Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/515

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

unless you offer at the same time some sufficient reason for walking; and observe, please, the reason must be one that appeals to him and not alone to you. It is his desire, not yours, that is going to make him stir himself. Is it not the same with a child and his lessons? It is quite as hopeless to ask a child to learn unless you first see to it that he wants to learn. You may force him to go through the motion of learning, just as it was possible to force the apathetic man to go through the motion of walking, may even force the child to memorize the lesson and recite it with verbal accuracy, but it will be an awkward, ungracious act, and will do the child injury rather than good. And the injury is of a very positive kind. It drives another nail into the coffin of desire. By so much is the emotional life of the child dead and are his intellectual possibilities stunted. I am not speaking with picturesque exaggeration when I tell you that in many a schoolroom where this process of drilling children is being carried out, I experience a distinct sensation of spiritual horror, a sense of intense darkness, for I say to myself: Here is accomplished the death of the spirit; here are children growing each day more listless and apathetic, not learning what we want them to learn, and losing in the vain effort what no one can afford to lose—the joyous life of childhood, rich in strong feeling and high spirit, in itself an end of beauty, and a source of perfect manhood and womanhood. In all sincerity, it seems to me an evil greater by far than the evil committed by acknowledged thieves. It is a spiritual robbery, the least endurable of all robberies. I have been often robbed. I have been "held up" in Montana, and robbed by less direct methods in other parts of the world. You have doubtless had similar experiences. But these losses sink into absolute insignificance in comparison with the more dreadful losses inflicted by poor teachers and guides. You have doubtless had similar experiences. The reflection may be made without bitterness, but it ought not to be made without bearing fruit of the most wholesome sort in our own handling of that delicate bit of organism—the mind of a child.

What we must do, then, in educating children is first and foremost to give full and free play to the emotional life. We want consciously and deliberately to encourage feeling and sentiment, and to create the greatest possible number of wholesome desires. This may sound to you like strange doctrine. It will, however, bear your examination. It is easy to cultivate the emotional life in children. All we have to do is not to suppress it. And yet even this negative function, this clearing of the ground, requires finesse on our part. What we want in children is totally unconscious sentiment. Children who are well, children in whom the pulse of life beats high and quick, are reservoirs of feeling, bits