All religion is not thus constructed like a fantastic castle erected on a basis of ignorance. Otherwise we should see savage peoples religious and civilized peoples without religion; whereas savages have a frail and fantastic religion, mainly constructed upon the terror inspired by the mysterious activities of Nature, and civilized peoples have a positive religion, which becomes stronger as it becomes purer, while the science of truth, penetrating into Nature, serves to exalt and illustrate its mysteries.
And, above all, to-day, when there is a movement in favor of eliminating religion altogether from the school, can we propose to introduce it by cultivating fable? It is such a simple matter to open the door directly to religion itself and allow its radiance to penetrate, warming and invigorating life.
But it should enter like the sun into creation, not like the Befana from the chimney-top.
Fable could prepare to some extent for pagan religion, which split up the divinity into innumerable minor gods, symbolizing the external world; this, being apprehended by the senses, may lend itself to illusion; but fable could certainly never prepare for Christianity, which brings God into contact with the inner life of man, "one and indivisible," and teaches the laws of a life which is "felt" by men. If the positive sciences be extraneous to religion, it cannot be said that it is the study of reality in itself which alienates us therefrom. Hitherto the positive sciences have studied the "external world" in its analytical details, and if they could have made a "sympathetic," religion that religion might be the pagan creed. Indeed, so far science has brought a very perceptive breath of paganism among us. But when it shall have succeeded in penetrating the inner man, and there making manifest the laws of life and the realities of existence, a great Christian light will surely shine upon men; and maybe children, like the angels over Bethlehem, will sing the hymn invoking peace between science and faith.
Saint John in the desert "made straight the way of the Lord" and purged men of the grossest errors. And thus a method which gives internal equilibrium and disperses the grossest errors which suffocate the spiritual energies, makes ready for the reception of truth and the recognition of the "way of life."
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The education of the imagination in schools for older children.—What is the method adopted in the ordinary elementary schools for the education of the imagination?
The school is, in most cases, a bare, naked place where the gray color of the walls and the white muslin curtains over the windows preclude any alleviation for the senses. The object of this depressing environment is to prevent the distraction of the scholar's attention by stimuli, and concentrate it upon the teacher who speaks. The children, seated, listen motionless hour after hour. When they draw, they have to reproduce another drawing exactly. When they move, it is in obedience to an order given by another person. Their personalities are appraised solely by the standard of passive obedience; the education of their wills consists of the methodical renunciation of volition.
"Our usual pedagogy," said Claparede, "oppresses children with a mass of information which can never help them to direct their conduct; we make them listen when they have no desire to hear; speak, write, narrate, compose and discourse when they have nothing to say; we make them observe when they have no curiosity, reason when they have no desire to discover anything. We incite them to efforts which are supposed to be voluntary without the preliminary acquiescence of their ego in the task imposed, that inner consensus which alone gives moral value to submission to duty."
The children thus reduced to slavery use their eyes to read, their hands to write, their ears to hear what the teacher says. Their bodies, indeed, are stationary; but their minds are unable to dwell upon anything. They must be continually exerting themselves to run after the mind of the teacher, who, in his turn, is urged on by a program drawn up at random, and which is certainly regardless of childish tendencies. The mind has to pass from thing to thing. Images fugitive and uncertain as dreams appear from time to time before the eyes of the child. The teacher draws a triangle on the blackboard and then erases it; it was a momentary vision represented as an abstraction; those children have never held a concrete triangle in their hands; they have to remember, by an effort, a contour around which abstract geometrical calculations will presently gather thickly; such a figure will never achieve anything within them; it will not be felt, combined with others, it will never be an inspiration. It is the same with everything else. The object would seem to be fatigue for its own sake, that fatigue which has engrossed almost the sum of effort of experimental psychology.
In this environment, where free exercise is prohibited, as also the choice of work, and meditation, where every sentiment is oppressed, and from which every external stimulus which might enrich the intelligence with spontaneous acquisitions is eliminated, an attempt is made to excite the imagination by giving "compositions" to be written. This means that the child has to produce without having the necessary material; to give, without possessing; achieve internal activities which he is prevented from developing. And production is to come from the exercise of production; "constant practise in composition" is to develop the imagination; from the sterility of the void the most complex products of the intelligence are to be evolved!
