TO MY DAUGHTER, KATHARINE
WHO HAS TAUGHT ME MUCH OF WHAT IS WRITTEN HERE
I. THE PRECIOUS TEN.
According to our religious belief, the last best work of God is the human race. According to the observation of biologists, the highest product of evolution is the human race. According to our own natural inner conviction, this twofold testimony is quite acceptable: we are the first class.
Whatever our merits when compared with lower species, however, we vary conspicuously when compared with one another. Humanity is superior to equinity, felinity, caninity; but there are degrees of humanness.
Between existing nations there is marked difference in the qualities we call human; and history shows us a long line of advance in these qualities in the same nation. The human race is still in the making, is by no means done; and, however noble it is to be human, it will be nobler to be humaner. As conscious beings, able to modify our own acts, we have power to improve the species, to promote the development of the human race. This brings us to the children. Individuals may improve more or less at any time, though most largely and easily in youth; but race improvement must be made in youth, to be transmitted. The real progress of man is born in him.
If you were buying babies, investing in young human stock as you would in colts or calves, for the value of the beast, a sturdy English baby would be worth more than an equally vigorous young Fuegian. With the same training and care, you could develop higher faculties in the English specimen than in the Fuegian specimen, because it was better bred. The savage baby would excel in some points, but the qualities of the modern baby are those dominant to-day. Education can do much; but the body and brain the child is born with are all that you have to educate. The progress of humanity must be recorded in living flesh. Unless the child is a more advanced specimen than his father and mother, there is no racial improvement. Virtues we still strive for are not yet ours: it is the unconscious virtues we are born with that measure the rise of nations.
Our mechanical products in all their rich variety serve two purposes,—to show the measure of the brains that made them, and to help make better ones.
The printing-press, for instance, marked a century of ability; but its main value is to develop centuries of greater ability. Society secretes, as it were, this mass of material wherewith to nourish its countless young; and, as this material is so permanent and so mobile, it is proportionately more advantageous to our posterity than the careful preparation of some anxious insect for her swarm of progeny. Unless the creature is born better than his creators, they do not save him. He sinks back or is overcome by others, perhaps lingering decadent among the traces of lost arts, like degenerate nomad savages who wander among the ruins of ancestral temples. We see plenty of such cases, individually, showing this arrested social development,—from the eighteenth-century man, who is only a little behind his age and does not hinder us much, to the dragging masses of dull peasantry and crude savagery, which keep us back so seriously. This does not include the reversions and degenerates, the absolutely abortive members of society; but merely its raw stock, that heavy proportion of the people who are not bred up to the standard of the age. To such we may apply every advantage of education, every facile convenience of the latest day; and, though these things do help a little, we have still the slow-minded mass, whose limited range of faculties acts as a steady check on the success of our best intellects. The surest, quickest way to improve humanity is to improve the stock, the people themselves; and all experience shows that the time to improve people is while they are young. As in a growing cornstalk the height is to be measured from joint to joint, not counting the length of its long, down-flowing leaves, so in our line of ascent the height is to be measured from birth to birth, not counting the further development of the parent after the child is born.
The continued life of the parent counts in other ways, as it contributes to social service; and, in especial, as it reacts to promote the further growth of the young. But the best service to society and the child is in the progress made by the individual before parentage, for that progress is born into the race. Between birth and birth is the race bred upward. Suppose we wish to improve a race of low savages, and we carefully select the parents, subjecting them to the most elaborate educational influences, till they are all dead. Then we return, and take a fresh set of parents to place under these advantageous conditions, leaving the children always to grow up in untouched savagery. This might be done for many generations, and we should always have the same kind of savages to labour with, what improvement was made being buried with each set of parents. Now, on the other hand, let us take the children of the tribe, subject them to the most advantageous conditions, and, when they become parents, discontinue our efforts on that generation and begin on the next. What gain was made in this case would be incorporated in the stock; we should have gradually improving relays of children.
So far as environment is to really develop the race, that development must be made before the birth of the next generation.
If a young man and woman are clean, healthy, vigorous, and virtuous before parenthood, they may become dirty, sickly, weak, and wicked afterward with far less ill effect to the race than if they were sick and vicious before their children were born, and thereafter became stalwart saints. The sowing of wild oats would be far less harmful if sowed in the autumn instead of in the spring.
Human beings are said to have a longer period of immaturity than other animals; but it is not prolonged childhood which distinguishes us so much as prolonged parenthood. In early forms of life the parent promptly dies after having reproduced the species. He is of no further use to the race, and therefore his life is discontinued. In the evolution of species, as the parent becomes more and more able to benefit the young, he is retained longer in office; and in humanity, as it developes, we see an increasing prolongation of parental usefulness. The reactive value of the adult upon the young is very great, covering our whole range of conscious education; but the real worth of that education is in its effects on the young before they become parents, that the training and improvement may become ours by birth, an inbred racial progress.
It may be well here to consider the objections raised by the Weissman theory that “acquired traits are not transmissible.” To those who believe this it seems useless to try to improve a race by development of the young with a view to transmission. They hold that the child inherits a certain group of faculties, differing from the parents perhaps through the “tendency to vary,” and that, although you may improve the individual indefinitely through education, that improvement is not transmissible to his offspring. The original faculties may be transmitted, but not the individual modification. Thus they would hold that, if two brothers inherited the same kind and amount of brain power, and one brother was submitted to the finest educational environment, while the other was entirely neglected, yet the children of the two brothers would inherit the same amount of brain development: the training and exercise which so visibly improved the brain of the educated brother would be lost to his children.
Or, if two brothers inherited the same physical constitution, and one developed and improved it by judicious care and exercise, while the other wasted strength and contracted disease, the children of either would inherit the original constitutional tendencies of the parent, unaffected by that parent’s previous career.
This would mean that the whole tremendous march of race-modification has been made under no other influence than the tendency to vary, and that individual modification in no way affects the race.
Successive generations of individuals may be affected by the cumulative pressure of progress, but not the race itself. Under this view the Fuegian baby would be as valuable an investment as the English baby, unless, indeed, successive and singularly connected tendencies to vary had worked long upon the English stock and peculiarly neglected the Fuegian. In proof of this claim that “acquired traits are not transmissible,” an overwhelming series of experiments are presented, as wherein many consecutive generations of peaceful guinea pigs are mutilated in precisely the same way, and, lo! The last guinea pig is born as four-legged and symmetrically-featured as the first.
If it had been so arranged that the crippled guinea pigs obtained some advantage because of their injuries, they might have thus become “fittest”; and the “tendency to vary” would perhaps have launched out a cripple somewhere, and so evolved a triumphant line of three-legged guinea pigs.
But, as proven by these carefully conducted scientific experiments, it does not “modify the species” at all to cut off its legs,—not in a score of generations. It modifies the immediate pig, of course, and is doubtless unpleasant to him; but the effect is lost with his death.
It has always seemed to me that there was a large difference between a mutilation and an acquired trait. An acquired trait is something that one uses and developes, not something one has lost.
The children of a soldier are supposed to inherit something of his courage and his habit of obedience, not his wooden leg.
The dwindled feet of the Chinese ladies are not transmitted; but the Chinese habits are. The individual is most modified by what he does, not by what is done to him; and so is the race.
Let a new experiment be performed on the long-suffering guinea pig. Take two flourishing pair of the same family (fortunately, the tendency to vary appears to be but slight in guinea pigs, so there is not serious trouble from that source), and let one pair of guinea pigs be lodged in a small but comfortable cage, and fed and fed and fed,—not to excess, but so as to supply all guinea-piggian desires as soon as felt,—them and their descendants in their unnumbered generations. Let the other pair be started on a long, slow, cautious, delicate but inexorable system of exercise, not exercise involving any advantage, with careful mating of the most lively,—for this would be claimed as showing only the “tendency to vary” and “survival of the fittest,”—but exercise forced upon the unwilling piggies to no profit whatever.
A wheel, such as mitigates the captivity of the nimble squirrel, should be applied to these reluctant victims; a well-selected, stimulating diet given at slowly increasing intervals; and the physical inequalities of their abode become greater, so that the unhappy subjects of scientific research would find themselves skipping ever faster and farther from day to day.
If, after many generations of such training, the descendants of these cultivated guinea pigs could not outrun the descendants of the plump and puffy cage-fed pair, the Weissman theory would be more strongly re-enforced than by all the evidence of his suffering cripples. Meanwhile the parent and teacher in general is not greatly concerned about theories of pan-genesis or germ-plasm. He knows that, “as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined,” and that, if the fathers have eaten sour grapes, the children’s teeth are pretty certain to be set on edge.
Inherit we must to some degree; and whatever comes to us by that method must belong to the parent before he is a parent. Traits acquired after parentage are certainly not transmissible, whatever may be the case before. Our inherited constitution, temper, character, tendency, is like an entailed estate. It is in the family, belongs to the family in succession, not to the individual. It is “owned” by the individual in usufruct, but cannot be sold, given away, or otherwise alienated. It must be handed on to the next heir, somewhat better or worse, perhaps, for the current ownership. When the new heir takes possession of his estate, he confers with the steward, and becomes thoroughly acquainted with his holdings. Here are the assets,—this much in permanent capital, this much in income, which he may use as he will. It would be possible for him to overspend that income, to cut down the timber and sell it, to incur debts, impoverishing the next heir. Perhaps this has been done; and he finds himself with neglected lands, buildings in disrepair, restricted resources, and heavy debts. In such case the duty of the heir is to live carefully, avoiding every extravagance, and devote all he can save to clearing off the encumbrances on the estate, thus handing it on to the next heir in better shape than he received it. If this is not done, if one generation after another of inheritors draws relentlessly on the burdened estate and adds to its encumbrances, there comes a time when the heavy mortgages are foreclosed, and that estate is lost.
So with the human constitution. We inherit such and such powers and faculties; such and such weaknesses, faults, tendencies to disease. Our income is the available strength we have to spare without drawing on our capital. Perhaps our ancestors have overdrawn already, wasting their nerve force, injuring their organisms, handing down to us an impoverished physique, with scarce income enough for running expenses, yet needing a large sinking fund for repairs.
In this case it is our plain duty to live “within our means” in nerve force, however limited, and to devote all we can spare to building up the constitution, that we may transmit it in an improved condition to the next heir. If we do not do this, if successive generations overdraw their strength, neglect necessary rest and recreation, increase their weaknesses and diseases, then there comes a time when the inexorable creditor called Nature forecloses the mortgage, and that family is extinct. The heir of the entailed estate in lands and houses has an advantage over the heir of blood and brain. He does not transmit his property until he dies. He has a lifetime to make the needed improvements. But the inheritor of poor eyesight, weak lungs, and a bad temper has a shorter period for repairs. If a woman, she is likely to become a mother by the time she is twenty-five,—perhaps sooner; the man, a father by thirty.
Taking the very early marriages of the poor into consideration (and they are a heavy majority of the population), we may take twenty-five as the average beginning of parenthood. Of course there is still room for improvement before the later children appear; but the running expenses increase so heavily that there is but a small margin to be given to repairs. The amount of nerve force hitherto set aside to control the irritable temper will now be drawn upon by many new demands: the time given to special exercises for the good of the lungs will now be otherwise used. However good the intentions afterward, the best period for self-improvement is before the children come. This reduces the time in which to develop humanity’s inheritance to twenty-five years. Twenty-five years is not much at best; and that time is further limited, as far as individual responsibility goes, by subtracting the period of childhood. The first, say, fifteen years of our lives are comparatively irresponsible. We have not the judgment or the self-control to meddle with our own lives to any advantage; nor is it desirable that we should. Unconscious growth is best; and the desired improvement during this period should be made by the skilful educator without the child’s knowledge. But at about fifteen the individual comes to a keen new consciousness of personal responsibility.
That fresh, unwarped sense of human honour, the race-enthusiasm of the young; and the fund of strength they bear with them; together with the very light expenses of this period, all the heavy drains of life being met by the parent,—these conditions make that short ten years the most important decade of a lifetime.
It is no wonder that we worship youth. On it depends more than on the most care-burdened age. It is one of the many follies of our blundering progression that we have for so long supposed that the value of this period lay merely in its enjoyableness. With fresh sensations and new strength, with care, labour, and pain largely kept away, youth naturally enjoys more heartily than age, and has less to suffer; but these are only incidental conditions. Every period has its advantage and accompanying responsibilities. This blessed time of youth is not ours to riot through in cheerful disregard of human duty. The biological advantage of a longer period of immaturity is in its cumulative value to the race, the older parent having more development to transmit.
The human animal becomes adult comparatively early,—that is, becomes capable of reproducing the species; and in states of low social grade he promptly sets about it.
But the human being is not only an individual animal: he is a social constituent. He may be early ready to replace himself by another man as good, but he is not yet able to improve upon the past and give the world a man much better. He is not yet developed as a member of society,—trained in those special lines which make him not only a healthier, stronger, rounder individual, but a more highly efficient member of society. Our people to-day are not only larger and longer-lived than earlier races, but they are capable of social relations immeasurably higher than those open to a never-so-healthy savage.
The savage as an individual animal may be equal—in some ways superior—to the modern man; but, as a social constituent, he is like a grain of sand in a heap compared to some exquisitely fitted part of an intricate machine,—a living machine, an organism. In this social relation man may grow and develop all his life; and that is why civilisation, socialisation, brings us useful and honourable age, while savagery knocks its old folk on the head.
But while the social structure grows in beauty, refinement, and power, and eighty years may be spent in its glorious service, that service must be given by individuals. Unless these individuals improve from age to age, showing a finer, subtler, stronger brain and unimpaired physique, there can be no genuine or enduring social improvement. We have seen repeatedly in history a social status lodged in comparatively few individuals, a narrow fragile upper-class civilisation; and we have seen it always fall,—fall to the level of its main constituents, the mass of the people.
One per cent. Of sane men in a society of lunatics would make but a foolish state; one per cent. Of good men in a society of criminals would make a low grade of virtue; one per cent. Of rich men in a society of poor peasants does not make a rich community. A society is composed of the people who compose it, strange to say,—all of them; and, as they are, it is. The people must be steadily made better if the world is to move. The way to make people better is to have them born better. The way to have them born better is to make all possible improvement in the individual before parentage. That is why youth is holy and august: it is the fountain of human progress. Not only that “the child is father to the man,” but the child is father to the state—and mother.
The first fifteen years of a child’s life should be treated with a view to developing the power of “judgment” and “will,” that he may be able to spend his precious ten in making the best possible growth. A boy of fifteen is quite old enough to understand the main principles of right living, and to follow them. A girl of fifteen is quite old enough to see the splendid possibilities that lie before her, both in her individual service to society and the almost limitless power of motherhood. It is not youth which makes our boys and girls so foolish in their behaviour. It is the kind of training we give the little child, keeping back the most valuable faculties of the brain instead of helping them to grow. A boy cast out upon the street to work soon manifests both the abilities and vices of an older person. A girl reared in a frivolous and artificial society becomes a practising coquette while yet a child. These conditions are bad, and we do not wish to parallel them by producing a morbidly self-conscious and prematurely aged set of youngsters. But, if the child has been trained in reason and self-control,—not forced, but allowed to grow in the natural use of these qualities,—he will be used to exercising them when he reaches the freer period of youth, and not find it so difficult to be wise. It is natural for a child to reason, and the power grows with encouragement and use. It is natural for a child to delight in the exercise of his own will upon himself in learning to “do things.”
The facility and pleasure and strong self-control shown by a child in playing some arbitrary game prove that it is quite natural for him to govern his acts to a desired end, and enjoy it.
To a desired end, however. We have not yet succeeded in enlisting the child’s desires to help his efforts. We rather convince him that being good is tedious and unprofitable, often poignantly disagreeable; and, when he passes childhood, he is hampered with this unfortunate misbelief of our instilling.
But, with a healthy brain and will, a youth of fifteen, with the knowledge easily available at that age, should be not only able and willing, but gloriously eager for personal development. It is an age of soaring ambition; and that ambition, directed in lines of real improvement, is one of Nature’s loveliest and strongest forces to lift mankind.
There is a splendid wealth of aspiration in youth, a pure and haughty desire for the very highest, which ought to be playing into the current of our racial life and lifting it higher and higher with each new generation.
The love of emulation, too, so hurtful in the cheap, false forms it so often takes, is a beautiful force when turned to self-improvement. We underrate the power of good intention of our young people. We check and irritate them all through childhood, confusing and depressing the upward tendencies; and then wag our aged heads pityingly over “the follies of youth.”
There is wisdom in youth, and power, if we would but let it grow. A simple unconscious childhood, shooting upward fast and strong along lines of rational improving growth, would give to the opening consciousness of youth a healthy background of orderly achievement, and a glorious foreground,—the limitless front of human progress. Such young people, easily appreciating what could be done for themselves and the world by right living, would pour their rich enthusiasm and unstrained powers into real human growing,—the growing that can be done so well in that short, wonderful ten years,—that must be done then, if the race is to be born better. Three or four generations of such growth would do more for man’s improvement than our present methods of humaniculture accomplish in as many centuries.
II. THE EFFECT OF MINDING ON THE MIND.
Obedience, we are told, is a virtue. This seems simple and conclusive, but on examination further questions rise.
What is “a virtue”?
What is “obedience”?
And, if a virtue, is it always and equally so?
“There is a time when patience ceases to be a virtue.” Perhaps obedience has its limits, too.
A virtue is a specific quality of anything, as the virtue of mustard is in its biting quality; of glass, transparency; of a sword, its edge and temper. In moral application a virtue is a quality in mankind whereby we are most advantaged. We make a distinction in our specific qualities, claiming some to be good and some bad; and the virtues are those whereby we gain the highest good. These virtues of humanity change in relative value with time, place, and circumstance. What is considered a virtue in primitive life becomes foolishness or even vice in later civilisation; yet each age and place can show clear reason for its virtues, trace their introduction, rise into high honour, and gradual neglect.
For instance, the virtue of endurance ranks high among savages. To be able to bear hunger and heat and cold and pain and dire fatigue,—this power is supreme virtue to the savage, for the simple reason that it is supremely necessary to him. He has a large chance of meeting these afflictions all through life, and wisely prepares himself beforehand by wilfully undergoing even worse hardships.
Chastity is a comparatively modern virtue, still but partially accepted. Even as an ideal, it is not universally admired, being considered mainly as a feminine distinction. This is good proof of its gradual introduction,—first, as solely female, a demand from the man, and then proving its value as a racial virtue, and rising slowly in general esteem, until to-day there is a very marked movement toward a higher standard of masculine chastity.
Courage, on the other hand, has been held almost wholly as a masculine virtue, from the same simple causes of sociological development; to this day one hears otherwise intelligent and respectable women own themselves, without the slightest sense of shame, to be cowards.
A comparative study of the virtues would reveal a mixed and changeful throng, and always through them all the underlying force of necessity, which makes this or that quality a virtue in its time.
We speak of “making a virtue of necessity.” As a matter of fact, all virtues are made of necessity.
A virtue, then, in the human race is that quality which is held supremely beneficial, valuable, necessary, at that time. And what, in close analysis, is obedience? It is a noun made from the verb “to obey.”
What is it to obey? It is to act under the impulse of another will,—to submit one’s behaviour to outside direction.
It involves the surrender of both judgment and will. Is this capacity of submission of sufficient value to the human race to be called a virtue? Assuredly it is—sometimes. The most familiar instance of the uses of obedience is among soldiers and sailors, always promptly adduced by the stanch upholders of this quality.
They do not speak of it as particularly desirable among farmers or merchants or artists, but cling to the battlefield or the deck, as sufficient illustrations. We may note, also, that, when our elaborate efforts are made to inculcate its value to young children, we always introduce a railroad accident, runaway, fire, burglar, or other element of danger; and, equally, in the stories of young animals designed for the same purpose, the disobedient little beast is always exposed to dire peril, and the obedient saved.
All this clearly indicates the real basis of our respect for obedience.
Its first and greatest use is this: where concerted action is necessary, in such instant performance that it would be impossible to transmit the impulse through a number of varying intelligences.
That is why the soldier and sailor have to obey. Military and nautical action is essentially collective, essentially instant, and too intricate for that easy understanding which would allow of swift common action on individual initiative. Under such circumstances, obedience is, indeed, a virtue, and disobedience the unpardonable sin.
Again, with the animals, we have a case where it is essential that the young should act instantly under stimuli perceptible to the mother and not to the young. No explanation is possible. There is not speech for it, even if there were time. A sudden silent danger needs a sudden silent escape. Under this pressure of condition has been evolved a degree of obedience absolutely instinctive and automatic, as so beautifully shown in Mr. Thompson’s story of the little partridges flattening themselves into effacement on their mother’s warning signal.
With deadly peril at hand, with no brain to give or to receive explanation, with no time to do more than squeak an inarticulate command, there is indeed need for obedience; and obedience is forthcoming. But is this so essential quality in rearing young animals as essential in human education? So far in human history, our absolute desideratum in child-training is that the child shall obey. The child who “minds” promptly and unquestioningly is the ideal: the child who refuses to mind, who, perhaps, even says, “I won’t,” is the example of all evil.
Parental success is judged by ability to “make the children mind”: to be without that is failure. All this has no reference whatever to the kind of behaviour required. The virtue in the child is simply to do what it is told, in any extreme of folly or even danger. Witness the immortal fame of Casabianca. Being told to “stay,” this sublime infant stayed, though every instinct and reason was against it, and he was blown up unflinching in pursuance of duty. The effect of minding on the mind is here shown in extreme instance. Under the pressure of the imposed will and judgment of his father, the child restrained his own will and judgment, and suffered the consequences. The moral to be drawn is a very circuitous one. Although obedience was palpably injurious in this case, it is held that such perfect surrender would in most cases be highly beneficial.
That other popular instance, beginning
“Old ‘Ironsides’ at anchor lay
In the harbor of Mahon.”
is more practical. The judicious father orders the perilously poised son to
“Jump! Jump, boy, far into the deep!”
and he jumps, and is hauled out by the sailors.
As usual, we see that the reason why obedience is so necessary is because of imminent danger, which only obedience can escape. With this for a practical background, and with the added proviso that, unless obedience is demanded and secured when there is no danger, it will not be forthcoming when there is, the child is “trained to obey” from the first. No matter how capricious and unnecessary the command, he must “mind,” or be punished for not “minding.” We may fall short of success in our efforts; but this is our ideal,—that a child shall do what he is told on the instant, and thus fulfil his whole scale of virtue as well as meet all the advantages of safety.
Our intense reverence for the virtue of obedience is easily traceable. In the first place there is the deep-seated animal instinct, far outdating human history. For uncounted ages our brute mother ancestors had reared their brute young in automatic obedience,—an obedience bred in the bone by those who obeyed and lived, any deficiency in which was steadily expurgated by the cutting off of the hapless youngster who disobeyed. This had, of course, a reflex action on the mother. When one’s nerve-impulse finds expression through another body, that expression gives the same sense of relief and pleasure as a personal expression. When one wills another to do something which the other promptly does, it gives one an even larger satisfaction than doing what one wills one’s self. That is the pleasure we have in a good dog,—our will flows through his organism uninterrupted. It is a temporary extension of self in activity that does not weary.
This is one initial reason for the parental pleasure in obedience and displeasure in disobedience. When the parent emits an impulse calling for expression through the child, and the child refuses to express it, there is a distinct sense of distress in the parent, quite apart from any ulterior advantage to either party in the desired act. Almost any mother can recall this balked feeling, like the annoyance of an arrested sneeze.
To this instinct our gradually enlarging humanness has added the breadth of wider perceptions and the weight of growing ideas of authority, with the tremendous depth of tradition and habit. Early races lived in constant danger, military service was universal, despotism the common government, and slavery the general condition. The ruling despot exacted obedience from all; and it was by each grade exacted remorselessly from its inferiors. No overseer so cruel as the slave. Where men were slaves to despotic sovereigns, their women were slaves to them; and the women tyrannised in turn over their slaves, if they had any. But under every one else were always the children, defenceless absolutely, inferior physically and mentally. Naturally, they were expected to obey. As we built out of our clouded brains dim and sinister gods, we predicated of them the habits so prominent in our earthly rulers: the one thing the gods would have was obedience, which, therefore, grew to have first place in our primitive religion. The early Hebrew traditions of God, with which we are all so familiar, picture him as in a continuous state of annoyance because his “children” would not “mind.” In the centuries of dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, obedience became additionally exalted. The power and success of that magnificent organisation depended so absolutely on this characteristic that it was given high place in the vows of religious societies,—highest of all by the Jesuits, who carried it to its logical extreme, the subordinate being required to become as will-less as a corpse, actuated solely by the commands of his superior. Even militarism offers no better instance of the value and power of obedience than does “the Church.”
It now becomes clear why we so naturally venerate this quality: first, the deep brute instinct; second, the years of historic necessity and habit; third, the tremendous sanction of religion. It is only a few centuries since the Protestant Reformation broke the power of church dominance and successfully established the rebellion of free thought. It is less than that since the American Revolution and the French Revolution again triumphantly disobeyed, and established the liberty of the individual in matters temporal. Since then the delighted brain has spread and strengthened, thinking for itself and doing what it thought; and we have seen some foretaste of what a full democracy will ultimately bring to us. But this growth of individual freedom has but just begun to penetrate that stronghold of all habit and tradition, the Home. Men might be free, but women must still obey. Women are beginning to be free, but still the child remains,—the under-dog always; and he, at least, must obey. On this we are still practically at one,—Catholic and Protestant, soldier and farmer, subject and citizen.
Let us untangle the real necessity from this vast mass of hoary tradition, and see if obedience is really the best thing to teach a child,—if “by obedience” is the best way to teach a child. And let careful provision here be made for a senseless inference constantly made when this question is raised. Dare to criticise a system of training based on obedience, and you are instantly assumed to be advocating no system at all, no training, merely letting the child run wild and “have his own way.” This is a most unfair assumption. Those who know no other way of modifying a child’s behaviour than through “making him mind” suppose that, if he were not made to mind, he must be utterly neglected. Child-training to their minds is to be accomplished only through child-ordering; and many think the training quite accomplished if only the subject is a model of obedience. Others, a little more open-minded, and who have perhaps read something on the subject, assume that, if you do not demand obedience of the child, it means that you must “explain” everything to him, “reason” with him from deed to deed; and this they wearily and rightly declare to be impossible. But neither of these assumptions is correct. One may question the efficacy of the Salisbury method without being thereby pledged to vegetarianism. One may criticise our school system, yet not mean that children should have no education.
The rearing of children is the most important work, and it is here contended that, in this great educational process, obedience, as a main factor, has a bad effect on the growing mind. A child is a human creature. He should be reared with a view to his development and behaviour as an adult, not solely with a view to his behaviour as a child. He is temporarily a child, far more permanently a man; and it is the man we are training. The work of “parenthood” is not only to guard and nourish the young, but to develop the qualities needed in the mature.
Obedience is defended, first, as being necessary to the protection of the child, and, second, as developing desirable qualities in the adult. But the child can be far better protected by removing all danger, which our present civilisation is quite competent to do; and “the habit of obedience” developes very undesirable qualities. On what characteristics does our human pre-eminence rest? On our breadth and accuracy of judgment and force of will. Because we can see widely and judge wisely, because we have power to do what we see to be right, therefore we are the dominant species in the animal kingdom; therefore we are consciously the children of God.
These qualities are lodged in individuals, and must be exercised by individuals for the best human progress. If our method of advance were that one person alone should be wise and strong, and all other persons prosperous through a strict subservience to his commands, then, indeed, we could do no better for our children than to train them to obey. Judgment would be of no use to them if they had to take another’s: will-power would be valueless if they were never to exercise it.
But this is by no means the condition of human life. More and more is it being recognised that progress lies in a well-developed average intelligence rather than in a wise despot and his stupid serfs. For every individual to have a good judgment and a strong will is far better for the community than for a few to have these qualities and the rest to follow them.
The “habit of obedience,” forced in upon the impressible nature of a child, does not develop judgment and will, but does develop that fatal facility in following other people’s judgment and other people’s wills which tends to make us a helpless mob, mere sheep, instead of wise, free, strong individuals. The habit of submission to authority, the long, deeply impressed conviction that to “be good” is to “give up,” that there is virtue in the act of surrender,—this is one of the sources from which we continually replenish human weakness, and fill the world with an inert mass of mind-less, will-less folk, pushed and pulled about by those whom they obey.
