Chapter 17 Education, the Science of Relations: We are Educated by Our Intimacies: The Prelude and Præterita

Chapter 17 Education, the Science of Relations: We are Educated by Our Intimacies: The Prelude and Præterita

     "But who shall parcel out
     His intellect by geometric rules,
     Split like a province into round and square?
     Who knows the individual hour in which
     His habits were first sown, even as a seed?
     Who that shall point as with a wand and say
     'This portion of the river of my mind
     Came from yon fountain'? "––Prelude.

I need not again insist upon the nature of our educational tools. We know well that "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." In other words, we know that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere) to forward his sound education; should train him in the discipline of the habits of the good life; and should nourish his life with ideas, the food upon which personality waxes strong.

Only Three Educational Instruments.––These three we believe to be the only instruments of which we may make lawful use in the upbringing of children; and any short cut we take by trading on their sensibilities, emotions, desires, passions, will bring us and our children to grief. The reason is plain; habits, ideas, and circumstances are external, and we may all help each other to get the best that is to be had of these; but we may not meddle directly with the personality of child or man. We may not work upon his vanity, his fears, his love, his emulation, or any thing that is his by very right, anything that goes to make him a person.

Our Limitations.––Most thinking people are in earnest about the bringing up of children; but we are in danger of taking too much upon us, and of not recognising the limitations which confine us to the outworks of personality. Children and grown-up persons are the same, with a difference; and a thoughtful writer has done us good service by carefully tracing the method of our Lord's education of the Twelve.

"Our Lord," says this author, "reverenced whatever the learner had in him of his own, and was tender in fostering this native growth––. . . . Men, in His eyes, were not mere clay in the hands of the potter, matter to be moulded to shape. They were organic beings, each growing from within, with a life of his own––a personal life which was exceedingly precious in His and His Father's eyes––and He would foster this growth so that it might take after the highest type1." 

We temper Life too much for Children.––I am not sure that we let life and its circumstances have free play about children. We temper the wind too much to the lambs; pain and sin, want and suffering, disease and death––we shield them from the knowledge of these at all hazards. I do not say that we should wantonly expose the tender souls to distress, but that we should recognise that life has a ministry for them also; and that Nature provides them with a subtle screen, like that of its odour to a violet, from damaging shocks. Some of us will not even let children read fairy tales because these bring the ugly facts of life too suddenly before them. It is worth while to consider Wordsworth's experience on this point. Indeed I do not think we make enough use of two such priceless boons to parents and teachers as the educational autobiographies we possess of the two great philosophers, Wordsworth and Ruskin.

Fairy Lore a Screen and Shelter––The former tells us how, no sooner had he gone to school at Hawkshead, than the body of a suicide was recovered from Esthwaite Lake; a ghastly tale, but full of comfort as showing how children are protected from shock. The little boy was there and saw it all;––

            "Yet no soul-debasing fear,
     Young as I was, a child not nine years old,
     Possessed me, for my inner eye had seen
     Such sights before, among the shining streams
     Of fairyland, the forests of romance:
     Their spirit hallowed the sad spectacle
     With decoration of ideal grace;
     A dignity, a smoothness, like the works
     Of Grecian art, and purest poesy."

It is delightful to know, on the evidence of a child who went through it, that a terrible scene was separated from him by an atmosphere of poetry––a curtain woven of fairy lore by his etherealising imagination.

But we may run no needless risks, and must keep a quiet, matter-of-fact tone in speaking of fire, shipwreck, or any terror. There are children to whom the thought of Joseph in the pit is a nightmare; and many of us elders are unable to endure a ghastly tale in newspaper or novel. All I would urge is a natural treatment of children, and that they be allowed their fair share of life, such as it is; prudence and not panic should rule our conduct towards them.

Spontaneous Living.––The laws of habit are, we know, laws of God, and the forming of good and the hindering of evil habits are among the primary duties of a parent. But it is just as well to be reminded that habits, whether helpful or hindering, only come into play occasionally, while a great deal of spontaneous living is always going on towards which we can do no more than drop in vital ideas as opportunity occurs. All this is old matter, and I must beg the reader to forgive me for reminding him again that our educational instruments remain the same. We may not leave off the attempt to form good habits with tact and care, to suggest fruitful ideas, without too much insistence, and to make wise use of circumstances.

On what does Fulness of Living depend?––What is education after all? An answer lies in the phrase––Education is the Science of Relations. I do not use this phrase, let me say once more, in the Herbartian sense––that things are related to each other, and we must be careful to pack the right things in together, so that, having got into the brain of a boy, each thing may fasten on its cousins, and together they may make a strong clique or 'apperception mass.' What we are concerned with is the fact that we personally have relations with all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past, and all that there will be in the future––with all above us and all about us––and that fulness of living, expansion, expression, and serviceableness, for each of us, depend upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of.

