The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Mr. Isaac Taylor's Home Education, Part 3

By Katherine L. Hart-Davis.
Volume 8, 1897, pgs. 151-161

[Isaac Taylor, 1787-1865, wrote Home Education in 1838. His sister Ann Taylor Gilbert wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.]

The following paper is an attempt to give some idea of an interesting and valuable book called "Home Education," by Mr. Isaac Taylor, the author of "The Natural History of Enthusiasm." The book is now out of print; it was published in 1838, when its author had retired to his quiet country home at Stanford Rivers. A picture of his early life and education is given in a series of biographical papers by Mr. Taylor, called "The Family Pen"; from these we can realize how fully the principles advocated in his book were the actual outcome of personal experience and untiring industry.

Mr. Taylor begins his book by explaining to us that he is in favour of Home education in contradistinction to School education, especially during the earlier years; mainly because at home an atmosphere can more readily be obtained which will promote the growth of the various faculties of the mind in nature's order, and at nature's rate. He says, "The doctrine much talked of of late, and eagerly followed by many, is that of development; and the question put on all sides is, 'What are the readiest and surest means of expanding the faculties at an early age?; but the very contrary doctrine is the one professed and explained throughout this work. I am bold to avow my adherence to the principle of delayed development, . . . . with a due care that the vitality of each faculty should be preserved throughout the period during which its expansion and exercise are deferred."

It is the competition among teachers, who look for tangible results, obtainable in the shortest possible time, which makes Mr. Taylor an advocate of education at home, "where, if at all, the force and fruitfulness of the mind may be kept in bud until the natural summer-time of action comes." We must be an inert and torpid state of ignorance; on the contrary, he says, "a higher mental energy may be secured, and more may be taught (or more of general knowledge), than is often attempted; and in methods that do not impair the elasticity or exhaust the force of the mind, and such especially as do not breed a distaste for learning."

In his second chapter, Mr. Taylor deals with that atmosphere of happiness which is so necessary a condition of education. He bids us observe that children possess a natural fund of spontaneous, self-resourceful happiness. "An infant, simply protected from positive suffering, is happy from the stock of its own resources, and by the perpetual rise of joyous emotions, having no determinate direction as they burst abroad, like rills from a hilltop, and which sparkle and dance as they glide away." . . . . . "The happiness of children is not a something to be procured and prepared for them, like their daily food, but something which they already possess, and with which we need not concern ourselves any further than to see that they are not despoiled of it."

The creative power of childish happiness shows us that it is not mere animal pleasure--"it is mind, the rich and grasping and excursive human mind (such even in infancy), that is at work on the poor material of its felicity . . . . . A child of three years old creates for itself from a stick, or a stone, or a straw, a long continued and tranquil delight. . . . A boy of ten or twelve with a hammer, gimlet and nails, will furnish for himself an intensity of happiness, spending hours in an employment which derives ninety-nine parts out of the hundred of its power of fascination from what they mind adds to the tangible material of pleasure."

This natural fund of happiness is so intensely precious that all the educator's skill should be exercised to ensure its preservation. If it broken by ill-temper, ill-health, over-pressure of mental work or by a life of too great excitement, the mental and moral qualities of the child will be in danger. Country life offers very many advantages for healthy occupation of body and mind, which Mr. Taylor considers very valuable, especially for little children.

The next chapter is called "Family Love and Order." In it the author very able deals with the importance of prompt obedience, springing from a deep love.

"If we were to attempt to divine the secret of a prosperous management of children, perhaps it would resolve itself into the simple fact of a quick perception of the train of their ideas, at any moment, and a facility in concurring with the stream of thought, whatever it may be, which, by the slightest guiding word or gesture, can be led into whatever channel may be desired. The rule of management might then be condensed into the three words: discern, follow, lead. That is to say, there is first the catching of the clue of the thought in a child's mind; then the going on with the same train a little way; and lastly, the giving it a new, though not opposite direction, in compliance with the principle of the natural association of ideas."

Very forcibly does Mr. Taylor explain that "family love and order" are indissolubly connected; the necessity for fines and penalties, and the petty rules and regulations necessary to secure order and punctuality, shows a lack of true filial love and reverence.

"But where a warm affection is the spring of obedience, and where children are really made happy from day to day, an exact regard to times and to plans, or as much exactness in this respect as can be deemed useful, may be secured--no one sees by what means, the whole domestic movement is spontaneous, the machine a living one; and, inasmuch as it is not on a very large scale, the known will of the supreme power comes in the place of whatever is formal and palpable. Along with the substantial advantages of regularity, there may therefore be enjoyed a feeling of liberty and of individual spontaneousness, highly conducive to vigour of mind, and especially to a clearly-expressed originality of personal character."

