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Ch. 8: Education

The origin of education is maternal. The mother animal is seen to teach her young what she knows of life, its gains and losses; and, whether consciously done or not, this is education. In our human life, education, even in its present state, is the most important process. Without it we could not maintain ourselves, much less dominate and improve conditions as we do; and when education is what it should be, our power will increase far beyond present hopes.

In lower animals, speaking generally, the powers of the race must be lodged in each individual. No gain of personal experience is of avail to the others. No advantages remain, save those physically transmitted. The narrow limits of personal gain and personal inheritance rigidly hem in sub-human progress. With us, what one learns may be taught to the others. Our life is social, collective. Our gain is for all, and profits us in proportion as we extend it to all. As the human soul develops in us, we become able to grasp more fully our common needs and advantages; and with this growth has come the extension of education to the people as a whole. Social functions are developed under natural laws, like physical ones, and may be studied similarly.

In the evolution of this basic social function, what has been the effect of wholly masculine influence?

The original process, instruction of individual child by individual mother, has been largely neglected in our man-made world. That was considered as a subsidiary sex-function of the woman, and as such, left to her "instinct." This is the main reason why we show such great progress in education for older children, and especially for youths, and so little comparatively in that given to little ones.

We have had on the one side the natural current of maternal education, with its first assistant, the nursemaid, and its second, the "dame-school"; and on the other the influence of the dominant class, organized in university, college, and public school, slowly filtering downward.

Educational forces are many. The child is born into certain conditions, physical and psychic, and "educated" thereby. He grows up into social, political and economic conditions, and is further modified by them. All these conditions, so far, have been of androcentric character; but what we call education as a special social process is what the child is deliberately taught and subjected to; and it is here we may see the same dominant influence so clearly.

This conscious education was, for long, given to boys alone, the girls being left to maternal influence, each to learn what her mother knew, and no more. This very clear instance of the masculine theory is glaring enough by itself to rest a case on. It shows how absolute was the assumption that the world was composed of men, and men alone were to be fitted for it. Women were no part of the world, and needed no training for its uses. As females they were born and not made; as human beings they were only servants, trained as such by their servant mothers.

This system of education we are outgrowing more swiftly with each year. The growing humanness of women, and its recognition, is forcing an equal education for boy and girl. When this demand was first made, by women of unusual calibre, and by men sufficiently human to overlook sex-prejudice, how was it met? What was the attitude of woman's "natural protector" when she began to ask some share in human life?

Under the universal assumption that men alone were humanity, that the world was masculine and for men only, the efforts of the women were met as a deliberate attempt to "unsex" themselves and become men. To be a woman was to be ignorant, uneducated; to be wise, educated, was to be a man. Women were not men, visibly; therefore they could not be educated, and ought not to want to be.

Under this androcentric prejudice, the equal extension of education to women was opposed at every step, and is still opposed by many. Seeing in women only sex, and not humanness, they would confine her exclusively to feminine interests. This is the masculine view, _par excellence_. In spite of it, the human development of women, which so splendidly characterizes our age, has gone on; and now both woman's colleges and those for both sexes offer "the higher education" to our girls, as well as the lower grades in school and kindergarten.

In the special professional training, the same opposition was experienced, even more rancorous and cruel. One would think that on the entrance of a few straggling and necessarily inferior feminine beginners into a trade or profession, those in possession would extend to them the right hand of fellowship, as comrades, extra assistance as beginners, and special courtesy as women.

The contrary occurred. Women were barred out, discriminated against, taken advantage of, as competitors; and as women they have had to meet special danger and offence instead of special courtesy. An unforgettable instance of this lies in the attitude of the medical colleges toward women students. The men, strong enough, one would think, in numbers, in knowledge, in established precedent, to be generous, opposed the newcomers first with absolute refusal; then, when the patient, persistent applicants did get inside, both students and teachers met them not only with unkindness and unfairness, but with a weapon ingeniously well chosen, and most discreditable--namely, obscenity. Grave professors, in lecture and clinic, as well as grinning students, used offensive language, and played offensive tricks, to drive the women out--a most androcentric performance.

Remember that the essential masculine attitude is one of opposition, of combat; his desire is obtained by first overcoming a competitor; and then see how this dominant masculinity stands out where it has no possible use or benefit--in the field of education. All along the line, man, long master of a subject sex, fought every step of woman toward mental equality. Nevertheless, since modern man has become human enough to be just, he has at last let her have a share in the advantages of education; and she has proven her full power to appreciate and use these advantages.

Then to-day rises a new cry against "women in education." Here is Mr. Barrett Wendell, of Harvard, solemnly claiming that teaching women weakens the intellect of the teacher, and every now and then bursts out a frantic sputter of alarm over the "feminization" of our schools. It is true that the majority of teachers are now women. It is true that they do have an influence on growing children. It would even seem to be true that that is largely what women are for.