George Herbert says something of what I mean

     "Man is all symmetry,
     Full of proportions, one limb to another,
     And all to all the world besides;
     Each part may call the farthest brother,
     For head with foot hath private amity,
     And both with moons and tides.2

Every child is heir to an enormous patrimony, heir to all the ages, inheritor of all the present. The question is, what are the formalities (educational, not legal) necessary to put him in possession of that which is his? You perceive the point of view is shifted, and is no longer subjective, but objective, as regards the child.

The Child a Person.––We do not talk about developing his faculties, training his moral nature, guiding his religious feelings, educating him with a view to his social standing or his future calling. The joys of 'child-study' are not for us. We take the child for granted, or rather, we take him as we find him––a person with an enormous number of healthy affinities, embryo attachments; and we think it is our chief business to give him a chance to make the largest possible number of these attachments valid.

An Infant's Self-Education.––An infant comes into the world with a thousand such embryonic feelers, which he sets to work to fix with amazing energy:––

             "The Babe,
     Nursed in his Mother's arms, who sinks to sleep
     Rocked on his Mother's breast; who with his soul
     Drinks in the feelings of his Mother's eye!
     For him, in one dear Presence, there exists
     A virtue which irradiates and exalts
     Objects through widest intercourse of sense.
     No outcast he, bewildered and depressed:
     Along his infant veins are interfused
     The gravitation and the filial bond
     Of nature that connects him with the world."3

He attaches his being to mother, father, sister, brother, 'nanna,' the man in the street whom he calls 'dada,' cat and dog, spider and fly; earth, air, fire, and water attract him perilously; his eyes covet light and colour, his ears sound, his limbs movement; everything concerns him, and out of everything he gets––

             "That calm delight
     Which, if I err not, surely must belong
     To those first-born affinities that fit
     Our new existence to existing things,
     And, in our dawn of being, constitute
     The bond of union between life and joy."3

He gets also, when left to himself, the real knowledge about each thing which establishes his relation with that particular thing.

Our Part, to remove Obstructions and to give Stimulus.––Later, we step in to educate him. In proportion to the range of living relationships we put in his way, will he have wide and vital interests, fulness of joy in living. In proportion as he is made aware of the laws which rule every relationship, will his life be dutiful and serviceable: as he learns that no relation with persons or with things, animate or inanimate, can be maintained without strenuous effort, will he learn the laws of work and the joys of work. Our part is to remove obstructions and to give stimulus and guidance to the child who is trying to get into touch with the universe of things and thoughts which belongs to him.

Our Error.––Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up. We are the people! and if we choose that a village child's education should be confined to the 'three R's,' why, what right has he to ask for more? If life means for him his Saturday night in the ale-house, surely that is not our fault! If our own boys go through school and college and come out without quickening interests, without links to the things that are worth while, we are not sure that it is our fault either. We resent that they should be called 'muddied oafs' because we know them to be fine fellows. So they are, splendid stuff which has not yet arrived at the making!

Business and Desire.––Quoth Hamlet,––

   "Every man hath business and desire."

Doubtless that was true in the spacious days of great Elizabeth; for us, we have business, but have we desire? Are there many keen interests soliciting us outside of our necessary work? Perhaps not, or we should be less enslaved by the vapid joys of Ping-Pong, Patience, Bridge, and their like. The fact is that 'interests' are not to be taken up on the spur of the moment; they spring out of affinities we have found and laid hold of. Or, in the words of an old writer: "In worldly and material things, what is Used is spent; in intellectual and spiritual things, what is not Used is not Had."

Supposing we have realised that we must make provision for the future of our children otherwise than by safe investments, the question remains, how to set about it.

The Setting-up of Dynamic Relations.––We say a child should have what we will call Dynamic Relations with earth and water, must run and leap and dance, must ride and swim. This is how not to do it, as set forth in Præterita:––

