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Source: As A Matter Of Course
WORK for the better progress of the human race is most effective
when it is done through the children; for children are future
generations. The freedom in mature life gained by a training that
would enable the child to avoid nervous irritants is, of course,
greatly in advance of most individual freedom to-day. This real
freedom is the spirit of the kindergarten; but Frobel's method, as
practised to-day, does not attack and put to rout all those various
nervous irritants which are the enemies of our civilization. To be
sure, the teaching of his philosophy develops such a nature that
much pettiness is thrown off without even being noticed as a snare;
and Frobel helps one to recognize all pettiness more rapidly. There
are, however, many forms of nervous irritation which one is not
warned against in the kindergarten, and the absence of which, if the
child is taught as a matter of course to avoid them, will give him a
freedom that his elders and betters (?) lack. The essential fact of
this training is that it is only truly effectual when coming from
example rather than precept.
A child is exquisitely sensitive to the shortcomings of others, and
very keen, as well as correct, in his criticism, whether expressed
or unexpressed. In so far as a man consents to be taught by
children, does he not only remain young, but he frees himself from
the habit of impeding his own progress. This is a great impediment,
this unwillingness to be taught by those whom we consider more
ignorant than ourselves because they have not been in the world so
long. Did no one ever take into account the possibility of our eyes
being blinded just because they had been exposed to the dust longer?
Certainly one possible way of clearing this dust and avoiding it is
to learn from observing those who have had less of it to contend
with. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that no training of any
child could be effectual to a lasting degree unless the education
was mutual. When Frobel says, "Come, let us live with our children,"
he does not mean, Come, let us stoop to our children; he means, Let
us be at one with them. Surely a more perfect harmony in these two
great phases of human nature--the child and the man--would be
greatly to the advantage of the latter.
Yet, to begin at the beginning, who ever feels the necessity of
treating a baby with respect? How quickly the baby would resent
intrusive attentions, if it knew how. Indeed, I have seen a baby not
a year old resent being transferred from one person to another, with
an expression of the face that was most eloquent. Women seem so full
of their sense of possession of a baby that this eloquence is not
even observed, and the poor child's nervous irritants begin at a
very early age. There is so much to be gained by keeping at a
respectful nervous distance from a baby, that one has only to be
quiet enough to perceive the new pleasure once, to lose the
temptation to interfere; and imagine the relief to the baby! It is,
after all, the sense of possession that makes the trouble; and this
sense is so strong that there are babies, all the way from twenty to
forty, whose individuality is intruded upon so grossly that they
have never known what freedom is; and when they venture to struggle
for it, their suffering is intense. This is a steadily increasing
nervous contraction, both in the case of the possessed and the
possessor, and perfect nervous health is not possible on either
side. To begin by respecting the individuality of the baby would put
this last abnormal attitude of parent and child out of the question.
Curiously enough, there is in some of the worst phases of this
parent-child contraction an external appearance of freedom which
only enhances the internal slavery. When a man, who has never known
what it was in reality to give up a strong will, prides himself upon
the freedom he gives to his child, he is entangling himself in the
meshes of self-deception, and either depriving another of his own,
or ripening him for a good hearty hatred which may at any time mean
volcanoes and earthquakes to both.
This forcible resentment of and resistance to the strong will of
another is a cause of great nervous suffering, the greater as the
expression of such feeling is repressed. Severe illness may easily
be the result.
To train a child to gain freedom from the various nervous irritants,
one must not only be gaining the same freedom one's self, but must
practise meeting the child in the way he is counselled to meet
others. One must refuse to be in any way a nervous irritant to the
child. In that case quite as much instruction is received as given.
A child, too, is doubly sensitive; he not only feels the intrusion
on his own individuality, but the irritable or self-willed attitude
of another in expressing such intrusion.
Similarly, in keeping a respectful distance, a teacher grows
sensitive to the child, and again the help is mutual, with sometimes
a balance in favor of the child.
This mistaken, parent-child attitude is often the cause of severe
nervous suffering in those whose only relation is that of
friendship, when one mind is stronger than the other. Sometimes
there is not any real superior strength on the one side; it is
simply by the greater gross-ness of the will that the other is
overcome. This very grossness blinds one completely to the
individuality of a finer strength; the finer individual succumbs
because he cannot compete with crowbars, and the parent-child
contraction is the disastrous result. To preserve for a child a
normal nervous system, one must guide but not limit him. It is a sad
sight to see a mother impressing upon a little brain that its owner
is a naughty, naughty boy, especially when such impression is
increased by the irritability of the mother. One hardly dares to
think how many more grooves are made in a child's brain which simply
give him contractions to take into mature life with him; how many
trivial happenings are made to assume a monstrous form through being
misrepresented. It is worth while to think of such dangers, such
warping influences, only long enough to avoid them.
A child's imagination is so exquisitely alive, his whole little
being is so responsive, that the guidance which can be given him
through happy brain-impressions is eminently practicable. To test
this responsiveness, and feel it more keenly, just tell a child a
dramatic story, and watch his face respond; or even recite a
Mother-Goose rhyme with all the expression at your command. The
little face changes in rapid succession, as one event after another
is related, in a way to put a modern actor to shame. If the response
is so quick on the outside, it must be at least equally active
One might as well try to make a white rose red by rouging its petals
as to mould a child according to one's own idea of what he should
be; and as the beauty and delicacy of the rose would be spoiled by
the application of the pigment, so is the baby's nervous system
twisted and contracted by the limiting force of a grosser will.
Water the rose, put it in the sun, keep the insect enemies away, and
then enjoy it for itself. Give the child everything that is
consistent with its best growth, but neither force the growth nor
limit it; and stand far enough off to see the individuality, to
enjoy it and profit by it. Use the child's imagination to calm and
strengthen it; give it happy channels for its activity; guide it
physically to the rhythm of fresh air, nourishment, and rest; then
do not interfere.
If the man never turns to thank you for such guidance, because it
all came as a matter of course, a wholesome, powerful nervous system
will speak thanks daily with more eloquence than any words could
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