The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Education and Practical Life.

by Katherine Pease.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 441-448

In these days, when so much is written and spoken on the subject of education, it is remarkable how little grasp there seems to be, even among the higher classes, of what that education really means. The years of school and university life are in the ordinary parent's mind so much time to be devoted to the acquiring of useful facts or accomplishments, which will, it is hoped, last through life, though necessarily in an ever-diminishing quantity, those last from school being expected to know most. Knowledge is to pay in direct fashion, the boys are to study subjects which will enable them to gain fortunes in their subsequent careers; the girls are to acquire that which will make them attractive members of society, or eligible in the marriage market. "Dorothy shall not learn Latin and Euclid, or stupid things like that," a young mother was heard to remark the other day, "but really useful things like the piano, and modern languages." Alas, the early Victorian idea still with us!

What then is education? Not necessarily the acquiring of facts, though it may largely proceed by their means, but the cultivation of the whole mental faculties. It is not something which is to be put into the brain from outside, but the strengthening of the organ itself, the exercise which shall make it vigorous and in full working order, fitting it to grapple quickly and effectively with any work to which, in the course of life, it may become essential to turn it.

It is only necessary to consider the slowness and confusion of mind of those who never use their intellect to understand how this, like all other powers, can only improve with practice. All, for instance, who have engaged in work among the poor have suffered from their incapacity to disentangle the points of real importance in a narrative from the surrounding circumstances with which, in their minds, it was connected, and everyone has experienced the additional expenditure of time and energy which is necessary in giving orders to those who have never learned to think intelligently.

Education may be acquired in various ways, and certainly not only through books. Life itself may be an educator; it is sometimes said that country children should be sent for holidays to the town rather than the reverse, the mere crossing of a crowded thoroughfare brings the nerve centres into play; or again at the opposite end of the social scale, no one could hold the position of sovereign of these realms, with its ever-varying responsibilities, without increasing in mental power.

Association also with other men, especially with those of cultivated minds, does much for our own. We have all heard of the redoubtable person "to know whom was a liberal education," and, on the other hand, nothing tends more to narrowness and want of true culture than to avoid all those who think differently from ourselves to assume that our own views are so right that it is impossible to learn anything, even from those against whom we may perhaps start with some natural prejudice.

Again, it is notorious that much education may be acquired through Travel, by coming into contact with other races and with other types of civilisation.

But it is obvious that these attractive methods of mental development are not within the reach of all. A man's life may be educational, he may be a barrister or a Member of Parliament, on the other hand he may have to sell pounds of tea over a counter. In every career there is much which may have been of benefit at first when it required an effort of brain to master it, such as the work of a clerk or a housekeeper, but which subsequently becomes largely mechanical. Very few persons can choose their own associates, or only in a limited degree and the restrictions to travel are still more apparent. Some men are more favourably situated directly or are narrowed by circumstances, and we have therefore to fall back on the indirect means of books which contain the accumulated experience of others.

It becomes, then, interesting to notice the various branches of a so-called liberal education and see how each tends, not only to give information valuable in itself, but also, and more especially, to establish particular habits of mind which cannot fail to be of service in any walk of life. It must always, however, be borne in mind that to draw hard and fast lines between these various branches is impossible, for, as all roads lead to Rome, so nothing is more remarkable than the common ground on which all educated persons meet, whatever may happen to be their particular line of work.

Science, however, we may say especially cultivates the powers of observation, and is, in its elementary forms, peculiarly suited to the very young, who are eager and interested to learn the world around them. Not long ago the officer commanding the Woolwich district issued an order pointing out the constant failures he found in his subordinates to make proper use of their eyes. "Buckets are hanging up all round the room, and the non-commissioned officer in charge at the moment they are required had never observed they are there, 'I did not see,' is habitually to be regarded as a confession of incapacity." The habit of reproducing accurately what we have seen goes hand in hand with such training. We practise, it may be on trees and butterflies, but we find, in after life, that it is the educated member who is sent to inspect the new house on behalf of the family, and who will produce a plan of the rooms in half the time that the remainder would have spent in wandering aimlessly over the building. It must be remembered, however, that something more is needed than indiscriminate powers of observation. Time and brain power are limited in us all, and, as has been pointed out by one writer, there is no particular object in knowing with which foot we start to walk, nor, unless we are blind, how many steps there are to our bedroom, to attempt to observe every fact around us is to leave ourselves without any place for methodical arrangement or deduction. Now in teaching science we can train a pupil not only to observe, but to observe with a definite end in view; in one set of walks we notice the trees, in another the geological formations, we may even include sociology, and see what we can find out by looking at the houses, lands and so forth, of the habits of existence of those around us. In addition to observation science should also be made to teach accurate deduction, the painstaking collection of data, before an opinion is ventured upon. There are few things, as has been remarked by Sir Joshua Fitch, so characteristic of want of education as sweeping assumptions from insufficient premises--"All foreigners are dirty," because one whom we happened to know was not very clean. "All examinations are failures," because one who attained high honours has not succeeded in after life.

