Melbourne and Mars/Chapter 5

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School Days.

WHEN mother told me that I had to join Hildreth'a class she did not threaten me. Hildreth is a teacher of infants, and she makes all infants who come to her desire to do so. I had had many a game of romps with her, and she had entirely won my young heart. About twenty of us next morning met in Hildreth's class room. Not more than twenty-five pupils were allowed to any teacher, and I found out that there were many teachers who, like Hildreth, had the affection of every child present.

Our lessons were mostly a series of easy movements—marching and singing. We threw hoops with pairs of sticks and caught other hoops with the same sticks. We played with balls, and we taught each other to build houses. Hildreth played music for us, and showed us how to move in musical time.

Each child had a recess with shelves, upon which it kept its tools and toys. I had to learn now to get mine and put them all in their places when done with. We were kept under control all morning, and yet were only sorry that the school time was over. There are a great number of pretty things in my recess the uses of which I do not yet know."

In this part of the diary there are many pages of rather vague description, such as that just quoted. But from it we gather that the teacher has the art of interesting children and enlisting their affections, and that the system of instruction is eminently suitable for children, for their faculties are always pleasantly on the alert and their minds and bodies are constantly occupied. Whatever the teacher does each child has to do, and furthermore it has to understand why. One child is never pushed forward at the expense of the others, and if one child in the class is a little dull both teacher and sharper pupils pay especial attention and keep it in pace with the rest.

No child was ever asked to remember anything or to repeat anything, and yet each child knew in a little while how to make each sign it had to copy, and what it meant, and the knowledge remained and grew and never became a burden.

In two years all but about six weeks from the time of joining Hildreth's class he reports himself as three years old, and as having finished his infant school course. He does not on this occasion express any wonder at the apparent confusion of dates. He is, however, engaged in astronomical studies, and comes to the truth in due time.

He reports progress thus:— "It does not fall to the lot of many men to have been twice educated as a child, and to be able to remember both methods and compare results. As a child I appear to know more now at three years of age, or reckoning by our time about five years and nine months, than I knew at ten years of age, the time I left school in my first childhood. I can read and write with perfect ease, and yet I never had to learn an alphabet or the spelling of any word. I can do many kinds of calculating mentally, and yet never committed to memory any table. It is the same with weights, measures and periods of time, a knowledge of them seems to have grown into my mind. I have not forgotten anything I have learned, and what I have learned is so intertwined with what I have done that one invariably suggests the other.

In calculating we had each an abacus with one hundred beads upon it, and could add, subtract, multiply, and divide small sums, and then we were shown the relationship between these calculations and those on our little boards.

It amused us very much to add up several sums on the abacus by placing the beads and then to do the same work in figures. We had no rules to learn; we simply extended the work done on the abacus by slow degrees. And as all things in my dreamland are calculated by tens and tenths, the ten tens on the abacus can evidently be made to help in all kinds of calculations.

It was just as easy to learn to read and write, for we had only to learn a new sign when we wanted to represent a new sound, and vice versa, each sign having its sound and each sound its sign, none being interchangable or liable to modification by preceding or succeeding ones. It seemed as if in everything the knowledge was allowed to grow in us and compelled to become part of us. We had to work out all that we learned. When we had learned how to measure a square we had to measure it on the boards or in the school field. As a child in dreamlife this appears natural. It is only when I compare my dream education with the one I should get if I were again an infant in waking life that I perceive the immense advantage of my dream life mode of receiving instruction."

Evidently our diarist has got into some Utopia. Reformers have tried to alter our written language and to make education easier for children, but in no part of the world have these results been so fully accomplished as in this land. The children are not quite angels even here, for in Hildreth's class punishment has to be inflicted. He writes:—"One day, when I had learned to make several kinds of buildings out of my box of various-shaped blocks, I took a fancy to erect a larger building, and for this purpose I took several of my neighbour's blocks when his attention was turned away. Hildreth was not long in seeing my trick and coming to the rescue. I knew I had done wrong, and felt very guilty, but cannot recollect being afraid. So far I had never wittingly done wrong, and had never seen anyone suffer punishment. I began to put back the blocks I had borrowed. When I took them I had no intention of keeping them, so that my crime was borrowing without leave, not actual theft.

Hildreth did not ask me if I had taken any blocks; she simply told me to put those I had taken into a certain separate heap. This done, she called the whole class and pointed out what I had done. I felt very much ashamed, and began to cry, so did Frank, my victim, and several others.

The class-mother—for that was what we called her—then asked us to tell her the kind of fault I was guilty of. My peers were not accustomed to crimes, and could come to no definite conclusion. Hildreth helped them to come to the conclusion that I had been guilty of selfishness, and that I had acted in a greedy manner by taking the blocks without asking for them. She did not call my action a crime; that in itself would have been too great a punishment. I was already more an object of pity than of anger.

My fault had to be punished, and the class had to devise my punishment. Not one suggested the infliction of any kind of physical pain. Indeed, I had never heard of pain at this time as inflicted by one person upon another. One said 'take his blocks from him.' Another, a sharp-eyed little girl, the least in the class, said 'No; let us give him plenty of blocks; he can have all mine.' 'And mine,' 'and mine,' run round the class. Hildreth consented, and in another minute I had more than twenty boxes of blocks. The class work went on another hour, and I felt very miserable. My sudden accession of wealth was a most painful experience. I did not want to play with blocks, my architectural ambitious were entirely scattered. For the first time my recess would not hold my possessions. I was the richest boy in the class, and each day I had to carry out the blocks and build, those who had no blocks looking on. I never opened any of the added boxes, and only built up a few forms listlessly out of my own, and was glad to carry them all back again.

