Moral Instruction of Children. By Felix Adler. New York: D. Appleton & Co. International Education Series. Pp. 270. Price, $1.50.
This book is a sign of the times. It is one among many responses to the deepening public conviction that character, no less than intellect, demands education if it is to come to its best; education as well reasoned, systematic, and thorough as science and sympathy can make it. In giving this conviction effect, a formidable difficulty is encountered at the very outset. A portion of the American people, neither few in number nor lacking weight in legislation, maintains that the teaching of right conduct can proceed only upon religious sanctions. Hence come the reiterated demands for a division of school-taxes to enable separate schools to be administered by specific churches. On the threshold of his subject Prof. Adler considers these demands, and reviews in particular the example of Germany in uniting church and state education, pressed as it so often is for acceptance in the United States. He points out that in Germany the churches founded the schools; that their control has now passed to the state marks the advance to supremacy of political sentiment. In this country the state it was which founded the schools; were it to admit the churches into partnership in their control, the change would mean a reversal of the current of progress as progress is understood in Germany. Prof. Adler argues that the American nation has a paramount interest in keeping its schools unrestrictedly public, in ignoring the party walls of sects, for in no other way can the diverse elements of its population be fused into unity. And the state in disregarding the sects does not array itself against religion. As to rules of right conduct, all good men are agreed; let these rules be taught in the public schools, leaving their sanctions to be enforced in the churches and Sunday schools, whose work can accompany without antagonism that of secular instruction. In the public school the teacher has a vastly better opportunity to observe character and direct its development than is possible in the brief and casual work of the religious instructor on Sundays. Moreover, education in duty should be dominant in school work, not incidental. An ethical atmosphere should pervade and mold every lesson. Knowledge and skill are valuable; character is priceless; and knowledge and skill take on a new edge when wisely subordinated to ideals of duty.
Taking a rapid survey of the ordinary course of school instruction, Prof. Adler suggestively brings out the moral side of each study. A child is asked to describe a bird placed before it, and the teacher is not satisfied until the description is strictly accurate. In making the eye conscientious science thus begins; it proceeds step by step only as it faithfully keeps to truth, as it brings thought and word to absolute accordance with fact. History, properly taught, also has high moral utility. It presents examples of heroism, of self-sacrifice, of love of country, of unswerving devotion to principle. The best literature, and especially the best poetry, make an appeal not less stirring to rightward impulses. The great creative books—the masterpieces of Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe—touch the deepest springs of character; the student rises from their study ennobled by a new sympathy, with a quickened sense of the dignity of human nature. Music, apart from its subtle power to arouse refined emotion, has distinctive value in socializing the will. Love of home and country made the themes of song are echoed in life. Sentiment can be wisely used to re-enforce the reasoned claims of hearth and country, so that at last public opinion brought to a new breadth and soundness shall deservedly have a profounder influence than ever upon the individual life.
Coming to moral instruction proper, Prof. Adler points out that it should always be suited to the age of the child, and he sketches courses for primary and grammar grades. For young children he holds the best vehicle of instruction to be the fairy tale; the excursions of fancy delight a budding mind; the love of adventure, the delight in disguises, can be made to play a telling part in arousing interest in the faithfulness of a Cinderella, or the merciful traits of the younger brother embalmed in the story of the Queen Bee. A good fable always has interest apart from the lesson it conveys; it is essentially truer than history, for it is history's composite photograph; a judicious teacher can select from Æsop, from