Chapter 23 Whence And Whither

Chapter 23

Whence And Whither 

A Question for Parents––I. Whence?

Progress of the Parents' National Educational Union––'The Union goes on,' an observer writes, 'without puff or fuss, by its own inherent force'; and it is making singularly rapid progress. At the present moment thousands of children of thinking, educated parents, are being brought up, more or less consciously and definitely, upon the lines of the Union. Parents who read the Parents' Review or other literature of the Society, parents who belong to our various branches, or our other agencies, parents who are influenced by these parents are becoming multitudinous; and all have one note in common––the ardour of persons working out inspiring ideas.

Its Importance––It is hardly possible to overestimate the force of this league of educated parents. When we think of the part that the children being brought up under these influences will one day play in the leading and ruling of the land, we are solemnised with the sense of a great responsibility, and it behoves us to put to ourselves, once again, the two searching queries by which every movement should from time to time be adjudged––Whence? and Whither?

Whence? The man who is satisfied with his dwelling-place has no wish to move, and the mere fact of a 'movement' is a declaration that we are not satisfied, and that we are definitely on our way to some other ends than those commonly accepted. In one respect only we venture boldly to hark back.

The Legacy of the Past––Exceedingly fine men and women were brought up by our grandfathers and grandmothers, even by our mother's and fathers; and the wise and old amongst us, though they look on with great sympathy, yet have an unexpressed feeling that men and women were made on the old lines of a stamp which we shall find it hard to improve upon. This was no mere chance result, nor did it come out of the spelling-book or the Pinnock's Catechisms which we have long ago consigned to the limbo they deserve.

Children Responsible Persons––The teaching of the old days was as bad as it could be, the training was haphazard work, reckless alike of physiology and psychology; but our grandfathers and grandmothers had one saving principle, which, for the last two or three decades, we have been, of set purpose, labouring to lose. They, of the older generation, recognised children as reasonable beings, persons of mind and conscience like themselves, but needing their guidance and control, as having neither knowledge nor experience. Witness the queer old children's books which have come down to us; before all things, these addressed children as reasonable, intelligent and responsible (terribly responsible!) persons. This fairly represents the note of home-life in the last generation. So soon as the baby realised his surroundings, he found himself a morally and intellectually responsible person. Now one of the secrets of power in dealing with our fellow-beings is, to understand that human nature does that which it is expected to do and is that which it is expected to be. We do not mean believed to do and to be, with the fond and foolish faith which Mrs. Hardcastle bestowed on her dear Tony Lumpkin. Expectation strikes another chord, the chord of 'I am, I can, I ought' which must vibrate in every human breast, for 'tis our nature to.' The capable, dependable men and women whom we all know were reared upon this principle.

Now, we are not Sure––But now? Now, many children in many homes are still brought up on the old lines, but not with quite the unfaltering certitude of the old times. Other thoughts are in the air. A baby is a huge oyster (says one eminent psychologist) whose business is to feed, and to sleep, and to grow. Even Professor Sully, in his most delightful book1, is torn in two. The children have conquered him, have convinced him beyond doubt that they are as ourselves, only more so. But then he is an evolutionist, and feels himself pledged to accommodate the child to the principles of evolution. Therefore the little person is supposed to go through a thousand stages of moral and intellectual development, leading him from the condition of the savage or ape to that of the intelligent and cultivated human being. If children will not accommodate themselves pleasantly to this theory, why, that is their fault, and Professor Sully is too true a child-lover not to give us the children as they are, with little interludes of the theory upon which they ought to evolve. Now I have absolutely no theory to advance, and am, on scientific grounds, disposed to accept the theories of the evolutionary psychologists. But facts are too strong for me.

Intellectual Labour of the Child's First Year––When we consider the enormous intellectual labour the infant goes through during his first year in accommodating himself to the conditions of a new world, in learning to discern between far and near, solid and flat, large and small, and a thousand other qualifications and limitations of this perplexing world, why, we are not surprised that John Stuart Mill should be well on in his Greek at five; that Arnold at three should know all the Kings and Queens of England by their portraits; or that a musical baby should have an extensive repertoire of the musical classics.

Intelligence of Children––I was once emphasising the fact that every child could learn to speak two languages at once with equal facility, when a gentleman present stated that he had a son who was a missionary in Bagdad, married to a German lady, and their little son of three expressed all he had to say with equal fluency in three languages––German, English, and Arabic, using each in speaking to those persons whose language it was. 'Nana, which does God love best, little girls or little boys?' said a meditative little girl of four. 'Oh, little girls, to be sure,' said Nana, with a good-natured wish to please. 'Then if God loves little girls best, why was not God Himself a little girl?' Which of us who have reached the later stages of evolution would have hit upon a more conclusive argument? If the same little girl asked on another occasion, watching the blackbirds at the cherries: 'Nana, if the bees make honey, do the birds make jam?' it was by no means an inane question, and only proves that we older persons are dull and inappreciative of such mysteries of Nature as that bees should make honey.

