The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The "P.R." Letter Bag.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 195
[The Editor is not responsible for the opinions of Correspondents.]
Dear Editor.--Dr. Schofield's paper on "The Philosophy of Education" [Pt 1; Pt 2] has been read by me with great interest and admiration. We parents owe him very hearty thanks for his able advocacy of many educational ideas which, though not new in themselves (is anything really new?), have been swamped by the drive and competition introduced into child and school life during the last thirty or forty years.
But I am curious to know whether my experience as a mother is quite exceptional. Dr. Schofield, on page 92 of the February Parents' Review says: "A little child is fluid, plastic, receptive," and speaks in the same paragraph of pouring it into a mould, that same mould being its environment. Now. Dr. Schofield is a man, and probably a busy one, and we may therefore reasonably conclude that he has not personally attended to the ways and doings of very young children, except such as come under his care as patients. These, being little invalids, may be very rightly described as "fluid, plastic, receptive," and probably during their interview with the doctor, fear and trembling may have reduced their spirits and squashed their individuality. But of none of my children--now all adults--could I say at any time that they answered to Dr. Schofield's description. What about the fluidity, plasticity and receptivity of the baby five weeks old, who will scream till exhausted rather than lie in its cot? who wails piercingly every time it is washed, however gently and warmly; who later on has to be held between your knees while his hair is brushed, and who, at twelve, cannot be induced by any devices, by hunger or stripes, to return punctually to his dinner. He was afflicted with diphtheria at seven, and it took two people to hold him while the doctor painted his throat. Are such boys exceptions? I hope not. Force, and not fluidity, is the desirable quality in the healthy baby-boy.
Now, let Dr. Schofield take such a little boy and try, after providing the most lovely mould, to form habits in his unconscious mind. How is he going to work? Will he kindly tell us mothers of these high-spirited boys (and we are numerous, I am glad to say) how he would make his first appeal? He cannot, I think, in the case adduced, suggest anything that has not been tried. A fluid (?) baby can wear out his mother's strength!
Let us take another case, not quite so extreme. A charming little maiden of three and a half has just left my roof. We have no nursery; she has been with us all day long. We are trying to develop habits of order by inducing her to put away one plaything before getting out another. Is that "easy"? She resists every time with tears of rage. She is most affectionate, and we presented the idea to her by suggesting she should help "muvver," of whom she is passionately fond. But she resists--why? Because she is thwarted in her wish to do something else, perhaps dress her doll. To be firmly set on doing something useful is an excellent habit to encourage, and dressing a doll is most useful, because unconsciously the child learns the elements of arithmetic, besides learning how to dress herself. But we prevent her in order to form habits of obedience and order, and hence her rage. Before the fit is over she has forgotten what it was she wanted to do, and that is a pity. To my thinking there lies, under all this talk of moulding, a misconception of the way in which character develops. A child grows like a plant in character as well as everything else; you cannot stifle or bend its forces until they appear. Character develops in phases, and I think those who have seen their children grow up will agree with Dante and Pestalozzi that certain ages have their appropriate characteristics, and that some traits do not appear until the dawn of adult life.
It is impossible for anyone to be prepared beforehand for the surprises that a child's development may present to his parents. The sot who is the disgrace of his home has been brought up in the same environment, and trained in the same habits, as the beneficent, self-denying doctor, his brother. Let no one suppose that I am not impressed with the supreme importance of the early formation of good habits. What I question is, whether this process is "easy," and whether it is permanent. If "habit is stronger than ten natures," how comes it that there are instances of savage children taken very young, brought up in the ways of civilization, who when adult, deserted their protectors, divested themselves of clothing, and returned to savagery?
The Jesuits used to say they could make a Jesuit of any child entrusted to them before the age of seven. An idle boast? No one of distinction remained a Jesuit, except the early founders of the sect. Pascal, Descartes, Voltaire broke away from their teaching after years of Jesuitical influence. Natural and inherited tendencies are, fortunately, sometimes stronger than environment and habit. Instances without number could be multiplied; we see them every day of our lives. And this is well.
For what is true of a beautiful environment and the formation of good habits must be equally true of an unfavourable environment and the formation of bad habits, and the majority of English children are born into undesirable conditions, and are taught at least as many bad ways as good, and if such habits were unalterable, their state would be hopeless, and we know it is not.
