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Geology, mineralogy, physical geography, botany, nature, biology, astronomy--the entire realm of science is like a beautiful fenced green field and we need to bring the child to the gate and leave it open for him. He doesn't need a thorough collection of facts. He needs what Huxley calls 'common information' so that he'll feel some connection with things on the earth and in the heavens. He'll feel as interested as if he owned it all--the same way that a man does when his parents die and he inherits their old house with its reminiscent heirlooms.
We expect more than the Jesuits did. They wanted to have a child until he was seven to educate him. But we want a child until he's twelve or fourteen, if not longer. After that, it hardly matters what anyone does with him--with this time to establish relationships, we'll be able to turn him out as a capable man, enthusiastic, energetic, full of living interests, available and able to be of service to the world. I think he'll even be able to pass his SAT's, since his education will teach him how to find interest in even the most boring tasks.
But we aren't done with his relationships with the earth yet. We still have to establish what I call dynamic relationships. He needs to stand and walk and run and jump
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easily and gracefully. He needs to skate and swim and ride and throw and dance and row and sail. He should feel free on the earth to do whatever gravity will let him do. This relationship between him and his environment is foundational, and nothing can compensate for it if he doesn't get it.
Another foundational relationship that every child should learn and be encouraged in is the power to handle materials. All children make sand castles, mud pies and paper boats. They should also experience working with clay, wood, brass, iron, leather, fabric, food, and furniture. They should be able to make things with their hands, and this should be a fun and satisfying experience for them.
The fourth relationship is between them and the animal kingdom. This relationship should be one of intelligent understanding and kindness. We should all be on friendly terms with the 'inmates of our house and garden.' Every child wants to be friends with the creatures around him, and,
Perhaps the major part of a child's education should be concerned with the great human relationships--relationships that consist of love and service, authority and obedience, reverence and pity and kindness, relationships with family, friends, neighbors, causes, country, like-minds, people in the past, and people in the present. In one way or another, history, literature, archaeology, art, ancient and modern languages, travel, adventurous journeys all record or
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express the feelings and thoughts of real people. Because we're human, we're interested in all other people. After all, we're all one flesh, and of one spirit. Anything that one of us does or experiences is interesting to the rest of us. There are thousands of children in our schools today who could become apostles, evangelists, missionaries to Asia who could unite east and west, great archaeologists who might make us aware of people who lived thousands of years ago. But we need to approach these children with living thought and living books in order to awaken in them a sense of a personal bond with others in the world.
It's up to us to expose them to the awakening idea, and then to help them form a habit of thinking and living. Here's an example of what a young person could do. Quoting from the Academy: 'From the beginning of his career, young Henry Rawlinson was interested in the history and antiquities of Persia. He attributed his interest to his conversations with Sir John Malcolm the first time he had come to India, and when he had happened to be stationed in Kirmanshah, in Persian Kurdistan. The Rock of Behistun stands near there. It has an inscription carved on its face in three different languages. Now we know that the inscription is from Darius Hystaspes, who restored Cyrus' Empire. The wedge-shaped cuneiform letters it was written in had baffled all attempts to decipher the inscription. Risking life and injury, Rawlinson tried to climb the rock, which is almost inaccessible, so he could copy the easiest of the three inscriptions. After studying it for a long time, he figured out that it was Persian. Two years later he had discovered how Persian words were translated
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into cuneiform characters.' And what was the result? 'Now we can access the chronicles of empires that were more highly organized than any of the states in Greece, going back to dates much earlier than science had said man first appeared on the earth. The changes in our thinking as a result of this new information, can't even be estimated.' And it's all because Rawlinson climbed up the Behistun Rock, which was due to his interest sparked by talking with Sir John Malcolm.
We can't all be like Henry Rawlinson. But it does seem probable that the only thing that limits our intelligence is lack of interest. What I mean is that we don't establish enough personal connections with humanity itself--with those we love, those who we owe duty to, those we're responsible for, and, most of all, we fail to make real, living relationships with those who are near or far off in time and place. Our scholars work away at the drudgery of learning one or two foreign languages, and at the end of ten to twelve years, they still don't know them very well. But if you give him a motive by introducing him to people he longs to know but can only communicate with in that language, then he could probably be like Sir Richard Burton and speak in almost any known language.
