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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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The Parent in the Educational System

by The Rev. H. Russell Wakefield, M.L.S.B.
Volume 10, 1899, pgs. 502-513


Thursday Afternoon, May 11th, At Stafford House.

Mr. Guy Pym, M.P. (Belgravia Branch), took the chair at five o'clock.

The Chairman said: We propose this afternoon to follow the usual course adopted at these meetings. I shall have the pleasure first of all of introducing to you the gentleman who has been kind enough to come here to give us an address, and after the address I shall ask any lady or gentleman who may feel so disposed to make a few remarks with reference to the address, and I hope that we shall have an enjoyable time together. (Hear, hear.) I will now ask the Rev. H. R. Wakefield to address the meeting. (Cheers.)

The Rev. H. Russell Wakefield, M.L.S.B., then spoke of The Parent in the Educational System.

He said: Perhaps I ought first of all to explain that I have already given this paper locally, and it was then discussed, and I am sorry to know that some of you have come here and not had your tea, because if you had, the paper, when it comes to be again discussed, would perhaps receive more gracious treatment at your hands. (Laughter.) The paper is on the subject of the parent in the educational system, and first of all one would like to know what is the average parent's idea with regard to his or her child in life--what ideas they put before them. I have sketched down what I think you will consider to be the main motives of the average parent with regard to his or her child. The parent generally wishes his or her child to be docile and obedient, clever enough to make a teacher useless, and then successful in business, prudent in marriage, so far as to be prosperous in all he undertakes. If not expressed in such words there is a general notion like that. If that be so, it might be argued that there is a likelihood of the parent taking considerable interest in the education of the child, but what I said on the last occasion when I gave this paper, I shall have to say again, now, concerning the ideas of the careless parent with regard to his child. First of all there is the great blessing that comes from riddance of the children by putting them in charge of teachers or servants. They ask the question:--"Where can I find someone who will take the responsibility of the children upon their shoulders?" The desire for saving of trouble is often the reason for this. We lead such a busy life--mothers as well as fathers--in these days. A great many lead a public life and desire to be relieved of responsibility with regard to their children, if possible. The average child wants managing, and people say, "I cannot give time and attend to this sort of thing, who will do it for me?" The parents too often not only seed to save trouble in the management of their children by handing them over to teachers, but also in the study of the child, and not only do they feel free in this matter themselves, but they have found a scapegoat to be offered up if things go wrong. Nay, they have found two scapegoats; first, the system of education generally, and people even talk by the yard of the "weaknesses" of the educational system generally--(laughter and hear, hear)--and they find another scapegoat in the individual teacher. (Laughter and hear, hear.) And so the parent sinks, in the matter of education, into a more or less harmless critic, absolutely unqualified for dispensing praise, or bestowing censure, with a few general principles--save the mark--in treating the subject.

And these are, first, that if the child does not shine at school it cannot be his or her fault, as, considering the parentage of the child--(laughter)--and the natural qualities of the child, skilful teaching only is necessary to produce good results in the child. Then the second general principle is that the child's general view of the educational question is the right one; and, thirdly, that the teacher is to teach during school hours, but that no one is to train outside those hours. It has often occurred to me in my clerical life when visiting parents' houses, what a terrible age it is in which we live, when children sometimes will not accept the statements of their parents. But is it possible tat a child is likely to accept the statement of its parent, if the parent's attention is only the will-o'-the-wisp? What is the effect on the child of this parental conception of personal responsibility? First, the effect is speedy indifference to the parental opinion. We complain of these being undisciplined, but is it wonderful, considering the conduct of many parents? Is the fault entirely with the children? Then, secondly, the effect is a want of submission to the teacher--the feeling that the "court of appeal" is favourable to the child's side, except when the parent is in a bad state of temper, or somewhat disturbed. But that sort of thing is absolutely fatal to discipline. The, thirdly, as the result of such conduct on the part of the parent, there is an ignorance of the "why" of education. The child is sent to learn, not to be educated, and so the true impulse is not given, in that case the child goes to school with the idea that it is going to be stuffed like Strasburg goods--(laughter)--but true education is intended to make the child understand that he or she is going to school to have its whole self trained. (Hear, hear.)

