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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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By the Way


Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 313


      "Thou little child,
      Thy mother's joy, thy father's hope--thou bright,
      Pure dwelling, where two fond hearts keep their gladness--
      Thou little potentate of love, who comest
      With solemn sweet dominion to the old,
      Who see thee in thy merry fancies charged
      With the grave embassage of that dear past
      When they were young like thee."

I was only two years old when the following incident occurred, and my thoughts and feelings on the occasion are as vivid to my mind as when it occurred more than fifty years ago. At any moment I can bring the scene before my mind's eye: -- A burning hot day, a road inch think in dust, and the entrance gate of the Clifton Zoological Gardens. Why or wherefore I do not know, but I fell into one of my very common tantrums, and distincly remember rejoicing that I had on my black satin "spencer," becaus I knew the dust would stick to it as I rolled round and round on the ground, in rage and spite. In a little while the thought came over me -- "Oh, how I shall be whipped for this," when, to my intense astonishment, instead of the usual whipping my mother picked me up, and, giving me a kiss, said, "Do be good, girl." I was subdued in a moment and thought, "Oh, if they always treated me like this I could never be naughty," and I felt great sorrow for what I had done.

--E. L. S. J.

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The following is a reprint form the Journal of Education. It is directly upon your main subject -- indeed I quoted some passages from it in the P.N.E.U. lecture that I gave.

--E. A. E. Shirreff

"What is Woman's Work in the World?"

. . . "Women may or may not be professional teachers, they may or may not be physicians, but they must be educators; they must hold in their hands -- be those hands strong or feeble, capable or inert -- the fate of another generation to an extent it is impossible to measure; of that generation which in the fast-coming years shall govern the world, mould society, foster knowledge or ignorance, cling to high ideals of duty or religion, or worship low idols of the market-place, help to make truth and honour the guides of national life, or to make pleasure seem the end and aim of existence. These are the issues, and women should weigh them well.

"We do not, perhaps, sufficiently look at children through the veil of the future. They are our joy or our torment, the centre of family affections and interests; but what they are to each mother as a trust for the nation is, perhaps, seldom thought of. As they turn to her with their first questionings, their first wonder before they can put it into words, their first impulses to action, their desires and aversions, she does not so often as she might look to the man and woman in the boy and girl who thus seek all their help and delight from her. Yet this is what it behoves her to do if she would rightly fulfil the task imposed upon her by the will of heaven itself. Those children are a long way from playing their part for good or evil in the world, numberless influences will tell upon them and help to make or mar their course; but to the mother it must inevitably belong to make the first impressions, to link the first associations, to give the first bent to character and intelligence -- thus tracing the first opening to the right or wrong path in which every step makes the next more easy and more certain. Thus does women's fitness or unfitness for such a responsibility affect myriads of young lives. The individual task may not come to all, but even among those who never become mothers how many are there who do not find the care of children thrown more or less upon their hands? At any rate, in considering the duty and the prospects of any large number of young woman we are right in considering the mother's divine mission as likely to be theirs, and preparation for it the most sacred call upon their time and faculties. Can we, then, still ask what motives woman have, apart from professions, to seek higher education?

"The long neglect of women's own education, the contempt of ages for her mental capacity, have blinded mothers to the true nature of their position as educators. Responsibility for moral and religious influence has not, indeed, been overlooked, and as, fortunately, this part of education is closely bound up with feeling and emotion, it has borne blessed fruits when not thwarted by difficulties in the peculiar temperament of the children, which required knowledge of human nature such as the half-educated mother did not possess. Hitherto the shortcomings of women in this respect are not to be laid to their charge; henceforth they are alone responsible. Nothing hinders them now from learning how to deal with the helpless infants God has placed in their hands.

"Unfortunately, ignorance does not believe in the value of knowledge, and the idea that any definite preparation is needed for the mother's part in the education of her children is far from common. They would give their lives for them, but cannot study to understand their nature, their needs, and the future that lies before them. The fatal indifference to the training of teachers, to which we are so accustomed in England, goes at least upon the supposition that the untrained teacher knows the subject he or she pretends to impart; but mothers go beyond this; they do not know, and yet believe they can teach. Adopting the prevalent contempt for training, they add to it contempt for knowledge. The children are part of their very lives; who then can doubt that they are best able to manage them? Nature, alas! is not so kind. The human being gifted with understanding is bound under penalties to exercise it, and the holiest instincts will not take is place. Never, we may confidently assert, will education bear its real fruits till it is rooted in the cradle, -- that is, till mothers are fitted by training to give it the right impulse from the first. Schools, however admirable, are but the supplement of home training -- too often its tardy and, therefore, unsuccessful corrective. Even the Kindergarten, scientifically planned to meet the wants of early childhood, is robbed of half its powers through the ignorance of mothers, who for the most part look upon it as the mere place where children are kept busy and amused, who trust Frobel for a few hours of the day, and thrust him aside for their own notions or convenience during the remainder!