The powers of reasoning are again cultivated, and in a simplest manner possible, by Mathematics, where two and two cannot do otherwise than make four. The problems with which we have to deal in after life are frequently complicated by the uncertainty of the factors which compose them, a merchant cannot be sure whether his business will repay an increased outlay of capital, but Rule of Three should have taught him, as a foundation, the simple and unvarying order of proportion, while the logical habit of mind instilled by a thoughtful study of Euclid can never be lost. In old days education was concerned less with this faculty of reason than with that of memory, which as a matter of fact comes much more easily to most children, and is of comparatively little value, except, perhaps, to actors or to reciters. A boy, as has been pointed out by Mr. Tarver, will always try to remember whether he has already had a similar Latin sentence to construe rather than take the trouble to use his powers of thought, and there are instances of men who have found it easier to learn whole books of Euclid by heart rather than to understand the problems they contain. Some passages of poetry or prose may well be learnt by heart for the sake of the appreciation of literature and language which they give, but it is very doubtful if the retentive power of the memory can be greatly increased. What is, therefore, of primary importance is first to cultivate the powers of reason and thought and then to teach method and arrangement: the habit of making concise and definite written notes of every subject which has once been mastered, so that it becomes possible to know where to turn for reference to details which cannot possibly be borne in mind.

The educational advantage derived simply from the knowledge of one or more Foreign Languages, as such, is open to discussion. It is possible to be able to speak in many tongues and have nothing worth saying in any of them, and probably the chief use of learning these conversationally is the acquaintance with foreign thought which they open up to us. To study any language, on the other hand, from a grammatical point of view is a very valuable brain exercise; a knowledge of Greek and Latin not only introduces us to literature, which is essential to all real cultivation, but also provides a most valuable training, Latin more especially, through the very difficulties which they present and the consequent effort required for their mastery. Translation from a foreign tongue helps us, again, in the application of words, and consequently in the use of our own language. The difficulty which even the nominally educated have in expressing themselves is a matter of constant remark. "I wish my tradesman to let me have the goods I have ordered on Tuesday, and if so he must send them here, but if he cannot, I want him to let me know how soon they will be finished and I will give him another address. How am I to tell him this in a note?" This is one of the conundrums which really seems to present serious difficulty even to the modern woman. In this connection all essay writing is of direct benefit, and essays lead on to the subject of history.

There are few, I trust, who maintain with the old lady that "bygones should be bygones," but there are some who consider that History cannot be advantageously taught to those in early years. Now one of the marked advantages of its study is the sympathetic insight into character which its proper reading gives, and this can be begun when very young and continued into advanced old age. Robert Orange, we are told, began by being interested in the personages of romance, he continued with those of history, and ended with the study of his compeers, and this is true of many of his type of mind. All children are naturally bigoted and the little Radical who inquired, "Are there any Conservatives in heaven, Mother?" was but a type of his kind. No one can be properly taught the story of the Puritan Revolution, to take a well-known instance, without learning to enter into the differing points of view of two such opposite characters as Charles I. and Oliver Cromwell, and all true sympathy brings with it width and understanding, thus we are led on to discover that different lines and divergent modes of government suit varying times and nationalities, that, as what is desirable under Edward VII. would not have been so under King Alfred, so what is right for England is not necessarily wise for India or her subject provinces. Our imagination, again, is stimulated as we trace the great stream of history to know that the things which are hidden are not less real than those which lie on the surface. "It is," it has been said, "the mark of a statesman to hear the voice of those who are silent," and how often we notice, in some, for instance, charitable agitation, that the interests of thousands of the deserving are in danger of being sacrificed to the dramatic sufferings of the few.

Then again, there is in history a new field for the powers of reason. In mathematics and science we deal, as has been seen, with ascertained facts, in history we are brought in contact with the uncertain elements of human life. Take, for instance, the foreign situation under Elizabeth, "the hand to mouth policy of a woman in a great difficulty." What factors has she to bear in mind? France and Spain are longing to overwhelm her, but are each held back by jealousy of the other; both have rebel subjects at home, whom Elizabeth cannot allow to be conquered, but neither must they prove victorious lest her own subjects may be encouraged to revolt; above all, France must not obtain a footing in the Netherlands. Thus her action is swayed by the due preponderance to be attached at the moment to these or other varying considerations. "What waste of time," says the utilitarian, "to study affairs of three hundred years ago," but, turn for a moment to practical life. It is proposed to move from the town to the country. What are the relative advantages of the course? The rent is less, but there is the cost of a season ticket to town for the head of the house. There will not be so much entertaining, but it will be necessary to keep a trap, and the education of the children will be a difficulty. The uneducated flounder round and round in a mental fog, but the trained mind weighs probabilities and certainties, and comes to a definite decision, for he or she has practised on the difficulties of Queen Elizabeth.

