The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
On Choosing a Boy's Career
by the Rev. Dr Gow.
Notes of a lecture given to the Hyde Park and Bayswater Branch.
The question, "What to do with our sons?" appeared to be exciting much interest just now, not only in this country but abroad, yet it would probably be a mistake to suppose that the question was becoming more urgent because the world was more populous. On the contrary it seemed really to be less urgent than it was in earlier ages. The progress of invention and discovery had lately created a thousand new occupations, and the great improvement in locomotion had enabled men to scour the world in search of openings for their labour. On the other hand, the prevalence of infanticide both in antiquity and among modern savages, the constant clamour for land and colonies in Greece and Italy, the immense pauper population of Rome, the rigid caste-system of India, the strict limitation of apprenticeship in the mediaeval tradeguilds, the enormous number of men and women who took to the cloister--facts like these appear to indicate that the difficulty of parents in finding a livelihood for their children is at least no new thing and was perhaps more desperate when the world was far more sparsely inhabited.
In these days, parents very often resorted to the schoolmaster for advice in regard to the future of their sons, though the practice was perhaps more common in the provinces than in London. He (Dr. Gow) had had much experience in starting boys in life and had been very much interested in this part of his duties, which had made him acquainted with many callings which, though at first they did not seem promising, yet offered a good career if they were approached in the right way. He did not, however, intend now to deal with any callings in particular, because there were too many of them and his information was not, for the most part, recent, and the conditions of any trade or profession were continually changing. Everybody must have noticed, for instance, how much improvement there had been of late in the position of actors and musicians, of dentists and veterinary surgeons. On the other hand, some professions had declined. First-class men at the Universities, who, thirty years ago, usually became schoolmasters, now usually entered the Civil Service. He was informed also by a member of the Medical Council that there was a decline in the number of doctors registered and that the chances of a clever young man in the medical profession were now much better than they used to be. No doubt, every calling had temporary "ups and downs" of this kind which a wise parent would take into consideration. He (Dr. Gow) was going to deal only with certain general rules suggested by prudence and experience. And, again, he was not going to offer advice to those parents who, in choosing an occupation for their sons, had an eye only to his ultimate happiness. Many a man was happy enough in his profession without being successful in it, but parents were usually anxious that their sons should be successful in the worldly sense, winning wealth and reputation.
He would recommend a parent, who had chosen his son's calling, not to write to the boy's schoolmaster suggesting that he should drop this subject and take up that, "as it would be more useful to him." It is not worth while to ask for such alterations in the curriculum. The atmosphere of school is so different from that of the world that no subject can be taught at school in such a manner as to be directly useful. It is essential to schools that teaching should be by rules and that the rules should be propounded in a certain order and one at a time. Practical life knows nothing of these arrangements and uses all rules at once. The inscription on the electric bell in a German hotel, "Man must press himself on the button," is typical of scholastic teaching, correct but slightly absurd in the view of the expert. Parents who want their boys to learn things of direct utility should take them away from school and put them to work, at least for part of their time, so that they may bring their studies into close relation with their work. The Leipzig Commercial School is mainly used by young men who are actually in business for most of the day, and technical studies are always most profitable when they are suggested by the practical experience of the student. It would, in fact, be better for many boys who now stay at school till eighteen or nineteen, if they had left school at sixteen. That part of school-work which aims at producing mental dexterity is usually over at sixteen. The subsequent stages of education aim at producing style, judgment, grasp of elusive or complicated ideas, and many boys, who were fairly nimble in the first stage, fail in the second either from want of mental capacity altogether or because the methods and subjects of school do not touch their sympathy and imagination. Many of these boys, of course, continue to profit greatly by the discipline and responsibilities of school, but some do not and ought to leave. It is difficult to predict failure, but, in any case, it would be wise if, when a boy reaches sixteen, his parents consulted his schoolmaster on his prospects.
Again, aptitude at school does not necessarily point to success in after-life, which, in most callings, depends more on nerve, energy, temper, than on mere brain-power. Everybody knows doctors and lawyers of the highest ability and learning who yet fail to secure clients. And dulness at school does not necessarily point to failure in after-life, for the same reasons, and also because a boy may have hobbies which are not indicated in his school-life, and again because the stress and urgency of a man's business and the pride of earning money have a great influence on the faculties. The "good boy" may be merely docile, timid, obedient; the "bad boy" may be listless or even defiant because his interest is not aroused. These facts point to certain conclusions which may seem paradoxical but are probably sound. If a boy is a failure at school but expresses a strong predilection for a particular calling, it would be wise to let him have his way if possible. He may have unsuspected faculties which crave for exercise. On the other hand, if a boy is successful at school and expresses a predilection for any calling, there is not so much occasion to yield to his desire. He is known to have qualities which will carry him to a certain point of success in any occupation: he may not have the qualities which are necessary to the highest success in the calling of his choice and the calling may be one with which his parents and friends have no connection at all, so that they can give him neither advice nor assistance in it. These considerations are highly important, and they are such as the boy is not likely to have weighed in his own mind. For a clever boy, then, it will often be wise to choose that occupation which is most convenient to his parents, and this is obviously the rule for boys who are not clever and have no predilections. A boy has the best chance in his father's calling, for he probably has some hereditary aptitude for it and will in any case have the priceless benefit of his father's advice and experience. If his father's calling is closed to him, some allied occupation can possibly be found for him. Just as manufacturers usually invest their spare money in businesses which are closely connected with their own (e.g., an ironmaster in coal mines, a builder in brickmaking, etc.), so it is good to choose for a boy an occupation in which his friends and kindred can help him and he them. For instance, the barrister, the solicitor, the auctioneer, the accountant, the stockbroker are all pretty closely connected with one another, can frequently help one another, and have a considerable knowledge of one another's business. The wise parent will consider whether he cannot put his son in a position to attract some of this valuable friendly interest.
Lastly, there are better ways and worse ways of entering any occupation, and many a man has been handicapped for life by being launched without sufficient care. A parent, after choosing his son's career, should find out what is the best training for it and the best introduction to it and should secure these as nearly as his means allow.
Dr. Gow's remarks were illustrated throughout by examples from his own experience.
Typed by Astrid Donovan, August, 2023; Proofread by LNL, August, 2023
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