Having thus broadly dealt with the principles upon which home training should be built, Mr. Taylor now goes on to show how each period of the child's life should be studied and cared for. He divides it into three epochs: infancy, childhood, and youth, each of which has its own strong and weak characteristics, requiring a carefully-adapted treatment, suited not only to the particular period, but also to each individual child, no two children developing in the same way or at the same rate.

During infancy the animal organisation of the brain is rapidly advancing, and therefore everything should be made subservient to its healthy growth and consolidation.

Childhood is the period "during which the muscular, osseous and digestive organs expand, and nature demands a special care of the animal economy, and denies such excitements to be addressed to the mind as tend to disturb or retard its physical growth. . . . As infancy is unconscious life, childhood is conscious life; and it is the season when the soul recognises its individuality, and begins to inquire concerning its own well-being. . . . Reflex sentiments, springing from the experience of good and ill, may be brought into play, so as to enhance the mind's own power, and to put it on the course of self-control."

The third period extends from the time "when the direct control of parents and teachers merges in the mind's rational command of itself." It is the time when, aided by the spontaneous energy of the pupil, the arduous business of acquirement, in its various branches, and the strenuous process of mental exercise, are to be carried on."

First Period.--In the chapter which Mr. Taylor devotes to the study of infancy, he speaks very strongly against the over-pressure and the unsuitable training given in infant schools--at least, when they were first instituted. He allows that there may now be an improvement, since the "paroxysm of educational philanthropy" has nearly subsided. But he bids us beware of comparing our home-educated pupils with those of the infant school, whose education is directed by quite different aims. "Not a syllable of book-learning need have been acquired, not a task learned, and yet the mind of a child in its fifth year may not be merely in a state of happiest moral activity, but may be intellectually alive, and actually enriched, too, by various information concerning the visible universe; and may have made acquaintance with whatever presents itself under a pleasurable aspect." Nature is an open book, full of delight and attraction, such as may supply suitable employment and information for the youngest.

The author calls our attention to the ill-consequences of being able to read at an early age. It brings, he says, too great a strain to eye and brain, which are, as it were, both striving to keep together. To read to a child is far better than allowing him to read too early. Learning by heart is good if understanding be called into play; mere repetition from grammars and such-like stultifies the mind. Any attempts at "developing" a child's logical faculty by mental exercises at this age are directly harmful to him. But we must not forget that children are reasonable, though not yet able to reason; this reasonableness may be used, but not forced.

Games and sports, conversation rich with incidental information, music and drawing, are all that is needful to keep the mind quick during this early time. The intellectuality possessed by those around them will unconsciously radiate to the children, and this is far more useful than any attempts at quickening faculties and senses by task-work. "It is out of school, it is on the playground, abroad, and at table, that the vivifying communion of minds between parents and children will take place."

The next subject with which Mr. Taylor deals, is children's lesson-books. He speaks strongly against those "small compendiums" designed to give "comprehensive and elementary" knowledge, and introduce a child first to the bare skeleton of science. He deplores the number of such books, which was increasing so rapidly at the time when he wrote.

"Elementary books," he says, "or to speak more correctly first books, should consist entirely of dainty morsels, and of well-gathered flowers. But nothing should be seen in them that is comprehensive, there should be no synopses, no bird's-eye views, no generalization." Next come some excellent remarks on children's amusements. He notices how much incidental instruction will be received by the children from their elders whilst they are at play; but he wisely says, "let play be play and nothing else," in the shape of instructive games. "The real charm of a toy is derived from the power it possesses to excite the conceptive faculty; and hence it is that the more it leaves to be filled up by the imagination, the ruder it is, so much the keener and more lasting is the pleasure it affords."

"A child's happiness is the happiness of the soul more than of the body; and his joys instead of staying in the sense, go through and through him; and just as the babe of three months old smiles all over when it smiles at all, and kicks with merriment, so does a child enjoy what he enjoys with a throb of his every faculty."

Real delight and much instruction may be given by the parent to the child by means of the pencil, however unskilfully used; by the voice in the simplest songs and hymns, and by poetry--not the jingling rhymes used as "aids to memory," not by monosyllabic rhymes on nursery subjects, but by the simplest and best poetry.

This gives real pleasure, and also widens the child's ideas, and enriches this vocabulary. Humorous tales and guessing games are also useful; they will be fully entered into by the child, because humour is inherent in him even at this early age, and it is right to give this most valuable faculty the best food.

In summing up his remarks on this first period of life, Mr. Taylor says: "Infancy . . . is emphatically Nature's season, and parents may be thoroughly contented, so far, who see their children reach the verge that separates infancy from childhood, in blooming health, happy in habit and in temper, with transparent dispositions, with a curiosity alive, with a moderate command of language; and if I may be allowed the figure, with a lap full of the blossoms of philosophy, unsorted and plucked as they have come to hand."