If this view of education be then taken, that it is not merely the acquiring of knowledge but the cultivation of the whole working power of the brain, it must be an advantage to all; an intelligent worker is a better worker, whether he be plough boy or prime minister. The Bishop of Hereford, speaking recently, drew attention to the fact that Danish butter was consumed in Herefordshire, not because that county was unsuited to dairy farming, but because the better education of the Danes enabled them to adapt themselves to fresh agricultural conditions. There is no fear, as is sometimes argued, that such education will leave us no practical workers, it does not, and cannot, alter the whole characteristics. Those who are unsuited to manual labour will in any case be discontented, and to these it gives the chance to rise, but it is only necessary to consider how many young men, who have received a first-class public school and university training, elect life and work in the colonies, or end their lives as simply country squires, to understand that the majority of mankind do not wish to embark on purely brain work and never will. Is it indeed the board schools which have spoilt the servant class? or is it only that we grudge to our domestics the greater luxury, leisure and power of locomotion which increase in the means of living has brought to ourselves and have thus placed such domestic service in unfavourable competition with other means of livelihood?

It is obvious too that the reasoning which applies to the lower orders will apply to women also. No amount of education can destroy the ordinary bent of a woman's mind which is the fulfilment of her inherited destiny, but life cannot be lived on emotion alone, and few things are more sad than the old age, more especially if she remain single, of one whose youth has been spent in acquiring no interests for the future. The housekeeping of the educated woman can be not only quicker, but better done than she who has been never trained to think, and perhaps it is not too much to hope that she may be even able to enter into the mysteries of the drainage and water system of her own abode. It is possible that to some of naturally wider tastes, though by no means to all, the time spent on details of house and dress is greater drudgery than it is to those who have no other interests; but while there are many stones for such, how many should there be for the women who find the mental cultivation necessary to keep them in touch with their husband and children such drudgery that they do not even attempt it? The remedy surely lies in a true education which includes self-discipline and thoroughness, and thus succeeds in curing the defect, without eradicating the quality.

Education, then, which consists in training and keeping bright the whole faculties, in quickening powers of observation, and in giving wider sympathies with characters and circumstances which differ from our own, can, it is clear, never cease, but must continue through all stages of life; and who can stand in more continual need of it than those who are placed in the very difficult position of parents? It is a common complaint that the young will not take advise; is not the reason that the advice is often out of date? Experience, like chemists' drugs, may grow stale with keeping, thus it is no longer fast for a woman to skate, nor to ride in a hansom, nor is it impossible to be in trade and a gentleman; the true guide of youth must therefore learn to discriminate between unchanging essentials and changing conventionalities. "All the difficulties between parents and children," the head of an important educational establishment once said to the writer, "are the fault of the parents, who try to force the children into ways which may have been right for themselves, but are not necessarily right for the young." How do parents then prepare to meet this situation which, as their children grow older, cannot fail to strain every power of tact and reason? After marriage, having acquired their own settlement in life, they subside too often into a routine existence and, to the sheer gratification of their own tastes, they become immersed in the business, the pleasures, it may be even in the philanthropy of everyday life; they find no time to read, if not of a social disposition they do not trouble to make new friends, and when the time comes as their children grow up to face new ideas and problems, they themselves are older, their habit of mind has grown rusty, and new effort is a pain and grief. It is not contended that everything should be sacrificed to the rising generation; as not long ago the older lives took all as their due as a simple matter of course, living too often like vampires on the young, so now there is on some hands a reaction arising, in a manner which tends to selfishness and want of mental discipline on the part of youth. As in all other relationships, there should be give-and-take and mutual consideration; but if we wish our decisions to be wise ones and our opinions to be of value, we must realize that fresh views and energy have their weight as well as experience; that we have much to learn from later comers, whether through literature or in actual life, as well as something to teach them. It is possible to go on giving out to others all our days, allowing ourselves no time to read nor to take in, till we end by having nothing to offer to those around us which is worthy of their acceptance.

It is far from being the object of this paper to prove that education is the greatest thing in existence--it will, of itself, satisfy no mortal being; but neither is it an answer to argue that because character, religion and simple human affection may be stronger factors in the world's history, therefore we can rightly ignore for ourselves or for others the right training of those powers of reason and thought which are the most potent tools we possess, not only for the enterprise of great issues, but also for the accomplishment of the work of everyday life.

Typed by happi, Mar 2020, Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, March 2020