Moreover, there is the opposite effect,—the injurious reaction from obedience,—almost as common and hurtful as its full achievement; namely, that fierce rebellious desire to do exactly the opposite of what one is told, which is no nearer to calm judgment than the other.
In obeying another will or in resisting another will, nothing is gained in wisdom. A human creature is a self-governing intelligence, and the rich years of childhood should be passed in the guarded and gradual exercise of those powers.
Now this will, no doubt, call up to the minds of many a picture of a selfish, domineering youngster, stormily ploughing through a number of experimental adventures, with a group of sacrificial parents and teachers prostrate before him. Again an unwarranted assumption. Consideration of others is one of the first laws of life, one of the first things a child should be taught; but consideration of others is not identical with obedience. Again, it will be imagined that the child is to be left to laboriously work out for himself the accumulated experiments of humanity, and deprived of the profits of all previous experience. By no means. On the contrary, it is the business of those who have the care of the very young to see to it that they do benefit by that previous experience far more fully than is now possible.
Our system of obedience cuts the child off from precisely this advantage, and leaves him longing to do the forbidden things, generally doing them, too, when he gets away from his tutelage. The behaviour of the released child, in its riotous reaction against authority as such, as shown glaringly in the action of the average college student, tells how much judgment and self-control have been developing behind the obedience.
The brain grows by exercise. The best time to develop it is in youth. To obey does not develop the brain, but checks its growth. It gives to the will a peculiar suicidal power of aborting its own impulse, not controlling it, but giving it up. This leaves a habit of giving up which weakens our power of continued effort.
All this is not saying that obedience is never useful in childhood. There are occasions when it is; and on such occasions, with a child otherwise intelligently trained, it will be forthcoming. We make a wide mistake in assuming that, unless a child is made to obey at every step, it will never obey. A grown person will obey under sharp instant pressure.
If there is a sudden danger, and you shriek at your friend, “Get up—quick!” or hiss a terrified, “Sh! Sh! Be still!” your friend promptly obeys. Of course, if you had been endeavouring to “boss” that friend with a thousand pointless caprices, he might distrust you in the hour of peril; but if he knew you to be a reasonable person, he would respond promptly to a sudden command.
Much more will a child so respond where he has full reason to respect the judgment of the commander. Children have the automatic habit of obedience by the same animal inheritance that gives the mother the habit of command; but we so abuse that faculty that it becomes lost in righteous rebellion or crushed submission. The animal mother never misuses her precious authority. She does not cry, “Wolf! Wolf!” We talk glibly about “the best good of the child,” but there are few children who are not clearly aware that they are “minding” for the convenience of “the grown-ups” the greater part of the time. Therefore, they suspect self-interest in even the necessary commands, and might very readily refuse to obey in the hour of danger.
It is a commonplace observation that the best children—I.e., the most submissive and obedient—do not make the best men. If they are utterly subdued, “too good to live,” they swell the Sunday-school list of infant saints, die young, and go to heaven: whereas the rebellious and unruly boy often makes the best citizen.
The too obedient child has learned only to do what he is told. If not told, he has no initiative; and, if told wrong, he does wrong. Life to him is not a series of problems to be solved, but a mere book of orders; and, instead of understanding the true imperious “force” of natural law, which a wise man follows because he sees the wisdom of the course, he takes every “must” in life to be like a personal command,—a thing probably unreasonable, and to be evaded, if possible.
The escaped child, long suppressed under obedience, is in no mood for a cheerful acceptance of real laws, but imagines that there is more “fun” in “having his own way.” The foolish parent claims to be obeyed as a god; and the grown-up child seeks to evade God, to treat the laws of Nature as if she, too, were a foolish parent.
Suppose you are teaching a child arithmetic. You tell him to put down such and such figures in such a position. He inquires, “Why?” You explain the reason. If you do not explain the reason, he does not understand the problem. You might continue to give orders as to what figures to set down and in what places; and the child, obeying, could be trotted through the arithmetic in a month’s time. But the arithmetic would not have gone through him. He would be no better versed in the science of numbers than a type-setter is in the learned books he “sets up.” We recognise this in the teaching of arithmetic, and go to great lengths in inventing test problems and arranging easy stages by which the child may gradually master his task. But we do not recognise it in teaching the child life. The small acts of infancy are the child’s first problems in living. He naturally wishes to understand them. He says, “Why?” To which we reply inanely, “Because I tell you to!” That is no reason. It is a force, no doubt, a pressure, to which the child may be compelled to yield. But he is no wiser than he was before. He has learned nothing except the lesson we imagine so valuable,—to obey. At the very best, he may remember always, in like case, that “mamma would wish me to do so,” and do it. But, when cases differ, he has no guide. With the best intentions in life, he can but cast about in his mind to try to imagine what some one else might tell him to do if present: the circumstances themselves mean nothing to him. Docility, subservience, a quick surrender of purpose, a wavering, untrained, easily shaken judgment,—these are the qualities developed by much obedience.
Are they the qualities we wish to develop in American citizens?
III. TWO AND TWO TOGETHER.
“If not trained to obedience, what shall the child be trained to?” naturally demands the outraged parent. To inculcate that first of virtues has taken so much time and effort that we have overlooked the subsequent qualities which require our help, and feel rather at sea when this sheet anchor is taken from us.
But it is not so hard a problem, when honestly faced. A child has a body and a mind to be nourished, sheltered, protected, allowed to grow, and judiciously trained.
We are here considering the brain training; but that is safely comparable to—is, indeed, part of—the body training, for the brain as much as the lungs or liver is an organ of the body. In training the little body, our main line of duty is to furnish proper food, to insure proper rest, and to allow and encourage proper exercise. Exactly this is wanted to promote right brain growth. We do not wish to overstimulate the brain, to develop it at the expense of other organs; but we do wish to insure its full natural growth and to promote its natural activities by a wise selection of the highest qualities for preferred use. And we need more knowledge of the various brain functions than is commonly possessed by those in charge of young children.
The office of the brain we are here considering is to receive, retain, and collate impressions, and, in retaining them, to hold their original force as far as possible, so that the ultimate act, coming from a previous impression, may have the force of the original impulse. The human creature does not originate nervous energy; but he does secrete it, so to speak, from the impact of natural forces. He has a storage battery of power we call the will. By this high faculty we see a well-developed human being working steadily for a desired object, without any present stimulus directed to that end, even in opposition to prevent stimulus tending to oppose that end. This width of perception, length of retention, storage of force, and power of steady, self-determined action distinguish the advanced human brain.
Early forms of life had no brains to speak of. They received impressions and transmitted them in expressions without check or discrimination. With the development of more complex organisms and their more complex activities came the accompanying complexity of brain, which could co-ordinate those activities to the best advantage. Action is the main line of growth. Conditions press upon all life, but life is modified through its own action under given conditions. And the relative wisdom and success of different acts depend on the brain power of the organism.
The superiority of races lies in better adaptation to condition. In human life, in the long competition among nations, classes, and individuals, superiority still lies in the same development. Power to receive and retain more wide, deep, and subtle impression; power to more accurately and judiciously collate these impressions; power to act steadily on these stored and selected impulses rather than on immediate impulses,—this it is which marks our line of advance.
The education of the child should be such as to develop these distinguishing human faculties. The universe, speaking loudly, lies around every creature. Little by little we learn to hear, to understand, to act accordingly. And this we should teach the child, to recognise more accurately the laws about him and to act upon them.
A very little child does this in his narrow range exactly as does the adult in wider fields. He receives impressions, such as are allowed to reach him. He stores and collates those impressions with increasing vigour and accuracy from day to day; and he acts on the sum of those impressions with growing power. Naturally, his range of impression is limited, his power of retention is limited, his ability to relate the impression retained is limited; and his action is at first far more open to immediate outside stimulus, and less responsive to the inner will-force, than that of an adult. That is the condition of childhood. It is for us to gently, delicately, steadily surround the child with such conditions as shall promote this orderly sequence of brain function rather than to forcibly develop and retain his more primitive methods.
Before going further, let us look at the average mental workings of the human creature, and see if it seems to us in smooth running order. We have made enormous progress in brain development, and we manifest wide differences in brain power. But clearly discernible through all the progress and all the difference is this large fault in our mental machinery,—a peculiar discrepancy between the sum of our knowledge and the sum of our behaviour. Man being conscious and intelligent, it would seem that to teach him the desirability of a given course of action would be sufficient. That it is not sufficient, every mother, every teacher, every preacher, every discoverer, inventor, reformer, knows full well.
Instruction may be poured in by the ton: it comes out in action by the ounce. You may teach and preach and pray for two thousand years, and very imperfectly Christianise a small portion of the human race. You may exhort and command and reiterate; and yet the sinner, whether infant or adult, remains obdurate. No wonder we imagined an active Enemy striving to oppose us, so difficult was good behaviour in spite of all our efforts. It has never occurred to us that we were pursuing an entirely erroneous method. We uttered like parrots the pregnant proverb, “Example is better than precept,” learning nothing by it.
What does that simple saying mean? That one learns better by observation than by instruction, especially when instruction is coupled with command. This being a clearly established fact, why have we not profited by it? Because our brains, all of our brains from the beginning of time, have been blurred and blinded and weakened by the same mistake in infant education.
What is this mistake? What is it we have done so patiently and faithfully all these years to every one of the human race which has injured the natural working of the brain? This: we have systematically checked in our children acts which were the natural sequence of their observation and inference; and enforced acts which, to the child’s mind, had no reason. Thus we have carefully trained a world of people to the habit of acting without understanding, and also of understanding without acting. Because we were unable even to entirely subvert natural brain processes, because our children must needs do some things of their own motion and not in obedience to us, therefore some power of judgment and self-government has grown in humanity. But because we have been so largely successful in our dealings with the helpless little brain is there so little power of judgment and self-government among us.
Observe, too, that our most intelligent progress is made in those arts, trades, professions, sciences, wherein little children are not trained; and that our most palpable deficiencies are in the morals, manners, and general personal relations of life, wherein little children are trained. The things we are compelled to do in obedience we make no progress in. They are either obeyed or disobeyed, but are not understood and improved upon: they stand like the customs of China. The things we learn by understanding and practising are open to further knowledge and growth.
A normal human act, as distinguished from the instinctive behaviour of lower animals or from mere excito-motary reaction, involves always these three stages,—impression, judgment, expression. These are not separate, but are orderly steps in the great main fact of life,—action. It is all a part of that transmission of energy which appears to be the business of the universe.
The sun’s heat pours upon the earth, and passes through whatever substance it strikes, coming out transformed variously, according to the nature of the substance. Man receives his complement of energy, like every other creature,—physical stimulus from food and fire, psychical stimulus from its less known sources; and these impressions tend to flow through him into expression as naturally as, though with more complexity than, in other creatures.
The song of the skylark and Shelley’s “Skylark” show this wide difference in the amount and quality of transmission, yet are both expressions of the same impressions, plus those wider impressions to which the poet’s organism was open.
The distinctive power of man is that of connected action. Our immense capacity for receiving and retaining impressions gives us that world-stock of stored information and its arrested stimulus which we call knowledge. But wisdom, the higher word, refers to our capacity for considering what we know,—handling and balancing the information in stock, and so acting judiciously from the best impression or group of impressions, instead of indiscriminately from the latest or from any that happens to be uppermost.
This power, in cases of immediate danger, we call “presence of mind.” Similarly, when otherwise intelligent persons do visibly foolish things, we call it “absence of mind.” The brain, as an organ, is present in both cases; but in the former it is connected with action, in the latter the connection is broken. The word “thoughtless,” as applied to so large a share of our walk and conversation, describes this same absence of the mind from the place where it is wanted.
In training the brain of the child, first importance lies in cultivating this connection between the mind and the behaviour. As with eye or hand, we should induce frequent repetition of the desired motions, that the habit of right action be formed. If the child is steadily encouraged to act in this natural connection, in orderly sequence of feeling, thought, and action, he would grow into constant “presence of mind” in his behaviour. Habits work in all directions; and a habit of thoughtful behaviour is as easy to form, really easier, than a habit of obedience,—easier, because it would be the natural function of the brain to govern behaviour if we did not so laboriously contradict it. We have preferred submission to intelligence, and have got neither,—not intelligence because we have so violently discouraged it, and not submission because the healthy upward forces of human brain growth will not submit. Those races where the children are most absolutely subservient, as with the Chinese and Hindu, where parents are fairly worshipped and blindly obeyed, are not races of free and progressive thought and healthy activity.
The potential attitude of mind involved in our method is shown in that perfect expression of “childish faith,”—”It’s so because mamma says so; and, if mamma says so, ‘tis so if ‘tain’t so.” That position makes it very easy for mamma as long as “childish faith” endures; but how does it help the man she has reared in this idyllic falsehood? The painful truth is that we have used childish weaknesses to make our government easy for us, instead of cultivating the powers that shall make life easy to them. A child’s limitless credulity is the open door of imposition, and is ruthlessly taken advantage of by mother and father, nurse and older companion generally.
As a feature in brain-training, this, of course, works absolute harm. It prolongs the infant weakness of the racial brain, keeps us credulous and open to all imposture, hinders our true growth. What we should do is to help the child to question and find out,—teach him to learn, not to believe. He does learn, of course. We cannot shut out the workings of natural laws from him altogether. Gradually he discovers that fire is hot and water wet, that stone is hard to fall on, and that there are “pins in pussy’s toes.” His brain is always being healthily acted upon by facts, his power of discrimination he practises as best he may, and his behaviour follows inevitably.
Given such a child, with such and such an inheritance of constitution and tendency, submit him to certain impressions, and he behaves accordingly. He has felt. He has thought. He is about to do. Here comes in our universal error. We concern ourselves almost wholly with what the child does, and ignore what he feels and thinks. We check the behaviour which is the logical result of his feeling and thinking, and substitute another and different behaviour for his adoption.
Now it is a direct insult to the brain to try to make the body do something which the brain does not authorise. It is a physical shock: it causes a sort of mental nausea. There are many subconscious activities which go on without our recognition; but to call on the body to consciously go through certain motions, undirected by previous mental processes, is an affront to any healthy brain. It is sharply distasteful to us, because it is against the natural working of the machinery. The vigorous functional activity of the young brain cries out against it; and the child says, “Why?” “Why” is an articulate sound to express the groping of the brain for relation, for consistency. We have so brow-beaten and controverted this natural tendency, so forced young growing brains to accept the inconsistent, that consistency has become so rare in human conduct as to be called “a jewel.” Yet the desire for consistency is one of the most inherent and essential of our mental appetites. It is the logical tendency, the power to “put two and two together,” the one great force that holds our acts in sequence and makes human society possible.
We demand consistency in others, and scoff at the lack of it, even in early youth. “What yer talkin’ about, anyway?” we cry. “There’s no sense in that!” We expect consistency of ourselves, too. It is funny, though painful, to see the ordinary warped brain trying to square its own conduct with its own ideals. Square they must, somehow, however strained and thin is our patchwork connection. We check the child’s act, the natural sequence of his feeling and thought, so incessantly as to give plenty of basis for that pathetic tale of the little girl who said her name was Mary. “And what is your last name?” “Don’t,” said she. “Mary Don’t.” By doing this, we constantly send back upon the brain its own impulses, and accustom it to such continual discouragement of natural initiative that it gradually ceases to govern the individual behaviour. In highest success, this produces the heavy child, whining, “What shall I do now?” always hanging about, fit subject for any other will to work on; and the heavy adult, victim of ennui, and needing constant outside stimulus to “pass away the time.”
The slowness, the inertia, the opaque conservatism, and the openness to any sort of external pressure, easiest, of course, on the down side,—which so blocks the path of humanity,—largely come back to that poor child’s surname, Mary Don’t. It is thoroughly beaten into us when young, and for the rest of life we mostly “Don’t.” But beyond the paralysing “Don’t!” checking the natural movement of the organism, comes a galvanising “Do!” shocking it into unnatural activity. We tell the child to perform a certain action toward which his own feeling and thought have made no stir whatever. “Why?” he demands. And we state as reason our authority, and add an immediate heaven or hell arrangement of our own making to facilitate his performance. He does it. Hell is very near. He does it many, many times. He becomes habituated to a course of behaviour which comes to its expression not through his own previous impression and judgment, but through ours; that is, he is acting from another person’s feeling and thinking. We have asserted our authority just before his act, between it and his thought. We have made a cleft which widens to a chasm between what he feels and thinks and what he does. Into that chasm pours to waste an immeasurable amount of human energy. The struggles of the dethroned mind to get possession of its own body again, as the young man or woman grows to personal freedom, ought to strike remorse and shame to the parental heart. They do not, because the devoted parent knows no more of these simple psychic processes than the Goths knew of the priceless manuscripts they destroyed so cheerfully. With the slow, late kindling of the freed mind, under the stimulus perhaps of noble thoughts from others, or just the inner force of human upgrowth, the youth tries to take the rudder, and steer straight. But the rudder chains are stretched to useless slackness or rusted and broken. He feels nobly. He thinks nobly. He starts to do nobly, but his inner pressure meets no quick response in outer act. The connection is broken. The habit of “don’t” is strong upon him. Following each upward impulse which says, “Do!” is that automatic check, artificial, but heavily driven in, which has so thoroughly and effectually taught the brain to stop at thinking, not to do what it thought. What he felt and thought was not allowed to govern his action these fifteen years past. Why should it now? It takes years of conscientious work to re-establish this original line of smooth connection, and the mended place is never so strong as it would have been if it had not been broken.
Also, the work of those who seek to educate our later youth, and of those who are forever pouring out their lives to lead the world a little higher, is rendered million-fold more difficult by this same gulf, this terrible line of cleavage which strikes so deep to the roots of life, and leaves our beautiful feelings and wise thoughts to mount sky-high in magnificent culture, while our action, which is life’s real test, grovels slowly along, scarce moved by all our fine ideas.
A more general discourager of our racial advancement than this method of brain-training we could hardly have invented. It is universal in its application, and grinds down steadily on all our people during the most impressionable years of life. That we grow as we do in spite of it is splendid proof of the beneficent forces of our unconscious life, always stronger than our conscious efforts; and that our American children grow more freely, and so have more power of initiative and self-government, is the best work of our democracy.
“But what else can we do?” will ask the appalled parents. Without authority they feel no grip upon the child, and see themselves exposed to infant tyranny, and the infant growing up neglected and untrained. This shows how little progress we have made in child-culture, how little grasp we have of the real processes of education. Any parent, no matter how ignorant, is wiser than a baby and larger. Therefore, any parent can direct a child’s action and enforce it, to some extent. But to understand how to modify the child’s action by such processes as shall keep it still his own, to alter his act by first altering his feeling and thought and so keeping the healthy sequence unbroken, that is a far more subtle and difficult task. A typical instance of this difference in method may be illustrated in that common and always difficult task, teaching a child table manners. Here is a case in which there is no instinct in the child to be appealed to. The noise, clumsiness, and carelessness to which we object are not at all unpleasant to him. In what way can we reach the child’s range of reasoning, and convince him of the desirability of this artificial code of ours? We can, of course, state that it displeases us, and appeal to his good will not to give us pain. This is rational enough; but consideration for others, based on a mere statement of distaste,—a distaste he cannot sympathise with,—is a rather weak force with most children. It is a pity to over-strain this delicate feeling. It should be softly tested from time to time, and used enough to encourage a healthy growth; but to continually appeal to a sympathy none too strong is often to strain and weaken it. In table manners it seldom works well. The alleged distress of the parent requires too much imagination, the desired self-control has too slight a basis.
But there is a far safer and better way. Carefully work out in your own mind the real reason why you wish the child to conform to this particular code of table ethics. It is not wholly on the ground of displeasing you by the immediate acts. The main reason why they displease you, and why you are so concerned about the matter, is that this is the accepted standard among the people with whom you associate and with whom you expect the child to associate; and, if he does not conform to this code, he will be excluded from desirable society.
Reasons why table manners exist at all, or are what they are, require further study; but the point at issue is not why it is customary to eat with the fork instead of the knife, but why your child should do so. When he gets to the point of analysing these details, and asks why he should fold his napkin in one case and leave it crumpled in another, you will of course be prepared with the real reasons. Meanwhile the real reason why the child should learn not to do these undesirable things is that such manners, if pursued, will deprive him of desirable society.
We usually content ourselves with an oral statement to this effect: “Nobody will want to eat with you if you do so!” Right here let a word be said to those who are afraid of over-stimulating a child’s brain by a more rational method of training. Training by observation and deduction is far easier to a young brain than training by oral statements. To take into the mind by ear a statement of fact, and to hold that statement in memory and preserve its force to check a natural action, is a difficult feat for an adult. But to see that such a thing has such a consequence, and “take warning” by that, is the “early method,” the natural method, the quickest, easiest, surest way. So, instead of saying to the child, “If you behave so, people will not want to eat with you,” we should let him see that this is the case, and feel the lack.
His most desirable society is usually that of his parents; and his first entrance upon that plane should be fairly conditioned upon his learning to play the game as they do. No compulsion, no penalties, no thought of “naughtiness,” merely that, if he wants to eat with them, why, that is the way they eat, and he must do so, too. If he will not, exit the desirable society. By very gradual steps,—not by long, tiresome grown-up meals, but by a graduated series of exercises that should recognise the physical difficulty of co-ordinating the young faculties on this elaborate “manual of arms,”—a child could learn the whole performance in a reasonable time, and lose neither nervous force nor clearness of perception in the process.
As we do these things now, pulling this string and that, appealing to feelings half developed, urging reasons which find no recognition, using compulsion which to the child’s mind is arbitrary and unjust, we may superinduce a tolerable system of table manners, but we have more or less injured the instrument in so doing. A typewriter could, perhaps, be worked with a hammer; but it would not improve the machine. We have had far more consideration for “the machinery of the household” than for the machinery of a child’s mind, and yet the real foundation claim of the home is that it is necessary to rear children in. If the ordinary conditions of household life are unsuitable to convey the instruction we desire, it is for us to so arrange those conditions as to make them suitable.
There are cases, many cases, in a child-time, where we cannot command the conditions necessary for this method of instruction, where the child must act from our suggestion with no previous or accompanying reasoning. This makes it all the more necessary that such reasoning should be open to him when we can command it. Moreover, the ordinary events in a young life are not surprises to the parent. We know in advance the things that are so unexpected to the child. Why should we not be at some pains to prepare him for these experiences? The given acts of each day are not the crucial points we make of them. What is important is that the child shall gradually establish a rational and connected scheme of life and method of action, his young faculties improving as he uses them, life growing easier and plainer to him from year to year. It is for the parent, the educator, the brain-trainer, to study out details of method and delicate applications. The main purpose is that the child’s conduct shall be his own,—his own chosen course of action, adopted by him through the use of his own faculties, not forced upon him by immediate external pressure.
It is our business to make plain to him the desirability of the behaviour we wish produced, carefully establishing from day to day his perceptions of the use and beauty of life, and his proven confidence in us as interpreters. The young brain should be regularly practised in the first easy steps of sequential reasoning, arguing from the interesting causes we so carefully provide to the pleasant or not too painful effects we so honestly let it feel, always putting two and two together as it advances in the art and practice of human conduct. Then it will grow into a strong, clear, active, mature brain, capable of relating the facts of life with a wider and juster vision than has been ours, and acting unflinchingly from its own best judgment, as we have striven to do in vain these many years.
IV. THE BURNT CHILD DREADS THE SLIPPER.
The question of discipline is a serious one to every young mother; and most mothers are young to begin with. She feels the weight of maternal responsibility and the necessity for bringing up her child properly, but has studied nothing whatever on the subject.
What methods of discipline are in general use in the rearing of children? The oldest and commonest of all is that of meeting an error in the child’s behaviour with physical pain. We simply hurt the child when he does wrong, in order that he may so learn not to do wrong. A method so common and so old as this ought to be clearly justified or as clearly condemned by its results.
Have we succeeded yet in simplifying and making easy the training of children,—easy for the trainer and for the trained; and have we developed a race of beings with plain, strong, clear perceptions of right and wrong behaviour and an easy and accurate fulfilment of those perceptions?
It must be admitted that we have not; but two claims will be made in excuse: first, that, however unsuccessful, this method of discipline is better than any other; and, second, that the bad behaviour of humanity is due to our inherent depravity, and cannot be ameliorated much even by physical punishment. Some may go further, and say that whatever advance we have made is due to this particular system. Unfortunately, we have almost no exact data from which to compute the value of different methods of child-training.
In horse-training something definite is known. On one of the great stock ranches of the West, for instance, where some phenomenal racers have been bred, the trainers of colts not only forbid any rough handling of the sensitive young animals, but even rough speaking to them. It has been proven that the intelligent and affectionate horse is trained more easily and effectually by gentleness than by severity. But with horses the methods used are open to inspection, and also the results.
With children each family practises alone on its own young ones, and no record is kept beyond the casual observation and hearsay reports of the neighbours. Yet, even so, there is a glimmer of light. The proverbial uncertainty as to “ministers’ sons” indicates a tendency to reaction when a child has been too severely restrained; and the almost sure downfall of the “mamma’s darling,” the too-much-mothered and over-indulged boy, shows the tendency to foolish excesses when a child has not been restrained enough.
Again, our general uncertainty as to methods proves that even the currently accepted “rod” system is not infallible. If it were, we should have peace of mind and uncounted generations of good citizens. As it is, we have the mixed and spotty world we all know so well,—a heavy percentage of acknowledged criminals, a much larger grade of those who just do not break the law, but whose defections from honesty, courage, truth, and honour weigh heavily upon us all. Following that comes the vast mass of “good people,” and their behaviour is sometimes more trying than that of the bad ones.
Humanity does gain, but not as fast as so intelligent a race should. In penology something has been learned. Here, dealing with the extreme criminal, we are slowly establishing the facts that arbitrary and severe punishment does not proportionately decrease crime; that crime has causes, which may be removed; and that the individual needs to be treated beforehand, preventively, rather than afterward, retributively. This would seem to throw some light on infant penology. If retributive punishment does not proportionately decrease crime in adult criminals, perhaps it does not decrease “naughtiness” among little children. If there is an arrangement of conditions and a treatment which may prevent the crime, perhaps there may be an arrangement of conditions and a treatment which will prevent the naughtiness.
One point may be clearly established, to begin with; and that is the need of an open court for our helpless little offenders. Whatever else we think of human nature, we know it to be fallible, and that a private individual cannot be expected to administer justice in secret and alone.
Suppose Mr. Jones steals a cow from Mr. Smith, is Mr. Smith capable of being himself both judge and executioner? Does not the very conception of justice involve a third party, some one to hold the scales, to balance, to decide? And, if circumstances compel much power to be invested in an individual for a season, should not that individual be previously instructed from some code of law which many have sanctioned, and afterward be held responsible to public judgment?
A ship captain, for instance, has absolute authority for a while; but his authority rests on law, and, if he breaks that law, he is liable to punishment. Moreover, if he goes too far while in command, he is liable to dangerous mutiny as well. But in domestic discipline the child is absolutely in the power of the parent. There is no appeal. There is no defence. There are no witnesses. The child offends against the parent, and the offended one is both judge and executioner. A number of children may commit exactly the same offence, as, for instance, if six boys all go swimming when forbidden; yet they are liable to six several punishments at the hands of their six several mothers or fathers,—punishments bearing relation to the views, health, and temper of the parent at the time rather than to the nature of the misdeed. The only glimmer of protection which the child gets from an enlightened community is in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children,—a small, feeble body, acting in few localities, and intervening only to save the child from the parent when gross physical cruelty is practised. That in many cases parents are even violently cruel to little children gives reason to believe that many others are a little cruel; and that still more, while not cruel, are unwise.
There is no society for the prevention of over-indulgence to children, for instance; yet this is a frequent injury to our young people. Whatever the views of the separate parents, and whatever their standard of justice, a great improvement would be made if there were some publicity and community of action in their methods. A hundred men together can decide upon and carry out a higher course of action than they could be trusted to follow severally. Our beautiful growth in justice and equity (for grown people) has always required this openness and union. Many a mother, tired and cross with her housework, does things to her child which she would be ashamed to retail to a cool and unprejudiced circle of friends. And many another mother consistently and conscientiously inflicts punishments which she would learn to be ashamed of if she heard them discussed by her respected associates with a consensus of disapproval.