At the end of four days I was allowed to return to each of my class mates his own box, and to put mine in its proper place. I learned then once for all never to covet useless wealth, and to rest content with my own share. The punishment was in the line of my fault, and made me heartily ashamed of selfishness and greed.

I told my mother all about the proceedings of each day. She did not make much comment. Evidently she knew I was in good hands. When it was all over she took me into her oval chamber and explained my fault. What she told me seemed quite correct then and there, but, hardly harmonises with my waking experience.

'The blocks and the other articles you use in the class are not yours; they are only there for your use as long as you need them. In a little while you will go to another class and find other toys, tools and books, and will leave these you now have to your successor. It is so with everything; nobody has any private property in anything except personal belongings, such as clothes. If your father was wanted at some other place, and was willing to go—he would not have to go otherwise—we should leave this home, and all in it, and have another equally good to go to. But nothing here is absolutely ours; we could take nothing with us except what I tell you.'

'Could we take father's new picture?' said I, looking at a new artistic production that scorned to be a living and conscious presentation of father.

'Yes, that is our own.'

'And your new travelling robe, is that yours?'

'As long as I want it; yes, it is mine. But if I had no further need for it, and it was still good and nice, I would take it to the depot, so that another woman if she required it could wear it. We do this so that unused articles may not rot and go to waste.'

'Our flying fish?'

'That, too, is ours while we use it. It cost a great amount of labor to produce it, and is on that account very valuable. If your father were not a highly skilled workman he would not have so valuable an article for his sole use; in that case we should travel by the public air-fishes. There, now, ask no more questions. I will tell you more by-and-by; you are only a little boy yet. You will remember not to be selfish any more. Give me a kiss and go help Emma with her pretty picture puzzles.'"

Our diarist has evidently got into a land where a number of ideas have got worked into practical shape. Real estate is only held by those who use it. There is no property except in personal belongings and even these must not be heaped up and kept to rot. Several things tend to arouse his curiosity, but he is bound to wait. If he could make himself equally conscious in both spheres he might ask for information, but hitherto he can remember nothing of his old life in his new one, although he can remember all that happens in the new life while in the waking one. Indeed, the dreamland memories haunt his waking hours, and make him absent-minded and odd in manner.

One evening he writes:—"I have been all day bothering my head about the flying fishes I mentioned the other day. They are always going about in the air. I can never look up without seeing some. They are so common that no one appears to notice them. It is not long since we got one of our own. Sister Emma and I were in the garden, where we grow a great number of highly-colored flowers, when we heard a familiar voice overhead. We looked up, and there was father on a flying fish descending in a spiral curve almost upon us. The fish came lightly to the ground with all its fins folded, and father got out. He and mother carried it into a long, narrow house, built on purpose for it.

Next day we all went flying. Inside the fish was almost like a boat. Father sat at one end, mother at the other, Emma and I were in between. We were told to keep still, and then father pulled out some little knobs and the fish began to rise spirally, as if climbing on an immense screw, until it got a certain height, and then its fins came out to the full length and made great sweeping strokes, and we went forward fast, very fast. I could not breathe when looking in the direction we were going. We could see through the floor, and looking down everything seemed to be in rapid motion running away behind us. There were other fishes, too, that kept crossing above and below us in all directions.

When we had been flying some time we dropped in the same spiral way, and spent the afternoon with some friends. When we came back it was night, and our fish had its eyes made into a pair of great lamps. I have no idea of how we got home or when. Emma and I were wrapped in a soft, warm rug, and must have gone to sleep. What is this fish? It has feathery-looking fans about the tail, and these more up and down and from right to left as we steer, and we have two pairs of wing-like fins at the sides. There is no smoke and no noise. If in my dreamlife—I still call it 'dreamlife,' though it is as real as any life can be—I have no consciousness of my waking life or I would ask some questions. It is possible that if I had such consciousness it might interfere with my happiness and growth as a child. The idea of a child of five being conscious of living elsewhere as a man of fifty.

At the same time there may be some sort of filtering of one life into the other for one day. I asked mother if father earned much money.

'Money, child! what do you mean?'

'Money that people work for, and that they pay for things with,' I answered.

'Well, my boy, that is about the strangest question you have ever asked. Where have you seen any money? Who has spoken to you of money?'

'I don't know, mother; somehow the question came.'

That afternoon I heard mother and father talking about the question, and father said that money transactions had ceased more than ten thousand years before, and that I could not have either heard or read of money. Mother sat awhile thinking, and then remarked, 'Perhaps he is an earth-born, and that was an idea from the inferior world.'"

About a week later our diarist writes:—"I have to go to school again, Not to Hildreth's—I have finished with her class, to my sorrow—but to Harry Gaston's, which is held in the same block of buildings. I know Gaston, and like him, and as several of my previous classmates go with me to Gaston's, I may be as happy there as I was with Hildreth. What a strange record! Have I to dream myself through another school course? Shall I learn where my lot is cast? Shall I become equally conscious in both lives?"