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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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Candour in Children

by Arthur Ransom.
Volume 8, 1897, pgs. 97-104


When parents speak of "candour in children," they mean in these days frankness in speaking the truth, ingenuousness in behaviour, freedom from reserve, and particularly from a guilty or artful reserve. At the same time, they understand the word to possess a fringe of broader meaning, to denote a virtue which is something more than mere expression, is in fact a beautiful and lovable disposition of the mind. Though modern usage has dropped several of the former applications of the word, the nimbus as it were of the old meanings of the word still clings to it. In the original Latin candor was brilliant whiteness in material things, and innocency and purity in its moral sense. Then it came to mean what we now call impartiality, just and unbiased judgement; and it even acquired the senses of genial kindliness and sweetness of temper. Dr. Johnson could describe a man as "sincere, but without candour"; and a century earlier Isaac Walton asks his readers to "bring candor to the reading of this discourse." The recent narrowing of the meaning of the word to outspokenness need not be carried so far as to shut out all connotation of the earlier comprehensiveness and beauty of the term.

In this paper candour will be understood in its wider sense. When a father, questioning his son, says "Be candid," he means "Speak without reserve." In making this demand, the father only asks for a detailed exhibition of a virtue which he--if he be what a father should be- has constantly endeavoured to cultivate both in his own character and in that of his son. He does not mean merely "Speak out this once," but "Speak out unreservedly, as you ought to do upon all occasions, when no considerations of right or propriety require that you should hold your tongue." A wise father will not be satisfied with mere freeness of speaking, with a mechanical habit of reckless garrulity, with a facility of utterance in season and out of season. A simple outspokenness may be due to nothing better than carelessness, daring, selfish indifference to the wishes or pleasure of others. A bold, bad child may be irrepressibly outspoken without meriting the epithet of "candid." The pseudo-candour begotten of reckless selfishness is a vice, not a virtue. But true candour is an outspokenness prompted and regulated by considerations of justice and sympathy, and is the natural and involuntary expression of a frank and kindly disposition. It is the love of truthfulness put into practice, and justifies the derivation of the word from the Latin candor as well as the whole history of the word in British literature.

Like all other characteristics of either childhood or adult age, candour is the outcome of two ever-present factors--hereditary tendency and individual training. The training, to be effective, must have a relation of adaptation to the hereditary tendency. The training that would develop candour in one child might destroy it in another. Moreover, it would be unjust to demand that children of naturally different temperaments should exhibit candour in exactly the same way. The behaviour that in a congenitally reserved and timid child would possess all the merit of perfect candour would be different from that of a child less reserved and diffident, whose candour, nevertheless, would be no more meritorious than that of the other. Everything, even virtue, is relative, and should be estimated relatively. A timid nature may be trained to independence, but will never exhibit its independence in the same manner as a less timid nature. Yet the independence of the congenitally timid nature may be, when trained, as real and as strong as that of the less timid one.

The training, to be effective, must be accommodated to a great variety of temperament. In a child one characteristic may dominate all the rest; or there may be a blending of several equally prominent and perhaps conflicting characteristics. Many characteristics will only need guiding, while others will need careful suppression. Among the latter are sullenness, selfishness, slyness, etc. Among the former are fearlessness, strength of will, power of self-control. The sex must be constantly taken into consideration when endeavouring to develop a disposition of candour in? No wise educator will lose sight of the inherent difference between the mental character of a girl and that of a boy; and though the education of the sexes might with advantage be carried on in common more than it is in Britain, yet there are points at which this common education should cease, irrespective of the different requirements demanded of boys and girls in after life. Especially in the way in which the dispositions of the individuals of the two sexes are expressed must a distinction be made. "Des Weibes Urtheil ist seine Liebe; Manner ruchten nach Grunden," said Schiller. In other words, emotion has more to do with the judgement and actions of a woman than with those of a man. Of course, both should be taught to act upon principle; but the educator, whose business it is to lead children to cultivate the habit of acting upon principle, should remember that the girl is more readily amendable to the influence of emotion than the boy, and the boy more readily amendable to the force of solid reasons than the girl.