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We have been asked to insert the following letter from the Duchess of Sutherland:--
Madam,--I am glad to take advantage of your kind permission to lay before you some facts connected with the Association of Promoting the Welfare of the Feeble-minded, of which I am President, in the hope that your readers will be sufficiently interested to look favourably on a scheme for its benefit, that I think might well be made known through the agency of your excellent magazine. The first suggestion of the scheme I allude to came from Mrs. Garrett-Anderson, M.D., in a speech she made at a meeting held in support of the Association at Stafford House, on June 10th. But before I repeat Mrs. Garrett-Anderson's suggestion I should like, in as few words as possible, to tell your readers something of the origin and objects of the Association. In the first place, who are the "feeble-minded?" They are boys and girls not idiots nor imbeciles, consequently not fit inmates for asylums, but sufficiently backward in development, or deficient in brain power, to place them at a great disadvantage in contact with ordinary children, whether at school or in their home life. The attention of school authorities has of late years been drawn to this class of children, and to the necessity of providing for them the best training possible; with the result that special classes are now formed in most of our large towns, which are havens of peace and hope to the little weaklings so often the drudges of home life, and the butts of their stronger schoolmates. But something more than schooling, however judicious and helpful, is needed for many of these poor children, and out of this need has grown our Association, which meets it by the establishment of small and carefully worked Homes, both for boys and girls, where, sheltered from disturbing influences, and trained to put their small powers, both mental and physical, to the best possible use, they may in time become partly self-supporting, or, at any rate, may be saved from the dangers that await them, and through them the community at large, if they are left unprotected and unguided. It is to one of our homes that I would direct the attention of your "Motherly" readers in connection with Mrs. Garret-Anderson's suggestion. At Hendon, in Middlesex, we have become possessed, through the liberality of its owner, of a group of five charming cottages, built round a green quadrangle and surrounded by garden and open country. Here we provide healthy work, expert training, and a happy country life for little feeble-minded boys in two of the cottages and girls of sixteen or thereabouts in two others. The fifth cottage accommodates the workers at the steam laundry, which is connected with the homes.
I will not trespass on your space by a fuller description of the Homes, those of your readers who would care to visit them would be cordially welcomed by the Lady Superintendent, and could form their own judgment. I cannot give a better testimony to their nature than by quoting one of the little boys who has been with us from the beginning, and who said solemnly to a girl dissolved in tears on the first night of her arrival:--"What's the good o' crying? We're all happy here!" Now, to support these Homes efficiently, a sum of £500 per annum is required over and above what is paid with each child. Mrs. Garrett-Anderson's idea is briefly as follows:--"Why," said she, "should not mothers who have healthy, happy, clever children, instead of taking these blessing as a matter of course, show their thankfulness by contributing, according to their means, an annual sum for each such child, to go towards the education and training of the feeble-minded little ones, who are either alone in the world, or whose parents are too poor to give them the exceptional advantages they require?" A Guild of thankfulness for the collection of the contributions, and for the further association of the mothers in the cause of defective children, might be composed of branches all over England. By way of encouraging your readers to fall in with the scheme, and of proving its practicability, I may say that a friend of our Association has promised to contribute £50 as soon as the Guild is fairly started.
I earnestly hope that the Guild of Thankfulness may take deep root, and spread its branches over the country, wherever the possession of bright, happy children and of a sheltered home is felt, to carry with it cause for a thankfulness which shall take tangible form in helping these helpless, hopeless "other people's children," the "left-behinds" in the race of life.
P.S.--All communications about the Guild, donations, and subscriptions to be sent to Miss Mary Western, 36, Lancaster Gate, W.
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Dear Editor,--Perhaps some of the P.N.E.U. readers would kindly give the names of some periodicals which they have found suitable and beneficial to girls of 12 and 14, and likely to stimulate both interest and ideas in subjects not immediately connected with the home life.
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Madam,--Can you or any of your readers recommend a lesson book of the nature of the Child's Guide to Nature, but up to date. Also do you know of any books similar to Near Home and Far Off, but broader minded in the reflections? Yours
Dear Editor,--I think M. E. will find many of the following books suitable for her daughter of thirteen. Most of them I read and enjoyed about that age, but my remembrance of them all is not accurate, and people's opinions as to what children may read differ so greatly that I should not like my recommendations to be adopted without previous supervision from the mother.
La Fée des Grèves, Paul Féval; Les Maîtres Sonneurs, Les Maitres Mesaistes, La Mare au Diable, G. Sand; Lettres de mon Maulin, A. Daudet; Colomba, P. Mérimée; Criquette, L. Halevy; Les Deux Mariages; Les Travailleurs de la Mer, Quatre-vingt-treize, V. Hugo; Terre de France, Julliot; Pècheur a' Islande, P. Lott; La Neuvaine de Colette, Les Trois Mousquetaires, &c., Dumas; Mémoires du Général Martot, Mon Onclue et Mon Curé, J. de la Brète; Backfisch-chen's Leiden u. Freuden; Undine, Sintram, La Motte Fouqué; Soll u. Haben, Freybag; Ekkehard, Scheffel; Dier Improvistator, H Andersen; Die Rose v. Tistelön, Carlén; Edelweiss, Auerbach.
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