Children highly Endowed but Ignorant––This is how we find children––with intelligence more acute, logic more keen, observing powers more alert, moral sensibilities more quick, love and faith and hope more abounding; in fact, in all points like as we are, only much more so; but absolutely ignorant of the world and its belongings, of us and our ways, and, above all, of how to control and direct and manifest the infinite possibilities with which they are born.

Happy and Good, or Good and Happy––Our conception of a child rules our relations towards him. Pour s'amuser is the rule of child-life proper for the 'oyster' theory, and most of our children's books and many of our theories of child-education are based upon this rule. 'Oh! he's so happy,' we say, and are content, believing that if he is happy he will be good; and it is so to a great extent; but in the older days the theory was, if you are good you will be happy; and this is a principle which strikes the keynote of endeavour, and holds good, not only through the childish 'stage of evolution,' but for the whole of life, here and hereafter. The child who has learned to 'endeavour himself' (as the Prayer Book has it) has learned to live.

Our Conception of the Child is Old, of Education New––If our conception of Whence? regards the child, as of

   'A Being, breathing thoughtful breath,
   A traveller betwixt life and death,'––

is old, that of our grandfathers, our conception of the aims and methods of education is new, only made possible within the late decades of the last century; because it rests one foot upon the latest advances in the science of Biology and the other upon the potent secret of these latter days, that matter is the all-serviceable agent of spirit, and that spirit forms, moulds, is absolute lord, over matter, as capable of affecting the material convolutions of the brain as of influencing what used to be called the heart.

Knowing that the brain is the physical seat of habit, and that conduct and character alike are the outcome of the habits we allow: knowing, too, that an inspiring idea initiates a new habit of thought, and, hence a new habit of life, we perceive that the great work of education is to inspire children with vitalising ideas as to the relations of life, departments of knowledge, subjects of thought: and to give deliberate care to the formation of those habits of the good life which are the outcome of vitalising ideas.

Divine Co-operation––In this great work we seek and assuredly find the co-operation of the Divine Spirit, whom we recognise, in a sense rather new to modern thought, as the Supreme Educator of mankind in things that have been called secular, fully as much as in those that have been called sacred.

Two Educational Labours––We are free to give our whole force to these two great educational labours, of the inspiration of ideas and the formation of habits, because, except in the case of children somewhat mentally deficient, we do not consider that the 'development of faculties' is any part of our work; seeing that the children's so-called faculties are already greatly more acute than our own.

Test for Systems––We have, too, in our possession, a test for Systems that are brought under our notice, and can pronounce upon their educational value. For example, some time ago the London Board Schools held an exhibition of work; and great interest was excited by an exhibit which came from New York representing a week's work (on 'Herbartian' lines) in a school. The children worked for a week upon 'an apple.' They modelled it in clay, they painted it in brushwork, they stitched the outline on cardboard, they pricked it, they laid it in sticks (the pentagonal form of the seed vessel.) Older boys and girls modelled an apple-tree and made a little ladder on which to run up the apple tree and gather the apples, and a wheel-barrow to carry the apples away, and a great deal more of the same kind. Everybody said, 'How pretty, how ingenious, what a good idea!' and went away with the notion that here, at last, was education. But we ask 'What was the informing idea?' The external shape, the internal contents of an apple,––matters with which the children were already exceedingly well acquainted. What mental habitudes were gained by this week's work? They certainly learned to look at the apple, but think how many things they might have got familiar acquaintance with in the time. Probably the children were not consciously bored because the impulse of the teachers' enthusiasm carried them on, But, think of it––

   'Rabbits hot and rabbits cold,
   Rabbits young and rabbits old
   Rabbits tender and rabbits tough'––

no doubt those children had enough of apples anyway. This 'apple' course is most instructive to us as emphasising the tendency in the human mind to accept and rejoice in any neat system which will produce immediate results, rather than to bring every such little course to the test of whether it does or does not further either or both of our great educational principles.

Advance with the Tide––Whither? Our 'whence' opens to us a 'whither' of infinitely delightful possibilities. Seeing that each of us is labouring for the advance of the human race through the individual child we are educating, we consider carefully in what directions this advance is due, and indicated, and we proceed of set purpose and endeavour to educate our children so that they shall advance with the tide. 'Can ye not discern the signs of the times?' A new Renaissance is coming upon us, of unspeakably higher import than the last; and we are bringing up our children to lead and guide, and by every means help in the progress––progress by leaps and bounds––which the world is about to make. But 'whither' is too large a question for the close of a chapter.


1Studies of Children, by Professor Sully––Longmans, 10s, 6d.