THE PARENT AS SCHOOLMASTER
‘The Schoolmaster will make him sit up!’—‘Sit up,’ that is, ‘come when he’s called,’ apparently, for the remark concerned a young person who went on spinning his top with nonchalance, ignoring an intermittent stream of objurgations from his mother, whose view was that bedtime had arrived. Circumstances alter cases, but is it unheard of in higher ranks of life to trust to the schoolmaster to make a child ‘sit up,’ after a good deal of mental and moral sprawling about at home?
Reasons why this Task is left to the Schoolmaster.—Oh, he’s a little fellow yet; he will know better by-and-by.’
‘My view is, let children have a delightful childhood. Time enough for restraint and contradiction when they go to school.’
‘We do not hold with punishing children; love your children, and let them alone, is our principle.’
‘They will meet with hardness enough in the world. Childhood shall have no harsh memories for them.’
‘School will break them in. Let them grow like young colts till the time comes to break them. All young things should be free to kick about.’
‘What’s bred in the bone must come out in the
flesh. I do not care much for all this clipping and shaping of children. Destroys individuality.’
‘When he’s older, he will know better. Time cures many faults.’
And so on; we might fill pages with the wise things people say, who, for one excellent reason or another, prefer to leave it to the schoolmaster to make a child ‘sit up.’ And does the schoolmaster live up to his reputation? how far does he succeed with the child who comes to him with no self-management? His real and proud successes are with the children who have been trained to ‘sit up’ at home. His pleasure in such children is unbounded; the pains he takes with them unlimited; the successful careers he is able to launch them upon exceed the ambition of those most wildly ambitions of human beings (dare we say it?)—parents, quiet, sensible, matter-of-fact parents. But the schoolmaster takes little credit to himself for happy results. Schoolmasters and schoolmistresses are modest people, though they are not always credited with their virtues.
His Successes are with Children who have been Trained at Home.—‘You can do anything with So-and-so; his parents have turned him out so well.’ Observe, the master takes little credit to himself (by no means so much as he deserves); and why? Experience makes fools wise; and what then of those who add experience to wisdom? ‘People send us their cubs to lick into shape, and what can we do?’ Now the answer to this query concerns parents rather closely: what and how much can the schoolmaster do to make the boy ‘sit up’ who has not been to the manner bred?
No suasion will make you ‘sit up’ if you are an
oyster; no, nor even if you are a cod. You must have a backbone, and your backbone must have learned its work before sitting up is possible to you. No doubt the human oyster may grow a backbone, and the human cod may get into the way of sitting up, and some day, perhaps, we shall know of the heroic endeavours made by schoolmaster and mistress to prop up, and haul up, and draw up, and anyhow keep alert and sitting up, creatures whose way it is to sprawl. Sometimes the result is surprising; they sit up in a row with the rest and look all right; even when the props are removed they keep to the trick of sitting up for a while. The schoolmaster begins to rub his hands, and the parents say, ‘I told you so. Didn’t I always say Jack would come right in the end?’ Wait a bit. The end is not yet.
The Habits of School Life are Mechanical.—The habits of school, as of military life, are more or less mechanical. The early habits are vital; reversion to these takes place, and Jack sprawls as a man just as he sprawled as a child, only more so. Various social props keep him up; he has the wit to seem to ‘sit up’; he is lovable and his life is respectable; and no one suspects that this easy-going Mr John Brown is a failure: a man who had the elements of greatness in him, and might have been of use in the world had he been put under discipline from his infancy.
Mental ‘Sprawling’ exemplified in ‘Edward Waverley.’—Sprawling is an ugly word, but the attitude we are thinking of is by no means always inelegant. Scott gives a delightful illustration of one kind of mental sprawling in Waverley:—
“Edward Waverley’s powers of apprehension were
so quick as almost to resemble intuition, and the chief care of his preceptor was to prevent him, as a sportsman would phrase it, from overrunning his game; that is, from acquiring his knowledge in a slight, flimsy, and inadequate manner. And here the instructor had to combat another propensity too often united with brilliancy of fancy and vivacity of talent—the indolence, namely, which can only be stirred by some strong motive of gratification, and which renounces study as soon as curiosity is gratified, the pleasure of conquering the first difficulties exhausted, and the novelty of pursuit at an end.” And the story goes on to show, without laborious pointing of the moral, how Waverley by name was wavering by nature, was ever the sport of circumstances because he had not learned in youth to direct his course. He blunders into many (most interesting) misadventures because he had failed to get, through his studies, the alertness of mind and the self-restraint which should make a man of him. Many pleasant things befall him, but not one of them, unless we except Rose Bradwardine’s love—and when did woman study justice in the bestowal of her favours?—not one did he earn by his own wit or prowess: each advantage and success which came to him was the earnings of another man. The elder Waverley had not only fortune but force of character to make friends, so we are not made sad for the amiable young man for whom we must needs feel affection; he does nothing to carve out a way for himself, and he does everything to his own hindrance out of pure want of the power of self-direction, but his uncle has fortune and friends, and all ends well. For the sake, no doubt, of young persons less happily situated, and of parents
who are not able to play the part of bountiful Providence to sons and daughters whom they have failed to fit for the conduct of their own lives, the great novelist takes care to point out that Edward Waverley’s personal failure in life was the fault of his education. His abilities were even brilliant, but ‘I ought’ had waited upon ‘I like’ from his earliest days, and he had never learned to make himself do the thing he would.
