"New social and individual wants demand new solutions of the problem of education."
"Social reform!" It is always rather an awe-striking phrase. It seems as if one ought to be a philosopher, even to approach so august a subject. The kindergarten--a simple unpretentious place, where a lot of tiny children work and play together; a place into which if the hard-headed man of business chanced to glance, and if he did not stay long enough, or come often enough, would conclude that the children were frittering away their time, particularly if that same good man of business had weighed and measured and calculated so long that he had lost the seeing eye and understanding heart.
Some years ago, a San Francisco kindergartner was threading her way through a dirty alley, making friendly visits to the children of her flock. As she lingered on a certain door-step, receiving the last confidences of some weary woman's heart, she heard a loud but not unfriendly voice ringing from an upper window of a tenement-house just round the corner. "Clear things from under foot!" pealed the voice, in stentorian accents. "The teacher o' the Kids' Guards is comin' down the street!"
"Eureka!" thought the teacher, with a smile. "There's a bit of sympathetic translation for you! At last, the German word has been put into the vernacular. The odd, foreign syllables have been taken to the ignorant mother by the lisping child, and the kindergartners have become the Kids' Guards! Heaven bless the rough translation, colloquial as it is! No royal accolade could be dearer to its recipients than this quaint, new christening!"
What has the kindergarten to do with social reform? What bearing have its theory and practice upon the conduct of life?
A brass-buttoned guardian of the peace remarked to a gentleman on a street-corner, "If we could open more kindergartens, sir, we could almost shut up the penitentiaries, sir!" We heard the sentiment, applauded it, and promptly printed it on the cover of three thousand reports; but on calm reflection it appears like an exaggerated statement. I am not sure that a kindergarten in every ward of every city in America "would almost shut up the penitentiaries, sir!" The most determined optimist is weighed down by the feeling that it will take more than the ardent prosecution of any one reform, however vital, to produce such a result. We appoint investigating committees, who ask more and more questions, compile more and more statistics, and get more and more confused every year. "Are our criminals native or foreign born?" that we may know whether we are worse or better than other people? "Have they ever learned a trade?" that we may prove what we already know, that idle fingers are the devil's tools; "Have they been educated?"--by any one of the sorry methods that take shelter under that much-abused word,--that we may know whether ignorance is a bliss or a blister; "Are they married or single?" that we may determine the influence of home ties; "Have they been given to the use of liquor?" that we may heap proof on proof, mountain high, against the monster evil of intemperance; "What has been their family history?" that we may know how heavily the law of heredity has laid its burdens upon them. Burning questions all, if we would find out the causes of crime.
To discover the why and wherefore of things is a law of human thought. The reform schools, penitentiaries, prisons, insane asylums, hospitals, and poorhouses are all filled to overflowing; and it is entirely sensible to inquire how the people came there, and to relieve, pardon, bless, cure, or reform them as far as we can. Meanwhile, as we are dismissing or blessing or burying the unfortunates from the imposing front gates of our institutions, new throngs are crowding in at the little back doors. Life is a bridge, full of gaping holes, over which we must all travel! A thousand evils of human misery and wickedness flow in a dark current beneath; and the blind, the weak, the stupid, and the reckless are continually falling through into the rushing flood. We must, it is true, organize our life-boats. It is our duty to pluck out the drowning wretches, receive their vows of penitence and gratitude, and pray for courage and resignation when they celebrate their rescue by falling in again. But we agree nowadays that we should do them much better service if we could contrive to mend more of the holes in the bridge.
The kindergarten is trying to mend one of these "holes." It is a tiny one, only large enough for a child's foot; but that is our bit of the world's work,--to keep it small! If we can prevent the little people from stumbling, we may hope that the grown folks will have a surer foot and a steadier gait.
A wealthy lady announced her intention of giving $25,000 to some Home for Incurables. "Why," cried a bright kindergartner, "don't you give twelve and a half thousand to some Home for Curables, and then your other twelve and a half will go so much further?"
In a word, solicitude for childhood is one of the signs of a growing civilization. "To cure, is the voice of the past; to prevent, the divine whisper of to-day."
What is the true relation of the kindergarten to social reform? Evidently, it can have no other relation than that which grows out of its existence as a plan of education. Education, we have all glibly agreed, lessens the prevalence of crime. That sounds very well; but, as a matter of fact, has our past system produced all the results in this direction that we have hoped and prayed for?
The truth is, people will not be made much better by education until the plan of educating them is made better to begin with.
Froebel's idea--the kindergarten idea--of the child and its powers, of humanity and its destiny, of the universe, of the whole problem of living, is somewhat different from that held by the vast majority of parents and teachers. It is imperfectly carried out, even in the kindergarten itself, where a conscious effort is made, and is infrequently attempted in the school or family.
His plan of education covers the entire period between the nursery and the university, and contains certain essential features which bear close relation to the gravest problems of the day. If they could be made an integral part of all our teaching in families, schools, and institutions, the burdens under which society is groaning to-day would fall more and more lightly on each succeeding generation. These essential features have often been enumerated. I am no fortunate herald of new truth. I may not even put the old wine in new bottles; but iteration is next to inspiration, and I shall give you the result of eleven years' experience among the children and homes of the poorer classes. This experience has not been confined, to teaching. One does not live among these people day after day, pleading for a welcome for unwished-for babies, standing beside tiny graves, receiving pathetic confidences from wretched fathers and helpless mothers, without facing every problem of this workaday world; they cannot all be solved, even by the wisest of us; we can only seize the end of the skein nearest to our hand, and patiently endeavor to straighten the tangled threads.
The kindergarten starts out plainly with the assumption that the moral aim in education is the absolute one, and that all others are purely relative. It endeavors to be a life-school, where all the practices of complete living are made a matter of daily habit. It asserts boldly that doing right would not be such an enormously difficult matter if we practiced it a little,--say a tenth as much as we practice the piano,--and it intends to give children plenty of opportunity for practice in this direction. It says insistently and eternally, "Do noble things, not dream them all day long." For development, action is the indispensable requisite. To develop moral feeling and the power and habit of moral doing we must exercise them, excite, encourage, and guide their action. To check, reprove, and punish wrong feeling and doing, however necessary it be for the safety and harmony, nay, for the very existence of any social state, does not develop right feeling and good doing. It does not develop anything, for it stops action, and without action there is no development. At best it stops wrong development, that is all.