I think we could have a great revolution in education if we stopped thinking of people as a collection of assorted 'faculties' and realized that we are people whose mission is to get in touch with other people of all kinds
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and in all conditions, from all countries and climates, and from all times, both past and present. If we realized that, then history would seem fascinating. Literature would be like a magic mirror, showing us other people's minds. Anthropology would become a duty and a delight. We would tend to become responsive, wise, humble and reverent people, recognizing the responsibilities and joys of the full, abundant human experience. Of course, it isn't realistic to accomplish all of that in a student's education, but we can look to that as our goal. Every life is shaped by the ideal it sets for itself. We hear discussion about lost ideals, but maybe they're not really lost, just changed. When the ideal we focus on for ourselves and our children becomes prosperity and comfort, we may get it, but that's all we get, and nothing more.
Current psychology has had an odd effect on our sense of duty. If humans are nothing but 'states of consciousness,' then they can hardly be expected to live up to moral responsibilities, except the ones that sound appealing at the moment. Duty that's imposed from a higher authority or due to our fellow man out of brotherly love, has no place in current psychology. It would be interesting to see how many ten year olds could recite the Ten Commandments, and if they knew what the 'duty to God and my neighbor' means. Or, if they're not members of the Church of England, if they knew how their own denomination interprets the duty of man. Children used to get a pretty thorough Biblically-based ethics education using the Ten Commandments as a foundation. They knew St. Paul's commands to 'love your brother,' 'Fear God,' 'Honor the king,'
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'Honor all men.' 'Seek to live a quiet life.' They understood that having thoughts of hatred and contempt were related to murder. They knew what King Solomon said about virtuous women, sluggards and fools. They didn't just know the precepts. They could show examples of spiritual laws from both Biblical and secular history. We English may not have the treasure of moral teaching carved in wood and stone, like some countries are proud of. But, up until this generation, our moral teaching has still been systematic and thorough enough.
Look at common experience to see if this is true. We reject all stories with morals for our children (and usually for good reason). We want their books to be entertaining, and that's about all we ask. We prefer that they be literary and maybe somewhat educational. But we don't look for a moral stimulus 'fitly given.' It's not that we totally neglect teaching ethics, but our teaching is hit or miss. If we happen to stumble onto a story that's heroic or displays self-denial, we're happy to point that out to our children. But they rarely learn that there's a specific ethical system that rests on the foundation of the universal brotherhood of mankind. We're impressed if a child can merely parrot the words, 'My duty towards my neighbor is to love him as myself, and to do unto him what I'd want him to do unto me.' A lot of wonderful things are written these days about the brotherhood of man and the solidarity of the race, but nothing that gets to the heart of the matter like the simple Biblical command.
If we accept that the priority of education should be
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establishing relationships, then the relationships between our fellow human beings should be the most important ones to establish. Any relationships that aren't founded on the duty to our neighbor--such as relationships founded on common likes in art or literature--are likely to degenerate into sentimental attachments. And, oddly enough, the ability to think independently seems to vanish when moral insight disappears. You might wonder, 'how are we supposed to get a systematic plan to teach our children ethics?' I really don't know how to do it if we choose to forego the Ten Commandments and old-fashioned expositional teaching illustrated with examples. There are thousands of supplementary ways to teach ethics, but they need to rest on a solid foundation of awareness of the duty God placed on us and our responsibility to others, whether we accept it or not. Without that foundation, supplementary teaching will probably be casual and not very binding. The moral responsibility of one person to another is the foundation of all other relationships. We have an obligation to past generations to make use of what they discovered, and to advance mankind from where they left off. We owe it to those who will come after us to prepare the next generation to be better than we are. And we owe it to the present generation to live full lives, to enlarge our hearts and broaden our souls. We all need to come out of ourselves and reach out to all the relationships we're meant to have.
We're responsible for bringing knowledge to the ignorant, comfort to people who are distressed, healing to those who are sick, and reverence, courtesy and kindness to everyone, especially the people who we're connected with because they're in our family or neighborhood. This sense of duty doesn't come naturally. All of us know shallow young men and women who don't care about any of these things. But do we wonder
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why that's the case? And do we ask ourselves how many children today are growing up in decent homes, yet just as untrained about their moral obligations concerning relationships as those shallow youths that we revile and blame? Yet maybe they don't deserve all the blame, because they were neglected children in their upbringing.
There's another way in which we need to prepare a young person for his relationships in life. He needs to be familiar with a working psychology/philosophy that will help him as he relates to himself and others. Maybe the world isn't ready for a true science of life, but, unfortunately, we're more limited than the ancient world. They took full advantage of what they had, and the result was that they produced men like Marcus Aerelius, Epictetus the Stoic and Socrates. They didn't think their youth were ready for their futures until they had learned philosophy. Modern science has added a lot of knowledge that will help us relate to our own individual selves in such areas as self-management, self-control, self-respect, self-love, self-help, self-denial, and so on. This knowledge is even more important because our ability to handle our relationships with others is dependent on our relation to ourselves. Every person carries the key to human nature within himself. The more we're able to use this key, the more tolerant, gentle, helpful, wise and reverent we'll be. A person who has 'given up on expecting anything' from his servants, his children, his employees or other workers is displaying how ignorant he is about the wellspring of conduct within each of us.
