The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Dawn of the Children's Era.

by Miss F. B. Reynolds.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 421-432

Lecture given to the Darlington Branch of the P.N.E.U.

Every true teacher must reverently acknowledge that the mother is the first and supreme educator of the child in his earliest years, and the teacher can in no sense stand in loco parentis. The work of the teacher is to adapt home law to the wider sphere of school, which represents the child's world. Family life has in it all the elements which are the most necessary and educative for the child's future; and this is because they are the most natural influences. The school, however well-organised and ideally managed, can never stand in the position of home, can never give the all-sided education, which home from its unique constitution is able to give. Home should be a miniature world, in which the child learns all those lessons which he will need when he enters the greater world, and in which he will first see things in their right relation and in true proportion. Where can a boy better learn courtesy and manly responsibility towards the gentler sex than at home with his mother and sisters? What circumstances will better fit a girl for her future sphere than her duties as daughter, her hundred and one opportunities of sympathising with her brother's interests, and of learning the key to the hearts of the younger ones?

We are continually being told "the nation depends on its homes for its greatness." "The relations of the family," said the late Bishop of Durham, "school us for our duties in the nation. Trained by the happy discipline of our homes to feel the need of fellowship, the grace of authority, the joy of service, we soon recognise the divine lineaments of the State."

But whilst home is to be the central training ground for the citizen, the circle must extend beyond its limits, that the child may have a wider scope for the development of his social and altruistic tendencies.

During the last century the demands made on man have so much increased, his horizon has so greatly extended, that it is essential to see how far educational methods and principles have developed to meet that need.

The present is more entitled to be called the "Children's Era," than any previous one. One only needs to recall the societies for the study of children, to remember the vast library of educational literature which exists, to read in our papers and periodicals the topics discussed on the School Boards, on Boards of Guardians and even in Parliament, to realise that now the child occupies a position in the thoughts and life of man that he has never held before. This is no sudden change that has taken place, but, as all great humanitarian movements, it has been creeping in slowly and surely, though often amidst great opposition.

I propose first to trace very briefly the dawn of education as a science, and then to compare the new with the old, and point out what justification we have for our present methods and principles, and to consider how far they are likely to produce desirable results.

The dark ages of education may be said to have been in the eighteenth century, with only previous glimmers of light from such minds as Commenius and Locke, glimmers which almost seemed extinguished as soon as their authors had passed from this life, when a new and fierce flame burst through the mist, catching up the dying embers of truth.

"Children are but immature men," said the world. "Their thoughts, ways and motives are like ours, only incomplete and inferior."

"Return to Nature," cried Rousseau. "Coming from the Hand of the Author of all things, everything is good; in the hands of man everything degenerates." "Humanity has its place in the general order of things; childhood has its place in the order of human life." And again, "Childhood has its own methods of seeing, thinking, and feeling."

Such were his messages, often uttered in the strangest paradoxes. Some men called him mad; others said he was a dangerous fanatic, whilst a few recognised him as a prophet of truth, the herald of the dawn of childhood's rights.

His message found an echo in the heart of Pestalozzi, who gave it a practical application, by trying to raise the condition of the people by his industrial school at Neuhof and his orphanage at Stanz. The devoted life-work of this educational philanthropist stirred many of the courts of Europe, and men flocked to Yverdun to become his disciples. Amongst these was Froebel, who, seizing the grain of Pestalozzi's principles, cast aside the husks, and systematised a science of education based on the study of child-mind. Each great educator has added his light and experience to those of his predecessors, until to-day we enjoy at least the morning of a brighter age, with greater hopes, enlightened thoughts and a keener appreciation of the exquisite workmanship of the Author of mind.

Perfect childhood should be open to every human being. It does not depend on wealth or to any great extent on external circumstances, but it is the lawful inheritance of every child.

"Nature intends that children shall be children before they are men," says Rousseau, and, he continues, "Let childhood have its full growth."

What then are the conditions that will conduce to a perfect childhood, which is the only preparation for perfect youth and manhood?

Are they not the same essentials as those necessary for plant-growth, viz. (I.) Light, (II.) Air, (III.) Heat, (IV.) Moisture.

