Concerning Youths and Maidens
CONCERNING THE SCHOOLBOY AND SCHOOL GIRL
THE RELATIONS BETWEEN SCHOOL LIFE AND HOME LIFE—SCHOOL DISCIPLINE AND HOME TRAINING
SCHOOL, A NEW EXPERIENCE
WHEN the child goes to school a new life begins for him; not only so, but no change that may come to him afterwards will be in the same sense a new life. And for this reason: socially speaking, two lives are possible to us—private and public life; we live as members of a family, and as members of a commonwealth. Hitherto, the child has lived in the family; his duties have all been pretty plain, and his affection pretty fairly bestowed. Of course he loves and obeys his parents, more or less, and is fond of his brothers and sisters—there is no choice for him; and the law of the family and the love of the family follow him when he is allowed to mix with the outside world. “Mother says” is his law, “Father told me” his supreme authority. But when he goes to school, all that is changed: though he is still loving and dutiful towards those at home, other things have come in, and the child looks upon
the world from a new standpoint. Parents may think, when they send their children to school, that the masters or mistresses and the studies are the points to be considered; that the children go to learn, i.e. to learn out of books, and that the heads of the school are, for the time being, in the place of parents to the children.
How far this may be true depends on another factor, sometimes left out of count, namely, the “All the boys” and “All the girls” of schoolboy and schoolgirl phrase. The wise parent, in selecting a school for his child, is not satisfied to examine the syllabus and to know that the masters bear a high character; he sends out feelers to test the direction of public opinion in the school: if public opinion set with a strong current towards order, effort, virtue, that is the school for him; his boy, he is assured, once entered there, will be carried along towards the right. No doubt there will be a few turbulent spirits in every considerable school, and lawlessness is contagious, but the thing to find out is, how far the lead of the scapegraces is followed by the rest.
But the direction of “public opinion,” it is said, rests with the master. Not altogether: he will do his best to get it on his side; but he may be, like Arnold and Thring, years before he succeeds, and that, though he may have everything in his own character to fit him for the office of schoolmaster. We know how little to be depended upon is public opinion in the world; far more, in the little world of school, it veers with every shifting of the wind, just because boys and girls are less reasonable, more emotional, than men and women. Yet, little as it is to be depended upon, this vox populi within the school governs
the school, and the masters are nowhere except as they get it on their side. Now, this fact shows the real constitution and government of the school: the family is limited monarchy, with sovereign parents; the school is a republic, with an elected president. Of course the master may hold his post in spite of the boys, but his authority and influence, the real matters in question, he only holds so far as they go with him; that is, so far as they elect him to administer their affairs.
Now, we see why it is that the child finds himself in a new and very stimulating element when he goes to school. For the first time, he has to find his footing amongst his equals. At home, he has seldom had more than one equal, and that his friend—the brother or sister next him in age. Here, he has a whole class of his fellows, some stronger, some weaker than himself, working with him, shoulder to shoulder, running neck and neck with him in lessons and games. It is very exciting and delightful. The new boy catches the tone of the school: if the boys work, he works; if they dawdle, he dawdles,—unless he have been exceptionally well brought up. Happily, it is not too much to say that, as a rule, schoolboys and schoolgirls do work, in these days. School opinion is on the side of order and effort; and this, for several reasons. It is not that the young people are better or more diligent than young people used to be, but more powerful incentives are put before them; in fact, the motives to work are stronger than the motives to idle.