper spectacles; feet deformed from wearing unnatural-shaped shoes; knees strained from undue work. We might continue the list for some time. I fully admit, however, that we have reached the worst physical stage in our history, that what we see around us is but the result of an ignorance rapidly passing away, and that the rising generation of boys and girls will be men and women of a different caliber. Physical education is receiving serious attention, and to be a healthy animal is now considered almost necessary for the proper discharge of those duties for which we were created.

One of the most common mistakes in the past has been to place girls in an absolutely different class as regards their physical exercises from boys. Yet, on reflection, does it not seem as necessary for women to be strong and healthy as for men. Women occupy a position in respect to children, and therefore to the whole race, far surpassing in importance any position occupied by men. It is impossible to imagine anything more sad and disappointing than, when health is pre-eminently required, to see it break down at the most critical time of life. Is there anything more dull, tedious and unnatural than the ordinary school girl's walk, taken twice a day; girls marching two abreast, devoid of all freedom, competition or variety of movement; shouting, and I believe, even talking often forbidden?

Meanwhile, what are their brothers doing? Playing cricket, football, or some other game; bringing into play, at one time or the other, every muscle, joint, or organ, and at the same time, strengthening the whole character by a laudable desire to excel, or, at any rate, accomplish the feats performed by their fellows. But though I advocate a greater freedom and larger variety of physical exercises for girls than at present exist, we must remember one or two important differences which hold good between the sexes. In the animal scale below man, it is doubtful whether the female is not as capable for labour in all its branches as the male, and I should say one sex does as much work as the other. But coming to our own race of human beings, the female is less physically developed than the male, and more quickly reaches her full physical powers. In other words: the female becomes older sooner than the male. This condition may be partially accounted for, and probably more than we think, by the almost total absence of training among the weaker sex; hence arises the necessity that training in girls should be somewhat more carefully gone through, whilst the age limit for work should be lower than that for men; but, at the same time, no hard and fast lines need be laid down, for as the strength of the individual improves more can be done, and each succeeding generation will be more and more fitted to undertake and really enjoy increased exercise.

There is another very importance physiological axiom for all of us to take to heart, viz.: that the amount of vital energy, which the body possesses at any given moment, is limited, and that it is impossible to get more out of a body than a fixed quantity. Men have constantly exceeded this amount in climbing, running, &c., and in consequence, have remained all their days crippled in health and strength. Women have seldom erred in this way, but on the other hand they have rarely made sufficient use of their physical powers; their failing is rather one of omission than commission. It is for us, then, by careful and judicious training, to ascertain the limit of our powers, beyond which it is unsafe to venture, and this knowledge we have, happily, now full means of acquiring.

The other matters connected with physical growth are feeding, clothing, and excess of mental work. I am not at present treating this branch of my subject, and will only make a few general observations. There is not the same necessity now as twenty years ago for urging the importance of good feeding and proper clothing, and Herbert Spencer's criticisms are fast losing a good deal of their force.

The teaching of the common facts of physiology has done more to inculcate a few leading principles on the question of food and clothing than all the popular books put together. For example, it is self-evident that the child requires much more food in proportion to its size than an adult, for the reason that growth and development are going on together, and that more heat proportionately is lost. The child's great appetite shows very fairly nature's craving for food, and those who take the trouble to follow the signs and symptoms which every child exhibits in connection with its food, in the light of our physiological knowledge, will rarely err. The times for taking food, the variety of foods, their heating and nutritive values, the seasons of the year, the age of the child, are all points which must be thought upon and the knowledge of which is easily obtainable.

The knowledge of rational clothing has advanced equally with that of foods. The notion that a child should keep its frock clean whilst playing is preposterous, and it is a good sign of the times that much more money is spent on the laundry than formerly. The clothing of a growing child must be loose, and it must be warm, but not oppressively so. Every ounce of nutriment, uselessly spent for keeping up the warmth of the body, is so much lost for the building up of the frame; in considering clothing therefore, we must make ourselves acquainted with the properties of different kinds of clothing, so as to know how to vary the quality and the quantity with the seasons of the year. Then there is the most vital question of brain work on the growth of the body. These are all important physiological facts, not to be forgotten.

There is a regular order and a settled rate, varying in every child, in which the faculties develop and unfold themselves. Any undue interference with this law is necessarily harmful. The brain and spinal cord being the highest specialized organs we possess, require a long time and the greatest supervision to reach their maximum working power, and anything that tends to check their full growth will sooner or later show itself by evil results, following this unsuitable or insufficient food. Clothing which allows too great a loss of heat, or is so tight as to impede circulation , must effect injuriously our chief nervous centres, and when this is accompanied with over-exertion of the brain, the body suffers, and a stunted condition of all parts follows. If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; this law applies more to our brain, as our chief organ, than to any other. Not only through excessive brainwork is that organ pushed beyond its capabilities, but the rest of the body likewise, does not receive the amount of blood which is necessary for its growth at a time when it is most needed.

We have to consider then, whether the precociousness of knowledge so common at the present day is a real gain, if, as a consequence, the structure and the vigour of the body are impaired, and that, at a time which is most inopportune. It is necessary therefore that we should possess some knowledge of the general structure of the brain, its rate of growth and the period of its full development. Physiologically, the brain is the seat of the will and the sensations; the medium of all the higher emotions and feelings, and of all the faculties of judgment, understanding, memory, reflection, induction, imagination, and the like. It does not reach its full stage of being until twenty years after its first appearance, and therefore is not in a fit condition to be fully worked until that time has passed.

If due care has been exercised in its management, and the law of heredity has not proved too exacting, we may expect it to work (proper mental exercise being taken) well for sixty, seventy, or even eighty years. It is necessary that the mind be kept, during its full life, in active and varied exercises, as we have already seen are imperative for the body. Hence, true education aims at giving that essential amount of mental training from the very birth of the child until the time when the child can continue it without help. The training must be gradual, increasing with the advance of years, and of a kind, like its physical food, more or less assimilable. I am no quite of accord with Mr. Herbert Spencer who practically would teach a child nothing that it does not understand. The logical faculties are late in arriving, and to wait till a child can logically understand everything that is put before it, would be to delay half our education until we had left our school days far behind us. The young possess a power, and, it seems, a comparatively easily acquired power, of committing to memory many things which are of little use when learnt, but which we find, on arriving at a later age, it is pleasant to go over, to dissect, analyze, and enjoy. I fully believe, and most will agree with me, that teaching in youth should be as objective as possible, and that ordinary observation, should be much encouraged. A certain amount of drudgery is incumbent on all learners, but by all means add as much pleasure to it as is compatible with real instruction. The danger of forcing knowledge beyond the capability of the brain to take in, is not only deleterious to its growth and development, but tends also to check the desire for learning when school days are over. Still, there is an equal danger in the opposite direction, for unless the brain becomes accustomed to receive its due and proper amount of true irritation, that brain will cease to wish or care for it. The tendency of the pendulum to swing in either one of the two above directions is ever present. The acquisition of knowledge will always come before its organization; for the latter, time and spontaneous thinking must accrue, and these can only come with age. Wisdom, like everything that is enduring, grows slowly, and abnormally clever boys and girls, prodigies, as they are called, no parent need desire. Their development is too early to last, and your strong, healthy boy with fair ability, well-trained, will go far to compensate you for the absence of mental brilliancy which, in all probability, has been gained by the maiming of some physical organ.

And now for a few last words on our moral nature. I feel that here I am on delicate and difficult ground. In this short paper I have wished rather to dwell on the developmental side of our subject than to enter into details, or to give rules for living out our threefold nature. Books without end have been written on these subjects and can be obtained for a few pence at any bookstall. But the attempt to show the order and the principles that are associated in our growth, is not so commonly undertaken. So far, we may say that our physical stature reaches its full growth between twenty and thirty, and in the female sex this occurs sooner than in the male. At forty a decline, more or less perceptible, sets in, so that all exercises have to be moderated. The mental or intellectual state arrives later at maturity, and continues much farther on in our life than the former. The moral is the last part of our nature to reach any considerable growth, and at death, I think it may be truly said, has not reached its destined fullness: a failure that has always appeared to me one of the strongest arguments for a life hereafter, wherein a man shall be finally perfect in all his parts.

To discuss fully the moral or spiritual nature of man would require much more time than is at my disposal, but there are a few leading points which should be noticed: --

That the moral condition is as much a part of our nature as the physical or intellectual, there can be little doubt. That the quantity varies in individuals is evident. That its rate of growth varies is equally evident, and also that is quality differs in people. Now my own belief is that the moral part of us is very little developed in babyhood and youth, and that the real estimation of moral niceties does not occur till later on in life. Someone may ask: "then are we to leave this small, undeveloped part of us to take care of itself?" By no means. This part being the most delicate, uncertain, and slowest of growth, needs the most careful tending. But to know the life history of this moral plant helps to do away with early disappointments and enables us to look forward to a time, although late, when the result of the care that has been bestowed upon it, will be apparent.

Now what are the powers that are to help on this moral growth? First of all the sensible affection of the father and the mother, or of those who stand in this relationship. I purposely add the name of the father, because this most important factor is constantly left out. The father possesses qualities which the mother is deficient in and vice-versa; in after life the child grown to a man will appreciate the example and teaching of each. It is not for me to say how this affection of the child for the parent is to be obtained. Every parent must work out this problem for him or herself, but everyone can recognize it where it exists, and the greater this mutual love, the greater will be the moral leverage to life the child. It is here that the law of environment has its greatest scope. A child is essentially an imitator; good habits or bad are quickly formed, or rather copied from persons with whom they associate. Nothing can be more unscientific than to expect children to have their moral character strengthened by mixing with people of low tastes and views, and yet this mistake is being constantly made by people who are quite aware of what they are doing. It is hardly perhaps within my province to touch upon the religious aspect of this part, yet feeling as I do, that the Christian religion is the greatest and truest of all philosophies, and the only one which offers us a guarantee of moral progress, and at the same time points out and provides for moral failures, I cannot refrain. The father and the mother must act for the most part as priests to their own children. The light which is the germ of the moral sense every child possesses, but every child does not develop it. It is a light that lighteth every child that comes into the world; what a start, then, we all possess! But the start is vain, unless the race follows, and it is the race we have to look after. The race is a long one and lasts throughout life. We must all have noticed--illustrating the last stage of our moral growth, and also the adaptability of our religion for all periods of our existence--how the greatest truths are grasped comparatively late in life. Eternal truths more and more unfold themselves as we grow older, and hidden meanings, hitherto undreamed of, appear plain before our eyes. In spite of the law of environment, in spite of the law of heredity, there is a Divine law, which stands out, and constantly nullifies all earthly laws. The three laws are aptly described in language known to all: "which were born not of blood (heredity), nor of the will of the flesh (environment), but of God (divine)." Moral miracles meet us in every age, and are with us now. No law of heredity or environment can account for them. In attempting to explain them, we fail, and it is this Divine law standing above all physical laws which gives every man a chance. Without the action of this Divine law half our hopefulness for mankind would at once disappear.

Proofread by LNL, Aug 2020