Parents as Teachers of Morals

          The Moral Instruction of Children.—Mr Felix Adler, in The Moral Instruction of Children, undertakes a by no means easy talk in setting himself to solve the problem of unsectarian moral instruction. He brings unusual qualifications to the work—a wide outlook, philosophic training, and that catholic love of literature and knowledge of books which is essential to the teacher of morals. The work before us is one which should find a place on the educated parent’s book-shelves, not perhaps to the swallowed whole as a ‘complete guide,’ but to be studied with careful attention and some freedom of choice as to which counsel of perfection is worthy to be acted upon, and which other counsel may be rejected as not fitting in with that scheme of educational thought which the parent has already made for himself. Mr Adler is most seriously handicapped at the outset. He writes for American schools, in which first condition of moral instruction is that it must be unsectarian. This he, rightly or wrongly, interprets to exclude all theistic teaching whatever: that is to say, the child he writes for has no sanctions beyond those he finds in his own breast. For example: ‘It is the business of the moral instructor in the school to
deliver to his pupils the subject-matter of morality, but not to deal with the sanctions of it. He says to the pupil, “Thou shalt not lie.” He takes it for granted that the pupil feels the force of this commandment, and acknowledges that he ought to yield obedience to it. For my part, I should suspect of quibbling and dishonest intention any boy or girl who would ask me, Why ought I not to lie? I should hold up before such a child the ought in all its awful majesty. The right to reason about these matters cannot be conceded until after the mind has attained a certain maturity.’

          No Infallible Sense of ‘Ought.’—Where does the ought get its awful majesty? That there is in the human breast an infallible sense of ‘ought’ is an error prolific of much evil. It is a common idea to-day that it is right to do that which the doer holds to be right; or, as it is popularly expressed, a man does all that can be expected of him when he acts according to his ‘lights.’ Now, a very slight acquaintance with history demonstrates that every persecution and most outrages, from the Inquisition to Thuggee, are the outcome of that same majesty of ‘ought,’ as it makes its voice heard in the breast of an individual or of a community. To attempt to treat of morals without dealing with the sanctions of morality is to work from the circumference instead of from the centre.
         Moses, Moses, and inner Moses!  says a German pedagogue of the modern school, who writes in hot disdain of the old-school system, in which ten or twelve, and, in some of the German States, fifteen or sixteen hours a week were devoted to Bible-teaching. We in England, and they in America, also rebel against the Bible as a class-book. Educationalists say there is so much else to be learned, that
this prolonged study of sacred literature is a grievous waste of time; and many religious persons, on the other hand, object on the ground that it is not good to make the Bible common as a class-book.

          The Bible a Classic Literature.—But it is singular that so few educationalists recognise that the Bible is not a single book, but a classic literature of wonderful beauty and interest; that, apart from its Divine sanctions and religious teaching, from all that we understand by ‘Revelation,’ the Bible, as a mere instrument of education, is, at the very least, as valuable as the classics of Greece or Rome. Here is poetry, the rhythm of which soothes even the jaded brain past taking pleasure in any other. Here is history, based on such broad, clear lines, such dealing of slow and sure and even-handed justice to the nations, such stories of national sins and national repentances,  that the student realises, as from no other history, the solidarity of the race, the brotherhood, and, if we may call it so, the individuality of the nations. Here is philosophy which, of all the philosophies which have been propounded, is alone adequate to the interpretation of human life. We say not a word here of that which is the raison d’ être of the Bible, its teaching of religion, its revelation of God to man; but, to urge only one point more, all the literatures of the world put together utterly fail to give us a system of ethics, in precept and example, motive and sanction, complete as that to which we have been born as our common inheritance in the Bible.

