Chapter 8 Certain Relations Proper to a Child

Chapter 8
Certain Relations Proper to a Child

Geology, mineralogy, physical geography, botany, natural history, biology, astronomy––the whole circle of the sciences is, as it were, set with gates ajar in order that a child may go forth furnished, not with scientific knowledge, but with, what Huxley calls, common information, so that he may feel for objects on the earth and in the heavens the sort of proprietary interest which the son of an old house has in its heirlooms.

We are more exacting than the Jesuits. They are content to have a child till he is seven; but we want him till he is twelve or fourteen, if we may not have him longer. You may do what you like with him afterwards. Given this period for the establishing of relations, we may undertake to prepare for the world a man, vital and vigorous, full of living interests, available and serviceable. I think we may warrant him even to pass examinations, because he will know how to put living interest into the dullest tasks.

Dynamic Relations.––But we have not yet done with his relations with mother earth. There are, what I may call, dynamic relations to be established. He must stand and walk and run and jump with ease and grace. He must skate and swim and ride and drive, dance and row and sail a boat. He should be able to make free with his mother earth and to do whatever the principle of gravitation will allow. This is an elemental relationship for the lack of which nothing compensates.

Power over Material––Another elemental relationship, which every child should be taught and encouraged to set up, is that of power over material. Every child makes sand castles, mud-pies, paper boats, and he or she should go on to work in clay, wood, brass, iron, leather, dress-stuffs, food-stuffs, furnishing-stuffs. He should be able to make with his hands and should take delight in making.

Intimacy with Animals.––A fourth relation is to the dumb creation; a relation of intelligent comprehension as well as of kindness. Why should not each of us be on friendly terms with the 'inmates of his house and garden'? Every child longs for intimacy with the creatures about him; and––

   "He prayeth best, who loveth best
     All things both great and small;
   For the dear God who loveth us,
     He made and loveth all"6

The Great Human Relationships.––Perhaps the main part of a child's education should be concerned with the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority and obedience, of reverence and pity and neighbourly kindness; relationships to kin and friend and neighbour, to 'cause' and country and kind, to the past and the present. History, literature, archeology, art, languages, whether ancient or modern, travel and tales of travel; all of these are in one way or other the record or the expression of persons; and we who are persons are interested in all persons, for we are all one flesh, we are all of one spirit, and whatever any of us does or suffers is interesting to the rest. If we will approach them with living thought, living books, if we will only awaken in them the sense of personal relation, there are thousands of boys and girls to-day capable of becoming apostles, saviours, great orientalists who will draw the East and the West together, great archeologists who will make the past alive for us and make us aware in our souls of men who lived thousands of years ago.

The Awakening Idea.––It rests with us to give the awakening idea and then to form the habit of thought and of life. Here is an example of what a youth could do. "Young Rawlinson had" (I quote from the Academy) "from the outset of his career, a taste for the history and antiquities of Persia, a leaning which he himself attributed to his conversations with Sir John Malcolm on his first passage to India; and when with the Shah's army he chanced to be quartered at Kirmanshah, in Persian Kurdistan. Close to this stands the Rock of Behistun, bearing on its face a trilingual inscription which we now know to be due to Darius Hystaspes, the restorer of Cyrus' Empire. The cuneiform or wedge-shaped letters in which it is written had long baffled all attempts to decipher them. Rawlinson contrived, at the risk of life and limb, to climb the almost inaccessible face of the rock and to copy the easiest of the three versions of the inscription. A prolonged study of it enabled him to pronounce it to be in the Persian language, and, two years later, he succeeded in discovering the system by which the Persian words were reproduced in cuneiform characters." What is the result? "We can now produce the chronicles of empires, more highly-organised than was ever any Greek state, going back to dates millennia before that which our fathers used to assign to the earliest appearance of man upon the earth. The changes of thought consequent upon these discoveries are incalculable;" and all are more or less due to Rawlinson's climb up the face of the Behistun Rock, which again was due to the awakening of an idea by his conversation with Sir John Malcolm.

Human Intelligence limited to Human Interests.––We are not all Henry Rawlinsons, but there seems good reason to believe that the limit to human intelligence arises largely from the limit to human interests, that is, from the failure to establish personal relations on a wide scale with the persons who make up humanity,––relations of love, duty, responsibility, and, above all, of interest, living interest, with the near and the far-off, in time and in place. We hammer away for a dozen years at one or two languages, ancient or modern, and rarely know them very well at the end of that time, but directly they become to us the languages of persons whom we are aching to get at and can only do so through the medium of their own tongues, there seems no reason why many of us should not be like the late Sir Richard Burton, able to talk in almost any known tongue.

