Chapter 21 A Scheme of Educational Theory Proposed to Parents

Chapter 21

A Scheme of Educational Theory Proposed to Parents

Each Class in Society should have its Ideal––One of Mr. Matthew Arnold's discriminating utterances may help us in the effort to define anew the scope and the methods of education. In A French Eton (page 61) he says:––'The education of each class in society has, or ought to have, its ideal, determined by the wants of that class, and by its destination. Society may be imagined so uniform that one education shall be suitable for all its members; we have not a society of that kind, nor has any European country . . . Looking at English society at this moment one may say that the ideal for the education of each of its classes to follow, the aim which the education of each should particularly endeavour to reach, is different.'

This remark, to which we can give only a doubtful assent, helps us, nevertheless, to define our position. In this matter of class differentiation we believe we have scientific grounds for a line of our own. The Fathers (why should we not have Fathers in education as well as in theology?) worked out, for the most part, their educational thought with an immediate view to the children of the poor.

Poor Children need a Vocabulary––Because the children that he had to deal with had a limited vocabulary, and untrained observing powers, Pestalozzi taught them to see and then to say: 'I see a hole in the carpet. I see a small hole in the carpet. I see a small round hole in the carpet. I see a small round hole with a black edge in the carpet,' and so on; and such training may be good for such children. But what is the case with the children we have to deal with? We believe to-day on scientific grounds in the doctrine of heredity, and certainly in this matter experience supports our faith.

Children of Educated Parents do not––Punch has hit off the state of the case. 'Come and see the puff-puff, dear.' 'Do you mean the locomotive, Grandmamma?' As a matter of fact, the child of four and five has a wider, more exact vocabulary in everyday use than that employed by his elders and betters, and is constantly adding to this vocabulary with surprising quickness; ergo, to give a child of this class a vocabulary is no part of direct education. Again, we know that nothing escapes the keen scrutiny of the little people. It is not their perceptive powers we have to train, but the habit of methodical observation and accurate record.

Generations of physical toil do not tend to foster imagination. It may be good, then, for the children of the working classes to have games initiated for them, to be carried through little dramatic plays until, perhaps, in the end they will be able to invent such little dramas for themselves!

This, true of Imagination––But the children of the cultured classes––why, surely their danger is rather to live too much in realms of fancy. A single sentence in lesson or talk, the slightest sketch of a historical character, and they will play at it for a week, inventing endless incidents. Like Tennyson, when he was a child, they will carry on a story of the siege and defence of a castle (represented by a mound, with sticks for its garrison) for weeks together; and a child engrossed with these larger interests feels a sensible loss of dignity when he flaps his wings as a pigeon or skips about as a lamb, though, no doubt, he will do these things with pleasure for the teacher he loves. Imagination is ravenous for food, not pining for culture, in the children of educated parents, and education need not concern herself directly, for them, with the development of the conceptive powers. Then with regard to the child's reasoning powers, most parents have had experiences of this kind. Tommy is five. His mother had occasion to talk to him about the Atlantic Cable, and said she did not know how it was insulated; Tommy remarked next morning that he had been thinking about it, and perhaps the water itself was an insulator. So far from needing to develop their children's reasoning powers, most parents say––'Oh, wad the gods the giftie gie us'––to answer the everlasting 'why' of the intelligent child.

The Development of Faculties Important for Ignorant and Deficient Children––In a word, to develop the child's so-called faculties is the main work of education when ignorant or otherwise deficient children are concerned; but the children of educated parents are never ignorant in this sense. They awake to the world all agog for knowledge, and with keen- edged faculties; therefore the principle of heredity causes us to re-cast our idea of the office of education, and to recognise that the child of intelligent parents is born with an inheritance of self-developing faculties.

But not for Children of Educated Parents––Thus education naturally divides itself into education for the children of lettered, and education for the children of unlettered parents. In fact, this class question, which we are all anxious to evade in common life, comes practically into force in education. It is necessary to individualise and say, this part of education is the most important for this child, or this class, but may be relegated into a lower place for another child or another class.

The Educator should form Habits––If science limits our range of work as regards the development of so-called faculties, it extends it in equal measure with regard to habit. Here we have no new doctrine to proclaim. 'One custom overcometh another,' said Thomas a' Kempis, and that is all we have to say; only, physiologists have made clear to us the rationale of this law of habit. We know that to form in his child right habits of thinking and behaving is a parent's chief duty, and that this can be done for every child definitely and within given limits of time. But this question has been already dealt with, and we need do no more than remind parents of what they already know.

Should Nourish with Ideas––To nourish a child daily with loving, right, and noble ideas we believe to be the parent's next duty. The child having once received the Idea will assimilate it in his own way, and work it into the fabric of his life; and a single sentence from his mother's lips may give him a bent that will make him, or may tend to make him, painter or poet, statesman or philanthropist. The object of lessons should be in the main twofold: to train a child in certain mental habits, as attention, accuracy, promptness, etc., and to nourish him with ideas which may bear fruit in his life.

