THE GOOD AND EVIL NATURE OF A CHILD
Children are not born bad but with possibilities for good and for evil.
I.—WELL-BEING OF BODY
A well-known educationalist has brought heavy charges against us all on the score that we bring up children as ‘children of wrath.’ He probably exaggerates the effect of any such teaching, and the ‘little angel’ theory is fully as mischievous. The fact seems to be that children are like ourselves, not because they have become so, but because they are born so; that is, with tendencies, dispositions, towards good and towards evil, and also with a curious intuitive knowledge as to which is good and which is evil. Here we have the work of education indicated.
We find ourselves in open places breathing fresher air when we consider, not the education of an individual child or of a social class or even of a given country, but of the race, of the human nature common to every class and country, every individual child.
A child is not born with tuberculosis, for example, if with a tendency which it is our business to counteract. In the same way all possibilities for good are contained in his moral and intellectual outfit, hindered it may be by a corresponding tendency to evil for every such potentiality. We begin to see our way. It is our business to know of what parts and passions a child is made up, to discern the dangers that present themselves, and still more the possibilities of free-going in delightful paths. However disappointing, even forbidding, the failings of a child, we may be quite sure that in every case the opposite tendency is there and we must bring the wit to give it play.
in every child there are tendencies to greediness, restlessness, sloth, impurity, any one of which by allowance may ruin the child and the man that he will be.
If we make a mistake in regard to physical education it is perhaps in the matter of ordering the nerves of a child. We do not consider enough that the nourishment, rest, fresh air and natural exercise, proper for the body as a whole, meet the requirements of the nervous system and that the undue nervous tension which a small child suffers in carrying a cup of tea, an older boy or girl in cramming for an examination, may be the cause later of a distressing nervous breakdown. We are becoming a nervous, overstrained nation and though golf and cricket may do something for us, a watchful education, alert to arrest every symptom of nervous over-pressure, would do much to secure for every child a fine physique and a high degree of staying power.
A snare which attends the really brilliant teacher is the exhausting effect upon children of an overpowering personality.
2.—WELL-BEING OF MIND
There is a common notion that it is our inalienable right not only to say what we please but to think as we please, that is, we believe that while body is subject to physical laws, while the affections, love and justice, are subject to moral laws, the mind is a chartered libertine. Probably this notion has much to do with our neglect of intellect. We do not perceive that the mind, too, has its tendencies both good and evil and that every inclination towards good is hindered and may be thwartep.50
by a corresponding inclination towards evil; I am not speaking of moral evil but of those intellectual evils which we are slow to define and are careless in dealing with.
But we teach astronomy, no, we teach ‘light and heat’ by means of dessicated text-books, diagrams and experiments, which last are no more to children than the tricks of white magic.
The pageant of history with its interplay of characters is as delightful as any tale because every child uses his own film to show the scenes and exhibit the persons. We fuss a good deal about the dress, implements and other small details of each historic period but we forget that, give the child a few fit and exact words on the subject and he has the picture in his mind’s eye, nay, a series, miles long of really glorious films; for a child’s amazing, vivifying imagination is part and parcel of his intellect.
We may not point the moral; that is the work proper
for children themselves and they do it without fail. The comparative difficulty of the subject does not affect them.
I have said much of history and science, but mathematics, a mountainous land which pays the climber, makes its appeal to mind, and good teachers know that they may not drown their teaching in verbiage. As for literature—to introduce children to literature is to instal them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served. But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first. A child’s intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find.
“What has surprised us most,” said the Headmaster of A., “is the ready way in which boys absorb information and become interested in literature, literature which we have hitherto considered outside the scope of primary school teaching. A year ago I could not have believed that boys would have read Lytton’s Harold, Kingsley’s Hereward, and Scott’s Talisman with real pleasure and zest or would study with understanding and delight Shakespeare’s Macbeth, King John and Richard II; but experience has shown us we have underrated the abilities and tastes of the lads we should have known better.”
That is the capital charge against most schools. The teachers underrate the tastes and abilities of their pupils.
