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Title: The Punishment of Children
Author: Adler, Felix
Language: English
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The Abingdon Press
New York      Cincinnati


The material contained in this pamphlet was originally delivered in
three addresses before the Ethical Culture Society of New York City.
Special permission has been given to have it reprinted in this form.

The ethical nurture of the child is a distinct responsibility which no
parent can neglect with impunity. When ignorant of the more elementary
principles of punishment, parents easily fall into one of two serious
errors. The use of harsh and severely arbitrary methods causes the
child's fine ethical sensibilities to become dull. Through indifference
or careless neglect, the child becomes willful, erratic, or
self-indulgent. In this study Dr. Adler, with remarkable skill, guides
the parent between these two extremes. He shows that it is possible to
be consistent without being harsh, gentle without being vacillating.

The mastery of the art of punishment is also one of the most direct
means of ethical self-culture. It is to be hoped that a careful study of
this subject may result in a refinement of the attitude of parents
toward each other, as well as toward their children.


Printed in the United States of America

First Edition Printed April, 1920
Reprinted July, 1920; March, 1922



It is man's moral duty to act as the physician of his enemies and seek
to cure them of their wrongdoing. How much more, then, should this
attitude be taken toward those whom we love--toward our children, if we
find their characters marred by serious faults?

In discussing the subject of punishment I do not for a moment think of
covering the innumerable problems which it suggests. Many books have
been written on this subject; prolonged study and the experience of a
lifetime are barely sufficient for a mastery of its details. I shall
content myself with suggesting a few simple rules and principles, and
shall consider my object gained if I induce my hearers to enter upon a
closer investigation of the delicate and manifold questions involved.


The first general rule to which I would refer is, _never administer
punishment in anger_. A saying of Socrates deserves to be carefully
borne in mind. Turning one day upon his insolent servant, Speucippus,
who had subjected him to great annoyance, he exclaimed, "I should beat
you now, sirrah, were I not so angry with you." The practice of most men
is the very opposite; they beat and punish because they _are_ angry.

But it is clear that we cannot trust ourselves to correct another while
we are enraged. The intensity of our anger is proportional to the degree
of annoyance which we have experienced, but it happens quite frequently
that a great annoyance may be caused by a slight fault, just as,
conversely, the greatest fault may cause us only slight annoyance, or
may even contribute to our pleasure. We should administer serious
punishment where the fault is serious, and slight punishment where the
fault is slight. But, as I have just said, a slight fault may sometimes
cause serious annoyance, just as a slight spark thrown into a powder
magazine may cause a destructive explosion. And we do often resemble a
powder magazine, being filled with suppressed inflammable irritations,
so that a trivial naughtiness on the part of a child may cause a most
absurd display of temper.

But is it the child's fault that we are in this irascible condition? To
show how a slight fault may sometimes cause a most serious annoyance,
let me remind you of the story of Vedius Pollio, the Roman. He was one
day entertaining the Emperor Augustus at dinner. During the banquet a
slave who was carrying one of the crystal goblets by which his master
set great store, in his nervousness suffered the goblet to fall from his
hand so that it broke into a thousand pieces on the floor. Pollio was so
infuriated that he ordered the slave to be bound and thrown into a
neighboring fishpond, to be devoured by the lampreys. The Emperor
interfered to save the slave's life, but Pollio was too much enraged to
defer even to the Emperor's wish. Thereupon Augustus ordered that every
crystal goblet in the house should be broken in his presence, that the
slave should be set free, and that the obnoxious fishpond should be

The breaking of a goblet or vase is a good instance of how a slight
fault, a mere inadvertency, may cause serious damage and great chagrin.
In the same way an unseasonable word, loud conversation, a bit of
pardonable mischief, which we should overlook under ordinary
circumstances, may throw us into a fury when we are out of sorts. When
we have urgent business and are kept waiting, we are apt, unless we keep
a curb on our tempers, to break forth into violent complaints, which
indeed are quite proportional to the amount of annoyance we experience,
but not necessarily to the fault of the person who occasions it.

Our business is to cure faults, and in order to accomplish this end the
punishment should be meted out in due proportion to the fault. Instead
of following this principle, the great majority of men when they punish
are not like reasonable beings, selecting right means toward a true end,
but like hot springs which boil over because they cannot contain

We ought never to punish in anger. No one can trust himself when in that
state; an angry man is always liable to overshoot the mark; we must wait
until our angry feeling has had time to cool.

Do I then advise that we administer punishment in cold blood? No, we
ought to correct the faults of others with a certain moral warmth
expressed in our words and manner, a warmth which is produced by our
reprehension of the fault, not by the annoyance which it causes us.
This, then, is the first rule: _Never punish in anger_.


The second rule is that in correcting a child we should be careful to
distinguish between the child and its fault; we should not allow the
shadow of the fault to darken the whole nature of the child. We should
treat the fault as something accidental which can be removed. Vulgar
persons, when a child has told a falsehood, say, "You liar." They
identify the child with the fault of lying, and thereby imply that this
vice is ingrained in its nature. They do not say or imply, "You have
told a falsehood, but you will surely not do so again; hereafter you
will tell the truth"; they say, "You are a liar"; which is equivalent to
saying, "Lying has become part and parcel of your nature." In the same
way when a child has proved itself incapable of mastering a certain
task, the thoughtless parent or teacher may exclaim, impatiently, "You
are a dunce"; that is to say, "You are a hopeless case; nothing but
stupidity is to be expected of you." All opprobrious epithets of this
sort are to be most scrupulously avoided. Even to the worst offender one
should say: "You have acted thus in one case, perhaps in many cases, but
you can act otherwise; the evil has not eaten into the core of your
nature. There is still a sound part in you; there is good at the bottom
of your soul, and if you will only assert your better nature, you can do
well." We are bound to show confidence in the transgressor. Our
confidence may be disappointed a hundred times, but it must never be
wholly destroyed, for it is the crutch on which the weak lean in their
feeble efforts to walk.

Now, such language as "You are a dunce," "You are a liar," is, to be
sure, used only by the vulgar; but many parents who would not use such
words imply as much by their attitude toward their child; they indicate
by their manner, "Well, nothing good is to be expected of you." This
attitude of the parents is born of selfishness; the child has
disappointed their expectations, and the disappointment, instead of
making them more tender toward the child, makes them impatient. But this
is not the attitude of the physician whose business it is to cure evil.
We must give the child to understand that we still have hope of his
amendment; _the slightest improvement should be welcomed with an
expression of satisfaction_.