Our Main Objects––There are other educational principles which we bear in mind and work out, but for the moment it is worth while for us to concentrate our thought upon the fact that one of our objects is to accentuate the importance of education under the two heads of the formation of habits and the presentation of ideas; and, as a corollary, to recognise that the development of faculties is not a supreme object with the cultivated classes, because this is work which has been done for their children in a former generation.

We recognise Material and Spiritual Principles of Human Nature––But how does all this work? Is it practical? Is it the question of to-day? It must needs be practical because it gives the fullest recognition to the two principles of human nature, the material and the spiritual. We are ready to concede all that the most advanced biologist would ask of us. Does he say, 'Thought is only a mode of motion?' If so, we are not dismayed. We know that ninety-nine out of a hundred thoughts that pass through our minds are involuntary, the inevitable result of those modifications of the brain tissue which habit has set up. The mean man thinks mean thoughts, the magnanimous man great thoughts, because we all think as we are accustomed to think, and Physiology shows us why. On the other hand, we recognise that greater is the spirit within us than the matter which it governs. Every habit has its beginning. The beginning is the idea which comes with a stir and takes possession of us.

We recognise the Supreme Educator––The idea is the motive power of life, and it is because we recognise the spiritual potency of the idea that we are able to bow reverently before the fact that God the Holy Spirit is Himself the Supreme Educator, dealing with each of us severally in the things we call sacred and those we call secular. We lay ourselves open to the spiritual impact of ideas, whether these be conveyed by the printed page, the human voice, or whether they reach us without visible sign.

Studies are Valued as they present Fruitful Ideas––But ideas may be evil or may be good; and to choose between the ideas that present themselves is, as we have been taught, the one responsible work of a human being. It is the power of choice that we would give our children. We ask ourselves, 'Is there any fruitful idea underlying this or that study that the children are engaged in?' We divest ourselves of the notion that to develop the faculties is the chief thing; and a 'subject' which does not rise out of some great thought of life we usually reject as not nourishing, not fruitful; while we usually, but not invariably, retain those studies which give exercise in habits of clear and orderly thinking. We have some gymnastics of the mind whose object is to exercise what we call faculties as well as to train in the habit of clear and ordered thinking. Mathematics, grammar, logic, etc., are not purely disciplinary; they do develop, if a bull may be allowed intellectual muscle. We by no means reject the familiar staples of education, in the school sense, but we prize them even more for the record of intellectual habits they leave in the brain tissue than for their distinct value in developing certain 'faculties.'

Nature-Knowledge––Thus our first thought with regard to Nature-knowledge is that the child should have a living personal acquaintance with the things he sees. It concerns us more that he should know bistort from persicaria, hawkweed from dandelion, and where to find this and that, and how it looks, living and growing, than that he should talk about epigynous and hypogynous. All this is well in its place, but should come quite late, after the child has seen and studied the living growing thing in situ, and has copied colour and gesture as best he can.

Object-Lessons––So of object-lessons; we are not anxious to develop his observing powers on little bits of everything, which he shall describe as opaque, brittle, malleable, and so on. We would prefer not to take the edge off his curiosity in this way; we should rather leave him receptive and respectful for one of those opportunities for asking questions and engaging in talk with his parents about the lock in the river, the mowing machine, the ploughed field, which offer real seed to the mind of a child, and do not make him a priggish little person able to tell all about it.

We trust much to Good Books––Once more, we know that there is a storehouse of thought wherein we may find all the great ideas that have moved the world. We are above all things anxious to give the child the key to this storehouse. The education of the day, it is said, does not produce reading people. We are determined that the children shall love books, therefore we do not interpose ourselves between the book and the child. We read him his Tanglewood Tales, and when he is a little older his Plutarch, not trying to break up or water down, but leaving the child's mind to deal with the matter as it can.

We do not recognise 'Child-Nature.'––We endeavour that all our teaching and treatment of children shall be on the lines of nature, their nature and ours, for we do not recognise what is called 'Child-nature.' We believe that children are human beings at their best and sweetest, but also at their weakest and least wise. We are careful not to dilute life for them, but to present such portions to them in such quantities as they can readily receive.

We are Tenacious of Individuality: we consider Proportion––In a word, we are very tenacious of the dignity and individuality of our children. We recognise steady, regular growth with no transition stage. This teaching is up to date, but it is as old as common sense. Our claim is that our common sense rests on a basis of Physiology, that we show a reason for all that we do, and that we recognise 'the science of the proportion of things,' put the first thing foremost, do not take too much upon ourselves, but leave time and scope for the workings of Nature and of a higher Power than Nature herself.

We think that Children have a Right to Knowledge––Much guidance and stimulation are afforded by another principle. We are not anxious to contend with Kant that the mind possesses certain a priori knowledge; nor with Hume that it holds innate ideas. The more satisfying proposition seems to be that the mind has, as it were, prehensile adaptations to each department of universal knowledge. We find that children lay hold of all knowledge which is fitly presented to them with avidity, and therefore we maintain that a wide and generous curriculum is due to them.