Parents are apt to leave training in Self-compelling Power to the Schoolmaster.—Now it is this sort of ‘bringing under’ that parents are apt to leave to the schoolmaster. They do not give their children the discipline which results in self-compelling power; and by-and-by, when they make over the task to another, the time for training in the art of self-mastery has gone by, and a fine character is spoiled through indolence and wilfulness.
‘But why will it not do to leave it to the schoolmaster to make a child “sit up”? It is natural for a child to be left free as a bird in matters of no moral significance. We would not let him tell lies, but if he hate his lessons, that may be Nature’s way of showing he had better let them alone.”
We are not meant to grow up in a state of Nature.—We must face the facts. We are not meant to grow up in a state of nature. There is something simple, conclusive, even idyllic, in the statement that So-and-so is ‘natural.’ What more would you have? Jean Jacques Rousseau preached the doctrine of natural education, and no reformer has had a greater following. ‘It’s human nature,’ we say, when stormy Harry snatches his drum from Jack; when baby Marjorie, who is not two, screams
for Susie’s doll. So it is, and for that very reason it must be dealt with early. Even Marjorie must be taught better. ‘I always finish teaching my children obedience before they are one year old,’ said a wise mother; and any who know the nature of children, and the possibilities open to the educator, will say, Why not? Obedience in the first year, and all the virtues of the good life as the years go on; every year with its own definite work to show in the training of character. Is Edward a selfish child when his fifth birthday comes? The fact is noted in his parents’ year-book, with the resolve that by his sixth birthday he shall, please God, be a generous child. Here, the reader who has not realised that to exercise discipline is one of the chief functions of parenthood, smiles and talks about ‘human nature’ with all the air of an unanswerable argument.
The First Function of the Parent is that of Discipline.—But we live in a redeemed world, and one of the meanings which that unfathomable phrase bears is, that it is the duty of those who have the care of childhood to eradicate each vulgar and hateful trait, to plant and foster the fruits of that kingdom in the children who have been delivered from the kingdom of nature into the kingdom of grace; that is to say, all children born into this redeemed world. The parent who believes that the possibilities of virtuous training are unlimited will set to work with cheerful confidence, will forego the twaddle about ‘Nature,’ whether as lovely in itself or as an irresistible force, and will perceive that the first function of the parent is that function of discipline which is so cheerfully made over to the schoolmaster.
Education is a Discipline.—Discipline does
not mean a birch-rod, not a corner, nor a slipper, nor a bed, nor any such last resort of the feeble. The sooner we cease to believe in merely penal suffering as part of the divine plan, the sooner will a spasmodic resort to the birch-rod die out in families. We do not say the rod is never useful; we do say it should never be necessary. The fact is, many of us do not believe in education, except as it means the acquirement of a certain amount of knowledge; but education which shall deal curatively and methodically with every flaw in character does not enter into our scheme of things possible. No less than this is what we mean when we say, Education is a Discipline. Where his parents fail, the poor soul has one further chance in the discipline of life; but we must remember that, while it is the nature of the child to submit to discipline, it is the nature of the undisciplined man to run his head in passionate willfulness against the circumstances that are for his training; so that the parent who willfully chooses to leave his child to be ‘broken in’ by the schoolmaster or by life leaves him to a fight in which all the odds are against him. The physique, the temper, the disposition, the career, the affections, the aspirations of a man are all, more or less, the outcome of the discipline his parents have brought him under, or of the lawlessness they have allowed.
Discipline is not Punishment.—What is discipline? Look at the word; there is no hint of punishment in it. A disciple is a follower, and discipline is the state of the follower, the learner, imitator. Mothers and father do not well to forget that their children are, but the very order of Nature,
their disciples. Now no man acts himself up for a following of disciples who does not wish to indoctrinate these with certain principles, or at the least, maxims, rules of life. So should the parent have at heart notions of life and duty which he labours without pause to instill into his children.
How Disciples are Lured.—He who would draw disciples does not trust to force; but to these three things—to the attraction of his doctrine, to the persuasion of his presentation, to the enthusiasm of his disciples; so the parent has teachings of the perfect life which he knows how to present continually with winning force until the children are quickened with such zeal for virtue and holiness as carries them forward with leaps and bounds.
Steady Progress on a Careful Plan.—Again, the teacher does not indoctrinate his pupils all at once, but here a little and there a little, steady progress on a careful plan; so the parent who would have his child a partaker of the Divine nature has a scheme, an ascending scale of virtues, in which he is diligent to practice his young disciple. He adds to the faith with which the child is so richly dowered, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control. Having practiced his child in self-control, he trains him in patience; and to patience he adds godliness; and to godliness, kindness; and to kindness, love. These, and such as these, wise parents cultivate as systematically and with as definite results as if they were teaching the ‘three R’s.’
But how? The answer covers so wide a field that we must leave it for another chapter. Only this here—every quality has its defect, every defect has its quality. Examine your child; he has qualities, he is generous;
see to it that the lovable little fellow, who would give away his soul, is not also rash, impetuous, self-willed, passionate, ‘nobody’s enemy but his own.’ It rests with parents to make low the high places and exalt the valleys, to make straight paths for the feet of their little son.