But what about intellectual tendencies, or ‘possibilities for evil’? One such tendency dominates many schools notwithstanding prodigious efforts on the part of the teachers to rouse slumbering minds. Indeed, the more the teacher works, the greater the incuria of the children, so the class is prodded with marks, the boys take places, the bogie of an oncoming examination is held before them. Some spasmodic effort is the result but no vital response and, though boys and girls love school, like their teachers and even their lessons, they care not at all for knowledge, for which the school should create enthusiasm. I can touch here on no more than two potent means of creating incuria in a class. One is the talky-talky of the teacher. We all know how we are bored by the person in private life who explains and expounds. What reason have we to suppose that children are not equally bored? They try to tell us that they are by wandering eyes, inanimate features, fidgetting hands and feet, by every means at their disposal ; and the kindly souls among us think that they want to play or to be out of doors. But they have no us
for play except at proper intervals. What they want is knowledge conveyed in literary form and the talk of the facile teacher leaves them cold.
Another soothing potion is little suspected of producing mental lethargy. We pride ourselves upon going over and over the same ground until the children know it’; the monotony is deadly. A child writes,—“ Before we had these (books) we had to read the same old lot again and again.” Is it not true? In the home schoolroom books used by the grandmother are fit for the grandchildren, books used in boys’ schools may be picked up at second-hand stalls with the obliterated names of half-a-dozen successive owners. And what of the compilations, neither books nor text-books, which do duty in Elementary Schools? No wonder Mr. Fisher said, in opening a public library, that he had been “surprised and pained when visiting Elementary Schools to find that there was nothing in them which could be called a book, nothing that would charm and enlighten and expand the imagination.”
In matters of the mind again Habit is a good servant but a bad master. Specialisation, the fetish of the end of the last century, is to be deprecated because it is at our peril that we remain too long in any one field of thought. We may not, for example, allow the affairs and interests of daily life to deprive the mind of its proper range of interests and occupations.
It is well we should recognise that the business of education is with us all our lives, that we must always go on increasing our knowledge.
Of the means we employ to hinder the growth of mind perhaps none is more subtle than the questionnaire. It is as though one required a child to produce for inspection
at its various stages of assimilation the food he consumed for his dinner; we see at once how the digestive processes would be hindered, how, in a word, the child would cease to be fed. But the mind also requires its food and leave to carry on those quiet processes of digestion and assimilation which it must accomplish for itself. The child with capacity, which implies depth, is stupified by a long rigmarole on the lines of,—“If John’s father is Tom’s son, what relation is Tom to John?” The shallow child guesses the riddle and scores ; and it is by the use of tests of this kind that we turn out young people sharp as needles but with no power of reflection, no intelligent interests, nothing but the aptness of the city gamin. [a neglected, homeless boy on the streets]
In these days when Reason is deified by the unlearned and plays the part of the Lord of Misrule it is necessary that every child should be trained to recognize fallacious reasoning and above all to know that a man’s reason is his servant and not his master ; that there is no notion a man chooses to receive which his reason will not justify, whether it be mistrust of his neighbour, jealousy of his wife, doubts about his religion, or contempt for his country.
Realising this, we ‘see reason’ in the fact that thousands of men go on strike because two of their body have been denied permission to attend a certain
meeting. We see reason in this but the men themselves confound reason with right and consider that such a strike is a righteous protest. The only safeguard against fallacies which undermine the strength of the nation morally and economically is a liberal education which affords a wide field for reflection and comparison and abundant data upon which to found sound judgments.
As for that æsthetic ‘appetency’ … upon which so many of the gentle pleasures of life depend, it is open to many disasters: it dies of inanition when beauty is not duly presented to it, beauty in words, in pictures and music, in tree and flower and sky. The function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us; but what if we grow up admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty? It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence.
Perhaps in no part of our educational service do we make more serious blunders than in our use of those desires which act as do the appetites for the body’s service. Every child wants to be approved, even baby in his new red shoes; to be first in what is going on; to get what is going; to be admired; to lead and manage the rest; to have the companionship of children and grown people;
and last, but not least, every child wants to know. There they are, those desires, ready to act on occasion and our business is to make due use of this natural provision for the work of education. We do make use of the desires, not wisely, but too well. We run our schools upon emulation, the desire of every child to be first; and not the ablest, but the most pushing, comes to the front. We quicken emulation by the common desire to get and to have, that is, by the impulse of avarice. So we offer prizes, exhibitions, scholarships, every incentive that can be proposed. We cause him to work for our approbation, we play upon his vanity, and the boy does more than he can. What is the harm, we say, when all those springs of action are in the child already? The athlete is beginning to discover that he suffers elsewhere from the undue development of any set of muscles; and the boy whose ambition, or emulation, has been unduly stimulated becomes a flaccid person. But there is a worse evil. We all want knowledge just as much as we want bread. We know it is possible to cure the latter appetite by giving more stimulating food; and the worst of using other spurs to learning is that a natural love of knowledge which should carry us through eager school-days, and give a spice of adventure to the duller days of mature life, is effectually choked; and boys and girls ‘Cram to pass but not to know; they do pass but they don’t know.’ The divine curiosity which should have been an equipment for life hardly survives early schooldays.
