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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

The Training of the Human Plant

The Training of the Human Plant.

All Animal Life is Sensitive to Environment, but of all living things the child is the most sensitive. Surroundings act upon it as the outside world acts upon the plate of a camera. Every possible influence will leave its impress upon the child, and the traits which it inherited will be overcome to a certain extent, in many cases the new ones being more apparent than heredity. The child is like a cut diamond, its many facets receiving sharp, clear impressions not possible to a pebble, with this difference, however, that the change wrought in the child from the influences without becomes constitutional and ingrained. A child absorbs environment. It is the most susceptible thing in the world to-influence, and if that force be applied rightly and constantly when the child is in its most receptive condition the effect will be pronounced, immediate, and permanent.

Where shall we begin? Just where we begin with the plant, at the very beginning. . . . The curse of modern child-life in America is over-education. . . . Above ail else, the child must be a healthy animal. I do not work with diseased plants. They do not cure themselves of disease. They only spread disease among their fellows and die before their time.

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Differentiation in Training.

Right here let me lay special stress upon the absurdity, not to call it by a harsher term, of running children through the same mill in a lot, with absolutely no real reference to their individuality. No two children are alike. You cannot expect them to develop alike. They are different in temperament, in tastes, in disposition, in capabilities, and yet we take them in this precious early age, when they ought to be living a life of preparation near to the heart of nature, and we stuff them, cram them, and overwork them until their poor little brains are crowded up to and beyond the danger-line. The work of breaking down the nervous systems of the children of the United States is now well under way. It is only when someone breaks absolutely away from all precedent and rule and carves out a new place in the world that any substantial progress is ever made, and seldom is this done by one whose individuality has been stifled in the schools. So it is imperative that we consider individuality in children in their training precisely as we do in cultivating plants. Some children, for example, are absolutely unfit by nature and temperament for carrying on certain studies. Take certain young girls, for example, bright in many ways, but unfitted by nature and bent, at this early age at least, for the study of arithmetic. . . . Can one by any possible cultivation and selection and crossing compel figs to grow on thistles or apples on a banana tree? I have made many varied and strange plant combinations in the hope of betterment, and still am at work upon others, but one cannot hope to do the impossible.

Traits in Plants and Boys.

Teach the child self-respect; train it in self-respect, just as you train a plant into better ways. No self-respecting man was ever a grafter. . . . Above all, bear in mind repetition, repetition, the use of an influence over and over again. Keeping everlastingly at it, this is what fixes traits in plants—the constant repetition of an influence until at last it is irrevocably fixed and will not change. You cannot afford to get discouraged. You are dealing with something far more precious than any plant—the priceless soul of a child. . . .

Let me bring the matter still closer to you. I cannot carry a great plant-breeding test to a successful culmination at the end of a long period of years without three things, among many others, but these three are absolutely essential—Sunshine, Good Air, and Nourishing Food.


Take the first, both in its literal and figurative sense—sunshine. Surround the children with every possible cheer. I do not mean to pamper them, to make them weak; they need the winds, just as the plants do to strengthen them and to make them self-reliant. If you want your child to grow up into a sane, normal man, a good citizen, a support of the State, you must keep him in the sunshine. Keep him happy. You cannot do this if you have a sour face yourself. Smiles and laughter cost nothing. Costly clothing, too fine to stand the wear and tear of a tramp in the woods or sliding down a haystack or a cellar door, are a dead weight upon your child. I believe in good clothes, good, strong, serviceable clothes for your children—clothes that fit and look well: for they tend to mental strength, to self-respect. But there are thousands of parents who, having not studied the tremendous problems of environmental surroundings, and having no conception of the influence of these surroundings, fail to recognise the fact that either an over-dressed or a poorly-dressed boy is handicapped. . . .

I give the plants upon which I am at work in a test, whether a single one or a hundred thousand, the best possible environment. So should it be with a child, if you want to develop it in right ways. Let the children have music, let them have pictures, let them have laughter, let them have a good time; not an idle time, but one full of cheerful occupation. Surround them with all the beautiful things you can. Plants should be given sun and air and the blue sky; give them to your boys and girls. I do not mean for a day or a month, but for all the years. We cannot treat a plant tenderly one day and harshly the next; they cannot stand it. Remember that you are training not only for to-day, but for all the future, for all posterity.

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Fresh Air.

To develop indoors, under glass, a race of men and women of the type that I believe is coming out of all this marvellous mingling of races in the United States is immeasurably absurd. There must be sunlight, but even more is needed, fresh, pure air. The injury wrought to-day to the race by keeping too young children indoors at school is beyond the power of anyone to estimate. The air they breathe even under the best sanitary regulations is far too impure for their lungs. Often it is positively poisonous—a slow poison which never makes itself fully manifest until the child is a wreck. . . .

Nourishing Food.

It is impossible to apply successfully the principles of cultivation and selection of plants to human life if the human life does not, like the plant life, have proper nourishment. . . .

What we want in developing a new plant, making it better in all ways than any of its kind that have preceded it is a splendid norm, not anything abnormal So we feed it from the soil, and it feeds from the air, and thus we make it a powerful aid to man. It is dependent upon good food. Upon good food for the child, well-balanced food, depends good digestion; upon good digestion, with pure air to keep the blood pure, depends the nervous system. . . . Preserve beyond all else as the priceless portion of a child the integrity of the nervous system. Upon this depends their success in life. With the nervous system shattered, what is life worth? . . .

The integrity of your child's nervous system, no matter what any so-called educator may say, is thus impaired : he can never again be what he would have been had you taken him as the plant-cultivator takes a plant, and for these first ten precious years of his life had fitted him for the future. Nothing else is doing so much to break down the nervous system of Americans, not even the insane rushing of maturer years, as this over-crowding and cramming of child-life before the age of ten. And the mad haste of maturer years is the legitimate result of the earlier strain. . . .

The nation must protect itself. I mean by this that it is imperative in order that the nation may rise to its full powers and accomplish its destiny, that the people who comprise this nation must be normal physically. . . To the extent that any portion of the people are physically unfit, to that extent the nation is weakened.

Do not misunderstand me : I am not advocating paternalism in any sense; far from it. But is not the human race worth as much care as the orchards, the farms, the cattle ranches? . . .