In the ordinary contact of neighbourly life, some little development of this sort goes on: a few sporadic Mothers’ Clubs lead to more concerted discussions; and to-day the Mothers’ Congress, lately become the Parents’ Congress, and other bodies, together with a growing field of literature on the subject, is leading to far wider and deeper thought, and some experiment. But the field is as wide as the world, and very little is yet accomplished. We have swung wide from the stern severity of earlier times, so that American children are notoriously “indulged”; but merely to leave off a wrong method, without introducing a better one, is not all that can be hoped.
The discipline of life lies before us all. The more carefully and wisely we teach and train our children, the less they and others need suffer afterward. But there does seem to be some grave deficiency in our method of domestic discipline. Here is little Albert being educated. He is not going to school yet. He is “not old enough.” That is, he is not old enough to be taught anything systematically by persons whose business it is to teach; but he is old enough to be learning the a, b, c of life at the hands of those with whom he chances to be. A child learns every day. That cannot be helped. What he learns, and how, we can largely dictate; but we cannot keep his brain shut until he gets to school, and then open it for three or four hours a day only. What does little Albert learn? Put yourself in his place for a little while. Here are new sensations coming to him momently, through the eager nerves of sense. Here is a new brain, fresh to receive impressions, store them, and act upon them. The pleasure of perceiving is keen, the pleasure of his limited but growing reflection is keen, and the pleasure of action is best of all. Life is full of interest. All the innumerable facts which form our smooth background of behaviour, in the knowledge of which we avoid the water and the fire and go down hill circumspectly, are to him fresh discoveries and revelations. He has to prove them and put them together, and see how they work. The feelings with which we have learned to associate certain facts and actions do not exist to him. He knows nothing of “should” or “should not,” except as he learns it by personal trial or through the reaction of other persons upon him.
This open state of mind we early destroy by labelling certain acts as good and others as bad; and, since we do not see our way to exhibiting the goodness or badness to the baby brain in natural colours, we paint them in sharp black and white, with no shading. He has to gather his sense of relatively good and bad from the degree of our praise and punishment; and strange, indeed, are his impressions.
The loving and cuddling which delight his baby soul are associated with so many different acts, and in such varying proportion, that he does not clearly gather whether it is more virtuous to kiss mamma or to pull grandpa’s whiskers; and it takes him some time to learn which dress he must not hug. But, if the good things confuse him, the bad ones are far more complex and uncertain.
Little Albert is, we will say, investigating his mother’s work-basket. A tall object stands before him. He just bumped his head against it, and it wiggled. He felt it wiggle. He reaches forth an inquiring hand, and finds graspable wicker legs within reach. To grasp and to pull are natural to the human hand and arm. To shake was early taught him. Things were put in his hands, the shaking of which produced an agreeable noise and admiration from the beloved ones. So he shakes this new object; and, to his delight, something rattles. He puts forth his strength, and, lo! The tall, shakable object falls prostrate before him, and scatters into a sprawling shower of little things that clink and roll. Excellent! Lovely! Have not persons built up tall creations of vari-colored blocks, and taught baby to knock them down and rejoice in their scattering!
But mamma, to whom this group of surfaces, textures, colours, movements, and sounds, means much besides infantile instruction, asserts that he is “naughty,” and treats him with severity. “If you do that again,” says irate mamma, “I’ll whip you!” If Albert has not already been whipped, the new word means nothing. How is an unwhipped child to know what whipping means? She might save her breath. The lesson is not taught by words. But if she promptly whips him, and does so inevitably when he repeats the offence, he does learn a definite lesson; namely, that the act of pulling over a work-basket results in a species of physical pain, via mamma.
Then the unprejudiced young brain makes its deduction,—”The pulling over of things causes physical pain, named whipping.” This much being established, he acts on the information. Presently he learns, with some little confusion, that going out of the gate without leave is also productive of whipping,—dissimilar acts, but the same result,—and lays this up with the other,—”Pulling over things and going out of gates are two causes with the same result,—whipping.”
Then comes another case. He begins to investigate that endless wonder and attraction, the fire. If ever cause and effect were neatly and forcibly related, it is in this useful and dangerous element. So simple and sure is its instructive and deterrent action that we have built a proverb on it,—”The burnt child dreads the fire.”
But the mother of Albert has a better plan than mother Nature. She interposes with her usual arbitrary consequence,—”If you play with fire, I will whip you,” and Albert learns anew that this third cause still produces the same unpleasant result; and he makes his record,—”Pulling things over, going out of gates, playing with fire, result in whipping.” And he acts accordingly. Then one day he makes a new and startling discovery. Led by some special temptation, he slips out of the gate and safely back again, unseen of any. No whipping follows. Then his astonished but accurate brain hastily revises the previous information, and adds a glaring new clause,—”It is not just going out of gates that makes a whipping come: it is being seen!” This is covertly tried on the other deeds with the same result. “Aha! Aha!” clicks the little recording machine inside. “Now I know! Whipping does not come from those things: it comes from mamma; and, if she doesn’t see me, it doesn’t come! Whipping is the result of being seen!” Of course, a little child does not actually say this to himself in so many words; but he does get this impression very clearly, as may be seen from his ensuing behaviour.
The principle in question, in considering this usual method of discipline, is whether it is better to associate a child’s idea of consequences with the act itself or with an individual, and conditioned upon the chance of discovery. Our general habit is to make the result of the child’s deed contingent upon the parental knowledge and displeasure rather than upon the deed itself. As in this hackneyed instance of the fire, instead of teaching the child by mild and cautious experiment that fire burns, we teach him that fire whips. The baby who is taught not to play with fire by the application of a rearward slipper does not understand the nature of the glittering attraction any better than before; and, as soon as he learns that whippings are contingent upon personal observation, he fondly imagines that, if he can play with fire without being seen, no pain will follow.
Thus the danger we seek to avert is not averted. He is still liable to be burned through ignorance. We have denied the true lesson as to the nature of fire, and taught a false one of arbitrary but uncertain punishment. Even if the child is preternaturally obedient and never does the things we tell him not to do, he does not learn the lesson. He is no wiser than before. We have saved him from danger and also from knowledge. If he is disobedient, he runs the same risk as if we had told him nothing, with the added danger of acting alone and nervously. Whereas, if he were taught the simple lesson that fire burns, under our careful supervision to see that the burn was not serious, then he would know the actual nature of fire, and dread it with sure reason, far more than he dreads the uncertain slipper.
This has been dwelt upon so fully by previous writers that there would seem small need of further mention; but still our mothers do not read or do not understand, and still our babies are confronted with arbitrary punishment instead of natural consequence. The worst result of this system is in its effect on the moral sense. We have a world full of people who are partially restrained from evil by the fear of arbitrary punishment, and who do evil when they imagine they can do so without discovery. Never having been taught to attach the evil consequence to the evil act, but instead to find it a remote contingency hinging on another person’s observation, we grow up in the same attitude of mind, afraid not of stealing, but of the policeman.
If there is no slipper, why not tip over the work-basket: if there is no policeman, why not steal? Back of slipper and police we hold up to the infant mind a still more remote contingency of eternal punishment; but this has to be wholly imagined, and is so distant, to a child’s mind, as to have little weight. It has little weight with grown persons even, and, necessarily, less with a child.
The mental processes involved in receiving by ear an image of a thing never seen, of visualising it by imagination and then remembering the vision, and finally of bringing forward that remembered vision to act as check to a present and actual temptation, are most difficult. But where a consequence is instant and clear,—when baby tries to grab the parrot, and the parrot bites,—that baby, without being promised a whipping or being whipped, will thereafter religiously avoid all parrots.
A baby soon learns to shun certain things for reasons of his own. What he dislikes and fears he will not touch. It is no effort for the young mind to observe and remember a prompt natural consequence. We do make some clumsy attempts in this direction, as when we tie up, in an ill-tasting rag, the thumb too often sucked. If thumb-sucking is a really bad habit and a general one, we should long since have invented a neat and harmless wash, purchasable in small bottles at the drug store, of which a few applications would sicken the unhappy suckling of that thumb most effectually. But thumb-sucking we do not consider as wrong, merely as undesirable. When the child does what we call wrong, we think he should be “punished.” Our ideas of domestic discipline are still of the crudely savage era; while in social discipline, in penology, we have become tolerably civilised.
Some will say that the child is like a savage, and is most open to the treatment current at that time in our history. It is true that the child passes through the same phases in personal development that the race passed long ago, and that he is open to the kind of instruction which would affect a primitive-minded adult. But this means (if we are seeking to benefit the child), not the behaviour of one savage to another, but such behaviour as would elevate the savage. One of the most simple and useful elements in primitive discipline is retaliation. It is Nature’s law of reaction in conscious form.
To retaliate in kind is primitive justice. If we observe the code of ethics in use among children, it resolves itself into two simple principles: that of instant and equal retaliation; or, when that fails, the dread ultimatum which no child can resist,—”I won’t play!” A child who is considered “mean” and disagreeable by his fellows meets the simple and effectual treatment of snubbing, neglect, ostracism.
These two principles may be applied in domestic discipline gently, accurately, fairly, and without ill-feeling; and their effect is admirable. “What is the difference between this and the other method?” will be asked. “Is not this also descending to the plane of childishness, of savagery, to which you were just now objecting?” Here is the difference.
To apply a brutal and arbitrary punishment to the person of the offender is what savages do, and what we do, to the child. To receive a just and accurate retaliation is what child and savage understand, are restrained and instructed by. We should treat the child in methods applicable by the savage, not with the behaviour of savages. For instance, you are playing with a little child. The little child is rude to you. You put him down, and go away. This is a gentle reaction, which, being repeated, he soon learns to associate with the behaviour you dislike. “When I do this,” observes the infant mind, “the play stops. I like to play. Therefore, I will not do the thing that stops it.”
This is simple observation, and involves no ill-feeling. He learns to modify his conduct to a desired end, which is the lesson of life. In this case you treat him by a method of retaliation quite perceptible to a savage, and appealing to the sense of justice without arousing antagonism. But, if you are playing with the little one, he is rude to you, and you spank him, he is conscious of a personal assault which does arouse antagonism. It is not only what a savage could understand, but what a savage would have done. It arouses savage feelings, and helps keep the child a savage. Also, it helps keep the race a savage; for the child who grows up under the treatment common in that era finds it difficult to behave in a manner suitable to civilisation.
Discipline is part of life; and, if met early and accepted, all life becomes easier. But the discipline which the real world gives us is based on inexorable law, not on personal whim. We make the child’s idea of right and wrong rest on some person’s feeling, not on the nature of the act. He is trained to behave on a level of primitive despotism, and cannot successfully adjust himself to a free democracy. This is why our American children, who get less of the old-fashioned discipline, make better citizens than the more submissive races who were kept severely down in youth, and are unable to keep themselves down in later life.
There is a painful paucity of ideas on child-training in most families, as clearly shown in the too common confession, “I’m sure I don’t know what to do with that child!” or, “What would you do with such a child as that?”
If we may not use the ever-ready slipper, the shrill, abusive voice, the dark closet, or threat of withheld meal, what remains to us in the line of discipline? What is to be done to the naughty child? We need here some knowledge of what naughtiness really is. The child is a growing group of faculties, the comparative development of which makes him a good or bad member of society. His behaviour has, first, the limitations of his age, and, second, of his personality.
A child is naturally more timid than a grown person, and a given child may be afflicted with more timidity than is natural to his age. Acts which indicate such a condition show need of training and discipline. A certain amount of selfishness is natural to childhood: acts indicating unusual selfishness call for correction.
So with the whole field of childish behaviour: whatever acts show evil tendencies need checking; but the acts natural to every child only show that he is a child,—which is not “naughty”! If we considered the field beforehand, asked ourselves what we expected during this day or this year in the behaviour of such a child, and were not displeased when he behaved within those lines, much unnecessary pain and trouble would be saved to both parties. Then, when things really indicative of evil were done, we should carefully examine and test the character so manifested, and begin to apply the suitable discipline.
For example, it is natural to childhood to be inconsiderate of others. The intense little ego, full of strong new sensations, has small sympathy for the sensations of his associates. The baby may love the kitten, and yet hurt it cruelly because he does not know how kittens feel. This is not naughty, and needs only the positive training which shall hasten his natural growth in extension of sympathy. To show him the right methods of handling the pet, and especially of not handling it; to teach him to enjoy watching the kitten’s natural activities and to respect its preferences,—all that is education, and needs no “discipline.” But, if the child shows a pleasure in hurting the kitten after he knows it hurts, then you have real evil to deal with. A character is indicated which may grow to callous indifference to the feelings of others, and even to their actual injury. These acts are “wrong”; and wise, strong measures are necessary.
There are two main lines on which to work. One is to take extra measures to cultivate sympathy, using nature study, and to examine and care for such pronounced cases of suffering as must arouse even the most dominant interest. The too-callous child might be taken to a children’s hospital, and helped to minister to the needs of the small sufferers. His pets, meanwhile, should be large and strong creatures, which he would depend on more or less, and his enjoying their company made absolutely contingent on right treatment. Special attention should also be paid to all such acts as showed consideration of others,—to encourage and reward them.
Again, if a child shows a too violent or sullen temper, or is distinctly sly and untrustworthy, these are serious indications, and need careful and thorough treatment.
But the great majority of acts for which children are punished are not at all evil. “Carelessness,” for instance, is incident to the young brain,—essential to it. The power always to properly co-relate and remember is an adult power, and not always strong in the adult. We need, of course, to encourage a growing carefulness, but not to expect it nor punish its natural lack.
Clumsiness is also incidental to the young nerve connections. The baby drops things continually, the child frequently: the adult will hold an object even while the mind is otherwise engaged, the habit of the flexo-motor nerves being well established. Enterprising experiment is not only natural to childhood, but a positive virtue. That is the quality which leads the world onward, and the lack of it is a Chinese wall against progress. One enormous field of what we call naughtiness in our little ones lies in offences against things.
First and foremost, clothes. Wetting, soiling, and tearing clothes,—what a sea of tears have been shed, what wails and sobs, what heavy and useless punishments inflicted, because of injured clothing! Yet almost every accident to clothing comes from the interaction of two facts: first, the perfectly natural clumsiness and carelessness of childhood; and, second, our interminable folly in dressing a child in unchildish garments, and placing him in unchildish conditions. There is no naughtiness involved except in the parent, who shows a stupidity abnormal to her age. Children are frequently reproached for wearing out their shoes. What does the intelligent parent expect? Is the child to sit in a chair, lie down, or ride the bicycle continually? If the child is seen to cut his shoes with knives or grind them on a grindstone, that may be discouraged as malicious mischief; but the inevitable stubbing and scuffing of the eager, restless, ungoverned little feet should have been foreseen and allowed for. We do strive to buy the heaviest possible mass of iron-shod leather for our boys, and then we scold them for being noisy.
To surround a growing creature with artificial difficulties, to fail to understand or allow for the natural difficulties of his age, and then to punish with arbitrary retribution the behaviour which is sure to appear, this is not the kind of discipline which makes wise, strong, self-governing citizens.
V. TEACHABLE ETHICS.
Our general knowledge of ethics is small and unreliable, and our practice in ethics even smaller and more unreliable. The good intentions of mankind are prominent; but our ideas of right behaviour are so contradictory and uncertain, our execution of such ideas as we hold so partial and irregular, that human behaviour continues to be most unsatisfactory. This condition we used to cheerfully attribute to the infirmity of human nature, taking ignominious consolation from the thought of our vicious tendencies and hopeless weakness.
The broad light of evolutionary study has removed this contemptible excuse. We now know human nature to be quite as good as the rest of nature, wherein everything is good after its kind; and that, furthermore, our human kind has made great improvement in conduct so far, and is capable of making a great deal more. We are not weak: we are strong. We are not wicked: we earnestly desire to be good. But we are still very ignorant of the science of ethics, and most inept in its practice.
We learn mathematics, and apply our knowledge with marvellous results. We learn physics, and use what we know therein to work miracles in the material world. Ethics is as plain a science as physics, and as easy of application. Ethics is the physics of social relation. The cause of our slow growth in ethics is this:—
The prominent importance of right action and constant need of some general standard to appeal to, strongly impress the human mind in its very earliest stage of development. Incapable as yet of scientific methods of study, ignorant, supremely credulous and timid, conservative and superstitious to a degree, primitive man promptly made “a religion” of his scant observations and deductions in ethics, and forbade all further study and experiment. Where other sciences have their recognised room for progress, a slowly accumulating and often changing knowledge behind, and a free field of uncertainty in front, ethics was promptly walled in with the absolute and the super-natural. The few lines of action then recognised as “moral” or “immoral” were defined in the most conclusive manner, and no room left for later study. It is most interesting to note the efforts of conscientious men in later ages to make an intelligible, consistent scheme of ethics out of these essentially incorrect early attempts. By these efforts a religion grew from a simple group of dogmas and rites to the complex ramifications of many commentators; and the occasional vigorous and progressive brain that saw more light has always had to suffer and struggle long to introduce new truth. We have forbidden, under awful penalties, all open-minded study in these lines; and this especially hindering mental attitude has kept the most general and simple of the sciences in a very backward condition, so that we go through school and college with no real enlightenment on the subject.
Thus a young man, quite proficient in languages, physics, and the higher mathematics, will be shamefully deficient in even the lowest ethics (right behaviour in regard to himself), and show no acquaintance whatever with the higher branches of the subject. We err very commonly in right treatment of ourselves, more commonly in treatment of one another; and our confusion of idea and behaviour increases with the square of the distance, our behaviour to other nations or other kinds of animals being lowest of all. We have a common scheme of behaviour, coming from various influences and conditions, which we cannot ourselves account for by any ethical rules; and this every-day working ethics of ours shows how social evolution unconsciously developes needed conduct, even where our conscious intelligence fails to recognise or recommend such conduct as ethical. Thus we have developed many stalwart and timely virtues in spite of rather than because of religious approval, and many serious vices flourish without religious opposition.
A conspicuous instance of this is in the pious contentment of a wealthy church corporation, the income of which is derived from tenement houses which are hotbeds of evil; and in the often observed conduct of an irreligious man, who practises the commonplace necessary virtues of daily business life. But this power of social evolution developes the immediate virtues essential to close personal intercourse more quickly than the higher range of virtue, needed in national and international affairs. Thus we often see “a good family man,” friend, and perhaps even an honest business dealer, shamefully negligent or corrupt in political duty.
It would seem that the same brains which have brought us forward to such enormous knowledge in other lines might have made more progress in this. Some special cause must have operated, and be still operating, to prevent a normal growth in this deeply important field.
Much might be said here of the influence of religious custom; but the still closer and more invariable cause lies not in the church, but in the home.
Where in social relation our necessary enlargement and progress have forced upon us nobler characteristics, in the domestic relation small change has been made. The privacy and conservatism of the family group have made it a nursing ground of rudimentary survivals, long since outgrown in more open fields; and the ethical code of the family is patently behind that of the society in which it is located. The primitive instincts, affections, and passions are there; but justice, liberty, courtesy, and such later social sentiments are very weak.
New truth is seen by new brains. As the organ we think with grows from age to age, we are able to think farther and deeper; but, if the growing brain is especially injured in any one department in early youth, it will not grow as fast in that one line. As a general rule,—a rule with rare exceptions,—we do thus injure the baby brain in the line of ethical thought and action. In other sciences we teach what we know, when we teach at all, and practise fairly; but, in teaching a child ethics, we do not give even what we have of knowledge, and our practice with him and the practice we demand from him are not at all in accordance with our true views.
In glaring instance is the habit of lying to children. A woman who would not lie to a grown friend will lie freely to her own child. A man who would not be unjust to his brother or a stranger will be unjust to his little son. The common courtesy given any adult is not given to the child. That delicate consideration for another’s feelings, which is part of our common practice among friends, is lacking in our dealings with children. From the treatment they receive, children cannot learn any rational and consistent scheme of ethics. Their healthy little brains make early inference from the conduct of their elders, and incite behaviour on the same plan; but they speedily find that these are poor rules, for they do not work both ways. The conduct we seek to enforce from them does not accord with our conduct, nor form any consistent whole by itself. It is not based on any simple group of principles which a child can understand, but rests very largely on the personal equation and the minor variations of circumstance.
Take lying again as an instance. 1. We lie to the child. He discovers it. No evil is apparently resultant. 2. He accuses us of it, and we punish him for impertinence. 3. He lies to us, and meets severe penalties. 4. We accuse him of it, rightly or wrongly, and are not punished for impertinence. 5. He observes us lie to the visitor in the way of politeness with no evil result. 6. He lies to the visitor less skilfully, and is again made to suffer. 7. He lies to his more ignorant juniors, and nothing happens. 8. Meanwhile, if he receives any definite ethical instruction on the subject, he is probably told that God hates a liar, that to lie is a sin!
The elastic human brain can and does accommodate itself to this confusion, and grows up to complacently repeat the whole performance without any consciousness of inconsistency; but progress in ethics is hardly to be looked for under such conditions. It is pathetic to see this waste of power in each generation. We are born with the gentler and kinder impulses bred by long social interrelation. We have ever broader and subtler brains; but our good impulses are checked, twisted, tangled, weighed down with many artificial restrictions, and our restless questionings and suggestions are snubbed or neglected. A child is temptingly open to instruction in ethics. His primitive mental attitude recognises the importance of the main principles as strongly as the early savage did. His simple and guarded life makes it easy for us to supply profuse and continuous illustrations of the working of these principles; and his strong, keen feelings enable us to impress with lasting power the relative rightness and wrongness of different lines of action.
Yet this beautiful opportunity is not only neglected, but the fresh mind and its eager powers are blurred, confused, discouraged, by our senseless treatment. Our lack of knowledge does not excuse it. Our lingering religious restriction does not excuse it. We know something of ethics, and practise something, but treat the child as if he was a lower instead of a higher being. Surely, we can reduce our ethical knowledge into some simple and teachable shape, and take the same pains to teach this noblest, this most indispensable of sciences that we take to teach music or dancing. Physics is the science of molecular relation,—how things work in relation to other things. Ethics is the science of social relation,—how people work in relation to other people. To the individual there is no ethics but of self-development and reproduction. The lonely animal’s behaviour goes no farther. But gregarious animals have to relate their behaviour to one another,—a more complex problem; and in our intricate co-relation there is so wide a field of inter-relative behaviour that its working principles and laws form a science.
However complex our ultimate acts, they are open to classification, and resolve themselves into certain general principles which long since were recognised and named. Liberty, justice, love,—we all know these and others, and can promptly square a given act by some familiar principle. The sense of justice developes very early, and may be used as a basis for a large range of conduct. “To play fair” can be early taught. “That isn’t fair!” is one of a child’s earliest perceptions. “When I want to go somewhere, you say I’m too little; and, when I cry, you say I’m too big! It isn’t fair!” protests the child.
In training a child in the perception and practice of justice, we should always remember that the standard must suit the child’s mind, not ours. What to our longer, wider sweep of vision seems quite just, to him may seem bitterly unjust; and, if we punish a child in a way that seems to him unjust, he is unjustly punished. So the instructor in ethics must have an extended knowledge of the child’s point of view,—that of children in general and of the child being instructed in particular, and the illustrations measured accordingly. It ought to be unnecessary to remark that no more passion should be used in teaching ethics than in teaching arithmetic. The child will make mistakes, of course. We know that beforehand, and can largely provide for them. It is for us to arrange his successive problems so that they are not too rapid or too difficult, and to be no more impatient or displeased at a natural slip in this line of development than in any other.
Unhappily, it is just here that we almost always err. The child’s slowly accumulating perceptions and increasing accuracy of expression are not only confused by our erroneous teaching, but greatly shocked and jarred by our manner, our evident excitement in cases of conduct which we call “matters of right and wrong.” All conduct is right or wrong. A difference in praise or blame belongs to relative excellence of intention or of performance; but the formation of a delicate and accurate conscience is sadly interfered with by our violent feelings. It is this which renders ethical action so sensitive and morbid. Where in other lines we act calmly, according to our knowledge, or, if we err, calmly rectify the error, in ethics we are nervous, vacillating, unduly elated or depressed, because our early teachings in this field were so overweighted with intense feeling.
Self-control is one of the first essentials in the practice of ethics,—which is to say, in living. Self-control can be taught a child by gently graduated exercises, so that he shall come calmly into his first kingdom, and exercise this normal human power without self-consciousness. We do nothing actively to develop this power. We simply punish the lack of it when that lack happens to be disagreeable to us. A child who has “tantrums,” for instance,—those helpless, prostrate passions of screaming and kicking,—is treated variously during the attack; but nothing is done during the placid interval to cultivate the desired power of control. Self-control is involved in all conscious acts. Therefore, it should not be hard to so arrange and relate those acts as to steadily develop the habit.
Games in varying degree require further exertion of self-control, and games are the child’s daily lessons. The natural ethical sense of humanity is strongly and early shown in our games. It is a joy to us to learn “the rules” and play according to them, or to a maturer student to grasp the principles and work them out; and our quick condemnation of the poor player or the careless player, and our rage at him who “does not play fair,” show how naturally we incline to right conduct. Life is a large game, with so many rules that it is very hard to learn by them; but its principles can be taught to the youngest. When we rightly understand those principles, we can leave off many arbitrary rules, and greatly simplify the game. The recognition of the rights of others is justice, and comes easily to the child. The generosity which goes beyond justice is also natural to the child in some degree, and open to easy culture. It should, however, always rest on its natural precursor, justice; and the child be led on to generosity gradually, and by the visible example of the higher pleasure involved.
To divide the fruit evenly is the first step. To show that you enjoy giving up your share, that you take pleasure in his pleasure, and then, when this act is imitated, to show such delight and gratitude as shall make the baby mind feel your satisfaction,—that is a slow but simple process. We usually neglect the foundation of justice, and then find it hard to teach loving-kindness to the young mind. Demands on the child’s personal surrender and generosity should be made very gradually, and always with a clearly visible cause. Where any dawning faculty is overstrained in youth, it is hard and slow to re-establish the growth.
One simple ethical principle most needful in child-training, and usually most painfully lacking, is honesty. Aside from direct lying, we almost universally use concealment and evasion; and even earlier than that we assume an artificial manner with babies and young children which causes the dawning ethical sense strange perturbations.
It is a very common thing to demand from little children a show of affection without its natural prompting. Even between mother and child this playing at loving is often seen. “Come and kiss mamma! What! Don’t you love mamma? Poor mamma! Mamma cry!” And mamma pretends to cry, in order to make baby pretend to love her. The adult visitor almost invariably simulates an interest and cordiality which is not felt, and does it in a palpably artificial manner. These may seem small matters. We pass them without notice daily, but they are important in the foundation impressions of the young brain. Children are usually very keen to detect the pretence. “Oh, you don’t mean that: you only say so!” they remark. We thus help to develop a loose, straggling sense of honesty and honour, a chronic ethical inaccuracy, like a bad “ear” for music.
The baby-educator should see to it that she show only real feelings to the child; and show them in large letters, as it were. Do not say, “Mamma is angry,” or “Mamma is grieved,” or “Mamma is ashamed,” but be angry, grieved, or ashamed visibly. Let the child observe the effect of his act on you, not hear you say you feel thus and so, and see no signs of it. We depend far too much on oral statements, and neglect the simpler, stronger, surer means of conveying impressions. The delicacy of perception of a child should be preserved and tenderly used. We often blur and weaken it by giving false, irregular, and disproportionate impressions, and then are forced to use more and more violence to make any impression at all. All this sensitiveness is to ethics what the “musical ear” is to music. In injuring it, we make it harder for the growing soul to discriminate delicately in ethical questions,—a difficulty but too common among us.
The basis of human ethics, being social, requires for its growth a growing perception of collective and inter-relative rights and duties. Our continual object with the child is to establish in his mind this common consciousness and an accurate measure in perception. It is at first a simple matter of arithmetic. Here is the group of little ones, and the equal number of cookies: palpably, each should have one. Here is one extra cookie. Who shall have it? Robby, because his is the smallest. Jamie cries that his is as small as Robby’s. Is it? The fact is ascertained. Divide the extra cookie, then: that’s fair. Or here is one who was not well yesterday and had no cookies. Give it to him. These things are not to be ostentatiously done nor too continually, but always with care and accuracy, as lessons more important than any others. The deeper and larger sense of social duty,—not the personal balancing of rights, which is easy to even the youngest mind, but the devotion to the service of all, the recognition that the greater includes the less,—this must be shown by personal example long before it can be imitated.