In the kindergarten, the physical, mental, and spiritual being is consciously addressed at one and the same time. There is no "piece-work" tolerated. The child is viewed in his threefold relations, as the child of Nature, the child of Man, and the child of God; there is to be no disregarding any one of these divinely appointed relations. It endeavors with equal solicitude to instill correct and logical habits of thought, true and generous habits of feeling, and pure and lofty habits of action; and it asserts serenely that, if information cannot be gained in the right way, it would better not be gained at all. It has no special hobby, unless you would call its eternal plea for the all-sided development of the child a hobby.
Somebody said lately that the kindergarten people had a certain stock of metaphysical statements to be aired on every occasion, and that they were over-fond of prating about the "being" of the child. It would hardly seem as if too much could be said in favor of the symmetrical growth of the child's nature. These are not mere "silken phrases;" but, if any one dislikes them, let him take the good, honest, ringing charge of Colonel Parker, "Remember that the whole boy goes to school!"
Yes, the whole boy does go to school; but the whole boy is seldom educated after he gets there. A fraction of him is attended to in the evening, however, and a fraction on Sunday. He takes himself in hand on Saturdays and in vacation time, and accomplishes a good deal, notwithstanding the fact that his sight is a trifle impaired already, and his hearing grown a little dull, so that Dame Nature works at a disadvantage, and begins, doubtless, to dread boys who have enjoyed too much "schooling," since it seems to leave them in a state of coma.
Our general scheme of education furthers mental development with considerable success. The training of the hand is now being laboriously woven into it; but, even when that is accomplished, we shall still be working with imperfect aims, for the stress laid upon heart-culture is as yet in no way commensurate with its gravity. We know, with that indolent, fruitless half-knowledge that passes for knowing, that "out of the heart are the issues of life." We feel, not with the white heat of absolute conviction, but placidly and indifferently, as becomes the dwellers in a world of change, that "conduct is three fourths of life;" but we do not crystallize this belief into action. We "dream," not "do" the "noble things." The kindergarten does not fence off a half hour each day for moral culture, but keeps it in view every moment of every day. Yet it is never obtrusive; for the mental faculties are being addressed at the same time, and the body strengthened for its special work.
With the methods generally practiced in the family and school, I fail to see how we can expect any more delicate sense of right and wrong, any clearer realization of duty, any greater enlightenment of conscience, any higher conception of truth, than we now find in the world. I care not what view you take of humanity, whether you have Calvinistic tendencies and believe in the total depravity of infants, or whether you are a disciple of Wordsworth and apostrophize the child as a
"Mighty prophet! Seer blest, On whom those truths do rest Which we are toiling all our lives to find;"
if you are a fair-minded man or woman, and have had much experience with young children, you will be compelled to confess that they generally have a tolerably clear sense of right and wrong, needing only gentle guidance to choose the right when it is put before them. I say most, not all, children; for some are poor, blurred human scrawls, blotted all over with the mistakes of other people. And how do we treat this natural sense of what is true and good, this willingness to choose good rather than evil, if it is made even the least bit comprehensible and attractive? In various ways, all equally dull, blind, and vicious. If we look at the downright ethical significance of the methods of training and discipline in many families and schools, we see that they are positively degrading. We appoint more and more "monitors" instead of training the "inward monitor" in each child, make truth-telling difficult instead of easy, punish trivial and grave offenses about in the same way, practice open bribery by promising children a few cents a day to behave themselves, and weaken their sense of right by giving them picture cards for telling the truth and credits for doing the most obvious duty. This has been carried on until we are on the point of needing another Deluge and a new start.
Is it strange that we find the moral sense blunted, the conscience unenlightened? The moral climate with which we surround the child is so hazy that the spiritual vision grows dimmer and dimmer,--and small wonder! Upon this solid mass of ignorance and stupidity it is difficult to make any impression; yet I suppose there is greater joy in heaven over a cordial "thwack" at it than over most blows at existing evils.
The kindergarten attempts a rational, respectful treatment of children, leading them to do right as much as possible for right's sake, abjuring all rewards save the pleasure of working for others and the delight that follows a good action, and all punishments save those that follow as natural penalties of broken laws,--the obvious consequences of the special bit of wrong-doing, whatever it may be. The child's will is addressed in such a way as to draw it on, if right; to turn it willingly, if wrong. Coercion in the sense of fear, personal magnetism, nay, even the child's love for the teacher, may be used in such a way as to weaken his moral force. With every free, conscious choice of right, a human being's moral power and strength of character increase; and the converse of this is equally true.
If the child is unruly in play, he leaves the circle and sits or stands by himself, a miserable, lonely unit until he feels again in sympathy with the community. If he destroys his work, he unites the tattered fragments as best he may, and takes the moral object lesson home with him. If he has neglected his own work, he is not given the joy of working for others. If he does not work in harmony with his companions, a time is chosen when he will feel the sense of isolation that comes from not living in unity with the prevailing spirit of good will. He can have as much liberty as is consistent with the liberty of other people, but no more. If we could infuse the spirit of this kind of discipline into family and school life, making it systematic and continuous from the earliest years, there would be fewer morally "slack-twisted" little creatures growing up into inefficient, bloodless manhood and womanhood. It would be a good deal of trouble; but then, life is a good deal of trouble anyway, if you come to that. We cannot expect to swallow the universe like a pill, and travel on through the world "like smiling images pushed from behind."
Blind obedience to authority is not in itself moral. It is necessary as a part of government. It is necessary in order that we may save children dangers of which they know nothing. It is valuable also as a habit. But I should never try to teach it by the story of that inspired idiot, the boy who "stood on the burning deck, whence all but him had fled," and from whence he would have fled if his mental endowment had been that of ordinary boys. For obedience must not be allowed to destroy common sense and the feeling of personal responsibility for one's own actions. Our task is to train responsible, self-directing agents, not to make soldiers.
