THE FINAL AIM OF EDUCATION.
The great problem before those who have the responsibility for the training of the young is that of preparing them to take their place in the world as fathers, mothers, and citizens, and among the fundamental duties connected with this responsibility must come the placing before the eyes of the young people high ideals, attractive examples, and the securing to them the means of adequate preparation. As a nation it seems to be with us at present as it was with the people of Israel in the days of Eli: "the word of the Lord was precious (or scarce) in those days; there was no open vision." We seem to have come to a time of civilisation in which there is much surface refinement and a widespread veneer of superficial knowledge, but in which there is little enthusiasm and in which the great aim and object of teaching and of training is but too little realised. In the endeavour to know a little of all things we seem to have lost the capacity for true and exhaustive knowledge of anything. It would appear as if the remedy for this most unsatisfactory state of things has to commence long before the years of adolescence, even while the child is yet in its cradle. The old-fashioned ideas of duty, obedience, and discipline must be once more household words and living entities before the race can enter on a period of regeneration. We want a poet with the logic of Browning, the sweetness of Tennyson, and the force of Rudyard Kipling, to sing a song that would penetrate through indifference, sloth, and love of pleasure, and make of us the nation that we might be, and of which the England of bygone years had the promise.
Speaking specially with regard to girls, let us first remember that the highest earthly ideal for a woman is that she should be a good wife and a good mother. It is not necessary to say this in direct words to every small girl, but she ought to be so educated, so guided, as to instinctively realise that wifehood and motherhood is the flower and perfection of her being. This is the hope and ideal that should sanctify her lessons and sweeten the right and proper discipline of life. All learning, all handicraft, and all artistic training should take their place as a preparation to this end. Each generation that comes on to the stage of life is the product of that which preceded it. It is the flower of the present national life and the seed of that which is to come. We ought to recognise that all educational aims and methods are really subordinate to this great end; if this were properly realised by adolescents it would be of the greatest service and help in their training. The deep primal instinct of fatherhood and motherhood would help them more than anything else to seek earnestly and successfully for the highest attainable degree of perfection of their own bodies, their own minds, and their own souls. It is, however, impossible to aim at an ideal that is unseen and even unknown, and although the primal instinct exists in us all, its fruition is greatly hindered by the way in which it is steadily ignored, and by the fact that any proclamation of its existence is considered indiscreet and even indelicate. How are children to develop a holy reverence for their own bodies unless they know of their wonderful destiny? If they do not recognise that at least in one respect God has confided to them in some measure His own creative function, how can they jealously guard against all that would injure their bodies and spoil their hopes for the exercise of this function? There is, even at the present time, a division of opinion as to when and in what manner children are to be made aware of their august destiny. We are indeed only now beginning to realise that ignorance is not necessarily innocence, and that knowledge of these matters may be sanctified and blessed. It is, however, certain that the conspiracy of silence which lasted so many years has brought forth nothing but evil. If a girl remains ignorant of physiological facts, the shock of the eternal realities of life that come to her on marriage is always pernicious and sometimes disastrous. If, on the other hand, such knowledge is obtained from servants and depraved playfellows, her purity of mind must be smirched and injured.
Even among those who hold that children ought to be instructed, there is a division of opinion as to when this instruction is to begin. Some say at puberty, others a few years later, perhaps on the eve of marriage, and yet others think that the knowledge will come with less shock, with less personal application, and therefore in a more natural and useful manner from the very beginning of conscious life. These last would argue—why put the facts of reproduction on a different footing from those of digestion and respiration? As facts in the physical life they hold a precisely similar position. Upon the due performance of bodily functions depends the welfare of the whole organism, and although reproduction, unlike the functions of respiration and digestion, is not essential to the life of the individual, it is essential to the life of the nation.
The facts of physiology are best taught to little children by a perfectly simple recognition of the phenomena of life around them—the cat with her kittens, the bird with its fledgelings, and still more the mother with her infant, are all common facts and beautiful types of motherhood. Instead of inventing silly and untrue stories as to the origin of the kitten and the fledgeling, it is better and wiser to answer the child's question by a direct statement of fact, that God has given the power to His creatures to perpetuate themselves, that the gift of Life is one of His good gifts bestowed in mercy on all His creatures. The mother's share in this gift and duty can be observed by, and simply explained to, the child from its earliest years; it comes then with no shock, no sense of shame, but as a type of joy and gladness, an image of that holiest of all relations, the Eternal Mother and the Heavenly Child.
Somewhat later in life, probably immediately before puberty in boys and shortly after puberty in girls, the father's share in this mystery may naturally come up for explanation. The physiological facts connected with this are not so constantly in evidence before children, and therefore do not press for explanation in the same way as do those of motherhood, but the time comes soon in the schoolboy's life when the special care of his own body has to be urged on him, and this knowledge ought to come protected by the sanction that unless he is faithful to his trust he cannot look to the reward of a happy home life with wife and children. In the case of the girl the question as to fatherhood is more likely to arise out of the reading of the Bible or other literature, or by her realisation that at any rate in the case of human parenthood there is evidently the intermediation of a father. The details of this knowledge need not necessarily be pressed on the adolescent girl, but it is a positive cruelty to allow the young woman to marry without knowing the facts on which her happiness depends.
Another way in which the mystery of parenthood can be simply and comfortably taught is through the study of vegetable physiology. The fertilisation of the ovules by pollen which falls directly from the anthers on to the stigma can be used as a representation of similar facts in animal physiology. It is very desirable, however, that this study of the vegetable should succeed and not precede that of the domestic animals in the teaching of boys and girls.
Viewed from this standpoint there is surely no difficulty to the parent in imparting to the child this necessary knowledge. We have to remember that children have to know the mysteries of life. They cannot live in the world without seeing the great drama constantly displayed to them in family life and in the lives of domesticated animals. They cannot read the literature of Greece and Rome, nay, they cannot study the Book of Books, without these facts being constantly brought to mind. A child's thirst for the interpretation of this knowledge is imperative and unsatiable—not from prurience nor from evil-mindedness, but in obedience to a law of our nature, the child demands this knowledge—and will get it. It is for fathers and mothers to say whether these sublime and beautiful mysteries shall be lovingly and reverently unveiled by themselves or whether the child's mind shall be poisoned and all beauty and reverence destroyed by depraved school-fellows and vulgar companions.
In the hope of securing the purity, reverence and piety of our children, in the hope that they may grow up worthy of their high destiny, let us do what we may to keep their honour unsmirched, to preserve their innocence, and to lead them on from the unconscious goodness of childhood to the clear-eyed, fully conscious dignity of maturity, that our sons may grow up as young plants, and our daughters as the polished corners of the temple.