The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Extract of Discussion on Habit and Will.

By A. Reppman.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 132-135

(Meetings on questions or Moral Education, January 26th and February 12th, 1902, Pedagogical Society, Imperial University of Moscow.)

I was no longer a beginner in educational work when I first read Home Education and Parents and Children. I am indebted to these books for many excellent suggestions and new outlooks on education, they vitalised for me the difficult task of training and educating, and taught me to find new and greater interest in my pupils. For all that, I was glad of the opportunity given me by the President of the section of Moral Education (Ped. Soc.) to introduce some small portions of Home Education to persons interested in the subject.*

* [Moral education forms a part of the section "Home Education" (Pedagogical Society, at the Imperial University of Moscow). Members of the above mentioned section specially interested in questions on ethical education work at the section of Moral Education. The meetings are held every fortnight at the Imperial University of Moscow. The president of the committee "Moral Education," Mr. Ventzel, is the author of many very valuable writings on Ethics.]

In January, 1902, at one of our meetings we read the chapter on "Habit." ** Here is an extract of the debates that took place after the reading.

** [The chapters of Home Education on "Habit" and "Will" had been translated by me earlier into Russian for my home circle.]

The opinions differed; some of those present thought the author gave too great importance to habits in education. By forming habits, and allowing them to grow and perhaps dominate children, did we not incur the danger of developing passiveness, laziness of thought, and kill psychical initiation? Habits are broken with difficulty and may be masters instead of servants. Our principal aim must be to develop and train in our pupils an independent and conscious will, which alone will form an original and free personality.

Other members of the society looked at the question from another point of view, and replied that the author did not lessen the importance of the training of the will by pointing to the necessity of forming good habits. A young child cannot possess the full consciousness of his actions; the will, as the highest function of man, demands growth of intellect and development of feelings, which the child cannot yet command. In the meantime he lives his life, and habits creep into this life, actions repeated daily grow into habits; this we cannot help, hence the strong necessity of forming good habits, to shun bad ones, and thus to avoid the dreadful task of having to correct them. How much friction and how many struggles, what unnecessary expense of strength, both for child and parent, could be prevented by paying a little attention in due time. Everyday life is full of simple and oft-repeated actions, which must by force of habit be performed automatically, if only for the sake of economising volitional efforts necessary in the serious acts of life. Consciousness of freedom in his actions and strength of will grow with the child, and end by dominating his habits.

The result of the debates was that, though the early formation and development of the will was certainly the principal aim of education, the training of good habits helping to educate a free and strong will could never be overlooked.

The paper just read was greatly prized for the sound suggestions it gives on the point of education touched. The persons present at the meeting were interested to know the author's thought on the training of the will; so the next meeting, on the 26th February, was devoted to the reading of the chapter on "Will," which gave rise to the following discussion.

It was thought that the author of Home Education viewed the will and its training from various standpoints, which result in an excellent and interesting elaboration of one of the most important questions in education and life. The attention of the assembly was called to the question: What is will? It was explained that, taken in a general broad sense, will is activity. In its earlier stages we find it in sensori-motor, instinctive movements; in its highest process when intellectual powers are developed, will is active energy tending to attain the desired end. Professor James says: "That the essential phenomenon of the will is effort of attention." In life, we know that the will of a man is his character, his personality, the creation of his higher self.

The discussion was directed to the training of the will. It was remarked how right Miss Mason was in seeing one of the reasons of our non-success in the development of our children's will, in our own diffident understanding of what is really the manifestation of a strong will, the easy way in which we take the uncontrolled show of passionate feelings, proving a complete absence of inhibitive power, for strength of character. It was thought that our duty was to help our children in the difficult task of learning to will, but we must do it without depriving them of acting as freely as possible; we have to leave them to their own efforts, allow them to get personal experience. Give good advice, but not always govern and restrain them. Too great a solicitude kills independence; give your children the chance of choosing for themselves what is right and what is wrong. On the objection that a young child, having no critical feeling, may easily misuse the freedom left to him, it was observed that without regulating children's actions and conduct, parents and teachers could, by due and timely attention, prevent undesirable consequences. Avoid cause of emotion (fits of anger, etc.), prevent children acting under the influence of affections and growing to the habit of not controlling their emotions. When having to do with feelings and emotions, we might be thankful to the excellent method of "change of ideas," suggested by the author of Home Education. Let us try to develop, as early as possible, power of self-control and self-government in our children, and let them come to it by their own individual efforts. A lady present at the meeting said she would have liked the author of the just read paper to give more information concerning practical will training. Speaking of her little daughter, eight years old, she pointed to the inconsistency of the child's disposition. When dealing with her lessons she showed remarkable self-control. She worked over her lessons quite independently, prepared them alone, patiently, attentively, without any signs of anger, even when the task was a difficult one. The same child, when playing with other children, would fall into a passion for a mere trifle, quarrel with her little comrades and show signs of dreadful wilfulness. What could be done to change the child's character? It was answered that if the child feels strongly, but does not yet know how to control her emotions, good example and reasonable training will soon help her to work out a strong will, a deep feeling personality. But there may be other and less cheerful view of the child's conduct; it is that she does with good will only that what pleases her, what interests her, acting always and exclusively according to her own tendencies and desires. The task of educating her would be a difficult one, great care should be taken to develop inhibitory power as well as the habit of attention, and teach the child to strive consciously against her bad inclinations.

(Secretary to the section "Moral Education," Ped. Soc.)

Typed by LovieWie, August, 2023; Proofread by LNL, August, 2023