The Full Human Life.––I think we should have a great educational revolution once we ceased to regard ourselves as assortments of so-called faculties and realised ourselves as persons whose great business it is to get in touch with other persons of all sorts and conditions, of all countries and climes, of all times, past and present. History would become entrancing, literature, a magic mirror for the discovery of other minds, the study of sociology, a duty and a delight. We should tend to become responsive and wise, humble and reverent, recognising the duties and the joys of the full human life. We cannot, of course, overtake such a programme of work, but we can keep it in view; and, I suppose, every life is moulded upon its ideal. We talk of lost ideals, but perhaps they are not lost, only changed; when our ideal for ourselves and for our children becomes limited to prosperity and comfort, we get these, very likely, for ourselves and for them, but we get no more.

Duty not within the Scope of Present-day Psychology.––The psychology of the hour has had a curious effect upon the sense of duty. Persons who are no more than a 'state of consciousness' cannot be expected to take up moral responsibilities, except such as appeal to them at the moment. Duty, in the sense of relations imposed by authority and due to our fellows, does not fall within the scope of present-day psychology. It would be interesting to know how many children of about ten years of age can say the Ten Commandments, and those most clear interpretations of them which children are taught to call 'my duty towards God and my duty towards my neighbour'; or, if they are not members of the Church of England, whatever explanation their own Church offers of the law containing the whole duty of man. With the Ten Commandments as a basis, children used to get a fairly thorough ethical teaching from the Bible. They knew St Paul's mandates 'Love the brethren,' 'Fear God,' 'Honour the King,' 'Honour all men,' 'Study to be quiet.' They knew that thoughts of hatred and contempt were of the nature of murder. They knew what King Solomon said of the virtuous woman, of the sluggard, of the fool. Their knowledge was not confined to precepts; from history, sacred and profane, they were able to illustrate every text. We in England have not the wealth of moral teaching carved in wood and stone––so that the unlettered may read and learn––which some neighbouring countries rejoice in, but our teaching, until the present generation, has been systematic and thorough.

Casual Ethical Teaching.––I appeal to common experience as to whether this is now the case. We eschew for our children (and we often eschew wisely) all stories with a moral; their books must be amusing, and we ask little more; next after that, they must be literary, and then, perhaps, a little instructive. But we do not look for a moral impulse fitly given. It is not that we give no ethical teaching, but our teaching is casual. If we happen on a story of heroism or self-denial, we are glad to point the moral. But children rarely get now a distinct ethical system resting on the broad basis of the brotherhood of man. It is something for a child only to recite––'My duty towards my neighbour is to love him as myself,' and 'to do unto all men as I would that they should do unto me.' A great many fine things are said to-day about the brotherhood of man and the solidarity of the race, but I think we shall look in vain in modern writings for a sentence which goes to the root of the matter as does this authoritative code of duty.

The Moral Relation of Person to Person.––If we receive it, that the whole of education consists in the establishment of relations, then, the relations with our fellow-beings must be of the first importance; and all associations formed upon any basis except that of 'my duty towards my neighbour,'––as upon sympathy in art or literature, for example,––are apt to degenerate into sentimental bonds; and the power of original thought appears curiously to depart with that of moral insight. If you ask, 'But how are we to get a scheme of ethical teaching for our children?' I really do not know, if we choose to forego the Ten Commandments and the old-fashioned teaching of exposition and example founded upon them. There are a thousand supplementary ways of giving such teaching; but these are apt to be casual and little binding if they do not rest upon the solid foundation of duty imposed upon us by God, and due to each other, whether we will or no. This moral relation of person to person underlies all other relations. We owe it to the past to use its gains worthily and to advance from the point at which it left off. We owe it to the future to prepare a generation better than ourselves. We owe it to the present to live, to live with all expansion of heart and soul, all reaching out of our personality towards those relations appointed for us.

The sense of what is due from us does not come by Nature.––We owe knowledge to the ignorant, comfort to the distressed, healing to the sick, reverence, courtesy and kindness to all men, especially to those with whom we are connected by ties of family or neighbourhood; and the sense of these dues does not come by nature. We all know the vapid young man and the vapid young woman who care for none of these things; but do we always ask ourselves––why? and whether there are not many children to-day growing up in good homes as untrained in their moral relations as are these young people whom we despise and blame, perhaps more than they deserve, for have they not been neglected children?

