The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Conference: Concrete Problems

Volume 13, 1902, pg. 596-609

This begins with an assessment of how the conference had gone, followed by a Q&A session responding to the following questions.

1. "To what extent is competition admissible in school life?"

2. "What are the best means of inculcating persistence and perseverance into a child of six, who, when anything it does not like has to be done, or when it finds anything difficult (though within its power), says, 'I can't,' and gives up trying?"

3. "Is the co-education of boys and girls desirable?"

4. "Whether the child's reading of books that he finds in the house should be carefully supervised, or whether it should be allowed to be indiscriminate?"

5. "How far should we try and prevent the tide of independence respecting our girls nowadays? And how should we meet the increasing love of finery in our girls?"

6. "If our children's relationships with the suburban children of a poorer class should be encouraged or repelled--or how they should be regulated?"


MRS. FRANKLIN, on taking the chair said: Yesterday, at the Conversazione, we heard many congratulations on the work and success of the Union as a large organized society, but we are something more than a large organization, and it is at such a meeting as this that this thought comes home to us. The real success of our conference is not to be measured by the number of people present, nor even by the excellence of the papers read, but by the spirit in which we listen to what we hear, and in which we try and work out in our homes those educational principles which we feel are true and inspiring. But I believe that, even in this, we are to be congratulated. We have been told that we make mistakes in arrangements, that there are printers' errors in our programme, that we move no resolutions, that we have been known to be unpunctual in beginning, etc.; and I for one am only too conscious that we may err in many such ways. On the other hand, have we not all been present at conferences where people do nothing much more than move resolutions, amendments, and "rise to points of order" where, in fact, the ideas are bound up so tightly in red tape that all the life is strangled out of them? Here it seems to me that we are like a big family party, animated by a spirit of good fellowship, nay, even of love. We are not over-critical, we take the best that is offered to us and do not focus our minds on any defects. There is no self-assertiveness or jealousy among us, we are all trying to gain the best for ourselves and for each other. As Mr. Cotterhill said of us in 1899, "One single aim seemed to me to pervade everything spoken and every person that spoke--how best and most harmoniously to develop the whole nature of a child. It is impossible to overstate the refreshing and exhilarating effects of such an atmosphere. It was an atmosphere of ideas and ideals. . . If I ask myself what I enjoyed most, I think the most interesting and enjoyable element was the spirit of the whole thing--the healthy, friendly, disinterested, open-minded spirit that everyone was there with the single aim of giving and receiving that which might be most helpful towards making the world something fairer and better, truer, happier, more beautiful in the rolling of the ages. But it was, for me, rendered the more delightful because it was all simple, unpedantic, natural." When one stops to ask how this has come to be, it seems to me that the answer lies in this. First, that in most of our minds, as we talk or as we listen, there rises up the thought of some special little child for whose untarnished soul we want to do our very best. We want for it the healthy lot of free living, good environment, and manifold relations, and with this thought how can any of us fail in reverence and single heartedness? And secondly, that in a wonderful way Miss Mason's spirit seems to pervade the whole place; everyone seems in a more or less degree to feel that influence for good which those of us who have had the inestimable privilege of spending a few days in her house know is the keynote of the atmosphere there. Her belief in her fellow-creatures and in their power for right action and right thinking awakens a responsive note in every inmate of her household--lecturers, students, servants and children--and one has there an object lesson of what a wonderful lever we lightly neglect when we fail in "respecting" our children. This spirit, I say, seems to me in some degree to pervade our meetings during the week. Last year she sent me the following lines which was her prayer for all of us, and I believe it is only when such thoughts are uppermost in our hearts that we can get any real benefit from such a "parliament of parents" as one reporter called our "concrete problem" afternoon last year:--

    "Take from our hearts, oh Lord,
    Suspicion, anger, heat, dispute,
    All that can injure charity
    And spoil the love of brothers.
    That all may feel thy helping touch,
    And thy consoling power."
    [Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ]

Mrs. Franklin then called on Major Ward to open the first discussion--

Question I.