We should never attach absolute blame to a child, never overwhelm it
with a general condemnation. And in like manner we should never give
absolute praise, never injure a child by unlimited approbation. The
words, "_excellent_," "_perfect_," _which are sometimes used in school
reports, are inexcusable_. I have seen the object of education thwarted
in the case of particularly promising pupils by such unqualified
admiration. No human being is ethically perfect, and to tell a child
that he is perfect is to encourage a superficial way of looking upon
life and to pamper his conceit.

The right attitude is to say or to imply by our manner, "You have done
well thus far; go on as you have begun and try hereafter to do still
better." Such words as these fall like sunshine into the soul, warming
and fructifying every good seed.

On the other hand, to tell a child that he is perfect may induce him to
relax his effort, for having reached the summit he does not feel the
need of further exertion. We should correct faults in such a way as to
imply that not everything is lost. And we should praise merit in such a
way as to imply that not everything is yet achieved; that, on the
contrary, the goal is still far, far in the distance.

Everything, as I have said, depends upon the attitude of the parent or
instructor. Those who possess educational tact--a very rare and precious
quality--adopt the right attitude by a sort of instinct. But those who
do not possess it naturally can acquire it, at least to a certain
degree, by reflecting upon the underlying principles of punishment.


The third rule is, _Do not lecture children_. One feels tempted to say
to some parents: "You do not succeed as well as you might in the
training of your children because you talk too much. The less you say
the more effective will your discipline be. Let your measures speak for

When punishment is necessary let it come upon the child like the action
of a natural law--calm, unswerving, inevitable. Do not attempt to give
reasons or to argue with the child concerning the punishment you are
about to inflict. If the child is in danger of thinking your punishment
unjust, it may be expedient to explain the reasons of your action, but
do so after the punishment has been inflicted.

There are parents who are perpetually scolding their children. The fact
that they scold so much is proof of their educational helplessness. They
do not know what measures of discipline to apply, hence they scold.
Often their scolding is due to momentary passion, and the child
intuitively detects that this is so. If the parent is in ill humor, a
mischievous prank, a naughty word, an act of disobedience sometimes puts
him into a towering passion; at other times the same offense may be
lightly considered, or even worse offenses passed over with meaningless
"Don't do that again." The child perceives this vacillation, and learns
to look upon a scolding as a mere passing shower, hiding its head under
shelter until the storm has blown over.

Other parents are given to delivering lengthy homilies to their
children, and then often express surprise that all their sound doctrine,
all their beautiful sermons, have no effect whatever. If they would
pause to consider for a moment, they could easily see why their lectures
have no effect, why they pass "in at one ear and out at the other."
Their lectures on right and wrong are generally too abstract for the
child's comprehension, and often do not touch its case at all. Moreover,
the iteration of the same dingdong has the effect of blunting the
child's apprehension. A stern rebuke is occasionally necessary and does
good, but it should be short, clear, incisive.

A moralizing talk with an older child sometimes does good. The parent
should not, however, indulge in generalities, but, looking over the
record of the child for the past weeks or months, should pick out the
definite points in which it has transgressed, thus holding up a picture
of the child's life to its own eyes to reenforce the memory of its
faults and stimulate its conscience. In general, it may be said that the
less the parent talks about moral delinquencies the better. On this
rule of parsimony in respect to words particular stress is to be laid.


The next rule is quite as important as the preceding ones. It is that of
_undeviating consistency_. Were not the subject altogether too painful,
it would be amusing to observe how weak mothers--and weak fathers
too--constantly eat their own words.

"How often have I told you not to do this thing, but now you have done
it again." "Well, what is to follow?" secretly asks the child. "The next
time you do it I shall surely punish you." The next time the story
repeats itself; and so it is always "the next time." Very often foolish
threats are made, which the parents know they cannot and will not carry
out; and do you suppose that the children do not know as well as you
that the threat you have been uttering is an idle one?

We should be extremely careful in deciding what to demand of a child.
Our demands should be determined by a scrupulous regard for the child's
own good, but when the word has gone forth, especially in the case of
young children, we should insist on unquestioning obedience. Our will
must be recognized by the child as its law; it must not suspect that we
are governed by passion or caprice.

There are those that protest that this is too stern a method, that
gentle treatment, persuasion, and love ought to suffice to induce the
child to obey. Love and persuasion do suffice in many cases, but they do
not answer in all; and, besides, I hold it to be important that the
child should sometimes be brought face to face with a law which is
superior to the law of its own will, and should be compelled to bend to
the higher law, as expressed in its parent's wishes, merely because it
is a higher law.

And so far from believing this is to be a cruel method, I believe that
the opposite method of always wheedling and coaxing children into
obedience is really cruel. Many a time later on in life its self-love
will beat in vain against the immutable barriers of law, and if the
child has not learned to yield to rightful authority in youth, the
necessity of doing so later on will only be the more bitterly felt. The
child should sometimes be compelled to yield to the parent's authority
simply because the parental authority expresses a higher law than that
of its own will.

And this leads me to speak incidentally of a subject which is nearly
allied to the one we are now discussing.

It is a well-known trick of the nursery to divert the child from some
object which it is not to have by quickly directing its attention to
another object. If a child cries for the moon, amuse it with the light
of a candle; if it insists upon handling a fragile vase, attract its
attention to the doll; if it demands a knife with which it might injure
itself, call in the rattle to the rescue.

This method is quite proper for baby children, but it is often continued
to a much later age with harmful results. As soon as the
self-consciousness of the child is fairly developed, that is, about the
third year, this method should no longer be employed. It is important
that the will power of the young be strengthened. Now, the more the will
is accustomed to fasten upon the objects of desire the stronger does it
become, while, by rapidly introducing new objects the will is distracted
and a certain shiftlessness is induced, the will being made to glide
from one object to another without fixing itself definitely upon any
one. It is far better to allow a child to develop a will of its own, but
to make it understand that it must at times yield this will to the will
of the parent, than thus to distract its attention. If it wants a knife
which it ought not to have, make it understand firmly, though never
harshly, that it cannot have what it wants, that it must yield its wish
to the parent's wish. Nor is it at all necessary every time to give the
reasons why. The fact that the parent commands is a sufficient reason.

The rules thus far mentioned are, that we shall not punish in anger,
that we shall not identify the child with its fault, that we shall be
sparing with admonitions and let positive discipline speak for itself,
and that, while demanding nothing which is unreasonable, we should
insist on implicit obedience.


There is one question that touches the general subject of punishment and
reward which is in some sense the most important and vital of all the
questions we are considering. It throws a bright light or a deep shadow
on the whole theory of life, according to the point of view we take.