Now, what is the effect of such parents' conceptions upon the teacher? First of all, the want of family feeling between the child's parents and the one to whom the child has been confided must weaken interest and paralyse effort. There must be between the teacher and the parent such a link. (Hear, hear.) Then, secondly, there may possibly be the fondness for getting on the bright and intelligent children, and leaving alone the less forward ones, which is often a great temptation to some teachers. I can safely say that I soon discovered my own disqualification for teaching, when I had a large class of grown-up children to take at the Crystal Palace. I found how extremely easy it is to read over the papers intelligent and bright students, and to discuss literary subjects with them, but how desperately heavy work it is to go through those bad papers. But, thirdly, there is the idea that with the school hours begins and ends responsibility, that soon gets into the teachers' mind if they are not encouraged from home. Without knowledge of the child's home life and home peculiarities, either by seeing the child at home or having in some way gathered information, the teacher's work is rendered doubly difficult. Many children wear a mask in school. It is curious sometimes to go down to a public school, for instance, and you see your boy walking with one of the masters, and, somehow or other, you notice that the boy does not look exactly as he does when you see him during his holidays. Then, perhaps, he suddenly sees you, and the mask falls off. I have noticed that children are often as unlike their natural selves as--shall I say?--is sometimes the voice of the preacher unlike that of the natural man. (Laughter and hear, hear.) This applies to every kind of child.  I have noticed the same sort of thing in children of working classes, and also in those of higher classes. They are admirable little actors, and this applies to elementary education very strongly. Then, fourthly, the effect of such parental conceptions of personal responsibility is that the teacher loses heart when there is no home backing, no true interest.

Then there are some general effects of non-sharing by parents in the education of their children. And first of all, there is a natural impatience on the part of the teacher with the parent's occasional interference. There is the sort of letter that comes from the home to the school which must play upon the nerves of the headmaster or headmistress. The letter, perhaps, is the result of the most cursory consideration, and as to which there has been little or no judgment exercised. The child's side, of course, is taken, and the result--secondly--must be a dissolution of partnership between parent and teacher. Then, thirdly, there is the thought concerning the teacher as a paid official and not a joint trainer. Of course, that results in a loss of true education to the child. Now, whilst admitting that the picture drawn of many parents is unflattering, I acknowledge that there is another side to the subject, and that many parents wish to be of service in the educational system. But I do not quite see how they may help forward the training of their young children. Can we suggest any help to them? Let us realize the parental position. Our child is given to us, and humanly speaking, it depends on us what that child shall become. Like every gift, the child is a trust from God. Its niche in the world's temple is there. We have a power to train which no one else can ever have; for we have not only authority, but we have the love to give and the love to receive. The child may learn to love its teacher, and the teacher may get a loving interest of a kind in the child, but in the parent a special love is implanted--the child loves its parent and the parent loves the child. Our responsibility can never be got rid of. But if we care for our little ones, the delight of our work for them will prevent us from ever feeling any pain taken as irksome. At the outset, then, let the parent confess that the first duty of life is the proper "bringing up" of his child. I like that old expression--"bringing up," for it implies all that true training means. Let us divide the life of the child into stages, and what is the first? It may be called "ante-school period." Even the least able parent can take care that in this portion of the childhood there shall be nothing instilled which shall hinder the advance of later years. It is not always possible during this stage to instil something into the child which shall be of service to him or her in the future, but at least it is possible to see that nothing is given to the child that shall hinder its progress later on. Yet how often has the teacher to begin by uprooting bad habits?  But I think that there is a sort of disease on the part of many teachers with regard to this uprooting. You will find it when you transfer a child from one teacher to another--say from one musical teacher to another. Generally speaking you will find that the teacher to whom the child goes after being under one before, will say, "Oh dear, I have to get rid of all sorts of mistakes that the child has already acquired." But of course it is true that very often the child has to have a great deal of uprooting before the teacher has a chance.  (Hear, hear.) How often when a parent confides a child to a teacher you will hear something like this--"I am afraid you will find Mary a little spoilt." But is not that rather a pity? Is it not sad that a parent should sometimes handicap the one he loves in such a way?  (Hear, hear.) We cannot too early discipline the child's life. We must divide the child's life into daily routine. The child ought to be made to do things at the proper time. I do not mean that the child should be bound down to some dreary process day by day, but it is necessary to teach the child early in life that there is a season for everything. It should be taught that there is a time for food, a time for sleep, a time for being with its parents, a time for a little teaching, and a time for absolute play. The disorderly home is a seed of an undisciplined character.