"To what extent is competition admissible in school life?"

MAJOR B. R. WARD, R.E., opened the discussion by quoting a sentence from Mr. C. C. Cotterill's book, Suggested Reforms in Public Schools, in which the author alluded to the grievous evils inherent in competitive examinations. Major Ward pointed out that the evils of competition were probably seen at their worst in the case of open public competitive examinations, such as those for entrance to the Military Colleges. The strain of competition was also very great at the Military Colleges themselves. He had also noticed the serious strain involved in school examinations--on which prizes depended--in the case of children of from eight to ten years of age. He alluded with satisfaction to the remarks of the Conference, and joined with him in "entreating members of the P.N.E.U. to help the schoolmasters in combating the evils of examinations." He spoke strongly as to the tyranny of marks, and suggested as an alternative that classes might compete against one another, instead of each individual member. This would make it to the interest of the class generally that each member of it should do the best possible work. No pleasure--but, on the contrary, disappointment--would then accrue to Tom, if Dick and Harry, Tom's classmates, did a bad Latin exercise. Parents, Major Ward argues, bore a considerable responsibility in this matter, as they were, generally speaking, much too anxious that their children should bring home prizes with them. Prizes, marks, and competition, generally--which involved a wrong ideal of work--occupied far too large a space in our educational system.

MR. UNDERHILL thought Major Ward was rather exaggerating when he said that competition caused jealousy; it depended greatly upon the spirit in which it was carried on as to whether it was wholesome or not, and upon the general tone of the boys. Boys should be made to understand that marks are of use to themselves as a means of noting their own progress. A small boy has no other way of testing his own progress, and a small boy likes to see some tangible result of his work. His own experience shewed him that the strain of marks was rarely felt by boys, but that marks acted as a wholesome stimulus. Though competition might be a deplorable thing, we are obliged to have it in some form or another if we wish to award the best places to the most deserving. Competition in school-life should serve as a preparation for the inevitable competition to be faced in after life.

LADY CAMPBELL: As regards the stimulus of marks being necessary, I should like to say that I know one of the greatest pioneer girls' schools where they never have any marks, and as far as keenness and interest in their work goes, they are in no way behind any other school where the system of marks has always obtained.

MRS. FRANKLIN said that Mrs. Glover often spoke of a school where the girls had, in a body, voted against marks, and this some 18 years ago; marks had ever since been discontinued, and the school had been carried on with great success. She thought the general attitude of teachers towards marks was that they were an unavoidable evil, which it was their duty to make the best of. On girls it had a worse effect than on boys, as girls had not yet the same spirit of camaraderie and wholesome rivalry that boys had. If marks did not lead to jealousy, they certainly caused a great deal of strain and excitement in the minds of young children, and children were likely to lose their interest in work as work. We were in a commercial age, and it was a pity to make children enter into the field of competition earlier than necessary.

LADY CAMPBELL: Might one just ask Major Ward if he could tell us what he would propose to substitute for marks in the case of the Royal College at Woolwich?

MAJOR WARD: I would not absolutely do away with marks, but I would keep them for the information and instruction of the masters only. I would use marks as a guide as to progress, keeping the boys in absolute ignorance of their marks, but placing them accordingly.

MISS STALEY said that a system of this kind prevailed in Belgian schools. Children are placed in classes--A, B, and C--according to their progress, and prizes were awarded to all in Class A. This involved less individual competition.


"What are the best means of inculcating persistence and perseverance into a child of six, who, when anything it does not like has to be done, or when it finds anything difficult (though within its power), says, 'I can't,' and gives up trying?"

MRS. FRANKLIN: I am sure Dr. Helen Webb would say that this is one of the many cases in which one is asked what to do when one ought to have done something before the bad habit had been formed at all. But we know that weeds do grow, and we should like to know how to pull them up when they have grown.