Now it has been demonstrated very fully indeed that the delightfulness of knowledge is sufficient to carry a pupil joyfully and eagerly through his school life and that prizes and places, praise, blame and punishment, are unnecessary in so far as they are used to secure ardent interest and eager work. The love of knowledge is sufficient.
We are aware of more than mind and body in our dealings with children. We appeal to their ‘feelings’; whether ‘mind’ or ‘feelings’ be more than names we choose to give to manifestations of that spiritual entity which is each one of us. Probably we have not even taken the trouble to analyse and name the feelings and to discover that they all fall under the names of love and justice, that it is the glory of the human being to be endowed with such a wealth of these two as is sufficient for every occasion of life.
praise or blame is apt to be either scrapped by children, or, taken as the sole motive for conduct, they
go forth unused to do a thing ‘for it is right’ but only because somebody’s approbation is to be won.
This education of the feelings, moral education, is too delicate and personal a matter for a teacher to undertake trusting to his own resources. Children are not to be fed morally like young pigeons with predigested food. They must pick and eat for themselves and they do so from the conduct of others which they hear of or perceive. But they want a great quantity of the sort of food whose issue is conduct, and that is why poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums must all be pressed into service. No one can tell what particular morsel a child will select for his sustenance.
But all children must read widely, and know what they have read, for the nourishment of their complex nature.
As for moral lessons, they are worse than useless; children want a great deal of fine and various moral feeding, from which they draw the ‘lessons’ they require. It is a wonderful thing that every child, even the rudest, is endowed with Love and is able for all its manifestations,—kindness, benevolence, generosity, gratitude, pity, sympathy, loyalty, humility, gladness;
we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues.
Everyone has Justice in his heart; a cry for ‘fair play’ reaches the most lawless mob, and we all know how children torment us with their ‘It’s not fair.’
This, of justice, is another spiritual provision which we fail to employ duly in our schools; and so wonderful is this principle that we cannot kill, paralyse, or even benumb it, but, choked in its natural course, it spreads havoc and devastation where it should have made the soil fertile for the fruits of good living.
Few of the offices of education are more important than that of preparing men to distinguish between their rights and their duties. We each have our rights and other persons have their duties towards us as we towards them; but it is not easy to learn that we have precisely the same rights as other people and no more; that other people owe to us just such duties as we owe to them. This fine art of self-adjustment is possible to everyone because of the ineradicable principle which abides in us. But our eyes must be taught to see, and hence the need for all the processes of education, futile in proportion as they do not serve this end. To think fairly requires, we know, knowledge as well as consideration.
Young people should leave school knowing that their thoughts are not their own; that what we think of
other people is a matter of justice or injustice; that a certain manner of words is due from them to all manner of persons with whom they have to deal; and that not to speak those words is to be unjust to their neighbours. They should know that truth, that is, justice in word, is their due and that of all other persons; there are few better equipments for a citizen than a mind capable of discerning the truth, and this just mind can be preserved only by those who take heed what they think.
If justice in word is to be duly learned by all scholars still more is integrity, justice in action; integrity in work
Therefore he may not scamp, dawdle over, postpone, crib, or otherwise shirk his work. He learns that “my duty towards my neighbour ” is “ to keep my hands from picking and stealing,” and, whether a man be a workman, a servant, or a prosperous citizen, he must know that justice requires from him the integrity in material which we call honesty;
Our opinions show our integrity of thought. Every person has many opinions whether his own honestly thought out, or notions picked up from his pet newspaper or his companions. The person who thinks out
his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he saved a life because there is no more or less about duty.
If a schoolboy is to be guided into the justice of thought from which sound opinions emanate, how much more does he need guidance in arriving at that justice in motive which we call sound principles.
We appear to pick up these in a casual way and are seldom able to render an account of them and yet our lives are ordered by our principles, good or bad. Here, again, we have a reason for wide and wisely ordered reading; for there are always catch-words floating in the air, as, —What’s the good ?’ ‘It’s all rot,’ and the like, which the vacant mind catches up for use as the basis of thought and conduct, as, in fact, paltry principles for the guidance of a life.