I allude to the question whether the pleasures of the senses should be
treated as a reward for the performance of duty. A parent says to his
child: "You have been good to-day; you have studied your lessons; your
deportment has been satisfactory: I will reward you by giving you
sweetmeats, or by taking you on a holiday into the country." But what
connection can there possibly be between the performance of duty and the
physical pleasure enjoyed in eating sweetmeats? Is not the connection a
purely arbitrary one? Does it not depend upon the notion that there is
no intrinsic satisfaction in a moral act? We ought to see that it is
radically wrong to make such enjoyments the reward of virtue; we ought
to have the courage to make application of our better theories to the
education of our children if we would develop in them the germs of a
nobler, freer manhood and womanhood. I admit, indeed, that a child is
not yet sufficiently developed to stand on its own feet morally, and
that its virtuous inclinations need to be supported and assisted; but
we can give it this assistance by means of our approbation or

To be in disgrace with its parents ought to be for a child the heaviest
penalty. To have their favor should be its highest reward. But simply
because a child is most easily taken on the side of its animal
instincts, are we to appeal to it on that side? Should it not be our aim
to raise the young child above the mere desire for physical
gratification, to prevent it from attaching too much importance to such

The conduct of many parents, however, I fear, tends to foster
artificially that lower nature in their offspring which it should rather
be their aim to repress. By their method of bestowing extraneous
rewards, parents contribute to pervert the character of their children
in earliest infancy, giving it a wrong direction from the start.

But, it may be objected, is there not a wholesome truth contained in
Saint Paul's saying that "he who will not work, neither shall he eat"?
Is not our conscience offended when we see a person enjoying the
pleasures of life who will perform none of its more serious duties? And
should we not all agree that, in a certain sense, virtue entitles one to
pleasure, and the absence of virtue ought to preclude one from pleasure?

To meet this point let us dwell for a moment on the following
considerations. Man is endowed with a variety of faculties, and a
different type of pleasure or satisfaction arises from the exercise of
each. Pleasure, in general, may be defined as the feeling which results
from successful exercise of any of our faculties--physical, mental or
moral. A successful rider takes pleasure in horsemanship, an athlete in
the lifting of weights. The greater an artist's mastery over his art,
the greater the pleasure he derives from it. The more complex and
difficult the problems which a scholar is able to resolve, the more
delight does he find in study. The same is true of the moral nature.
The more a man succeeds in harmonizing his inner life, and in helping to
make the principles of social harmony prevail in the world about him,
the more satisfaction will he derive from the exercise of virtue.

But the main fact which we are bound to remember is that it is
impossible to pay for the exercise of any one faculty by the pleasure
derived from the exercise of another; that each faculty is legitimately
paid only in its own coin. If you ask a horseman who has just returned
from an exhilarating ride what compensation he expects to receive for
the exercise he has taken, he will probably look at you in blank
amazement, with grave misgivings as to your sanity. If you ask a
scientist what reward he expects to receive for the pursuit of
knowledge, he will answer you, if he is an expert in the use of his
intellect, that he expects no ulterior reward of any kind; that not
positive knowledge so much as the sense of growth in the attainment of
knowledge is the highest reward which he can imagine. And the same
answer you will get from a person who is expert in the use of his moral
faculty, namely, that not virtue so much as growth in virtue, not the
results achieved by the exercise of the faculty, but the successful
exercise itself is the supreme compensation.

I have used the word "expert" in all these cases, and precisely "there's
the rub." The reason why many persons cannot get themselves to believe
that the exercise of the mental and moral faculties is a sufficient
reward is because they are not expert, because they have not penetrated
far enough along the lines of knowledge and virtue to obtain the
satisfactions of them. But the same applies to the tyro in any pursuit.
A rider who has not yet acquired a firm seat in the saddle will hardly
derive much pleasure from horseback exercise. An awkward, clumsy dancer,
who cannot keep step, will get no pleasure from dancing. There is no
help for the tyro, no matter in what direction he aims at excellence,
except to go on trying until he becomes expert.

I have said that each faculty is sovereign in its own sphere, that each
provides its proper satisfactions within itself and does not borrow them
from the domain of any of the others. Nevertheless we are constrained to
admit the important truth that is contained in the saying of Saint Paul.
And this truth, it seems to me, may be formulated in the words that,
while physical pleasure is not the reward of virtue, virtue ought to be
regarded as the condition _sine qua non_ of the enjoyment of physical
pleasures--at least, so far as the distribution of such pleasures is
within the power of the educator or of society.

This proposition depends on the difference in rank that subsists between
our faculties, of which some are superior and others inferior, the moral
and intellectual faculties rightfully occupying the top of the scale. We
inwardly rebel when we see the indolent and self-indulgent living in
luxury and affluence. And this not because the enjoyments which such
persons command are the proper compensations of virtue, or because
physical pain would be the proper punishment of their moral faults, but
because we demand that the lower faculties shall not be exercised at the
expense and to the neglect of the higher, that the legitimate rank and
order of our faculties shall not be subverted.

Applying this idea to the case of children, I think it would be
perfectly proper to deny a child that has failed to study its lessons or
has given other occasion for serious displeasure, the privilege of going
on a holiday to the country or enjoying its favorite sports. Everything,
however, will depend--as so much in education does depend--on the
manner; in this instance on what we imply in our denial rather than on
what we expressly state.

The denial, it seems to me, should be made on the ground that there is a
proper order in which the faculties are to be exercised; that the
higher, the mental, faculties should be exercised first, and that he
who will not aim at the higher satisfactions, neither shall he, so far
as we can prevent, enjoy the lower. On the other hand, by making
physical pleasures--sports, games and the like--the reward of study, we
exalt these satisfactions so as to make _them_ seem the higher, so as to
make the satisfactions of knowledge appear of lesser value compared with
the satisfactions of the senses.

In an ideal community every one of our faculties would be brought into
play in turn, without our ever being tempted to regard the pleasures of
the one as compensation for the exercise of the other. The human soul
has often been compared to an instrument with many strings. Perhaps it
may not be amiss to compare it to an orchestra. In this orchestra the
violins represent the intellectual faculties. They lead the rest. Then
there are the flute-notes of love, the trumpet tones of ambition, the
rattling drums and cymbals of the passions and appetites. Each of these
instruments is to come in its proper place, while the moral plan of life
is the musical composition which they all assist in rendering.

What we should try to banish is the vicious idea of extraneous reward,
the notion that man is an animal whose object in life is to eat and
drink, to possess gold and fine garments, and to gratify every lower
desire, and that he can be brought to labor only on condition that he
may obtain such pleasures. What we should impress instead is the notion
that labor itself is satisfying--manual labor, mental labor, moral
labor--and that the more difficult the labor, the higher the
compensating satisfactions.


I have thus far endeavored to combat the notion that physical pleasure
should be offered as a reward for virtue, and physical pain inflicted as
a punishment for moral faults. Now we are in a position to apply this
conclusion to some special questions which it is proposed to take up for
consideration. The first of these relates to corporal punishment.