          The Bible tabooed in Education.—For 1700 years, roughly speaking, the Bible has been the school-book of modern Europe; its teaching, conveyed
directly or indirectly, more or less pure, has been the basis upon which the whole superstructure of not only religious but ethical and, to some extent, literary training rested. Now, the Bible as a lesson-book is tabooed; and educationalists are called upon to produce what shall take its place in the origination of ideas and the formation of character. This is the task to which Mr Adler sets himself; and that he is at all successful is obviously due to the fact  his own mind is impregnated with the Bible lore and the sacred law which he does not feel himself at liberty to propound to his students. But this prepossession of the author’s makes his work very helpful and suggestive to parents who desire to take the Bible as the groundwork and the sanction of that moral teaching which they are glad to supplement from other sources.
         May we recommend the following suggestion to parents?—

          A Mother’s Diary.—“Parents and teachers should endeavour to answer such questions as these: When do the first stirrings of the moral sense appear in the child? How do they manifest themselves? What are the emotional and the intellectual equipments of the child at different periods, and how do these correspond with its moral outfit? At what time does conscience enter on the scene? To what acts or omissions does the child apply the terms right or wrong? If observations of this kind were made with care and duly recorded, the science of education would have at its disposal a considerable quantity of material from which, no doubt, valuable generaslisations might be deduced. Every mother, especially, should keep a diary in which to note the successive
phases of her child’s physical, mental, and moral growth, with particular attention to the moral; so that parents may be enabled to make a timely forecast of their children’s character, to foster in them every germ of good, and by prompt precautions to suppress, or at least restrain, what is bad.”

          Fairy Tales and how to Use them.—We are glad to find that Mr Adler reinstates fairy tales. He says, justly, that much of the selfishness of the world is due, not to actual hard-heartedness, but to a lack of imaginative power; and adds: ‘I hold that something, nay, much, has been gained if a child has learned to take the wishes out of its heart, as it were, and to project them on the screen of fancy.’ The German Märchen hold the first place in his regard. He says they represent the childhood of mankind, and it is for this reason that they never cease to appeal to children.
         But how shall we handle these Märchen? and what method shall we employ in putting them to account for our special purpose? My first counsel is, Tell the story. Do not give it to the child to read. The child, as it listens to the Märchen, looks up with wide-opened eyes to the face of the person who tells the story, and thrills responsive to the touch of the earlier life of the race, which thus falls upon its own.” That is, our author feels, and rightly so, that traditions should be orally delivered. This is well worth noting. His second counsel is equally important. ‘Do not,’ he says, ‘take the moral plum out of the fairy-tale pudding, but let the child enjoy it as a whole. . . . Treat the moral element as an incident, emphasise it indeed, but incidentally. Pluck it as a wayside flower.’
         Mr Felix Adler’s third counsel is, to eliminate from the stories whatever is merely superstitious, merely a relic of ancient animism, and, again, whatever is objectionable on moral grounds. In this connection he discusses the vexed question of how far we should acquaint children with the existence of evil in the world.
         My own view,’ he says, ‘is that we should speak in the child’s hearing only of those lesser forms of evil, physical or moral, with which it is already acquainted.’ On this ground he would rule out all cruel stepmother stories, the unnatural father stories, and so on; though probably most of us would make an exception in favour of Cinderella, and its charming German rendering Aschenbrödel. I am inclined to think, too, that fairy tales suffer in vigour and charm when they are prepared for the children; and that Wordsworth is right in considering that the very knowledge of evil conveyed in fairy tales under a certain glamour, is of use in saving children from painful and injurious shocks in real life.

          Fables.—Fables, according to our author, should form the basis of moral instruction at the second state; probably when children emerge from the nursery. We have all grown up on ‘Æsop’s Fables’; and ‘The Dog in the Manger,’ ‘King Log,’ ‘The Frog and the Stork,’ have passed into the current coinage of our thought. But it is interesting to be reminded that the so-called Æsop’s fables are infinitely older than the famous Greek story-teller, and are, for the most part, of Asiatic origin. We are reminded that it is important to keep this origin of the fable before us, and exercise discrimination in our choice of those which we use to convey moral ideas to our children.
Such fables as ‘The Oak and the Reed,’ ‘The Brazen and the Earthen Pot,’ ‘The Kite and the Wolf,’ Mr Adler would reject, as breathing of Eastern subserviency and fear. But possibly for the very reason that the British backbone is little disposed to bow before man or circumstances, the lessons of life culled by peoples of other habits and other thoughts may be quite specially useful to the English child. Anyway, we should lose some of the most charming fables if we cut out all that savours of the wisdom of the East. The fables Mr Felix Adler specially commends are those which hold up virtue for our praise or evil for our censure; such as Cowardice, the fable of ‘the Stag and the Fawn’; Vanity, ‘The Peacock and the Crane’; Greediness, ‘The Dog and the Shadow.’
         In the third part of our primary course,” he says, “we shall use selected stories from the classical literature of the Hebrews, and later on from that of Greece, particularly the ‘Odyssey’ and the ‘Iliad.’”