Relations of Oneself with Oneself.––Another preparation for his relations in life which we owe to a young person is, that he should be made familiar with such a working system of psychology or philosophy, whichever one likes to call it, as shall help him to conduct his relations with himself and with other people. The world is not ripe, perhaps, for a bonâ fide science of life, but we are unhappily more modest than the ancients, who made good use of what they had, and turned out a Marcus Aurelius, an Epictetus, a Socrates. Neither did they think that their youth were furnished for life without instruction in philosophy. Modern scientists have added a great deal to the sum of available knowledge which should bear on the conduct of those relations of oneself with oneself which are implied in the terms, self-management, self-control, self-respect, self-love, self-help, self-abnegation, and so on. This knowledge is the more important because our power to conduct our relations with other people depends upon our power of conducting our relations with ourselves. Every man carries in his own person the key to human nature, and, in proportion as we are able to use this key, we shall be tolerant, gentle, helpful, wise and reverent. The person who has 'given up expecting anything' of servants or of dependents, of employees, or of working people, proclaims his ignorance of those springs of conduct common to us all. I think we may really take a little credit to ourselves as a Society7  for an advance in this direction. Most people associated with us know something of the treatment of sensations, the direction of the will, the treatment of temper, the psychology of attention, the desires and affections which are the springs of conduct, and other practical matters concerned with the management of one's life. We hear people who use that fine old nursery plan expressed 'change your thoughts' with method and success in the case of cross, or even delirious, or morbid patients. We (of the Parents' Union) feel as if we had a tool in our hands and knew how to set to work. The principle, anyhow, we perceive to be right, and, if we blunder in its application, we try again, whether for ourselves or for our children. We know that 'one custom overcometh another,' and that one idea supplants another. We do not give up a child to be selfish, or greedy, or lazy. These are cases for treatment; and a child who has been cured by his mother of some such blemish will not be slow to believe when he grows up in the possibility of reform for others, and in the use of simple, practical means.

Intimacy with Persons of All Classes.––Sociology is a long word, but it implies a practical relation with other people which children should begin to get, and it is a kind of knowledge they are very ready for. The carpenter, the gardener, the baker, the candlestick make; are all delightful persons; and it is surprising how much a child at the seaside will get to know about boats and sails and fishermen's lives that will pass by his unobservant elders. Most working men are on their honour with children, and every craftsman is a valuable acquaintance to a child. Later, when his working neighbours come before him in the shape of 'causes' and 'questions,' he will see the men and their crafts behind the veil of words; and in his 'Book of Trades,' a Who's Who for the million, he will look out for the heading Recreation, for shoemaker, tailor, factory-hand, as well as for the distinguished author and the member of Parliament. There is nothing like early intimacy for helping one to know people. That is why what the tub-orator calls 'the bloated aristocrat' knows how to get on with everybody; he has been intimate with all sorts and conditions of men since his babyhood. 

Fitness as Citizens.––The value of self-managed clubs and committees, debating societies, etc., for young people, is becoming more and more fully recognised. Organising capacity, business habits, and some power of public speaking, should be a part of our fitness as citizens. To secure the power of speaking, I think it would be well if the habit of narration were more encouraged, in place of written composition. On the whole, it is more useful to be able to speak than to write, and the man or woman who is able to do the former can generally do the latter.

Relations with each other as Human Beings.––But the subject of our relations with each other as human beings is inexhaustible, and I can do no more than indicate a point here and there, and state again my conviction that a system of education should have for its aim, not the mastery of certain 'subjects,' but the establishment of these relations in as many directions as circumstances will allow. 

Relation to Almighty God.––I have set before the reader the proposition that a human being comes into the world, not to develop his faculties nor to acquire knowledge, nor even to earn his living, but to establish certain relations; which relations are to him the means of immeasurable expansion and fulness of living. We have touched upon two groups of these relations––his relations to the universe of matter and to the world of men. To complete his education, I think there is but one more relation to be considered––his relation to Almighty God. How many children are to-day taught to say at their mother's knee, to learn from day to day and from hour to hour, in all its fulness of meaning––'My duty towards God is to believe in Him, to fear Him, and to love Him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength; to worship Him, to give Him thanks, to put my whole trust in Him, to call upon Him, to honour His holy name and His word, and to serve Him truly all the days of my life'? Whether children are taught their duty towards God in these or other words matters little; but few of us will venture to say that, in this short summary, more is demanded than it is our bounden duty and service to yield. But I fear that many children grow up untaught in these matters. The idea of duty is not wrought into the very texture of their souls; and duty to Him who is invisible, which should be the very foundation of life, is least taught of all. I do not say that children are allowed to grow up without religious sentiments and religious emotions, and that they do not say quaint and surprising things, showing that they have an insight of their own into the higher life. 

Sentiment is not Duty.––But duty and sentiment are two things. Sentiment is optional; and young people grow up to think that they may believe in God, may fear God, may love God in a measure––but that they must do these things, that there is no choice at all about the love and service of God, that it is their duty, that which they owe, to love Him 'with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their soul, with all their strength,' these things are seldom taught and understood as they should be. Even where our sentiment is warm, our religious notions are lax; and children, the children of good, religious parents, grow up without that intimate, ever-open, ever-cordial, ever-corresponding relation with Almighty God, which is the very fulfilment of life; which, whoso hath, hath eternal life; which, whoso hath not, is, like Coleridge's 'lovely Lady Geraldine,' ice-cold and dead at heart, however much he may labour for the free course of all other relations.

   "I want,––am made for,––and must have a God,
   Ere I can be aught, do aught;––no mere Name
   Want,––but the True Thing, with what proves its truth,---
   To wit, a relation from that Thing to me,
   Touching from head to foot :––which Touch I feel,
   And with it take the rest, this Life of ours!"
                                                         ––Browning


6Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 
7The Parents' National Education Union