Second Period--"Childhood."--This period usually begins about the seventh or eighth year; it is marked by the child becoming conscious of time. "The infant mind glides down the stream of moments, conscious only of the present, and altogether without thought of periods, intervals and measured seasons of duration. . . . . The listlessness of a child is altogether a different thing from the inapplicable thoughtlessness of an infant; and it is a state of mind which should always be relieved. As soon as time is felt, the mind and the body have only the alternative of being employed or idle, and idleness is not a passive but an active ill."

Accordingly this is a time when definite employment for a certain period in the day is required by the child. But these early hours should not be employed in strenuous brain work, but should rather be "times of tranquil, unintellectual occupation--the resting times, as well of the body as of the mind. . . There can be no motive whatever for hurrying forward the ordinary branches of mechanical education, such as reading, writing, arithmetic . . . . they may be pursued leisurely, to the entire exclusion of what, to use an expressive French term, we might call empressement." Only let us take advantage of any modern methods which abridge the labour of learning, so long as they do not entail high pressure.

This period is notably one which requires oral instruction of a more systematic and precise description than that given in the earlier years. The child's mind now tends towards putting things into order and sequence, and he also gradually develops a curiosity for the "how, when, why" of things.

"The most obvious principles of mental order," says Mr. Taylor, "are those relating to Time, Place, Form, Causation," and there is something which may be done in connection with each of these principles, to give consistency to a child's acquirements and conceptions. As for instance, in teaching history, the more or less scattered stories with which the child is first made familiar, may now be moulded together, and some idea of the stream of time may be realized.

Again, "if the teacher will but condescend to exclude all the polysyllabled nomenclature of scientific classification, whether botanical or zoological, and will bring forward such grounds of distinction only as the unsophisticated notions of children may consist with . . . . they will receive a lively pleasure from the study of these subjects."

We need not be afraid, our author tells us, of introducing the child, in however slight a way, to many forms of knowledge, "for by this means, chiefly, we provide against those rigid intellectual habits and exclusive professional feelings . . . which render high attainments so often the means rather of narrowing, than of expanding the mind." We must also be on the watch for that meditative, pensive phase of mind which so often comes at this age, and which is to be kept in check by vigorous, well-regulated exercise and outdoor pursuits.

Third Period--"Youth."--It is at this period that companionship is almost indispensable, especially in the education of boys; it serves both as a stimulus in study, and also tends to prevent that "bookishness" which is often a danger for the home-educated child.

It is at this time too that the intellectual companionship of parents and children is so highly valuable; drawing them as closely together in mind, as they have already been drawn by affection from their earliest infancy. Special bents now begin to show themselves and must neither be thwarted nor made too much of. Each individual child will require special study from the teacher, if his education is to be really well-proportioned and suited to his capacities.

The so-called "dull child," supposed to be lacking in intellectual power, must not be pressed along the same path of learning with his apparently brighter companions. He may develop a constructive capacity, which, if duly appreciated, may be turned to good account.

The study of the education most fitted to minds of late development, or of less capacity, is the more important as it vitally affects the tone of society. "It is precisely the neglected education of the unintelligent mass of minds which makes the progress of truth always so slow, and renders it liable to so many reverses."

At the age of which we are speaking it is the habit of strenuous continued labour, of alacrity and promptness of action, which is the first thing to aim at, and which is an indispensable preparation for the child's later life and for any further study which he may pursue. "A man whose faculty of education is speedily exhausted, who resents steady application to dry details, and who finds frivolous pretexts for shifting upon others every strenuous mental effort, such a man is good for nothing, but to receive his rents from the trusty hands of an agent, or to sign his name, and get a dividend warrant cashed twice a year."

In the five chapters which now follow, Mr. Taylor gives us "a practical analysis of the intellectual faculties" with a view to the culture of each. This culture must follow as nearly as possible the order of nature; "it is very possible to occasion some lasting injury, merely by following an order not in harmony with those laws, whether physical or psychological, which regulate the growth and gradual expansion of the mind. . . . Our part is attentively to watch what is going on spontaneously in the minds of children and to follow the process with our artificial aids, as it advances.

Mr. Taylor first deals with what he calls the "Conceptive Faculty" (although he admits that he is far from satisfied with the phrase), next with the sense of Resemblance and of Analogy, next with the power of Abstraction and of Reasoning, and lastly with the Imagination.