          Bible Stories.—Here we begin to be at issue with our author. We should not present Bible stories as carrying only the same moral sanction as the myths of ancient Greece; neither should we defer their introduction until the child has gone through a moral course of fairy tales and a moral course of fables. He should not be able to recall a time before the sweet stories of old filled his imagination; he should have heard the voice of the Lord God in the garden in the cool of the evening; should have been an awed spectator where the angels ascended and descended upon Jacob’s stony pillow; should have followed Christ through the cornfield on the Sabbath-day, and sat in the rows of the hungry multitudes—so long ago that
such sacred scenes form the unconscious background of his thoughts. All things are possible to the little child, and the touch of the spiritual upon our material would, the difficult problems, the hard sayings, which are an offence, in the Bible sense of the word, to his elders, present no difficulties to the child’s all-embracing faith. We should not say, far otherwise, that every Bible story is fit for children because it is a Bible story; neither would we analyse too carefully, nor draw hard and fast lines to distinguish what we should call history from that of which it may be said, ‘Without a parable spake He not unto them.’
         The child is not an exegetical student. The moral teaching, the spiritual revelations, the lovely imagery of the Bible, are the things with which he is concerned, and of these he cannot have too much. As Mr Alder says: ‘The narrative of the Bible is saturated with the moral spirit, the moral issues are everywhere to the forefront. Duty, guilt and its punishment, the conflict of conscience with inclination, are the leading themes. The Hebrew people seem to have been endowed with what may be called a moral genius, and especially did they emphasise the filial and fraternal duties. Now, it is precisely these duties that must be impressed on young children.’
         Let us see how our author would use the Bible narratives. We have only space for a fragmentary sentence here and there: ‘Once upon a time there were two children, Adam and Eve. Adam was a fine and noble-looking lad.’ . . . ‘It was so warm that the children never needed to go indoors.’ . . . ‘And the snake kept on whispering, “Just take one bite of it; nobody sees you.”’. . . ‘ You, Adam, must learn
to labour, and you, Eve, to be patient and self-denying for others,’ etc.
         We leave it to our readers to decide whether ‘treatment’ improves the Bible narrative, or whether this is the sort of thing to lay hold of a child’s imagination.

          The Cadence of Biblical Phraseology Charming to a Child.—Mr Ruskin tells us that his incomparable style is due entirely to his early familiarity with the Bible classics. It is a mistake to translate Bible stories into slipshod English, even when the narrator keeps close to the facts of the narrative. The rhythm and cadence of Biblical phraseology is as charming to a child as to his elders, if not more so. Read your Bible story to the child, bit by bit; get him to tell you in his own words (keeping as close as he can to the Bible words) what you have read, and then, if you like, talk about it; but not much. Above all, do not let us attempt a ‘practical commentary on every verse in Genesis,’ to quote the title of the work lately published. Two points it seems worth while to dwell upon here.

          Shall the stories of Miracles be used in Moral Instruction?—Is it advisable to tell children the stories of the Bible miracles in an age when the possibility of miracles is so hotly discussed? In the first place, all that the most advanced scientists have to urge against ‘miracles’ is that precisely such phenomena have not come under their personal notice; but they, before all people, are open to admit that nothing is impossible and that no experience is final. In the second place, as for the moral and spiritual instruction which the story of the miracle affords, it is immaterial whether, in the particular case in question, a historical fact is recorded; or whether, in this case
also, it is true that ‘without a parable spake He not unto them.’ It is the essential, not the historical, truth of the story which matters to the child. As for the latter, he is a bold critic, and well in advance of the scientific knowledge of the day, who ventures to say, ‘This is possible; that other is impossible.’