But the male assumes his influence to be normal, human, and the female influence as wholly a matter of sex; therefore, where women teach boys, the boys become "effeminate"--a grievous fall. When men teach girls, do the girls become -----? Here again we lack the analogue. Never has it occurred to the androcentric mind to conceive of such a thing as being too masculine. There is no such word! It is odd to notice that which ever way the woman is placed, she is supposed to exert this degrading influence; if the teacher, she effeminizes her pupils; if the pupil, she effeminizes her teachers.

Now let us shake ourselves free, if only for a moment, from the androcentric habit of mind.

As a matter of sex, the female is the more important. Her share of the processes which sex distinction serves is by far the greater. To be feminine--if one were nothing else, is a far more extensive and dignified office than to be masculine--and nothing else.

But as a matter of humanity the male of our species is at present far ahead of the female. By this superior humanness, his knowledge, his skill, his experience, his organization and specialization, he makes and manages the world. All this is human, not male. All this is as open to the woman as the man by nature, but has been denied her during our androcentric culture.

But even if, in a purely human process, such as education, she does bring her special feminine characteristics to bear, what are they, and what are the results?

We can see the masculine influence everywhere still dominant and superior. There is the first spur, Desire, the base of the reward system, the incentive of self-interest, the attitude which says, "Why should I make an effort unless it will give me pleasure?" with its concomitant laziness, unwillingness to work without payment. There is the second spur, Combat, the competitive system, which sets one against another, and finds pleasure not in learning, not exercising the mind, but in getting ahead of one's fellows. Under these two wholly masculine influences we have made the educational process a joy to the few who successfully attain, and a weary effort, with failure and contumely attached, to all the others. This may be a good method in sex-competition, but is wholly out of place and mischievous in education. Its prevalence shows the injurious masculization of this noble social process.

What might we look for in a distinctly feminine influence? What are these much-dreaded feminine characteristics?

The maternal ones, of course. The sex instincts of the male are of a preliminary nature, leading merely to the union preceding parenthood. The sex instincts of the female cover a far larger field, spending themselves most fully in the lasting love, the ceaseless service, the ingenuity and courage of efficient motherhood. To feminize education would be to make it more motherly. The mother does not rear her children by a system of prizes to be longed for and pursued; nor does she set them to compete with one another, giving to the conquering child what he needs, and to the vanquished, blame and deprivation. That would be "unfeminine."

Motherhood does all it knows to give to each child what is most needed, to teach all to their fullest capacity, to affectionately and efficiently develop the whole of them.

But this is not what is meant by those who fear so much the influence of women. Accustomed to a wholly male standard of living, to masculine ideals, virtues, methods and conditions, they say--and say with some justice--that feminine methods and ideals would be destructive to what they call "manliness." For instance, education to-day is closely interwoven with games and sports, all of an excessively masculine nature. "The education of a boy is carried on largely on the playground!" say the objectors to women teachers. Women cannot join them there; therefore, they cannot educate them.

What games are these in which women cannot join? There are forms of fighting, of course, violent and fierce, modern modifications of the instinct of sex-combat. It is quite true that women are not adapted, or inclined, to baseball or football or any violent game. They are perfectly competent to take part in all normal athletic development, the human range of agility and skill is open to them, as everyone knows who has been to the circus; but they are not built for physical combat; nor do they find ceaseless pleasure in throwing, hitting or kicking things.

But is it true that these strenuous games have the educational value attributed to them? It seems like blasphemy to question it. The whole range of male teachers, male pupils, male critics and spectators, are loud in their admiration for the "manliness" developed by the craft, courage, co-ordinative power and general "sportsmanship" developed by the game of football, for instance; that a few young men are killed and many maimed, is nothing in comparison to these advantages.

Let us review the threefold distinction on which this whole study rests, between masculine, feminine and human. Grant that woman, being feminine, cannot emulate man in being masculine--and does not want to. Grant that the masculine qualities have their use and value, as well as feminine ones. There still remain the human qualities shared by both, owned by neither, most important of all. Education is a human process, and should develop human qualities--not sex qualities. Surely our boys are sufficiently masculine, without needing a special education to make them more so.

The error lies here. A strictly masculine world, proud of its own sex and despising the other, seeing nothing in the world but sex, either male or female, has "viewed with alarm" the steady and rapid growth of humanness. Here, for instance, is a boy visibly tending to be an artist, a musician, a scientific discoverer. Here is another boy not particularly clever in any line, nor ambitious for any special work, though he means in a general way to "succeed"; he is, however, a big, husky fellow, a good fighter, mischievous as a monkey, and strong in the virtues covered by the word "sportsmanship." This boy we call "a fine manly fellow."

We are quite right. He is. He is distinctly and excessively male, at the expense of his humanness. He may make a more prepotent sire than the other, though even that is not certain; he may, and probably will, appeal more strongly to the excessively feminine girl, who has even less humanness than he; but he is not therefore a better citizen.

The advance of civilization calls for human qualities, in both men and women. Our educational system is thwarted and hindered, not as Prof. Wendell and his life would have us believe, by "feminization," but by an overweening masculization.

Their position is a simple one. "We are men. Men are human beings. Women are only women. This is a man's world. To get on in it you must do it man-fashion--i.e., fight, and overcome the others. Being civilized, in part, we must arrange a sort of "civilized warfare," and learn to play the game, the old crude, fierce male game of combat, and we must educate our boys thereto." No wonder education was denied to women. No wonder their influence is dreaded by an ultra-masculine culture.

