As a Matter of Course

XI.

CHILDREN.

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.