          Should the whole Bible be put into the hands of a Child?—The second point worthy of our attention in regard to Bible-teaching is, Is the Bible to be taken whole and undivided, or to be dealt out to children as they are able to bear it? There are recitals in the Bible which we certainly should not put into the hands of children in any other book. We should do well to ask ourselves gravely, if we have any warrant for supposing that our children will be shielded from the suggestions of evil which we deliberately lay before them; or if there is any Divine law requiring that the whole Bible—which is not only the Word of God, but is also a collection of the legal, literary, historical, poetical, philosophical, ethical, and polemical writings of a nation—should be placed altogether and all at once in the hands of a curious child, as soon as he is able to read? When will our superstitious reverence for the mere letter of the Scriptures allow us to break the Bible up, to be read, as all other literature is, in separate books; and, for the children anyway, those passages ‘expunged’ which are not fit for their reading; and even those which are perfectly uninteresting, as for example, long genealogies? How delightful is would be that each birthday should bring with it a gift of a new book of the Bible, progressing in difficulty from year to year, beautifully bound and illustrated, and printed in clear, inviting type and on good paper. One can imagine the Christian child
collecting his library of sacred books with great joy and interest, and making a diligent and delighted study of the volume for the year in its appointed time. The next best thing, perhaps, is to read bit by bit (of the Old Testament anyway) to the children, as beautifully as may be, requiring them to tell the story, after listening, as nearly in the Bible words as they can.

          Moral Rules from the Pentateuch.—But to return to Mr Adler: here is a valuable suggestion: “Children should be taught to observe moral pictures before any attempt is made to deduce moral principles. But certain simple rules should be given to the very young—must, indeed, be given them—for their guidance. Now, in the legislation ascribed to Moses we find a number of rules fit for children, and a collection of these rules might be made for the use of schools, such as: Ye shall not lie; ye shall not deceive one another; ye shall take no bribe; thou shalt not go about as a tale-bearer among thy fellows;” and so on—a very useful collection of sixteen rules by way of specimen.
         Further on we read: “The story of David’s life is replete with dramatic interest. It may be arranged in a series of pictures. First picture, David and Goliath—i.e., skill pitted against brute strength, or the deserved punishment of a bully.” Conceive the barren, common, self-complete and self-complacent product of ‘moral’ teaching on this level!

          The ‘Odyssey’ and the ‘Iliad.’—In his treatment of the ‘Odyssey’ and the ‘Iliad,’ Mr Adler makes some good points: ‘My father, anxious that I should become a good man, made me learn all the poems of Homer,’ Xenophon makes one of his characters say; and here we have suggestive lines as to how the great
epics may be used for example of life and instruction in manners.
         What so inspiring as the story of Ulysses to the boy in search of adventures? And what greater stimulus to courage, prudence, presence of mind, than in the escapes of the hero? ‘Ulysses is the type of sagacity as well as of bravery; his mind teems with inventions.’ The ethical elements of the ‘Odyssey’ are said to be conjugual affection, filial conduct (Telemachus), presence of mind, and veneration shown to grandparents (Laertes). Friendly relations with dependents might have been added, as illustrated by the lovely story of the nurse Eurycleia recognising Ulysses when his wife sat by with stony face. Friendship, again, in the story of Achilles’ grief for Patroclus.

          The Initial Weakness of ‘Secular Morality.’—Mr Adler treats the Homeric stories with more grace and sympathy, and with less ruthless violation than he metes out to those of the Bible; but here again we trace the initial weakness of ‘secular’ morality. The ‘Odyssey’ and the ‘Iliad’ are religious poems or they are nothing. The whole motive is religious; every incident is supernaturally directed. The heroic inspiration is entirely wanting if we fail to bear in mind that the characters do and suffer with superlative courage and fortitude, only because they willed to do and suffer, in all things, the will of the gods. The acquiescence of the will with that which they guessed, however darkly, of the divine will, is the truly inspiring quality of the Homeric heroes; and here, as much as in the teaching of Bible morality, ‘secular’ ethics are at fault.

