The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The "P.R." Letter Bag
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 874-876
[The Editor is not responsible for the opinions of Correspondents.]
Dear Editor,—I have the very strongest conviction that the use of well-written books is an education in itself. I unceasingly regret the long hours of my own childhood which were wasted on reading and re-reading the feeble tales which were appointed spoon-meat of my nursery days. As in art, so in literature, I would have in an ideal nursery only of the best. It is comparatively easy nowadays to get good literature for our children, the difficulty seems to lie rather with the keeping away of all the feeble, mawkish, narrow-minded, poorly-written stuff, issued specially for children, all about other children, and so kindly and constantly bestowed by loving friends and relations. The perusal of all these books is a waste of time, time which is so precious for storing the mind with big thoughts, for cultivating the imagination and laying the foundation of a literary style. As long as one is able to read aloud to the children, almost any standard work by living or dead authors is suitable for the nursery or schoolroom, though some are, of course, more valuable than others. When a child begins to read for itself, specially written and selected books become necessary, not so much on account of the matter as the manner, i.e., type, paper, illustrations, binding, and reasonable shortness (a small child will tire of too lengthy a book).
Herein often lies a difficulty, and for this and other reasons, I should discourage teaching a child to read until his literary taste is in part formed.
My own experience (not a wide, one, unfortunately) has been that the child whose mind has been nourished on the adventures of heroes, living poems, and folk-lore of all nations, will turn with something like scorn from twaddling accounts of how little Elsie was naughty, and how Tom Jones won the prize at school. To come to particulars, I remember holding my children, aged at the time 7, 10 and 11, spell-bound during long hours with Mark Twain's Joan of Arc; whereas, the pictures once exhausted, the same children took but slight interest in a bound volume of some children's magazine, which had been given them about the same time.
My children are yet hardly sufficiently upgrown to decide exactly how far the free access to good literature has influenced, and will influence, their characters and minds. I can only state facts as they stand.
The eldest, now fifteen, and at a public school, finds time during each term to read some fifteen to twenty books taken out of the School Library; he constantly lets me know what book he is reading, and they are by no means all tales of adventure. He also has the deepest admiration for Shakespeare.
The next, a girl just fourteen, besides writing herself in a really capable manner, has a most discriminating taste in literature, can discuss characters in fiction and their motives of action, and compare one with another. She objects strongly to any slip-shod English, and can also usually tell by its style the author of any quotation she happens to meet with in prose or poetry.
The youngest child, just eleven, is, of course, rather young yet to shew much result; but I remember a little incident which shewed that at the age of six he could realise a well-drawn character. David Copperfield was the book of the moment, and the children had unanimously declared that the illustrations (in the original edition) did not at all carry out the author's intentions as regards to Mr. Murdstone. A day or two later, K, seated on my knee, watching his sister at a dancing class, forcibly turned my head in the direction of one of the onlookers. "Mother," he whispered, "that is my idea of Mr. Murdstone." It was almost a shock to me to find how exactly the dark-browed, cynical-looking man he had indicated carried out my idea of Murdstone as Dickens drew him.
From which I argue that if a child of six (not a fragile, thin-faced, bookish child, but just an ordinary romping, rosy little chap, who at that time could not read for himself), could so thoroughly realise and make his own so decidedly unchildlike a character in fiction, what opportunities are lost for ever if children are not supplied from the very first direct from the pure foundations of literature.
I must apologise for the length of this letter, but it is a subject upon which I feel most strongly. I want to say to all parents, masters and mistresses, "Don't waste time; time is so short, so priceless, let all that is given be of the very best."
[The Editor has asked permission to publish the above, which formed part of a private correspondence between her and the writer, because she thought it might be helpful to others.]
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Dear Editor,—The book I used was The English Method of Teaching to Read (Macmillan), but I believe that Reading in a Twelvemonth (Sonnenschein) is still better. Yours very truly, H. A. Nesbitt, 16, South Hill Park Gardens, Hampstead, July 7th, 1903.
[The above is in answer to a correspondent who wrote asking the name of the book referred to in Mr. Nesbitt's paper, The Education Bill from an Educational Standpoint.]
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Dear Editor,—The following extract from Uganda Notes (August, 1903) may be of interest to the readers of the Parents' Review, as an indication of the spread of education in Uganda. The lectures were, I suppose, given in Luganda:—
"Two most interesting lectures were given at Ngogwe, by Mrs. Albert Cook, to the women of the surrounding district, on the following subjects—(1) The care of young children, (2) The care of their own health, (3) The duties of wives. On the first day, some two hundred women were present; on the second, not quite so large a number assembled. Mrs. Cook illustrated some parts of her lecture by washing an infant before the company, which evoked roars of laughter. The baby, however, seemed thoroughly to enjoy its bath, and had probably never had such a luxurious one before, warm water being used and native soap. The women expressed themselves much pleased with the lectures, and one said, 'You have opened the door of knowledge to us, we shall try and remember all you told us.'
"One Muganda lady was seen taking notes! We believe that these lectures
will do great good, for the Baganda women are very ignorant about
bringing up children, and many die at birth through this want of
knowledge. Some few days after the lectures, we found a woman carrying
out Mrs. Cook's instructions to the letter. The second day's lecture
was largely on the subject of morality, and we hope the earnest words
spoken to the women on this subject may do much to raise the tone
amongst them. Mrs. Cook invited the women to ask questions on all the
subjects, and they quite responded to the invitation; many questions
were asked, and great intelligence was shown. The women evidently quite
took in all that was said. We hope this may not be the last of such
lectures given here."
Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, August 2008
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