Virtue thrives in a bracing moral atmosphere, where good actions are taken rather as a matter of course. The attempt to instill an idea of self-government into the tiny slips of humanity that find their way into the kindergarten is useful, and infinitely to be preferred to the most implicit obedience to arbitrary command. In the one case, we may hope to have, some time or other, an enlightened will and conscience struggling after the right, failing often, but rising superior to failure, because of an ever stronger joy in right and shame for wrong. In the other, we have a "good goose" who does the right for the picture card that is set before him,--a "trained dog" sort of child, who will not leap through the hoop unless he sees the whip or the lump of sugar. So much for the training of the sense of right and wrong! Now for the provision which the kindergarten makes for the growth of certain practical virtues, much needed in the world, but touched upon all too lightly in family and school.
The student of political economy sees clearly enough the need of greater thrift and frugality in the nation; but where and when do we propose to develop these virtues? Precious little time is given to them in most schools, for their cultivation does not yet seem to be insisted upon as an integral part of the scheme. Here and there an inspired human being seizes on the thought that the child should really be taught how to live at some time between the ages of six and sixteen, or he may not learn so easily afterward. Accordingly, the pupils under the guidance of that particular person catch a glimpse of eternal verities between the printed lines of their geographies and grammars. The kindergarten makes the growth of every-day virtues so simple, so gradual, even so easy, that you are almost beguiled into thinking them commonplace. They seem to come in, just by the way, as it were, so that at the end of the day you have seen thought and word and deed so sweetly mingled that you marvel at the "universal dovetailedness of things," as Dickens puts it. They will flourish better in the school, too, when the cheerful hum of labor is heard there for a little while each day. The kindergarten child has "just enough" strips for his weaving mat,--none to lose, none to destroy; just enough blocks in each of his boxes, and every one of them, he finds, is required to build each simple form. He cuts his square of paper into a dozen crystal-shaped bits, and behold! each one of these tiny flakes is needed to make a symmetrical figure. He has been careless in following directions, and his form of folded paper does not "come out" right. It is not even, and it is not beautiful. The false step in the beginning has perpetuated itself in each succeeding one, until at the end either partial success or complete failure meets his eye. How easy here to see the relation of cause to effect! "Courage!" says the kindergartner; "better fortune next time, for we will take greater pains." "Can you rub out the ugly, wrong creases?" "We will try. Alas, no! Wrong things are not so easily rubbed out, are they?" "Use your worsted quite to the end, dear: it costs money." "Let us save all the crumbs from our lunch for the birds, children; do not drop any on the floor: it will only make work for somebody else." And so on, to the end of the busy, happy day. How easy it is in the kindergarten, how seemingly difficult later on! It seems to be only books afterward; and "books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life."
The most superficial observer values the industrial side of the kindergarten, because it falls directly in line with the present effort to make some manual training a part of school work; but twenty or twenty-five years ago, when the subject was not so popular, kindergarten children were working away at their pretty, useful tasks,--tiny missionaries helping to show the way to a truth now fully recognized. As to the value of leading children to habits of industry as early in life as may be, that they may see the dignity and nobleness of labor, and conceive of their individual responsibilities in this world of action, that is too obvious to dwell upon at this time.
To Froebel, life, action, and knowledge were the three notes of one harmonious chord; but he did not advocate manual training merely that children might be kept busy, nor even that technical skill might be acquired. The piece of finished kindergarten work is only a symbol of something more valuable which the child has acquired in doing it.
The first steps in all the kindergarten occupations are directed or suggested by the teacher; but these dictations or suggestions are merely intended to serve as a sort of staff, by which the child can steady himself until he can walk alone. It is always the creative instinct that is to be reached and vivified: everything else is secondary. By reproduction from memory of a dictated form, by taking from or adding to it, by changing its centre, corners, or sides,--by a dozen ingenious preliminary steps,--the child's inventive faculty is developed; and he soon reaches a point in drawing, building, modeling, or what not, where his greatest delight is to put his individual ideas into visible shape. The simple request, "Make something pretty of your own," brings a score of original combinations and designs,--either the old thoughts in different shape or something fresh and audacious which hints of genius. Instead of twenty hackneyed and slavish copies of one pattern, we have twenty free, individual productions, each the expression of the child's inmost personal thought. This invests labor with a beauty and power, and confers upon it a dignity, to be gained in no other way. It makes every task, however lowly, a joy, because all the higher faculties are brought into action. Much so-called "busy work," where pupils of the "A class" are allowed to stick a thousand pegs in a thousand holes while the "B class" is reciting arithmetic, is quite fruitless, because it has so little thought behind it.
Unless we have a care, manual training, when we have succeeded in getting it into the school, may become as mechanical and unprofitable as much of our mind training has been, and its moral value thus largely missed. The only way to prevent it is to borrow a suggestion from Froebel. Then, and only then, shall we have insight with power of action, knowledge with practice, practice with the stamp of individuality. Then doing will blossom into being, and "Being is the mother of all the little doings as well as of the grown-up deeds and heroic sacrifices."
The kindergarten succeeds in getting these interesting and valuable free productions from children of four or five years only by developing, in every possible way, the sense of beauty and harmony and order. We know that people assume, somewhat at least, the color of their surroundings; and, if the sense of beauty is to grow, we must give it something to feed upon.
The kindergarten tries to provide a room, more or less attractive, quantities of pictures and objects of interest, growing plants and vines, vases of flowers, and plenty of light, air, and sunshine. A canary chirps in one corner, perhaps; and very likely there will be a cat curled up somewhere, or a forlorn dog which has followed the children into this safe shelter. It is a pretty, pleasant, domestic interior, charming and grateful to the senses. The kindergartner looks as if she were glad to be there, and the children are generally smiling. Everybody seems alive. The work, lying cosily about, is neat, artistic, and suggestive. The children pass out of their seats to the cheerful sound of music, and are presently joining in an ideal sort of game, where, in place of the mawkish sentimentality of "Sally Walker," of obnoxious memory, we see all sorts of healthful, poetic, childlike fancies woven into song. Rudeness is, for the most part, banished. The little human butterflies and bees and birds flit hither and thither in the circle; the make-believe trees hold up their branches, and the flowers their cups; and everybody seems merry and content. As they pass out the door, good-bys and bows and kisses are wafted backward into the room; for the manners of polite society are observed in everything.
You draw a deep breath. This is a real kindergarten, and it is like a little piece of the millennium. "Everything is so very pretty and charming," says the visitor. Yes, so it is. But all this color, beauty, grace, symmetry, daintiness, delicacy, and refinement, though it seems to address and develop the aesthetic side of the child's nature, has in reality a very profound ethical significance. We have all seen the preternatural virtue of the child who wears her best dress, hat, and shoes on the same august occasion. Children are tidier and more careful in a dainty, well-kept room. They treat pretty materials more respectfully than ugly ones. They are inclined to be ashamed, at least in a slight degree, of uncleanliness, vulgarity, and brutality, when they see them in broad contrast with beauty and harmony and order. For the most part, they try "to live up to" the place in which they find themselves. There is some connection between manners and morals. It is very elusive and, perhaps, not very deep; but it exists. Vice does not flourish alike in all conditions and localities, by any means. An ignorant negro was overheard praying, "Let me so lib dat when I die I may hab manners, dat I may know what to say when I see my heabenly Lord!" Well, I dare say we shall need good manners as well as good morals in heaven; and the constant cultivation of the one from right motives might give us an unexpected impetus toward the other. If the systematic development of the sense of beauty and order has an ethical significance, so has the happy atmosphere of the kindergarten an influence in the same direction.
I have known one or two "solid men" and one or two predestinate spinsters who said that they didn't believe children could accomplish anything in the kindergarten, because they had too good a time. There is something uniquely vicious about people who care nothing for children's happiness. That sense of the solemnity of mortal conditions which has been indelibly impressed upon us by our Puritan ancestors comes soon enough, Heaven knows! Meanwhile, a happy childhood is an unspeakably precious memory. We look back upon it and refresh our tired hearts with the vision when experience has cast a shadow over the full joy of living.
The sunshiny atmosphere of a good kindergarten gives the young human plants an impulse toward eager, vigorous growth. Love's warmth surrounds them on every side, wooing their sweetest possibilities into life. Roots take a firmer grasp, buds form, and flowers bloom where, under more unfriendly conditions, bare stalks or pale leaves would greet the eye,--pathetic, unfulfilled promises,--souls no happier for having lived in the world, the world no happier because of their living. "Virtue kindles at the touch of joy." The kindergarten takes this for one of its texts, and does not breed that dismal fungus of the mind "which disposes one to believe that the pursuit of knowledge must necessarily be disagreeable."
The social phase of the kindergarten is most interesting to the student of social economics. Coöperative work is strongly emphasized; and the child is inspired both to live his own full life, and yet to feel that his life touches other lives at every point,--"for we are members one of another." It is not the unity of the "little birds," in the couplet, who "agree" in their "little nests," because "they'd fall out if they didn't," but a realization, in embryo, of the divine principle that no man liveth to himself.
As to specifically religious culture, everything fosters the spirit out of which true religion grows.
In the morning talks, when the children are most susceptible and ready to "be good," as they say, their thoughts are led to the beauty of the world about them, the pleasure of right doing, the sweetness of kind thoughts and actions, the loveliness of truth, patience, and helpfulness, and the goodness of the Creator to all created things. No parent, of whatever creed or lack of creed, whether a bigot or unbeliever, could object to the kind of religious instruction given in the kindergarten; and yet in every possible way the child-soul and the child-heart are directed towards everything that is pure and holy, true and steadfast.
If the child love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." There is a vast deal of practical religion to be breathed into these little children of the street before the abstractions of beliefs can be comprehended. They cannot live on words and prayers and texts, the thought and feeling must come before the expression. As Mrs. Whitney says, "The world is determined to vaccinate children with religion for fear they should take it in the natural way."
Some wise sayings of the good Dr. Holland, in "Nicholas Minturn," come to me as I write. Nicholas says, in discussing this matter of charities, and the various means of effecting a radical cure of pauperism, rather than its continual alleviation: "If you read the parable of the Sower, I think that you will find that soil is quite as necessary as seed--indeed, that the seed is thrown away unless a soil is prepared in advance.... I believe in religion, but before I undertake to plant it, I would like something to plant it in. The sowers are too few, and the seed is too precious to be thrown away and lost among the thorns and stones."
Last, but by no means least, the admirable physical culture that goes on in the kindergarten is all in the right direction. Physiologists know as much about morality as ministers of the gospel. The vices which drag men and women into crime spring as often from unhealthy bodies as from weak wills and callous consciences. Vile fancies and sensual appetites grow stronger and more terrible when a feeble physique and low vitality offer no opposing force. Deadly vices are nourished in the weak, diseased bodies that are penned, day after day, in filthy, crowded tenements of great cities. If we could withdraw every three-year-old child from these physically enfeebling and morally brutalizing influences, and give them three or four hours a day of sunshine, fresh air, and healthy physical exercise, we should be doing humanity an inestimable service, even if we attempted nothing more.
I have tried, as briefly as I might in justice to the subject, to emphasize the following points:--
I. That we must act up to our convictions with regard to the value of preventive work. If we are ever obliged to choose, let us save the children.
II. That the relation of the kindergarten to social reform is simply that, as a plan of education, it offers us valuable suggestions in regard to the mental, moral, and physical culture of children, which, in view of certain crying evils of the day, we should do well to follow.
The essential features of the kindergarten which bear a special relation to the subject are as follows:--
1. The symmetrical development of the child's powers, considering him neither as all mind, all soul, nor all body; but as a creature capable of devout feeling, clear thinking, noble doing.
2. The attempt to make so-called "moral culture" a little less immoral; the rational method of discipline, looking to the growth of moral, self-directing power in the child,--the only proper discipline for future citizens of a free republic.
3. The development of certain practical virtues, the lack of which is endangering the prosperity of the nation; namely, economy thrift, temperance, self-reliance, frugality industry, courtesy, and all the sober host,--none of them drawing-room accomplishments and consequently in small demand.
4. The emphasis placed upon manual training, especially in its development of the child's creative activity.
5. The training of the sense of beauty, harmony, and order; its ethical as well as aesthetical significance.
6. The insistence upon the moral effect of happiness; joy the favorable climate of childhood.
7. The training of the child's social nature; an attempt to teach the brotherhood of man as well as the Fatherhood of God.
8. The realization that a healthy body has almost as great an influence on morals as a pure mind.
I do not say that the consistent practice of these principles will bring the millennium in the twinkling of an eye, but I do affirm that they are the thought-germs of that better education which shall prepare humanity for the new earth over which shall arch the new heaven.
Ruskin says, "Crime can only be truly hindered by letting no man grow up a criminal, by taking away the will to commit sin!" But, you object, that is sheer impossibility. It does seem so, I confess, and yet, unless you are willing to think that the whole plan of an Omnipotent Being is to be utterly overthrown, set aside, thwarted, then you must believe this ideal possible, somehow, sometime.
I know of no better way to grow towards it than by living up to the kindergarten idea, that just as we gain intellectual power by doing intellectual work, and the finest aesthetic feeling by creating beauty, so shall we win for ourselves the power of feeling nobly and willing nobly by doing "noble things."
HOW SHALL WE GOVERN OUR CHILDREN?
"Not the cry," says a Chinese author, "but the rising of a wild duck, impels the flock to follow him in upward flight."
Long ago, in a far-off country, a child was born; and when his parents looked on him they loved him, and they resolved in their simple hearts to make of him a strong, brave, warlike man. But the God of that country was a hungry and an insatiable God, and he cried out for human sacrifice; so, when his arms had been thrice heated till they glowed red with the flame of the fire, the mother cradled her child in them, and his life exhaled as a vapor.
A child was born in another country, and the tender eyes of his mother saw that his limbs were misshapen and his life-blood a sickly current. Yet her heart yearned over him, and she would have tended and trained him and loved him better than all the rest of her strong, well-favored brood; but when the elders of her people knew that the child was a weakling, they decreed that he should die, and she bent her head to the law, which was stronger than her love.
In a third land a child was to be born, and the proud father made ready gifts, and purchased silken robes, and prepared a feast for his friends; but, alas! when the longed-for soul entered the world it was housed in a woman-child's body, and straightway the joy was changed into mourning. Bitter reproaches were heaped upon the mother, for were there not enough women already on the earth? and the fiat went forth that the babe should straightway be delivered from the trials of existence. So, while its hold on life was yet uncertain, the husband's mother placed wet cloths upon its lips, and soon the faint breath stopped, and the white soul went fluttering heavenward again.
In still another of God's fair lands a child entered the world, and he grew toward manhood vigorous and lusty; but he heeded not his parents' commands, and when his disobedience had been long continued, the fathers of the tribe decreed that he should be stoned to death, for so it was written in the sacred books. And as the youth was the absolute property of his parents, and as by common consent they had full liberty to deal with him as seemed good to them, they consented unto his death, that his soul might be saved alive, and the evening sun shone crimson on his dead body as it lay upon the sands of the desert.
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At a later day and in a Christian country two children were born, one hundred years apart, and the world had now so far progressed that absolute power over the life of the offspring was denied the parents. The one was ruled with iron rods; he was made to obey with a rigidity of compliance and a severity of treatment in case of failure which made obedience a slavish duty, and he was taught besides that he was a child of Satan and an heir of hell. He found no joy in his youth, and his miserable soul groveled in fear of the despot who dominated him, and of the blazing eternity which he was told would be the punishment for his sins. His will was broken; he was made weak where he might have been strong; and he did evil because he had learned no power of self-restraint: yet his people loved him, and they had done all these things because they wished to purge him wholly from all uncleanness.
The parents of the other child were warned of the lamentable results of this gloomy training, and they said one to another: "Our darling shall be free as air; his duties shall be made to seem like pleasures, or, better still, he shall have no duty but his pleasure. He shall do only what he wills, that his will may grow strong, and he can but choose the right, for he knows no evil. We will hold up before him no bugbear of future punishment, for doubtless there is no such thing; and if there be, it will not be meted out to such a child. He will love and obey his parents because they have devoted themselves to his happiness, and because they have never imposed distasteful obligations upon him, and when he grows to manhood he will be a model of wisdom and of goodness."
But, lo! the child of this training was as great a failure as the child of austerity and gloom. He was capricious, lawless, willful, disobedient, passionate; he thought of no one's pleasure save his own; he cared for his parents only in so far as they could be of use to him; and like a wild beast of the jungle he preyed upon the life around him, and cared not whom he destroyed if his appetites were satisfied.
"In every field of opinion and action, men are found swinging from one extreme to the other of life's manifold arcs of vibration." This perpetual movement may be the essential condition of existence, for death is cessation of motion; or it may be a never-ending effort of the mind to reach an ideal which discloses itself so seldom as to make its permanent abiding-place a matter of uncertainty. Doubtless there is somewhere a middle to the arc, and in the lapse of ages the needle may at last find the "pole-point of central truth" and be at rest; but as yet, in every department of labor and thought, it is vibrating, and after tarrying a while at one extreme it swings unsatisfied back to the other.
Nowhere are these extremes more noticeable than in the government of children. Centuries ago, in the patriarchal period, the father of the family seems also to have exercised the functions of a criminal judge; but the uniting of the two sets of duties in one person does not appear to have inspired the children with insurmountable awe, for laws are found both in Numbers and Deuteronomy fixing the penalty of disobedience, and of the striking of a parent by a child.
Still later, the Roman father possessed arbitrary powers of life and death over his children; but it is probable that natural affection and a more advanced civilization commonly made the law a dead letter.
Though the world in time grew to feel that life belonged to the being who held it, not to those who gave it birth, still discipline has for ages been directed more to the body than to the mind, with an idea apparently that the pains of the flesh will save the soul. Pious parents until within recent dates have regarded the flogging of children as absolutely a religious obligation, and many a tender mother has steeled her heart and strengthened her arm to give the blows which she regarded as essential to the spiritual well-being of her child.
The birch rod and the Bible were the Parents' Complete Guide to domestic management in Puritan days, and no one can deny that this treatment, though rather a heroic one, seems to have produced fine, strong, self-denying men and women.
Governor Bradford, in 1648, speaks feelingly of the godliness of a Puritan woman whose office it was to "sit in a convenient place in the congregation, with a little birchen rod in her hand, and keep the children in great awe;" and, from the frequency with which chastisement is mentioned in early Puritan records, it seems pretty clear that the sober little lads and lasses of the day did not suffer from over-indulgence.
When this wholesale whipping began to fall into disuse, many philosophers prophesied the ruin of the race, but these gloomy predictions have scarcely found their fulfillment as yet.
There has been, however, a colossal change in discipline, from the days when disobedience was punishable with death to the agreeable moral suasion of the nineteenth century, as exemplified in the "fin de siècle" nonsense rhyme:--
"There once was a hopeful young horse Who was brought up on love, without force: He had his own way, and they sugared his hay; So he never was naughty, of course."
The results of this delightful method of treatment seem rather problematic, and the modern child is universally acknowledged to be no improvement upon his predecessors in point of respect and filial piety at least.
A superintendent's report, written thirty years ago for one of the New England States, regrets that, even then, home government had grown lax. He wittily says that Young America is rampant, parental influence couchant; and no reversal of these positions is as yet visible in 1892.
To those who note the methods by which many children are managed, it is a matter of wonderment that the results in character and conduct are not very much worse than they are. Dr. Channing wisely says, "The hope of the world lies in the fact that parents cannot make of their children what they will." Happy accidents of association and circumstance sometimes nullify the harm the parent has done, and the tremendous momentum of the race-tendency carries the child over many an obstacle which his training has set in his path.
It seems crystal-clear at the outset that you cannot govern a child if you have never learned to govern yourself. Plato said, many centuries ago: "The best way of training the young is to train yourself at the same time; not to admonish them, but to be always carrying out your own principles in practice," and all the wisdom of the ancients is in the thought. If, then, you are a fit person to be trusted with the government of a child, what goal do you propose to reach in your discipline; what is your aim, your ideal?
1. The discipline should be thoroughly in harmony with child-nature in general, and suited to the age and development of the particular child in question.
2. It should appeal to the higher motives, and to the higher motives alone.
3. It should develop kindness, helpfulness, and sympathy.
4. It should never use weapons which would tend to lower the child's self-respect.
5. It should be thoroughly just, and the punishment, or rather the retribution, should be commensurate with the offense.
6. It should teach respect for law, and for the rights of others.
Finally, it should teach "voluntary obedience, the last lesson in life, the choral song which rises from all elements and all angels," and, as the object of true discipline is the formation of character, it should produce a human being master of his impulses, his passions, and his will.
The journey's end being fixed, one must next decide what route will reach it, and will be short, safe, economical, and desirable; and the roads to the presumably ideal discipline are many and well-traveled. Some of them, it is true, lead you into a swamp, some to the edge of a precipice; some will hurl you down a mountain-side with terrific rapidity; others stop half-way, bringing you face to face with a blank wall; and others again will lose you entirely on a bleak and trackless plain. But no matter which route you select, you will have the wise company of a great many teachers, parents, and guardians, and an innumerable throng of fair and lovely children will journey by your side.
The road of threat and fear, of arbitrary and over-severe punishment, has been much traveled in all times, though perhaps it is a little grass-grown now.
The child who obeys you merely because he fears punishment is a slave who cowers under the lash of the despot. Undue severity makes him a liar and a coward. He hates his master, he hates the thing he is made to do; there is a bitter sense of injustice, a seething passion of revenge, forever within him; and were he strong enough he would rise and destroy the power that has crushed him. He has done right because he was forced to do so, not because he desired it; and since the right-doing, the obedience, was neither the fruit of his reason nor his love, it cannot be permanent.
The feeling of justice is strong in the child's mind, and you have constantly wounded that feeling. You have destroyed the sense of cause and effect by your arbitrary punishments. You have corrected him for disobedience, for carelessness, for unkindness, for untruthfulness, for noisiness, and for slowness in learning his lessons.
How is he to know which of these offenses is the greatest, if all have received the same punishment? Why should giving him a good thrashing teach him to be kind to his little sister? Why should he learn the multiplication table with greater rapidity because you ferule him soundly? Have you ever found pain an assistance to the memory?
If he has little intellectual perception of the difference between truth and falsehood, why should you suppose that smart strokes on any portion of the body would quicken that perception?
Is it not clear as the sun at noonday that, since he observes the punishment to have no necessary relation to the offense, and since he observes it to be light or severe according to your pleasure,--is it not clear that he will suppose you to be using your superior strength in order to treat him unfairly, and will not the supposition sow seeds of hatred and rebellion in his heart?
Another road to discipline is that of bribery.
To endeavor to secure goodness in a child by means of bribery, to promise him a reward in case he obeys you, is manifestly an absurdity. You are destroying the very traits in his character you are presumably endeavoring to build up. You are educating a human being who knows good from evil, and who should be taught deliberately to choose the right for the right's sake, who should do his duty because he knows it to be his duty, not for any extraneous reward connected with it. A spiritual reward will follow, nevertheless, in the feeling of happiness engendered, and the child may early be led to find his satisfaction in this, and in the approval of those he loves.
There are, of course, certain simple rewards which can be used with safety, and which the child easily sees to be the natural results of good conduct. If his treatment of the household pussy has been kind and gentle, he may well be trusted with a pet of his own; if he puts his toys away carefully when asked to do so, father will notice the neat room when he comes home; if he learns his lessons well and quickly, he will have the more time to work in the garden; and the suggestion of these natural consequences is legitimate and of good effect.
It is always safer, no doubt, to appeal to a love of pleasure in children than to a fear of pain, yet bribes and extraneous rewards inevitably breed selfishness and corruption, and lead the child to expect conditions in life which will never be realized. Though retribution of one kind or another follows quickly on the heels of wrong-doing, yet virtue is commonly its own reward, and it is as well that the child should learn this at the beginning of life. Froebel says: "Does a simple, natural child, when acting rightly, think of any other reward which he might receive for his action than this consciousness, though that reward be only praise?...
"How we degrade and lower the human nature which we should raise, how we weaken those whom we should strengthen, when we hold up to them an inducement to act virtuously!"
Emulation is often harnessed into service to further intellectual progress and the formation of right habits of conduct, and this inevitably breeds serious evils.
It is well to set before the child an ideal on which he may form himself as far as possible; but when this ideal sits across the aisle, plays in a neighboring back yard, or, worse still, is another child in the same family, he is hated and despised. His virtues become obnoxious, and the unfortunate evildoer prefers to be vicious, that he may not resemble a creature whose praises have so continually been sung that his very name is odious.
If the child grows accustomed to the comparison of himself with others and the endeavor to excel them, he becomes selfish, envious, and either vain of his virtue and attainments, or else thoroughly disheartened at his small success, while he grudges that of his neighbor. George Macdonald says: "No work noble or lastingly good can come of emulation, any more than of greed. I think the motives are spiritually the same."
To what can we appeal, then, in children, as motives to goodness, as aids in the formation of right habits of thought and action? Ah! the child's heart is a harp of many strings, and touched by the hand of a master a fine, clear tone will sound from every one of them, while the resultant strain will be a triumphant burst of glorious harmony.
Touch delicately the string of love of approval, and listen to the answer.
The child delights to work for you, to please you if he can, to do his tasks well enough to win your favorable notice, and the breath of praise is sweet to his nostrils. It is right and justifiable that he should have this praise, and it will be an aid to his spiritual development, if bestowed with discrimination. Only Titanic strength of character can endure constant discouragement and failure, and yet work steadily onward, and the weak, undeveloped human being needs a word of approval now and then to show him that he is on the right track, and that his efforts are appreciated. Of course the kind and the frequency of the praise bestowed depend entirely upon the nature of the child.
One timid, self-distrustful temperament needs frequently to bask in the sunshine of your approval, while another, somewhat predisposed to vanity and self-consciousness, feeds a more bracing moral climate.
There is no question that cleanliness and fresh air may be considered as minor aids to goodness, and a dangerous outbreak of insubordination may sometimes be averted by hastily suggesting to the little rebel a run in the garden, prefaced by a thorough application of cool water to the flushed face and little clenched hands; while self-respect may often be restored by the donning of a clean apron.
Beauty of surroundings is another incentive to harmony of action. It is easier for the child to be naughty in a poor, gloomy room, scanty of furniture, than in a garden gay with flowers, shaded by full-leafed trees, and made musical by the voice of running water.
Dr. William T. Harris says: "Beauty cannot create a new heart, but it can greatly change the disposition," and this seems unquestionable, especially with regard to the glory of God's handiwork, which makes goodness seem "the natural way of living." Yet we would not wish our children to be sybarites, and we must endeavor to cultivate in their breasts a hardy plant of virtue which will live, if need be, on Alpine heights and feed on scanty fare.
It is a truism that interesting occupation prevents dissension, and that idle fingers are the Devil's tools.
A child who is good and happy during school time, with its regular hours and alternated work and play, often becomes, in vacation, fretful, sulky, discontented, and in arms against the entire world.
The discipline of work, if of a proper kind, of a kind in which success is not too long delayed, is sure and efficacious. Success, if the fruit of one's own efforts, is so sweet that one longs for more of the work which produced it.
The reverse of the medal may be seen here also. The knotted thread which breaks if pulled too impatiently; the dropped stitches that make rough, uneven places in the pattern; the sail which was wrongly placed and will not propel the boat; the pile of withered leaves which was not removed, and which the wind scattered over the garden,--are not all these concrete moral lessons in patience, accuracy, and carefulness?
We may safely appeal to public opinion, sometimes, in dealing with children. The chief object in doing this "is to create a constantly advancing ideal toward which the child is attracted, and thereby to gain a constantly increasing effort on his part to realize this ideal." There comes a time in the child's development when he begins to realize his own individuality, and longs to see it recognized by others. The views of life, the sentiments of the people about him, are clearly noted, and he desires to so shape his conduct as to be in harmony with them. If he sees that tale-bearing and cowardice are looked upon with disgust by his comrades, he will be a very Spartan in his laconicism and courage; if his father and older brothers can bear pain without wincing, then he will not cry when he hurts himself.
Oftentimes he is obdurate when reproved in private for a fault, but when brought to the tribunal of the disapproval of other children, he is chagrined, repents, and makes atonement. He is uneasy under the adverse verdict of a large company, but the condemnation of one person did not weigh with him. It is usually not wise, however, to appeal to public opinion in this way, save on an abstract question, as the child loses his self-respect, and becomes degraded in his own eyes, if his fault is trumpeted abroad.
Stories of brave deeds, poems of heroism, self-sacrifice, and loyalty, have their places in creating a sentiment of ideality in the child's breast,--a sentiment which remains fixed sometimes, even though it be not in harmony with the feeling of the majority.
Now and then some noble soul is born, some hero so thrilled with the ideal that he rises far above the public sentiment of his day; but usually we count him great who overtops his fellows by an inch or two, and he who falls much below the level of ordinary feeling is esteemed as almost beyond hope.
To seek for the approval of others, even though they embody our highest ideals, is truly not the loftiest form of aspiration; but it is one round in the ladder which leads to that higher feeling, the desire for the benediction of the spirit-principle within us.
Although discipline by means of fear, as the word is commonly used, cannot be too strongly condemned, yet there is a "godly fear" of which the Bible speaks, which certainly has its place among incentives in will-training. The child has not attained as yet, and it is doubtful whether we ourselves have done so, to that supreme excellence of love which absolutely casteth out fear.
A writer of great moral insight says: "Has not the law of seed and flower, cause and effect, the law of continuity which binds the universe together, a tone of severity? It has surely, like all righteous law, and carries with it a legitimate and wholesome fear. If we are to reap what we have sown, some, perhaps most of us, may dread the harvest."
The child shrinks from the disapproval of the loved parent or teacher. By so much the more as he reverences and respects those "in authority over him" does he dread to do that which he knows they would condemn. If he has been led to expect natural retributions, he will have a wholesome fear of putting his hand in the fire, since he knows the inevitable consequences. He understands that it is folly to expect that wrong can be done with impunity, and shrinks in terror from committing a sin whose consequences it is impossible that he should escape. He knows well that there are other punishments save those of the body, and he has felt the anguish which follows self-condemnation. "There is nothing degrading in such fear, but a heart-searching reverence and awe in the sincere and humble conviction that God's law is everywhere."
