How Shall My Child be Taught?

Some women spend their mornings exercising, others with a cup of coffee and their devotionals. Most mornings, I find myself devouring old books, particularly those related to education. The foundations education found in truly understanding children, that seems all but lost in modern day education, beams from almost every page I read. 

Most days I clip quotes and save them, but today I ran across a gem so fitting for current times that I have chosen to share the whole piece with you; my favorite parts in bold.

How Shall My Child be Taught?: Practical Pedagogy, Or, The Science of Teaching Illustrated. 

By Louisa Parsons Stone Hopkins, 1891.

The Key-Note

     As I carried in my mind the theme of this paper, my eye met a paragraph in the September Teacher, which is so forcible and concise an expression of what I feel to be the motif "of my " experiment in teaching," that I might use it as a text : " The object of education ought to be to develop in the individual all the perfection of which he is capable." — Kant. As the Delphic oracle instructed Cicero to "follow Nature, and not take the opinion of the multitude for his guide," so, more and more, do intuition and experience say to the teacher of children, " Attune your ear to the whispers of Nature that you may discern the secret of education. "

     As a mother, I am most concerned that each child in the embrace of home shall receive from me what it needs for its physical, mental, and moral development. There is great diversity in this small circle ; a difference of temperament, of tendencies, of tastes, of natural powers, and natural wants. I must administer to each, adapt myself to each, meet each on its own track. So, in a school, the teacher must be as the mother, to devise and provide for each one ; she must discern the native stamp of the individual pupil, the character of its organization. When she is thoroughly acquainted with the child, has drawn near to it in an atmosphere of loving appreciation, and placed herself en rapport with its intrinsic being, then she is prepared to teach it ; and her teaching on that footing will be not merely the work of the recitation-hour, nor of some departments of instruction, but a deep influence acting everywhere ; whether in school or out of school, — acting, as I can bear witness, through the whole lifetime of that child, and the subject of a life-long gratitude.

     Nature emphatically forbids me to try the mechanical process, which treats children in the aggregate, and seeks to produce a dead-level of uniformity in the school ; Nature warns me from merely conventional ruts and unthinking manner isms. My mother-heart knows better than this. 

     Do I want my child made like every other child ? No, a thousand times! Let her be herself, — trained, developed, ennobled, but always herself ; her individuality perfect, her identity complete ; for, though millions of children arise in the land, there will never be another like this one. I want to see her face glow with the radiance which can be lit on no other brow, and her soul dressed in the beautiful garments which were prepared for her from the foundation of the world. Let those who teach her consult the oracle of her nature, discover the hints within her as to what sort of woman she should become, never lose sight of her in the crowd, nor confound her with her neighbor ; but keep her undistorted, uncramped, ungraded, — her being wrought upon according to God's pattern for her alone. This is what I ask for my child, and therefore what I demand of myself as the teacher of some other mother's child. Her child is as unique as mine ; I must make no encroachment on its ideal individuality, nor at tempt to trim and fit its original powers to an unyielding standard. The school of the rule and plumb is a machine-shop ; with its constant measurements and tests, its ranks and examinations, it grinds down these clear-cut crystals of mind into a dead mass ; it stops to pour all the brains within its reach through a weekly sieve, till all distinctive qualities are lost, and not one of the fine units can be distinguished from the still disintegrated whole.

     Why is it thought necessary to know and exhibit the comparative progress and attainment constantly ? Is it possible for us to put one mind so by another as to decide " this is higher," " that is lower " ? Brain-power has too many outlets and modes of growth to be subjected to such crude valuations. I will have no comparisons made among my children. I will allow none in my school ; the only relative test I will put is the test of conscience, — Do you rank well in the scale of your possibilities ?

     In a small private school, such as has been discussed in these papers, there is, perhaps, an unusual inequality in powers and attainments. It often happens that a child who is peculiar, or who has had an exceptional course of training or want of training, one whose health requires singular care, or whose education has been from some cause irregularly carried on, is placed in such a " select " school. The class, thus made up of difficult and heterogeneous elements, can hardly be treated as a whole, and yet, in externals, it must be to some extent a unit ; but with the subtle insight and magnetic forces which the teacher, as well as the physician, requires and must be able to command, we must treat each mind as distinctly as a skilful physician would treat each separate patient. We must perceive and appreciate the instant want and difficulty in each case, and with imperceptible and sometimes unconscious skill keep each mind supplied and alive. Yes, let us keep each mind alive before us, — breathing vitalizing air from the realm in which we are acting as guide or priestess, and then, indeed, we are doing our whole work as teachers. If I try to awaken in each child within my keeping the activities of which it is capable, develop the gifts with which nature has endowed it, round out and perfect the being in its individual beauty, finish the typical design, and assist the creative purpose in the formation of that soul, what more absorbing interest or responsibility can I assume ? If I appreciate it, I shall bring all the enthusiasm and sympathy of my nature, as well as all the attainments of my life, to bear upon it.

     And as in the educational economy of Christianity we find a most exact model for such a method, — the teacher having secret sympathy and power with each disciple, — so is it not possible that the parallel may be extended ; and, even in our far- distant following of His ways of working, the phenomenon of seeming miracle may still present itself, — miracle which is only the normal result of a deeper understanding with nature ; a result which, for merely mechanical and superficial methods, is simply impossible.

There you have it. An educational philosophy over 100 years old that speaks to the soul. It screams YES, this is what education should be. This is how we should view all children when attempting to educate them.