Parents neglect this where it would help them most, and substitute, to meet the child’s inquiries, only personal authority and compulsion. If the parent would constantly manifest a recognition of duty and performance of it even against desire, it would be a great help to the child. Most children imagine that grown persons do just as they want to; and that the stringent code of behaviour enforced upon them is requisite only in childhood, and enforceable only because of their weakness. Much of the parent’s conduct can be used as an object-lesson to the child; but its skilful employment needs clear ethical perception and much educational ability. For instance, if the mother elaborately explains that she is obliged to do something which seems to the child absurd, or if she claims to have to do a certain thing which the child can see that she really enjoys, the impressions made are not correct ones. A recognition of the importance of right teaching of ethics to the child would help adult conduct in most cases. And, if the child were receiving proper grounding in ethics from a special educator, he could come home and perplex his parents with problems, as a bright child often does now in other sciences.
This, of course, points to the need of accepted text-books on ethics, and will allow of disputes between authorities and disagreement on many points; but these conditions exist in all sciences. There are different authorities and “schools,” much disagreement and dispute and varying conduct based on our various scientific beliefs. But out of the study, discussion, and ensuing behaviour comes the gradual proof of what is really true; and we establish certain generally accepted facts and principles, while still allowing a margin for divergence of opinion and further knowledge.
Our dread of studying ethics as a science on account of this divergence of opinion is a hereditary brain tendency, due to the long association of ethical values with one infallible religious text-book,—Koran or Bible or Talmud or Zend-Avesta.
“It is written” was the most conclusive of statements to the ancient mind. The modern mind ought by this time to have developed a wide and healthy distrust of that which is written. While our “written” ethics has remained at a standstill always until the upward sweep of social conduct demanded and produced a better religion, our unnoticed practice of ethics has worked out many common rules.
In the fearless study of this field of practical ethics lies our way to such simple text-books as may be used to teach children. There is no question as to whether we should or should not teach ethics to very little children. We do, we must, whether we will or not. The real question is what to teach and how. They learn from our daily walk and conversation; and they learn strange things. Most palpable of all among the wrong impressions given to our children is that of the pre-eminent importance of the primitive relations of life, and the utter unimportance of the great social relations of our time. Whatever ideas of right and wrong the child succeeds in gathering, they are all of a closely personal nature, based on interpersonal conduct in the family relation, or in such restricted and shallow social relations as is covered by our code of “company manners.”
The greatest need of better ethics to-day is in our true social relation,—the economic and political field of action in which lie our major activities, and in which we are still so grossly uncivilised. Not until he goes to school does the child begin to appreciate any general basis of conduct; and even there the ethics of the position are open to much clearer treatment.
As the mother is so prominent a factor in influencing the child’s life, it is pre-eminently necessary that she should be grounded in this larger ethics, and able to teach it by example as well as by description. She needs a perception of the proportionate duties of mankind,—an understanding of their true basis, and a trained skill in imparting this knowledge to the child. If she cannot properly teach ethics, she should provide a teacher more competent. At present the only special ethical teaching for the child outside the family is in the Sunday-school; and Sunday-school teachers are usually amiable young ladies who are besought on any terms—with no preparation whatever—to give this instruction. Once we boldly enter the field of ethical study, and reduce its simple principles to a teachable basis,—when we make clear to ourselves and our children the legitimate reasons of right conduct,—the same intelligence and ambition which carry us on so far in other sciences will lift the standard of behaviour of our race, both in theory and practice. Meanwhile, with such knowledge and practice as we have to-day, let us see to it that we give to little children our best ethics by precept and example, with hopes that they may go on to higher levels.
VI. A PLACE FOR CHILDREN.
The one main cause of our unfairness to children is that we consider them wholly in a personal light. Justice and equity, the rights of humanity, require a broader basis than blood relationship. Children are part of humanity, and the largest part. Few of us realise their numbers, or think that they constitute the majority of human beings. The average family, as given in the census returns, consist of five persons,—two adults and three minors. Any population which increases has a majority of children, our own being three-fifths. This large proportion of human beings constitutes a permanent class,—another fact we fail to consider because of our personal point of view. One’s own child and one’s neighbour’s child grow up and pass out of childhood, and with them goes one’s interest in children. Of course, we intellectually know that there are others; but to the conscious mind of most persons children are evanescent personal incidents.
The permanence of childhood as a human status is proven by the survival among them of games and phrases of utmost antiquity, which are handed down, not from father to son, but from child to child. If an isolated family moves into a new country, and its children grow up alone, they do not know these games. We should bear in mind in studying children that we have before us a permanent class, larger than the adult population. So that in question of numerical justice they certainly have a right to at least equal attention. But, when we remember also that this large and permanent class of human beings is by far the most important, that on its right treatment rests the progress of the world, then, indeed, it behooves us to consider the attitude of the adult population toward the junior members of society.
As members of society, we find that they have received almost no attention. They are treated as members of the family by the family, but not even recognised as belonging to society. Only in modern history do we find even enough perception of the child’s place in the State to provide some public education; and to-day, in some more advanced cities, some provision for public protection and recreation. Children’s playgrounds are beginning to appear at last among people who have long maintained public parks and gardens for adults. Also, in the general parks a children’s quarter is often now provided, with facilities for their special care and entertainment. But except for these rare cases of special playgrounds, except for the quite generous array of school-houses and a few orphan asylums and kindred institutions, there are no indications in city or country that there are such people as children.
A visitor from another planet, examining our houses, streets, furniture, and machinery, would not gather much evidence of childhood as a large or an important factor in human life. The answer to this is prompt and loud: “Children belong at home! Look there, and you will see if they are considered or not.”
Let us look there carefully. The average home is a house of, say, six rooms. This is a liberal allowance, applicable only to America. Even with us, in our cities, the average home is in a crowded tenement,—only two or three rooms; and in wide stretches of country it is a small and crowded farm-house. Six rooms is liberal allowance,—kitchen, dining-room, and parlour, and three bedrooms. Gazing upon the home from the outside, we see a building of dimensions suited to adults. There is nothing to indicate children there. Examining it from the inside, we find the same proportionate dimensions, and nothing in the materials or arrangement of the internal furnishings to indicate children there. The stairs are measured to the adult tread, the windows to the adult eye, the chairs and table to the adult seat. Hold! In a bedroom we discover a cradle,—descended from who knows what inherited desire for swinging boughs!—and, in some cases, a crib. In the dining-room is often a high chair (made to accommodate the adult table), and sometimes in the parlour a low chair for the child. If people are wealthy and careful, there is, perhaps, a low table, too; but the utmost that can be claimed for the average child is a cradle or crib, a high chair, and a “little rocker.” There can be no reasonable objection to this, so long as the child is considered merely as a member of a family. The adult family precedes and outlasts the child, and it would be absurd to expect them to stoop and suffer in a house built and furnished for children.
So we build for the adult only, and small legs toil painfully up our stairs and fall more painfully down them.
But the moment we begin to address ourselves to the needs of children as a class, the result is different. In the school-house all the seats are for children, except “teacher’s chair”; in the kindergarten the tiny chairs and tables are perfectly appropriate; in the playground all the appointments are child-size. “What do you expect!” protests the perplexed parent. “You say yourself, I cannot build my house child-size. Do you expect me to add a child-size house in the back yard? I cannot afford it.”
No, the individual parent cannot afford to build a child-house for his own family, nor, for that matter, a school-house. We, collectively, whether through general taxation, as in the public school, or combination of personal funds, as in the private school, do manage to provide our children with school-houses, because we recognise their need of them. Similarly, we can provide for them suitable houses for a far more early and continuous education,—when we see the need of them. Here the untouched brain-spaces make no response. “What do you mean!” cries the parent. “Do you wish us to club together, and build a—a—public nursery for our children!” This seems sufficiently horrific to stop all further discussion. But is it? May we not gently pursue the theme?
We can and do cheerfully admit the advantages of a public school and a public school-teacher for our children. Some of us admit the advantages of a public kindergarten and a public kindergartner for our children. The step between child-garden and baby-garden is slight. Why not a public nursery and a public nurse? That, of course, for those classes who gladly provide and patronise the public school and kindergarten. The swarming neglected babies of the poor, now “underfoot” in dirty kitchen or dirtier street, part neglected and part abused, a tax on the toiling mother and a grievous injury to the older children who must care for them,—these would be far better off if every crowded block had its big, bright baby-garden on the roof, and their young lives were kept peaceful, clean, and well cared for by special nurses who knew their business. A public nursery is safer than the public street. One hot reply to this proposition is that “statistics prove that babies in institutions die faster than babies even in the poorest families.” Perhaps this is so.
But consider the difference in the cases. Children in institutions are motherless, generally orphans. No one is proposing to remove the mothers of the babies in the baby-garden. “But they would be separated from their mothers!” Children who go to school are separated from their mothers. Children who go to the kindergarten are separated from their mothers. Children who play in the street are separated from their mothers. If the mothers of these children had nothing else to do, they could give all their time to them. But they have other things to do; and, while they are busy, the baby would be better off in the baby-garden than in the street. To those who prefer to maintain the private school and the private kindergarten, a private baby-garden would be equally available. “But we do not want it. We prefer to care for our children at home,” they reply. This means that they prefer to have their little ones in their own nursery, under the care of the mother, via the nurse.
The question remains open as to which the children would prefer, and which would be better for them. Perhaps certain clear and positive assertions should be made here, to allay the anxiety and anger about “separating the child from the mother.”
The mother of a young baby should be near enough to nurse it, as a matter of course. She should “take care of it”; that is, see that it has everything necessary to its health, comfort, and development. But that is no reason why she should administer to its every need with her own hands. The ignorant, low-class poor mother does this, and does not preserve the lives of her children thereby. The educated, high-class rich mother does not do this, but promptly hires a servant to do it for her. The nursery and the nurse are essential to the baby; but what kind of nursery and nurse are most desirable? The kind of servant hired by the ordinary well-to-do family is often not a suitable person to have the care of little children. A young child needs even more intelligent care than an older one.
A group of families, each paying for its children’s schooling, can afford to give them a far higher class of teacher than each could afford to provide separately. So a group of families, each paying for its children’s “nursing,” could afford to provide a far superior class of “nurse” than each can provide separately.
Here again rises the protest that it is not good for small children—babies—to be “herded together,”—see infant mortality in institutions. Again, an unfair comparison is involved. The poorest kind of children, motherless and fatherless, are crowded in undue numbers in “charitable” or “public” institutions, and submitted to the perfunctory care of low-grade, ill-paid attendants, among accommodations by no means of the best. We are asked to compare this to small groups of healthy, well-bred children, placed for certain hours of the day only in carefully planned apartments, in all ways suitable, under the care of high-grade, well-paid expert attendants and instructors.
The care of little children is not servant’s work. It is not “nurses’” work. A healthy child should have his physical needs all properly supplied, and, for the rest, be under the most gentle and exquisite “training.” It is education, and education more valuable than that received in college, which our little ones need; and they do not get it from nurse-maids.
Then rises the mother. “I can teach my baby better than any teacher, however highly trained.” If the mother can, by all means let her. But can she? We do not hear mothers protesting that they can teach their grown-up sons and daughters better than the college professors, nor their middle-aged children better than the school-teachers. Why, then, are they so certain that they can teach the babies better than trained baby-teachers? They are willing to consult a doctor if the baby is ill, and gladly submit to his dictation. “The doctor says baby must eat this and go there and do so.” There is no wound to maternal pride in this case. If they have “defective” children, they are only too glad to place them under “expert care,” not minding even “separation” for the good of the child.
Any one who knows of the marvellous results obtained by using specially trained intelligence in the care of defective children must wonder gravely if we might not grow up better with some specially trained intelligence used on our normal children. But this we cannot have till we make a place for children. No woman or man, with the intelligence and education suitable for this great task, would be willing to be a private servant in one family. We do not expect it of college-teacher or school-teacher. We could not expect it of baby-teacher. The very wealthy might of course command all three; but that has no application to mankind in general, and is also open to grave question as to its relative value.
A private staff of college professors would not be able to give the boy the advantages of going to college. We cannot have separately what we can have collectively. Moreover, even if the teacher be secured, we have not at home the material advantages open to us in the specially prepared place for children.
A house or range of apartments for little children could be made perfectly safe,—which is more than the home is. From the pins on the carpet, which baby puts in his mouth, the stairs he falls down, the windows he falls out of and the fire he falls into, to the doors to jam the little fingers and the corners and furniture he bumps himself upon, “the home” is full of danger to the child. Why should a baby be surrounded with these superfluous evils? A room really designed for babies to play in need have no “furniture” save a padded seat along the wall for the “grown-ups” to sit on, a seat with little ropes along the edge for the toddlers to pull up and walk by. The floor should be smooth and even, antiseptically clean, and not hard enough to bump severely. A baby must fall, but we need not provide cobblestones for his first attempts. Large soft ropes, running across here and there, within reach of the eager, strong little hands, would strengthen arms and chest, and help in walking. A shallow pool of water, heated to suitable temperature, with the careful trainer always at hand, would delight, occupy, and educate for daily hours. A place of clean, warm sand, another of clay, with a few simple tools,—these four things—water, sand, clay, and ropes to climb on—would fill the days of happy little children without further “toys.” These are simple, safe, primitive pleasures, all helpful to growth and a means of gradual education. The home cannot furnish these things, nor could the mother give her time and attention to their safe management, even if she knew how to teach swimming, modelling, and other rudimentary arts.
The home, beside its difficulties and dangers, is full of unnecessary limitations. It is arranged on a scale of elegance such as the adult income can compass; and the natural activities of childhood continually injure the household decorations and conveniences. Perfectly natural and innocent conduct on the part of the child is deleterious to the grown-up home, so patently so that owners of fine houses are not willing to let them to families with children.
A nice comment this on the home as a place for children! Must a home be shabby and bare? Or must the child be confined to his bed? Why not develop the home to its own perfection,—a place of beauty and comfort and peace,—and let the children have a home of their own for part of the day, wherein the order and beauty and comfort are child-size? The child could sleep under his mother’s eye or ear, and gradually aspire to the adult table when he had learned how to be comfortable there, and not injure the comfort of others. He could soon have his own room if the family could afford it, and express his personality in its arrangement; but the general waking time of little children could be much better passed in a special house for children than in the parental kitchen, parlour, bedroom, or back yard. “But why not the private nursery,—the sunny room for the child and his toys? Is not that enough?” The private nursery means the private nurse, who is, as a class, unfit to have the care of little children. She is a servant; and the forming ideas of justice, courtesy, and human rights in general, are much injured by the spectacle of an adult attendant who is a social inferior. A servant is not a proper person to have charge of these impressionable years.
Moreover, however perfect the private nursery and private nurse might be, there remains its isolation to injure the child. We grow up unnecessarily selfish, aborted in the social faculties proper to our stage of advance, because each child is so in the focus of family attention all the time. A number of little ones together for part of every day, having their advantages in common, learning from infancy to say “we” instead of “I,” would grow up far better able to fill their places as helpful and happy members of society.
Even in those rare cases where the mother does actually devote her entire time to her children, it would still be better for them to pass part of that time in an equally wise and more dispassionate atmosphere. Our babies and small children ought to have the society of the very best people instead of the society of such low-grade women as we can hire to be nurses in our homes. And, while they need pre-eminently the mother’s tender love and watchful care, they also need the wider justice and larger experience of the genuine child-trainer.
So long as we so underrate the importance of childhood,—and that in proportion to the youth of the child,—those persons who should benefit our babies by their presence will not do so. Very great and learned men are proud to teach youths of eighteen and twenty in colleges; but they would feel themselves painfully ill-placed if set to teach the same boys at ten, five, or two years old. Why? Why should we not be eager for an introduction to “Professor Coltonstall! He’s the first man in America in infant ethics! Marvellous success! You can always tell the children who have been under him!” You cannot have this professor in your nursery. But your children and those of fifty other eager parents could be benefited by his wisdom, experience, and exquisitely developed skill in a place in common.
The argument does not appeal to us. We see no need for “wisdom,” “experience,” “trained skill” with a baby. We have not realised that we despised our babies; but we do. Any one is good enough to take care of them. We even confide them to the care of distinctly lower races, as in the South with its negro nurses. “Social equality” with the negro is beyond imagination to the Southerner. That gross inferior race can never be admitted to their companionship, but to the companionship of the baby—certainly. Could anything prove more clearly our lack of just appreciation of the importance of childhood? The colored nurse is, of course, thought of merely as the servant of the child; and we do not yet consider whether it is good for a child to have a servant or whether a servant is a good educator.
The truth is we never think of education in connection with babyhood, the term being in our minds inextricably confused with school-houses and books. When we do honestly admit the plain fact that a child is being educated in every waking hour by the conditions in which he is placed and the persons who are with him, we shall be readier to see the need of a higher class of educators than servant-girls, and a more carefully planned environment than the accommodations of the average home.
The home is not materially built for the convenience of a child, nor are its necessary workings planned that way; and, what is more directly evil, the mother is not trained for the position of educator. We persist in confounding mother and teacher. The mother’s place is her own, and always will be. Nothing can take it from her. She loves the child the best; and, if not too seriously alienated, the child will love her the best. The terror of the mother lest her child should love some other person better than herself shows that she is afraid of comparison,—that she visibly fears the greater gentleness and wisdom of some teacher will appeal to the young heart more than her arbitrary methods. If the mother expected to meet daily comparison with a born lover of children, trained in the wisest methods of child-culture, it would have an improving influence on the home methods. One of the great advantages of this arrangement will be in its reactive effect on the mother. In her free access to the home of the children, she will see practically illustrated the better methods of treating them, and be in frequent communication with their educators. The mother’s knowledge of and previous association with the child will make her a necessary coadjutor with the teacher, and by intercourse with the larger knowledge and wider experience of the teacher the mother will acquire new points of view and wiser habits.
As the school and kindergarten react beneficially upon the home, so this baby-school will react as beneficially, and perhaps more so, as touching the all-important first years. The isolated mother has no advantage of association or comparison, and falls into careless or evil ways with the child, which contact with more thoughtful outside influences would easily prevent. She could easily retain her pre-eminent place in the child’s affections, while not grudging to the special teacher her helpful influence. Also, the child, with the free atmosphere of equality around him for part of each day, with association with his equals in their place, would return to his own place in the home with a special affection, and submit with good will to its necessary restrictions.
In all but isolated farm life, or on the even more primitive cattle range, it would be possible to build a home for little children, and engage suitable persons to take charge of them daily. It would take no more time from the housework—if that is the mother’s trade—to take the child to its day play-school than it takes to watch and tend it at home and to prevent or mend its “mischief.”
“Children are so mischievous,” we complain, regarding their ingenious destruction of the domestic decorations. A calf in a flower-garden would do considerable mischief, or kittens in a dairy. Why seek to rear young creatures in a place where they must do mischief if they behave differently from grown people? Why not provide for them a place where their natural activities would not be injurious, but educational?
In cities it is a still simpler question. Every block could have its one or more child homes, according to their number of children thereabouts. The children of the rich would be saved from the evil effects of too much care and servants’ society, and the children of the poor from the neglect and low associations of their street-bred lives.
The “practical” question will now arise, “Who is to pay for all this?” There are two answers. One is, The same people who pay for the education of our older children. The baby has as good a right to his share of our educational funds, private and public, as the older child; and his education is more important. The other answer is that an able-bodied mother, relieved of her position as nursery governess, would be able to contribute something toward better provision for her children.
VII. UNCONSCIOUS SCHOOLING.
A small boy came from an old-fashioned city,—a city where he went to school from day to day, and sat with his fellows in rigid rectangular rows, gazing on bare whitewashed walls adorned with a broad stripe of blackboard; where he did interminable “sums” on a smeary little slate, and spelled in sing-song chorus “Baker! Baker! B, a, bay; k, e, r, ker,—Baker!” He came to a new-fashioned city, where the most important business on earth—the training of children—was appreciated. The small boy did not know this. He saw that the city was clean and bright and full of wide spaces of grass and trees; and he liked it. It pleased him, as a child: it was the kind of place that looked as if it had been planned with some thought of pleasing children. Soon he came to a great open gate, with shady walks and sunny lawns inside, buildings here and there in the distance, and, just at hand, some strange figures among the bushes.
A pleasant-looking lady sat reading in the shade, with a few children lying in the grass near by, reading, too. Our small boy stood irresolute; but the lady looked up, and said: “Come in, if you like. Look around all you want to.” Still he felt shy; but one of the reading little boys rose up, and went to him. “Come on,” he said cheerfully. “I’ll show you. There’s lots o’ things you’ll like. Oh, come on!” So he entered with uncertain steps, and made for one of the queer figures he had seen in the shrubbery. “It’s an Indian!” he said. “Like a cigar store!” But the resident little boy resented his comparison. “’Tisn’t, either!” cried he. “It’s ever so much nicer! Look at his moccasins and his arrows, and see the scalps in his belt! See the way he’s painted? That shows he’s a Sioux. They are great. One of the best kinds. They live up in the North-west,—Minnesota and round there; and they fight splendid! That one over there is a Yuma Indian. Look at the difference!”
And he took the visitor about, and showed him an interesting collection of samples of American tribes, giving off rivers of information with evident delight. From Indians their attention was taken by a peculiarly handsome butterfly that fluttered near them, pursued hotly by an eager little girl with a net.
“That must be a—well, I forget the name,” said the resident little boy. “Do you like bugs?”
“What kind o’ bugs?” inquired the visitor, rather suspiciously.
“Oh, tumble bugs and burying beetles and walking-sticks, and all kinds.”
“Walking-sticks! What’s that got to do with bugs?”
“Didn’t you ever see the walking-stick one? Oh, come on in! I’ll show you! It’s this way.” And off they run to a big rambling building among the shady elms. The visitor hangs back, somewhat awed by the size and splendour of the place, and seeing grown people about; but his young guide goes in unchecked, merely whispering, “Got to keep still in here,” and leads him down several passages into a large, quiet hall, lined with glass cases.
Such a wealth of “bugs” as were here exhibited had never before been seen by the astonished visitor; but, when the walking-stick insect was pointed out to him, he stoutly denied that it was a “bug” at all. A whispered altercation resulted in appeal to the curator, a studious youth, who was taking notes at a large table bestrewn with specimens. Instantly dropping his work, he took the object under discussion from its case, focussed a magnifying glass upon it, and proceeded to exhibit various features of insect anatomy, and talk about them most interestingly. But, as soon as he detected the first signs of inattention and weariness, he changed the subject,—suggested that there was some good target practice going on in the West Field; and the two boys, after a pleasant walk, joined a number of others who were shooting with bows and arrows, under careful coaching and management. “I can’t shoot except Saturdays,” said the guide, “because I haven’t joined a team and practised. But, if you want to, you just put your name down; and by and by you can hit anything. There’s all kinds of old-fashioned weapons—and the new ones, too.”
“What do you call this, anyhow?” demands the visitor.
“Call what? This is the West Field: they do all kinds of shooting here. You see that long bank and wall stops everything.”
“Yes,—but the whole place,—is it a park?”
“Oh, yes, kind of. It’s Weybourne Garden. And that was the museum we went to,—one of ’em.”
“Is it open always?”
“And you don’t have to pay for anything?”
“No. This part is for children. We learn how to do all sorts of things. Do you know how to build with bricks? I learned that last. I built a piece of a real wall. It’s not here. It was one that was broken on the other side, and I built a good piece in!”
A big clock struck somewhere. “Now I must go to dinner with mother,” said the guide. “The gate you came in at is on my way. Come on!” And he showed the wondering visitor out, and left him at his own door.
The young stranger did not know where he had been. He did not faintly imagine it. Neither, for that matter, did the other children, who went there every day, and with whom he presently found himself enrolled. They went to certain places at certain hours, because they were only “open” then with the persons present who showed them how to do desirable things.
There were many parks in the city, with different buildings and departments; and in them, day by day, without ever knowing it, the children of that city “went to school.”
The progressive education of a child should be, as far as possible, unconscious. From his first eager interest in almost everything, up along the gradually narrowing lines of personal specialisation, each child should be led with the least possible waste of time and nervous energy. There would be difficulties enough, as there are difficulties in learning even desirable games; but the child would meet the difficulties because he wanted to know the thing, and gain strength without losing interest. So soon as a child-house is built and education seen to begin in earliest babyhood, so soon as we begin to plan a beautiful and delicately adjusted environment for our children, in which line and colour and sound and touch are all made avenues of easy unconscious learning, we shall find that there is no sharp break between “home” and “school.” In the baby-garden the baby will learn many things, and never know it. In the kindergarten the little child will learn many things, and never know it. He will be glad and proud of his new powers, coming back to share the astonishing new information or exhibit the new skill to papa and mamma; but he will not be conscious of any task in all the time, or of special credit for his performance. Then, as he grows, the garden grows, too; and he finds himself a little wiser, a little stronger, a little more skilful every day—or would if he stopped to measure. But he does not measure. His private home is happy and easy, with a father and mother interested in all his progress; and his larger home—the child-world he grows up in—is so dominated by wise, subtle educational influences that he goes on learning always, studying a good deal, yet never “going to school.”
In the wise treatment of his babyhood, all his natural faculties are allowed to develop in order and to their full extent, so that he comes to a larger range of experiment and more difficult examples with a smooth-working, well-developed young mind, unwearied and unafraid. The legitimate theories of the kindergarten carefully worked out helped him on through the next years in the same orderly progression; and, as a child of five or six, he was able to walk, open-eyed and observant, into wider fields of knowledge. Always courteous and intelligent specialists around him, his mental processes watched and trained as wisely as his sturdy little body, and a careful record kept, by these experienced observers, of his relative capacity and rate of development.
So he gradually learns that common stock of human knowledge which it is well for us all to share,—the story of the building of the earth, the budding of the plant, the birth of the animal, the beautiful unfolding of the human race, from savagery toward civilisation. He learns the rudiments of the five great handicrafts, and can work a little in wood, in metal, in clay, in cloth, and in stone. He learns the beginnings of the sciences, with experiment and story, and finds new wonders to lead him on, no matter how far he goes,—an unending fascination.
For his sciences he goes to the museum, the laboratory, and the field, groups of children having about the same degree of information falling together under the same teacher. For the necessary work with pen and pencil there are quiet rooms provided. He has looked forward to some of these from babyhood, seeing the older ones go there.
Each child has been under careful observation and record from the very first. His special interests, his preferred methods, his powers and weaknesses, are watched and worked with carefully as he grows. If power of attention was weak at first, he is given special work to develop it. If observation was loose and inaccurate, that was laboured with. If the reasoning faculty worked with difficulty, it was exercised more carefully. He has been under such training from babyhood to twelve or fifteen years old as to give a full and co-ordinate development of his faculties,—all of them; and such a general grasp of the main lines of knowledge as to make possible clear choice of the lines of study for which he is best adapted. With such a childhood the youth will have much more power of learning, and a deep and growing interest—an unbroken interest—in his work.
The natural desire of mankind to know, and also to teach, and the steadily enlarging field of knowledge open to us, should make education the most delightful of processes. With our present methods the place of teacher is usually sought merely for its meagre salary, by women who “have to work,” instead of being eagerly aspired to as the noblest of professions, and only open to those best fitted. The children are so overtaxed and mishandled that only the best intellects come out with any further desire to learn anything. Humanity’s progress is made through brain-improvement, by brain-power. We need such schooling as shall give us better brains and uninjured bodies. Fortunately for us, the value of education is widely felt to-day, and new and improved methods are rapidly coming in. Our school-houses are more beautiful, our teachers better trained and more ambitious, and the beneficent influences of the kindergarten and of the manual training system are felt everywhere.
But, while much is being done, much more remains for us. With such honour and such pay as show our respect for the office of teacher, and such required training and natural capacity as shall allow of no incapables, we could surround our children from birth with the steady influence of the wisest and best people. More and more to-day is the school opening out. It connects with the public library, with art and industry, with the open fields; and this will go on till the time is reached when the child does not know that he is at school,—he is always there, and yet never knows it.
Where residence was permanent, the teachers of different grades could constantly compare their growing records, and the child’s unfolding be watched steadily, and noted with a view to still further improvement in method. Travelling parties of children are not unknown to us. These will become more common, until every child shall know his earth face to face,—mountain, river, lake, and sea,—and gain some idea of political division as well.
Two main objections to all this will arise at once: one, that of expense; the other, that a child so trained would not have learned to “apply himself,”—to force himself to do what he did not like,—that it was all too easy.