Here we have one more reason why there is nothing in all those spiritual stores in the world’s treasury too good for the education of all children. Every lovely tale, illuminating poem, instructive history, every unfolding of travel and revelation of science exists for children.
all children, even backward children, are aware of their needs and pathetically eager for the food they require; that no preparation whatever is necessary for this sort of diet; that a limited vocabulary, sordid surroundings, the absence of a literary background to thought are not hindrances; indeed they may turn out to be incentives to learning, just as the more hungry the child, the readier he is for his dinner. This statement is no mere pious
opinion; it has been amply proved in thousands of instances. Children of a poor school in the slums are eager to tell the whole story of Waverley, falling continually into the beautiful language and style of the author. They talk about the Rosetta Stone and about treasures in their local museum; they discuss Coriolanus and conclude that ‘his mother must have spoiled him.’ They know by heart every detail of a picture by La Hooch, Rembrandt, Botticelli, and not only is no evolution of history or drama, no subtle sweetness, no inspiration of a poet, beyond them, but they decline to know that which does not reach them in literary form.
What they receive under this condition they absorb immediately and show that they know by that test of knowledge which applies to us all, that is, they can tell it with power, clearness, vivacity and charm. These are the children to whom we have been doling out the ‘three R’s’ for generations! Small wonder that juvenile crime increases; the intellectually starved boy must needs find food for his imagination, scope for his intellectual power; and crime, like the cinema, offers it must be admitted, brave adventures.
5.—THE WELL-BEING OF THE SOUL
we may well ask with diffidence and humility what may education do for the Soul of a child? “What is there that outwits the understanding of a man or that is out of the range of his thoughts, the reach of his aspirations?
How is the soul of a man to be satisfied?
no great love can satisfy itself with loving; there is no satisfaction save one for the soul of a man, because the things about him are finite, measurable, incomplete and his reach is beyond his grasp. He has an urgent, incessant, irrepressible need of the infinite.” “I want, am made for, and must have a God; ”—not a mere serviceable religion,—because we have in us an infinite capacity for love, loyalty and service which we cannot expend upon any other.
But what sort of approaches do we prepare for children towards the God whom they need, the Saviour in Whom is all help, the King Who affords all delight, commands all adoration and loyalty? Any words or thoughts of ours are poor and insufficient, but we have a treasury of divine words which they read and know with satisfying pleasure and tell with singular beauty and fitness. “The Bible
By degrees children get that knowledge of God
“Grant us in this world knowledge of Thy truth,” and all other knowledge which they obtain gathers round and illuminates this.
Here is an example of how such knowledge grows. I heard a class of girls aged about thirteen read an essay on George Herbert. Three or four of his poems were included, and none of the girls had read either essay or poems before. They ‘narrated’ what they
had read and in the course of their narration gave a full paraphrase of The Elixir, The Pulley, and one or two other poems. No point made by the poet was omitted and his exact words were used pretty freely. The teacher made comments upon one or two unusual words and that was all; to explain or enforce (otherwise than by a reverently sympathetic manner, the glance and words that showed that she too, cared), would have been impertinent. It is an interesting thing that hundreds of children of this age in Secondary and Elementary Schools and in families scattered over the world read and narrated the same essay and no doubt paraphrased the verses with equal ease. I felt humbled before the children knowing myself incapable of such immediate and rapid apprehension of several pages of new matter including poems whose intention is by no means obvious. In such ways the great thoughts of great thinkers illuminate children and they grow in knowledge, chiefly the knowledge of God.
And yet this, the chief part of education, is drowned in torrents of talk, in tedious repetition, in objurgation and recrimination, in every sort of way in which the mind may be bored and the affections deadened.
I have endeavoured to sketch some of the possibilities for good and the corresponding possibilities for evil present in all children; they are waiting for direction and control, certainly, but still more for the formative influence of knowledge.
We must know something about the material we are to work upon if the education we offer is not to be scrappy and superficial. We must have some measure of a child’s
requirements, not based upon his uses to society, nor upon the standard of the world he lives in, but upon his own capacity and needs. We would not willingly educate him towards what is called ‘self-expression’; he has little to express except what he has received as knowledge, whether by way of record or impression; what he can do is to assimilate and give this forth in a form which is original because it is modified, recreated, by the action of his own mind; and this originality is produced by the common bread and milk which is food for everyone, acting upon the mind which is peculiar to each individual child.
Education implies a continuous going forth of the mind; but whatever induces introspection or any form of self-consciousness holds up as it were the intellectual powers and brings progress to a standstill.