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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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Ignorance of Parents on the Subject of Education

by M.C. Marcel, Knt. Leg. Hon., French Consul.
Volume 16, 1905, pgs. 683-686


Indispensable as is the preparatory discipline which alone can secure the success of school training, few parents are capable of conducting it: few women are aware of the duties of a mother, when they enter into the matrimonial state. Their affection cannot supply the place of consistency or judgment; nor can their maternal instinct preclude the necessity of information and method. Unconscious, as they generally are, that in childhood the principle of authority supplies the place of reason, and that in their incessant intercourse with their infants they are educating them, they do not always make the necessary efforts to present but good example to them, to direct their rising faculties properly, and to give them right notions of things or of language. They are most shamefully ignorant even as regards the first physical wants of children.

One of the great anomalies in this enlightened age is the marked deficiency among young females, in the knowledge of the human constitution. Nature declares, in language not to be misunderstood, that the great majority of women calculate upon finding their chief happiness in matrimonial life, and that they look upon the domestic circle as their peculiar sphere of usefulness and enjoyment; but every day's experience too plainly shows how little prepared they are to enter on these primary and interesting duties, which God has assigned to them. Neither at home nor at school is a single fact or principle taught, which has direct reference to the judicious fulfillment of offices which are to become the subject of their anxious thoughts and feelings. In elegant accomplishments and the elements of science, a female receives more or less instruction; but where is the knowledge which, when she becomes a mother, when her heart, overflowing with tenderness towards her offspring, will direct her to the treatment which its delicate frame requires; and so to make herself worthy of the education of her child, she is obliged to recommence her own (Aimé Martin, "De l'Education des méres de Famillle".)

The mothers who reflect at all must experience deep and bitter mortification at their ignorance of the treatment required by an infant, especially when that ignorance may endanger the future happiness, and often the life, of the little being thus committed to their charge. How many diseases and weak constitutions are daily engendered by the foolish indulgence of parents, who know nothing of the hygienic laws relative to air, food, clothing, sleep, and the other departments of physical education! "Surprise is sometimes expressed," says A. Combe, "at the number of children who are carried off before completing their first or second year; but, when we consider the defective education and entire ignorance of the human economy, not only of the nurses and servants, but of the parents themselves, our wonder ought to become greater that so many survive than that so many die."(The Physiology of Digestion.)

The ignorance of parents is still more to be deplored in regard to moral and intellectual discipline, than to physical education, because it is attended with more disastrous consequences to society, and affects, not only the present, but the eternal condition of their children; few are those who have not been, more or less, the victims of mis-education. In the opinion of the great majority of people, parental duties consist solely in making a provision for the physical wants of their offspring: and, while pursuing this object, they lose sight of every other consideration, and neglect the culture of their reason and moral sense; they, in fact, take all possible pains in heaping up for them wealth, which will become, in their hands, only an instrument of evil, because they have not been taught the means of using it properly.

Such is the appalling state of things in this respect, that, among all classes of the community, the years of infancy are now mostly spent without the benefit of salutary direction, and but too frequently under the baneful influence of parental inconsistency and bad example. Repeatedly telling the young that knowledge and virtue are valuable, is not sufficient to impress them with a practical conviction of this truth. If the parents do not always act up to their words (and very few do), they only teach them duplicity and falsehood. But, not satisfied with setting the most pernicious examples, many lead them to dishonesty and vice by early indulging them in all sorts of demoralizing practices, in gormandizing, dress, dissipation, field sports, and frivolous accomplishments; they cherish in them a prepossession for worldly vanities, which are in direct opposition to the seriousness of scholastic pursuits, and which foster habits of idleness and extravagance that soon end in wretchedness and ruin. Thus, misguided, parental affection sacrifices the future morality, intellectuality, and happiness of the man, to the momentary gratification of the child.

But if the excess of solicitude and the blind indulgence of some parents are prejudicial to the children, the cold indifference and chilling severity assumed by others, are not less so; for they alienate for-ever the heart of the child from the authors of his being. Some parents never correct a child but in anger, and they usually resort to scornful, sneering, or offensive terms in rebuking him, even for the most trifling faults of childhood; others seldom condescend to join him in play, or sympathise with his joys; they wish him to be as grave and steady as themselves, and they deny him the most innocent sports; others, again, always suspicious of evil, give him no credit for good intentions, and attribute to malicious design every little mischief he commits through giddiness, or from an instinctive spirit of inquisitiveness. Such severity and injustice are most calamitous; they render the child hypocritical and deceitful; they check his natural desire for self-improvement; they cause him to lose all affection for his parents, as also to seek in the society of strangers—nay, of servants—sympathising feelings, and a compensation for the misery which he endures in parental intercourse: thus are broken the ties of filial love, of the absence of which we see so many deplorable instances.

Few are the parents who know how to pursue a just medium; they run from one extreme to the other; and their educational training, characterized, as it is, by carelessness, inconsistency, folly, and ignorance, is productive of incalculable evils. Sometimes very young children are taught revenge and injustice, by being made to beat the objects against which they heedlessly hurt themselves; at other times they are rendered cowardly and superstitious, by being frightened with imaginary objects of terror as the readiest means of quieting them. When the period of study has arrived, some are allowed to waste a considerable portion of their time in bed or in trifling occupations, whilst others are kept at hard mental labour longer than the law would permit them to work in manufactories, thus acquiring habits of indolence in the one case, and hatred of books in the other. But one of the worst consequences of this general ignorance in educational matters is the difference of opinion which not infrequently exists between the father and the mother about family discipline, and which is sometimes most imprudently allowed to break out into disputes in the very presence of their children.

Often also do we see disunion and enmity engendered among the members of one family, either by unjust and unnatural preferences, or by invidious comparisons between them. If young persons so frequently disregard the advice and injunctions of their parents, it is, in many instances, because they have early witnessed their injustice and inconsistency; and in others, because their early caprices have been too much consulted, and their disobedience has been suffered to pass unpunished: they lose respect for, and confidence in those who promise rewards and punishments without any serious intention of performance, and whose words and actions are in constant discord.

It is lamentable to reflect how many thousands, who ought to be deeply interested in the temporal and eternal welfare of their children, never trouble themselves about the nature, purpose, or methods of education. Many, it is true, in this, as in religion, assent to doctrines and principles, but few are in earnest about them. Not one person in five hundred, even among the middle and upper classes, really knows in what education consists. The parents themselves, being in general ill-educated, cannot properly direct the infant mind; yet they, for the most part, imagine that they understand the management of children, so that under this conceit, very few ever think of inquiring what are the best means of bringing them up, and of preparing for the schoolmaster.


Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July 2008