The ground of too much expense cannot be held. Nothing is too expensive that really improves education; for such improvement cuts off all the waste product of society,—the defective and degenerate, the cripple, thief, and fool, and saves millions upon millions now spent in maintaining or restraining these injurious classes. Not only that, but it as steadily developes the working value of humanity, turning out more and more vigorous and original thinkers and doers to multiply our wealth and pleasure. Grant the usefulness of improved methods in education, and they can never be expensive. Even to-day the school-children become far better class of citizens than the street Arabs who do not go to school; and such school advantages as we have lower our expense in handling crime and disease. When we provide for every child the very best education,—real education of body, brain, and soul,—with the trained hand and eye to do what the trained will and judgment command, it is difficult to see where the “criminal class” is to come from.
As to its being too easy, and not developing sufficiently stern stuff in our youngsters, that has two answers. In the first place, this proposed line of advance is not without its difficulties. Whether a child is learning to sew or to shoot or to lay bricks, to solve examples in fractions or to play chess, there are always difficulties. To learn what you don’t know is always a step up.
But why need we add to this the difficulty of making the child dislike the work? “Because it is necessary in this world to do what you don’t like!” is the triumphant rejoinder.
This is an enormous mistake. It is necessary in this world to like what you do, if you are to do anything worth while. One of the biggest of all our troubles is that so many of us are patiently and wearily doing what we do not like. It is a constant injury to the individual, draining his nervous strength and leaving him more easily affected by disease or temptation; and it is a constant injury to society, because the work we do not like to do is not as good as it would be if we liked it.
The kind of forcing we use in our educational processes, the “attention” paid to what does not interest, the following of required lines of study irrespective of inclination,—these act to blunt and lower our natural inclinations, and leave us with this mischievous capacity for doing what we do not like.
A healthy child, rightly surrounded with attractive opportunities, the stimulus of association, and natural (not forced) competition, will want to learn the things most generally necessary, just as he wants to learn the principal games his comrades play. He has his favourite games, and does best in them, and will have his favourite studies and do best in them, which is no injury to any one.
In this unconscious method the child learns with personal interest and pleasure, and not under pressure of class competition, reward, or punishment. He knows, of course, that he is learning, as he knows when he has learned to swim or to play golf; but he is not laboriously “going to school” and “studying” against his will. The benefit of such a process is that it will supply the world with young citizens of unimpaired mental vigour, original powers and tastes, and strong special interests, thus multiplying the value and distinction of our products, and maintaining the health and happiness of the producer.
As a matter of practical introduction, we are already moving in this direction, with the “laboratory method,” the natural sciences now taught so widely, and all the new impetus through the study of pedagogy.
But those most capable and most interested, those who see the value of this trend and are doing all they can to promote it, are most keenly conscious of the difficulties which still confront them. These difficulties are not far to seek. They lie in the indifference, the criminal indifference, of our citizens, notably the women. Sunk in the constant contemplation of their own families, our female citizens let the days and years pass by, utterly ignoring their civic duties. While women are supported by men, they have more time to spare for such broad interests than men have; and one would naturally think that even the lowest sense of honour would lead them to some form of public usefulness in return for this immunity. As the English nobleman—the conscientious one—sees in his wealth and leisure, his opportunities for study and cultivation, only a heavy obligation to serve the State which so well serves him, so should our women of leisure—the thousands of them—feel in their free and sheltered lives a glorious compulsion to serve the best interests of that society which maintains them.
The care of children is certainly the duty of women. The best care of children means the best education. The woman who has not done her best to improve the educational advantages of her city, State and country,—of the world,—has not done her duty as a citizen or as a woman. And, as education comes through every impression received by the child, we must improve home and street and city and all the people, to make a clean, safe, beautiful world, in which our children may receive the unconscious schooling to which they have a right.
VIII. PRESUMPTUOUS AGE.
The ineffable presumption of aged persons is an affliction too long endured. Much is told us of the becoming modesty of youth. Is no modesty becoming a period of life when experience has given some measure to merit?
Why should youth be modest? Youth believes it can do all things, and has had no proof to the contrary. But age,—age which has tried many times and been met by failure; age, which has learned its limitation by repeated blows, and become content with hard-worn compromise,—why should age be so proud?
In itself it is no distinction, being but the common lot of man. Those who do not attain to it are by general consent of superior merit. “Whom the gods love die young.”
Age is not desired and striven for,—not won by honourable effort. It comes gradually upon us all, falling like rain upon the just and the unjust. Taken simply in itself, it proves no more than that the aged individual, if a man, has had sufficient strength and ingenuity to keep himself alive; and, if a woman, that she has been sufficiently pleasing and well-behaved to be kept alive by others.
In very early times, when the world was young and life more exciting and precarious than now, perhaps the above qualities were a sufficient distinction. The constitution which survived the rigours of a crude and uncertain diet and of an undiluted climate was a thing to be proud of; and the visible proof that one had survived one’s enemies did indicate some superiority.
But in a civilisation which takes special care of the infirm,—where green young cripples grow to a ripe old age, and a bed-ridden pauper may outlive many muscular labourers,—mere prolongation of existence is no self-evident proof of either power or wisdom. Of two men born in the same year, the more valuable man, doing more valuable work, is quite as likely to die as an innocuous, futile, low-grade person, paddling feebly with the tide. Of two women, one may smilingly repeat herself by the dozen, and drift sweetly on from amiable juvenility to as amiable senility; while another, working strenuously and effectively, dies in her earnest youth or middle age.
Survival is no longer a fair test of value. The wisdom of the ancients is not the standard of our time. We do not think that a previous century knows more than ours, but rather less; and, if Methuselah were with us yet,—and retained his faculties,—he would be too much confused between the things he used to believe and what he was learning now to be a valuable authority. When learning was but accumulated tradition, the old had an advantage over the young, and improved it. Now that learning is discovery, the young have an advantage over the old.
If wisdom consisted merely in the accumulation of facts, the long-time observer would assuredly have more of them than the new-comer. But the wisdom that consists in a free and unbiassed judgment—a new perception of the relation of things—comes better from a fresher brain. This is not to say that age may not coexist with superiority, but that age, per se, is not superiority.
There are many aged persons in the work-house who are quite visibly inferior to many young persons in the House of Commons. This suggests a painful antithesis which is better omitted. Granting the origin of this arrogance of the aged to have had some basis in primitive time, it is easy to see how it has descended to us by the same principle that maintains the fag system.
Humanity has always its overlapping generations; and the child who is crushed by the incontrovertible statement, “I am older than you are!” waits to recoup himself on children yet to be. In his subordinate position in youth he has no chance to escape from this injustice or to retaliate; and he strikes a balance with fate by assuming the same superiority over the new-comer. It is probable that we should never outgrow the assumption until we have a generation of children taught to respect conduct for its merits, not for simple duration, holding a wise, strong, good person, however young, to be superior to an ignorant or vicious one, however old. When the sense of justice and the sense of logic of the child are not outraged in youth, we shall find more modesty as well as more wisdom in old age.
It is always interesting to see our psychic development following the laws of nature, like any other growth. Under the law of inertia the human mind, starting under a given concept, continues to enlarge in that direction, unless arrested or diverted in some other force. So this conception of age as essential superiority, naturally enough begun, has been followed to strange and injurious extremes. And under the law of conservation of energy—following the line of least resistance—the aged naturally encroached upon the young, who were able to make no resistance whatever.
The respect and care for aged persons, which is so distinguishing a mark of advanced civilisation, is due to two things: first, the prolonged serviceability of parents; and, second, the social relation which allows of usefulness to even the very old. In an early savage tribe the elderly parent is of no special value to the newly matured young, and the tribal service has more use for juvenile warriors than for the ancient ones: wherefore the old folk are of small account, and do not meet much encouragement to prolonged living. But with us, though the child is grown quite sufficiently to hunt and fight and reproduce his kind, he is not yet properly equipped for the social service. He needs more years yet of parental assistance while he accumulates knowledge in his profession or skill in his trade.
Therefore, parentage is a longer and more elaborate operation with us than with lower races, animal or human, and the parent consequently more appreciated. This position is fondly taken advantage of by the designing aged, oft-times with a pious belief in their righteous ground which is most convincing.
Because the human parent is of far more service to the young than earlier parents, therefore our elders calmly assume that it is the duty of the young to provide for and serve them,—not only to render them natural assistance when real incapacity comes, but to alter the course of their young and useful lives to suit the wishes of the old. Among poor and degraded classes we see children early set to work for the parents instead of parents working for the children,—a position as unnatural as for a hen to eat eggs. Life is not a short circle, a patent self-feeder. The business of the hen is to hatch the egg, and of the egg to grow to another and different hen,—not to turn round and sacrificially nourish the previous fowl.
The duty of the parent is a deep-seated, natural law. Without the parent’s care of the child, no race, no life. The duty of the child to the parent was largely invented by parents, from motives of natural self-interest, and has been so long sanctioned and practised that we look on without a shudder and see a healthy middle-aged mother calmly swallowing the life of her growing daughter. A girl is twenty-one. She has been properly reared by her mother, whom we will suppose to be a widow. Being twenty-one, the girl is old enough to begin to live her own life, and naturally wishes to. I do not speak of marrying,—that is generally allowed,—but of so studying and working as to develop a wide, useful life of her own in case she does not marry.
“Not so,” says her mother. “Your duty is to stay with me. I need you.”
Now the mother is not bed-ridden. She is, we will say, an able-bodied woman of forty-five or fifty. She could easily occupy herself in one of several trades; but, being in possession of a house and a tiny income, she “does not have to work.” She prefers to live in that house, on that income, and have her daughter live with her. The daughter prefers to go to New York, and study music or art or dressmaking, whatever she is fit for. But here is her dear mother claiming her presence at home as a duty; and she gives it. She does her duty, living there with her mother in the capacity of—of what? In no capacity at all. Fancy a young man living at home in the capacity of a “son,” with no better occupation than dusting the parlour and arranging flowers! In course of time the mother dies. The daughter has lost her position as “a daughter,” and has no other place in life. She has never been allowed to form part of the living organism of society, and remains a withered offshoot, weak and fruitless.
These cases are common enough. But consider from another point of view the serene presumption of the elder woman. Because she had done—so far—her duty by the child that was, she now claims a continuous hold on the grown woman and a return for her services.
In still earlier days this claim was made even more strenuously. The child awe-fully addressed the father as “author of my being,” and was supposed to “owe” him everything. The child does not owe the parent. Parental duty is not a loan. It is the never-ending gift of nature,—an unbroken, outpouring river of love and labour from the earliest beginnings of life. The child, while a child, has also some duty to the parent; but even there it is reflex, and based in last analysis on the child’s advantage.
Meanwhile it is a poor parent who cannot win the affection and command the respect of the young creature growing up so near, so that a beautiful relation shall be established between them for the rest of life. This love and honest admiration, this affectionate friendliness, and all the ties of long association would naturally prompt the child to desire the society of the parent, and, of course, to provide for illness and old age; but that is a very different position from the one taken by an able-bodied, middle-aged parent demanding the surrender of a young life.
Parentage is not a profession with a sort of mutual insurance return to it. The claim that humanity is born saddled with this retroactive obligation requires more convincing proof than has yet been offered.
An obligation we all have, young and old,—and to this the child should be trained,—the vast and endless service of humanity, to which our lives are pledged without exception. Seeing the parent devout in this honourable discharge of duty,—realising that his own training is with a view to that greater service when he is grown,—the child would go onward in life with the parent, not backward to him.
But we have not yet forgotten the habits and traditions of the patriarchate. We demand from the young respect because we are older, not because we deserve it. Respect is a thing which is extorted willy-nilly by those who deserve it, and which cannot be given at will. If a parent loses his temper and talks foolishly, how can a child respect this weakness? To demand respectful treatment shows one cannot command it; and, if it is not commanded, it cannot be had. Any false assumption is a block to progress. So long as the aged expect to be looked up to on account of the length of time in which they have not died, so long will they ignore those habits of life which should insure reverence and love at any age.
People ought to be living with wise forethought and circumspection, in order that they may be respected when old,—not carelessly lulled with the comforting belief that, no matter how foolish they are, age will bring dignity.
So, too, if parents did not so fatuously demand respect merely because they are parents, but would see to it that they deserve and win respect by such visible power and wisdom as the child must bow to, we might look for a much quicker advance in these desirable qualities. The power of learning things does not cease at maturity. Many a great mind has gone on to extreme old age, open, eager, steadily adding to its store of light and power. Such keep the freshness and the modesty of youth. Far more numerous are the little minds which imagine that years are equivalent to wisdom, and, because they are grown up, decline to learn further. Yet these, far more than the wise men, sit back complacent on their age, and talk with finality of “my experience”!
Experience is not merely keeping alive. Experience involves things happening and things done. Many a young man of to-day has done more and felt more than a peaceful, stationary nonagenarian of yesterday’s rural life. That very brashness and self-assumption of hot youth, which brings so complacent and superior a smile to the cheek of age, would not be so prominent but for previous suppression and contemptuous treatment. A lofty and supercilious age makes a rash and incautious youth; but youth, trained to early freedom and its rich and instructive punishments, would grow to an agreeable age, modest with much wisdom, tender and considerate with long power.
IX. THE RESPECT DUE TO YOUTH.
Since we have so carefully and thoroughly beaten back the new brain-growth which should distinguish each successive generation, and fostered in every way the primitive mental habits of our forefathers, the natural consequence is a prolonged survival of very early tendencies. Outside, in the necessary contact and freedom of the world’s life, crude ideas must change, and either become suited to the times or lost entirely. But in the privacy of the home, under the conditions of family life and the dominant influence of feminine conservatism, we find a group of carefully cherished rudiments which never could have survived without such isolation.
Among primitive races the stranger is an object of legitimate derision. The differences in his speech and manner are held as visible inferiorities, and his attempts to assimilate are greeted with unchecked merriment. This attitude of mind is still common in children, who are passing through the same stage of culture individually. Among intelligent and well-bred grown people such an attitude of mind is rightly despised. To them the stranger is entitled to respectful consideration because he is a stranger; and nothing could be ruder, in the estimation of such persons, than to laugh at the stranger’s efforts to learn our language and manners.
How great is the difference between this common good breeding in the world at large and the barbaric crudity of our behaviour at home to that most sacred stranger, the child! He comes to us absolutely ignorant of our methods of living, be they wise or unwise; and he must needs learn every step of his way in the paths we have prepared for him. Unfortunately, we have prepared very little. A few physical conveniences, perhaps, in the way of high chairs and cradles, or nursing-bottles to supplement maternal deficiency; but in psychic conveniences—in any better recognition of the childish attitude of mind and its natural difficulties—we make small progress.
Calm, wondering, unafraid, the stranger enters the family circle. He has no perspective, no gradations of feeling in regard to the performances he finds going on about him. He has neither shame for the truths of real life nor respect for the falsehoods of artificial life. In soberness and eager interest he begins the mysterious game of living.
Now what is the attitude of the family toward this new-comer? How does the intelligent adult treat the stranger within his gates? He treats him with frequent ridicule and general gross disrespect. Not “unkindly,” perhaps,—that is, not with anger and blows or undue deprivations,—but as if being a child was a sort of joke. A healthy child is merry with the free good spirits of a spring-tide lamb; but that pure mirth has nothing in common with ridicule. Who of us has not seen a clear-eyed child struck dumb and crimson by the rude laughter of his elders over some act which had no element of humour except that it was new to him? We put grandpa’s hat on the downy head of the baby, and roar with laughter at his appearance. Do we put baby’s cap on grandma, and then make fun of the old lady’s looks? Why should we jeer at a baby more than at an old person? Why are we so lacking in the respect due to youth?
Every child has to learn the language he is born to. It is certain that he will make mistakes in the process, especially as he is not taught it by any wise system, but blunders into what usage he can grasp from day to day.
Now, if an adult foreigner were learning our language, and we greeted his efforts with yells of laughter, we should think ourselves grossly rude. And what should we think of ourselves if we further misled him by setting absurd words and phrases before him, encouraging him to further blunders, that we might laugh the more; and then, if we had visitors, inciting him to make these blunders over again to entertain the company? Yet this is common household sport, so long as there is a little child to act as zany for the amusement of his elders. The errors of a child are not legitimate grounds of humour, even to those coarse enough to laugh at them, any more than a toddling baby’s falls have the same elements of the incongruous as the overthrow of a stout old gentleman who sits down astonished in the snow.
A baby has to fall. It is natural, and not funny. So does the young child have to make mistakes as he learns any or all of the crowding tasks before him; but these are not fair grounds for ridicule.
I was walking in a friend’s garden, and met for the first time the daughter of the house, a tall, beautiful girl of nineteen or twenty. Her aunt, who was with me, cried out to her in an affected tone, “Come and meet the lady, Janey!”
The young girl, who was evidently unpleasantly impressed, looked annoyed, and turned aside in some confusion, speaking softly to her teacher who was with her. Then the aunt, who was a very muscular woman, seized the young lady by her shoulders, lifted her off the ground, and thrust her blushing, struggling, and protesting into my arms—by way of introduction! Naturally enough, the girl was overcome with mortification, and conceived a violent dislike for me. (This story is exactly true, except that the daughter of the house was aged two and a half.)
Now why,—in the name of reason, courtesy, education, justice, any lofty and noble consideration,—why should Two-and-a-half be thus insulted? What is the point of view of the insulter? How does she justify her brutal behaviour? Is it on the obvious ground of physical superiority in age and strength? It cannot be that, for we do not gratuitously outrage the feelings of all persons younger and smaller than ourselves. A stalwart six-foot septuagenarian does not thus comport himself toward a small gentleman of thirty or forty. It cannot be relationship; for such conduct does not obtain among adults, be they never so closely allied. It has no basis except that the victim is a child, and the child has no personal rights which we feel bound to respect.
A baby, when “good,” is considered as a first-rate plaything,—a toy to play with or to play on or to set going like a machine-top, that we may laugh at it. There is a legitimate frolicking with small children, as the cat plays with her kittens; but that is not in the least inconsistent with respect. Grown people can play together and laugh together without jeering at each other. So we might laugh with our children, even more than we do, and yet never laugh at them. The pathetic side of it is that children are even more sensitive to ridicule than grown people. They have no philosophy to fall back upon; and,—here is the hideously unjust side,—if they lose their tempers, being yet unlearned in self-restraint,—if they try to turn the tables on their tormentors, then the wise “grown-up” promptly punishes them for “disrespect.” They must respect their elders even in this pitiful attitude; but who is to demand the respect due to youth?
There is a deal of complaint among parents over the “impertinence” of children. “How dare you speak to me like that!” cries outraged authority. Yet “that” was only the expression used just before by the parent to the child.
“Hold your tongue!” says the mother. “Hold yours!” answers the child, and is promptly whipped for impertinence. “I’ll teach you to answer me like that!” says angry mamma. And she does.
In the baby’s first attempt to speak we amused ourselves mightily over his innocent handling of rude phrases,—overheard by chance or even taught him, that we might make merry over the guileless little mouth, uttering at our behest the words it did not understand. Then, a year or so older, when he says the same things, he is laboriously and painfully taught that what is proper for a parent to say to a child is not proper for a child to say to a parent. “Why?” puzzles the child. We can give no answer, except our large assumption that there is no respect due to youth.
Ask any conscientious mother or father why the new human being, fresh from God as they profess to believe, not yet tainted by sin or weakened by folly and mistake, serene in its mighty innocence and serious beyond measure, as its deep eyes look solemnly into life,—why this wonderful kind of humanity is to be treated like a court fool. What can the parent say?
From the deeper biological standpoint, seeing the foremost wave of advancing humanity in each new generation, there is still less excuse for such contemptuous treatment. In the child is lodged the piled up progress of the centuries, and, as he shall live, is that progress hastened or retarded. Quite outside of the natural affection of the parent for the offspring stands this deep, human reverence for the latest and best specimen of its kind. Every child should represent a higher step in racial growth than its parents, and every parent should reverently recognise this. For a time the parent has the advantage. He has knowledge, skill, and power; and we feel that in the order of nature he is set to minister to the younger generation till it shall supplant him. To develop such a noble feeling has taken a long time, and many steps upward through those cruder sentiments which led toward it. Yet it is the rational, conscious feeling into which the human being translates the whole marvellous law of parental love.
To the animal this great force expresses itself merely in instinct; but, as such, it is accepted and fulfilled, and the good of the young subserved unquestioningly. In low grades of human life we have still this animal parental instinct largely predominating, coloured more or less with some prevision of the real glory of the work in hand. Yet so selfish is human parentage that in earlier times children have been sold as slaves in the interests of parents, have been and still are set to work prematurely; and in certain races the father looks forward to having a son for various religious benefits accruing to him, the father.
Sentiments like these are not conducive to respect for youth. The mother is not generally selfish, in this sense. Her error is in viewing the child too personally, depending too much on “instinct,” and giving very little thought to the matter. She loves much and serves endlessly, but reasons little. The child is pre-eminently “her” child, and is treated as such. Intense affection she gives, and such forms of discipline and cultivation as are within her range, unflagging care and labour also; but “respect” for the bewitching bundle of cambric she has so elaborately decorated does not occur to her.
Note the behaviour of a group of admiring women around a baby on exhibition. Its clothes are prominent, of course, in their admiration; and its toes, fingers, and dimples generally. They kiss it and cuddle it and play with it, and the proud mamma is pleased. When the exhibitee is older and more conscious, it dislikes these scenes intensely. Being “dressed up” and passed around for the observation and remark of the grown-up visitors is an ordeal we can all remember.
Why cannot a grown person advance to make the acquaintance of a child with the same good manners used in meeting an adult? Frankness, naturalness, and respect, these are all the child wants. And precisely these he is denied. We put on an assumed interest—a sort of stage manner—in accosting the young, and for all our pretence pay no regard to their opinions or confidence, when given. Really well-intentioned persons, parents or otherwise, will repeat before strangers some personal opinion, just softly whispered in their ears, with a pair of little arms holding fast to keep the secret close; dragging it out remorselessly before the persons implicated, while the betrayed child squirms in wretchedness and anger.
To do this to a grown-up friend would warrant an angry dropping of acquaintance. Such traitorous rudeness would not be tolerated by man or woman. But the child,—the child must pocket every insult, as belonging to a class beneath respect.
Is it not time that we summoned our wits from their wool-gathering,—however financially profitable the wool may be,—and gave a little honest thought to the status of childhood? Childhood is not a pathological condition, nor a term of penal servitude, nor a practical joke. A child is a human creature, and entitled to be treated as such. A human body three feet long is deserving of as much respect as a human body six feet long. Yet the bodies of children are handled with the grossest familiarity. We pluck and pull and push them, tweak their hair and ears, pat them on the head, chuck them under the chin, kiss them, and hold them on our laps, entirely regardless of their personal preferences. Why should we take liberties with the person of a child other than those suitable to an intimate friendship at any age?
“Because children don’t care,” some one will answer. But children do care. They care enormously. They dislike certain persons always because of disagreeable physical contact in childhood. They wriggle down clumsily, all their clothes rubbed the wrong way, with tumbled hair and flushed, sulky faces from the warm “lap” of some large woman or bony, woolly-clothed man, who was holding them with one hand and variously assaulting them with the other, and rush off in helpless rage. No doubt they “get used to it,” as do eels to skinning; but in this process of accustoming childhood to brutal discourtesy we lose much of the finest, most delicate development of human nature. There is no charge of cruelty, unkindness, or neglect involved in this.
Discourtesy to children is practised by the most loving and devoted parents, the most amiable of relatives and visitors. Neither is it a question of knowledge on the part of the elder. These rudenesses are practised by persons of exquisite manners, among their equals. It is simply a case of survival of an undeveloped field of human nature,—a dark, uncultivated, neglected spot where we have failed to grow. The same forces which have so far civilised us will work farther when we give them room. We have but to open our minds and widen our sphere of action to become civilised in these domestic relations. It is the citizenship—the humanness—of the child we need to recognise, not merely its relative accomplishments compared to ourselves. Also the tendencies and restraint born of power and freedom should teach us to respect the child precisely because of its helplessness. The principle that urges even the bullying school-boy to “take a fellow of his own size,” and which forbids torturing a captive, killing an unarmed man, or insulting an inferior, ought to put more nobility into our conduct in relation to the child. As so much weaker, strength should respect him; and, as one bound to supersede us, wisdom should recognise his power.
X. TOO MUCH CONSIDERATION.
The child comes to the table. He looks a little weary, knowing the task before him.
“Now what will you have?” asks his fond mamma. “What would you like, dear?”
The child gazes at the dishes there present, and is somewhat attracted toward one or more of them; but his brain thrusts upon him images of other viands, and memories of triumph in securing some vaguely remembered delicacy. He wavers in his mind, and wiggles his knife uncertainly. “I guess—I’ll have”—Mamma is all attention. “Have some of this nice potato!” she urges. He had inclined toward the potato previously, but rebels at its being urged upon him. Also the cooing adjective affronts him. He has heard things called nice before, usually when he did not want them.
“No, I don’t want any potato,” he says. “I want—I’ll have some sweet potato!”
Unhappily there is no sweet potato, and the good mamma smilingly excuses the lack. “We will have some to-morrow,” she promises; and, to distract him from thought of the impossible, “Won’t you have a chop?”
“No—yes—I’ll have one chop. On this plate, not on that plate. I won’t have it on that plate!”
“But this plate is warm, dear.”
“I want it on my own plate!”
“Very well. Will you have some gravy?”
“Yes, I guess so. Not on the potato! Don’t put it on the potato! I won’t eat it if you put it on the potato!”
In time he eats, though not with eagerness. In his young mind is a vague sense of annoyance and discomfort, as if he were in some way defrauded of his dinner. The present dinner, rather gloomily going down, is contrasted with other possible dinners, not now to be attained. What he has suffers by comparison with all the things he has not, and a dim memory of previous disappointments oppresses him.
“He never did eat well,” says his mother. “We have hard work to find what he will eat.” There may be some digestive disturbance, but there is a quite needless psychological disturbance added. Choice is a wearing thing, even to the trained scanner of menus.
To select a meal exactly to one’s taste, and not be haunted by the unchosen dishes, means the prompt and skilful exercise of a widely cultivated taste. Most of us gladly prefer to have some experienced cook and caterer set a good meal before us. A pleased anticipation at a well-known dinner table is a more agreeable frame of mind than that of one who must needs select, spurred by a tall darkey with a pencil.
A child has not a cultivated taste nor the calmness of experience. A choice, even from objects before him, is uncertain enough. He is apt to speedily regret and wish to change. To be called upon to order a meal is a real tax upon him. While he exerts himself in this direction, any proposition is likely to be resented; and, to one who is on tiptoe in effort to decide, an insinuating suggestion from without is extremely irritating.
This method of consulting a child’s preferences before he has them, introducing alternatives not present and then harassing the wavering young mind with persuasive propositions, rapidly developes a halting, fretful, back-stitch sort of temper, always wishing it had done the other thing.
The old-fashioned method was to compel a child to eat “what was set before him,” all of it, quite regardless of his personal taste or constitutional limitations. Nothing but palpable nausea convinced these obdurate parents of earlier generations that there were some things the little victim could not eat. This was a foolish and cruel method. Children differ widely in digestive power and preference, and their tastes are marked and sensitive. Eating what he does not like is far more painful to a child than to an adult. But his tastes and limitations can be discovered without concentrating his own attention on them. It is bad to treat a child’s tastes with less consideration than those of older human beings; but there is no reason why they should be treated with more. The simple lesson can be taught of eating what he likes and leaving what he dislikes without vociferous proclamation of these preferences; and, if he really thinks of something else he would like to have for dinner, teach him to ask for it for another time. He can readily understand that cooking takes time, and extra dishes cannot be served at a moment’s notice.
A family is usually composed of several persons, all of whom should be treated with justice. If it is reduced to two only,—if there is only mother and child to decide between,—the decision should be fairly balanced. The practical issues of daily life are almost always open to a child’s understanding.
Mamma, we will say, is reading. Mabel is busy with doll’s dressmaking.
“O mamma! Will you please get me the scissors?”
“Can you not get them as easily, dear?”
“I don’t know just where they are, and I’ve been fussing ever so long with this yoke; and now I’ve got it just right, and I’m afraid, if I put it down, I’ll forget again!”
Mamma looks at the flushed, earnest little face, lays her book down, and gets the scissors.
Again. Mamma is stuffing the turkey. “Mabel, will you please bring me down the largest needle on my cushion?”
“Oh, but, mamma, I’m so busy with my paints!”
“Yes; but you are upstairs already, and my hands are in the stuffing. Please hurry, dear.”
