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

ever express.

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