I do not know whether I am speaking to any Irish people this afternoon, I was brought up in Ireland and shall always feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages met with there, but the average Irish household is not from the point of view of the child a very orderly one. (Laughter and hear, hear.) To slip into the school system you must train a child at home. This is general, but to come to particulars. There are certain qualities which home life should develop, and which are all important.  One of them is will. If you hammer away at a child, "you must do this" or "you must not do that," and do not divert its attention to the right direction, you only make the child dissatisfied and discontented.  While, if you tell a child that it must not do a thing, and divert its attention in a proper manner, it will not forget. And then fear makes the child courageous for the truth. There should be a veneration--a respect for the feeling of the desire to serve. There is no other religion worthy of the name that does not tell of the feeling of the desire to serve from love.. Then there should be truthfulness--conscientiousness. Teach the little children to be open--(hear, hear)--keep them from being secretive. Many of you, perhaps, know children in whom you find, not exactly untruthfulness, but that which soon becomes so. Secretiveness seems to be a quality very often found in children. Now, send the child to school with its will trained, with courage in its heart, with a feeling of veneration for those in authority, and with a truthful, open character, and I think you will help your teacher very much. (Hear, hear.) One need hardly say much about making a child happy. That is a necessity of all true homes. The child is not the less happy because it is kept from lawlessness. Home joy is the joying together, not the joy of disturbing someone else.

As regards home intellectual training, do not hurry the children. Try to make the soil ready rather than to put in the seed. A child well prepared for teaching will do better than one who has no method, but some little smattering of knowledge. Then, develop the faculties--the perceptive faculties, the imaginative faculties and so forth. And most of all, the religious training of a very young child should be looked after. Little weeds will grow unless good seed is grown. Appeal to the perceptive faculties of the child--to the conceptive, but here again, do not hurry. To much, I think, is often made of religious biographies, and it must sometimes be an extraordinarily puzzling thing for children when told to look up to some of the Biblical characters.  Some of them were not, as it appears to me, extremely desirable characters. (Laughter and hear, hear.) Yet these are sometimes held up to the child as being very remarkable for good qualities. I remember that, as a child, I could never get a wholesome admiration for Jacob, and, indeed, I have never acquired such a feeling yet. (Laughter and hear, hear.) Yet still, I had a good deal of Jacob given me. (Laughter.) I think it is rather a dangerous thing to put such a character before children. The child cannot understand why the character of Jacob is given at all. You have simply the fact of Jacob's life, and the character must seem to the child to have been given either as showing that there is something laudable in being a contemptible sneak, or else that something is lacking,, and has not been told to the child. Now, I do not think that children are taught enough about what can be seen of God all round. But let there be simplicity in the children's prayers--let them feel that there is One to Whom every heart must turn. That is the first thing the child should be taught. Then as to the parent's power as a trainer:--

"The voice of parents is the voice of God:
For to their children they are Heaven's lieutenants,
Made fathers, not for common uses merely
Of procreation (beasts and birds would be as noble then as we are), but to steer
The wanton freight of youth through storms and dangers,
Which with full sails they bear upon and straighten
The mortal line of life they bend so often.
For these are we made fathers, and for these
May challenge duty on our children's part."

Over-familiarity with us and still more with religious things, breeds want of veneration. Then again, there must be watchfulness as to the child's peculiarities of mind, of body, of character. People sometimes say that they have not time to be watchful of their children in this way, but the lack of such a watchfulness is sometimes very serious.  You find it particularly among poor children, where the parents often let things go on until almost irreparable damage is done. This applies to peculiarities of the body, the mind and the character.

Now, with regard to the second stage--the school life, and about this I can only say a word or two just now. At the outset let us notice that which belongs to all the time of childhood, namely, the recreative--the holiday time, and what parents may do in teaching during this time.  When the child is at home do not ask a lot of questions about its school-life, but let the child tell its own tale of its life and school. As to the school-life itself, I think that a clear statement should be given to the teacher as to the child's strong and weak points--you can tell what in the child should be fostered and what guarded against--and then the teacher should be given a free hand. An interest should be shown in the child's work, and the discipline of school should not be destroyed at home. If the child has been in the habit of getting up at seven o'clock at school, do not think that in the holiday time the hours for rising should drag on until ten o'clock, as I think is sometimes the case--just because it is the holiday time, and "the dear thing has to get up so early at school." (Laughter and hear, hear.)