It will change the system in time. It will gradually establish an equal place in life for the feminine characteristics, so long belittled and derided, and give pre-eminent dignity to the human power.

Physical culture, for both boys and girls, will be part of such a modified system. All things that both can do together will be accepted as human; but what either boys or girls have to retire apart to practice will be frankly called masculine and feminine, and not encouraged in children.

The most important qualities are the human ones, and will be so named and honored. Courage is a human quality, not a sex-quality. What is commonly called courage in male animals is mere belligerence, the fighting instinct. To meet an adversary of his own sort is a universal masculine trait; two father cats may fight fiercely each other, but both will run from a dog as quickly as a mother cat. She has courage enough, however, in defence of her kittens.

What this world most needs to-day in both men and women, is the power to recognize our public conditions; to see the relative importance of measures; to learn the processes of constructive citizenship. We need an education which shall give its facts in the order of their importance; morals and manners based on these facts; and train our personal powers with careful selection, so that each may best serve the community.

At present, in the larger processes of extra-scholastic education, the advantage is still with the boy. From infancy we make the gross mistake of accentuating sex in our children, by dress and all its limitations, by special teaching of what is "ladylike" and "manly." The boy is allowed a freedom of experience far beyond the girl. He learns more of his town and city, more of machinery, more of life, passing on from father to son the truths as well as traditions of sex superiority.

All this is changing before our eyes, with the advancing humanness of women. Not yet, however, has their advance affected, to any large extent, the base of all education; the experience of a child's first years. Here is where the limitations of women have checked race progress most thoroughly. Here hereditary influence was constantly offset by the advance of the male. Social selection did develop higher types of men, though sex-selection reversed still insisted on primitive types of women. But the educative influence of these primitive women, acting most exclusively on the most susceptible years of life, has been a serious deterrent to race progress.

Here is the dominant male, largely humanized, yet still measuring life from male standards. He sees women only as a sex. (Note here the criticism of Europeans on American women. "Your women are so sexless!" they say, meaning merely that our women have human qualities as well as feminine.) And children he considers as part and parcel of the same domain, both inferior classes, "women and children."

I recall in Rimmer's beautiful red chalk studies, certain profiles of man, woman and child, and careful explanation that the proportion of the woman's face and head were far more akin to the child than to the man. What Mr. Rimmer should have shown, and could have, by profuse illustration, was that the faces of boy and girl differ but slightly, and the faces of old men and women differ as little, sometimes not at all; while the face of the woman approximates the human more closely than that of the man; while the child, representing race more than sex, is naturally more akin to her than to him. The male reserves more primitive qualities, the hairiness, the more pugnacious jaw; the female is nearer to the higher human types.

An ultra-male selection has chosen women for their femininity first, and next for qualities of submissiveness and patient service bred by long ages of servility.

This servile womanhood, or the idler and more excessively feminine type, has never appreciated the real power and place of the mother, and has never been able to grasp or to carry out any worthy system of education for little children. Any experienced teacher, man or woman, will own how rare it is to find a mother capable of a dispassionate appreciation of educative values. Books in infant education and child culture generally are read by teachers more than mothers, so our public libraries prove. The mother-instinct, quite suitable and sufficient in animals, is by no means equal to the requirements of civilized life. Animal motherhood furnishes a fresh wave of devotion for each new birth; primitive human motherhood extends that passionate tenderness over the growing family for a longer period; but neither can carry education beyond its rudiments.

So accustomed are we to our world-old method of entrusting the first years of the child to the action of untaught, unbridled mother-instinct, that suggestions as to a better education for babies are received with the frank derision of massed ignorance.

That powerful and brilliant writer, Mrs. Josephine Daskam Bacon, among others has lent her able pen to ridicule and obstruct the gradual awakening of human intelligence in mothers, the recognition that babies are no exception to the rest of us in being better off for competent care and service. It seems delightfully absurd to these reactionaries that ages of human progress should be of any benefit to babies, save, indeed, as their more human fathers, specialized and organized, are able to provide them with better homes and a better world to grow up in. The idea that mothers, more human, should specialize and organize as well, and extend to their babies these supreme advantages, is made a laughing stock.

It is easy and profitable to laugh with the majority; but in the judgment of history, those who do so, hold unenviable positions. The time is coming when the human mother will recognize the educative possibilities of early childhood, learn that the ability to rightly teach little children is rare and precious, and be proud and glad to avail themselves of it.

We shall then see a development of the most valuable human qualities in our children's minds such as would now seem wildly Utopian. We shall learn from wide and long experience to anticipate and provide for the steps of the unfolding mind, and train it, through carefully prearranged experiences, to a power of judgment, of self-control, of social perception, now utterly unthought of.

Such an education would begin at birth; yes, far before it, in the standards of a conscious human motherhood. It would require a quite different status of wifehood, womanhood, girlhood. It would be wholly impossible if we were never to outgrow our androcentric culture.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman