The playground does invaluable work, and has much to do with the making of what is best and most characteristic in Englishmen; but, indeed, the training of the playground, as that of the schoolroom, is incomplete. The fact is, that the discipline of schoolroom and playground alike is largely carried on by stimulating and balancing, one against another, those desires which are common to us all as human beings—the desires of power, of society, of esteem, of knowledge, of mere animal activity, of excelling the rest, of work, or action, even avarice—the desire of wealth. Here is a formidable list; and it is quite possible, by playing upon and adjusting these natural desires, to govern a human being so that he may make a respectable figure in the world, while yet he has little sense of duty, feeble affections, and dispositions left to run wild, wanting the culture which should train mere
disposition into character. Now, this way of governing a person through his desires is the easiest in the world. The nurse knows it very well; his desire, of praise, or play, or lollipops, leaves something always in her hands wherewith to reward the child’s good behavior. When attempts are made to stimulate people en masse, it is through their desires. They want work or play or power, money or land, and whoever plays upon any one of these desires gets the popular ear. Because this government through the desires is the easiest kind of government it is the most common, in the school as elsewhere; prizes, praise, place, success, distinction, whether in games or examinations, these are enough to keep a school going with such vigour, such éclat, that nobody is conscious of the want of other springs of action.
All these desires are right in themselves, within certain limits, and we may believe they were implanted in us as spurs to progress; the man who has no desire of wealth, no ambition, does not help himself and the world forward as does he who has these desires. Again, in the school the desires are, on the whole, well regulated, one brought into play against another, and the result is, such sturdy qualities, sterling virtues, as “make a man” of the boy brought under school discipline. The weak place is, that boys and girls are treated too much “in the rough,” without regard to the particular tendencies in each which require repression, or direction, or encouragement. The vain girl is made vainer, the diffident is snubbed: there is no time to hand a crutch to the lame, to pick up the stumbling. All must keep the pace or drop out of the race. It is astonishing how crude may be the character, how unformed the principles, how undeveloped the
affections towards country, kindred, or kind, after a successful school career; the reason being, that the principle of government through the desires has left these things out of count. Nor is this the whole: the successful schoolboy too often develops into a person, devoid of intelligent curiosity, who hates reading, and shirks the labour of thought. I should like, here, to say a word about that most distressful evil which exceedingly depresses the thoughtful Heads of many of our great schools, and is, to parents, a terrorising, ambushed peril. As to what parents may do to prepare their boys for the risks to be encountered, I will say no word. Everyone knows what may be done, and it is possible that too much has been said already.
We are apt to forget that every manner of offence is conceived in thought before it is produced in act; that, in fact, the offence is committed potentially once it is so conceived. Therefore, there is possible danger in all teaching which tends to occupy the mind with sexual matters; we may, in our blind zeal, befoul, for the young, the beauty of flowers, besmirch the innocence of birds. If we teach with a certain object in view, we are very likely to be the unwilling suggesters of evil, because young people are always aware of the arrière pensée. The teacher who deals with scientific facts, quâ science, and caring for nothing else, does no harm; while the virtuous man, with a moral end in view, unconsciously suggests the very evil he would fight most strenuously. The boys believe that safety lies in an unsuspected quarter. The unoccupied mind offers harbourage, as we know, to the seven devils, and intellectual emptiness,
inanition, is probably the provocative cause of much that we deplore. Perhaps few schoolboys give a thought to their studies beyond the mere grind necessary to get them over; and yet boys are by nature consumed with intelligent curiosity. Give them entrancing studies which shall occupy their thoughts, and afford subjects for talk, as we all talk about the book we are reading, and there is no longer a vacuum for unclean imaginings to fill.
There are schools and schools; schools where mental discipline of the highest kind is combined with conscientious development of the character of the individual boy, and with such spiritual insight and teaching as help him into the better life; but such schools are not to be found in every street, and parents would do well not to take it for granted that it is one of these their boy attends: better, to take the school for what it is worth, thankful for the training it does afford; to look its deficiencies in the face, and take pains to supply by means of home training what the school fails to give.