It is well known that "composition" represents the great difficulty of our schools. All teachers have declared that children are "poor in ideas," that they have "disorderly minds," that they are "absolutely without originality." The examination in written composition has always been the most painful of all; every one knows the expression of the child who hears the title of an obligatory theme dictated; and who in a few hours must hand in a written composition, a product of the imagination; it is with anguish, with oppression of the heart, with cold hands and eyes anxiously interrogating the clock in terror of the fleeting hour, under the distrustful surveillance of a teacher who for the occasion is transformed into a spy-warder like those in penal prisons, that he undergoes his torture to the end. Woe to him if he does not hand in his composition! He will be ruined, for this is the principal test, the one in which he is free to manifest his own worth, to give the true individual fruit by which others will measure his intelligence. It is in this way that our young generations often find neurasthenia and even suicide. Scholars cannot answer as did the greatest poet of our times, Carducci, when he was requested to write an ode on the occasion of the death of a personage: "It is inspiration, not an occasion, which would make me write an ode."
It is interesting to study the methods by which, in "modern schools," where some elements of psychical hygiene have penetrated, attempts are made to help the pupils by diminishing their exhausting effort and leading them on gradually to composition. Composition (we must pass over the contradiction in terms for the moment) is "taught." The teacher gives collective lessons in composition, just as she would explain arithmetic: this is called "collective oral composition."
We will allow specialists in this method to speak, giving a passage containing a preparation of teachers for such lessons:
METHOD TO BE FOLLOWED IN THE MANNER OF INDICATING THE THEME
"Let us take, by way of illustration, the following brief narrative, which consists of three phases: 1. Ernesto did not know his lesson; 2. The teacher scolded the child severely; 3. Ernesto wept and promised to do better. If we indicate the narrative by the words: 'Ernesto did not know his lesson' (first fact, cause), the pupil will go on easily to the effect, consisting of the two other phases which, logically and in chronological order, follow the cause. If, on the other hand, we give as the theme the indication corresponding to the second phase: 'The teacher scolded the child,' we oblige the pupil to go back to the cause and to make the third phase follow upon the second. We place the pupil in a more difficult position if we give as the theme: 'Ernesto wept and promised to do better,' since he will then be obliged to go back to the second and thence to the first phase.
"Hence the first phase in every brief narrative ought to serve to indicate the theme.
"Method. The teacher should write the theme on the blackboard, and invite the pupils to think of (not to say) a possible consequence of the fact indicated in the theme. The teacher must let it be understood that the pupils are to work independently, without the help of suggestion. Let us see:
"Luisa threw a piece of wool into the fire (theme). Think of a possible consequence, say what happened in consequence.
"The wool caused a bad smell. Very good. You repeat the narrative:
"Luisa threw a piece of wool into the fire. The wool caused a bad smell. Can any one add another little thought, another possible consequence?
"The teacher reproved Luisa. A pupil opened the window. The teacher repeats the exercise using the themes A. B. C. and causing the result arrived at with the collaboration of the scholars to be written in their copy-books.
"A theme may be proposed and the pupils may be left free to develop it without any further explanations.
Theme A.—Luisa threw a piece of wool into the fire. (The wool caused a bad smell. The teacher reproved Luisa. A companion opened the window to allow the bad odor to escape.)
Theme B.—Ernesto upset the ink on the floor. (The floor was stained. The teacher reproved the child. Ernesto promised to be more careful.)
Theme C.—Elisa read the story well. (The teacher praised her and gave her a good mark. Elisa was very much pleased.)
Theme D.—Mario made a blot on his copy-book. (The teacher did not correct his exercise; she scolded him. The boy went home crying.)
"After all this collective practise the teacher gives a free theme such as the following: 'Maria knew her lesson well.' In developing it, the children are expected to follow the above examples: that is to say, they are to indicate in two sentences the logical effects of such a cause (the teacher gave her ten marks and praised her; then she told her to persevere in her industry)."
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Sometimes the teaching has a psychological purport rather than a logical one. In such a case the "little thoughts" are not linked together as cause and effect, but by the display of psychical activities in three spheres: "knowing, feeling, and willing." Examples:
Amelia made me smell some ammonia (fact perceived).—
What a horrible smell! (sentiment).—I will not smell it again (volition).
