« AnteriorContinua »
foolish course of conduct formerly pursued. Every one bas heard, in the criticisms passed on the doings of this spendthrift or the other speculator, the remark that advice was useless, and that nothing but “bitter experience" would produce any effect: nothing, that is, but suffering the unavoidable consequences.
Must we not infer that the system so beneficent in its effects, alike during infancy and maturity, will be equally beneficent throughout youth? Can any one believe that the method which answers so well in the first and the last divisions of life will not answer in the intermediate division? Is it not manifest that as “ministers and interpreters of Nature" it is the function of parents to see that their children habitually experience the true consequences of their conductthe natural reactions: neither warding them off, nor intensifying them, nor putting artificial consequences in place of them? No unprejudiced reader will hesitate in his assent.
Probably, however, not a few will contend that already most parents do this—that the punishments they inflict are, in the majority of cases, the true consequences of ill-conduct—that parental anger, venting itself in harsh words and deeds, is the result of a child's transgression—and that, in the suffering, physical or moral, which the child is subject to, it experiences the natural reaction of its misbehavior. Along with much error this assertion, doubtless, contains some truth. It is unquestionable that the displeasure of fathers and mothers is a true consequence of juvenile delinquency; and that the manifestation of it is a normal check upon such delinquency. It is unquestionable that the scoldings, and threats, and blows, which a passionate parent visits on offending little ones, are effects actually produced in such a parent by their offenses ; and so are, in some sort, to be considered as among the natural reactions of their wrong actions. And we are by no means prepared to say that these modes of treatment are not relatively right-right, that is, in relation to the uncontrollable children of ill-controlled adults; and right in relation to a state of society in which such ill-controlled adults make up the mass of the people. As already suggested, educational systems, like political and other institutions, are generally as good as the state of human nature permits. The barbarous children of barbarous parents are probably only to be restrained by the barbarous methods which such parents spontaneously employ; while submission to these barbarous methods is perhaps the best preparation such children can have for the barbarous society in which they are presently to play a part. Conversely, the civilized members of a civilized society will spontaneously manifest their displeasure in less violent ways—will spontaneously use milder measures: measures strong enough for their better-natured children. Thus it is doubtless true that, in so far as the expression of parental feeling is concerned, the prin. ciple of the natural reaction is always more or less followed.
The systen of domestic government ever gravitates towards its right form.
But now observe two important facts. In the first place, observe that, in states of rapid transition like ours, which witness a long-drawn battle between old and new theories and old and new practices, the educational methods in use are apt to be considerably out of harmony with the times. In deference to dogmas fit only for the ages that uttered them, many parents inflict punishments that do violence to their own feelings, and so visit on their children un. natural reactions; while other parents, enthusiastic in their hopes of immediato perfection, rush to the opposite extreme. And then observe, in the second place, that the discipline on which we are insisting is not so much the experi. ence of parental approbation or disapprobation, which, in most cases, is only & secondary consequence of a child's conduct; but it is the experience of those results which would naturally flow from the conduct in the absence of parental opinion or interference. The truly instructive and salutary consequences are not those inflicted by parents when they take upon themselves to be Nature's proxies; but they are those inflicted by Nature herself. We will endeavor to make this distinction clear by a few illustrations, which, while they show what we mean by natural reactions as contrasted with artificial ones, will afford some directly practical suggestions.
EXAMPLES OF THE RULE OF NATURAL REACTION. 3. In every family where there are young children there almost daily occur cases of what mothers and servants call “making a litter." A child has had out its box of toys, and leaves them scattered about the floor. Or a handful of flowers, brought in from a morning walk, is presently seen dispersed over tables and chairs. Or a little girl, making doll's-clothes, distigures the room with shreds. In most cases the trouble of rectifying this disorder falls anywhere but in the right place: if in the nursery, the nurse herself, with many grumblings about "tiresome little things," &c., undertakes the task; if below stairs, the task usually devolves either on one of the elder children or on the housemaid; the transgressor being visited with nothing more than a scolding. In this very simple case, however, there are many parents wise enough to follow out, more or less consistently, the normal course—that of making the child itself collect the toys or shreds. The labor of putting things in order is the true consequence of having put them in disorder. Every trader in his office, every wife in her household, bas daily experience of this fact. And if education be a preparation for the business of life, then every child should also, from the beginning, bave daily experience of this fact. If the natural penalty be met by any refractory behavior (which it may perhaps be where the general system of moral discipline previously pursued has been bad,) then the proper course is to let the child feel the ulterior reaction consequent on its disobedience. Having refused or neglected to pick up and put away the things it has scattered about, and having thereby entailed the trouble of doing this on some one else, the child should, on subsequent occasions, be denied the means of giving this trouble. When next it petitions for its toy-box, the reply of its mamma should be “The last time you had your toys you left them lying on the floor, and Jano had to pick them up. Jane is too busy to pick up every day the things you leave about; and I can not do it myself. So that, as you will not put away your toys when you have done with them, I can not let you have them.” This is obviously a natural consequence, neither increased nor lessened; and must be so recognized by a child. The penalty comes, too, at the moment when it is most keenly felt. A new-born desire is balked at the moment of anticipated gratification; and the strong impression so produced can scarcely fail to have an effect on the future conduct: an effect which, by consistent repetition, will do whatever can be done in curing the fault. Add to which, that, by this method, a child is early taught the lesson which can not be learnt too soon, that in this world of ours pleasures are rightly to be obtained only by labor.