Then there must be, I think, care as to the manners of the child at home quite as much as at school. I do not mean that everything should be strained, but the relaxing of everything for, say two months, makes it all the more difficult when the child goes back to school. We should keep before the child the object of all education, even those things which seem unpleasant, always having the one great end in view, namely, to fit the child for a life of usefulness, and especially usefulness as regards others. Do not over-encourage precocity. When I was a child I used to recite, and was dragged forward on every suitable and unsuitable occasion, and mad the lives of my people absolutely wretched--(laughter)--by standing up and reciting. I do not know whether those who listened were as unhappy as I was, but I fear they looked it. (Laughter.) I only cite that instance because I have known parents who bring forward their children to recite and so forth, when the poor little things would rather do anything else. Do not over-encourage precocity in the children.

Then we must share with the teacher the care of the child, and there should be a proper provision of reading at home. It is necessary nowadays, considering the number of books--or the things called books--scattered abroad, to be very careful what books get into the children's hands. In this direction a parent can do an infinite amount of good or an infinite amount of harm. There is a danger which, I think, we ought to avoid, namely, that of reading certain books and papers and then letting them lie about. We say that the children ought not to read such things, but I am not sure how far we may be perfect in reading them ourselves, because we are only children of a larger growth. In the educational system the parent should be first the great moral suasive force; secondly, the diagnoser of the peculiarities of character; and, thirdly, the encourager of every effort--not flattering, but stimulating. Oh, be gentle with children--time enough for them to learn later what life has in store of sorrow--of trouble. Let them carry in their memory for all time that you never blamed but with a tear, that your frown was sorrowful more than angry. As children develop, the parent's place is, in purest sense, to teach the child the temptations which the period of life to which he or she is coming has in store. No other lips should be the first to warn and counsel on the deep moral questions of life. The parent is the ever-watchful who only regards this handling a child to a teacher as the specializing that which he cannot manage himself; but the true parent will take a loving interest in each step in knowledge, desiring to see the child's mind guided, and only secondarily advanced. The parent is the eternally-patient, the ever-prayerful, the never-fussy. I have now simply to say that if we follow out something of this view with regard to the management of children, we shall help education to be what it ought to be, namely, leading human souls to what is best, and making what is best out of them. These two objects are always attainable together and by the same means. The training which makes men happiest in themselves, also makes them most serviceable to others. "True education has respect first to the ends that are proposable to the man, and attainable by him; and, secondly, to the material of which the man is made. So far as possible it chooses the end according to the material, but it cannot always choose the end, for the position of many persons is fixed by necessity; still less can it choose the material, and, therefore, all it can do is to fit the one to the other as far as possible."

Dr. Schofield: The admirable paper to which we have just listened is certainly full of the most important details concerning the training of children, and I certainly think such details must be of very great service in a society like this. But the paper to my mind owes its great value to the grand underlying principle on which all these details were founded. I merely call attention to two remarks made by Mr. Wakefield. First, as regards the parents teaching rather than training. In this paper which I hold in my hand, entitled, "What is the Parents' National Educational Union?" I see that our answer was--that it is needful to reconsider many old-fashioned ideas about education. When you come to the distinction between teaching and training and you ask what is the distinction, my answer is that teaching is the education of our conscious mind, and training is the education of our unconscious mind. When I speak of the unconscious mind, I know I use a term that is strange to many. It was strange to me until I discovered that that which held the body under control was but the influence of the nerves and muscles. This intellect that controls the rest of the body is utterly unconscious. There are deep psychological faculties in this, and many psychologists say that nature does this or that, while some say that psychology does this or that.  The old-established ideas about education were that education was made to educate the conscious mind, but the idea coming more and more to the front is that we have unconscious minds that are as capable of training as the conscious minds. These old-established ideas are now being remoulded, and this Union is to shed the light of science upon those early years of childhood and show to what supreme value they may be turned. But let me pass to the second remark in Mr. Wakefield's paper to which I desire to draw attention. Mr. Wakefield said that a disorderly home is a seed of an undisciplined character. What is character? What are characters? How are they formed? Do characters consist of hereditary tendency in the first place, and are they moulded and disciplined by ideas which have reached unconsciousness in the second place? When I say unconsciousness, I want to make a statement which is this--that however consciously an idea may be presented to our faculties, it never formed part our character until it dropped into unconsciousness. There are not two among us alike. In outward person there may be a resemblance, but in character we are so distinct that one could not be mistaken for another. That we are wholly unconscious of the psychic force that makes up character. Let me add that too great enquiry into what is unseen is fraught with danger, I care not whether it is with regard to psychic resources or the source of psychic force within us. We have only to stand  still to hear the voice in our own unconsciousness. We are here this afternoon as the result of forces that have been beating upon us ever since we were born, forces which make us what we are to-day. The value of this society consists, not for a moment depreciating the value of school education, but for bringing the light which has been too long required and neglected and to give it is true place. Might I ask, therefore, that our friends here will consider the question of enrolling themselves as members of our Union.