It was in that period of history which is so justly called the Dark Ages
that the lurid doctrine of hell as a place for the eternal bodily
torture of the wicked haunted men's minds, and the same mediæval period
witnessed the most horrible examples of corporal punishment in the
schools and in the homes.

This was no mere coincidence. As the manners of the people are so will
their religion be. Savage parents who treat their children in a cruel,
passionate way naturally entertain the idea of a god who treats his
human children in the same way. If we wish to purify the religious
beliefs of men, we must first ameliorate their daily life.

There was once a schoolmaster who boasted that during his long and
interesting career he had inflicted corporal punishment more than a
million times. In modern days the tide of public opinion has set
strongly against corporal punishment. It is being abolished in many of
our public institutions, and the majority of cultivated parents have a
decided feeling against availing themselves of this method of

But the mere sentiment against it is not sufficient. Is the opposition
to it the result possibly of that increased sensitiveness to pain which
we observe in the modern man, of the indisposition to inflict or to
witness suffering? Then some stern teacher might tell us that to
inflict suffering is sometimes necessary, that it is a sign of weakness
to shrink from it, that as the surgeon must sometimes apply the knife in
order to effect a radical cure, so the conscientious parent should
sometimes inflict physical pain in order to eradicate grievous faults.
The stern teacher might warn us against "sparing the rod and spoiling
the child."

We must not, therefore, base our opposition to corporal punishment
merely on sentimental grounds. And there is no need for doing so, for
there are sound principles on which the argument may be made to rest.
Corporal punishment does not merely conflict with our tenderer
sympathies, it thwarts and defeats the purpose of moral reformation. In
the first place it brutalizes the child; secondly, in many cases it
breaks the child's spirit, making it a moral coward; and, thirdly, it
tends to weaken the sense of shame, on which the hope of moral
improvement depends.

_Corporal punishment brutalizes the child._ We may be justified in
beating a brute, though, of course, never in a cruel, merciless way. A
lazy beast of burden may be stirred up to work; an obstinate mule must
feel the touch of the whip. Corporal punishment implies that a rational
human being is on the level of an animal.[1] Its underlying thought is:
you can be controlled only through your animal instincts; you can be
moved only by an appeal to your bodily feelings. It is a practical
denial of that higher nature which exists in every human being, and this
is a degrading view of human character. A child which is accustomed to
be treated like an animal is apt to behave like an animal. Thus corporal
punishment instead of moralizing serves to demoralize the character.

In the next place _corporal punishment often breaks the spirit of a
child_. Have you ever observed how some children that have been often
whipped will whine and beg off when the angry parent is about to take
out the rattan: "O, I will never do it again; O, let me off this time."
What an abject sight it is--a child fawning and entreating and groveling
like a dog! And must not the parent too feel humiliated in such a
situation! Courage is one of the noblest of the manly virtues. We should
train our children to bear unavoidable pain without flinching, but
sensitive natures can only be slowly accustomed to endure suffering; and
chastisement, when it is frequent and severe, results in making a
sensitive child more and more cowardly, more and more afraid of the
blows. In such cases it is the parents themselves, by their barbarous
discipline, who stamp the ugly vice of cowardice upon their children.

Even more disastrous is the third effect of corporal punishment, that of
_blunting the sense of shame_. Some children quail before a blow, but
others, of a more obstinate disposition, assume an attitude of dogged
indifference. They hold out the hand, they take the stinging blows, they
utter no cry, they never wince; they will not let the teacher or father
triumph over them to that extent; they walk off in stolid indifference.

Now, a blow is an invasion of personal liberty. Every one who receives a
blow feels a natural impulse to resent it. But boys who are compelled by
those in authority over them to submit often to such humiliation are
liable to lose the finer feeling for what is humiliating. They become,
as the popular phrase puts it, "hardened." Their sense of shame is

But sensitiveness to shame is that quality of our nature on which, above
all others, moral progress depends. The stigma of public disgrace is one
of the most potent safeguards of virtue. The world cries "Shame" upon
the thief, and the dread of the disgrace which is implied in being
called a thief acts as one of the strongest preventives upon those whom
hunger and poverty might tempt to steal. The world cries "Shame" upon
the lawbreaker in general, but those who in their youth are accustomed
to be put to shame by corporal punishment are likely to become obtuse to
other forms of disgrace as well. The same criticism applies to those
means of publicly disgracing children which have been in vogue so
long--the fool's cap, the awkward squad, the bad boy's bench, and the
like. When a child finds itself frequently exposed to ignominy it
becomes indifferent to ignominy, and thus the door is opened for the
entrance of the worst vices.

There is one excellence, indeed, which I perceive in corporal
punishment; it is an excellent means of breeding criminals. Parents who
inflict frequent corporal punishment, I make bold to say, are helping to
prepare their children for a life of crime; they put them on a level
with the brute, break their spirit and weaken their sense of shame.


The second special question which we have to consider relates to the
mark system. As this system is applied to hundreds of thousands of
school children, the question whether that influence is good or evil
concerns us closely. I am of the opinion that it is evil. The true aim
of every school should be to lead the pupils to pursue knowledge for the
sake of knowledge, and to preserve a correct deportment in order to gain
the approbation of conscience and of the teacher whose judgment
represents the verdict of conscience.

I object to the mark system because it introduces a kind of outward
payment for progress in study and good conduct. The marks which the
pupil receives stand for the dollars and cents which the man will
receive later on for his work. So much school work performed, so many
marks in return. But a child should be taught to study for the pleasure
which study gives, and for the improvement of the mind which is its
happy result.

I know of a school where the forfeiture of twelve marks was made the
penalty for a certain misdemeanor. One day a pupil, being detected in a
forbidden act, turned to the teacher and said, "I agree to the forfeit,
you can strike off my twelve marks," and then went on openly
transgressing the rule, as if he had paid out so many shillings for an
enjoyment which he was determined to have; as if the outward forfeit
could atone for the antimoral spirit by which the act was inspired. But
how is it possible by any external system of marks to change the
antimoral spirit of an offender?

I object, furthermore, to the marking system because the discrimination
to which it leads can never be really just. One boy receives an average
of ninety-seven and one half per cent, and another of ninety-five. The
one who receives ninety-seven and one half thinks himself superior to,
and is ranked as the superior of the one who has received only
ninety-five. But is it possible to rate mental and moral differences
between children in this arithmetical fashion?