Mabel brings the needle promptly. She knows that mamma is considerate of her, and she is considerate of mamma.
It is by no means necessary to argue over every little service, but a few test cases keep in mind the idea of justice. If what a child wants will give more pleasure to the child than trouble to the adult, do it. If it is more trouble to the adult than pleasure to the child, do not do it; and let the child understand, first, last, and always, the balance of human rights.
I knew a girl of thirteen who had not yet learned to keep herself covered at night. She slept with her mother; and, if she wakened chilly, she would murmur, without opening her eyes, “Mother, cover me up!” And her mother would do it. This was unfair to the child. It allowed her to commit a gross injustice; and her mother was “compounding a felony,” as it were, in indulging her. The child was already awake, and quite capable of pulling up the blankets. There was no reason why her tired mother should lose sleep for the purpose. The practical way to exhibit this would be for the mother to waken the child with the same demand. A few applications would be sufficient. If verbal remonstrance was preferred (usually an inferior method), the mother might quietly reply: “By no means. You are perfectly able to do it. It is not fair to waken me for that. I do not get to sleep again as quickly as you do, and am tired next day.” A child already reasonably trained would easily see the force of that argument.
A big boy is persistently late to breakfast. This annoys his mother at the time, and delays her work afterward. She saves and keeps hot various viands for him, taking many extra steps; and her day’s work is rendered a little more difficult. If the breakfast hour is that most convenient to the family needs, simply explain to the boy that breakfast is at such a time only; that he will be called in due season; and that, if he is not down within the given time, he will find no breakfast whatsoever. This course, firmly followed, works like a charm. Most people dislike going without breakfast. A child should have sufficient sleep, of course; but, if his hours are reasonable, there is no justice in incommoding the working mother for the sake of a little natural laziness. With very little children we ingeniously manage to ignore some of their really important questions and actions, and at the same time to let them trample on our ears and brains with senseless iteration of unnecessary words.
A small boy is eating his supper, while his mother puts little sister to bed.
“Mother!” he bawls. “Mother! Mo-o-ther!”
At last she leaves her task to come to him, he still shouting; and this is his communication: “Mother! This is baker’s bread!”
“Yes, dear,” says the too tender mamma, and goes back again.
That child should have been met, not with anger or punishment, but with very simple sarcasm and protest.
“Yes, that is baker’s bread,—and that is a plate,—and that is a spoon. I knew all these things when I arranged your supper. Do you think it is fair to call me downstairs just to say that?”
The bubbling fluency of a child’s mind, the tendency to repetition and sometimes foolishness, is natural enough, and not to be blamed; but we should help the child to outgrow it instead of submitting to his wearisome reiterance.
“But, my dear, you said that before. I understand. Now do not say it again.”
To say, “Yes, dear,” a dozen times to the same question or statement is not strengthening to the child’s mental habits. Similarly, when a child asks palpably foolish questions,—foolish by his own standard,—he needs not consideration, but mild ridicule. And, if he can answer his own question, let him: it is no kindness to do all his work. Children are not benefited by a too soft and yielding environment, nor do they always love best those who treat them with too much consideration. Fairness, not severity nor constant concession, is what a child appreciates. If we behave fairly to the child (as we would to a grown person), giving to him the healthy reaction of common justice, we help him to live easily and rightly in the world before him.
Even love is open to measurement by results. The love we have for our children is not developed in us as a pleasurable exercise, but is distinctly for the child’s benefit. “The maternal sacrifice” is what our scientific friends call it. In studying early forms of life, we find the mother sacrificing everything for the good of the young, from which we draw the general inference that it is for the good of the young to have the mother sacrifice everything. More discriminating study will show us a great difference in maternal methods. Where the mother’s loss is the gain of the young, she cheerfully submits to it; but, where the young is not benefited by her loss, we do not find it.
The eggs of the hen are carefully brooded by the mother; the eggs of the frog are left floating on the water in suitable places. There is no special virtue in the hen’s brooding or vice in the frog’s neglect; the mother does what is necessary for the young. The mother-cat licks her little ones elaborately, and teaches them to make their toilettes similarly. The cow licks the calf for a while, but gives it no instructions in washing its ears with its paws.
The mother-love is essential to the best care of the young, and therefore it is given us. It is the main current of race preservation, and the basis of all other love-development on the higher grades. But it is not, therefore, an object of superstitious veneration, and in itself invariably right. The surrender of the mother to the child is often flatly injurious, if carried to excess. To put it in the last extreme, suppose the mother so utterly sacrifices herself to the child as to break down and die. She then robs the child of its mother, which is an injury. Suppose she so sacrifices herself to the child as to cut off her own proper rest, recreation, and development. She thus gives the child an exhausted and inferior mother, which is an injury to him. There are cases, perhaps, where it might be a mother’s duty to die for her child; but, in general, it is more advantageous to live for him. The “unselfish devotion” of the mother we laud to the skies, without stopping to consider its effect on the child. This error is connected with our primitive religious belief in the doctrine of sacrifice,—one of those early misconceptions of a great truth.
It is necessary for the good of humanity that the interests of the one be subordinate to the interests of the many, but it does not follow that an indiscriminate surrender of one’s own interests always benefits society. On the contrary, a steady insistence on the rights of the individual is essential to the integrity of the social structure and its right workings. So it is necessary for the good of the child that the interests of the mother be subordinated to his interests, but it does not follow that her indiscriminate surrender of personal interests always benefits him. On the contrary, a too self-sacrificing mother tends to develop a selfish, short-sighted, low-grade personality in the growing life she seeks to benefit, where her honest maintenance of her own individual rights would have had a very healthy effect. Not what the child wishes, nor what the mother wishes, is the standard of measurement, but what is really beneficial to the child. If the mother is frankly and clearly unselfish in their daily intercourse, and then as frankly and clearly demands her own share of freedom and consideration, the child gets a fairer view of human rights than if he simply absorbs his mother as a natural victim.
Little Mary has a visitor. Her mother is most polite and entertaining, is with them when they desire it, and lets them alone when they prefer. Then her mother has a visitor. “Mary,” she says, “I am to have company this week. I shall of course have to give a good deal of time and attention to my friend, as you did to Hattie when she was here. So you must not feel badly if you do not see as much of mamma as usual.”
There must be the previous polite conduct of mamma to point to. The childish mind needs frequent and conspicuous proof that mamma is forgetting herself for his pleasure; and then he should be rationally called upon to forget himself for her pleasure, when it is plainly fair and necessary.
The beautiful principles of kindergarten teaching are frequently misapplied in the too conciliatory and self-denying methods of the well-meaning mamma. Kindness, politeness, constant love, and all due consideration the child should have; but justice is as important to him as affection. It must always be remembered that the mother’s love is not an end in itself, nor the expression of it a virtue in itself. It is to be measured, like every other natural function, by its use.
When a child is reared in an atmosphere of unreasoning devotion and constant surrender, he grows up to expect it, and to carry a sense of grievance if he does not get it. The natural tendency of the mother to love her own young is strong in us,—the maternal passion; but, like all passions, it needs conscientious and rational restraint. The human soul has grown to such a stage of development that we are capable of loving and serving great numbers of people. The woman, who is still confined to the same range of interests which occupied her in the earliest grades of human life, inherits her share of this socially developed power of loving, and concentrates it all upon her own immediate family.
Like an ever-enlarging burning glass, still focussed upon one spot, the healthy, natural affection of the animal mother for its young has grown to what is really an immense social affection, too large for one family to profitably sustain. The child will get a far more just and healthful idea of human relation when he finds himself lifted and led on by a mother whose life has a purpose of its own, than when he finds himself encompassed and overwhelmed by a mother who has no other object or interest than himself.
The whole question has to be constantly measured by comparing it with the rest of life. Are our methods with children those which best fit men and women for doing their share to maintain and develop human life? Does not the most casual survey of life to-day show people practising much amiability and devotion at home, strenuously loving their own immediate families and friends, and most markedly deficient in that general love for one another which is not only the main commandment of our religion, but the plainest necessity for social progress? And is not this deficiency to be accounted for, not by any inability on our part for social devotion,—for every day’s list of accidents shows the common fund of heroism and self-sacrifice to be large,—but by the training which makes it the habit of our lives to love and serve only those nearest to us?
The mother is the strongest formative influence in the child’s life. If he sees that she thinks only of him, lives only for him, what is he to learn by it? To think only of himself? Or only of her? Or only of his children? Does the best care of a child require the concentrated and unremittent devotion of an entire mother?
A larger intelligence applied to the subject may show us that there are better ways of serving our children than those we now follow. The woman who grows up in the practice of considering the needs of people in general, and of so ordering her life as to benefit them, will find a new power and quality in her love for her own dear ones. With that widening of the soul-range of the mother will come a capacity to judge the child as one of the people of the world, besides being her own especially beloved. A study of what all children need will help her to understand what her own child needs far more accurately than when she thinks of him as the only one. The continuous application of the mother to the child is not so advantageous as the quality of her companionship and influence, and her sacrificial devotion too often weakens his sense of justice and makes him selfish.
XI. SIX MOTHERS.
Broad-minded mothers of this time are keenly interested in child-study, in that all too familiar and yet unknown field of “infant psychology.” They are beginning to recognise not only the salient fact that “all children are different,” but the equally important one that all children have points in common.
The need of union and discussion among mothers is resulting in the mothers’ clubs and parents’ congresses, which form so noble an example of the progressive thought.
But so far, with all the kindly interest and keen desire for improved methods of child-culture, the mother has to return and grapple with her individual problem alone.
Here are one or two simple and practical suggestions, the careful pursuance of which, with some clear record of proceedings, would not only be of immediate assistance to the mothers concerned, but to all the other mothers yet to be aroused to the importance of such action.
Let us suppose six mothers, to take a very low number,—six mothers in one town, one village, or one city, even in the open country, so that they could reach each other easily; six mothers, who were friends and “social equals,” and who were willing to admit the deficiencies of our general present methods of child-culture, and also willing to improve those methods. It is permissible for each mother to imagine that her own methods are superior to those of the other mothers, as this will give her a beautiful sense of helpfulness in allowing these superior methods to be observed and studied by the less able.
A conscious sense of inferiority is also no obstacle, for a mother having that feeling would be eager to improve by study of the better ways.
These six mothers divide the working days of the week among them, agreeing that each shall on her chosen day take charge of the children of the other five. This might be for a part of the day or the whole day, as is thought best,—let us suppose it merely for the afternoon; and it could be limited, as desired, to children of a certain age, and still further reduced, as a mild beginning, to one child apiece from each family.
This would give, as a minimum, five extra children on one afternoon a week to each mother. The maximum would be of course uncertain; but, if all the children of each mother were thus to go visiting for any part of the day, it would give to each one day in which that larger responsibility was undertaken, and five days free. There would remain Sunday, in which each family, complete, would be at home.
Now let us take a hypothetical case, and suppose that our six mothers, with considerable trepidation, have chosen one child apiece that they were willing to intrust for the afternoon to the watchful care of these familiar friends. The children, be it rigidly insisted, are to know nothing whatever of the purposes or methods involved. All that little Johnny Black knows is that Mrs. White has asked him to come over on Monday afternoon and play with Alice and Billy White, and some other children that he knows, too; that presently Mrs. Green has them come to her house on Tuesday, and Mrs. Brown on Wednesday; that his mamma lets them all come and play with him on Thursday,—in short, that his afternoons have become full and rich and pleasantly exciting, like some wonderful procession of parties.
“Not like regular parties, either,” Johnny would explain. “You don’t have to dress up—much,—just be clean, to begin with. And they don’t have ice-cream and macaroons,—only just milk and crackers when you get hungry; and—well, ‘tisn’t so much regular games and p’r’aps dancin’—like a party,—we just play. And Mrs. White, or whichever one ‘tis, she generally has some nice young lady in with her; and they sort of keep things going,—as if ‘twas a real party. It’s nicer some ways, I think.”
“And which place do you like best, Johnny?”
“Oh, I do’ know! Billy White has the biggest yard. But Jim Grey has the best swing; and there’s a pond at Susy Green’s,—a real pond,—and nothing but girls live there! Then it’s lots of fun when they come to our house, ‘cause I can show ‘em my rabbits and make Jack do all his tricks.”
Yes, the children all enjoy it. It means variety, it means company, it means a wider and closer acquaintance and all the benefits of well-chosen association and larger environment. It fills a part of the day. There is no more aimless asking, “What shall I do now?” with the vague response, “Oh, run away and play!” or the suggestion of some well-worn amusement.
It means, too, a little more sense of “company manners” and behaviour, and, on the other hand, a better appreciation of home life.
And to the mother,—what good will this do her?
Each mother would have one day in the week in which to carefully observe children,—not her own specially beloved children, but just children, as such. Her observation and care should be absolutely unobtrusive: the moment the little ones knew they were being watched, the value of the plan would be greatly impaired; and, to stop at a minor detail, from the palpable necessity for doing this work without the child’s consciousness, mothers would learn to cover the machinery of government at home. It is one of our grossest and most frequent errors in the management of children that we openly discuss our efforts and failures. They know that we are struggling to produce certain results in their behaviour, usually in a futile manner.
With, however, a large and definite purpose resting so absolutely on the child’s unconsciousness, more wisdom in this line would soon develop.
The mother who now says, “What would you do with a child like that?” or “I’m sure I don’t know what to do with that child!” before the child in question, would soon perceive that such an attitude in an educator does not produce confidence in the object of the education. Quietly and unostentatiously, and often with the assistance of some keen girl-friend, these mothers would soon learn to observe accurately, to generalise carefully, to reduce cautiously, and then to put the deduction into practice and observe the results.
As beginners, pioneers, they should make their first steps very modestly. For the first season some one trait should be chosen for study,—say self-control or courage or consideration of others. Having decided on their line of observation, let each mother make a little note of how high each child in the group stands in this line.
How much self-control has my Johnny, as measured by his age?—as compared with others of his age? When did I first notice self-control in Johnny? When have I seen it greatest? Does he gain in it? What should be done to help Johnny gain in self-control? And then go over the same questions with regard to the other children.
Then, with self-control as the characteristic, the natural development and best education of which they wish to study, the afternoon parties begin. At first the children might be left absolutely free to play in ordinary lines. Then, after the first observations were recorded, delicate experiments could be introduced, and their results added to the record.
It is very difficult for the individual mother to rightly estimate her own children. “Every crow thinks her babe the blackest.”
Yet the character of the child is forming without regard to any fond prejudice or too severe criticism; and his life’s happiness depends on his interaction with people in general, not simply with beloved ones at home. The measure of Johnny’s self-control may not seem important to the parental love which covers or the parental force which compels; but to Johnny’s after-life its importance is pre-eminent. When one sits for a portrait to a fond and familiar friend, and sees all fondness and familiarity die out from the eyes of the artist, feels one’s personality sink into a mass of “values,” it brings a strange sense of chill remoteness. So, no doubt, to the mother heart the idea of calmly estimating Johnny’s self-control and comparing it with Jim Grey’s seems cold enough. To have Mrs. Grey estimate it,—and perhaps (terrible thought!) to estimate it as less than Jim’s,—this is hard, indeed.
Yet this is precisely what is to be obtained in such a combination as this, and in no other way,—the value of an outside observer, through Mrs. Grey’s estimate.
Nobody’s opinion alters facts. The relative virtues of Johnny and Jim remain unchanged, no matter what their respective mothers think or what their irrespective mothers think. But each mother will derive invaluable side-lights from the other mother’s point of view.
Each opinion must be backed with illustration. Instances of observed behaviour must be massed before any judgment has value.
“I think your Jim is so brave, Mrs. Grey. When the children were with me the other day, the cow got loose; and the girls all ran. Some boys ran, too; and Jimmy drove her back into the cow-yard.”
“But Jimmy was the oldest,” says Mrs. White. “Perhaps, if he’d been as young as my Billy, he wouldn’t have been so brave.”
“And he is afraid of the dark,” says Mrs. Brown. “At my house he wouldn’t go into the back cellar after apples, even with the other children. Isn’t he afraid of the dark, Mrs. Grey?”
Mrs. Grey admits this, but cites instances to show courage in other directions. And always five dispassionate observers to the one deeply loving and prejudiced.
If it should happen that Jimmy is generally admitted brave beyond his years, with the one exception of fearing darkness, and that exception traceable to a nurse-maid’s influence, the mother of Jimmy is rejoiced; and a strong light is thrown on the nurse question. If it prove that by general opinion there is a lack of courage such as should belong to his years, there is cause for special study and special action in this line. Most valuable of all, the habit of observing a child’s behaviour as an expression of character is formed.
The six mothers would of course meet to compare notes, preferably in evenings, when children were all in bed and fathers could be present; and the usual difficulty of leaving home in the evening could be met in such an important case as this by engaging some suitable person to come in for an hour or two and stay with the sleeping little ones.
All such details would have to be arranged according to personal and local conditions; but the end to be attained is of such enormous value that considerable effort is justified in reaching it. Even in the beginning, a usefulness would be found in the united interest, the mutual helpfulness of the combined women, drawn together by the infinite and beautiful possibilities of their great work. In the light of other eyes, they would see their own children in new lights, and, by careful following of agreed lines of treatment, soon learn with some finality what would and what would not be useful in a given case.
The observations and experiments of one earnest group of mothers like this would be a stimulus and help to uncounted thousands of ungrouped mothers who are struggling on alone.
It is by such effort as this, such interchange of view and combined study, and the slowly accumulating record of established facts, that humanity progresses in any line of similar work,—in floriculture or horticulture or agriculture, or what you will; and this greatest of all our labours, humaniculture, sadly lacks the application of the true social law,—in union is strength.
The child needs not only love, but wisdom and justice; and these grow best in the human soul through combination.
XII. MEDITATIONS ON THE NURSE-MAID.
“The trouble with these household problems which vex women so much is that we do not give our minds to them sufficiently,” said earnest little Mrs. Blythe. “Now I mean to give my mind to this nurse-maid problem, and work it out.”
It is high time that somebody did. And it is not only on my own account: this is something which affects us all,—all who have nurse-maids, that is. I suppose the mothers without nurse-maids have their problems, too; but I must consider mine now.
Now what is the matter with the nurse-maid? She does not suit me. She has palpable faults and deficiencies. I want a better nurse-maid. So far I have trusted to the law of supply and demand to produce her, but it does not seem to work. I demand her, just as I have demanded a better housemaid for some time; but the supply is not forthcoming. So now I mean to think it out, and see if I cannot find a way to the invention, discovery, or manufacture of a better nurse-maid. And I mean to be very clear and logical in my thinking about it, so as to come out in the end with proof. I want to prove what is the matter with the nurse-maid and how to make her better.
In the first place, what are my objections to the nurse-maid now? She is careless and irresponsible. She is ignorant. She is ill-mannered. She is often deceitful. I can’t trust her.
Now it doesn’t seem right that my child should be placed in the care of an ignorant, ill-mannered, careless, and irresponsible person,—even if not also untrustworthy,—does it? And it does not relieve me of the care as it ought. I have to take care of the child and the nurse-maid, too. What I want is a careful, responsible, wise, well-mannered, honourable young girl. She ought to have special training, too. It is really dreadful the way these ignorant girls undertake to care for children. We need schools—training schools—and diplomas. They could have practice classes on the children of the poor—or in institutions; and yet that idea does not quite suit me, either. My child is very individual and peculiar, and I don’t believe that practising on poor children would fit a nurse-maid to take care of my child. But nice people would not want their children to be practised on. They would have to take the poor ones: it would do them good, anyway. They get no care now: their mothers are shockingly ignorant and neglectful.
But, after all, I don’t have to arrange the training schools. I only know that she ought to have special training, and it ought to be practical as well as theoretical; and that means practising on some children somewhere, somehow. And they certainly would have to be poor, because rich people would not let their children go to be practised on. Maybe the poor people would not, either. Then it would have to be orphans, I guess, combining nurse-training schools with orphan asylums, and foundlings, too.
Well, now these nurse-maids would go to these training schools to improve themselves, would they! Come to think of it, they only go to nursing because they need the pay; and, even if the training schools were free, they’d have to wait longer for their money. And, if they got no more with training than without, they would not go, I’m afraid. We should certainly have to pay them more trained than untrained. That is perfectly logical, I’m sure. And, of course, that would be an obstacle. If the training schools were not free, we should have to pay them more yet,—enough to make it worth while to study the business of caring for children. A short course might do,—six months or a year.
I’ve heard my mother say that she knew something about taking care of children by the time Charley was born. But that was,—well, I was eight, and I’m the third,—that was about twelve years. Oh, but she wasn’t in a training school! That would teach them faster. There would be more children to practise on. Let me see: if it took my mother twelve years to learn by practising on five children (Charley was the fifth,—four children), how many children would it take to learn on in one year? I’ll get John to do that for me: I’m not good at figures. Besides, it’s different,—altogether different; for my mother was a mother, so she knew how, to begin with, and nurse-maids are not. So—to be strictly logical—it ought to take nurse-maids longer, I’m afraid. The training schools will have to be free: I’m pretty sure of that. And that means public or private endowment. We might as well think it all out clearly.
Should it be added to the public-school system,—open to all girls,—perhaps compulsory? Why not! Why wouldn’t it be a good thing for all girls to know something of the care of children? But could we do that? Public schools are in politics; and that is awful. It would take forever to get it that way; and my child wants a nurse-maid now! Private endowment, I guess. So many rich people want to help the masses. This would furnish employment, raise wages, and give us nurse-maids. I’m sure it would appeal to any philanthropist.
Yes, some rich person must endow a training school for nurses,—that sounds like hospitals; for child-nurses,—that sounds like wet-nurses; for nurse-maids,—why need they be maids, though? Well, if they were married, they would have children of their own of course, and couldn’t take care of ours. One would think, though, that motherhood would give them more experience,—that they would know how to care for children better. But, then, they wouldn’t want to leave their own children to take care of ours. And they couldn’t take care of them together. A mother would naturally do more for her own: she wouldn’t be fair.
A training school for nurse-maids. After all, “maid” does not mean “unmarried” in this connection: it means simply “servant.” And “nurse” comes from the time when mere nursing was all that was required,—a kind of a survival of old customs. How these things do open up, when one thinks about them! Why “nurse-maid” at all! Why not have a new and attractive name: that would help make them go to the training school, too.
Nurse, nursing,—it isn’t nursing our children want. They are not sick, and they don’t stay babies all the time they need this person. What is it that our children need? Of course, they do need direct, personal care; and, when they are babies, they need real “nursing,”—just somebody to—to—well, they have to be fed,—and that only needs a knowledge of infant physiology and nutrition; to keep the bottles clean, of course, and be very accurate, and follow directions. They don’t need to know so much after all: the doctor tells what to give it to eat and what not to. And the mother understands the child’s needs! Still, even for babies, they need some kind of training,—the nurses, I mean,—not the mothers: it is divinely implanted in the mother. And, then, mothers are studying these things now. I know ever so many young mothers who are taking child-study now; and about nutrition, too.
But the trouble is they can’t depend on the nurses to carry out instructions. If they were only trustworthy! Will the training schools make them honourable? I suppose so. They would get some sense of the importance and dignity of their work. They would be graded and marked, of course, in their diplomas, so that one could pick out the dependable ones; and that would gradually elevate the standard. The trouble is, of course, when they go out. Children must be out of doors; and, in cities where we have no yards, they cannot be under the mother’s eye, so they must be out with the nurse-maid. That’s perfectly logical. Then there are the other nurse-maids. One cannot keep them isolated: that’s out of the question. And if they have admirers, as they do, of course,—young girls always will have admirers, and training schools will not alter that,—why, if they meet their admirers, it has a tendency to make them careless. That is natural. We must allow for such things. And it is a perfectly natural temptation to take the baby to see their own families. We forbid it, of course; but I admit that it is a temptation. And there are all those awful risks of diseases and things. Now, if their families were nicer people and lived in nicer places,—but then they wouldn’t want to be nurse-maids! But if the training school raises wages and standards, that will have an effect on the class of people who take up the work.
It certainly is the noblest, most beautiful, most important work in the world,—the training of children. I wonder why our own girls do not take it up,—our college girls. But then, of course, they wouldn’t be “nurse-maids.” Perhaps, if it had another name—
Now let me think, and be fair. Would I want my sister Jessie to be a nurse-maid? She is taking a kindergarten course, and we all approve of that: it does help one so in all those problems that perplex a mother! But, if she went to Mrs. MacAdoo’s as a nurse-maid— The MacAdoos are nice people, too; and the children are as nice as any I know. They have a Swedish nurse-maid now,—a big, hearty, wholesome-looking girl, but stupid. Why, she cannot answer the simplest questions Harold asks, hardly; and he’s always asking them. Jessie has him in the kindergarten where she is. I don’t mean that she’s the principal, but she is training there; and she tells me what a bright child he is, and what stupid things Christine has told him. And you see he has Jessie only three hours a day, and Christine all the time he’s awake. Jessie is taking a special course in infant psychology, and she says Christine is doing him a world of harm. But she is so good-natured and faithful that they keep her. They don’t realise that her being stupid is any harm to the children, I suppose. But, if Jessie had him all the time, Harold certainly would develop more rationally and more easily. And yet I am sure Jessie would not take Christine’s place. You see we visit the MacAdoos, and it would be so awkward. Now, I think,—logically,—I am approaching a—I forget the name of it, but it’s a thing there’s no way out of.
We would like our nurse-maids to be ladies, but ladies are not willing to be nurse-maids. Now will the training school make ladies—or, at least, partial ladies—of our nurse-maids? And, if it does, will that make them disinclined to be nurse-maids? Or can we arrange the position of the nurse-maid, so that ladies will be willing to take it? What is the real difference between Jessie’s position and Christine’s? Why, Jessie has a lot of children come to her part of the time; and Christine has a few children, and goes to them all the time. And Jessie has,—or will have when she’s graduated and has a kindergarten of her own, as I daresay she will,—she has control of the children while they are with her, and can carry out her principles. The mothers even consult her sometimes.
But Christine has to carry out the mother’s orders. She does what she is told—or ought to. No, Jessie never would be willing to take Mrs. MacAdoo’s orders about the children. Mrs. MacAdoo is exceptionally stupid about children, I do think. She doesn’t think Christine’s telling them stories about things to frighten them is any harm,—says they’ll outgrow it. And anybody who knows anything of infant psychology knows how dangerous it is to frighten children. And yet, of course, to be perfectly fair, I wouldn’t want a nurse-maid to dictate to me about my child. It is out of the question—absolutely. Why, it would destroy the mother’s influence and authority altogether! And—come to think of it—I suppose a trained nurse-maid would have views of her own, and they might conflict with the mother’s—
Now, where I have got to so far,—it is beautiful, thinking things out clearly,—we want our children taken care of by ladies, honourable, intelligent, educated, refined, and specially trained for the business. I’m quite certain about that. Like Jessie, for instance. She is just born for it,—always did love children, and knew how to manage them from the time she was a little girl. And she’s studying all the science of it and practising in the kindergarten,—on the same kind of children, too. Jessie is the ideal. It is really wonderful to see her with them. They love her, and they do what she says, too; but she never seems to be making them do anything: they just do it. Those MacAdoos behave very much better with her than they do with their mother. I believe most of the children do, for that matter. Except little Cassie Wells. She has the most devoted mother I ever saw. It is a lesson to us all. She never lets her out of her sight, I do believe. Often comes to the kindergarten, just to be with her. And, you see, Cassie just depends on her for everything; and nobody else can do anything with her. It is beautiful,—such absolute dependence and absorption. Yes, as I said, Jessie is the ideal. But, then, Jessie is not a nurse-maid, and never would be.
Of course, if there was any way that Jessie could have the children with her and have her way with them, as she does in the kindergarten— But you can’t do that with little children,—you cannot separate the child from its mother! When they are older, they go to school, of course; and, when they are older yet, they go to college, and so on. But the little child needs its mother every hour. And, as its mother cannot possibly give it every hour, we have to have the nurse-maid. If mothers had no other claims, then, of course, you would have the highest ideal relation. Cassie Wells’s mother has given up everything else. She doesn’t go out with her husband at all. Says that society has no claim beside that of the child. Of course, he stays at home with her—mostly.
I’m sure a man ought to value his wife’s society more than any other, especially when she is such a devoted mother. She takes all the periodicals about children, and reads all the books; and then she modifies it all to suit her particular child. I never knew any mother so conscientiously given up to the care of a child. She really talks of nothing else. And, when that child is sick,—and she is extremely delicate and always having dangerous illnesses,—her mother is simply glued to her bedside: they can’t drag her away. It is a pity that the child is not better material; for she isn’t particularly bright, nor very well behaved, I think. But, then, her mother is doing everything that can be done.
