The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
For Discussion: Child-Training, Teaching Music in Schools, Teacher's View of Parents.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 887-896
The Editor invites discussion on these papers.
It was with great pleasure that I read in the April number of the Parents' Review the Editor's protest on the subject of the Kindergarten, an institution which, in my humble opinion, has been over-praised to an extent that has be-clouded judgment. Not that I deny the value of some of the ideas and methods classed under that name, provided that they are applied at a suitable time, and only up to a certain point. For ordered songs and games, however pretty, lose their value by the repetition that destroys their spontaneity, and the teacher full of enthusiasm for a theory is apt to view her charges through a rose-coloured haze that blinds her to some of the subtler effects of her skilful teaching.
I once was enabled to watch the progress of a Kindergarten class in a very poor London street, where I thought such teaching would be an unmixed good since these little mites, unused to good habits or even to cleanliness, were the very material on which to work. Undoubtedly they did benefit by a training which gave them new pleasures and some elementary notions of mutual help and consideration. At first the songs and games were a joy, but on my last visit I felt convinced that some sturdy rebellious little boys were distinctly bored.* They had my sympathy, for when I recollected the varying imaginations and interests of the games in which I delighted, I knew that I should have detested these regulated make-believes.
* [I have lately heard a bored boy's excellent criticism. "When I play I like to make a jolly noise, and when I work I like to work."]
This, however, is not the place for a detailed criticism of Kindergartens; the pith of the matter was expressed by a very able American schoolmaster who told me that the only boys with whom he had any real trouble were those who came from Kindergarten; everything, he said, had been so "sugared" for them that they had no power of concentration and no conception of making an effort.
Is it not time to ask ourselves, in all seriousness, whether in our reaction against over-strictness we have not as usual gone to the other extreme? Hard as were many old customs, they produced strong purposeful men and women who took duty as their main object in life. We are disposed to take self-pleasing and self-will for ours, and call them the due development of the self, the growth of the individual, or some such one-sided phrase. The appeal to "feeling," to emotion, even to the senses, in a refined way, is the "note" of our time, and it is especially audible in the nursery and the schoolroom, as well as in their literature. Psychologist have helped to promote the cultivation of this "sensibility," to use the old word, and some of its effects are not a little startling.
Meanwhile, the perplexed mother often thinks that the charming child of the book and the lecture room is not hers, nor anybody else's that she knows, nor are the imagined conditions those of real life. Even our Editor dilates on things that might perhaps be done in the country, but thousands of us live in towns and have not even a back garden. Moreover, even in the country the stubborn fact remains that there are children who have a life-long indifference to natural science and natural beauty, an indifference easily developed into an active dislike. And the mothers who do not regard their children as "plants," or as dolls to wear showy frocks, or as "persons" who must carry collecting cards and meddle with matters they cannot possibly understand, are much in need of really practical and practicable advice. To them each child is not only a charge but a problem, showing year by year hereditary and familiar faults or virtues, and the constant question before them is--how is this boy or girl to be trained so as to lead a useful honourable life? How are self-restraint and self-discipline to be made habitual, a second nature, how is the dull boy to be helped to feel that courage, endurance, loyalty to manly virtue, may be his, how is the excitable girl to be taught to dislike and condemn the womanish faults to which she is prone? In every department of life we are being urged to "wake up!" and not before it was full time. Some of us hope that the national efforts and sufferings of the last three years have aroused the sterner and more vigorous qualities of our people, so long lulled in the sleep of peace and luxury, and if this is indeed the case, if we strive henceforth to fit our children for the duties and responsibilities that rest upon the citizens of a great Empire, spurring them to really worthy effort, and shaking off the sentimentality that is ruinous alike to common sense and to deep feeling, then indeed our pains will have borne fruit and we may look with hope to the future. But to do this effectually would be but one part of the moral awakening of which we stand in need. How far can the P.N.E.U. help us in the task?
