Book 1, Chapter 4 - Authority and Docility

The principles of Authority on the one hand and Docility on the other are natural, necessary and fundamental.

The War has made surprises stale but in those remote pre-war days we were enormously startled by the discovery of wireless telegraphy. That communications should pass through almost infinite space without sign or sound or obvious channel and arrive instantly at their destination took away our breath. We had the grace to value the discovery for something more than its utility; we were awed in the presence of a law which had always been there but was only now perceived. In something the same way we have been electrified by the discovery in the fields of France of heroism in the breast of every common soldier. Now, just such discoveries wait us in the field of education and any miner in this field may strike a vein of ore which shall enrich the world. The citizens of an ancient city on the shores of Gennesaret made one of those startling discoveries and knew how to give it a name; they found out that Christ 'spake with authority' and not as their scribes.

It is not ours to speak with authority; the 'verily, verily I say unto you' is a divine word not for us. Nevertheless deputed authority is among us and in us. 'He is an authority' on such and such a subject, is a correct expression because by much study he has made it his own and has a right to speak. This deputed authority appears to be lodged in everyone, ready for occasion. Benjamin Kidd has told us how the London policeman is the very embodiment of authority, implicitly obeyed in a way surprising to strangers. Every king and commander, every mother, elder sister, school prefect, every foreman of works and captain of games, finds that within himself which secures faithful obedience, not for the sake of his merits but because authority is proper to his office. Without this principle, society would cease to cohere. Practically there is no such thing as anarchy; what is so-called is a mere transference of authority, even if in the last resort the anarchist find authority in himself alone. There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist and, except it be abused, is entirely congenial to those on whom it is exercised: we are so made that we like to be ordered even if the ordering be only that of circumstances. Servants take pride in the orders they receive; that our badge of honour is an 'Order' is a significant use of words. It is still true that 'Order is heaven's first law' and order is the outcome of authority.

That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal. If a man in the pride of his heart decline other authority, he will submit himself slavishly to his 'star' or his 'destiny.' It would seem that the exercise of docility is as natural and necessary as that of reason or imagination; and the two principles of authority and docility act in every life precisely as do those two elemental principles which enable the earth to maintain its orbit, the one drawing it towards the sun, the other as constantly driving it into space; between the two, the earth maintains a more or less middle course and the days go on.

The same two principles work in every child, the one producing ordered life, the other making for rebellion, and the crux in bringing up children is to find the mean which shall keep a child true to his elliptical orbit. The solution offered to-day is freedom in our schools; children may be governed but they must not be aware that they are governed, and, 'Go as you please,' must be the apparent rule of their lives, while, 'Do as you're bid,' is the moving force. The result of an ordered freedom is obtained, that ordered freedom which rules the lives of 999 in 1000 of the citizens of the world; but the drawback to an indirect method of securing this result is that when, 'Do as you please,' is substituted for, 'Do as you're bid,' there is dissimulation in the air and children fail to learn that habit of 'proud subjection and dignified obedience' which distinguishes great men and noble citizens. No doubt it is pleasing that children should behave naturally, should get up and wander about, should sit still or frolic as they have a mind to, but they too, must 'learn obedience'; and it is no small element in their happiness and ours that obedience is both delightful and reposeful.

It is the part of the teacher to secure willing obedience, not so much to himself as to the laws of the school and the claims of the matter in hand. If a boy have a passage to read, he obeys the call of that immediate duty, reads the passage with attention and is happy in doing so. We all know with what a sense of added importance we say, "I must be at Mrs. Jones's by eleven." "It is necessary that I should see Brown." The life that does not obey such conditions has got out of its orbit and is not of use to society. It is necessary that we should all follow an ordered course, and children, even infant children, must begin in the way in which they will have to go on. Happily they come to us with the two inherent forces, centripetal and centrifugal, which secure to them freedom, i.e., self-authority, on the one hand, and 'proud subjection' on the other.

