The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Children and National Ideals.

by the Rev. Harry Miller, M.A.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 621-626

It is my unfortunate privilege to-day to be your companion in misfortune, and to regret along with you the absence of Mr. Arthur Sherwell, to whose paper on "Children and National Ideals" we looked forward with no ordinary interest and pleasure. Perhaps at this moment I feel his absence more than anyone in this hall; and I can only hope that, when this conference closes, the depth of your regret may not be greater than mine. I offer you my sincere sympathy, and I ask yours for myself!

The subject which Mr. Sherwell chose for himself is one of great interest and importance, to the treatment of which he would have brought all the wealth of wisdom and of experience and of accurate knowledge, which is his very own. And I humbly ask your pardon for the apparent rashness with which a tyro has dared to treat of so intricate and serious a subject. Yet my excuses are simple: the subject is too important to be omitted, and the late alteration of the programme of a conference such as this, is not fair to the members of the conference. I cannot even give to these necessarily hastily prepared notes the dignified title of "a paper"; I can pretend only to fill up, to the best of my ability, the unfortunate gap in the programme.

Thus, to our subject. The first environment of a child is the home. It is the first in time and the first in importance. The type is set there. The printing of the life will be in that type. It is not possible to over-estimate the importance of family life. Amiel has stated this in his own incisive and memorable way in words which I have quoted elsewhere, and which I take the liberty of quoting here again:--"The religion of a child depends on what its mother and father are, and not on what they say. The child sees what we are, behind what we wish to be. Unconsciously he passes under the influence of each person about him, and reflects it while transforming it after his own nature. He is a magnifying mirror. That is why the first principle of education is: Train yourself; and the first rule to follow, if you wish to possess yourself of a child's will is: Master your own."

Mrs. Bosanquet has wisely devoted a chapter of her suggestive book, The Strength of the People, to the subject, "The Economic Importance of the Family"; one sentence of which I would read to you:--"What we urge, then, is that children can develop their highest qualities only in the sunshine of personal tenderness and affection, and that this sunshine can be maintained only in the family. It is to the family, therefore, with all its possibilities of failure, that we must entrust the care of the rising generation. Its work must be supplemented in school; but no matter how wise and patient the teachers, nor how sufficient the apparatus and curriculum, it can never be superseded. The school may give knowledge, discipline, the habit of good comradeship and intercourse with the outside world. It can never give that refuge from one’s own defects, that unity of interests and affections, that deep, underlying sympathy rooted in a common nature with its common difficulties and aspirations, which form the very atmosphere of home life at its best" (p. 189).

And here the point of union is seen between my especial subject and what has been already said. The home is guided and controlled by the parents, who are citizens of some nation, with national interests and a more or less keen and intelligent appreciation of the questions that are pressing to the front in that national life. Unconsciously but surely their children drink in their spirit, and many an interesting phenomenon in the later life of some outstanding politician in a nation, may have its explanation in the early training and in the environment of his childhood.

I suppose every boy twenty or thirty years ago took his political feelings directly from his father? And his tiny and aggressive ribbon, red or blue, fluttered in his coat, uttering a challenge to all whom it might concern, "sincerely owning and declaring" his father’s politics "to be the confession of his political faith"!

This has its amusing aspect, but it has its serious aspect too. Soon the child will challenge this accepted faith. Then "the fight begins within himself." Everything now depends on the sincerity and strenuous truthfulness of the parent's teaching. What his national ideal has been, will largely determine the place that national questions will take in the children's lives as they grow up. From the earliest days the habit of the parent mind is having its influence on the children's minds, but the matter becomes clearly and pressingly important when childhood is passing into manhood and womanhood; though it is supremely true that what our children are then, is the result of what they have seen and felt "of the word of life" in earlier days. When the effect of this influence is seen in their lives, we realise its importance. The work of this Union, is to waken us in time to a sense of its importance. There is no more pathetic spectacle than to see a distracted parent trying to arouse in a youth's mind too late this sense of the dignity of national and moral life. Influence has been preparing the foundation. Direct instruction will rear the building. But "if the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?"

And here there arises another difficulty. National ideals are so curiously intermingled in men's minds with party politics, that some people shrink from dwelling on national and imperial matters lest they should rouse a party spirit. Every great question has its dangerous aspect. Life is strengthened only by braving danger and overcoming trial. Risks must be run. Our children must learn to breast the waves for themselves. Part of the need of training is the need of learning how to discuss without bitterness, and to debate without unfairness. No one man, no one party, no one nation, has a monopoly of truth or insight or virtue. Other people are not always wrong when they differ from us, nor are we illuminated with a radiance denied to them! And therefore to shun the question because of this fear seems to me a grave mistake.