Above all, I object to this system because it appeals to a low spirit of
competition among the young in order to incite them to study. "Ambition
is avarice on stilts," as Landor puts it. Of course it is better to try
to outshine others in what is excellent than in what is vicious; but if
the object be that of outshining others at all, of gaining superiority
over others, no matter how high the faculties may be which are called
into exercise, the motive is impure and ought to be condemned. There is
a general impression abroad that men are not yet good enough to make it
practicable to appeal to their better nature. But it is forgotten that
by constantly appealing to the baser impulses we give these undue
prominence, and starve out and weaken the nobler instincts. Whatever
the truth may be in regard to later life, it seems to me culpable to
foster this sort of competition in young children.

Now, the mark spirit does foster such a spirit in our schools. It
teaches the pupils to work for distinction rather than for the solid
satisfaction of growth in intelligence and mental power. Doubtless,
where the method of instruction is mechanical, where the atmosphere of
the classroom is dull and lifeless, and the tasks are uninteresting, it
is necessary to use artificial means in order to keep the pupils to
their work; it is necessary to give them the sweet waters of flattered
self-esteem in order to induce them to swallow the dry-as-dust contents
of a barren school learning.

But is it not possible to have schools in which every subject taught
shall be made interesting to the scholars, in which the ways of
knowledge shall become the ways of pleasantness, in which there shall be
sufficient variety in the program of lessons to keep the minds of the
pupils constantly fresh and vigorous, in which the pupils shall not be
rewarded by being dismissed at an earlier hour than usual from the
school, but in which possibly they shall consider it reward to be
allowed to remain longer than usual? And, indeed, requests of this sort
are often made in schools of the better kind, and in such schools there
is no need of an artificial mark system, no need to stimulate the
unwholesome ambition of the pupils, no need to bribe them to perform
their tasks. Rather do such pupils look with affection upon their
school; and the daily task itself is a delight and a sufficient reward.

I do not, of course, oppose the giving of reports to children. Such
expressions as "good," "fair" and "poor," which formulate the teacher's
opinion of the pupil from time to time, are indispensable, inasmuch as
they acquaint the parents and the pupil himself with the instructor's
general approval or disapprobation. I only oppose the numerical
calculation of merit and demerit, and the vulgar method of determining
the pupil's rank in the class according to percentages. Under that
method the pupils, having pursued knowledge only as a means to the end
of satisfying their pride and vanity, relax their efforts when they have
gained this ambitious aim. They cease to take any deeper interest in the
pursuit of knowledge the moment they have achieved their purpose. The
notorious failure of the system, despite all its artificial stimulants,
to create lasting attachment and devotion to intellectual pursuits
condemns the whole idea of marks, to my mind, beyond appeal.


We pass next to the method for correcting the faults of children which
has been proposed by Herbert Spencer in his collected essays on
education. These essays have attracted great attention, as anything
would be sure to do which comes from so distinguished a source. I have
heard people who are ardent admirers of Spencer say, "We base the
education of our children entirely on Mr. Spencer's book." All the more
necessary is it to examine whether the recommendations of his book will
wholly bear criticism.

I cannot help feeling that if Mr. Spencer had been more thoroughly at
home in the best educational literature he would not have presented to
us an old method as if it were new, and would not have described that
which is at best but a second- or third-rate help in moral education as
the central principle of it all, the keynote of the whole theory of the
moral training of the young.

The method which he advises us to adopt is that of _visiting upon the
child the natural penalties of its transgression_, of causing it to
experience the inevitable consequences of evil acts in order that it may
avoid evil, of building up the moral nature of the child, by leading it
to observe the outward results of its acts. Mr. Spencer points out that
when a child puts its finger into the flame, or when it incautiously
touches a hot stove, it is burned; "a burnt child shuns the fire." When
a child carelessly handles a sharp knife it is apt to cut its fingers.
This is a salutary lesson; it will be more careful thereafter; this is
the method of nature, namely, of teaching by experience. And this is a
kind of cure-all which he offers for general application. He does,
indeed, admit at the close of his essay, that, in certain cases, where
the evil consequences are out of all proportion to the fault, some other
method than that of experience must be adopted. But, in general, he
recommends this method of nature, as he calls it.

For instance, a child in the nursery has littered the floor with its
toys, and after finishing its play refuses to put them away. When next
the child asks for its toy box the reply of its mother should be: "The
last time you had your toys you left them lying on the floor and Jane
had to pick them up. Jane is too busy to pick up every time the things
you leave about, and I cannot do it myself, so that, as you will not put
away your toys when you have done with them, I cannot let you have
them." This is obviously a natural consequence and must be so recognized
by the child.

Or a little girl, Constance by name, is scarcely ever ready in time for
the daily walk. The governess and the other children are almost
invariably compelled to wait. In the world the penalty of being behind
time is the loss of some advantage that one would otherwise have gained.
The train is gone, or the steamboat is just leaving its moorings, or the
good seats in the concert room are filled; and every one may see that it
is the prospective deprivation entailed by being late which prevents
people from being unpunctual. Should not this prospective deprivation
control the child's conduct also? If Constance is not ready at the
appointed time the natural result should be that she is left behind and
loses her walk.

Or, again, a boy is in the habit of recklessly soiling and tearing his
clothes. He should be compelled to clean them and to mend the tear as
well as he can. And if having no decent clothes to wear, the boy is ever
prevented from joining the rest of the family on a holiday excursion and
the like, it is manifest that he will keenly feel the punishment and
perceive that his own carelessness is the cause of it.

But I think it can easily be made clear that this method of moral
discipline should be an exceptional and not a general one, and that
there are not a few but many occasions when it becomes simply impossible
to visit upon children the natural penalties of their transgressions. In
these cases the evil consequences are too great or too remote for us to
allow the child to learn from experience.

A boy is leaning too far out of the window; shall we let him take the
natural penalty of his folly? The natural penalty would be to fall and
break his neck. Or a child is about to rush from a heated room into the
cold street with insufficient covering; shall we let the child take the
natural penalty of its heedlessness? The natural penalty might be an
attack of pneumonia. Or, again, in certain parts of the country it is
imprudent to be out on the water after nightfall owing to the danger of
malaria. A boy who is fond of rowing insists upon going out in his boat
after dark; shall we allow him to learn by experience the evil
consequences of his act and gain wisdom by suffering the natural
penalty? The natural penalty might be that he would come home in a
violent fever.

To show how much mischief the application of the Spencerian method might
work, let me mention a case which came under my observation. A certain
teacher had been studying Herbert Spencer and was much impressed with
his ideas. One wet, rainy day a number of children came to school
without overshoes. The teacher had often told them that they must wear
their overshoes when it rained; having neglected to do so, their feet
were wet. Now came the application of the natural penalty theory.
Instead of keeping the children near the fire while their shoes were
being dried in the kitchen, they were allowed to run about in their
stocking feet in the large school hall in order to fix in their minds
the idea that, as they had made their shoes unfit to wear, they must now
go without them. This was in truth moral discipline with a vengeance.