Gigi pulled my hair (fact perceived).—It hurt me (sentiment). I pulled my companion's hand away quickly (volition) (I Diritti della Scuola, Year xiv, No. 16, p. 232).
With methods such as these it is obvious that every possibility of inspiration and creation will be destroyed. The child has to follow phrase by phrase what the teacher indicates; thus every spark of aptitude for original composition is quenched. Not only does the child remain empty of material wherewith to create, as in the past, but the very capacity for creation disappears, so that if, to-morrow, material should be formed in his mind, he would no longer have the impulse to utilize it, and his thought would be fettered by his school routine.
Intellectual education carried on by the teacher on such a system makes one think of a chauffeur who should shut up the motor of an automobile and try to propel it by the strength of his arms. He would in this case be a porter, and the automobile a useless machine. When, on the other hand, the motor is open, the internal force moves the car and the chauffeur only has to guide it that it may go safely along the street, not run into obstacles or rush into ditches, and not injure any one upon its course.
This guidance is the only thing necessary; but the real progression is due solely to the internal impulse, which no one can create.
It was thus that the first Italian literary Renascence came about, when the "new sweet style" arose with Dante as the spontaneous expression of feeling:
"Count of me but as one Who am the scribe of Love, that when he breathes Take up my pen and as he dictates, write." (Carey's translation, Purgatorio, Canto XXIV.)
The child must create his interior life before he can express anything; he must take spontaneously from the external world constructive material in order to "compose"; he must exercise his intelligence freely before he can be ready to find the logical connection between things. We ought to offer the child that which is necessary for his internal life, and leave him free to produce. Perhaps it would not then be impossible to meet a child running with sparkling eyes to write a letter, or walking and meditating as he cultivates a nascent inspiration.
We ought to tend and nourish the internal child, and await his manifestations. If imaginative creation comes late, it will be because the intelligence is not sufficiently mature to create until late; and we should no more force it with a fiction than we would put a false mustache on a child because otherwise he will not have one till he is twenty.
THE MORAL QUESTION
When we said, to begin with, that positive science had only given the "reform" of physical life, together with the modern rules of hygiene, as its contribution to society, we were unjust to positive science. It has considered not only physical life, but moral life.
It is enough to think of those studies in bacteriology which refer to the vehicles of infectious maladies in the environment, in order to recognize therefrom a primary token of the important place which is assigned to the community of human interests, and this is now affirmed with an emphasis never before displayed. Microbes multiply chiefly in damp and dirty places; underfed people are more prone to illness than others, and so are those who are overtired. Therefore illness and early death must be the heritage of the poor who, underfed and overtired, live in damp and dirty places? No. It is a question of vehicles. Microbes spread in all directions from the sources of infection, by means of dust, insects and all the usual objects of life, in fact by all the means of transport. They exist in inconceivable and fabulous numbers; and every sick person is an almost incredible source of illness and death. One single person would suffice to contaminate the whole of Europe.
The means of transport allow microbes to cross oceans and continents in every sense. We need only observe the transatlantic lines, and those of the railways of the world, in order to realize the lines of communication between the maladies which afflict humanity in all the places of the earth. We need only study the industrial changes of matter in order to follow in detail the daily path of the microbes, which put all classes of society into intimate communication. The rich lady wears linen on her person which comes from the hands of the poor, and is constantly in their keeping; she cannot put food into her mouth unless it is offered to her by the poor who have handled it over and over again.
The air which is breathed by the rich may contain in its dust the desiccated germs which a consumptive workman has scattered on the ground. There is no way of escape. Statistics prove this: the death rate from infectious diseases is tremendously high in all countries, among both rich and poor, although the poor die in a double proportion to the rich. How can we deliver ourselves from this scourge? Only on condition that there be no more sources of infection, that is to say, that there be no longer unhealthful places in the world, and no underfed people constrained to work beyond their strength. The only way by which the individual may escape is that by which all humanity may be saved. This is a great principle, which seems to ring like a trumpet call: Men, help one another, or you will die.
