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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » The Century of the Child » CHAPTER IV HOMELESSNESS
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From time to time the present age is criticised, as if its corruption contrasted with the moral strictness of earlier periods. Such charges are as crude and as groundless as is most of the same kind of criticism that is common to every generation of man's history. They have been repeated ever since man began to strive consciously for other ends than the momentary gratification of his undisciplined impulses.

One need only to consult the men of the present generation and the still living representatives of the past generation, to be assured that bad conduct at school is not characteristic of our time. Let any one read the account of life at universities in earlier periods when the younger students were of the same age as schoolboys in high schools and it will soon be plain that the cause of the evil is not modern literature nor modern belief.

The really direct causes of this difficulty[Pg 192] must be looked for in human emotions. This side of the question I do not intend to discuss here. It can only be solved by an expert in psychology and physiology; by one who, along with this capacity, is a pedagogical genius. There might not be sufficient material for such a task, even if an individual could be found able to put together the original elements in the systems of Socrates, Rousseau, Spencer, and give them life. Under no other condition could a real contribution be made adequate to meet the requirements of the present day in the field of education. My intention is only to make some remarks on the secondary cause of the evil, for not sufficient attention has been devoted to this side of the problem. The cause I have in view is the increasing homelessness of all branches of society. Living with one's parents as children do who go to school in the city is not the same as living at home. Family life in the working classes is unsettled by the mother working out of the house. In the upper classes the same result is produced by the constantly increasing pressure of social pleasures and obligations.

Formerly it was only the husband and father whom outside interests took from the home. Now the home is deserted by the wife[Pg 193] and mother also, not alone for social gatherings but for clubs for self-improvement, meetings, lectures, committees; one evening after another, just at the time which she should be devoting herself to her children who have been occupied in the morning at school.

The ever-growing social life, the incessant extension of club and out-of-door life, result in the mother sending her children as early as possible to school, even when there is nothing but the conditions above mentioned to prevent her from giving the children their first instruction herself. As a rule the present generation of mothers who have had school training could do this quite well, in the case of children who do not need the social stimulus of the school. Indeed before the school time begins, and in the hours out of school, children are as a rule taken by a maid servant to walk or to skate and so on. Children of the upper classes in most cases receive just as much, perhaps more, of their education from the nursery maid or from the school than from the mother. The father need not be mentioned at all, for as a rule he is an only occasional and unessential factor in the education of the child.

Many will say by way of objection, that at[Pg 194] no time has so much been done for the education of children as at present; that parents were never so watchful over the physical and psychical needs of the children; that at no time has the intercourse between children and parents been so free; at no time have schools been so actively at work.

This is true but much of this tends to increase the homelessness of which I am speaking. The more the schools develop the more they are burdened with all the instruction for children, the more hours of the day they require for their demands. The school is expected to give instruction even in such simple matters as making children acquainted with their national literature, and handwork, which mothers could do perfectly well, certainly as well as our grandmothers. The greater the attention given at school to such essentially good things as gymnastics, handwork, and games, the more children are withdrawn from home. And even when at home, they are hindered by lessons and written exercises from being with their father and mother, on those exceptional occasions when the parents are at home. If we take into consideration the way in which the modern school system uses up the children's time, and pre[Pg 195]sent social and club life take up the time of parents, we come to the conclusion I began with, that domestic life is more and more on the decline.

The reforms that must be demanded from the schools in order to restore the children to the home cannot be discussed now, since it is my intention to deal here only with those matters which must be reformed by the family itself, if reforms at school are to really benefit the young.

Reforms of this kind have been made in schools but mothers complain that children have too little work at home or too few hours at school; that they, the mothers, absolutely do not know how they can keep the children occupied in so much free time.

What may justly be considered the great progress in the family life of the present day, the confidential intercourse between parents and children, has not taken an entirely right direction. The result has been that children have been permitted to behave like grown people, sharing the habits and pleasures of their parents, or that the parents have ceased to live their own life. In neither of these two ways can a deep and sound relation between children and parents be produced.[Pg 196]

We see on the one side a minority of conscientious mothers and fathers, who in a real sense live only for the children. They mould their whole life for the life of the children; and the children get the idea that they are the central point of existence. On the other side, we see children who take part in all the life and over-refinements of the home. They demand like adults the amusements and elegancies of life; they even give balls and suppers at home or in hotels for their school companions. In these social functions, the vanity and stupidity of adults are conscientiously imitated.

Then we require from these boys and girls, when they reach a time of life in which the passions awake, a self-control, a capacity of self-denial, a stoicism towards temptations to which they have never been trained, and which they have never seen their parents exercise.

Most homes of the upper classes have not the means to keep up the life that is lived in them. By the money of creditors, or by an exorbitant profit made at the cost of working people, or by careless consumption of the very necessary savings to be laid by for hard times, or against the death of the family provider, a luxurious style of living is maintained. But even when in rare cases there is real ability to live in this[Pg 197] way, parents would not do it, if the best interests of the children were taken into account.