It is, in many instances, impossible to let the natural penalties of
their transgressions fall upon children; it would be dangerous to
health, to life and limb, and also to character, to do so.

Let me be perfectly understood just here: I do not deny that the method
of natural penalties is capable of being applied to advantage in the
moral training of children. It is a philosophic conclusion that it can
be used as a means of building up the confidence of children in the
authority of their parents and educators.

The father says to his child: "You must not touch the stove or you will
be burned." The child disobeys his command and is burned. "Did I not
warn you?" says the father. "Do you not see that I was right? Hereafter
believe my words and do not wait to test them in your experience." The
comparatively few cases in which the child may without injury be made to
experience the consequences of his acts should be utilized to strengthen
its belief in the wisdom and goodness of its parents, so that in an
infinitely greater number of cases their authority will act upon the
mind of the child almost as powerfully as the actual experience of the
evil consequences would act.

Mr. Spencer himself admits, as I have said, that there are what he calls
extreme cases to which the system he recommends does not apply. In these
he falls back upon parental displeasure as the proper penalty. But
parental displeasure, according to his view, is an indirect and not a
direct penalty, and to use his own words, "the error which we have been
combating is that of substituting parental displeasure for the penalties
which nature has established." Yet he himself in regard to the graver
offenses does substitute parental displeasure, and thus abandons his own

There is, moreover, a second ground on which I would rest my criticism.
The art of the educator sometimes consists in _deliberately warding off_
the natural penalties, though the child knows what they are and perhaps
expects to pay them. So far is the method of Spencer from bearing the
test of application that the very opposite of what he recommends is
right in some of the most important instances.

Take the case of lying, for instance. The natural penalty for telling a
falsehood is not to be believed the next time, but the real secret of
moral redemption consists in not inflicting this penalty. We emphasize
our belief in the offender despite the fact that he has told a
falsehood, we show that we expect him never to tell a falsehood again,
we seek to drive the spirit of untruthfulness out of him--by believing
in him we strengthen him to overcome temptation. And so in many other
instances we rescue, we redeem, by not inflicting the natural penalty.

The task of moral education is laid upon us. It is not a task that can
be learned by reading a few scattered essays; it is often a heavy burden
and involves a constant responsibility. I know it is not right _always_
to make parents responsible for the faults which appear in their
children. I am well aware that the worst fruit sometimes comes from the
best stock, and that black sheep are sometimes to be found in the best
families. But I cannot help thinking that if these black sheep were
taken charge of in the right way in early childhood, the results might
turn out differently from what they often do. The picture of Jesus on
which the early church loved to dwell is the picture of the good
shepherd who follows after the lamb that has strayed from the fold, and,
carrying it tenderly in his arms, brings it back. I think if parents
were more faithful shepherds, and cared for their wayward children with
deeper solicitude and tenderness, they might often succeed in winning
them back.

But even apart from these exceptional cases the task of training
children morally is one of immense gravity and difficulty. And how are
most parents prepared for the discharge of this task? Why, they are not
at all prepared. They rely merely upon impulse, and upon traditions
which often are altogether wrong and harmful. They do as they have seen
other fathers and mothers do, and thus the same mistakes are perpetuated
from generation to generation. Such parents, if they were asked to
repair a clock, would say, "No, we must first learn about the mechanism
of a clock before we undertake to repair it." But the delicate and
complex mechanism of a child's soul they undertake to repair without any
adequate knowledge of the springs by which it is moved, or of the system
of adjustments by which it is enabled to perform its highest work. They
thrust their crude hands into the mechanism and often damage or break it

I do not pretend for a moment that education is as yet a perfect
science; I know it is not. I do not pretend that it can give us a great
deal of light; but such light as it can give we ought to be all the more
anxious to obtain on account of the prevailing darkness. The time will
doubtless come when the science of education will be acknowledged to be,
in some sense, the greatest of all the sciences; when, among the
benefactors of the race, the great statesmen, the great inventors, and
even the great reformers will not be ranked as high as the great


[1] It is an open question whether light corporal punishment should not
occasionally be permitted in the case of very young children who have
not yet arrived at the age of reason. In this case, at all events, there
is no danger that the permission will be abused. No one would think of
seriously hurting a very young child.


In order that a parent shall properly influence a child's character, it
is necessary for him to know what that character is, and what the nature
is of each fault with which he is dealing. I feel almost like asking
pardon for saying anything so self-evident. It seems like saying that a
physician who is called to a sick-bed, before beginning to prescribe,
should know the nature of the disease for which he is prescribing,
should not prescribe for one disease when he is dealing with another.

I do not know enough about physicians to say whether such mistakes ever
happen among them; but that such egregious mistakes do occur among
parents all the time, I am sure. There are many parents who never stop
to ask before they punish--that is, before they prescribe their moral
remedies--what the nature of the disease is with which their child is
afflicted. They never take the trouble to make a diagnosis of the case
in order to treat it correctly. There is perhaps not one parent in a
thousand who has a clear idea of the character of his child, or to whom
it even so much as occurs that he ought to have a clear conception of
that character, a map of it, a chart of it, laid out, as it were, in his
mind. The trouble is that attention is not usually called to this
important matter, and I purpose to make it the special subject of this


I am prepared at the outset for the objection that the case against
parents has been overstated. There are parents who freely acknowledge,
"My child is obstinate; I know it has an obstinate character." Others
say, "My child, alas! is untruthful." Others again declare, "My child is

But these symptoms are far too indeterminate to base upon them a correct
reformatory treatment. Such symptoms may be due to a variety of causes,
and not until we have discovered the underlying cause in any given case
can we be sure that we are following the right method.

Take the case, for instance, of obstinacy; a child is told to do a
certain thing and it refuses. Now, here is a dilemma. How shall we act?
There are those who say: In such cases a child must be chastised until
it does what it is told. A gentleman who was present here last Sunday
had the kindness to send me during the week an edition of John Wesley's
sermons, and in this volume, in the sermon on "Obedience to Parents," I
read the following words: "Break the will if you would not damn the
child. I conjure you not to neglect, not to delay this! Therefore (1)
Let a child from a year old be taught to fear the rod and to cry softly.
In order to do this (2) Let him have nothing he cries for, absolutely
nothing, great or small, else you undo your own work. At all events,
from that age make him do as he is bid, if you whip him ten times
running to effect it. Let none persuade you it is cruelty to do this: it
is cruelty not to do it. Break his will now, and his soul will live, and
he will probably bless you to all eternity."

