Authority and Docility
The principles of Authority on the one hand and Docility on the other are natural, necessary and fundamental
This deputed authority appears
to be lodged in everyone, ready for occasion.
Every king and commander, every mother, elder sister, school prefect, every foreman of works and captain of games, finds that within himself which secures faithful obedience, not for the sake of his merits but because authority is proper to his office. Without this principle, society would cease to cohere.
That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal. If a man in the pride of his heart decline other authority, he will submit himself slavishly to his ‘star’ or his ‘destiny.’ It would seem that the exercise of docility is as natural and necessary as that of reason or imagination; and the two principles of authority and docility act in every life precisely as do those two elemental principles which enable the earth to maintain its orbit, the one drawing it towards the sun, the other as constantly driving it into space; between the two, the earth maintains a more or less middle course and the days go on.
The same two principles work in every child, the one producing ordered life, the other making for rebellion, and the crux in bringing up children is to find the mean which shall keep a child true to his elliptical orbit. The solution offered today is freedom in our schools; children may be governed but they must not be aware that they are governed, and, ‘Go as you please,’ must be the apparent rule of their lives, while, ‘Do as you’re bid,’ is the moving force. The result of an ordered freedom is obtained, that ordered freedom which rules the lives of 999 in 1000 of the citizens of the world; but the drawback to an indirect method of securing this result is that when, ‘Do as you please,’ is substituted for, ‘Do as you’re bid,’ there is dissimulation in the air and children fail to learn that habit of ‘proud subjection and dignified obedience’ which distinguishes great men and noble citizens. No doubt it is pleasing that children should behave naturally, should get up and wander about, should sit still or frolic as they have a mind to, but they too, must ‘learn obedience’; and it is no small element in their happiness and ours that obedience is both delightful and reposeful.
It is the part of the teacher to secure willing obedience, not so much to himself as to the laws of the school and the claims of the matter in hand. If a boy have a passage to read, he obeys the call of that immediate duty, reads the passage with attention and is happy in doing so.
The life that does not obey such conditions has got out of its orbit and is not of use to society. It is necessary that we should all follow an ordered course, and children, even infant children, must begin in the way in which they will have to go on. Happily they come to us with the two inherent forces, centripetal and centrifugal, which secure to them
freedom, i.e., self-authority, on the one hand, and ‘proud subjection’ on the other.
But parents and those who stand in loco parentis have a delicate task. There must be subjection, but it must be proud, word as a distinction, an order of merit. Probably the way to secure this is to avoid standing between children and those laws of life and conduct by which we are all ultimately ruled.
Our chief concern for the mind or for the body is to supply a well-ordered table with abundant, appetising, nourishing and very varied food, which
children deal with in their own way and for themselves. This food must be served au naturel, without the predigestion which deprives it of stimulating and nourishing properties and no sort of forcible feeding or spoon feeding may be practised. Hungry minds sit down to such a diet with the charming greediness of little children; they absorb it, assimilate it and grow thereby in a manner astonishing to those accustomed to the dull profitless ruminating so often practised in schools.
The sense of must should be present with children; our mistake is to act in such a way that they, only, seem to be law-compelled while their elders do as they please.
Two conditions are necessary to secure all proper docility and obedience and, given these two, there is seldom a conflict of wills between teacher and pupils. The conditions are,—the teacher, or other head, may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience. (I am assuming that everyone entrusted with the bringing up of children recognises the supreme Authority to Whom we are subject; without this recognition I do not see how it is possible to establish the nice relation which should exist between teacher and taught.) The other condition is that children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they
are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher. They do choose and are happy in their work, so there is little opportunity for coercion or for deadening, hortatory talk.
All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught. To this end the subject matter should not be repeated. We ourselves do not attend to the matters in our daily paper which we know we shall meet with again in a weekly review, nor to that if there is a monthly review in prospect; these repeated aids result in our being persons of wandering attention and feeble memory. To allow repetition of a lesson is to shift the responsibility for it from the shoulders of the pupil to those of the teacher who says, in effect,—“I’ll see that you know it,” so his pupils make no effort of attention. Thus the
same stale stuff is repeated again and again and the children get bored and restive, ready for pranks by way of a change.
They regard children as inferior, themselves as superior, beings;
But if they recognized that the potency of children’s minds is as great or greater than that of their own, they would not conceive that spoon-feeding was their mission,
We depreciate children in another way. We are convinced that they cannot understand a literary vocabulary so we explain and paraphrase to our own heart’s content but not to theirs. Educated mothers know that their children can read anything and do not offer explanations unless they are asked for them;
Another misapprehension which makes for disorder is our way of regarding attention.
Attention, we know, is not a ‘faculty’ nor a definable power of mind but is the ability to turn on every such power, to concentrate, as we say.
There it is in every child in full measure, a very Niagara of force, ready to be turned on in obedience to the child’s own authority and capable of infinite resistance to authority imposed from without. Our part is to regard attention, too, as an appetite and to
feed it with the best we have in books and in all knowledge.
We must put into their hands the sources which we must needs use for ourselves, the best books of the best writers.
I will mention only one more disability which hinders us in our work as teachers; I mean that depreciation of knowledge
A well-known educationalist lately nailed up the thesis that what children want in the way of knowledge is just two things,—How to do the work by which they must earn their living and how to behave as citizens. This writer does not see that work is done and duties performed in the ratio of the person who works: the more the man is as a person, the more valuable will be his work and the more dependable his conduct:
a root principle vital to education. In this way of learning the child comes to his own; he makes use of the authority which
is in him in its highest function as a self-commanding, self-compelling, power. It is delightful to use any power that is in us
But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a kingdom, all the more satisfying to children because they are so made that they revel in knowledge.
One of the main purposes of a
‘liberal education for all’ is to form links between high and low, rich and poor, the classes and the masses, in the strong sympathy of common knowledge.
Consider what this power of perfect attention and absolute recollection should be to every employer and chief, what an asset to the nation!
We are filled with compassion when we detect the lifeless hand or leg, the artificial nose or jaw, that many a man has brought home as a consequence of the War. But many of our young men and women go about more seriously maimed than these. They are devoid of intellectual interests, history and poetry are without charm for them, the scientific work of the day is only slightly interesting, their ‘job’ and the social amenities they can secure are all that their life has for them.
The maimed existence in which a man goes on from day to day without either nourishing or using his intellect, is causing anxiety to those interested in education, who know that after religion it is our chief concern, is, indeed, the necessary handmaid of religion.