"It is mere folly to suppose that without preparation such a task as that of early education can be rightly undertaken. Such preparation would be mostly very different from that of the professional teacher; but it would involve so much stud of human nature, of child nature especially, as will be required for the careful watching and guiding of the natural development, mental and physical, of the child, and acquaintance with the best methods to be followed. A course of physiology and of psychology applied to education should be the necessary complement of every girl's higher education. And some knowledge, both practical and theoretical, of Frobel's system would be invaluable. Working women's colleges and evening classes for girls might also give some elementary instruction on these vitally important subjects. Too well do we know that for the vast multitude of women even this amount of preparation for their responsible office is unattainable, but the more cultivated might help them, and would do so if they realised the need, to a degree we can hardly dream of in our present contented state of ignorance. The influence of a very wide example from above would gradually and unconsciously tell through many grades below; especially would it tell upon infant schools, which for the poor must necessarily be in great measure to substitute for the mother's care. Never, as I said before, can we hope to have true home education throughout the nation; but it is impossible to measure the gain that would accrue nationally were it to be found throughout the so-called educated classes -- classes growing daily in numbers irrespective of social condition, and who are now in so many ways on their trial to prove whether culture is really valued by them, for its true uses, not for mere lucre or show.

"Women can best give that proof by fitting themselves to discharge their sacred debt to the nation, making their late-earned, sorely-grudged privilege of education subserve the great purpose of fulfilling worthily their divine mission as mothers.

"Emily Shirreff,"

[We do not invite reprints for "By the Way" except when the matter is appropriated as the experience of a correspondent, or when they are sent to us by the author. -- Ed.]

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Children, like some intelligent dogs, do not like to be laughed at, and there is one way in which mothers sometimes make them unnecessarily conspicuous. I mean by dressing them differently from other boys and girls. I remember one little girl who spent the one half of her life in England and the other half abroad, whose clothes were a constant grievance, and it was little consolation to her to be told by her mother, when she complained of being laughed at, "Tell your companions that you are dressed as your mamma likes." Another girl of my acquaintance once said to me, "I wish you were my godmother and then you could tell mamma to get me frocks as long as other girls' of my age."

Boys are more protected as a rule by the regulation dress of their schools, and if parents or teachers could induce them not to laugh at the wrong time it would be well, but that is too much to be hoped for, perhaps. A little boy well known to me went to a good public school. The first time he went to his French set the polite French master asked him a question in French, to which he answered naturally and instinctively, "Oui, monsieur." A titter of laughter went round the set at the unwonted sound, and he learnt his lesson, to answer in English, and very soon acquired as bad an accent as the rest.

--M. E. C.

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Extract from Farrar's "Bishop Lightfoot," in Contemporary Review, page 174, February, 1890.

"I once offended him -- I trust that was the only time that I did so -- by telling him when I got my Fellowship, that he might have saved me many gloomy misgivings as an undergraduate, if the Cambridge system had dealt a little more freely in the words of encouragement. I said this, not by way of any personal complaint, but only from the deeply seated conviction on which I have always acted as a principle in education, and which, to my knowledge, has produced good fruits, in the minds of some, that there are youths of diffident temperament, always inclined to undervalue themselves, to whom the total dearth of hopefulness about their own efforts, which their elders and betters might so easily inspire, produced the effects, sometimes of mental paralysis, sometimes of death."

This sentence struck me as being so true and so applicable to my own feelings in days of yore, that I have ventured to yield to my impulse of transcribing it for the editor of our Parents' Review. As a young girl of fifteen, I was idle and thoughtless, but often I used to feel, "Oh, that mamma would praise me sometimes, instead of only speaking of my faults." She was about the very best and dearest of mothers.

--A. A. T.

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Would it be troubling you too much to ask you to jot me down, when you have the leisure, the best half-dozen stories for children which you know, and where they may be found; such stories as will bear frequent repetition?

--A Father.



Typed by Kati McCrone, Nov 2015