THE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN
(c) MORALS AND ECONOMICS: CITIZENSHIP
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,
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.
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
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?”
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.
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 thedoctored tale as soon as it is begun to be told, but the human story with its evil and its good never flags in interest.
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
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.
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.’
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.