          Lessons on Duty.—The third section of Mr Adler’s work consists of lessons on duty. Here again
we have excellent counsels and delightful illustrations. ‘The teacher should always take the moral habit for granted. He should never give his pupils to understand that he and they are about to examine whether, for instance, it is wrong or not wrong to lie. The commandment against lying is assumed, and its obligation acknowledged at the outset.’ This we heartily agree with, and especially we like the apparently inadvertent use of the word ‘commandment,’ which concedes the whole question at issue—that is, that the idea of duty is a relative one depending on an Authority supreme and intimate, which embraces the thoughts of the heart and the issues of the life.

          A Child’s Inducements to Learn.— The story of Hillel, as illustrating the duty of acquiring knowledge, is very charming, and is deeply interesting to the psychologist, as illustrating that a naturally implanted desire for knowledge is one of the springs of action in the human breast. The motives proposed for seeking knowledge are poor and inadequate: to succeed in life, to gain esteem, to satisfy yourself, and even to be able, possibly, to benefit others, are by no means soul-compelling motives. The child, who is encouraged to learn, because to learn is his particular duty in that state of life to which it has pleased God to call him, has the strongest of conceivable motives, in the sense that he is rendering that which is required of him by the Supreme Authority.
         This one note of feebleness runs through the whole treatment of the subject. The drowning man is supposed to counsel himself to ‘be brave, because as a human being you are superior to the forces of Nature, because there is something in you—your moral self—over which the forces of Nature have no power, because
what happens to you in your private character is not important; but it is important that you assert the dignity of humanity to the last breath.’ This reads rather well; but how much finer is the attitude of the man who struggles manfully to save the life that God has given him!

          Moral Value of Manual Training.—The chapter on the influence of manual training is well worthy of consideration. The concluding sentence runs: ‘It is a cheering and encouraging thought that technical labour, which is the source of our material aggrandisement, may also become, when employed in the education of the young, the means of enlarging their manhood, quickening their intellect, and strengthening their character.’
         I have taken up Mr Adler’s work so fully because it is one of the most serious and successful attempts with which I am acquainted to present a graduated course of ethics suitable for children of all ages. Though I am at issue with the author on the all-important point of moral sanctions, I commend the work to the perusal of parents. The Christian parent will assuredly present the thought of Law in connection with a Law-giver, and will supplement the thousand valuable suggestions he will find here with his own strong conviction that ‘Ought’ is of the Lord God.

          Slipshod Moral Teaching.—But even the  Christian child suffers from what may be called slipshod moral teaching. The failings of the good are a source of sorrow and surprise to the moralist as well as to the much-endeavouring and often-failing Christian soul. That temptation and sin are inseparable from our present condition may be allowed;
but that an earnest and sincere Christian should be habitually guilty of failing in candour, frankness, justice to the characters and opinions of others, should be intemperate in censure, and—dare we say it?—spiteful in criticism, is possibly to be traced, not to fallible human nature, but to defective education.

          Importance of Ethical Instruction.—The ethical idea has never been fairly and fully presented to the mind on these vulnerable points. The man is unable to give due weight to the opinions of another, because the child has not been instructed in the duty of candour. There is little doubt that careful, methodical, ethical instruction, with abundant illustration—and, we need not add—inspired by the thought, ‘God wills it,’ should, if such instruction could be made general, have an appreciable effect in elevating the national character. Therefore we hail with gratitude such a contribution to the practical ethics of the nursery and school-room as Mr Adler’s work on the moral instruction of children.

[1] The Moral Instruction of children. 6s. By Felix Adler. Published by Edward Arnold.
Education from a National Standpoint. By Alfred Fouillée. Translated and edited by W. J. Greenstreet, M. A. Published by Edward Arnold.

Faith. Eleven Sermons, with a Preface, by Rev. H. C. Beeching. Published by Percival & Co.

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