Elders may speak of industry as much as they like; if the father's and mother's work for children has no reality about it, the parents would do best to be silent. The same must be said of warnings and arbitrary prohibitions to children concerning the satisfaction of their desire for enjoyment, if the parents themselves do not influence the children by their own example.

On the other hand there are just as disturbing consequences when industrious parents conceal their self-denial from their children, when they deprive themselves in the effort to spare their children the knowledge that their parents are not in a position to clothe them as well as their companions or to give them the same pleasures. Least of all is home life successful in helping children through the difficulties of their earlier years, when discipline has killed confidence between them and their parents, when they become insincere from want of courage and careless from want of freedom; when parents present themselves to the children as exceptional beings, asking for blind reverence and absolute subjection. From such homes in old days fine men and women could[Pg 198] proceed, but now extremely seldom. Young people recognise in our days no such requirements; confidential intercourse with parents has robbed them of this nimbus of infallibility.

Homes which send out men and women with the strongest morality, with the freshest stimulus to work, are those where children and parents are companions in labour, where they stand on the same level, where, like a good elder sister or an elder brother, parents regard the younger members of the household as their equals; where parents by being children with the children, being youthful with young people, help those who are growing up, without the exercise of force, to develop into human beings, always treating them as human beings. In a home like this nothing is especially arranged for children; they are regarded not as belonging to one kind of being while parents represent another, but parents gain the respect of their children by being true and natural; they live and conduct themselves in such a way that the children gain an insight into their work, their efforts, and as far as possible into their joys and pains, their mistakes and failures. Such parents without artificial condescension or previous consideration gain the sympathy of children and unconsciously edu[Pg 199]cate them in a free exchange of thought and opinions. Here children do not receive everything as a gift; according to the measure of their power they must share in the work of the home; they learn to take account of their parents, of servants, and one another. They have duties and rights that are just as firmly fixed as those of their parents; and they are respected themselves just as they are taught to respect others. They come into daily contact with realities, they can do useful tasks, not simply pretend that they are doing them; they can arrange their own amusements, their own small money accounts, their own punishments even, by their parents never hindering them from suffering the natural consequences of their own acts.

In such a home a command is never given unless accompanied at the same time with a reason for it, just as soon as a reason can be understood. So the feeling of responsibility is impressed upon the children from the tenderest age. The children are as seldom as possible told not to do things, but such commands when given are absolute because they always rest on good reasons, not on a whim. Mother and father are watchful, but they do not act as spies on their children. Partial[Pg 200] freedom teaches children to make use of complete freedom. A system of negative commands and oversight produces insincerity and weakness. An old illiterate housekeeper who earned a living by taking school children to board was one of the best educators I have ever seen. Her method was loving young people and believing in them—a confidence that they as a rule sought to deserve. Moreover a good home is always cheerful, its affection real, not sentimental. No time is wasted in it in preaching about petty details or prosing. Mother and sisters do not look shocked when the small boy tells a funny story or uses strong language. A joke is not regarded as evidence of moral corruption, nor keen views as an indication of depravity. Liveliness, want of prudishness, which can be combined, so far as the feminine part of the household is concerned, with purity of mind and simple nobility, are characteristics for which there can be no substitutes. In such a household concord prevails, the young and old work, read, and talk together, together take common diversions; sometimes the young people, sometimes their elders, take the lead. The house is open for the friends of the children; they are free to enjoy themselves as completely as[Pg 201] possible but in all naturalness without allowing their amusements to change the habits of the home.

It is told of the childhood of a great Finnish poet, Runeberg, that his mother when she invited the young guests of her son to dance as long as they could, added, "When you are thirsty, the water cooler is there, and by it hangs the cup"; and more delightful dances, the old lady who told the story never remembered to have seen. This old-fashioned distinction, the courage to show oneself as one is, is absent from modern homes, and lack of courage has resulted in lack of happiness.

The simple hospitable homely pleasures that have now been superseded by children's parties, lesson drudgery, and by parents living outside of the home must come back again if what is bad now is not to become worse. Evil is not to be expelled by evil; it is to be overcome by good. If the home is not to be again sunny, quiet, simple, and lively, mothers may go out as much as they like to discuss education and morality in the evening. There will be no real change. Mothers must seriously perceive that no social activity has greater significance than education, and that in this nothing can replace their own appropriate[Pg 202] influence in a home. They must make up their minds to real reform, such reforms as those introduced by a lady in Stockholm; burdened though she was with social engagements and public obligations, she refused to accept any invitation except on one day of the week, in order to spend her evenings quietly with her children. How long will the majority of mothers sacrifice children to the eternal ennui and vacuity of our modern social and club life?

There is no intention here to recommend that social life and public activities shall be deprived of the influence of experienced and thinking mothers. But I only wish to point to the cases of overstrain now caused by the stress of excessive sociability and outside activity. This kind of over-exertion, more especially, injures the home through the mother. In our day as in all other periods, be our opinions in other respects what they may, pagan, Christian, Jewish, or free thinking, a good home is only created by those parents who have a religious reverence for the holiness of the home.


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