Jessie says that child is being mothered too much,—that she needs more freedom and an impartial outside management. But, then, Jessie is a good deal of a theorist; and, after all, she isn’t a mother. Nothing can really equal the mother’s care for her own child! Still, we simply can’t do it,—all of us,—as families increase. We owe something to our husbands, I am sure; and we have our social duties; and our health is not always equal to such a strain. No, the mother must have help; and that means the nurse-maid. It’s no use talking about Jessie. Even if she would do it, there’s not enough of her to go around! We never can expect that “faculty with children” in everybody: they simply don’t have it. Most girls don’t care much for children, nor know anything about them. Of course, after they become mothers, it is different. Then it all comes to them.
Now, if nurse-maids could be mothers first— But I argued that out before. If they were, they wouldn’t be mothers of our children; and motherhood only teaches how to do what is best for one’s own children. Besides, we couldn’t hire them then, because we would not separate mothers from their own children; and, if they had their children and ours, too, they would not treat them fairly. And we would not want them brought up with ours, either. No, they’ve got to be “maids,” that’s sure.
Now the average young girl does not know or care much about children. Therefore, she has to be trained. (What a comfort it is to be really logical!) And, as there is no place to train them now, we have got to make a place. It all comes round to the training school for nurse-maids. That’s the logical outcome.
Again, since we must have private nurse-maids under our orders,—really a servant,—we cannot expect ladies to take such positions. And—this ought to be bracketted with that last—since we cannot, of course, pay more than so much, that is against ladies doing it, too. Some people can, I know. Jessie told me of a very nice girl she knew,—a classmate in college and a trained kindergartner,—who was unable to get such a position as she wanted, and took a place with some very rich people as a sort of lady nurse-teacher to the children. But she said it was perfectly horrid, especially in travelling, having to eat with servants and be treated as such. I can see that it would take a kind of heroism, and we cannot really count on heroic nurse-maids. No, it has to be from the lower classes that we take our nurse-maids. I think that is proved. The average employer simply couldn’t pay them enough to attract a higher class of labour. These are really questions of political economy in part, you see.
The ordinary young girl of the lower classes,—that is the raw material of our nurse-maid. Naturally, she is ill-mannered or unmannered, and careless and ignorant and all those things. Therefore, we must train her. In order to do that, we must first provide the training school, and, second, make her go to it. Now I wonder how we could do that. The higher wages would be an object of course: that would have to be insisted on. And we might “create a sentiment.” That’s it! That’s what we must do,—create a sentiment.
But it’s no use doing anything till we’ve got the school. And I worked that out as having to be done by private endowment. That involves agitation, of course; and we must set about it. We can get teachers plenty, there is so much interest in child-study now; and it will be a splendid thing for the lower classes to take their young girls and train them thoroughly in the theory of child-culture. It will make them so much better mothers afterward, when they do marry, after spending some years in taking care of our children,—putting their theories in practice! But wait. That looks queer. Looks as if the rich people were furnishing elaborate instruction free,—to young women of the lower classes,—and then paying them good wages for practising on the children of the upper classes, so that the poor women might be better mothers afterward.
I must have made a mistake somewhere. I’m going to reverse that position, and see how it would work. Suppose young girls of the upper classes took elaborate instruction in child-culture, and then practised on the children of the lower classes, in order to be better mothers afterward. That seems more satisfactory, somehow; yet it means a lot of work. It would do our girls good—I can see that—and do the children of the lower classes good, and, no doubt, make the girls better mothers. Besides, I’m wasting time,—”arguing in a circle,” John would say; for that upper-class-girl hypothesis wouldn’t give us nurse-maids. Now where was I? Mothers have to have help; I.e., nurse-maids. These have to be private servants at low wages: therefore, ladies would not do it. Therefore, we must have our children taken care of by girls from the lower classes. They are not suitable persons to take care of children as they stand: therefore, we must train them.
Now I mean to really work for this thing,—to create a sentiment. I’ll begin early in the autumn, as soon as we get back. And I’m so glad I’m going to have such a lovely summer to make me fit for it. You see I’m very much pulled down. Little John has been such a care, and the nurse-maids I’ve had have been so unreliable. Why, the child has been sick again and again just through their carelessness. I’m sure of it. And mother said I simply must go away and build up, for the child’s own sake; and John agreed with her—for once. And there’s such a lovely arrangement for the summer: nothing ever happened more conveniently. You see Jessie is such an enthusiast about children. And she has planned to be at home this summer. Our home is perfectly lovely, anyway, and very healthy,—quite in the country, and yet within easy reach of town. They’re going to have the Summer School of Child-study there at Seabay this year, and Jessie has several of her class visiting her. And she said, in her solemn, funny way, that they must have specimens to work on,—first-class specimens! She insisted on little John, of course, and she’s persuaded Clara and George to let her have their three for a while; and the little MacAdoos are to be there, too. It will be a regular picnic for the children. It took a long time to bring me round to it. But, then, it’s my own lovely home. I know how healthy it is. And mother will be there. And one of Jessie’s friends is a doctor, and in a children’s hospital, too. She ought to see that everything is right for their health. So, if they are happy in that lovely old place, and healthy and well taught and safe, why, I suppose I can leave.
Of course, I wouldn’t for anything on earth but health. Mrs. Wells was perfectly horrified when I told her. They asked Cassie, too; but she wouldn’t hear of it. She said nothing but death should ever separate her from her child. And, dear me, Cassie looked so white that it really seemed as if it would. She made me feel guilty again; but John can’t come to any harm with my mother’s experience and Jessie’s knowledge and natural talent. That’s the main thing. Jessie always cared more for children than I did,—except little John, of course. They’ve fixed the place up on purpose for children. Such arrangements for bathing and digging and mud-pieing and gardening and so on you never saw. There is something for those chicks to do all the blessed time, and these nice girls—my own friends—to be with them every minute. You see they take turns and relieve each other, so they are always fresh for the children. And, then being so enthusiastic and scientific, it isn’t drudgery to them. They are studying all the time. And how glad I shall be to get back in the fall! Then I can work up that training school for nurse-maids.
XIII. CHILDREN AND SERVANTS.
In the growing discontent with our present methods of household service, while we waver between long-held prejudice, old and dear, and the irresistible pressure of new conditions, it is worth while to weigh well the relation between this present method of house-service and our present method of child-culture.
The home is the place in which we rear young children. It is also the place in which we perform certain kinds of labour, mainly cooking, cleaning, and sewing. In the vast majority of our homes, fully nine-tenths of them, as shown by the United States Census Report, giving the number of domestic servants in proportion to the number of families, these industries are carried on by the mother. She is the domestic servant. In the remaining one-tenth of our homes the labour is performed by hired servants, the maid-of-all-work still greatly predominating. The questions here suggested for consideration are: first, is a mother, who is also a house-servant, able to supply proper conditions and care to young children? And, second, is the company of domestic servants, other than their mothers, and constant association with their industries, a desirable condition for the education of young children?
It is, of course, difficult to consider with any clearness of perception facts which have been always familiar. The association of child and servant is so old that it makes no impression on our consciousness. It will, perhaps, bring out the relation more vividly to change the sex of the servant. Suppose a man is left with boys to educate. Suppose he engages a tutor for his boys. He is willing to pay well for a man with the proper ability, character, and training to come and benefit his children by instruction and association. Would such a man be willing to engage a tutor who was also a janitor? Would he be willing to spare the time required to fill the janitor’s position from the time required to fill the tutor’s position? Or would he be willing to engage a man who had so little fitness for the profession of tutor as to be content to act as janitor also?
Again, in sending his boys to school to be educated, would a man be willing to have that school also run as a restaurant, a laundry, and a tailor shop? Would he think these industries and the society of the persons engaged in them good educational influences? It is clear that a man would not be willing to do these things. Yet all men cheerfully intrust their children, during their most impressionable years, to the society and care of domestic servants and the constant association with domestic industries. In most cases the servant is also the mother. In other cases the servant is not the mother. In either case the child grows up in association with domestic servants and service.
Let us not too readily conclude that this is an evil, but examine it carefully, in its physical and psychical effects. Physically, the child is born into a certain kind of shop or factory. The conditions of any labour in the home are particularly open to criticism; our sweat-shop investigations show that in glaring instance. Intimate associations with a trade, and especially a dirty or dangerous one, does not seem advantageous to a child’s health and progress. In nine homes out of ten the child is directly associated with the trades of his mother, who is a cook, a laundress, a cleaner in general; and the baby is early accustomed to the fumes and heat of the kitchen, to grease and ashes and dust, to all the kitchen-work, laundry-work, chamber-work, and endless miscellaneous industries of his mother. In the other tenth of our homes the child grows up a little removed, but not far, from these same industries. They go on under his eyes none the less, but with a certain ban upon them, as servant’s work.
Any mother and housewife knows the complications continually arising between children and servants. Early associations are deep and lasting. Domestic servants are not, as a rule, either at all trained in the right treatment of children or in such personal development of character and manners as would make them desirable companions for the young. Yet companions they are,—incessant, intimate, unavoidable. The formative influence of a nurse-maid or of a maid-of-all-work is of varying weight in different cases, but always a factor in the child’s development. The education of a child consists in every impression received by the growing brain, not merely those received when we are instructing it. We might give an hour a day to careful instruction in good manners: we might ourselves be models of propriety; but, if the child is also in the society of conspicuously ill-mannered persons every day, an effect will surely be produced by them.
It may be suggested that an end is to be attained through exhibiting the deficiencies of servants, and exhorting the child to despise them, as the Spartans used the Helots for an awful example; but, even if this were gained, there would follow with it a spirit of scorn and contempt for fellow-creatures most injurious to true social development.
A little child should be surrounded with the best influences of all sorts, and with behaviour not to avoid, but to imitate. The long period of immaturity, which is one of our human distinctions, has its value in the accumulated improvements which may be built into the race in that time. It is a period of enrichment, of clear growth. To expose the young to disadvantageous conditions, especially the very young, is a method of education finding no precedent in nature and no justification in reason. The adult, with developed powers, may find in some degree of difficulty a stimulus to further effort; and, if confronted with injurious conditions, may strive the harder to escape or change them. But the new person, the child, has no background. He can make no comparisons. He accepts his first environment unquestioningly as “the world”; it is all the world he knows. For the very reason that we were all born and reared in the domestic factory, we find it hard to imagine any other conceivable surroundings for a young human being to meet life in. We have accepted it without dream of criticism.
Yet in physical conditions alone the household industries furnish a large and constant element of danger to the child. A most casual retrospect of the accidents common to childhood, which so shock us in the daily press, show this with startling clearness. Children suffer from accidents by fire, by boiling water, by sharp instruments, by injurious substances taken into the stomach. The industry of cooking alone involves the free use of fire, a constant succession of hot products, many sharp instruments for cutting and stabbing, and various food elements healthful in combination,—but often injurious when taken separately by one ignorant of their nature. The kitchen and the laundry are responsible for many horrible and sudden deaths among young children, and many more painful accidents.
Given the essential ignorance and as essential experiments of childhood, and we may well wonder how it has so long seemed good to us to bring up our babies among such large chances of danger. If we reared them in stables, we should expect them to be kicked occasionally; if we placed them in saw-mills, we should look for some deficit in fingers; and a child in a cook-shop has his steady average risk of injury by fire, steel, or poison; in the laundry, the added chance of drowning. Apart from these main sources of danger, he finds in sweeping, dusting, and all the uncounted activities of household toil much that is detrimental to health and safety.
To avoid these dangers, our first effort has been to train the child to a prompt and instant obedience, such as conditions of imminent danger and military rule alone can justify, and also to check his natural and most valuable tendency to investigate and experiment. The labours of the household must go on: economic laws are peremptory; and the servant, who is educating the baby so unconsciously, cannot stop work to explain or illustrate.
On the contrary, the very presence of the child is inimical to the proper performance of these imperative industries; and the flushed and hurried servant cries: “Run away now. Mamma’s busy!” Where is the child to run to? This is home. When is mamma not busy? To properly perform the household labour of an average family, which is of five persons in an average house,—say of six rooms,—takes ten hours a day of swift, intelligent, skilled labour. During what part of this time can the household labourer give due attention to the child? Or is it sufficient education to watch a servant at work, and to help a little when one is old enough?
If the industries involved were properly divided, specialized, and developed, much that is valuable might be gathered from their observation, and from guarded experiment, by children who are old enough. A child can receive valuable instruction in a woollen-mill or a blacksmith shop, but it does not follow that these places are suitable as nurseries. The lack of any true educational value in the position is sufficiently shown by the ceaseless centuries of ignorance in these very trades. All women, for all time, reared in this intimate association with domestic service and domestic servants, have failed to work out any better grade of performance than that which still furnishes the staple of conversation among them.
It is quite evident, from the results so painfully visible around us, that the education of our children by house-servants developes neither general intelligence nor special proficiency. The intellectual progress of humanity has shown close connection with the extension of industry in larger lines, with a growing specialisation, a wider distribution, and, of course, with the beautiful growth in special methods of education. But this kitchen education, though we have enjoyed its advantages for so long, does not seem to show good results.
The educational value of the mother seems not to be in proportion to her occupation as a house-servant, but the reverse. It would seem that our children grow in intelligence and good behaviour rather in spite of the domestic industries than because of them. Any mother who is awake to the limitless possibilities of child-culture, and who begins to work out some well-considered plan for its pursuance, knows the ceaseless interruptions of her efforts, and the peremptory monopolisation of her time, by the demands of household labour. So far, with true womanly patience,—a patience which ceased to be a virtue some years ago,—she has accepted the condition as inevitable, and plodded on, consoling herself with a “day unto day” philosophy, and with “doing the best she could”; and many moralists consoled her, saying, “Blessed be drudgery!” Drudgery has a certain value, no doubt. It developes certain characteristics; namely, those of a competent and contented drudge. The question raised here is merely whether this kind of work and the characteristics developed by it are suitable educational associations for young children.
What are the qualities developed by house-service? Let us suppose that we are all, fathers as well as mothers, occupied solely in household labour. The effect may be studied from one point of view in those countries where there are more men-servants than with us, and where the profession is sometimes followed for generations. The typical character of a butler or footman, a parlour-maid, cook, or general servant, may be traced through all personal variation. Given any sort of person, and put him or her through a lifetime of domestic service, and certain characteristics appear, modified to a large degree by personality, but typical none the less.
This palpable result of house-service is familiar to us all, and not desired in ourselves or our children. Admitting all personal good qualities in the individual servant, that in his bearing which distinguishes it from the bearing we call “soldierly” or “gentlemanly” or even “business-like” is the natural result of his form of labour,—of personal domestic service. Where the purpose of action is to serve one individual or a very few individuals,—and this not so much in ministering to general needs as in catering to personal tastes,—those who thus labour are checked in development by the measure of the tastes they serve. That is the restrictive tendency, resisted according to personal power and ability, but always producing some result. A race of men who were one and all contented to be butlers and footmen would not give as noble a fatherhood as the world needs; and a race of women who are contented to be cooks and housemaids do not give as noble a motherhood as the world needs.
Sharp exception will, no doubt, be taken to the use of the word “servant” to designate the nine out of ten women who “do their own work.” There is a difference, we freely admit. They do the same work in the same way, but they have different motives. They do it from a sense of duty, oft-times, instead of a desire for wages; for they get no wages. They do it simply because they have to, sometimes, feeling it to be merely a disagreeable necessity. They do it from a more direct self-interest than the servant, as well as from a greater self-sacrifice. Few, very few women love it, and continue to do it a day beyond the time when their husbands can afford to hire another woman.
Whatever the “moral quality” of intention and the value of one’s “frame of mind,” the reactive effect of one’s daily labour is inexorable. No matter how high and holy the purpose of the toiling housewife, no matter whether she glories in her task or hates it, her brain is daily modified by its kind of exercise as surely as her fingers are greased by the dish-water, cracked by the soap-suds, and calloused by the broom. The amount of labour and care required to run a household comfortably is not small. It takes no mean intelligence to administer a home. So does it require intelligence, labour, and care to run a retail dry-goods shop or a railroad train. The point to study is whether this particular species of labour and care is conducive to the best child-culture. Can the average woman successfully manage the mingled industries of her household and the education of her children? It may be replied at once, with some triumph, “Yes, she does!” To which we merely rejoin, “Does she?” We know that the household industries are carried on in some fashion; and that children grow up amid them (such of them as do not die), and are—when grown—the kind of people we see about us.
People did live and rear children in caves, in tents, in huts, in feudal castles. It is a question not of the bare possibility of maintaining the race, but of the relative advantages of methods of culture. Our rate of infant mortality is shamefully large, and due mainly to what physicians term “preventable diseases.” It is quite open to discussion whether those diseases are not often traceable to the insanitary conditions of household labour, and their continued prevalence to the limitations of the kitchen-bred intellects of nine-tenths of our mothers.
No human being, be she never so much a mother, can be in two places at once or do full justice to several varied functions with one distracted brain. That the mother comes so near it in many cases is a splendid tribute to the power of love; that she fails in such degree is no reproach to her, so long as she is unable to alter the industrial conditions under which her motherhood is restricted.
Now that economic progress makes it possible to introduce new and wide improvements, the mother does become responsible, if she fails to see and take advantage of the change. Our complex and ill-developed household labours tend to produce certain special mental capacities in those who perform them. The housewife must hold in mind the entire contents of the home,—all its furnishing, decorations, utensils, and supplies. She must keep a running account of stock, and make good the incessant and irregular deficiencies of linen-closet, wardrobe, cupboard, and pantry, as well as the wear and tear on the machinery and furnishings. This developes one order of brain,—the administrative. The house-servant must exhibit skill in several distinct trades, and a swift facility for disconnecting the mind and readjusting it as promptly. This developes another order of brain,—the executive,—the development seriously hindered in special perfection by the attendant facility for disconnection. Neither of these mental powers is that of the educator, especially the educator of babies.
The capacity for subtle, long-continued, nicely balanced observation in lines of psychic development; the ever-present, delicate sympathy which knows the moment to suggest and the hour to refrain,—these mental attributes belong neither to the administrative nor to the executive ability. We find in the maternal dealings with children, when conspicuously efficient, precisely what should be expected of the expert manager and skilful servant. The children are well managed and well served, but they are not well educated.
When the mother—the housewife-mother, the servant-mother—begins to look into educational processes, she is appalled. It is easy to show her, if she has a clear and at all educated mind, what conditions would be best for babies, what kind of observation and treatment; but she knows full well that she cannot furnish these conditions. She has neither place, time, strength, skill, nor training for this delicate and careful method. Her work—her daily, hourly inexorable work—fills the place, consumes the time, exhausts the strength, does not develop the skill, and prevents the training of the educator. Many mothers do not even recognise the possibility of better methods, and strenuously resent the suggestion that they are not doing all that could be done.
They resent even the kindergarten, many of them. The relatively slow progress of the kindergarten method is as good a proof as could be offered of the lack of educational perception among mothers. They are willing to “serve” their children endlessly,—wait on them, wash, sweep, and cook for them. They are willing to “manage” their children carefully and conscientiously, and do not recognise the need of better educational treatment for babies. This attitude is a perfectly natural result of the reaction of the absorbing household industries on the mind of the mother. Her interest is eager and alert in all that concerns the material management of the family, from wall-paper and carpets to some new variety of hose-supporter,—down to the least detail of decoration on an embroidered muslin cap for the baby.
In any matter of greater beauty or economy, or in some cases of sanitary improvement, the housewife-mother’s mind is open. In indefatigable zeal in direct service—no task too difficult, too long, too tedious—the servant-mother’s hand is ever-ready. But the same devoted, loving, conscientious mother will fail appallingly to keep in touch with the mind-growth of the baby; will often neglect and even seriously injure its development in what is, after all, the main field of human life. The young human being needs far more than to be fed and clothed and waited on, however lovingly; or even than to be taught in schools in a few set lines of study.
We have made splendid progress in external things, in material forms and methods of production and distribution. We have travelled far and deep in scientific study, climbed high in art, and grown through grand religions. Our one great need—a need that grows daily greater in the vivid light of these swift-moving years—is for a better kind of people. The progress in human character does not keep pace with our external improvement. We are not trained in the right management of our own faculties; and come out of “the home” into “the world” well fed enough, well dressed enough, but with such unkempt, unbuttoned, dangling strings of neglected character as bespeaks the orphan soul.
Ask any mother to describe her children’s complexion, costume, and tastes in eating. She will do it glibly, profusely, and with feeling. Johnny would never touch meat till he was ten; Maud would eat nothing else; Jessie could never bear potatoes. Maud was very near-sighted. She had early taken her to an oculist. She would probably have to wear glasses always. Jessie was so hard on shoes. She used two pairs to Maud’s one,—even worse than Johnny. Now ask her to describe the distinctive mental characteristics of each, at what age they developed, and what measures she has taken from year to year to check Jessie’s personal vanity, to increase Maud’s courage, to develop patience in Johnny. Ask her what she has tried for croup, and she will discourse freely. Ask her what she has tried for the gradual reduction of self-consciousness, and she looks puzzled.
The human race is capable of beautiful development in character, as we see in occasional instances. That such beautiful development is largely assisted by right education, especially in the very first years, is proven by a thousand experiments. That most of us grow up without any intelligent psychic training, without wise attention and skilful care in soul-growth, is but too evident. Better education for the young of the human race, that education which the child never knows of, but which surrounds him with helpful influences from his first consciousness, is an imperative need.
Some attempt at this work is made by all conscientious mothers, and wonderful success is sometimes attained by a mother of special genius for child-culture (and who, by the way, is seldom distinguished as a housekeeper); but our general average in humaniculture is low. Nothing in the range of human effort is more important than the right education of children, which means the improvement of the race. The first years are of special value, the first influences and associations of pre-eminent importance.
If the household industries are incompatible with the best child-culture, they should be withdrawn from the household, specialised and professionalised like all the other industries once considered essentially domestic. When a broader intelligence is brought to bear on our infancy, when we do not grow up under the unavoidable assumption that the principal business of life is to “keep house,” there will be a better chance for the growth of those civic virtues so pitifully lacking in us now. So many marks of progress in these lines are now evident that any intelligent woman can see the way open before her. The public laundry is sapping the foundations of our domestic industry; the “Domestic Service Bureau” is beginning to furnish skilled labour by the hour; the “Prepared Food Association” is solving another problem. The way out of these household difficulties is opening fast. It needs only a fuller recognition among women of the value of this change to bring it in with greater rapidity and success. For the sake of our children let us free the home from its archaic industries.
XIV. MOTHERS, NATURAL AND UNNATURAL.
We use the word “natural” in many senses,—sometimes with warm approval, as indicating that which is best; sometimes with disapproval, as low and discreditable.
“Natural affection” is one familiar phrase, and “unnatural monster” another, which show a firm belief in the rightness of the working laws of the universe.
On the other hand, the whole story of human development lies in changing those conditions and habits which were once natural to the slow, laborious, hard-won advantages of civilisation. “The natural man” or man “in a state of nature” is a remote ancestor; and we do not allow unchecked freedom to animal passions and appetites among us on the ground that they are “natural.”
It is natural to take revenge for injuries; it is natural to eat too much; it is natural to be too careless in youth and too cautious in old age. “Natural” means according to the laws of nature; and the laws of nature have a wide and long range.
In applying the word to any one creature, we have to limit it by time and circumstance. It is natural for an absolutely wild creature, which has never seen man, not to be afraid of him. It is natural for the same creature, when hunted, to fear man, and shun him. If long tamed, like the cat and dog, it is natural to come trustfully to the well-known friend.
Nature is essentially changeful. Its laws remain the same, but the interaction of those laws produces ever-varying results. “The nature” of any given creature varies with its circumstances,—give it time,—as in the above case of the dog and cat; but the whole scale of behaviour is “natural” in its place and time. “A state of nature” is not a period with an exact date, nor any one grade of conduct. That conduct which is most advantageous to a creature under given circumstances is natural. The only conduct which is “unnatural” would be that which was exhibited in contradiction to the laws of nature, if such were possible.
In this sense an ascetic life is unnatural, as meaning destruction to the individual and race; but, in the sense that the ascetic fondly believes he is acting for his ultimate benefit, his conduct is “natural,” after all.
A wild rose is “natural,” a garden rose or hot-house rose is “cultivated,” a velvet rose on a bonnet is “artificial.” Yet it is as natural for man to cultivate and imitate for his own good pleasure as for a bee to store honey. When we were in what we usually call “a state of nature,” we did not keep clean, wear clothes, go to school or to church. Yet cleanliness and clothing, education and religion, are natural products of “human nature.”
When we apply the word to human conduct, we ought to be clear in our own minds as to whether we mean “natural”—I.e., primitive, uncivilised, savage—or natural,—suited to man’s present character and conditions. Primitive man did not send his children to school, but we do not consider it unnatural that we do send ours. Primitive woman carried her naked baby in her arms; modern woman pushes her much-dressed infant in a perambulator. But there is nothing unnatural in preferring the perambulator. It is natural to do what is easiest for the mother and best for the baby; and our modern skill and intelligence, our knowledge and experience, are as natural to us as ignorance, superstition, and ferocity were to our primal ancestors.
With this in mind, let us look at the use of the term “natural” as applied to mothers. What sort of mother do we praise as natural, and what sort do we blame as “unnatural”? Is our term used with reference to a period of development, “natural” motherhood, meaning primitive, savage motherhood? Or is it used with reference to the exercise of that intelligence, acquired knowledge and skill, and array of conveniences, which are natural to civilised man to-day? I think it will be found that in most cases we unconsciously use it in the first sense, natural meaning merely primitive or even animal, and with but too good reason, if we study the behaviour we are describing.
Motherhood is pre-eminently a “natural” function in both senses. It might almost be called the natural function, as reproduction seems to be more important in the evolution of species than even self-preservation. It would seem as if the instinct of self-preservation were given merely to keep the creatures alive for purposes of reproduction; for, when the two forces come into conflict, the reproductive instinct is the stronger.
The reproductive functions are performed by both male and female; but, as species developes and more conscious effort is applied to the great task, the female has the larger share.
In furnishing nutrition to the young, order mammalia gives the entire task to the mother; and their care, protection, and defence are mainly hers.
With the human species, in proportion to its development, the scales have turned the other way. With us the father furnishes food, shelter, and protection, save for the first period of suckling. In many cases the mother fails even to provide this assuredly “natural” contribution to the child’s nourishment. This would be a good opportunity to call her “unnatural”; but, if she is sufficiently assiduous with the bottle or wet-nurse, we do not. Beyond that period the human mother merely waits upon and watches her children in the shelter provided by the father, and administers to them such food, clothing, and other supplies as he furnishes.
Her educational office, too, has largely passed from her, owing to the encroachments of the school and kindergarten. She still moulds their morals and manners as far as she is able, and has command of their education during the earliest and most important years.
Now is it “natural” for a mother to take no part in getting food for children? If ever there was a natural function pertaining to motherhood, that seems to be one. If we use the word in its primitive sense, she certainly is “an unnatural mother” for relinquishing this primal duty. But, if we use it in the other sense, she is quite natural in accepting the conditions of civilised life as far as they are advantageous to the child. Is it “natural” for a mother to submit her children to the instruction of other extra-maternal persons? Or to call the doctor when they are sick, engage the dentist to fill their teeth, and hire persons to help take care of them? These things are not primitive surely, but neither are they “unnatural.” The “nature” of motherhood is to provide what is best for the child; and the multiplied services and facilities of our socially developed lives are as natural to us as our smooth white skins, once “naturally” brown and shaggy.
In all fair thinking, speaking, and writing, we should decide clearly upon our meaning, and see that it would be very unnatural for modern women to behave as was natural to primitive women.
The main duty remains the same,—to benefit the child. Methods and materials are open to choice and change. Motherhood is as open to criticism as any other human labour or animal function. Free study, honest criticism and suggestion, conscientious experiment in new lines,—by these we make progress. Why not apply study, criticism, suggestion, and experiment to motherhood, and make some progress there?
“Progress in motherhood” is a strange phrase to most of us. We would as soon speak of progress in digestion.