But by following this line of treatment we may obtain a result the very
opposite of that which we intended. Obstinacy in many cases is due to
sensitiveness. There are some children as sensitive to impressions as is
that well-known flower which closes its quivering leaves at the
slightest touch. These sensitive children retreat into themselves at the
first sign of unfriendliness or aggression from without. The reason why
such a child does not obey its father's command is not, perhaps, because
it is unwilling to do as it is told, but because of the stern face, the
impatient gesture, the raised voice with which the parent accompanies
the command, and which jars upon the child's feelings.

If such a parent, incensed at the child's disobedience, becomes still
more severe, raises his voice still more, he will only make matters
worse. The child will shrink from him still more and continue its
passive resistance. In this manner obstinacy, which was at first only a
passing spell, may become a fixed trait in the child's character.

To be sure, we should not, on the other hand, treat these sensitive
children only with caresses. In this way we encourage their
sensitiveness, whereas we should regard it as a weakness that requires
to be gradually but steadily overcome.

The middle way seems the best. Let the parent exact obedience from the
child by gentle firmness, by a firmness in which there shall be no trace
of passion, no heightened feeling, and with a gentleness which, gentle
as it may be, shall be at the same time unyielding. But while obstinacy
is sometimes due to softness of nature, it is at other times due to the
opposite--to hardness of nature, and according to the case we should
vary our treatment.

There are persons who, having once made up their minds to do a thing,
cannot be moved from their resolution by any amount of persuasion. These
hard natures, these concentrated wills, are bound to have their way, no
matter whom they injure, no matter what stands in the way. Such
persons--and we notice the beginnings of this trait in children--need to
be taught to respect the rights of others. Their wills should
occasionally be allowed to collide with the wills of others, in order
that they may discover that there are other wills limiting theirs, and
may learn the necessary lesson of submission.

In yet other cases obstinacy is due to stupidity. Persons of weak
intelligence are apt to be suspicious. Not understanding the motives of
others, they distrust them; unwilling to follow the guidance of others,
they cling with a sort of desperation to their own purpose. These cases
may be treated by removing the cause of suspicion, by patiently
explaining one's motives where it is possible to do so, by awakening


Again, let us take the fault of untruthfulness. One cannot sufficiently
commend the watchfulness of those parents who take alarm at the
slightest sign of falsehood in a child. A lie should always put us on
our guard. The arch fiend is justly called "the father of lies." The
habit of falsehood, when it has become settled, is the sure inlet to
worse vices.

At the same time not all falsehoods are equally culpable or equally
indicative of evil tendency, and we should have a care to discriminate
between the different causes of falsehood in the young child, in order
that we may pursue the proper treatment. Sometimes falsehood is due to
redundant imagination, especially in young children who have not yet
learned to distinguish between fact and fancy. In such cases we may
restrain the child's imagination by directing its attention to the world
of fact, by trying to interest it in natural history and the like.

We should especially set the example of strict accuracy ourselves in all
our statements, no matter how unimportant they may be. For instance, if
we narrate certain occurrences in the presence of the child, we should
be careful to observe the exact order in which the events occurred, and
if we have made a mistake we should take pains to correct ourselves,
though the order of occurrence is really immaterial. Precisely because
it is immaterial we show by this means how much we value accuracy even
in little things.

Then, again, falsehood is often due to the desire for gain. Or it may be
due to fear. The child is afraid of the severity of the parent's
discipline. In that case we are to blame; we must relax our discipline.
We have no business to tempt the child into falsehood. Again,
untruthfulness is often due to mistaken sympathy, as we see in the case
of pupils in school, who will tell a falsehood to shield a fellow
pupil. In the worst cases falsehood is inspired by malice.

It may be said that the proper positive treatment for this fault is to
set the example of the strictest truthfulness ourselves, to avoid the
little falsehoods which we sometimes allow ourselves without
compunction, to show our disgust at a lie, to fill the child with a
sense of the baseness of lying, and above all to find out the direct
cause which has tempted the child in any given case. As a rule,
falsehood is only a means to an end; children do not tell untruths
because they like to tell them, but because they have some ulterior end
in view. Find out what that ulterior end is, and instead of directing
your attention only to the lie, penetrate to the motive that has led the
child into falsehood, and try to divert it from the bad end. Thus you
may extract the cause of its wrongdoing.


Thirdly, let us consider the fault of laziness. Laziness is sometimes
due to physical causes. Nothing may be necessary but a change of diet,
exercise in the fresh air, etc., to cure the evil. Sometimes it is the
sign of a certain slow growth of the mind. There are fruits in the
garden of the gods that ripen slowly, and these fruits are often not the
least precious or the least beautiful when they finally have matured.
Sir Isaac Newton's mind was one of these slowly ripening fruits. In
school he was regarded as a dullard and his teachers had small hopes of

Laziness, like other faults of character, sometimes disappears in the
process of growth. Just as at a certain period in the life of a youth or
maiden new faculties seem to develop, new passions arise, a new life
begins to stir in the heart, so at a certain period qualities with which
we had long been familiar, disappear of themselves.

We have very little light upon this subject, but the fact that a great
transformation of character sometimes does take place in children
without any perceptible cause is quite certain, and it may be offered as
a comforting reflection to those parents who are over-anxious on account
of the faults they detect in their children. But again, on the other
hand, laziness or untruthfulness or obstinacy may be a black streak,
coming to the surface out of the nethermost strata of moral depravity,
and, taken in connection with other traits, may justify the most serious
apprehension, and should then be a signal for immediate measures of the
most stringent sort.


I am thus led to the second branch of my subject. I have tried to meet
the objection of the parent who says, "I know the character of my child;
I know my child is obstinate," by replying, "If you only know that your
child is obstinate you know very little; you need to know what are the
causes of his obstinacy, and vary your treatment accordingly." Or if any
one says, "My child is untruthful," I reply, "You need to find out what
the cause is of this untruthfulness and vary your treatment
accordingly." Or again, in the case which we have just considered, I
have pointed out that laziness in a child may have no serious meaning
whatever or may give just cause for the most serious alarm, according to
the group of characteristic traits of which it is one. On this point I
wish to lay stress. If you desire to obtain a correct impression of a
human face, you do not look at the eye by itself, then at the nose, then
fix your attention on the cheeks and the chin and the brow, but you
regard all these features together and view them in their relations to
one another. Or let us recur to the simile of the physician. What would
you think of the doctor who should judge the nature of a disease by
some one symptom which happened to obtrude itself, or should treat each
symptom as it appears separately, without endeavoring to reach the
occult cause which has given rise to the symptoms, of which they are all
but the outward manifestation?

