The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Aunt Mai's Budget
Volume 11, 1900, Letter on pgs 724-725
Dear Editor, --I have for some time been perplexed in my mind by your plan of printing stories by children in the "Aunt Mai's Budget" portion of the "Parents' Review," and as I cannot find any answer to my own objections to this plan, I am writing to ask for an exposition of the principle on which it is done. To me it seems an unmitigated evil; such publication would appear to me to encourage self-consciousness and self-glorification in the young authors, and moreover to give as impetus to the tendency, already too strong in these days, to rush into print; also to the equally bad tendency to write for the sake of writing. If it is really beneficial to children, which I am not prepared to admit, to write stories on set subjects, it is still not necessary that these stories should be published. They might be merely criticised and corrected, even circulated privately, with criticism attached. But they appear to be published uncorrected, and certainly uncriticised. The English frequently painfully faulty, and the stories themselves are usually worthless, though for the age of the writers they may be praiseworthy. But the writers are presumably unaware that they contain errors and defects of various descriptions, and the children who read them may admire them and take them for models. It seems to me that young people ought to be trained to write severely corrected as to grammar and syntax, to use no words they do not understand, and to use such words as they do use with precision. No license should be allowed to them in the use of English; no one is fit to use license until he is a thorough master of language, and a thorough mastery can only be acquired through discipline. If I had a child or pupil with a literary gift, I should consider that two courses were open to me: I might leave the child to nature, not interfering with anything he might choose to write, merely taking care that he was supplied with good models to read, and receive a good general training; or I might train him to write correctly, criticise his efforts, and point out his faults with judicial impartiality. But I think that the middle course which consists in interference without training or correction would inspire both his mind and character.
I happen to know one of the children who writes for "Aunt Mai's Budget." That child produced far better compositions, quite spontaneously, in earlier years. I will not presume to say that the deterioration I notice has been brought about by writing to order for competition and publication, for that would be a deduction from insufficient premises. Most of the people who write for newspapers, and who publish novels, &c., are so incompetent to use their own language that one can hardly find a book or newspaper in which there are not some sentences that you could not analyze if they were set as a school task. Why accustom our children to such carelessness by allowing them to see their own faults in print? I don't wish to draw attention to individual children, so I will only say that in five pages of "Aunt Mai's Budget," consisting of children's stories, I found twenty-three faults--sins against the laws of grammar, syntax and composition, wrong use of words, vagueness and confusion in meaning, and errors in taste, all of which could with advantage have been explained to an intelligent child of, say, 13 years of age or over. I really should be very glad if any advantage to counteract these obvious disadvantages could be pointed out.
[We insert the above letter with pleasure, because we feel that it should be for the profit and therefore for the lasting pleasure of the children concerned. "Aunt Mai" will, we are assured, rejoice in any criticism which should induce her nephews and nieces to do better work. Her reply to our correspondent will carry this interesting discussion further.--Ed.]
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Response on pgs 792-793
Dear Editor,--Sympathetic criticism is always welcome, and I feel obliged to W. E. R. for his letter. Let me assure him that the stores published in "Aunt Mai's Budget" have been intended in no wise as models. They have been published to show solitary children what others of their own age were doing and thinking, and in this way have brought (I am told) fresh interest into the lives of many. Your correspondent regrets that these stories are published uncorrected and uncriticized. Let me point out to him that if such stories were to be published at all, it was only possible to print them exactly as they came from the child's pen. One tale I did attempt to correct, but the amended version was a hybrid which the child-writer could not have recognised. Your correspondent doubts if it is beneficial to children to write stories on set subjects. I have no doubt myself of the value of learning to formulate one's thoughts, and in this prosaic age, will not the shades of the prison house close less early round the child if it grows to be at home in the world of fancies and imagination? It is for this reason rather than for the intrinsic value of a child's ideas that my nieces have been encouraged to write. It is for this reason too, that the subjects set have generally been subjects when imagination more than observation was exercised. I am glad, as the long term of Editorship is drawing to a close, to have had this opportunity of explaining this matter, and I thank W. E. R. for enabling me to give it.
["Aunt Mai" was Mrs. Steinthal]
Proofread May 2011, LNL
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