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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

Duties of Parents

Duties of Parents.

And here at the outset it is necessary to realise clearly that this duty on the part of the parent is paramount. And that the State only interferes, and is only justified in interfering, when the natural [unclear: inator] of the child omits or neglects his [unclear: o]

Hence arises the only Justification for free and compulsory education: which in the abstract is wholly indefensible, and only page 9 defensible at all on the principle that individual rights must be subjected to the common weal.

Thus let it be remembered the duty of the parent never ends till the subject-being is sufficiently developed and disciplined as to be armed for the battle of life; in other words not merely till puberty be passed but until an age of competent ability, such as early manhood or womanhood, be attained. And ergo that the duty of the State never commences until the parent omits or neglects the above-mentioned responsibility naturally devolving upon him. Then, and then only, is the State not only justified, but, in the interests of its subjects, called upon to interfere and insist, if necessary (hence compulsory education) on its subject being educated.

Before, however, fully entering upon the questions why and how far the State is justified in interfering with the liberty of its subjects in this matter, and that at the expense of the other of its subjects let us briefly try to understand—what I venture to think is not even faintly understood by the very large majority of parents here, namely—the duties of parents in respect of the education of their offspring.

I especially allude, as I have indicated above, to post-natal influences, and therefore intend only to enter into details in respect of that period; but at the same time I cannot refrain from briefly pointing out, in passing, the strange and almost universal ignorance which appears to prevail amongst parents regarding the obligations they owe to their children before birth, which ignorance seems to assume somewhat the following forms, namely:—

(a) That the conception of children is simply a matter of divertissement to be entered into wantonly and recklessly, and without the interests of the child, in respect of its physical mental or moral faculties—coming into consideration at all, and without any regard to consequences. Thus, parents do not feel called upon to see that such precautionary measures are taken at the time of conception as would ensure to the life-germ physical vigour, or mental strength and morate, [unclear: o] to retrain from creating more children than they can themselves afford to feed, clothe, educate, and launch in life. These are most serious omissions, the latter patent, the former because medical authorities hold that the circumstances immediately surrounding conception have a wonderful influence, in all respects, on all the after-life of the conceived subject.

And the importance of this cannot be overestimated, because not only on the instant of conception taking place is the entire machinery required for the development of the physical and mental organs set in motion—but life is begun. Conception therefore must be deemed the basis on which all education is afterwards based. And therefore is as important to the child as a solid foundation is to the superstructure of a building.

(b.) That after conception and prior to birth no efforts need be made to inspire education. But no mistake can be graver: for no post-natal influences can be so direct or potent as those which are ante-natal; when the maternal connection is complete: and when therefore the maternal influence in all respects—physical, mental, moral —is simply all-powerful. For the educatible material is never so plastic as then—to be developed and directed. And the great Napoleon and James I. as regards disposition, and Samson in respect of physical development are quoted as striking instances of this.

Thus, up to the time of birth these serious omissions occur: and thus, so to speak, the child is born seriously handicapped.

But now let us discuss the various stages of educational life after birth and the duties of parents respecting them. And firstly of course we speak of

(1). The period immediately succeeding birth —the infantile period.

And here it has always appeared to me most serious misconception prevails, inasmuch, as up to the time of apparent consciousness the child is treated as not being educatible —the parents altogether ignoring, at that, stage that, as Cicero says, "culture is to the mind what food is to the body." This, however, is a fallacy which must be apparent to any thoughtful person, and I need not therefore further expose it. For, if my argument be sound as to the impressibility of the life-germ, or fœtus, a fortiori it will apply here.

page 10

(2). Childhood, and Youth, immediately succeeding infancy. And this period of course extends from the apparently conscious period until the subject—being is deemed to be fully armoured for the battle of life (and if life be a battle what madness it must be not to be armoured for the contest).

And therefore is the period which is popularly looked upon as the period for Education.

Now, I have so fully defined in my previous article what education is that it is unnecessary for me to go into details here, because all I have there said applies primarily to the parent, and only to the State in default of the parent doing his duty towards the child.

But I may point out to parents in passing a fact which seems generally overlooked—even in these intensely selfish times—that even apart from natural duty no parent can ever make a better investment for himself than the education of his children.

And the reward accrues not only in the proud satisfaction to him in contemplating the gradual development of physique, intelligence, and morale—the result of his efforts and foresight—but also in the happiness and gratitude of the child. For it is always pre-eminently wise to remember that there is no real happiness in this life except the happiness of making others happy. I shrink from enlarging on this question—the duties of parents—for fear of unduly lengthening this article; and am therefore deterred from indicating the best parental modes of influencing aright the young although I think they are almost unknown, or at all events unpractised, amongst us.

And must, in consequence, content myself instead with simply—in passing—reminding parents of the admirable admonitions of the Roman philosopher Seneca, and the celebrated German Richter, that

"The road by precept is long, by example short and effectual."
"For children, there is absolutely no morality, except example, either narrated or seen."

And also of the circumstance that "the t enacity of impressions received in childhood i s a fact that should be held most important n every scheme of early education."

Thus we pass now to enquire—