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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Chapter II. — The Home in the Educational Process

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Chapter II.

The Home in the Educational Process.

It has been forgotten in the modern overthrow of old methods and ways of life, that the home in indinitely the most important factor in education. It hae become a mere mnemonic annexe to the school.

In meet modern discussions on education it has been forgotten that by far the larger part of the environment of a child is the home. The omission is due partly to the feeling that the State must not and cannot meddle in the home, but chiefly to the limitation of the theme; we think of education as confined to intellectual processes, with an occasional annexe of muscular processes; we have forgotten that it must include the whole man—the character, the morality, the aim and the adaptability, as well as the memory and the muscles, and that it must affect, if it is to be thorough, the whole environment. The narrowing of the horizon has vitiated our outlook and rendered us shortsighted on every educational question.

If we had kept steadily in view the whole humanity as the sphere of education, we should have seen that the school was almost useless without the home, and we should have, instead of imposing all the mnemonic work, and nothing but the mnemonic work, of the teacher on the parents, seen to it that their interest in the character and life of their children should be deeply and intelligently roused. "Lessons," the evening committal to memory of gobbets of undigested learning, covers their whole duty and obscures the main issue of education, the development of the entire nature, physique, emotions, imagination, reasoning power, morality and character. Because of the mnemonic vampire that sucks the life-blood out of home intercourse, there is no time for the humaner and deeper interests that parents should take in their children.

But the difficulty is how to enlist parents in the being and destiny of those they have brought into the world. Parental love might be the server of infinite progress in mankind, as it has been the lever of progress among animated things, if only it were made intelligent and foreseeing in a11 cases. It has lost the instinctiveneas that made it a passion in animalhood, and, like all instincts that are in the process of becoming conscious and deliberate, it often gropes blindly, or falters and stumbles. There are signs of its efforts to reach out into the future. The decline of the birth-rate that is now a feature of high civilisation may be, and often is, a symptom of degeneration, of the abandonment of overgrown luxury to the pursuit of pleasure. But it is as often, if not oftener, the result of forethought over the career of children. For it is the nations and the classes sunk in the depths of poverty and improvidence that never leave the cradle empty. The family ever hangs on the edge of starvation and they are not educated, but tumble up as they may or more often vanish forgotten. It is but the old law of the animal world—the blind guidance of instinct and boundless fertility in order to cover the ravages of boundless failure. One of the first rational effects of a regular surplus revenue in the individiial, the class, or the nation, is the stimulation of the foreseeing faculties and anxiety for the future; and in the family this at once takes the form of limitation of numbers, in order that the individual children may be better cared for and have a surer career.

The misfortune is that this unsettles the clear, unfaltering character of the old instinct of parental love, without substituting anything as deliberate in the form of rational aim. It is largely this that makes the modern family and especially the colonial family, so often lax and unorganised, and so dependent on the school for discipline and tone. Parental love is passing from the instinctive to the self-controlling state and has neither the prompting of nature nor the guidance of reason to define its aims and methods. It is now driven this way now that, like a helmless ship, and the organisation of the household on the one hand suffers, and the character and career of the children on the other.

If there is anything that needs intelligence imparted to it more than another it is modern parental love, the page 9 management and development of the children in the home. In the best organised households it is but a mnemonic annexe to the school. In most, managment is abandoned to the caprice of the moment, or, in well-to-do homes, to the servants often unwisely chosen.

The State, having unsettled the home by its assumption of educational functions, must reorganise it. This may be done by bringing teachers and parents oftener togather.

Something might be done even by educational authorities to reorganise the home and its discipline on a more deliberate and intelligent basis. The teachers would be none the worse for coming into close contact with the parents of the children they teach. And if they are men and women of sympathy, character and commonsenee, they should have an intimate beneficial effect on their pupils during the hours that He beyond the range of their scholastic discipline. The Boards of Education would do much to deepen the effect of teaching on the country, if they allowed half a day a week off school work for the cultivation of social intercourse between parents and teacher with the help of the pupils; and if they asked their inspectors to report on this feature of school life and its effects as carefully as on the discipline and learning, The influence of the mutual instruction and sympathy on the nature and future career of the beings in whom both teacher and parent are so deeply interested would render the duty of each more farseeing, penerative, and intelligent. The children might provide part of the entertainment, not merely by giving dramatically something of what they have learned, but, where physical culture is attended to, by exhibiting their powers, and, where cooking is taught, providing specimens of their skill.

Still more might be accomplished by having a medical man and a trained nurse in over schoolboard district, not only to watch over the beginnings of disease, but to infuse commonsense in hygiene and nursing; into teachers and parents.