But parents and those who stand in loco parentis have a delicate task. There must be subjection, but it must be proud, work as a distinction, an order of merit. Probably the way to secure this is to avoid standing between children and those laws of life and conduct by which we are all ultimately ruled. The higher the authority, the greater distinction in obedience, and children are quick to discriminate between the mere will and pleasure of the arbitrary teacher or parent and the chastened authority of him who is himself under rule. That subservience should take the place of docility is the last calamity for nation, family or school. Docility implies equality; there is no great gulf fixed between teacher and taught; both are pursuing the same ends, engaged on, the same theme, enriched by mutual interests; and probably the quite delightful pursuit of knowledge affords the only intrinsic liberty for both teacher and taught. "He is the freeman whom the truth makes free," and this freedom the steady pursuit and delightful acquirement of knowledge afford to us day by day. "The mind is its own place," we are told, "and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven"; and that heaven of the mind, is it not continual expansion in ordered freedom? And that restless, burning, inflammatory hell, does it not come of continual chafing against natural and righteous order?

As for the superficial freedom of sitting or standing, going or coming, that is a matter which settles itself, as do all the relations between teacher and taught, once children are allowed a due share in their own education, not a benefit for us to confer but rather a provision for them to take. Our chief concern for the mind or for the body is to supply a well-ordered table with abundant, appetising, nourishing and very varied food, which children deal with in their own way and for themselves. This food must be served au naturel, without the predigestion which deprives it of stimulating and nourishing properties and no sort of forcible feeding or spoon feeding may be practised. Hungry minds sit down to such a diet with the charming greediness of little children; they absorb it, assimilate it and grow thereby in a manner astonishing to those accustomed to the dull profitless ruminating so often practised in schools. When the teacher avoids hortatory methods, his scholars change position when they have a mind to; but their mind is commonly to sit still during a lesson time because they are so intent on their work that they have no desire for small divagations; while, on the other hand, the teacher makes it his business to see that the body gets its share, and an abundant share, of gymnastics whether by way of games or drill. But this is a subject well understood in modern schools and it is only necessary to say that though mental activity promotes bodily functions in a surprising way––has not an American physiologist discovered that people may live to 160 or 1000 years (!) if they continue to use their minds?––athleticism, on the other hand, if unduly pursued, by no means promotes mental activity.

In days when the concern of educators seems to be to provide an easy option for that mental activity, the sole condition of education, it must be urged that manual dexterity, gardening, folk-dancing, and the like, while they fulfil their proper function in training nerve and muscle to ready responsiveness, do not sustain mind. Not, again, can we educate children upon the drama, even the Shakespearean drama, nor upon poetry, even the most musical and emotional. These things children must have; but they come into the world with many relations waiting to be established; relations with places far and near, with the wide universe, with the past of history, with the the social economics of the present, with the earth they live on and all its delightful progeny of beast and bird, plant and tree; with the sweet human affinities they entered into at birth; with their own country and other countries, and, above all, with that most sublime of human relationships––their relation to God. With such a programme before his pupils only the uninstructed teacher will put undue emphasis upon and give undue time to arithmetic and handicrafts, singing, acting, or any of the hundred specifics which are passed off as education in its entirety.

The sense of must should be present with children; our mistake is to act in such a way that they, only, seem to be law-compelled while their elders do as they please. The parent or teacher who is pestered for 'leave' to do this or that, contrary to the discipline of the house or school, has only himself to thank; he has posed as a person in authority, not under authority, and therefore free to allow the breach of rules whose only raison d'être is that they minister to the well-being of the children. Two conditions are necessary to secure all proper docility and obedience and, given these two, there is seldom a conflict of wills between teacher and pupils. The conditions are,––the teacher, or other head may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority [Parents and Children. By the Writer.] that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience. (I am assuming that everyone entrusted with the bringing up of children recognises the supreme Authority to Whom we are subject; without this recognition I do not see how it is possible to establish the nice relation which should exist between teacher and taught.) The other condition is that children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher. They do choose and are happy in their work, so there is little opportunity for coercion or for deadening, hortatory talk.