I. Light.--It is almost impossible to picture a world without sun. The most realistic pictures painted of King Pluto's kingdom can hardly suggest the dismal, lifeless character that such a place would be. But not only does the sun beautify our earth with colour, light and shade, but our very means of existence depend to a large extent on its influence. Its force is seen alike in the tiniest seed that grows, and in the most powerful engine invented.

Science tells us that absence of sun is the cause of some diseases in man, and the sunshine baths, and the circular sunshine wards attached to some hospitals, show the important part that the sun plays on man's life. But it not only heals where there is disease, it also preserves health. The child needs mental and moral sunshine.

There is a delightful story told by Mrs. [Kate Douglas] Wiggin, about "[The Brotherhood of] Saint Tumbler," [from Children of the Future] which I will relate in her own words, "Once upon a time--long ago, God knows, for those were other days and other people, there dwelt afar in France a strolling mountebank, a juggler, a circus dancer, a tumbler--what you will--who made his living among the kindly country folk by the various tricks of his calling. He was a simple merry fellow, who danced and tumbled for pure joy of life and delight in the world, and wherever he went a trail of song and laughter followed him. Children shrieked with delight and toddled into the street, clapping their fat hands when they saw his bright dress and glittering spangles; and staid fathers stopped their work, and mothers ran with babies to the door, that they might catch the sparkle of his eyes and the gleam of the white teeth behind the laughing lips, as he tumbled in the dust. His merry heart made a cheerful countenance in all who saw him; his presence was a continual feast, and the few coppers men threw at him for his capers would have been well spent had they been gold pieces.

"Now this poor tumbler had a heart full of tender faith and reverence, and seeing how valuable men deemed the simple talents God had given him, he resolved to offer them up in thanksgiving to the source from whence they came. So he sought out an ancient monastery, and being admitted there as one of the ministering brothers, resolved to spend the remainder of his life in worship of the Queen of Heaven.

"But now, alas, for the first time he felt his inferiority; for while priests, deacons, and sub-deacons all might engage in the religious services, he, ignorant of books or letters, had no part among them. He wandered disconsolate through the old gray building, and at last in a desolate crypt found a forgotten altar and a dusty image of the Virgin set upon it.

"Here was an opportunity for service, alone and unseen, free from the criticism of his learned fellows; what could he do here to pleasure the Blessed Lady? Ah! he knew nothing save the tricks of his trade, but sweet mothers and innocent little ones had always smiled upon them, and why should not the ever holy Mother, friend of children, accept them, smiling also, if he but performed them with the full perfection of his art? So he threw his robe upon the damp stones, and in the silent dusk, before the deserted altar, began his leaps, his contortions and his somersaults with all the adour of religious enthusiasm.

"Day after day, in these incongruous surroundings, the strange, silent, grotesque service was continued, until the poor tumbler, half-fainting with exhaustion, fancied at last that he saw the parted lips of the Virgin smiling upon him. Overcome by fatigue and emotion, he sank into a death-like swoon, and after a long interval, being missed by the brethren, was finally tracked to the lonely altar. They entered eagerly, tapers in hand, but their lights were dimmed by the moon-like radiance that over-brimmed the crypt, for, as they stood in awe and wonder, above the ignorant mountebank hovered the Blessed Queen of Heaven herself, and a sky full of glorious angels."

May the cloak of Saint Tumbler fall on every child, that he may share in the simple genuine mirth, which sprang from an innocent heart.

Let us open every channel, which may allow the life-giving, life-sustaining, life-healing beams to pour in.

But let us make sure that it is the real thing, and not mere imitation, which "won't wear." Late parties, unwholesome dainties as food, expensive and elaborate toys, exciting but unhealthy stories, are common but artificial sunshine. As sunshine is every man's inheritance, so those pleasures which are simplest and within the reach of the least favoured are the ones which bring the truest and most lasting happiness. Of the family of dolls possessed by a child, ranging from brides and princesses, down to sailor boys, black Sambos and baby dolls, the one most loved is the dear old rag dollie, with her painted hair, bead-like eyes, and uncomely figure.