It is a fact that science has inaugurated "works of sanitation" as its practical contribution to the fight against mortality; towns have been opened out, water has been laid on, houses have been built for the poor, and labor has been protected. All the environment tends to ameliorate the "conditions of life" of the population. No works of charity, no expression of love or of pity, has ever been able to do so much. Science has shown us that those works which were called "charitable," and were looked upon merely as a moral virtue, represented the first step, although a restricted and insufficient one, towards the real salvation of the health of humanity. It was that which had to be done in order to fight against death. But, in order to reach the goal, such work should be universal, and should constitute a "reformation" of society. Then it becomes "social progress," when there will be no benefactors or benefited, but merely humanity which has increased its own well-being. This principle: All men are brothers; let them love and help one another, and let not the right hand know what the left hand doeth, will have been translated into practise.
In sentimental times, poverty was a stimulus to which the rich man reacted. The poor did not really tend to educate the rich man's feelings. If, in those times, the poor man had said, "Give me necessities, or thou shalt die," the rich man would have been indignant. He was very far from realizing that the poor man was his brother, with whom he shared his rights, as well as the danger of death.
To-day science has put things on a different footing. It has "realized" that charity benefits both rich and poor, and has constituted a principle of civilization that which formerly was a "moral principle" entrusted to sentiment.
In the case of morals, too, hygiene has penetrated, and has given individual rules of life. It is through hygiene that debauchery has become less common, that those epicurean feasts which were celebrated in ancient times are replaced to-day by hygienic meals, the value of which consists in the wise proportion between the needs of the body and the food which is prepared. Wine and alcohol are rejected by the rich more than by the poor. We eat in order to keep ourselves in good health, and therefore without excess and without poison. This is what the ancient morality preached when it fought against the vice of gluttony and proclaimed fasting and abstinence to be virtues. No one in those times could have imagined that the day would come when millionaires would voluntarily substitute lemonade for wine, and that great banquets would disappear entirely, leaving only the accounts of them as a "curiosity" of the past. Nay, more: none of these modern ascetics are proud of their virtue, they seem to respond with simplicity to the gospel precept:
"When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance ... but anoint thine head, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which seeth in secret."
If one of the ancient preachers could talk to these ascetics, he would also be much edified by their conversation. What has become of those pleasantries which formed "life" and "delight" and "gaiety" in the time of Marguerite of Valois? The tales of Boccaccio could not now be discussed in English society, or in any modern aristocratic society even of much lower social rank than that which surrounded Marguerite of Valois. Nowadays people are afraid of uttering an incorrect word, even of hinting at the most innocent functions of the body, or of naming those parts of their clothing which come in contact with the skin. They only talk about elevated things, and only those people who instruct us are looked upon as brilliant conversationalists; those who, in speaking of their travels, tell us about the customs of the people, or who, speaking of politics, tell us of the current situation. Excessive laughter, jokes, and violent gestures are not permitted. Every one keeps his limbs quiet, even avoiding those vivacious and inoffensive gestures which are the natural accompaniment of conversation; the tone of voice is so modulated as to be scarcely audible. The ancient preacher would say, "These people have carried out St. Paul's exhortation to an exaggerated degree: 'But fornication and all uncleanness, let it not once be named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness nor foolish talking nor jesting which are not convenient.'"
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And among these evolutions of manners we find that it is once more hygiene which, making itself the guide of fashion, has by degrees simplified clothes, done away with pomatum and rouge, abolished crinolines, modified stays and shoes, caused long-trained dresses to disappear from the streets, and has introduced uniformity in clothing. If a man who lived in ancient times were to appear among us, he would ask: "Why are the people doing penance? I see men without any ornaments and with their hair cut short; and women who, with an edifying renunciation of vanity, go along the street without wigs and without patches on their faces, with their hair simply knotted up; I see countesses dressed in inexpensive costumes, in simple, dark, monastic dresses, almost like those of the poor. The carriages are dark, like funeral cars, and the servants wear mourning livery. Carnival no longer enlivens the streets. Every one goes about silently and gravely."
Who could ever have persuaded the people of old times, who used to preach against excessive vanity, that such a picture as this does not represent a time of penance, but ordinary daily life?
These modern people, on their side, are far from thinking that they are condemned to a life of suffering; on the contrary, they look back with horror on the society of the past; they would never go back to those days when men were enslaved by grand dresses and by rouge, poisoning themselves with debauchery and dying of infectious diseases. They have freed themselves from a great many useless bonds and have realized a higher enjoyment of life. All the comfort which makes life so delicious to-day would have been an incomprehensible secret to the nobility of past centuries. It is the secret of life.