But even more might be made of this intercourse of school and household if it were varied by the periodical visits of a medical man and a nurse specially trained in the physiology and nature of childhood. Even if it were only for the sanitation and hygiene of the schoolhouse and the household and for prevention of the waste of population that constantly goes on, every Board should have a competent doctor and a competent nurse on its permanent staff. Every child should be examined before it enters school, so that the state of its vital organs, of its digestion, breathing, teeth, throat, eyesight and hearing may be well known to the teacher, and every method adopted to strengthen what is weak, and everything avoided that would tend to make a weakness chronic and obstructive. And once a year, or perhaps oftener, the medical inspection should be made anything but perfunctory. The seed of most ailments is sown in childhood, and a little medical care during school life might prevent it germinating. Whilst even the most elementary knowledge of the physiology of the body and of the common rules of health imparted practically at school would prevent untold miseries, and stop much of the wastage of life. A confidential chat of the medical inspector now and again with parents and teachers at these weekly meetings, rather than a formal lecture or communication, would do more to bring about the sanitation of households, the healthy treatment of children, and the caving of life than anything else. Our sanatoria and hospitals are essential, but too late in their action to stop the inordinate leakage of health and life that renders the ship of State so helpless.

A nurse thoroughly sympathetic and thoroughly trained in the physiology ailments and treatment of childhood should be an essential member of the staff of every Board of Education. She should meet the parents of every school district at least once a year, and give kindly, undogmatic and practical instruction on the management of children, and especially of infants. It is infancy that decimates our population. All the deaths on our battle-fields, all the railway, road and maritime accidents are as nothing compared with the effect of infantile mismanagement. If we could reduce the death-rate of infancy, we could afford to let the birthrate go down proportionately. Maternal ignorance is far more deadly than baby-farming. A good nurse-teacher in every school-board district might go far to neutralise this havoc amongst the infants; and she might also, in her periodical visits, instruct both teachers and parents in the simpler elements of the art of dieting and nursing children. Thus commonsense and yet accurate medical knowledge might filter through the life of the nation, and tend to produce an instinctive hygienic faculty, a sort of conscience of the health, that would do more to reduce the death rate, and still more the ailment rate, than an army of medical men. It is the subconscious rules and principles out of our submerged past that are most potent and most mysterious in their potency.

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The havoc done by blundering treatment of the minds and characters of children in school end home needs even more attention. Every school-board district should have a psychological laboratory for experimentation in methods and books; the officers of this should be able to set all the teachers and parents experimenting for them, and should find and communicate the results of the experiments to teachers and parents.

And if these two officials, or in larger districts, two additional officials, were highly trained, not only in the physiology, but in the psychology, of childhood, a still deeper impress would be left on the relations of home and school. It is only now that the nature and growth of the child are beginning to be thought worthy of scientific study. Children were all, it was supposed, as like as batches of bread, or at least, ought to be, if we are to judge by the rules of thumb that dominated education, and the shadow of the cane that dominated home and school. We are coming to see that to look into the soul of a child and watch its growth, is to radiograph the spiritual evolution of man, and that in its infinite variety it is better worth studying and developing individually than anything nature has produced. We have only to listen to children in their unsuppressed early prattle and play, before school has obliterated their originalities, to know the reckless waste of nature's lavish gifts that our education has been. Every sign of individuality is carefully smoothed out by the mechanic discipline of the schoolroom, if it has not been choked by the jeers of the conventionalised playground. It is only "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings" that nature's variety and originality find a voice. Only an odd man here and there, after the iron roller of education has passed over us, has the vigour of individuality to reveal the impress she has set on us; and he is called a genius. The word would vanish if education were as it ought to be, the nurse of all useful varieties of human nature, the cherisher of all promising and wholesome originalities, if suppression of naturalness and freshness were its last word instead of its first.

What we need more than anything else in every educational district is a psychological laboratory in which such officials may train teachers and be trained. Here the faculties and qualities and characters of children might be scientifically watched, and their growth and development recorded and compared. Here the effects of methods and modifications of methods for eradicating weaknesses and evolving energies might be accurately noted. Hence might be sent out to the various schools of the district experiments to be further tried and tested practically. Hither might come reports of failures and successes to be analysed and tabulated in order that the causes might be discovered. Out of it should go trained officers to impart to the teachers and the parents some of the truths and principles that had been attained. Towards it, as to a Mecca should pilgrim the teachers and parents periodically for more scientific training in the psychology of childhood and the practical rules based on it.

It should be by no means impossible to discover whether the cane is beneficial or pernicious to certain temperaments or characters, whether rigid discipline with mechanical teaching is better or worse than freedom of intercourse between teacher and taught; whether examination is the ruin of humanity that it is said to be; what methods are best for the development of imagination; what for the reason: what for the emotions and aesthetic feeling; how far the system of suppression and snubbing can be carried with safety; whether rewards or punislunents, or com binations of them, effect most and are wholesomest; whether home lessons do any good.