MISS ALLEN: This is just a very small point, but would it not be a good plan to get rid of the idea of "I can't," by eliminating the expression? If the child had to say, "I cannot," instead of "I can't," the difficulty might be done away with.

MRS. FRANKLIN: One hardly likes to offer the obvious advice that the child should be taught to say, "I can." The power of suggestion is of use here. "Of course we can do it," "Let us try together," or, as Dr. Helen Webb suggested yesterday, the use of the indicative mood instead of the imperative.

MRS. CROSFIELD pointed out that, in such cases, great use could be made of the child's ambition. A boy might be told that he could never become an engineer, or whatever it was he hoped to be, if he did not learn to do things he did not like doing. By playing upon his ambitions, present difficulties might be surmounted.

MRS. FRANKLIN: The question involves not only the question of "I can't," but the greater question inculcating perseverance and concentration in a child. Interest in the thing done is, I think, a great point in enforcing this habit, also making the child delight in the actual surmounting of difficulties; using the spark of heroism which is in every human being.

MRS. ANSON: Miss Mason would say that that way of inspiring the child would help it most to form habits of perseverance.


"Is the co-education of boys and girls desirable?"

MRS. GARRETT RICE said that co-education was such a large subject that she would only touch lightly upon a few points. One of the chief points she should like to state definitely was that co-education can only be carried on effectively where girls and boys present in approximately equal numbers and are of approximately equal ages. Therefore it is necessary that boys should remain at the school till the same age as the girls, viz., about eighteen. At the present time boys are removed to public schools at fourteen, and a school consisting of big girls and little boys hardly fulfilled the idea of co-education. Co-education is just as desirable beyond the age of fourteen as before. Some of the questions most commonly asked are:--What special advantages and difficulties are noticed (1) in the classroom; (2) in the games; (3) in the children's free time?

(1) The advantages are so great that one never wants to go back to teaching girls and boys separately.

(2) In games, girls at present are not quite up to the standard of boys, but they are certainly becoming much better.

(3) It was of great importance not to separate the boys and girls in anything. No artificial distinctions should be made.

I regard co-education as an extension of the principle of trusting children; of that attribute which Arnold practised at Rugby. The pupils do not feel that they are boys and girls, but comrades in a community. The idea that they are being co-educated does not worry them at all. Does co-education make boys like girls and girls like boys? The girl develops her best feminine qualities; the boy does not lose his manliness, for the girl admires his manly qualities, and he knows it--courage, truthfulness, contempt of what is mean.

MRS. SIEVEKING asked whether the sense of comradeship begins at once in co-education, or whether it is the result of teaching after some time.

MRS. GARRETT RICE said it was simply the natural result of being together, it was not a conscious matter with the children.

MAJOR WARD asked if Mrs. Garrett Rice knew what was the custom in America. Prof. Earl Barnes had said that education there was becoming "femalised"; that in the literary subjects in the Universities there were more women professors than men.

MRS. GARRETT RICE said she could not speak for America, but judging from the results, co-education did not seem to have done any harm. Of course, for the success of the system, it was necessary to have a mixed staff.

MAJOR WARD: But I understand that in America co-education does hold all through.

MRS. FRANKLIN said that she gathered from Prof. Earl Barnes that there were both kinds of schools, but that the Universities tended to increase more on co-educational lines. She thought the attitude towards women in the American men one met spoke well for co-education. She hoped Mrs. Crosfield would be kind enough to tell them her experience of Friends' schools, where she believed co-education was usual.

MRS. CROSFIELD said that although in these schools there were both boys and girls, there were a very few classes in which they were together. In these classes, however, there was much more life and energy.

LADY CAMPBELL: Can anyone tell us about the schools in Scotland, where I believe co-education exists in middle and lower middle-class schools?