There are one or two lines of thought along which I would suggest to you that it is profitable for thought to travel in this matter. They are only thrown out as suggestions, their value it is for you to judge or test.

First, a national ideal is a necessity of every true life.

No man worthy the name is content to withdraw from national life. God has set us in a nation, that we may take our place in its affairs. Some of us heard last night of the man who refused to vote for a parliamentary candidate because "his citizenship was in heaven." The candidate replied, "Couldn’t you vote under the lodger franchise?" We are here for a purpose. Our sons look to us for guidance in their later lives, and when a national question rises, are they to have no guides? A youth is surrounded first by the life of the family, then by school life; then, suddenly or slowly the civic or national life opens up before his mind. It is pressed upon his attention. The daily newspapers are full of it. And it is of the utmost importance that he have an ideal where that is concerned. And where is he to get it if not from his parents and his home? Has he not the right to look for it there? I think he has.

Second, a national ideal is not necessarily a narrow ideal.

Here I am drawing near to neutral territory, where the difficulty of walking is real. My subject (not self-chosen) is not British ideals, but national ideals. There is an immense amount of nonsense talked and written in press and on platforms about nationality. R. L. Stevenson, in one of his charming asides, has hit off the superficial distinctions of three great nations, in a sentence of his own apt phrasing, which amounts to this, that, in a company of men, the Frenchman is present, alert, courteous, superficial if you will, but thinking of others instinctively:--the German, phlegmatic, smoking, meditative, and observant, seated heavily on his chair, yet urbane and interested. The Englishman (here I quote his words) "sits apart, bursting with pride and ignorance." That kind of insolent and ignorant nationalism is far removed indeed from the subject before us. A truly national ideal is the ideal that will bring the nation in which we are citizens to the place and power of service, in which she will be able to advance the civilization of the world and take her place worthily in the great brotherhood of nations.

Third, the true national ideal must be a moral ideal.

Here I am on safe ground. Here all party lines to a large extent disappear. Righteousness alone exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people, says an old Book whose counsels the lapse of years has not made void. Rapidly in every nation this is pressing to the front. In our own nation we are face to face with the urgency of social and moral questions. Our children must know about these, must take a living interest in these,--the drink problem, the housing problem, the land question, with the many subordinate and co-ordinate questions thereto related. And it is our duty, as it is our joy, to give them a point of vision and a point of vantage in regarding and discussing these questions. Our children must have an ideal, and they must be incited to pursue it steadily, in their own way and in the strength of God most Holy and most High. These things they will learn at home. School will take its share in teaching them, but the home is their inspiration, and the approval of both father and mother is what true children covet, next to the "Well done" of the great King Himself.

There is room for improvement. All ranks of society have need to rise higher in moral life. Our city life has tremendous and terrible opportunities of sinning. But righteousness alone is the "salt of the earth"; vice brings decay. So long as vice is so strong as it is, there is need of men with high and holy ideals.

Will you prepare such men? The question is urgent and solemnizing, and raises the further question--How can we best do this work,--where best find our inspiration? I answer plainly--That inspiration is found in history and in God. With this I close these poor and rambling remarks.

Our national history is full of inspiration. Under God we have a holy record of His noblemen on the pages of our country's history. You know where to find such. In lives like those which adorn the pages of our naval, military and civil history you find it. In such a book as Kaye's Lives of Indian Officers lies a wealth of inspiration. In the variety of character seen in men like Exmouth, Collingwood, Nicholson, the Lawrences, Havelock, and Gordon, in Shaftesbury and Cairns, and Gladstone and Salisbury and Bright, we have a great field in which to range, and records fitted to stir the imagination and fire the zeal of our children. And wider still it may be found, in other nations, beginning with our brethren across the seas, with their Grant and Lincoln and Washington and Roosevelt, all along the world's history till you have touched the eternal issues, and led thought deeper, even to Him Who Is of no nation, because He is of all nations, Whose revelation has "made of one blood all nations that dwell on the face of the earth," and Who has revealed to us all, not only the ideal, but has given His people power to press on to its attainment.

A national ideal is to me a moral ideal, and a moral ideal, if it is to be permanent, must be a religious ideal. No child can have too high a conception of his country's duty or destiny. And we have no higher joy than to see this moral, religious ideal dominating our youth and strengthening them to do the will of God.

"If I have been overbold in attempting this, I beg pardon."

Typed by Jasmin O. Sept. 2023; Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023