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- A Domestic Problem - 3/12 -
"You mean, doubtless, that she only receives the special instruction which her vocation requires."
"Yes. If woman's special vocation is the training of children, of course she is educated specially with a view to that vocation."
"Well, I never heard of such a kind of education. But here is one of our young mothers: she can tell you all about it."
We will suppose, now, that our philosopher is left with the young mother, who names over what she learned at the "institute."
"And the training of children--moral, intellectual, and physical--was no doubt made a prominent subject of consideration."
"Training of children? Oh, no! That would have been a curious kind of study."
"Where, then, were you prepared for the duties of your mission?"
"What mission do you mean?"
"Your mission of child-training."
"I had no preparation."
"No preparation? But are you acquainted with the different temperaments a child may have, and the different combinations of them? Are you competent to the direction and culture of the intellectual and moral nature? Have you skill to touch the hidden springs of action? Have you, thus uninstructed, the power, the knowledge, the wisdom, requisite for guiding that mighty force, a child's soul?"
"Alas! there is hardly a day that I do not feel my ignorance on all these points."
"Are there no sources from which knowledge may be obtained? There must be books written on these subjects."
"Possibly; but I have no time to read them."
"No time?--no time to prepare for your chief mission?"
"It is our mission only in print. In real life it plays an extremely subordinate part."
"What, then, in real life, is your mission?"
"Chiefly cooking and sewing."
"Your husband, then, does not share the common belief in regard to woman's chief duty."
"Oh, yes! I have heard him express it many a time; though I don't think he comprehends what a woman needs in order to do her duty by her children. But he loves them dearly. If one should die he would be heart-broken."
"Is it a common thing here for children to die?"
"I am grieved to say that nearly one-fourth die in infancy."
"And those who live,--do they grow up in full health and vigor?"
"Oh, indeed they do not! Why, look at our crowded hospitals! Look at the apothecaries' shops at almost, every corner. Look at the advertisements of medicines. Don't you think there's meaning in these, and a meaning in the long rows of five-story swell-front houses occupied by physicians, and a meaning in the people themselves? There's scarcely one of them but has some ailment."
"But is this matter of health subject to no laws?"
"The phrase, 'laws of health,' is a familiar one, but I don't know what those laws are." "Mothers, then, are not in the habit of teaching them to their children?"
"They are not themselves acquainted with them."
"Perhaps this astonishing ignorance has something to do with the fearful mortality among infants. Do not husbands provide their wives with books and other means of information on this subject?"
"Generally speaking, they do nothing of the kind."
"And does not the subject of hygienic laws, as applied to the rearing of children, come into the courses of study laid out for young women!"
"No, indeed. Oh, how I wish it had!--and those other matters you mentioned. I would give up every thing else I ever learned for the sake of knowing how to bring up my children, and how to keep them in health."
"The presidents and professors of your educational institutions,--do they share the common belief as to woman's mission?"
"Oh, yes! They all say that the chief business of woman is to train up her children."
"There seems to be blindness and stupidity somewhere among these people. From what they say of the difficulty of bringing up their children, it must take an archangel to do it rightly; still they do not think a woman who is married and settles down to family life needs much education! Moreover, in educating young women, that which is universally acknowledged to be the chief business of their lives receives not the least attention."
If our philosopher continued his inquiries into the manners and customs of our country, he must have felt greatly encouraged; for he would have found that it is only in this one direction that we show such blindness and stupidity. He would have found that in every other occupation we demand preparation. The individual who builds our ships, cuts our coats, manufactures our watches, superintends our machinery, takes charge of our cattle, our trees, our flowers, must know how, must have been especially prepared for his calling. It is only character-moulding, only shaping the destinies of immortal beings, for which we demand neither preparation nor a knowledge of the business. It is only of our children that we are resigned to lose nearly one-fourth by death, "owing to ignorance and injudicious nursery management." Were this rate of mortality declared to exist among our domestic animals, the community would be aroused at once.
CULTURE PROVED TO BE A NEED OF THE CHILD-TRAINER.
Perhaps some day the community may come to perceive that woman requires for her vocation what the teacher, the preacher, the lawyer, and the physician, require for theirs; namely, special preparation and general culture. The first, because every vocation demands special preparation; and the second, because, to satisfy the requirements of young minds, she will need to draw from almost every kind of knowledge. And we must remember here, that the advantages derived from culture are not wholly an intellectual gain. We get from hooks and other sources of culture not merely what informs the mind, but that which warms the heart, quickens the sympathies, strengthens the understanding; get clearness and breadth of vision, get refining and ennobling influences, get wisdom in its truest and most comprehensive sense; and all of these, the last more than all, a mother needs for her high calling. That it is a high calling, we have high authority to show. Dr. Channing says, "No office can compare in importance with that of training a child." Yet the office is assumed without preparation.
Herbert Spencer asks, in view of this omission, "What is to be expected when one of the most intricate of problems is undertaken by those who have given scarcely a thought as to the principles on which its solution depends? Is the unfolding of a human being so simple a process that any one may superintend and regulate it with no preparation whatever?... Is it not madness to make no provision for such a task?"
Horace Mann speaks out plainly, and straight to the point. "If she is to prepare a refection of cakes, she fails not to examine some cookery-book or some manuscript receipt, lest she should convert her rich ingredients into unpalatable compounds; but without ever having read one book upon the subject of education, without ever having sought one conversation with an intelligent person upon it, she undertakes so to mingle the earthly and celestial elements of instruction for that child's soul that he shall be fitted to discharge all duties below, and to enjoy all blessings above." And again, "Influences imperceptible in childhood, work out more and more broadly into beauty or deformity in after life. No unskilful hand should ever play upon a harp where the tones are left forever in the strings."
In a newspaper I find this amusingly significant sentence: "Truthfully, indeed, do the Papists boast that the Episcopal Church is training-ground for Rome. The female mind is frequently enticed by display of vestments and music; and, if the Ritualists can pervert the mothers, they know that the next generation is theirs." This is significant, because it signifies that, however weak and easy of enticement the "female mind" may be, it has a mighty power to influence the young.
But we can show not only opinions and prophecies, but the results of actual scientific experiments. A recent number of "The Popular Science Monthly" contains an account of experiments made in Jamaica upon the mental capacity for learning of the different races there existing. The experimenter found, he says, "unequal speed," but saw "nothing which can be unmistakably referred to difference of race. The rate of improvement is due almost entirely to the relative elevation of the home circle in which the children live. Those who are restricted to the narrowest gauge of intellectual exercise live in such a material and coarse medium that their mental faculties remain slumbering; while those who hear at home of many things, and are brought up to intellectual employments, show a corresponding proficiency in learning."
This, and the editor's comments, bear directly on our side, that is to say, the culture side. The editor says it is inevitable "that the medium in which the child is habitually immersed, and by which it is
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