One great difference between the old methods of education and the new is the way in which subjects of instruction are presented to the child. Facts were committed to memory regardless of the laws of association, the ear was the chief sense used, and often the dishes of instruction were served up with little to tempt any but those having the keenest appetites.

In the light of modern psychology we know that interest is a necessary element in every lesson, and is not a delicate sauce to be added on birthdays and holidays. Mind most readily takes in, assimilates, and reproduces what interests it. It requires developed will-power to fix attention on that which is not attractive, and from which there is no apparent near gain to be received. Then, too, all the senses are appealed to, particularly those of sight and touch, from which, when combined, we obtain most of our knowledge. So sunshine is not even shut out of the schoolroom, and though there is "no royal road to learning," there is a pathway leading to it, which is flooded with pure, golden light.

But if learning is always to be made pleasant, how will the child meet difficulties?

This brings us to the consideration of the second essential of life, viz., Air.

Locke spoke in scathing terms of the custom of pampering children. He says, "Most children's constitutions are either spoiled or at least harmed by cockering and tenderness." If he were living now I am inclined to think he would have spoken of mental and moral pampering.

Some time ago an article in one of our daily papers referred to the way in which everything is now made so easy for the child; and suggests that the rising generation will lack much of the grit which characterised their ancestors.

The writer says,--"It was an immense gain to the child of the wealthy when parents became aware of his existence and interested in his development, but it is by no means certain that the intense deference paid to his wishes, the elaborate apparatus provided for his training, and the gentle flow of equable happiness now assured to him are unmixed benefits. It was an immense gain to the child of the poor when the State built him schools, but there is a serious cause for thinking that the honeyed benevolence and the effeminate discipline advocated here and practised in many parts of the United States are not the most appropriate prelude to the life of toil that will be his when the gates of childhood are passed. So long as the life of the grown man calls for vigorous effort, so long must the training of the child contain some corresponding element of strenuousness. The aim of education is to teach a child, not to do what is right because it is pleasant, but to perform his duty because it is right."

The attack on modern education is a serious one, and I fear, is not altogether groundless.

Men who have left great names behind them are mostly those whose characters have been sharpened on the hard grindstone of experience, and grappling with difficulties, have become men of force. The hot-house flower exposed to the North wind quickly fades, whilst the mountain plant grows hardier, studier, and even sweeter for it. The effect of mental and moral hot-houses seems likely to produce a similar result, and a child brought up under these conditions will scarcely survive the East wind of adversity or the North wind of difficulty; or, if not overcome by them, he will suffer more acutely than if he had been accustomed to the mountain breezes.

I am not advocating burdens laid on the child which will furrow the brow, paint a care-worn expression on the face and turn the child prematurely into man. I do not suggest that obstacles should be purposely placed in the way of the child. Daily life affords many such occasions, but we do well to leave the child to battle with them. Too often we take away the chance of character-building when these times occur by offering bribes or compensations, e.g., a picnic is planned, but the day turns out hopelessly wet. This is nature's opportunity of teaching the child philosophy, but frequently man interferes and wishing to soften disappointment he buys the child a new doll or promises a party. Nature has not these ready compensations, and the next disappointment will be keener unless followed by as great if not greater compensations.

How necessary it is that children should have those influences which will make them self-reliant, and self-controlled. Perhaps one might coin a word and say "self-reliable," for the boys and girls of to-day are not lacking in self-confidence and independence.

Authority is necessary in the early years, but it must be remembered that it is only a means to an end, and not a goal in itself. If the power of self-government is not developed at the same time, either the child grows up a stunted, deformed being, a slave bound by chains and fetters: or, as soon as the control is relaxed, he leaps into those very channels from which he was kept by force. Authority should be merely a scaffolding, by means of which character is built up, until--

"That help whereby he mounts,
The ladder-rung his foot has left, may fall."

Self-conquest is the only basis of true freedom.

"The entire object of true education," says Ruskin, "is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things; not merely industrious, but to love industry; not merely learned, but to love knowledge: not merely pure, but to love purity; not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice."