Every observant parent, every experienced educator has discovered the stages of development in a child, both physical and mental, and knows that he must make his treatment of the child harmonise with each stage. He does not expect moral discrimination too early, and therefore is neither pained nor disappointed by conduct in a little child which would be reprehensible in an older one. At first, for a period longer or shorter in differently-constituted individuals, the child merely vegetates. During this period little more can be done by the trainer than watch over the physical development, and train the physical habits. The first stage of independent mental activity is that of fancy, when the child converts the world into fairyland, becomes an actor, personifies every object, and indulges in no end of "make-believe." It is only by degrees that the child realises the moral difference between truth and "make-believe," and learns when to be truthful and when to "make-believe." Parents need not weep over a child that, in this stage, is not always what in older persons would be "truthful." What the parent and the educator have to do in this stage is wisely and kindly to aid the child I its incipient reasonings, and to guard against the danger of allowing the child to acquire the habit of "making-believe" when it knows it ought to be candidly truthful. "Make-believe" should not be allowed to degenerate into deceit. The next stage of development is that of receptivity. The child has learnt to discriminate, and fairyland has become a world of facts. The eager constant acquisition of facts has not much to do directly with such a virtue as candour, but it may be intimately connected with it. If the child's curiosity is not met with kindness, or if knowledge is imparted grudgingly or testily, or of the child is treated with ridicule, his discouragement may deepen into sullenness, and he may acquire a habit of reserve which has nothing in common with candour. The child whose curiosity is surpressed by those whose duty it is to gratify it will seek knowledge in forbidden ways, and will perhaps seek forbidden knowledge. He will lead an inner life apart from his guardians far sooner than he has any right to do so. The bond of confidence, which lies at the base of candour in a child towards his parents, will cease to exist. Many parents have themselves to thank--or rather to blame--for the misfortune than even in this early stage of receptivity they know little of what goes on in the minds of their children, or of what their children do when out of sight.

By-and-by the child is sufficiently developed to make use of his knowledge. He not only knows things, but he can make things, and generally has a passionate desire to employ his knowledge to some purpose. Here again confidence and candour can be encouraged or suppressed by the parent or the guardian. The child, if his previous training has been wise, will easily be made to understand what are the limitations as to quantity and costliness of his toys and contrivances; but if his first attempts at a constructive use of his knowledge and his abilities are to be marked by that openness and candour which are so lovable in childhood, he must be certain of having the sympathy as well as the limiting control of his elders. If the boy is allowed to see that there is still a good deal of the boy in his father, and the girl that there is still a good deal of the girl in her mother, the result to the child will be not only a greatly-enhanced enjoyment, but also a valuable increase of confidence, and an equally valuable development of candour.

Later comes the stage when the youth or maiden begins to think for himself or herself. This is a critical period in young life. The pathways of old and young, which have hitherto lain side by side, begin to diverge. The young will soon have to go out into the world to act for themselves. The local separation is a necessity; but need there be a separation of thought and feeling? Love is tyrannical, and a parent's love is often the most tyrannical of all. The parents is in danger of demanding from his children not merely a reciprocation of affection, but also similarity of taste and sentiment and opinion. But the young have always grown up in new surroundings. The worlds which the young have known can never have been the same world as that which their parents knew when young, even though parents and children may have been born in the same neighborhood, or one of the parents in the same house. Hence when the young men and the young women begin to think for themselves, it is not their fault that their thoughts are not at all points the same as their parents' thoughts were. Now comes a trying demand upon the parents' wisdom. It is now that it is most difficult to preserve unbroken the delicious confidence between the parent and child. The time is gone by when the child was expected to babble all its thoughts and fancies into its parents' ears, and most parents readily recognise this fact. But not all parents are not wise or sympathetic enough to encourage their children at the critical age we are now considering to make their parents their confidants in serious matters. Some parents unreasonably resent a harmless independence of thought and sentiment in their children, with the inevitable result that the children remain silently independent in these matters. Elders are apt to forget their own youth, or to overlook the fact above mentioned, that the influences which have moulded their children's characters have been different from those which moulded their own. In many cases, we venture to say in most in which the previous training had been wise, mutual confidence and mutual respect might have been preserved where it is not, had the parents been wisely sympathetic, and had they tried unselfishly to place themselves in the position of their children. If in the later years before the children leave home the parents have occasion to complain of a lack of candour on the part of the children towards themselves, it is as often their own fault as that of the children. When it is remembered that the children are largely what their parents ' training has made them, it will appear that the fault is mainly that of the parents.