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I think our own Parents' National Educational Union can claim some progress in this area. Most of the people who are associated with us are familiar with our perspective on the five senses, how the will works, how to handle our temper, the concept of attention, the desires and affections that are where conduct springs from, and other practical aspects of managing one's own self. We've heard that some people are using that great old children's method of 'changing your thoughts' with angry, delirious, or even depressed patients--and it's working! We (of the PNEU) feel like we have a wonderful tool in our hands, and we know how to make it work. At any rate, the principle seems right. If we blunder in applying the principle, we don't give up, we try again, both for ourselves and for our children. We know that 'one good habit can replace a bad one,' and that one idea can displace another one. We don't give up and abandon a child to his selfishness, greed, or laziness. These are faults that can be treated. A child who has experienced a bad habit cured with his mother's help will be more likely to believe in the possibility that others can be reformed, and that simple, practical methods can be effective.
Sociology is a long word, but it implies a practical relationship with people that children need, and it gives them one kind of knowledge that they're ready for. The carpenter, the gardener, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker are all fascinating people. It's surprising how much a child at a port can get to know about boats and sails and fishermen's lives that adults totally miss because they aren't observant. Most working men will be upfront with a child and answer his questions. The child is able to notice the men and their craft behind their veil of words. In his 'Book of Trades,' which is like a Who's Who for the common people, he'll look up names in the Recreation section, shoemaker section, tailor section, factory section, as much as he'll look up famous authors or a member of Parliament. There's nothing as good as early intimacy to help a child get to know different kinds of people. Abraham Lincoln knew how to get along with everybody because he had been intimate with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations ever since he was little.
We are realizing more and more how valuable clubs and committees and debate societies for youth that are governed by their own members are. Organizing skills, business habits and some ability to speak in public should be something that every citizen knows how to do. To teach public speaking, I think it would be a good idea to encourage more narration instead of written compositions. For the most part, it's better to be able to speak than write. A person who can speak well can usually write well, too.
The topic of human relationships with one another is inexhaustible. I'll just bring up a few points and repeat my conviction that a system of education should make it its focus to establish children's relationships in as many varied directions as possible--rather than mastery of certain 'subjects.'
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I've tried to show that human beings don't come into the world to develop their faculties or to acquire knowledge or even to earn a living. They're here to establish relationships, and these relationships provide immeasurable broadening of the human experience and fullness of life. We've already discussed two kinds of these relationships--the physical universe, and mankind. To complete his education, one more relationship needs to be considered--the relationship with Almighty God. How many children today learn as toddlers from their mother to say in all the fullness of its meaning, every day and every hour, 'My duty towards God is to believe in Him, to fear Him, and to love Him with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul and all my strength; to worship Him, to thank Him, to fully trust Him, to call upon Him, to honor His holy name and His word, and to serve Him all the days of my life'? The exact wording that children learn about their duty to God isn't what's important. But most of us will agree that the wording I quoted doesn't ask any more of us than yielding to our duty. Unfortunately, many children never even learn this minimum requirement. The concept of duty isn't woven into the very fiber of their beings as it should be, and their duty to God, which ought to be the very foundation of their lives, is the most neglected of all. Children are growing up with religious sentiments and religious feelings, and they say quaint and surprising things, which shows that they have an insight of their own into their spiritual life.
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But duty and sentiment are two different things. Sentiment is optional. Young people grow up thinking that belief in God, fear of God and love for God is an option. They don't learn that these are things that must be done. There's no free choice about loving and serving God, that's their duty. Loving God with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength is what they owe to God, but that's rarely taught or understood properly these days. Even if we have tender religious sentiments, our doctrines are often vague and lax. Children even of kind, religious parents grow up without having an intimate, always open, always friendly, continual communicative relationship with Almighty God. That relationship is the very fulfillment of life. Whoever has it, has eternal life. Whoever doesn't have that relationship is ice-cold and dead in their heart, like Coleridge's 'lovely Lady Geraldine,' no matter how much they strive for success in all their other relationships.
'I want, I'm made for, I must have a God
Before I can be anything or do anything.
I don't want merely a Name.
I want the real thing, and everything that proves it.
In other words, I want a relationship between that Thing and me,
Touching everything from my head to my toes,
And when I feel this Touch,
I gain everything else--I gain life itself!'
[loosely paraphrased from Browning]