The Conceptive Faculty is defined to be "that mental power by means of which what has already been present to the perceptions returns, or is brought back to the mind, in the absence of the object, with more or less distinction and perfection, and is then dealt with by the mind as material of cogitation, or merely serves to lead on to other ideas." The work of this faculty is intensest and most constant during the early years of life, it comes into operation as soon as the child is observed to recognise any thing or person. Hence come the delights of toys, for "while the doting little mamma is preparing the doll's breakfast and taking it abroad, the conceptive faculty is working in a copious manner so as to involve all sorts of consequences to the mind and character." This faculty is not cultivated only or chiefly by the imagination or by the powers of reason and of observation; because the vividness of the impressions of the conceptive faculty answers directly to the force and intensity of the feelings which may be at work when the impressions are received."

"The refinement which the conceptive faculty reaches at a very early age is marked by the velocity and the precision with which images stored in the mind connect themselves with arbitrary signs; that is to say with words." We see one chief result of this in the assimilation of two or three thousand words by the child in the first seven years of his life.

Mr. Taylor traces out the relation of each of the senses to the conceptive faculty, and bids us observe that the habit of accurate observation is only one part of the training which it should receive.

Depth of feeling gives vivid conception; "use, therefore, the natural joyousness of the young to promote your training. Scrutiny of human nature on a small scale is injurious; a broader preparation of comprehensive charity comes to those with quick eyes for catching the dramatic and picturesque in human nature."

There now follows a careful account of the way in which history, botany, geography and other subjects should be taught, so as to cultivate rightly the conceptive faculty. This requires to be studied if it is really to be understood and valued, it cannot be dealt with here. Let it suffice only to notice Mr. Taylor's concluding remark:--"Sober-minded and anxious parents may probably think that great hazards are run by indulging so far the conceptive faculty, and by bestowing upon it the culture which I am recommending. . . . . To preserve the purity and health of the imagination, we should not quash it, but occupy it with what is bright and fair. The more ideality a child displays, the more strenuously would I pursue the methods of culture briefly hinted at in this chapter: I would lodge the entire visible universe, in all its gay colours and graceful forms, in a mind whence especially I wished to exclude objects of morbid influence."

He also adds that "the sympathetic power on which the moral system hinges," should be an outcome of the rightly cultured conceptive faculty, the imagination being thus brought into a right use. "A man who thinks for others is a 'well-bred' man."

In dealing with the conceptive faculty in connection with language, Mr. Taylor lays stress upon the importance of cultivating the children's descriptive powers, and a wide use of a large and apt vocabulary. He calls words "the antennae of perception," and remarks that the larger the number of words known, so much the larger is the number of varieties of facts, feelings, etc., which will be observed and remembered. He sketches out a number of useful and delightful exercises for training the conceptive faculty in connection with language. For instance, he says, let the children make lists of epithets applicable to the clouds, trees, etc.; of names given to sensations of touch, taste, etc.; and suggests many more such exercises of a very original character.

In speaking of the sense of Resemblance and Relation, and of the perception of Analogy, the author tells us that their operations differ from the tranquil working of the conceptive faculty in that they "stimulate the mind to action, and impel it either to inquiry or to imitation," leading it on to efforts of abstraction, and to the labours of the reasoning power. The sense of resemblance comes earlier than that of discriminating differences. For example, mother's muff, a mat, and puss, are all given by a young child the one name of "pussy," he will say that a sky freckled with clouds is "strewn with feathers." In cultivating the child's power of language we should be careful not to disregard or destroy this innate sense of resemblance. We may give such exercises as will be natural and delightful to the child, such as comparisons of a town with a nest of ants, and other similes of animal and plant life. Great care should be taken to make these exercises really useful by developing them in the right order, that is to say, first seek for visible facts to stock the mind with visible images; next find those resemblances and analogies intuitively recognized by the child; and lastly, enter upon the arduous pursuit of abstract generalizations and fixed laws. Mr. Taylor gives some excellent detailed examples of lessons such as he here advocates.

The last chapter of the book is given by the "Analogical Feeling and Habit preparatory to the Expansion of the Abstractive and Reasoning Faculties." The difference is shown between the intuitive and operative faculties, between perception and power. The first grow, and are cultivated through the conceptive faculty, and sense of resemblance and analogy; the latter through memory, the faculty of abstraction and of reasoning.

In the early training of the reason, the working of the active faculties should be delayed until after the accumulative faculties have largely gathered in materials. This wealth of materials is not in itself, power, but it is the means of power. "The difference between working with a fund of ideas and healthy growth or the early stunting of the mind."

Although Mr. Taylor's book is now out of print, there are often copies which can be picked up from second-hand bookstalls: indeed, I have lately heard of more than one P.N.E.U. member who has been able to obtain one; and there are copies in some of the Branch Libraries. It is hoped that this paper will induce members to read the book if they have the opportunity of so doing.

Typed by happi, Oct. 2020; Proofread by LNL, Oct. 2020