Not long since we had frequently to listen to the reprimands visited on a little girl who was scarcely ever ready in time for the daily walk. Of eager disposition, and apt to become thoroughly absorbed in the occupation of the moment, Constance never thought of putting on her things until the rest were ready. The governess and the other children had almost invariably to wait; and from the mamma there almost invariably came the same scolding. Utterly as this system failed it never occurred to the mamma to let Constance experience the natural penalty. Nor, indeed, would she try when it was suggested to her. In the world the penalty of being behind time is the loss of some advantage that would else have been gained: the train is gone; or the steamboat is just leaving its moorings; or the best things in the market are sold; or all the good seats in the concert-room are filled. And every one, in cases perpetually occurring, may see that it is the prospective deprivations entailed by being too late which prevent people from being too late. Is not the inference obvious ? Should not these prospective deprivations control the child's conduct also ? If Constance is not ready at the appointed time, the natural result is that of being left behind, and losing her walk. And no one can, we think, doubt that after having once or twice remained at home while the rest were enjoying themselves in the fields, and after having felt that this loss of a muchprized gratification was solely due to want of promptitude, some amendment would take place. At any rato, the measure would be more effective than that perpetual scolding which ends only in producing callousness.
Again, when children, with more than usual carelessness, break or lose the things given to them, the natural penalty—the penalty which makes grown-up persons more careful—is the consequent inconvenience. The want of the lost or damaged article, and the cost of supplying its place, are the experiences by which men and women are disciplined in these matters; and the experience of children should be as much as possible assimilated to theirs. We do not refer to that early period at which toys are pulled to pieces in the process of learning their physical properties, and at which the results of carelessness can not be understood; but to a later period, when the meaning and advantages of property are perceived. When a boy, old enough to possess a penknife, uses it so roughly as to snap the blade, or leaves it in the grass by some hedge-side, where he was cutting a stick, a thoughtless parent, or some indulgent relative, will commonly forth with buy him another; not seeing that, by doing this, a valuable lesson is lost. In such a case, a father may properly explain that penknives cost money, and that to get money requires labor; that he can not afford to purchase new penknives for one who loses or breaks them; and that until he sees evidence of greater carefulness he must decline to make good the loss. A parallel discipline may be used as a means of checking extravagance.
CONSEQUENCES OF OBSERVING NATURE'S RULES OF REACTIONS. 4. In the first place, right conceptions of cause and effect are early formed; and by frequent and consistent experience are eventually rendered definite and complete. Proper conduct in life is much better guaranteed when the good and evil consequences of actions are rationally understood, than when they are merely believed on authority. A child who finds that disorderliness entails the subsequent trouble of putting things in order, or who misses a gratification from dilatoriness, or whose want of care is followed by the loss or breakage of some much-prized possession, not only experiences a keenly-felt consequence, but gains a knowledge of causation: both the one and the other being just like
those which adult life will bring. Whereas a child who in such cases receives some reprimand or some factitious penalty, not only experiences a consequence for which it often cares very little, but lacks that instruction respecting the essential natures of good and evil conduct, which it would else have gathered. It is a vice of the common system of artificial rewards and punishments, long since noticed by the clear-sighted, that by substituting for the natural results of misbehavior certain threatened tasks or castigations, it produces a radically wrong standard of moral guidance. Having throughout infancy and boyhood always regarded parental or tutorial displeasure as the result of a forbidden action, the youth has gained an established association of ideas between such action and such displeasure, as cause and effect; and consequently when parents and tutors have abdicated, and their displeasure is not to be feared, the restraint on a forbidden action is in great measure removed: the true restraints, the natural reactions, having yet to be learnt by said experience. As writes one who has had personal knowledge of this short-sighted system :-“Young men let loose from school, particularly those whose parents have neglected to exert their influence, plunge into every description of extravagance; they know no rule of action—they are ignorant of the reasons for moral conduct—they have no foundation to rest upon-and until they have been severely disciplined by the world are extremely dangerous members of society."