The Chairman: The position of a chairman on these occasions is that of a judge and not of an advocate. But I have noticed that at many of these meetings which I have had the pleasure and honour of attending, our great difficultly has been in evoking discussion. There must be some cause, I think, for this, but perhaps it arises from the fact that most of the addresses are so admirable, that they are above criticism.  I am sure that every one of us, whether this is the first time we have heard Mr. Wakefield's paper, or the second time, will agree that we have learnt a great deal this afternoon on the subject of education, and that a master mind has been speaking to us. I may have had glimpses of it before, but I never realized till I heard Dr. Scholfield to-day what made character and how it grew, and let me say I entirely agree with him.

Lady Campbell: The very pleasant task falls to my lot of proposing a vote of thanks to Mr. Wakefield, for his interesting paper; to Mr. Guy Pym, our admirable chairman; and to the Duchess of Sutherland for kindly lending her house this afternoon.

Mr. Cotterill: It is with great pleasure that I rise to second the vote of thanks. It was suggested that when I seconded the proposition I might take the advantage of saying a few words. First of all I should like to say that, to my mind, one of the most valuable features of the paper is that it covered such a large amount of ground, and that it left us--and this, I think, is nine-tenths of the beauty of such a paper--still in a condition of mental curiosity. And another remarkable quality of the paper--perhaps the most remarkable quality--was that it seemed likely to induce people to fall into sympathy with the work of this Union, and in that I am in perfect agreement. What has seemed to me a serious want in the membership of the Union is the small number of schoolmasters. (Hear, hear.) I have been a schoolmaster for--I hardly dare state how many years, but to be confidential--considerably over thirty years, and my remarks are rather from the schoolmaster's than from the parent's point of view. I was for more than twenty years master of a public school, and now for ten years I have been master of a preparatory school. Looking back now, through this long vista of years, I can only recall one instance in which I failed to find the most cordial co-operation of parents or friends of scholars. I will go farther and say that in many instances I have received a great amount of credit for what I was able to do for the boys--credit which sometimes was altogether unmerited. This was only explained to me the other day after I had returned from paying a visit to the schoolmistress of my own girl. On leaving this lady, I came to the conclusion that this gratitude of a parent to the teacher, which had been unintelligible to me on so many occasions, was due to a fact which I felt with an intensity that has fixed it for ever in my mind. I thought that the influence which an earnest schoolmaster or schoolmistress can get over those entrusted to him or her, by the exercise of a high and deep nature, is in the eyes of the true parent beyond the possibility of ever being adequately repaid in any form.  (Hear, hear.) One other remark I should wish to make, and that is that parents sometimes do not understand nearly as much about the peculiarities and weaknesses of their children as the teacher, and frequently on that account they are unable to give the help that I am sure they desire to give. I shall do my utmost--although not thinking of the Union, but of schoolmasters themselves--to prevail upon as many as possible to join the Union, and I hope that if they do, it will be to the advantage of all. I confess, that having attended most of these meetings, I am so entirely charmed with the ideas received that I really feel in a dangerously explosive condition. (Laughter.) I really believe that if I were to attend many more of these meetings, I should simply "go off." (Laughter.) You have within your Union some fine and noble ideas and the atmosphere that you breathe is wholesome and good, whether for parents or schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, and I am sure I wish you all success.

The vote of thanks was carried by acclamation, and the Rev. H. Russell Wakefield returned thanks.