MR. UNDERHILL said that co-education had been in existence in Scotland for a long time and with great success. The crux in England was that there were mostly boarding schools, where co-education is a more difficult problem. He would like to know if there were any lady present who had sent both a boy and a girl to a co-educational school.

MRS. PERCY CLARKE said her own boy and girl had been educated at the same school, and she could speak very highly of the result in their case.

MRS. WOOD said that in New Zealand co-education had been adopted in the Government schools, and its more earnest advocates were disappointed in the results. Private schools, which at the beginning of the movement seemed to have been crushed, were now springing up again because of the comparative failure of co-education. Out of school the boys and girls were kept separate.

THE HON. MRS. FREMANTLE: Do you know in what direction it failed specially?

MRS. WOOD thought it was in the effect it had upon girls.

MRS. SIEVEKING thought that for true co-education boys and girls should not only work together but play together, and she could not understand how girls could share in boys' games and not become as rough as they are. Boys seem to require a rougher play than girls, they have more animal spirits.

MRS. GARRETT RICE was also of opinion that there could be no real co-education where the children were separated in the playground, where intercourse was perfectly free; but it was not her experience that girls become rough through playing with boys, and she thought the perfectly healthy girl had quite as much animal spirits as a boy.


"Whether the child's reading of books that he finds in the house should be carefully supervised, or whether it should be allowed to be indiscriminate?"

MRS. SIEVEKING said that this was a question of real importance just now, when children came so much into the drawing-room and picked up and read any books that were lying about. As illustrating the difficulty in her own family, she described how her boys of nine and ten had brought to their governess four or five verses from Coleridge and Byron for explanation, which it was undesirable for them to have read. In her own childhood, when her reading was entirely unsupervised, things which she had read when very young came back to her with full meaning when she was about eighteen. Ought we not to remove from our drawing-rooms everything we should not wish our children to read? Or should we allow their reading to be indiscriminate?

LADY CAMPBELL: Does not the question depend entirely upon the child, upon the house, and the books? How can one lay down any law?

MRS. FRANKLIN thought Mrs. Sieveking had intended the question to refer to homes where all the modern books were lying about and where the children had a great deal of free time in the company of such books.

LADY CAMPBELL thought it would be better than forbidding a child to read such books to encourage him to come to his mother for guidance in his reading; forbidding is a very bad plan.

MRS. MACGILLICUDDY asked at what age a girl should be allowed to choose her own books. She thought it was difficult to set the limit. In her own childhood, the result of being forbidden to read novels was that they read them in secret. Would it not be a good plan to keep children supplied with as much as they had time to read?

MRS. FRANKLIN: The question is whether the parent is to choose the books or whether the children were to be allowed to browse freely among the books to be found in the house.

MRS. CLEMENT PARSONS thought it was being perhaps rather assumed that the books lying about were not suitable for the children. Was this the case? It was her opinion that when a child is young, nothing that he reads is harmful and that by the time he is eighteen any little thing that is undesirable is forgotten. She suggested that the mother should keep in some private place any books that she thought might be harmful to her children. Personally, she thought the only book that was likely to harm a girl was the book whose tone was dark, cynical and hopeless.

MRS. ANSON suggested that we must prepare girls for the books they find in other drawing-rooms than our own, in the country houses they visit, etc., We must get them into the habit of not opening every novel they see. It is the parents' duty to read widely themselves and guide their children's reading. She could not understand what there could be in Coleridge or Byron that could hurt a child; but she felt strongly that a child might read in ten minutes some harmful thing that he could never, never forget. The idea of supervision might be an old-fashioned one, but she had no doubt upon the question of its desirability.

MRS. PENNEY thought that if a mother has a girl who is very fond of reading, instead of continually forbidding the girl to read certain novels, she should read plenty of novels herself and have plenty to provide for the holidays. Girls should not be allowed to pick and choose novels indiscriminately.

MRS. WILSON said that what was not fit for the child to read was not fit for the parent, and condemned the modern novel entirely.