Another great advantage of this natural system of discipline is, that it is a system of pure justice; and will be recognized by every child as such. Whoso suffers nothing more than the evil which obviously follows naturally from his own misbehavior, is much less likely to think himself wrongly treated than if he suffers an evil artificially inflicted on him; and this will be true of children as of men. Take the case of a boy who is habitually reckless of his clothesscrambles through hedges without caution, or is utterly regardless of mud. If he is beaten, or sent to bed, he is apt to regard himself as ill-used; and his mind is more likely to be occupied by thinking over his injuries than repenting of his transgressions. But suppose he is required to rectify as far as he can the harm he has done-to clean off the mud with which he has covered himself, or to mend the tear as well as he can. Will he not feel that the evil is one of his own producing ? Will he not while paying this penalty be continuously con. scious of the connection between it and its cause? And will he not, spite his irritation, recognize more or less clearly the justice of the arrangement? If several lessons of this kind fail to produce amendment—if suits of clothes are prematurely spoiled—if pursuing this same system of discipline a father declines to spend money for new ones until the ordinary time has elapsed—and if meanwhile, there occur occasions on which, having no decent clothes to go in, the boy is debarred from joining the rest of the family on holiday excursions and fête days, it is manifest that while he will keenly feel the punishment, he can scarcely fail to trace the chain of causation, and to perceive that his own carelessness is the origin of it; and seeing this, he will not have that same sense of injustice as when there is no obvious connection between the transgression and its penalty.
Again, the tempers both of parents and children are much less liable to be ruffled under this system than under the ordinary system. Instead of letting children experience the painful results which naturally follow from wrong conduct, the usual course pursued by parents is to inflict themselves certain other painful results. A double mischief arises from this. Making, as they do, multiplied family laws; and identifying their own supremacy and dignity with the maintenance of these laws; it happens that every transgressiou comes to be regarded as an offense against themselves, and a cause of anger on their part. Add to which the further irritations which result from taking upon themselves, in the shape of extra labor or cost, those evil consequences which should have been allowed to fall on the wrong-doers. Similarly with the children. Penalties which the necessary reaction of things brings round upon them-penalties which are inflicted by impersonal agency, produce an irritation that is compara. tively slight and transient; whereas, penalties which are voluntarily inflicted by a parent, and are afterwards remembered as caused by him or her, produce an irritation both greater and more continued. Just consider how disastrous would be the result if this empirical method were pursued from the beginning. Suppose it were possible for parents to take upon themselves the physical sufferings entailed on their children by ignorance and awkwardness; and that while bearing these evil consequences they visited on their children certain other evil consequences, with the view of teaching them the impropriety of their conduct. Suppose that when a child, who had been forbidden to meddle with the kettle, spilt some boiling water on its foot, the mother vicariously assumed the scald and gave a blow in place of it; and similarly in all other cases. Would not the daily mishaps be sources of far more anger than now? Would there not be chronic ill-temper on both sides? Yet an exactly parallel policy is pursued in after years. A father who punishes his boy for carelessly or willfully breaking a sister's toy, and then himself pays for a new toy, does substantially this samo thing—inflicts an artificial penalty on the trangressor, and takes the natural penalty on himself: his own feelings and those of the transgressor being alike needlessly irritated. If he simply required restitution to be made, he would produce far less heartburning. If he told the boy that a new toy must be bought at his, the boy's cost, and that his supply of pocket-money must be withheld to the needful extent, there would be much less cause for ebullition of temper on either side; while in the deprivation afterwards felt, the boy would experience the equitable and salutary consequence. In brief, the system of discipline by natural reactions is less injurious to temper, alike because it is perceived on both sides to be nothing more than pure justice, and because it more or less substitutes the impersonal agency of nature for the personal agency of parents.
Whence also follows the manifest corollary, that under this system the parental and filial relation will be a more friendly, and therefore a more influential one. Whether in parent or child, anger, however caused, and to whomsoever directed, is more or less detrimental. But anger in a parent towards a child, and in a child towards a parent, is especially detrimental; because it weakens that bond of sympathy which is essential to a beneficent control. In virtue of the gen. eral law of association of ideas, it inevitably results, both in young and old, that dislike is contracted towards things which in our experience are habitually connected with disagreeable feelings. Or where attachment originally existed, it is weakened, or destroyed, or turned into repugnance, according to the quan. tity of painful impressions received. Parental wrath, with its accompanying reprimands and castigations, can not fail, if often repeated, to produce filial alienation; while the resentment and sulkiness of children can not fail to weaken the affection felt for them, and may even end in destroying it. Hence the numerous cases in which parents (and especially fathers, who are commonly