This love of righteousness will never be instilled into the minds of our children by taking away the power or opportunity to do wrong, but much may be done by cultivating a habit of self-control, and feeding the higher nature with all that is true, lovely, and of good report.

If the child has learnt to recognise and obey the voice of authority of his higher self, education has done its best for him. But if, on the contrary, when restraint is lessened he feels, "now I can please myself," education has failed to develop moral self-reliability.

"The test of being educated is," says Herbert Spencer, "can you do what you ought, whether you want to do it or not?"

"There is also a need to guard against weakening mental control. Every child is born with a large share of curiosity, an instrument of self-education. The too frequent questions of the little enquirer used to be met with the rebuff that, "Little children should be seen but not heard!" But now the most aimless, capricious questions bring a troop of admiring uncles and aunts, cousins and other devotees to his feet to pour out their stores of knowledge to satisfy the marvellously precocious mind! The child swallows the information undigested and probably asks the same questions to-morrow.

A wiser method is to guide the child to the means whereby he may answer his questions himself. With some, it is sufficient to give them the key or tell them where to find the solution, and then leave them to unlock and explore for themselves. Others need leading step by step; for children are apt to "jump to conclusions." The guide must be careful not to do all the work (which is easiest).

We want to develop in our children the power of thought, and this is perhaps one of the most difficult powers to cultivate. How many boys and girls of eighteen years of age have really learnt to think for themselves--to make great men's thoughts their own? They can quote freely perhaps from Shakespeare, Carlyle, Tennyson, and many others, and yet is not much of their "so-called knowledge" like the foreign, extraneous matter which the caddis worm builds up into his own body, but which never becomes a part of it. As the blood takes from food the gases and salts necessary for building up and repairing the tissues, so the mind should have the power of selecting what is healthy food and can be built up into itself, and of rejecting that which is unwholesome or useless. This only comes by continued practice in carefully graduated exercises.

Miss Beale used constantly to remind us that there is too much reading and too little thinking in the present day, and she advocates more time being spent on writing as a means of dispelling misty ideas and producing clear thought.

Unless this present generation is taught to value "the pause," to concentrate mind definitely and regularly, the rush of life will carry it along as a broad and shallow babbling stream, never deep enough to be of use as a force.

"It was better youth
Should strive through acts uncouth,
Towards making, than repose on aught found made."

"As a man thinketh so is he," said Herbart. Action and feeling are rooted in the more subtle influence of thought. It is a psychological fact that a thought once presented to the mind tends to recur. It is therefore incumbent on us to encourage and dwell on those thoughts that are helpful, and quickly to expel those which are harmful. This end can best be reached by filling the mind with beautiful thoughts, rather than leaving it empty and ready to be possessed by the seven worse devils.

Ruskin says, "None of us yet know for none of us have yet been taught in early youth, what fairy palaces we may build of beautiful thought--proof against all adversity. Bright fancies, satisfied memories, noble histories, faithful sayings, treasure-houses of precious and restful thoughts, which care cannot disturb, nor pain make gloomy, nor poverty take away from us--houses built without hands, for our souls to live in."

The third requisite for life is Heat, warmth. In the moral world this is sympathy.

It was not chance that made the little child steal up to your side and slip her tiny hand trustfully in yours. Or the little lad bring you his broken toy, quite sure of sympathy and help.

With a child-like insight into character far keener than that of many "grown-ups," they know where they will find a ready confidant. The scornful tone of contempt conveyed by the words "you don't understand," is pitiful as it is condemning. In the garden on a warm spring day there is a sense of growth, a feeling that Nature is finding a ready response from her offspring, not in spite of, but because of her laws. One is conscious of this same spontaneity of growth in an atmosphere of sympathy. When the child is certain that he will be understood, that his interest are shared by those around him, what reason will he have for wishing to conceal his actions or to tell lies? His life is joyous, free and spontaneous, because lived under and strengthened by Nature's laws of wholesome sympathy.