HON. MRS. FREMANTLE said that from the point of view of the possible danger to our servants, we ought to keep the modern novel out of the house. Our influence was not increased but rather lessened by reading such books.

MRS. SIEVEKING thought some definition was required of what the modern novel is. She did not agree that the parent should only read what the child could read; the cases did not run parallel at all. As regards the suggestion that the mother should lock away books that were to be kept from the children, she thought it would be difficult to know when the exact moment had arrived for unlocking the cupboard.

HON. MRS. FREMANTLE: Of course I meant the modern novel in its objectional sense.

LADY CAMPBELL said that if children's minds were filled with good literature they might be left to almost browse at will with safety.

MRS. CLEMENT PARSONS said that she thought all would agree that a child should be allowed to browse in a library rather than in a drawing-room. The classics can do no harm; it is not mere coarseness that is harmful, but the unhealthy, hopeless tone of some books.

MDLLE. DE NEUFVILLE said that in her own childhood she had been allowed to read everything in her home, and that a French home. A girl with a well-trained mind would put away from her any book likely to do her harm without being told to do so.

MRS. BRANSON agreed that a really bad book would not attract a child at all. He would instinctively leave it.

MRS. FRANKLIN: The last speaker and several others have touched a note which shows that the question is a much larger one than it seems; it is a question of the right relation between parent and child, the feeling of trust and friendship which will naturally lead the child to look upon his parent as a guide in his reading as in everything else. She also said that in reading a play of Shakespeare with big and little children, it is very much better to go straight through and trust that the children will not understand, or will not be hurt by the undesirably things they meet. As Mrs. Parsons said, what is only coarse will not hurt. As regards taking up the modern novel, she thought the children would not want to do so. One thing that parents should be sure of is that they teach their children how to read, how to be thorough in their reading; no skimming should be allowed. The habit of reading well should be acquired quite early.


"How far should we try and prevent the tide of independence respecting our girls nowadays? And how should we meet the increasing love of finery in our girls?"

MR. UNDERHILL: Will someone define what independence is?

MRS. FRANKLIN said she thought the lady who sent the question meant that girls nowadays do live a very independent life, and that it referred to the increasing frivolity among girls of the upper classes, which was gradually spreading into other classes. That there is more and more mere frivolling and less real work done.

MRS. ANSON suggested that the tide of independence should be diverted into good channels, by providing girls with such work as had been taken up by a girl she knew, who went regularly to help Miss Octavia Hill in her work.

LADY CAMPBELL thought that this was a case in which the lessons they had learnt from Dr. Helen Webb might be applied. Let healthy occupations be substituted for the unhealthy. Every scope should be given to that love of independence, but it should be given a spur in the right direction and so guided into better paths.

MRS. ANSON asked if any mother present would, from her own experience, advise them how to deal with girls when they reach the age at which the love of finery comes. How could girls be helped over that period?

MRS. RAYNOR thought that the difficulty might often be avoided by taking more care to provide girls with suitable clothes, so that their attention should not be attracted to themselves by any feeling of inappropriateness or unsuitability in their dress.

MRS. DEVONSHIRE thought that the two parts of the question were not identical. Those girls who are most independent are not as a rule the ones that give the most thought to dress. The love of finery is certainly a failing, but we might attempt to turn this tide into some useful channel by encouraging girls to keep their rooms pretty and take a pride in their own belongings.

MRS. FRANKLIN here limited the discussion to the second part of the question only.

LADY CAMPBELL said she supposed it meant where the love of finery is unduly prominent. The love of finery in itself one could not feel to be wrong. A too great love of finery was often the result of undue repression in childhood. If a child were suitably dressed on all occasions she would not have to think of her clothes at all. If it is our duty to have our houses and surroundings pretty, it is also our duty to make the best of ourselves. Most people suffer perhaps unconsciously from the wrong idea in thinking that there is something intrinsically superior in a leaning towards the unbecoming, but the wish to be prettily and suitably dressed is not in itself wrong.

MRS. BUTT protested against the custom of dressing children in fine clothes from their infancy. This is training them to a love of finery, and the children should not be blamed when they grow older.

HON. MRS. FREMANTLE said that if a child were trained to look upon things in their real proportions, her instincts would keep her from any undue love of finery.

THE DOWAGER COUNTESS OF NORTHESK said that if girls were always shewn beautiful things they would not care for anything tawdry and vulgar, such as imitation beads, etc.

MRS. PENNEY said she thought Lady Campbell had put the subject very clearly. It was a question of education and training, which the mother must continue all through the years of childhood and girlhood. She thought it was a good plan for a girl to have money to dress herself upon, and to learn to keep an account of it.

MRS. FRANKLIN suggested that the audience might possibly have grown more eloquent on the other side of the question, i.e., if they had discussed how to inculcate a desire to look well in some of our girls.


"If our children's relationships with the suburban children of a poorer class should be encouraged or repelled--or how they should be regulated?"

MRS. SIEVEKING said that this was a question which was much discussed at the present day. Most of us have sufficient socialistic tendencies to wish that our children should be more in touch with the children of other classes. The question really resolved itself into how this might be best brought about, and there certainly should be some definite rule of action in the suburbs as to how our children may be brought into closer contact with the children of the poorer classes. It is inevitable that our children should have some intercourse with children of other classes than their own. With them, there is no such thing as class feeling existing, but they are more able to see to the root of the matter than adults. The point of the discussion was--Should one discourage the little intimacies that spring up in the children's daily intercourse with others? Referring not so much to life in the country as in the suburbs. Would it be possible to start some local branch of the Order of Chivalry in the suburbs? And if so, should the meetings be strictly supervised, or should one allow one's children to find their own affinities among the other children?

MRS. STRAKER said that it would, perhaps, be well to consider the other side, the side of the poorer children. Would such intercourse be for their advantage? Or would it not be rather taking them out of their own station and making them discontented with their own lives?

MRS. BATTLE felt sure that it would do no harm. Mr. Bray [who wrote a paper for this conference], who had had so much experience in the poorer parts of London, had strongly urged the matter upon them for their consideration, and they had heard from him that he had never come across any instance of harm resulting from intimacies with children of a higher class.

MRS. ANSON said that as Mr. Bray was a bachelor, she was doubtful as to how far they ought to be guided by him in this case.

MRS. BRANSON said that in high schools where children of all classes met, she had found that the different classes did not naturally mix. Some kind of class barrier seemed to be felt.

MR. DEVONSHIRE said this was probably to be explained by the fact that the classes were too near together. This was particularly noticeable in village life.

MR. UNDERHILL agreed that in a village there was a great deal more neighbourly feeling between the highest and the lowest than between the lower middle and the lowest classes. In suburban life the question was more complicated.

MRS. BUTT said that people living in towns might start by teaching their children to treat the servants of the household with friendship and consideration.

MRS. FRANKLIN said that when she had heard Mr. Bray's paper she had wondered whether it really was a question which needed direct action. If the atmosphere of the home did not accentuate any class differences and if there were a healthy tone and attitude towards the people around them, she thought that this was one of the very few things that could be safely left till the children are grown up. The love of humanity is really natural to most of us, and later on, when boys and girls are fired with the most human desire to make those happy who are less fortunately situated than themselves, they will set about it not in a patronizing way, but with the feeling that each class has much to learn from the other. However, if one wanted to encourage this feeling in children earlier in life, it was a good plan to invite poorer children to tea with one's own children from time to time, and it thus would be found that there was so very little class feeling among the poorer children that the others would at once lose any they might have. Intercourse might also be brought about through the agency of the Children's Country Holiday Fund, if people would try to hunt up and entertain the children boarded in their own villages, etc.

Typed by happi, Oct. 2020; Proofread by LNL, Apr. 2021