But the principle of authority, as well as that of docility, is inherent in children and it is only as the tact and judgment of the teacher make opportunity for its free play that they are prepared for the duties of life as citizens and members of a family. The movement in favour of prefects, as in Public Schools, is a recognition of this fact and it is well that children should become familiar with the idea of representative authority, that is, that they are governed by chosen members of their own body, a form of self-government. To give effect to the idea, the prefect should be elected and children shew extraordinary insight in choosing the right officers. But that is not enough because only a few are set in authority; certain small offices should be held in rotation by every member of a class. The office makes the man as much as the man makes the office and it is surprising how well rather incompetent children will perform duties laid on them.

All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught. To this end the subject matter should not be repeated. We ourselves do not attend to the matters in our daily paper which we know we shall meet with again in a weekly review, nor to that if there is a monthly review in prospect; these repeated aids result in our being persons of wandering attention and feeble memory. To allow repetition of a lesson is to shift the responsibility for it from the shoulders of the pupil to those of the teacher who says, in effect,––"I'll see that you know it," so his pupils make no effort of attention. Thus the same stale stuff is repeated again and again and the children get bored and restive, ready for pranks by way of a change.

Teachers are apt to slight their high office and hinder the processes of education because they cherish two or three fallacies. They regard children as inferior, themselves as superior, beings;––why else their office? But if they recognized that the potency of children's minds is as great or greater than that of their own, they would not conceive that spoon-feeding was their mission, or that they must masticate a morsel of knowledge to make it proper for the feeble digestion of the scholar.

We depreciate children in another way. We are convinced that they cannot understand a literary vocabulary so we explain and paraphrase to our own heart's content but not to theirs. Educated mothers know that their children can read anything and do not offer explanations unless they are asked for them; and we have taken it for granted that this quickness of apprehension comes only to the children of educated parents.

Another misapprehension which makes for disorder is our way of regarding attention. We believe that it is to be cultivated, nursed, coddled, wooed by persuasion, by dramatic presentation, by pictures and illustrative objects: in fact, the teacher, the success of whose work depends upon his 'personality,' is an actor of no mean power whose performance would adorn any stage. Attention, we know, is not a 'faculty' nor a definable power of mind but is the ability to turn on every such power, to concentrate, as we say. We throw away labour in attempting to produce or to train this necessary function. There it is in every child in full measure, a very Niagara of force, ready to be turned on in obedience to the child's own authority and capable of infinite resistance to authority imposed from without. Our part is to regard attention, too, as an appetite and to feed it with the best we have in books and in all knowledge. But children do it 'on their own'; we may not play Sir Oracle any more; our knowledge is too circumscribed, our diction too poor, vague, desultory, to cope with the ability of young creatures who thirst for knowledge. We must put into their hands the sources which we must needs use for ourselves, the best books of the best writers.

I will mention only one more disability which hinders us in our work as teachers; I mean that depreciation of knowledge which is just now characteristic of Englishmen. A well-known educationalist lately nailed up the thesis that what children want in the way of knowledge is just two things,––How to do the work by which they must earn their living and how to behave as citizens. This writer does not see that work is done and duties performed in the ratio of the person who works: the more the man is as a person, the more valuable will be his work and the more dependable his conduct: yet we omit from popular education that tincture of humane letters which makes for efficiency! One hears, for instance, of an adolescent school with some nine thousand pupils who come in batches of a few hundreds, each batch to learn one or other of a score or so of admirable crafts and accomplishments; but not one hour is spent in a three or four years' course in this people's university on any sort of humane knowledge, in any reading or thinking which should make the pupils better men and women and better citizens.

To return to our method of employing attention; it is not a casual matter, a convenient, almost miraculous way of covering the ground, of getting children to know certainly and lastingly a surprising amount; all this is to the good, but it is something more, a root principle vital to education. In this way of learning the child comes to his own; he makes use of the authority whichis in him in its highest function as a self-commanding, self-compelling, power. It is delightful to use any power that is in us if only that of keeping up in cup and ball a hundred times as (to the delight of small nephews and nieces), Jane Austen did. But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a king––all the more satisfying to children because they are so made that they revel in knowledge.