I say "wholesome," because there is a sentimental sympathy which is weakening and degrading, rather than bracing. A strong sympathy looks beyond the present, sees hope where none is apparent, gives warning of dangers ahead, and whilst not harmonising with weakness, it beautifies, strengthens and uplifts.

Next, what is to be the food for the child?

(1) It must be that which is suited to its digestive powers.
(2) It must be in proper quantities.

(1) It is generally acknowledged by modern educators that the child goes through the same stages as those of the race. Therefore the child's literature and religion should correspond with those of humanity. This is our warrant for using the ancient myths and fairy stories of childhood. Every child should be familiar with the standard fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and many of Hans Andersen's. In such stories lies the germ of spiritual teaching, and in an age when materialism is gaining a foothold we need to give the little ones a belief in those forces and powers, which, though unseen, are yet stronger and more real than many tangible things. For good fairy stories and myths are symbolic, and the test of their value lies in the fact that the child never out-grows them. The older we grow, the more beauty and the deeper truth we see in the grand old world-wide fairy tales.

Nature teaching, too, should bring home these same truths. Observing, seeking, watching, living with Nature and learning the secret of her laws, the child is almost unconsciously conscious of the presence of a great Power, before Whom something of the ancient Norseman's spirit of awe and reverence comes over him.

How necessary it is that we should cherish and fan into flame this spirit; for "reverence" is a word which hardly seems to belong to this self-assertive, self-opinionated age. Ruskin calls reverence "the most precious part of the human soul"; and he says, "Exactly in the degree in which you can find creatures greater than yourself to look up to, in that degree you are ennobled yourself and in that degree happy. . . All real joy and power of progress in humanity depend on finding something to reverence, and all the baseness and misery of humanity begin in a habit of disdain."

Subtract reverence, and a material nation is left with low ideals and a sense deadened to greatness and nobility.

Another form of mental food is that by which the child recognises his own individuality, a knowledge that "I am I," which comes to him by seeing the effect of his own original work. He attempts to draw pictures of the stories he has been told, to build sand castles, to originate games.

"A wedding, or a festival,
A mourning or a funeral
And this hath now his heart,
And unto this he frames his song:
Then will he fit his tongue
To dialogues of business, love or strife;
But it will not be long
Ere this be thrown aside,
And with new joy and pride
The little actor cons another part;
Filling from time to time his 'humorous stage'
With all the persons, down to palsied age,
That life brings with her in her equipage;
As if his whole vocation
Were endless imitation."

Froebel attributes this natural inclination to original work to a god-like power to create. He says, "God created man in his own image; therefore, man should create and bring forth like God. His spirit, the spirit of man, should hover over the shapeless, and move it that it may take shape and form, a distinct being and life of its own. This is the high meaning, the deep significance, the great purpose of work and industry, of productive and creative activity. We become truly god-like in diligence and industry, in working and doing, which are accompanied by the clear perception or even by the vaguest feeling that thereby we represent the inner in the outer; that we give body to spirit, and form to thought; that we render visible the invisible; that we impart the outward, finite, transient being to life in the spirit."

(2) Food must be administered in proper quantities.

In our anxiety to feed children we must not be guilty of thrusting food down their throats. Given opportunities for healthy appetites, Nature will make her demands, and there will be response. To try and make a child feel prematurely what he does not naturally feel is dangerous and opposed to growth.

But what is there in such an education as this to prevent the child from becoming a selfish prig?

Contact with others is surely the one salvation from this. Amongst others daily opportunities occur of "giving in" to another's will, of creeping in out of one's little centre to enter into another's interest, and to see life from other people's point of view. Knowing, feeling and willing must go hand in hand, and find a practical outlet in doing. Simple self-denying acts of kindness done without ostentatious show should be encouraged, and attention drawn away from the sacrifice of the little benefactor to the pleasure afforded the recipient.

And now we must confess we are yet only to the threshold of higher education; we are still stumbling along, sometimes blinded by our own prejudices, sometimes baffled by contending circumstances. But--

"Man must pass from old to new,
From vain to real, from mistake to fact,
From what once seemed good to what now proves best.
How could man have progression otherwise?"

"So take and use Thy work;
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same."
[from "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning]

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