Possibly, at one time, monks and those who were living in the world thought of each other in a similar way. Those who had renounced the bondage of the world and all its vanities possessed a secret of life which was full of hitherto unknown delights, and they looked with horror upon the so-called pleasure of their century; while those unconscious men who were slaves from the tops of their be-wigged heads to their feet compressed in narrow boots, called the ways of death "life and enjoyment."
Positive science has made yet another contribution penetrating directly into the sphere of morality. By statistic methods of sociology the social problems of immorality and crime have been opened up, and external facts have been studied; and criminal anthropology has revealed the "inferior types" who by hereditary taint are those who have a predisposition to all the moral infection of their surroundings. Morel's theories concerning degeneration and the resulting theories of Lombroso concerning criminals have undoubtedly brought light into this chaos, wherein opinion as to human goodness and wickedness was divided. Forms of "degeneration" are chiefly rooted in the nervous system, and all the abnormal personalities produced thereby "deviate" from the ordinary type. They have a different intelligence and different morality. False perceptions, false reasoning, illusions, anomalies of the will such as impulses, irresolutions, and crazes, the deficient moral sense on which the abnormal intelligence builds up systematic delusions, which are interpreted as philosophical principles, place these persons in a category apart as extra-social beings.
The general nervous weakness and the wandering intelligence which preclude an interest in work make of these persons individuals incapable of production, who therefore try to live upon the productions of others. This fundamental fact, which tends to unite a dislike of productive labor with impulses towards rapine, causes them to make use of all those surrounding causes which prepare the external means for crime. These men are "bad." But if we observe more closely we see that it is not wickedness with which we have to deal but morbid conditions and social errors. If such be the case, these bad men, who from no fault of their own were born in these unhappy conditions, and who are driven to perdition by society, are really "victims." Their whole history, when closely investigated, reveals this fact. They are hunted and neglected from babyhood. Incapable of making themselves beloved owing to mental deficiency, volitive disorders, to the anomaly of the affections and also to lack of physical attraction, they pass from maternal persecution to that of the school, and finally to that of society, bringing on themselves every kind of punishment.
The first picture which Morel drew of these "dead ones of the race" was an impressive one. According to his original theory, containing a synthesis which, if not very exact, yet sums up the phenomenon with comprehensive clearness, when a cause of degeneration acts upon a man, he may have defective children, whose deficiency increases in the two or three following generations, until it is extinguished in the final sterility of exceedingly debased individuals. According to Morel, madmen, criminals, epileptics and idiots form the sad series in this extinction of man. The man who dies leaving strong descendants, does not really die, but is renewed in them, youth succeeding to age. It is only the degenerate who dies, for his kind is "extinguished," the few miserable generations whom he produces represent a "living agony." This "dying species," which lives among the healthy, exhibiting its weakness, its delusions, its convulsions, irritability and egoism, is finally driven into those tombs of the living, lunatic asylums and prisons.
What a living picture, and what a warning to man! One "fault" may be a mortal one to him, for, like the Biblical curse, it transmits itself to generations, and leads to eternal perdition.
How terrible it is to think of punishment falling on the innocent head of a child! and how evident it is that our present life is not everything, but that it has a continuation, when we shall reap the true rewards or the true punishments of our existence. The choice lies to a great extent in our own hands. Shall we have a beautiful, healthy, prolific son, or a deformed, unhealthy, barren son, incapable of loving and understanding us? The hygiene of generation is the most important part of moral hygiene. If the salvation of the individual life can only be obtained by caring for the hygienic life of the whole of humanity, it is only by rigorously following the laws of health and the laws of life that the salvation of the species can be obtained. Alcoholism, all poisons, overwork, constitutional maladies, dissipation of nervous force, vice, and idleness, are all causes of degeneration. It was science which went on preaching these things for the salvation of mankind, and by these means propagating virtue. But above all, it inculcated the great principle of "pardon," which hitherto had been one of the mysteries of religious morality.