Such are some of the false and some of the true motives which can be appealed to in will-training, but there are various points in their practical application which may well be considered.
May we not question whether we are not frequently too exacting with children,--too much given to fault-finding? Were it not that the business of play is so engrossing to them, and life so fascinating a matter on the whole,--were it not for these qualifying circumstances, we should harass many of them into dark cynicism and misanthropy at a very early age. I marvel at the scrupulous exactness in regard to truth, the fine sense of distinction between right and wrong, which we require of an unfledged human being who would be puzzled to explain to us the difference between a "hawk and a handsaw," who lives in the realm of the imagination, and whose view of the world is that of a great play-house furnished for his benefit. If we were one half as punctilious and as hypercritical in our judgment of ourselves, we should be found guilty in short order, and sentenced to hard labor on a vast number of counts.
There are many comparatively small faults in children which it is wise not to see at all. They are mere temporary failings, tiny drops which will evaporate if quietly left in the sunshine, but which, if opposed, will gather strength for a formidable current. If we would sometimes apply Tolstoi's doctrine of non-resistance to children, if we would overlook the small transgression and quietly supply another vent for the troublesome activity, there would be less clashing of wills, and less raising of an evil spirit, which gains wonderful strength while in action.
Do we not often use an arbitrary and a threatening manner in our commands to children, when a calm, gentle request, in a tone of expectant confidence, would gain obedience far more quickly and pleasantly?
Some natures are antagonized by the shadow of a threat, even if it accompanies a reasonable order; and if we acknowledge that the oil of courtesy is a valuable lubricator in our dealings with grown people, it seems proper to suppose that it would not be entirely useless with children. We cannot expect to get from them what we do not give ourselves, and it is idle to imagine that we can address them as we would a disobedient dog, and be answered in tones of dulcet harmony.
Again, what possible harm can there be in sometimes giving reasons for commands, when they are such as the child would appreciate? We do not desire to bring him up under martial rule; and if he feels the wisdom of the order issued, he will be much more likely to obey it pleasantly. Cases may frequently occur in which reasons either could not properly be given, or would be beyond the child's power of comprehension; but if our treatment of him has been uniformly frank and affectionate, he will cheerfully obey, believing that, as our commands have been reasonable heretofore, there is good cause to suppose they may still be so.
Educational opinion tends, more and more every day, to the absolute conviction that the natural punishment, the effect which follows the cause, is the only one which can safely be used with children.
This is the method of Nature, severe and unrelenting it may be, but calm, firm, and purely just. He who sows the wind must reap the whirlwind, and he who sows thistles may be well assured that he will never gather figs as his harvest. The feeling of continuity, of sequence, is naturally strong in the child; and if we would lead him to appreciate that the law is as absolute in the moral as in the physical world, we shall find the ground already prepared for our purpose.
Much transgression of moral law in later years is due to the fatal hope in the evil-doer's mind that he will be able to escape the consequences of his sin. Could we make it clear from the beginning of life that there is no such escape, that the mills of the gods will grind at last, though the hopper stand empty for many a year,--could we make this an absolute conviction of the mind, I am assured that it would greatly tend to lessen crime.
And this is one of the defects of arbitrary punishment, that it is sometimes withheld when the heart of the judge melts over the sinner, leading him to expect other possible exemptions in the future. Is it not sometimes given in anger, also, when the culprit clearly sees it to be disproportionate to the crime?
Here appears the advantage of the natural punishment,--it is never withheld in weak affection, it is never given in anger, it is entirely disassociated from personal feeling. No poisoned arrow of injustice remains rankling in the child's breast; no rebellious feeling that the parent has taken advantage of his superior strength to inflict the punishment: it is perceived to be absolutely fair, and, being fair, it must be, although painful, yet satisfactory to that sense of justice which is a passion of childhood.
Our American children are as precocious in will-power as they are keen-witted, and they need a special discipline. The courage, activity, and pioneer spirit of the fathers, exercised in hewing their way through virgin forests, hunting wild beasts in mountain solitudes, opening up undeveloped lands, prospecting for metals through trackless plains, choosing their own vocations, helping to govern their country,--all these things have reacted upon the children, and they are thoroughly independent, feeling the need of caring for themselves when hardly able to toddle.
Entrust this precocious bundle of nerves and individuality to a person of weak will or feeble intelligence, and the child promptly becomes his ruler. The power of strong volition becomes caprice, he does not learn the habit of obedience, and thus valuable directive power is lost to the world.
"The lowest classes of society," says Dr. Harris, "are the lowest, not because there is any organized conspiracy to keep them down, but because they are lacking in directive power." The jails, the prisons, the reformatories, are filled with men who are there because they were weak, more than because they were evil. If the right discipline in home and school had been given them, they would never have become the charge of the nation. Thus we waste force constantly, force of mind and of spirit sufficient to move mountains, because we do not insist that every child shall exercise his "inherited right," which is, "that he be taught to obey."
It is a grave subject, this of will-training, the gravest perhaps that we can consider, and its deepest waters lie far below the sounding of my plummet. Some of the principles, however, on which it rests are as firmly fixed as the bed of the ocean, which remains changeless though the waves continually shift above:--
1. If we can but cultivate the habit of doing right, we enlist in our service one of the strongest of human agencies. Its momentum is so great that it may propel the child into the course of duty before he has time to discuss the question, or to parley with his conscience concerning it.
2. We must remember that "force of character is cumulative, and all the foregone days of virtue work their health into this." The task need not be begun afresh each morning; yesterday's strokes are still there, and to-day's efforts will make the carving deeper and bolder.
3. We may compel the body to carry out an order, the fingers to perform a task; but this is mere slavish compliance. True obedience can never be enforced; it is the fruit of the reason and the will, the free, glad offering of the spirit.
4. Though many motives have their place in early will-training,--love of approval, deference to public opinion, the influence of beauty, hopeful occupation, respect and rev for those in authority,--yet these are all preparatory, the preliminary exercises, which must be well practiced before the soul can spread her wings into the blue.
5. There is but one true and final motive to good conduct, and that is a hunger in the soul of man for the blessing of the spirit, a ceaseless longing to be in perfect harmony with the principles of everlasting and eternal right.
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