[The Editor proposes of intent, to herself and others, counsels of perfection, because climbing, even if we do not get there, is more bracing than walking on the flat. Re the writer's general contention, we should like to quote the following from The Queen of March 1st, 1902:--'The Child at Home, by Mrs. Clement Parsons (James Nisbet, 1/6). The Child at Home, by Mrs. Clement Parsons, is a slender book bound in white parchment, containing two extremely sensible essays on the subjects of 'An Only Child' and 'The Beauty of Simplicity.' In the latter she pleads very eloquently and rationally for simplicity as the key-note of a child's training. She says: 'Did some of us take education in a simpler spirit, it would mean both a happier and cooler handling of their work for the professional teachers. Equally with all this we must guard against substituting cajolery of children for encouragement of children. Neither must we peptonise everything the child's mind is expected to consume, for, if we do, we shall permanently injure his digestion. We must not let a difficulty lose its specific educational value of being a difficulty--a dragon led by the hair to who dares fight. Only so, can young fortitude be forged. And besides, every difficulty we really solve at all is solved by ourselves.' It is, in fact, this over-peptonising that is the principal danger in the modern system of education. Kindergartens and similar systems give children knowledge which is already semi-masticated. I mean that facts are brought to their observation far more often than their observation is brought to bear upon facts. None but the most unintelligent child could fail of learning nowadays, and yet these same methods tend to make naturally intelligent children lazy, and to stunt originality; for originality is strengthened in proportion to the obstacles against which it has to contend, and in these days there are few obstacles and many aids to overcome them. Mrs. Parsons deals with the problem very ably, and the sixty-one pages of matter are well worth reading. She is very well known to many readers of the Queen as the sister-in-law of that delightful painter, Mr. Alfred Parsons, A.R.A."]
II. The Teaching of Music in Schools.
It is a recognized principle in education that the gifts and powers which are the peculiar property of the individual should be carefully cultivated, and that, although the aim of education should be to develop a good all-round man or woman, it is of no use to try to draw out of anyone powers of which he does not possess a germ. To everyone this must appear sheer waste of time, and yet in the province of music this evil is very general. In art the fact that a boy or girl has not taste for drawing or painting is generally thought a sufficient reason for not making it part of his or her course of study, but it is quite otherwise in music. Why should it be thought more discreditable to a girl--and it is to girls that this is more applicable--not to play the piano than not to draw or paint? And yet parents take it as a matter of course that their daughters must learn the piano. The drudgery inseparable from learning any instrument and trying even to those with a sincere love of music becomes a fearful weariness to the flesh when unenlivened by being viewed as a means to a desired end, and often leads to a feeling of disgust with music which would not otherwise arise. Anyone experienced in teaching must know the hopelessness which sometimes fills the mind when giving the first lesson to a new pupil. The girl of any age from fourteen to seventeen who arrives and says, "I am no good at the piano, I do not want to play, only to be able to accompany," is well known to most teachers. She sometimes of course, turns out to be not unmusical but badly taught, and ought to do well with a tactful and sympathetic teacher, who will inspire her with a desire to correct her bad technique and other faults, and at the same time encourage her by drawing out her musical qualities in the artistic playing of pieces suited to her ability. But how often is it the reverse. So far from ever being able to accompany, an art which requires all the essential qualities of a musician, the teacher feels that there is no capability for music on which to work and finds the time entirely absorbed by matters of accuracy, at which the pupil, untrained in good habits, naturally kicks. She has no liking for the piano and regards the drudgery of practising with unmitigated disgust, and, however patient and conscientious the teacher, the result cannot be regarded as satisfactory. Even if, and this is often the highest result anticipated, she is brought to play accurately, what pleasure to others is there in a piece played with mechanical accuracy but with no feeling? Very often a good teacher can by much drilling get the pupil to put some feeling into a piece, but it is the teacher's feeling and by no means the expression of the pupil's nature, and so of little value. Left to herself to interpret a new piece she would be absolutely at sea. When we consider the great expenditure on the part of the teacher of patience, brainpower, and nerve-force, necessary for any teaching work, but almost more so for the teaching of music, we cannot but feel that it is not worthwhile. Of course, the very great advantage to anyone of being taught to be accurate must not be under-rated, and no work could be considered wasted which had achieved this end; but why should it be at the expense of music? Surely there are many other branches of education, theoretical and practical, where accuracy could be learnt with less sacrifice of pupil and teacher, for no one can deny the deadening effect on a really musical nature of the drudgery of teaching, unrelieved by any element of what can be called with any truth musical work.
The piano is, no doubt, the most convenient instrument on which to learn the groundwork of music, and I would urge that all children, except those who are proved to have absolutely no musical ability, should have careful ear-training and be thoroughly grounded in technique, musical theory and reading at sight, up to the age when their tastes assert themselves more emphatically. Then, if they have no wish to go on with the piano, let them leave off. It does not necessarily mean that they drop all interest in music. How many girls there are who, while unwilling to go through the drudgery necessary to learning an instrument, would enjoy part-singing and would take an interest in theory and harmony and in the study of musical form. Why not devote the time hitherto given to heartless and fruitless practising of the piano to these aspects of music? In many schools it is a difficulty to secure more than one hour a day to each pupil for practice on the piano or any instrument that she may learn, a time too short to admit of much improvement in any case. If this six hours a week were given, in the case of the pupils we have been considering, to the practice of sight-singing, part songs, ear training by dictation, theory, and harmony for those who have a good ear and would be interested in it, the result would be a far better and more general musical education. Illustrated lectures, also, on the lives, works and characteristics of the composers and on musical form would arouse much more interest in listening to music. As a rule, in schools there is very little time for any musical work outside practising and, perhaps, one singing class in the week.
An additional advantage of this arrangement would be that, by decreasing in a school the number of those requiring pianos for practice, it would render it much easier to given an adequate time for study to the really promising pupils. It is, of course, true that school authorities can do little to improve matters while parents insist on their daughters being taught the piano on the same principle that they would have been taught to read and write; but if it were put before them that a girl could receive a good musical education without necessarily performing on an instrument, and be developed into an intelligent listener to music and musical conversation, there would be a better chance of this state of things being remedied.
III. Parents From a Teacher's Point of View.
It is a matter for regret that at the present time there is sometimes a want of that cordial mutual understanding and sympathy between teachers and parents which would be an immense assistance in the successful bringing up of children. There are some general considerations which help to account for this. In the first place, the days are not yet so very remote when such places as Dotheboys Hall [from Nicholas Nickleby] were not only possibilities but actual facts. The present generation of schools still occasionally suffer from their evil reputation, for parents are hardly yet convinced that they are not perhaps subjecting their children to some unexposed system of organised neglect. They do not fully realize that at the present time, partly owing to the keen competition between schools, partly owing to the keen competition between general ideas about the healthful bringing up of children which has resulted from the work of Mr. Herbert Spencer, and partly owing to the extensive use of public examinations, an inefficient school is now certain to be a failure, it cannot even continue to exist. Unlike former days, it is now best of everything, the best food, the healthiest surroundings, the most efficient teaching. The reputation of each school is liable to be fatally injured by the least suspicion of its being below the required standard; a few failures in an examination, a case of diphtheria contracted on the premises, sometimes even some careless or malicious gossip, will seriously injure a large school and ruin a small one. Parents may then rest content that it is the interest of every one who undertakes the teaching profession to have around them the healthiest and best educated pupils that it is possible to produce.
A second cause of this occasional want of sympathy between parents and teachers is the absence of any national organization of English schools. Of course, the system has its advantages, but one unfortunate result must be the English parents remain in ignorance of much that American, French, or German parents would thoroughly understand with regard to their children's education. A general registration of efficient schools and teachers, and a more extended use of authorised inspection will, it is to be hoped, deepen parents' confidence in their children's teachers, and so increase the effectiveness of the combined influence of home and school. But, making allowance for these untoward circumstances, there still remains an unnecessary amount of friction between those who are most nearly responsible for our children's education. Perhaps it may be helpful for a teacher to point out some of the most common mistakes made by parents, hoping that some parent may point out, on the other hand, the most common mistakes made by teachers.
It ought not to be a matter of surprise that the authorities of a school sometimes form a rather different estimate both of a child's character and of a child's abilities from that of his parents. When a child comes to school, he is placed under perfectly new conditions, and it does not follow that his character can adapt itself to the fresh requirements. School life demands a certain manliness (I am speaking more especially of boys), a certain self-reliance, sense of honour, prompt obedience, generosity, and all those indefinable social virtues which are called "tact," which are often not developed in the narrower circle of the family, especially in the case of only children. So when a mother's darling comes to school, there is sometimes disappointment in store, for his nursery-virtues are not fitted for the wider school life, and, for the time at least, there is failure. Certainly parents do their children an injury when they affectionately continue the practice of little baby habits instead of developing that manliness which stands a child in good stead when he first comes to school. But that is not the point here. I rather wish to express the opinion that parents do a schoolmaster an injury when they readily conclude that he "misunderstands" their boy. He probably has seen a side of the child's nature which his parents may never see. I have even known a parent say, "At least I have the satisfaction of being sure that my Johnny is open as the day. He never told an untruth." But I knew that that child was particularly glib at telling a convenient lie. Of course this is an extreme and exceptional instance, but parents often make similar though less serious mistakes, expecting much praise and great results when they are not due. A commoner mistake is that parents make wrong estimates of their children's abilities. What teacher does not know the bright-eyed, attractive child who has pleasant manners and plenty of conversation? He brings with him a great reputation for cleverness, and parents dream of scholarships and an easy entrance into the army and navy. But his master discovers at once that the cleverness is but skin-deep, that the child is utterly wanting in that genius for accuracy and application which is essential for success in scholarship. The child no doubt will pass muster, but he will never distinguish himself. Then when, term after term, reports come home of inferior merit, the parents think that their boy is being badly taught, and, if they are very unwise, they remove him from the school and try afresh elsewhere. The one chance for these average boys, or boys who are below the average, is to go on steadily under the same system as long as possible. If they are moved to another school they will have a new set of books, which always hinders slow boys, and they will be classified according to a different system, which always wastes time somewhere. So the results of a change are almost certain to be deplorable.
Parents then are inclined to forget that their own affectionate sympathy with their children is not always the best guide in estimating either their abilities or their character. They have no doubt a more minute, but certainly they have a less scientific knowledge than the masters possess. Teachers know the type, parents the individual, so, as a rule, teachers can prophesy results and select methods of influencing with more judgment than parents.
There are next the less common and more glaring mistakes made by exceptional parents. Sometimes parents allow, and even encourage, their children to relate stories that ought never to be repeated. "We like our children to tell us everything," says the mother. The consequence is she becomes the willing hearer of an extraordinary accumulation of legends, half-truths, and scraps of gossip which are almost inconceivable. The boy does not intend to tell a direct lie, but he has a marvellous power of seeing things from his own point of view, of remembering the things that tell in his favour and forgetting those which tell against him; he has, too, very little principle about exaggeration, and a great love of making a sensation. The consequence is that a boy's story is seldom reliable, and if parents listen to them, they will imagine their sons are constantly being unjustly treated, badly fed, or harshly punished. Sometimes young boys come to school with so many injunctions to "tell" everything that they do not like, that they apparently imagine that they would be failing in their duty if they were contented. So they start their school career with the idea that they must always be on the outlook for any infringement of their rights, a spirit which it is one of the great objects of school life to destroy. It sometimes takes a boy years to recover from such a bad start. Indeed, sometimes he never recovers from it.
Painful facts show that it is even necessary to beg parents not to criticise their children's school or their teachers before them. Children are quick enough to find out their parents' opinions; they see which master is disliked and which approved, and so they learn to sit in judgment on their betters, and lose or rather never gain that spirit of loyalty which is so admirably developed in most of our schools. Parents unwittingly do their children great harm by this, not only do they suffer very serious moral injury, but they are sure to be made unpopular in the school. Sometimes a word of approval is almost as injurious as an unfavourable criticism, for a boy then feels that his and his parents' patronage is worth a great deal. I shall never forget the expression of blank astonishment that came over the fact of a young master fresh from the University, when a parent came up to him, with rather a patronising manner, and said, "Oh, Mr. S., I am so glad to see you. You have won my little Jim's heart," and there was little Jim staring up to see how Mr. S. bore the honour that was conferred upon him!
Lastly, parents fail sometimes for want of a little thoughtful sympathy. They are exorbitant in their demands for letters about their children, forgetting the enormous correspondence which the management of a school must involve, or they inconsiderately demand that their child be taught some additional subject or that he may give more time to some special subject, necessitating changes in the time-table, or they ask that things may be attended to at school which ought to be done in the holidays, such as getting new clothes or going to the dentist. Then children are sent to school nowadays whose peculiar health requires most watchful attention. This is freely and willingly given, but often it is regarded as a right and not as a privilege.
It only remains to express most heartfelt gratitude to those parents whose sympathetic interest in their children's schools is the greatest help and encouragement to their teachers. Their visits are always looked for with pleasure, their tactful suggestions are sure to be welcomed, and the gratitude they express for the progress of their children encourages their teachers to make yet greater efforts for the general success of their pupils.
Typed by happi, Feb. 2021; Proofread by LNL, Apr. 2021
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