The New Zealand Evangelist
The Duty of Parents.
“That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good.” — Prov. xix. 2.
Be not alarmed good reader at the text above. You are not about to be cheated into reading a sermon or even a homily. The motto of the wise man is prefixed as a banner under which we are prepared to march—as a sign to betoken “Good entertainment within,” in high despite (or as a friendly critic at our elbow suggests, in illustration) of the adage which affirms that “Good wine needs no bush.”
Education—do not yawn already, gentle reader. True the word has been misused by mouthing patriots until it has become little more than the watchword of party and sectarian strife; but it is a good word yet, and represents a thing so intrinsically excellent, that the more men know and possess thereof, the more ardent and sincere will be their love for it. The theme is certainly trite and hackneyed, almost more than any other, yet is there a spirit abroad in relation to this subject, which is over multiplying the number of its advocates, and widening the circle of their influence. The time page 341 has been, and that within our own remembrance and knowledge, when because an individual had read Mr. Wyse's most elaborate work, he was therefore deemed qualified to fill the office of Master of one of the most important schools in London. Now, even in our little community, there are probably not a few who are no strangers to that work, while the names of Gall, Simpson, Stow, Fellenberg, Pestalozzi, and a host of kindred spirits are “familiar in our mouths as household words.” The teeming “press” is both a cause and an effect of this salutary change. Literary men now cater for the multitude, and count readers by hundreds, instead of units, and with due gratitude, writers of all grades are found eloquently advocating, and laborionsly improving the science of education. From the “Teacher” of Jacob Abbott, and the “Teacher Taught” of Packard, to the “Teacher's Companion” of Robert Collins, a host of publications of greater or less merit have been addressed to Teachers, and while their deficiencies have been most unsparingly exposed, the counsels of wisdom and experience have been so addressed to them, that the Schoolmasters of this day are in every respect immensely in advance of all their predecessors. It has been discovered that a man may be a mathematician, a linguist, a philosopher, but if “Didaktik”, has not been the subject of his especial study, if he has not undergone an apprenticeship to the craft; above all, if he be not naturally “apt to teach,” having the proper “bump” largely developed—we crave pardon of phrenologists for not knowing which or where it is—such a man will never be useful as a Teacher. Indeed the requirements from the Teacher are already so exacting, and his instructors so numerous, that we will venture — for the sake of Teachers and children too—to address ourselves to another class, without whose willing aid, nothing effectual can be done.
Parents! Fathers and Mothers! Our address is to you. Do not think that because we have been Teachers, we come to you in that character, as page 342 though from the Tutor's desk we sought to instruct you in your duties. Neither do we come as the advocates of education. This we regard as a work of supererogation, and are therefore only anxious to make out a “case” on behalf of your children, leaving them, or rather your own hearts, to be the advocates.
Limiting the wide term “education” for our present purpose, to the instruction of children, we wish to state broadly and plainly the great difficulty with which Teachers have to contend. This is not the proverbial light-heartedness and volatility of youth, for that Teacher were a disgrace to his profession who did not love the careless, pleasure-seeking spirit of bright-eyed lively boys and romping girls. No, no, Teachers do not contend with youthful gaiety. Often indeed are they sorely tasked in this particular. Official gravity requires a frown, but a provoking smile lurks about the corners of the lips, and the roguish youngsters see how the Teacher's eye mocks his tongue, while he attempts to chide for some boyish freak. Neither is it sheer dulness and stupidity, although with these he sometimes meets. He so adjusts his plans, that the lively and the dull shall alike obtain advantage, and calculating upon all the diversity of childish character, he is no more discouraged because all are not equally clever and docile, than is the mechanic when he finds that all materials are not equally plastic, or easily wrought. The difficulty of the individual Teacher, the impediment to the advance of education in the mass of society is, the indifference of parents. From the nature of the case the children cannot—and should not if they could—decide the question, whether they shall be educated or no. Parents must answer, and although a priori we might reckon upon a prompt, decided, and uniform affirmative, yet all experience too plainly proves affirmatives to be exceptions, and careless negatives, veiled by some wretched, flimsy, self-deceiving excuses; to be the rule. In all the colonies, and page 343 also we believe in the United States, peculiar causes which we cannot dignify with the name of reasons, are operating to produce, or at least are pleaded to justify this lamentable indifference.* Among these there are three that are put most prominently forward. These are, the expense of tuition, the distance of the school houses, and the profit to be derived from the children's labour, which must be to a great extent sacrificed if they attend a school. Now if the first of these was the objection of the careful and provident, we could do little more in the way of answer than lament that in small communities like our own, the high price of labour, and the absence of any public effort must render it unavoidable, that education should cost more than it did at home. But it is notorious that the great majority of those who begrudge the expense of their children's education, do not begrudge themselves or their children, the much more costly gratification of the alehouse and the race-course. Even if we concede that in a colony money is relatively scarcer than the commodities which it represents, still some such plan as that adopted in some parts of the Continent of Europe, and also in America—where Teachers are maintained as boarders in the families of their pupils—would effectually meet the case, and until such plans shall have been tried and found ineffectual, we must be pardoned if we remain perfectly convinced that Objection No. 1, is a mere pretext.
The second objection—the distance some children would have to travel to attend School—would appear far more forcible if it were urged in London than it does here, where those who urge the objection are all familiarised with a “country” life. That dwellings in a new colony will be scattered is plainly page 344 inevitable, but all the distance that any can be required to travel with us is very insignificant, certainly not at all greater than the same children will be in the daily habit of going for the various purposes of their parents, families or farms. It is to be remarked, however, as a most singular circumstance, that there are no miles anything like so long as the furlongs that measure the road to the School, always excepting those of the road to the Church, which are something longer still. This we only record as the result of our observation, leaving philosophers to theorise thereon.
The third objection, however, is the most formidable and the most common. The well fed cows, the productive gardens, the fertile fields—shame many from pleading want of means. So the ruddy cheeks and strong limbs of sturdy youths, show that a little journey would not be felt much hardship—but—how can they be spared? John must mind the cows, while William works with his father on the ground. Then Mary must look after the chickens and pigs, Betsey must help in the dairy, and Jane cannot be spared because there are two or three little ones that she has to mind. And so because labour is valuable, or in other words because God has given you the means of acquiring comparative wealth, you will ungratefully misuse his most precious gift, and allow your children to grow up in that state which Solomon so emphatically affirms “is not good.”
Fathers, Mothers, will you not look a little onwards [sic: ?] Think how short and few the years will be, before John and William and Mary and Betsey and Jane will have houses and families of their own. Educated parents, will you for the sake of a paltry advantage deprive your children of that pleasure which now sweetens your days of toil. Shall they not be taught to love books and to enjoy the refining and inexpensive pleasures which they give? Uneducated parents, will you doom your children to experience the same inconveniences and positive page 345 evils that you have suffered through the want of early education? Bear with a friend who speaks warmly because he feels deeply, who regards the rising generation as the growing hope of our common country, and who therefore prays you, if you forget all the foregoing, to remember the homely but oft-repeated distich.
“When money and land are gone and spent
“Then learning is most excellent,”
* The writer heard Mr. Packard—a warm hearted citizen of America—publicly affirm that if more was not done than had been done, or than he sould conceive of as likely to be done for the Valley of the Mississippi, the whole of the inhabitants of that vast territory would in three generations be heathen.