"And so on to Lianberis and up Snowdon . . . And if only then my father and mother had seen the real strengths and weaknesses of their little John; if they had given me but a shaggy scrap of a Welsh pony, and left me in charge of a good Welsh guide, and of his wife, if I needed any coddling, they would have made a man of me there and then . . . If only! But they could no more have done it than thrown me like my cousin Charles into Croydon Canal, trusting me to find my way out by the laws of nature. Instead, they took me back to London; my father spared time from his business hours, once or twice a week, to take me to a four-square, sky-lighted, saw-dust floored prison of a riding school in Moorfields, the smell of which, as we turned in at the gate of it, was a terror and horror and abomination to me: and there I was put on big horses that jumped and reared, and circled, and sidled, and fell off them regularly whenever they did any of these things; and was a disgrace to my family, and a burning shame and misery to myself, till at last the riding school was given up on my spraining my right hand fore-finger (it has never come straight again since); and a well-broken Shetland pony bought for me, and the two of us led about the Norwood roads by a riding master with a leading string. "I used to do pretty well as long as we went straight, and then get thinking of something and fall off as we turned a corner. I might have got some inkling of a seat in heaven's good time, if no fuss had been made about me, nor inquiries instituted whether I had been off or on; but as my mother the moment I got home made searching scrutiny into the day's disgraces, I merely got more nervous and helpless after every tumble; and this branch of my education was at last abandoned, my parents consoling themselves as best they might, in the conclusion that my not being able to learn to ride was the sign of my being a singular genius."

Ruskin's Indictment of the Limitations of His Condition.––Ruskin suffered from the malady of his condition. He was of the suburban dwellers of the rich middle class who think, not wisely but too much, about the bringing up of their children, who choke a good deal of life with care and coddling, and are apt to be persuaded that their children want no outlets but such as it occurs to them to provide. Suburban life is a necessity, but it is also a misfortune, because, in a rich suburb, people live too much with their own sort. They are cut off from the small and the great, from labour, adventure, and privation. Let me recommend all rich educated parents who live in suburbs to read Præterita. With all his chivalrous loyalty to his parents, Ruskin has left here a grave indictment, not of them, but of the limitations of his condition. One hears the cry of the child, like that of Laurence Sterne's caged starling––'I can't get out, I can't get out'––repeated from page to page.

You will say, whatever were the faults of his education, Ruskin emerged from it, such as it was; and we look for no more. But it is not for us to say how much greater an apostle among men even Ruskin would have become had he been allowed his right of free living as a child. And it may be, on the other hand, safe to admit that not every child, born and bred in a villa, will certainly be another Ruskin! We cannot follow Mr. Ruskin further in the setting up of the dynamic relations proper to him, because his parents forbade, and nothing happened. His mother, he says, 'never allowed me to go to the edge of a pond or be in the same field with a pony.' But he notes 'with thankfulness the good I got out of the tadpole-haunted ditch in Croxted Lane.' Camberwell Green had a pond, and, he says, 'it was one of the most valued privileges of my early life to be permitted by my nurse to contemplate this judicial pond with awe from the other side of the way.'

Wordsworth's Recognition of his Opportunities.––Wordsworth tells us of a much more rough-and-tumble bringing up. When he was nine, he was sent to the Grammar School in the little village of Hawkshead and lodged with Dame Tyson in the cottage many of us know; and found most things, at home and abroad, congenial to his soul. He had no lessons in riding and skating, hockey and tennis; but no doubt the other boys made it plain to the little chap that he must do as they did or be thought a fool. But then he went to school a hardy youngster; his mother had let her little boy live:––

     "Oh, many a time have I, a five years' child,
     In a small mill-race severed from his stream,
     Made one long bathing of a summer's day;
     Basked in the sun, and plunged, and basked again."

Of his childhood, he says:––

     "Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up
     Fostered alike by beauty and by fear." 

Ere he had told ten birthdays, he was transplanted to that 'beloved Vale' of which he says:––

        "There were we let loose
     For sports of wider range."

What was there those Hawkshead boys did not do! He tells us of times,––

        "When I have hung
     Above the raven's nest, by knots of grass
     And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock
     But ill-sustained, and almost (so it seemed)
     Suspended by the blast that blew amain,
     Shouldering the naked crag."

The boys skated:––

        "All shod with steel,
     We hissed along the polished ice in games
     Confederate, imitative of the chase
     And woodland pleasures,––the resounding horn,
     The pack loud chiming, and the hunted hare."

They played:––

     "From week to week, from month to month, we lived
     A round of tumult. Duly were our games
     Prolonged in summer till the daylight failed."

They boated:––

        "When summer came,
     Our pastime was, on bright half-holidays,
     To sweep along the plain of Windermere
     With rival oars . . .
        In such a race
     So ended disappointment could be none,
     Uneasiness, or pain, or jealousy:
     We rested in the shade, all pleased alike,
     Conquered and conqueror."

The young Wordsworth, too, had his essays on horseback when he and his schoolmates came back rich from the half-yearly holidays and hired horses from 'the courteous innkeeper,' and off they went, 'proud to curb, and eager to spur on, the galloping steed'; and then, the home-coming:––

        "Through the walls we flew
     And down the valley, and, a circuit made
     In wantonness of heart, through rough and smooth
     We scampered homewards."


1Pastor Pastorum, by H. Latham, M.A., page 6.
2The italics are mine.
3The Prelude