Here is some notice of a day or two spent in London by a child of eleven which reaches me as I write:

"Mother took her to Westminster Abbey one afternoon and while I was seeing her to bed she told me all the things she had noticed there which they had been hearing about in 'architecture' this term. She loves 'architecture.' She also expressed her anxiety to make acquaintance with the British Museum and see the things there that they had been 'having' in their term's work. So the next morning we went there and studied the Parthanon Room in great detail. She was a most interesting companion and taught me ever so much! We also went to St. Paul's and Madame Tussaud's where she was delighted to see many people out of 'history.' The modern people did not interest her so much except Jack Cornwell and Nurse Cavell."

It will be noticed that the child is educating herself; her friends merely take her to see the things she knows about and she tells what she has read, a quite different matter from the act of pouring information down the throats of the unhappy children who are taken to visit our national treasure houses.

A short time ago when the King and Queen paid a private visit to the British Museum, in the next hall, also, no doubt, examining the Parthenon Room, were a group of children from a London County Council School, as full of information and interest as the child above mentioned because they had been doing the same work. It is not a small thing for those children to know that their interests and delights were common to them and their Sovereigns. Of such strands are formed the cord which binds society; and one of the main purposes of a 'liberal education for all' is to form links between high and low, rich and poor, the classes and the masses, in the strong sympathy of common knowledge. The Public Schools have arrived at this through the medium of the classics; an occasional 'tag' from Horace moves and unites the House of Commons, not only through the urbane thought of the poet but because it is a key to a hundred associations. If this has been effected through the medium of a dead language, what may we not hope for in the way of common thought, universal springs of action, conveyed through our own rich and inspiring literature?

Consider what this power of perfect attention and absolute recollection should be to every employer and chief, what an asset to the nation! I heard this week of a Colonel who said that his best subaltern was an old "P.U.S." (Parents' Union School) boy; and this sort of evidence reaches us continually. There are few who do not know the mischievous and baffling effects of inattention and forgetfulness on the part of subordinates; and we visualize a world of surprising achievement when children shall have been trained to quick apprehension and retention of instructions.

We may not pose before children, nor pride ourselves on dutiful getting up of knowledge in order to deliver it as emanating from ourselves. There are those who have a right to lecture, those who have devoted a life-time to some one subject about which they have perhaps written their book. Lectures from such persons are, no doubt, as full of insight, imagination and power as are their written works; but we cannot have a score of such lecturers in every school, each to elucidate his own subject, nor, if we could, would it be good for the children. The personality of the teacher would influence them to distraction from the delight in knowledge which is itself a sufficient and compelling force to secure perfect attention, and seemly discipline.

I am not figuring an 'Erewhon,' some Utopia of our dreams; we of the P.N.E.U. seem to have let loose a force capable of sending forth young people firm with the resolve––

     "I will not cease from mental strife
     Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
     Till we have built Jerusalem
     In England's green and pleasant land."

Practically all schools are doing wonders. The schoolmaster is abroad in the land and we are educating 'our masters' with immense zeal and self-devotion. What we have reason to deplore is that after some eight or twelve years' brilliant teaching in school, the cinema show and the football field, polo or golf, satisfy the needs of our former pupils to whatever class they belong. We are filled with compassion when we detect the lifeless hand or leg, the artificial nose or jaw, that many a man has brought home as a consequence of the War. But many of our young men and women go about more seriously maimed than these. They are devoid of intellectual interests, history and poetry are without charm for them, the scientific work of the day is only slightly interesting, their 'job' and the social amenities they can secure are all that their life has for them.

The maimed existence in which a man goes on from day to day without either nourishing or using his intellect, is causing anxiety to those interested in education, who know that after religion it is our chief concern, is, indeed, the necessary handmaid of religion.