When we come to the question, how to carry out the suggestions given above, a multitude of practical observations present themselves to the mind. Candour is not simply a moral virtue, it has a purely intellectual factor, and even to some extent a physical one. And this reminds us that in all training there is an inter-relation of the physical, mental and moral. It is easy to separate these factors of character in thought, but it is impossible to do so in practice. At any rate, candour is easier to those who are physically sound than to those who are not. Mental elasticity is an ingredient in candour, which may be described as the love of truthfulness plus a healthy impulse to out that love of truthfulness into practice. Here comes in, therefore, the teaching of physiological psychology as to the connexion between brain function and habit. The purely intellectual gratification derived from accurate knowledge, and from the correspondence between that knowledge and the expression of it. A favourite quotation in this connextion is that sentence of Cicero's, "nihil est menti veritatis luce dulcius"--nothing is sweeter to the mind than the light of truth: here we have a suggestion of the original meaning of candor, brightness. The candid man reflects the light of truth, and rejoices in it intellectually, even when the truth in question has no moral character at all. Hence in intellectual studies which produce a satisfaction in the discovery and possession of truth we have this valuable incidental good, that they encourage a mental habit which gives strength and impetus to the practical virtue of candour.

Much more might be said about the development of the moral factor in candour. As the subject is "candour in children," and as the most effective moral teacher of children is example, the duty of those who train children is plain. "Be what the children should be," says an eminent educationist. There is a charm in genuine candour that must make it contagious. But for a parent to expect candour from a child to whom the parent does not himself show it, is not only essential unjust, it is likely to provoke in the child a feeling of contempt for the parent. One of the first duties of everyone who has the care of children is to compel the child to discover that his guardian attaches so high a value to truth, honor, candour, as to make it his constant endeavour to practise them in his own conduct. Just as mental instruction is most effectively imparted by visible illustrations, so is moral teaching best given by means of living examples. And where is the child to find these living examples if not in his home? A father can consistently say to his son, "I send you to school because I either cannot or have no time to teach you at home what it is necessary for you to know." But can he say to his son," I send you to so-and-so to learn how a virtuous man acts, because I cannot set you an example myself"? The child's models must be those who are always about him, those upon whom he depends, those whom he loves, those whom he knows best. No multiplication or reiteration of precept from these will suffice without example. "Evil communications corrupt good manners" among adults, how much more in the case of children, whose habits and manners are being formed after the nearest patterns. The example should precede the precept. Says Chaucer of his "poor parson"--

"This noble ensample unto his scheep he gaf,
That ferst he wroughte, and after that he taughte."

The innate tendency of childhood to imitate, and especially to imitate that which is attractive, may be relied upon as one of the earliest and most powerful allies of the wise teacher of morality. If the model imitated be continuously present, what in the child is at first conscious effort will soon become unconscious habit. Moreover, when the model has been present from the very beginning of the child's mental unfolding, there will be an amount of unconscious imitation from the first.

The question of motives must, however, be considered at the proper stage, and considered with great care. It is not good for a child that he should be taught too early to ask why he should do this or that. His earliest motive should be obedience. Obedience ought to have become habitual before he is able to understand why he obeys, or why he is ordered to do certain things and to refrain from doing other things. When it is well for him to have a further motive presented to his mind, he should not be taught to act in hope of a reward. The essential inconsistency of bribing a child to be morally good by promising a reward will be seen at once if the child be told, "Be candid, and I will give you a toy." To be candid in order to get a reward is not to be candid at all, it is simply buying and selling.

The successful cultivation of such a virtue as candour in a child depends largely upon an accurate insight by the parent or teacher into the motives that actuate the child. How far is any detailed exhibition of candour or apparent candour prompted by fear, by hope of gain, by a sense of right, by self-respect, by sympathy with or love for the parent? How far is it the involuntary expression of established habit? These are questions which the parent should ask and find the correct answers for.

It is comparatively easy to write these pages in the quiet of the study. It is another thing to practise what there may be of truth in them. The duty of parent would be difficult enough had they no other claim upon their time and attention than the training of their children. But every day brings a host of other duties to complicate the problem, and it requires all the love of the parents to save them from unduly subordinating their responsible task as educators to other only less important demands.