That shows how we persist in confounding the physical functions of reproduction with the elaborate processes that follow; and yet we do not apply our scornful term of “unnatural mother” to the weak, unhealthy woman who cannot compete with a cow in this stage of motherhood. We should think fairly one way or the other. Success in the physical functions of maternity we shall do well to keep up to a level with the performance of the “lower animals.” The ensuing processes are the ones open to progress.
No bottle is as good as the breast. “You cannot improve on nature!” But you can improve in methods of clothing, feeding in later years, house and school building, teaching, and every other distinctly human process.
If the human mother does not compare favourably with other animals in the physical processes of reproduction, she is therein “unnatural.” If she does not keep up with the opportunities of her race and time in all the ensuing care of the child, she is therein unnatural. Such care and culture as was natural to give a cave-baby would be unnatural to-day. Is not the average mother of to-day too prone to content herself with a very low-grade performance of a modern mother’s duties, on the plea that her methods are “natural,”—namely, primitive?
The grade of “care” given by the mother of to-day is too often exactly that of the mother of many thousand years ago. We depend almost altogether on what is known as “the maternal instinct,” which is a “natural instinct,” to be sure, just as it is a natural instinct for the male to fight. The right education of a child to-day requires more than instinct to produce the best results. Because we have not used the helpful influences of association, study, and experience in this most important labour of life, we keep our progress as a living species far below the level of our progress in material improvements.
When anything is said of improving the human stock, we instantly think of the methods of breeders of cattle, and are at once convinced of the undesirability and impossibility of applying any such means to humanity.
But there remain open to us two immense avenues of improvement, both free to mothers. One is the mother’s modifying influence upon the race through selection,—that duty of wise choice of a superior father for her children, which is “natural” enough to the lower animals, but which we agree to ignore in the bringing up of our young women. Careful and conscientious training to this end would have a great effect upon the race.
This does not mean the self-conscious forcing of a young heart to marry a “superior” man without the blessed leading of true love; but such open knowledge of what constituted an inferior or positively injurious man as would lower the likelihood of nice girls loving the undesirables.
The other and far more practical road of racial advance is in improving the environment of our young children, both materially and psychically, by the intelligent co-ordinate action of mothers. If we improve the individual as far as possible, it is better not to meddle too much with the subtle forces which lead to mating. These processes are not cerebral, and ought not to be made self-conscious. But educational processes are conscious, and should be studied.
The “natural” mother gives no thought to her approaching duties during youth. The animals do not, the savages do not, and our charming young girls do not. Is it not time for us to show a generation of mothers sufficiently “unnatural” to give honest thought and study to the great duty which lies before them? Clear-headed, intelligent girls, as yet unhampered by the blind brute instinct of maternal passion, might be able to plan together for the good of the child, as they never would be able to plan separately for the good of their own individual children.
A year or two of thorough study and practice in the arts and sciences of child-culture would soon convince the girl as to whether she was adapted to be an educator of little children or merely a mother. I say “merely a mother” in this rather derogatory way, alluding to the process of bearing young and perhaps suckling them. This is an essential physical function, common to all the higher animals, and usually fulfilled by them much better than by us. The continuous and subtle processes of education which come after, and the wise care required for the physical health and comfort of the child, do not come “naturally” to every mother. It is here that the skill and training are needed. Maternity is one thing, and education another.
It cannot be too strongly reiterated that maternal love does not necessarily include wisdom. It is “natural” for every mother to love her children, but it does not follow that she knows what is best for them. The animal mother does know by instinct; and we, content to take our pattern of motherhood from the beasts, have imagined that we needed nothing more.
The individual animal has the necessary knowledge of its kind lodged in each specimen. One bear, lion, or sheep, can teach its young all that any of them know, and care for them one as well as another.
There is an immense difference between this “natural” condition and ours, where individuals differ so widely in wisdom, and where the material conditions essential to the good of the child are not open to every mother to select from as instinct dictates and procure according to her individual skill, but are produced by us collectively, and only to be secured by combined intelligence. For our mothers to insure good conditions for their children requires more than maternal instinct.
The “natural” mother of to-day is reared without an inkling of what lies before her; and no preacting instinct warns her of the effect of her girlhood’s wasted opportunities. She marries still by “instinct,” which often leads her astray; or, when she uses her conscious reason, it is generally in lines of financial advantage, irrespective of the to-be-father’s health or character. She fulfils the physical functions of maternity rather reluctantly and with poor success, being frequently much the worse for the performance, and then rather boasting of her enfeebled condition, as if it was in some mysterious way a credit to her.
Then she brings to the care and education of her children merely her rudiments of maternal instinct,—an instinct so far painfully lacking in wise prevision of the event and preparation for it.
Where failing health or “social duties” or any other causes prevent her constant attendance on the child, the rich mother hires a low-class woman to take care of him; and, if the poor woman has too much work to be able to constantly attend upon the child, she gets along as she individually can without taking much care of him. Or, if she is of that small class who do really “take care of” their children personally, the care she gives is the mere chance outcome of her personal character and conditions, and may or may not be beneficial.
All this conduct we call “natural,” and see no blame in it. We assume that every mother knows how to care for her children; and, if we only see her keeping at it incessantly, we never criticise the methods or results. That is not, in general, a charge against motherhood. We do criticise individual cases very freely, yet make no deduction from our own wide observations.
Now let us picture an “unnatural” mother. As a young girl, she thoughtfully considers her approaching duties. She says to herself: “I am to be a mother; to contribute my personal share to the improvement of humanity by bringing into the world some one better than I am. I must do all I can to be better personally, in character and physique, for the child’s sake. Whatever I may be able to do for it afterward, I will give it good endowment at birth.” And then this unnatural young girl proceeds to train herself in all right living, avoiding anything in dress or food or late hours that might injure her health, because she hopes to be a mother some day. She studies child-culture eagerly, hoping that she may be fit for the splendid work, but is disappointed here perhaps, having a strong musical temperament, or a good head for business, or capacity for prompt and skilful manual labour, but not the faculties that go to make the good educator.
This is a blow, for she considers the training of little children as the highest work on earth, but she recognises that only about one in twenty has the requisite capacity; and the knowledge gained in her careful study in these lines shows her the importance of giving children the best conditions, which involves association with those specially endowed with the teacher’s power. So she studies her own profession cheerfully, resolved to make good progress there, to be a mother her children can be proud of, and to be able to guarantee them all they need. She loves and marries, led by the deepest force in organic life, but governed by a clear and conscious wisdom even here. If she has the misfortune to be attracted to a man diseased or immoral or defective, she will not accept him, for the sake of her children. But marry she will, for this is the law of life; and the exceptions go to extinction. This fair woman, vigorous and beautiful, with her well-trained body, clear mind, and tender spirit of mother-love waiting within her, would not go unloved. She marries. She bears healthy, beautiful children, and nourishes them at her proud and loving breast. She has provided beforehand for their care and training, knowing from the study and experience she has given the subject, and the reading she has kept up, what are now the best obtainable conditions. Her home has been chosen with a view to its proximity to the best baby-garden and child-home she knew, where some of the teachers were old friends of hers, and all were known by reputation.
Having chosen a profession with a view to the physical limitations of motherhood, and prepared during her plentiful time of waiting such arrangement of hours and substitutes as shall enable her to meet the mother’s duties properly, she takes a complete vacation for the months that need it; and then gradually resumes her work for part of the day, as her hours between nursing the child lengthen. She goes gladly to her work because she loves it, is well trained for it, and by doing it she serves her child. She comes more gladly to the child, the deep primal instinct coming out strongly; and at night the healthy little one sleeps near her in the quiet home.
Between the hours of nursing, the baby sleeps peacefully or wakes happily, in the beautiful home that his mother—working with the other mothers—have made for their children; and is watched and cared for by the wise and tender women who have proved their fitness for this precious work.
His mother is not worried about him. She knows that in that home there is no possible danger, in that trained care no least neglect; and that, if any sudden illness smote him, the visiting physician is there daily, and others in instant call. This place was made for babies, and is not in charge of servants. She is at ease about the child. Eagerly she goes to him when work is done. No weariness, no anxious uncertainty, only the glad triumphant mother-love which is content in knowing that the best possible conditions are secured to the child, and a constantly renewed delight in its health and beauty and good progress. Owing to her previous study, she knows enough not to undo the good effects by foolishness at home. She is in daily communication with the teachers,—and nurses and doctors, if necessary. She does not lose touch with the little life. Her untired affection surrounds him always, and to the child she is probably the most agreeable of the several agreeable persons in whose society he finds himself. Unless she falls terribly below the common standard, he will love her the best; for the beautiful background of nursing won and held his dawning affection, and the sweet home-coming every night is a constantly strengthening tie. Any clean, comfortable, human home should be suitable for a healthy child to sleep in; but it is in his impressionable day-time hours that he needs more appropriate surroundings.
It will be seen that this unnatural mother has her child in her own care for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, and during the eight hours of a working day she herself places him in what she knows to be better conditions than her own home could offer. If she does chance to possess that degree of educational genius essential to the best care of young children, her eight hours of work will be spent in taking care of them, and the remaining sixteen in still taking care of her own. Thus the exceptional mother, who is also an educator, will have her own all the time; and her unusual ability will benefit many other little ones for part of the time.
The “natural” mother, of course, believes that her own care of her own child is better than any one’s else. She can give no proof of this, and would be very unwilling to submit to any examination or competition. She simply thinks she is the best educator because she is a “mother.” The sickness and death of her children, or the accidents which happen to them, or their inferior development and disagreeable behaviour, she never takes as proof of her incompetence. Where an experienced teacher could remove half a dozen bad habits in as many months without the child’s knowing it, the mother scolds and spanks along the years, or resignedly lets the small people trample upon the rights of their elders, in serene conviction that her methods must be right; for is she not their mother?
The unnatural mother, who is possessed of enough intelligence and knowledge to recognise her own deficiencies, gladly intrusts her children to superior care for part of the time, and constantly learns by it herself.
The mother-love, which is so far strained by the difficulties of rearing children in the home as to frequently give way to irritability, weariness, and even bad temper, would be kept fresh and unworn by the eight-hour rest; and the child would never learn to despise his mother’s irascibility and lack of self-control, as, unfortunately, so many children do. To the child, happy and busy in his day hours of education, the home-coming would be an ever new delight, and the home—”papa and mamma’s house”—a lovely place to respect and enjoy.
Many will wonder why the mother is described as “working” during eight hours. The able-bodied and able-minded human being who does not work is a contemptible object. To take from the labour of others so large a share of human products as is necessary to our comfort to-day, and contribute nothing in return, is the position of a devouring parasite.
Most women do work, hard and long, at house-service. The “natural” mother is content to mingle her “sacred duties” of child-care with the miscellaneous duties of a house-servant; but the “unnatural mother,” for the sake of her children, refuses to be the kitchen-maid, parlour-maid, and chamber-maid of the world any longer. She recognises that her real duties are too important to be hindered in their performance any longer by these primitive inconveniences; and, with combined intelligence, she and the others arrange their households on a basis of organised professional service, with skilled labour by the hour, and so each has time to perform some professional service herself, and pay well for the better performance of the “domestic” tasks.
This subject is treated in a special volume on “Women and Economics,” but here it is sufficient to present the position of the mother, the “unnatural” mother, who would refuse to maintain any longer our grossly defective system of household service (either by herself or by a hired woman), on the ground that it was not conducive to the best development of her children.
To those who for any reason prefer, or are compelled by circumstances, to pursue the profession of private house-servant, it will, however, be of inestimable advantage to have their children taken out of the dirt and danger, and placed in proper conditions, while the mother follows her profession at home. The natural mother cares only for her own children. She loves and labours without knowledge, and what experience she gains by practising on her own children is buried with her. The unnatural mother cares for Children,—all of them,—and knows that she can best serve her own by lifting the standard of child-culture for all.
We have urgent need of the unnatural mother,—the mother who has added a trained intellect to a warm heart; and, when we have enough of them, the rarest sound on earth will be that now so pitifully common,—the crying of a little child.
XV. SOCIAL PARENTAGE.
The mother does her duty by her children as best she can. The father does his duty by his children. But we do not do our duty by our children. The relation of the State to the child is little thought of, much less understood. We have discussed it only as an alternative to the parental relation, involving the removal of the child from the home and family, and the substitution of civic for domestic care. Such a proposal naturally excites the hot opposition of parental love and instinct, and cannot stand. It has been tried more or less thoroughly, as in Sparta, but does not appeal to the human heart or head, and is not in the least what is here under discussion. The true relation of the State to the child includes the parental relation, and in no way controverts the love and instinct of those invaluable public functionaries.
It is not necessary, or in any way desirable, for the State to remove the child from the parent. Parents are evolved for the purpose of rearing children, and possess highly specialised and urgent impulses in that direction,—far too useful forces to be ignored.
But the civilised human parent lives as part of an elaborate society,—a State; and, as a member of the State, he holds a new relation to his child—she holds a new relation to her child: they—and they are the State—hold a new relation to their children. This is what we so generally ignore.
The individual parents do their individual duty fairly well; but the collective parents, who constitute society, fail shamefully in their collective duties. What is a society? It is an organisation of human beings, alive, complex, exquisitely developed in co-ordinate inter-service. What is it for? It is for development, growth, progress, like any other living thing. How does a society improve? By combinations of individuals evolving social processes which react favourably upon the individual constituents, and develop in them better social faculties. For instance, early combinations of individuals evolve low forms of legal protection for the citizens of the early State. Under those protective enactments, citizens grow up in comparative peace, and become capable of enacting further and superior laws.
In recent and particular instance, our American forefathers established a system of public education under which many citizens were developed to a degree of intelligence sufficient to see the need and the means of extending and improving that education. Education is a social process, impossible—in any human degree—among detached individuals.
The education of children is a distinctly social process. Much of it may be carried on by the parents, but it is for social improvement and as a member of society that they do this. Here is where our parents, who constitute society, fail to see the nature and extent of their work. They have an exaggerated idea of “parental responsibility” to the child, and no idea at all of social responsibility to the child. That social development which has enlarged the mind and soul of the beast-savage to our present capacity for love and service we still imagine to be purely parental, and endeavour to concentrate it all on our own children, failing utterly in our duty to each other’s children.
No such gross error can work good results. This disproportionate concentration of feeling on the individual child, and neglect of the child in general, produces a world full of people with a congested family life, full of morbid sensitiveness and potential difficulty and suffering, and a weak, anæmic social life, full of mutual neglect and dereliction of duty.
The well-known illustration of education can be used again still farther to show this. Suppose a small community, wherein the parents are all very anxious for the education of their own children and profoundly indifferent to the education of anybody’s else children. Suppose these parents all labour religiously to buy books, pictures, statues, music, and to have the best of tutors for their own children.
It can be seen without much mathematical effort how inferior would be the supplies purchasable by the individual parent’s funds compared to those purchasable by their collective funds. Separately, they could not compass a good teacher to each family, nor good pictures, nor many books and instruments, nor any statuary and music to speak of. Collectively and for less money, they could have all these things in far higher degree of excellence.
It is social parentage, such as we have, which gives us the school as we have it. It is the weakness and irresponsibility of our social parentage which leaves the school as it is, and fails to push on to something far fuller and better. What thought, what care, what service, does the average mother give to other people’s children? None. She does not imagine it to be her duty. She imagines that her duty lies only toward her own children, and that it is no faintest fault of hers if other children suffer. If she sees little ones visibly neglected and injured, she merely blames their individual parents, and gives no further thought to the matter.
Now, once for all, what is the advantage of living in a society instead of living alone? It is that we do not have to spend all our time and strength in very imperfectly taking care of ourselves, as the separate individual would be obliged to do, but are more and more perfectly taken care of by one another. We all share in the advantages of living together,—the protection not only of numbers, but of our specialised defenders, civil and military; the vast accumulations of knowledge and skill acquired by many and transmitted to all; the increasing measure of mutual love, in which we thrive and grow. The more perfectly a society can distribute these advantages to all its citizens, the more swiftly and healthfully does it advance and improve.
Public peace and safety, public justice, public education, the public hall, the public road, the public library and gallery and museum and bath,—these are what react so favourably upon the individual, and make better homes and citizens. The father is, to some extent, awake to the duties of social parentage; the mother, hardly at all. The difference is this: the father serves his children by means of serving other people; the mother serves her children personally, with her own hands. Suppose a number of families (we cannot call it a community, because it would not be one), wherein the fathers endeavoured to serve their children personally with their own hands only, each man building, weaving, farming, fishing, blacksmithing, making dishes and tools and instruments, and trying in all ways to meet the family needs himself personally.
It will readily be seen how little the families of these men would have. The time, strength, and skill of one man do not go far, if he tries to do all things himself. Why do women imagine that their time, strength, and skill severally will serve better than in combination? Why are they content to give their children only what they can do themselves alone, thus depriving them of the rich possibilities of civilised motherhood, combined, collective, mutually helpful?
The term “city fathers,” and its painful lack of companionship in city mothers, shows the wide gulf between the development of social parentage in men and women. The accidents to little children from electric and cable cars are pitifully numerous. What mother has taken any steps to prevent these accidents? Individually, each tries to protect her own, as does the animal or savage. Collectively, they do nothing; yet it is the lack of this collective motherhood which makes our cities so unsafe for children. The idea that, if each takes care of her own, all will be cared for, is as false for women as it is for men. If each man took care of his own, and not of the others, we should have no soldiers, no policemen, no government, no society, only that social chaos called anarchy.
Social health and progress demand collective action, the largest mutuality, the care and service of all, which is the only guarantee of safety and prosperity to each. Our fatherhood is to a considerable degree socialised. Our motherhood is flatly anarchistic, refusing all co-ordination.
An earnest—hotly earnest—woman once disputed this suggestion of mutual service in motherhood, thus: “When I make the bed for my child, I put some of my personality between the sheets. My child sleeps better if I make his bed for him.” I gazed at her calmly.
“Does your child walk better if you make his shoes for him?” I asked.
It is a pretty sentiment that the mother’s love in some mysterious way makes all she does for the child superior to what another could do. But apply the test of fact. Can she, with all her love, make as good a shoe as the shoemaker? As good a hair-brush, tooth-brush, tumbler, teacup, pie-plate, spoon, fork, or knife, as the professional manufacturers of these things? Does mother-love teach her to be a good barber? Can she cut her darling’s hair so as to make him happy? Can she make a good chair or table or book or window? How silly it is to imagine that this “personality” inserted between the sheets makes the bed more conducive to healthy sleep than any other clean, well-aired, well-made bed!
Let the mother put the child to bed by all means, if she wishes. In the last sweet words and the good-night kiss is truly the place for personality. That is a mother’s place, and not a tradesman’s. But there is no more need for maternal personality between the sheets of a bed than between the leaves of a book or the bricks of a wall.
In our narrow-mindedness we have assumed that to care for any other children would mean to neglect our own. As if the human heart, the mother-heart, could love but one or six, and not more! As a matter of fact, we neglect our own by not caring for others. That is, we fail to take those general measures for the protection and development of all children which would so greatly benefit our particular children. Only to-day, at last, we see in some few advanced communities the mothers’ club and congress, the women’s civic associations, and other forms of union for the improvement of social conditions, all helping to enlarge the application of mother-love, and set that great force free to bring on the better day for children. These clubs and societies are jeered at by the majority of mothers, who proudly say that they are too busy taking care of their children to go to a mothers’ congress and learn how.
Imagine, again, a majority of men, each saying he was too busy teaching his children to go to a school meeting and plan for the education of them all! It is not a shifting of duty that is required,—to cease to take care of one’s own in order to take care of others instead. So ingrained are our primitive habits, so unable are we to conceive of anything but the one-woman method, that our only idea of change is a simple exchange of responsibility. It is not exchanging that is needed, but an enlarging, an embracing of the less in the greater.
The mothers of the world are responsible for the children of the world; the mothers of a nation, for the children of a nation; the mothers of a city, for the children of a city. We may ignore and deny this claim; but it is there none the less, and, because we do not do our duty as social parents, a corrupt society injures our children continually. The diseases of other children infect ours. What have the mothers ever done to prevent these diseases? They nurse their own sick little ones religiously, and bury them with tears; but what do they do before or after to learn the cause and prevention of these “family afflictions,” to spread their information, and enforce measures to put a stop to them? The bad habits of other children affect ours,—their ignorance, their ill manners, their sins. Our children suffer individually from bad social conditions, but cannot be saved individually.
When the Philadelphia water supply is so foul as to poison young and old, mothers are responsible for not doing their share to make the city water fit for their families to drink. It is not a private filter on a private faucet that will do it, but public purity in the public works.
In Boston in 1899 the Society of Collegiate Alumnæ exposed a disgracefully insanitary condition in the public schools,—undisturbed filth in cellar and vault, unwashed floors, a slovenly neglect of the commonest sanitary decency worthy of an Oriental slum. Any mother in Boston would have been filled with shame to have such an exposure of her own private housekeeping. There is room for shame at this exposure of their public housekeeping, school-house-keeping, city-keeping.
Like an ostrich with his head in the sand, the mother shuts herself up in the home and imagines that she is safe and hidden, acting as if “the home” was isolated in space. That the home is not isolated we are made painfully conscious through its material connections,—gas-pipes, water-pipes, sewer-pipes, and electric wires,—all serving us well or ill according to their general management. Milk, food, clothing, and all supplies brought in bring health or disease according to their general management. The mere physical comfort of the home needs collective action, to say nothing of the psychic connection in which we all live, and where none is safe and clean till all are safe and clean.
How far does the duty of the State extend, and how much should be left to individual responsibility? This is the working point to which this discussion tends. A more serious sociological question could hardly be propounded.
Seeing that progress is the law of nature, that the human race is under pressure of every force—conscious and unconscious—to go on, to improve, to grow better, and that we, as social beings, move forward through social improvement, the main weight of care seems to rest on society rather than the individual. It is astonishing to see how far this has gone already. Whereas once the beast father and mother were the only ones to protect or serve the young, now society does far more for the child than the parents. The father does more than the mother, and that by means of his social relation. He provides for his child by being a carpenter, lawyer, mason, or other social functionary. In this social relation he is able to provide for it the comfort and safety of a modern society. Out of that relation he would be able to provide for it only with his bare hands alone, and less competent than the hardy savage.
We need not be alarmed at some new overtures on the part of society, if we but look at what society is doing now. That we do not think of this is due to our tradition that we “take care of ourselves.” We do not. No civilised man “takes care of himself.” We take care of each other. But, granting this to some degree, we have heretofore supposed that the benefits of civilisation belonged only to adults,—for that matter only to adult males!—and were to be distributed to children through the individual parent. Thus, if the parent was inferior, the child was expected not only to inherit his inferiority, but to suffer from it always through inferior maintenance, breeding, and education.
The gradual reaching out of society to protect and care for the child is one of the most interesting lines of historic development. The parent had power to kill a child. The State denied the right, and protected the child against the parent. The parent had power to sell the child. The State denied that. The parent might cast off and neglect the child. The State compels him to maintain it, if he can; and, if not, the State supports the child. The parent might teach the child, have it taught, or leave it untaught. Now the State orders that the child must be taught, either at home or at school, and furnishes the school free. So far the line of advance has been from absolute parental control to a steadily enlarging State control, from absolute parental support to more and more of State support. The question of more or less in present details may be debated indefinitely to no conclusion. The principle is what we should study.
The condition of childhood in our human sense, the long period of immaturity, is a social condition. As we advance in social relation, becoming more and more highly specialised, the gulf between infancy and maturity increases. The young animal and the adult animal are far more alike than a Gladstone and his baby.
It does not take very long to mature the group of faculties required for maintaining individual life. It does take long to mature the group of faculties required to maintain social life. To rear a man—I.e., an adult male of genus homo—is no very difficult task. It is accomplished by Bushmen, Hottentots, Eskimo, every living kind of human creature. To rear a physician, an engineer, a chemist,—this takes longer. Incidentally, this is one reason why a girl’s “majority” is placed at eighteen, a boy’s at twenty-one. She is supposed to need only individual maturity,—physical maturity. He is supposed to take more time to become a man because he is a member of society, and so has to learn more things. It is not a question of adolescence, of physiological change. The boy of eighteen could be a father as well as the girl a mother; but he is not as well able to take his social position, to serve mankind in his craft, art, trade, or profession. Note here the early maturity and marriage of the less developed grades of society, filling those simpler social functions which require less specialisation, and the proportionate postponement of this period in the more highly specialised. Our long period of immaturity is a social condition, and not an individual one. That we may reach the full growth needed in the advanced member of society, we must be minors longer than would be necessary if we were not members of society. The exceeding childishness of the civilised child is also a social condition.
The nearer we are to the animals, the more capable and bright the very little ones. In the South it was common to set a little black child to take care of an older white one: the pickaninny matures much more rapidly. So, again, in our own lower social grades the little children of the poor are sharper, better able to care for themselves, than children of the same age in more developed classes. It is no proof of greater intelligence in the adult. It is retrogression,—a mark of bad social conditions.
Civilised society is responsible for civilised childhood, and should meet its responsibilities. The sweet confidence of a modern child, as compared to the alert suspicion of a baby savage, shows what ages of social safe-guarding have done. In the beautiful union of our civilised growth, even so far, we have made possible the Child; and it is for us still further to protect and develop this most exquisite social product,—this greatest social hope and power. Society’s relation to the child is impersonal. It is not limited by parenthood. The parental relation is lower, more limited. Parentally, we care only for our own: socially, we care for all. Parentally, we are animals: socially, we learn to love one another. We become, approximately, Christians.
Christianity is a social condition. In our present degree of social progress, we produce by our specialised co-ordinate activities that safe and comfortable material environment, those comparatively developed virtues which we call “civilisation.” But, in applying this common product to the advancement of the child,—which is our best and quickest way to incorporate progress in the race itself,—we allow the incapacity of the individual parent to limit the child’s advantages. We deny to the child the conditions necessary to his best development, unless his particular father is able to provide them. Our theory here is that the father would not work so hard if the State provided for his child; some thinkers combating even the public school and public library on this ground. This is an outworn economic fallacy. The inferior father cannot work beyond a certain grade because he has not the capacity; and, if the child has only the advantages the inferior father can provide for him, he grows up to be another inferior father and low-grade worker. The most deadly result of this foolish neglect of the young citizen is seen in the ensuing action of the biological law, “Reproduction is in inverse proportion to specialisation.” Because we leave the child to grow up unspecialised, untrained, save for the puny efforts of his single low-grade parent, therefore he, in turn, helps fill the world with very numerous and very inferior progeny.
We are hampered by the rapid reproduction of the very lowest classes of society, weighted down by their defects and limitations, forced to wait—the most advanced of us—for the great rear-guard of the population. We must wait because a society is alive, and includes all its members. It cannot outstrip its own inferior parts, however neglected and behindhand they may be. And their numbers—numbers resultant from their low condition—complicate the problem hopelessly. That is, hopelessly on this old fallacious notion that the child can have no help from all the strong, rich world, save what his father and mother can filter through their personal limitations. We are beginning to change this by our efforts at free public education. We shall change it more and more as we grow consciously awake to our true social responsibility to the child.
We cannot afford to have one citizen grow up below the standards of common comfort, health, and general education. To the scared cry, “But, if you take the responsibility off these people, they will simply flood the world with wretched babies!” comes the answer of natural law, “Improve the individual, and you check this crude fecundity.” It is because they are neglected and inferior that they have so many children. Make higher-class people of the children, and you check this constant influx of low-grade life, and gradually introduce a better-born population.
When the wise, beneficent parental love of Human Society for its young really does its duty, tenderly removing obstructions from the path of all our little ones, we shall give to them those common human advantages without which they cannot grow to the happiness which is their right, the usefulness which is their duty. All parents who are able to do more for their children would be free to do so, as those who can afford private schools, or educate their little ones at home, are not compelled to send them to the public schools.
As now society provides the school for the young citizen, on the ground of public advantage, without regard to the inability of the parent, so we must learn to provide a far richer and more complete education, and all else that the parent falls short in, because it is necessary for the good of society, and because we love our children.
About the Author
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (/ˈɡɪlmən/; née Perkins; July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935), also known as Charlotte Perkins Stetson, her first married name, was a prominent American humanist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist and served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. She has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.
Less well known are Gilman’s views on race. To solve the so-called “Negro problem” in the United States in the early twentieth century, Gilman suggested a system of state-organized labor she called “enlistment”.
[Excerpt from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Perkins_Gilman), retrieved May 21st, 2020]
About this Edition
This edition is based on the G. P. Putnam’s Sons publication of 1903. All works by the author are in the public domain.