And yet that is precisely the incredible mistake which every one of us,
I venture to say, is apt to make in the treatment of children's
characters. We judge of them by some one trait, as obstinacy, which
happens to obtrude itself on our attention, and we prescribe for each
symptom as it arises; we treat obstinacy by itself, and untruthfulness
and indolence separately, without endeavoring to get at the underlying
cause of all these symptoms. The point I desire to make is that in the
education of our children it is necessary not only to study individual
traits, but _each trait in connection with the group to which it

Take for an illustration the case last mentioned--that of laziness.
There is a well-known type group or group of characteristic traits, of
which laziness is one. The chief components of this group are the
following: The sense of shame is wanting, that is one trait. The will is
under the control of random impulses, good impulses mingle
helter-skelter with bad. There is an indisposition on the part of such a
child to prolonged exertion in any direction, even in the direction of
pleasure. That is perhaps the most dangerous trait of all.

If you try to deal, as people actually do, with each of these traits
separately, you will fail. If you try to influence the sense of shame,
you will meet with no response; if you disgrace such a child, you will
make it worse; if you whip it, you will harden it. If you attempt to
overcome indolence by the promise of rewards, that will be useless. The
child forgets promised rewards just as quickly as it forgets threatened

This forgetfulness, this lack of coherency in its ideas, is particularly
characteristic. The ideas of such a child are imperfectly connected.
The ties between causes and their effects are feeble. The contents of
the child's mind are in a state of unstable equilibrium. There is no
point of fixity in its mental realm. And the cure for such a condition
is to establish fixity in the thoughts, to induce habits of industry and
application by steady, unrelaxing discipline, and especially by means of
manual training.

The immense value of mechanical labor as a means of moral improvement
has been appreciated until now only to a very imperfect extent.
Mechanical labor wisely directed secures mental fixity because it
concentrates the child's attention for days and often for weeks upon a
single task. Mechanical labor stimulates moral pride by enabling the
pupil to produce articles of value and giving him in this way the sense
of achievement. Mechanical labor also overcomes indolence by compelling
settled habits of industry, whereby the random impulses of the will are
brought under control.

The type group which we have just considered is one of the most clearly
marked and easily recognized. It is a type which we often meet with
among the so-called criminal classes, where its characteristic features
can be seen in exaggerated proportions. Without attempting to analyze
any additional types (a task of great delicacy and difficulty), the
truth that the underlying fault of character is often unlike the
symptoms which appear most conspicuously on the surface may be further
illustrated by the following example. I have known of a person who made
himself obnoxious to his friends by his overbearing manners and apparent
arrogance. Casual observers condemned him on account of what they
believed to be his overweening self-confidence, and expressed the
opinion that his self-conceit ought to be broken down. But the real
trouble with him was not that he was too self-confident, but that he had
not self-confidence enough. His self-confidence needed to be built up.
He was overbearing in society because he did not trust himself, because
he was always afraid of not being able to hold his own, and hence he
exaggerated on the other side. Those who take such a person to be in
reality what he seems to be will never be able to influence him. If we
find such a trait in a child, and simply treat it as if it were
arrogant, we shall miss the mark entirely. We must find the underlying
principle of the character the occult cause of which the surface
symptoms are the effects.

Our knowledge of the great type groups is as yet extremely meager.
Psychology has yet to do its work in this direction, and books on
education give us but little help. But there are certain means by which
the task of investigation may possibly be assisted. One means is the
study of the plays of Shakespeare. That master mind has created certain
types of character which repay the closest analysis. The study of the
best biographies is a second means. The study of the moral
characteristics of the primitive races--a study which has been begun by
Herbert Spencer in his work on Descriptive Sociology, and by Waitz in
his Anthropologie der Naturvölker--is perhaps another means; and honest
introspection, when it shall have become the rule among intelligent
persons, instead of being the exception, will probably be the best

I am afraid that some of my hearers, from having been over-confident as
educators in the beginning, may now have become over-timid; from having
said to themselves, "Why, of course we know the characteristics of our
children," may now, since the difficulties of studying character have
been explained, be disposed to exclaim in a kind of despair, "Who can
ever understand the character of a single human being?" A perfect
understanding of any human being is indeed impossible. We do not
perfectly know even those who are nearest and dearest to us. But there
are means of reaching at least approximate results, so far as children
are concerned, and a few of these permit me to briefly summarize.

Try to win the confidence of the child so that it may disclose its
inner life to you. Children accept the benefactions of their parents as
unthinkingly as they breathe the air around them. Show them that your
care and untiring devotion must be deserved, not taken as a matter of
course. In this way you will deepen their attachment and lead them to
willingly open their hearts to you. At the same time enter into the
lesser concerns of their life. Be their comrades, their counselors;
stoop to them, let them cling to you.

Observe your children when they are at play, for it is then that they
throw off their reserve and show themselves as they are. Some children,
for instance, will not join a game unless they can be leaders; is not
that a sign of character? Some children will take an unfair advantage at
play, and justify themselves by saying, "It is only in play." Some are
persistent in a game while others tire of any game after a little while.
Others are sticklers for a strict observance of the rules. Observe how
your sons or daughters are regarded by their companions; children are
often wonderfully quick to detect one another's faults.

Try to find out what the favorite pursuits and studies of your child
are, by what it is repelled, by what attracted, and to what it is
indifferent. Above all, keep a record of your child's development. Do
not shun the labor involved in this. You know very well that nothing
worth having can be obtained without labor, yet most parents are
unwilling to give sufficient time and attention to the education of
their children. Keep a record of the most significant words and acts of
the child. Thus after a while you may have a picture of the child's
inward condition before you, an assemblage of characteristic traits, and
by comparing one trait with another, you may find the clue to a deeper
understanding of its nature.

What I have said about children applies equally to ourselves. I started
out by saying that not one parent in a thousand knows his child's
character. I conclude by saying that not one man or woman in a thousand
knows his or her own character. We go through life cherishing an unreal
conception of ourselves which is often inspired by vanity.

I am well aware that it is difficult to know oneself, but there are
helps in this direction also. We can look over our own past record, we
can honestly examine how we have acted in the leading crises of our
lives, we can summon our own characteristic traits before our minds--the
things that we like to dwell upon, and the things which we would gladly
blot out of our memories if we could--and by comparing this trait with
that, we may discover the springs by which we have been moved. It is
difficult to attain self-knowledge, but it is imperative that we should
try to attain it. The aim of our existence is to improve our characters,
and clearly we cannot improve them unless we know them.

I have undertaken to grapple with a most difficult subject, but I shall
have accomplished the purpose which I had in mind if I have awakened in
you a deeper desire to ask yourselves, first, "What is the character of
my child?" and, second, "What is my own character?" The most serious
business of our lives is to try to find the answers to these two









































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