There are thousands of other education questions that could be answered with considerable definiteness if dealt with in such a scientific way. And no sphere is so full of unsolved problems. No profession is so beset with pitfalls, whilst not even the medical is so much a blind stumbling in the dark. With such a laboratory behind him, and such experts to appeal to, the teacher would no longer have to repeat alone the blundering history of search after methods that all his fellows experience. Every new book and change in method, whether from the Continent, or America, or England, would be tested here before it was sent to the various school for further experiment. Instead of an unorganised, unassisted, unenlightened, solitary and fruitless experimentation by an odd teacher here and there, and in general a dull, aimless use of machine-like and traditional methods, we should have an army of scientific experimenters, the results of whose experiments would be analysed and set forth in this institution for the benefit of all. Both home and school would see where now they are blind, would walk where they now but stumble.

The most radical reform of the home a to be accomplished in the education of the girls. They should all be trained for the maternal profession; everyone of them should be fitted by their training, not only to keep house when married, but to nurse and develop the healthy life, faculties and characters of their children, as well as to act comrade to both husband end grownup family.

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But there is a far more radical reform than any of these needed in order to make the home take the full and true share in education that it should take. It is the training of the mothers for their maternal duties. The ideal of women's education, that is still scarcely antiquated, was moulded in the growing middle-class luxury of the early nineteenth century, and was based on the idea that woman was but an ornament of the household and a minister to its lighted: pleasures; acomplishments—music, drawing, neediework—were the essentials of a girl's upbringing. Now this has been displaced by as sectional an ideal, that the education of girls should follow in its general stages the lines of that of boys; arithmetic and writing, geography and grammar obliterated everything else in the primary girls' school, and Latin, mathematics and science everything else in the secondary. No great harm was done as long as the chief aim of education was supposed to be purely intellectual, or, rather, in the case of most boys and girls, strictly mnemonic. Nor is it by any means an evil that boys should see their sisters beat them in their own subjects, or that children should feel their mothers to be at least their equals intellectually. There can be no true companionship or friendship where there is any loophole for contempt on either side. And till the mother is able to act as companion and friend, not only to the rather, but to the children of the household, it will never be properly organised.

The intellectual development of women is undoubtedly of great importance, now that the old instinctive relationship of the sexes has been unsettled But there is something even more important for the future of our nation. It is the training of the women, not merely to cook, and sew, and manage the house, but to train the children. We know that the death-rate amongst infants is, and always has been, enormous, chiefly through the maternal ignorance of infantile physiology and infantile ailments. The maternal ignorance of the mind and faculties, temperament, and character of children is still more profound and widespread, and the havoc it must do is incalculable. In older times, the aim of the childs training was simple and easily seen, whilst the maternal instinct, undisturbed by a complicated civilisation, and aided by the laying on of the patern [unclear: I] hand, sufficed for all discipline. [unclear: ut] now the bonds of classes and families are loosed, instincts are no longer unerring and the potentialities of career in children are varied and complex. The problems of household training are a hundredfold more difficult, and the maternal powers of solving them are leas instinctive and efficient.

More and more is there needed a specialisation of the education of girls to fit them for the chief object and occupation of their life—the home-training of the next generation. What would we say of the system that trained youths as engineers, for example, without once teaching them the construction and management of the engines they had to deal with, let alone the principles and theory of their construction? We know that the majority of the girls in our schools will spend most of their energies and talents as mothers of families; yet there is not the slightest attempt to give them any acquaintance with the physiology or psychology of children, any practical skill in diagnosing their ailments or nursing them in sickness, or any knowledge of the methods of dealing with their weaknesses or vices, or developing their powers and character. What they know when they enter on the duties, on the fulfilment of which the life and progress of the next generation depend, is the inaccurate traditionary rules of thumb they may hear from their own mothers, rules often as pernicious as those which used to hurry young children into infection so that they might get through the whole gamut of infectious [unclear: diseacs] during childhood.

Every girl in the country should be trained with the view of making her capable of becoming, not only nurse, but teacher of children. And the State should provide continuation classes for the further instruction of young mothers in the care and management of their children; nor should these be confined to mere nursing and diet; the well being of posterity more largely depends on the development of the intellectual and moral nature and the character of children during the years that precede school life, and the hours that are spent out of school, than on anything else, It is the mothers that make a nation or a race, and we leave the training of mothers to mere haphazard or to loose traditionary knowledge or skill. The State and the State alone can reorganise the home, and the reorganisation can be best managed through the efficient education of girls and young mothers for their professional career as mothers. There is no profession so vast or so important as that of motherhood, and we leave the training for it to mere chance.