Chapter X


Section II


 LIKE Literature this subject, too, is ancillary to History. In Form I, children begin to gather conclusions as to the general life of the community from tales, fables and the story of one or another great citizen. In Form II, Citizenship becomes a definite subject rather from the point of view of what may be called the inspiration of citizenship than from that of the knowledge proper to a citizen, though the latter is by no means neglected. We find Plutarch’s Lives exceedingly inspiring. These are read aloud by the teacher (with suitable omissions) and narrated with great spirit by the children. They learn to answer such questions as,—“In what ways did Pericles make Athens beautiful? How did he persuade the people to help him?” And we may hope that the idea is engendered of preserving and increasing the beauty
of their own neighbourhood without the staleness which comes of much exhortation. Again, they will answer,—“How did Pericles manage the people in time of war lest they should force him to act against his own judgment?” And from such knowledge as this we may suppose that the children begin to get a sympathetic view of the problems of statesmanship. Then, to come to our own time, they are enabled to answer,—“What do you know of (a) County Councils, (b) District Councils, (c) Parish Councils?”—knowledge which should make children perceive that they too are being prepared to become worthy citizens, each with his several duties. Our old friend Mrs. Beesley’s Stories from the History of Rome helps us here in Form IIB instead of Plutarch, illumined by Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome. In giving children the knowledge of men and affairs which we class under ‘Citizenship’ we have to face the problem of good and evil. Many earnest-minded teachers will sympathise with one of their number who said,—
          “Why give children the tale of Circe, in which there is such an offensive display of greediness, why not bring them up exclusively on heroic tales which offer them something to live up to? Time is short. Why not use it all in giving examples of good life and instruction in good manners?”
“Why should they read any part of Childe Harold, and so become familiar with a poet whose works do not make for edification?”

Now Plutarch is like the Bible in this, that he does not label the actions of his people as good or bad but leaves the conscience and judgment of his readers to make that classification. What to avoid and how to avoid it, is knowledge as important to the citizen whether of the City of God or of his own immediate city, as to know what is good and how to perform the same. Children recognise with incipient weariness the
doctored tale as soon as it is begun to be told, but the human story with its evil and its good never flags in interest. Jacob does not pall upon us though he was the elect of God. We recognise the justice of his own verdict on himself, “few and evil have been the days of my life.” We recognise the finer integrity of the foreign kings and rulers that he is brought in contact with, just as in the New Testament the Roman Centurion is in every case a finer person than the religious Jew. Perhaps we are so made that the heroic which is all heroic, the good which is all virtuous, palls upon us, whereas we preach little sermons to ourselves on the text of the failings and weaknesses of those great ones with whom we become acquainted in our reading. Children like ourselves must see life whole if they are to profit. At the same time they must be protected from grossness and rudeness by means of the literary medium through which they are taught. A daily newspaper is not on a level with Plutarch’s Lives, nor with Andrew Lang’s Tales of Troy and Greece, though possibly the same class of incidents may appear in both. The boy, or girl, aged from ten to twelve, who is intimate with a dozen or so of Plutarch’s Lives, so intimate that they influence his thought and conduct, has learned to put his country first and to see individuals only as they serve or disserve the State. Thus he gets his first lesson in the science of proportion. Children familiar with the great idea of a State in the sense, not of a government but of the people, learn readily enough about the laws, customs and government of their country; learn, too, with great interest something about themselves, mind and body, heart and soul, because they feel it is well to know what they have it in them to give to their country.
          We labour under a difficulty in choosing books which has exercised all great thinkers from Plato to Erasmus, from Erasmus to the anxious Heads of schools to-day,
I mean the coarseness and grossness which crop up in scores of books desirable otherwise for their sound learning and judgment. Milton assures us with strong asseveration that to the pure all things are pure; but we are uneasy. When pupils in the higher forms read the Areopagitica they are safe-guarded in some measure because they perceive that to see impurity is to be impure. The younger children are helped by the knowledge we offer them in Ourselves, and chastely taught children learn to watch over their thoughts ‘because of the angels.’ So far as we can get them we use expurgated editions; in other cases the book is read aloud by the teacher with necessary omissions. We are careful not to associate the processes of nature whether in the plant or animal world with possible thoughts of impurity in the mind of a child. One point I should like to touch upon in this connection. The excessive countenance sometimes afforded to games by the Heads of schools is not altogether for the sake of distinction in the games. “I keep under my body,” says St. Paul, and games which exhaust the physical powers have as their unspoken raison d’être the desire to keep boys and girls decent. No doubt they do so to some extent though painful occurrences come to light in even the best schools. Now a fact not generally recognised is that offences of the kind which most distress parents and teachers are bred in the mind and in an empty mind at that. That is why parents, who endeavour to save their sons from the corruption of the Public School by having them taught at home, are apt to miss their mark. The abundant leisure afforded by home teaching offers that empty chamber swept and garnished which invites sins that can be committed in thought and in solitude. Our schools err, too, in not giving anything like enough work of the kind that from its absorbing interest compels reflection and tends to secure a mind continually and wholesomely occupied. Supply a boy
with abundant mental pabulum, not in the way of desultory reading, (that is a sort of idleness which leads to mischief), but in the way of matter to be definitely known, give him much and sound food for his imagination, speculation, aspiration, and you have a wholesome- minded youth to whom work is a joy and games not a strain but a healthy relaxation and pleasure. I make no apology for what may appear like a divergence from the subject of citizenship, because all boys and girls should know that they owe a sound mind and a sound body as their personal contribution alike to their city and their State.
          Ourselves, our Souls and Bodies (by the Writer) is much used in the P.U.S., as I know of no other attempt to present such a ground plan of human nature as should enable the young student to know where he is in his efforts to ‘be good’ as the children say. The point of view taken in this volume is, that all beautiful and noble possibilities are present in every one; but that each person is subject to assaults and hindrances in various ways of which he should be aware in order that he may watch and pray. Hortatory teaching is apt to bore both young people and their elders; but an ordered presentation of the possibilities and powers that lie in human nature, and of the risks that attend these, can hardly fail to have an enlightening and stimulating effect.
          But the objects we have in view in teaching ‘Everyday Morals’ and ‘Citizenship’ cannot be better illustrated than by a few papers[1] written by children of various ages, dealing with self management, and exemplifying the virtues that help and serve city and country. “Oh dear,” said a little girl coming out of a swimming bath, “I’m just like Julius Cæsar, I don’t care to do a thing at all if I’m not best at it.” So, in unlikely ways, and from unlikely sources, do children gather that little code of principles which shall guide their lives.

[1] Examination Papers can be seen at the P.N.E.U. Office.

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