A few years ago, no one, however pitiful and generous, could have looked upon the delinquent with the same justice and pity as science has done. It has pointed out that we are all responsible for this victim of social causes, that we must all accuse ourselves of the sins committed by the inferior individual, and exert ourselves for his regeneration by all the means in our power. It was only the saints who had an intuition of this truth, when they offered their merits for all men in common and accepted responsibility for the offenses of all. "You will hold yourselves accountable," said St. John Chrysostom, "not only for your own salvation, but for universal salvation; he who prays must take upon himself the burden of the interests of the whole human race."
It is certain that if a Tages had cleansed our whole race of its deformities, and if an analogous morality had rendered us indifferent to the illnesses, weaknesses, and sufferings of humanity, regenerative science would not have been able to arise. It is only by recognizing the effects that we can go back to the unhealthy causes, and save humanity from danger. The causes of death are as invisible and intangible as microbes; man may drink poison when he thinks he is drinking nectar. Woe to us if the diseased and degenerate did not exhibit themselves to us as an advance guard, to testify to the unconscious errors which threaten us with perdition. Science does not exactly limit itself to tending the sick, like the personnel of a hospital, but it penetrated by that goodly door, and made its way in a contrary direction towards a normal humanity, unconscious of its danger. The ultimate result of science is not the care of the sick but universal health. We owe the hygienic "comfort" which ensures our health, and diminishes general mortality to so great an extent, to the fact that sick people were collected together and tended.
The promise of regeneration given us by eugenics, which offers us the universal hope of a more flourishing and happier generation than that of the past has been made possible because we mercifully collect all the feeble-minded, the epileptics and the unhealthy. It was to this we had to look in order to find the roads which lead to health, and arrive at the gates of a better world.
When Christ showed the way of salvation to men He pointed to those who were rejected by society, in whom the obvious effects of evil could be seen, because the causes of evil are too subtle, and are not always directly visible: "You hear with your ears and do not understand; you behold with your eyes and do not see."
But, on the other hand, the extreme consequences are obvious, and it is enough that the "will" of man should agree to gather them in charitably and without repugnance in order to obtain salvation. St. Matthew says that at the Last Judgment those who are lost will be separated from those who are saved, and that the King will call the latter to his right hand, saying, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an-hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink ... I was naked and ye clothed me.... I was in prison, and ye came unto me." "And when," replied the just, "saw we thee, O Lord, an-hungered or thirsty or naked? When saw we thee sick or in prison and came unto thee?" and the King shall answer and say unto them, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire ... for I was an-hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink ... sick and in prison and ye visited me not." Then shall they answer him, saying, "When saw we thee an-hungered, or a-thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?" Then shall he answer them, saying, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."
This is the fundamental difference between heathen and Christian morality; between intellectual Greek philosophy and practical modern science; between the aesthetic ideal and the ideal of "life."
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Positive science, therefore, has made us realize a part of Christianity. We might almost say that the monastic orders practically represented, throughout the centuries and the different civilizations, the only form of life which is really life—that which science has revealed to-day.
They alone, at a period of disorderly excess, had a dietary which begins to be generally recognized as hygienic; they ate coarse bread, fresh fruit, milk fresh from the cow, many vegetables, little meat, at frugal but regular repasts. Withdrawing from the polluted air of crowded cities, they chose large, spacious houses in the open country or, at any rate, rather isolated—if possible, standing on a height. Their luxury was not heavy, padded furniture but large grounds where it was possible to live in the open air. Loose clothing, comfortable sandals, or bare feet, woolen gowns, physical exercise, agricultural work, traveling, made them almost the precursors of the modern life of sport. Every convent spread benefactions all around—received the poor, tended the sick, as if to show that this freer and more privileged life was but a phase, which must necessarily be accompanied by help to humanity. They represented the social and intellectual elite; it was the Benedictines who preserved manuscripts and treasured the arts; it was the followers of Saint Bernard who practised agriculture, and it was the sons of Saint Francis who preached peace.
Or it might be said that modern society, guided by positive study of the laws of life and of the means of saving it, has encountered the religious laws which reveal the paths of life; and realizes a form of civilization which recalls and, in some ways, reproduces the ancient oases of the spirit.
If, however, we were to risk a parallel between modern society and a convent, what kind of convent would the former be?
Here is a monastery where the brethren eat according to rule, wear hygienic clothing, are correct in their language, never indulge in noisy quarrels, have all their interests in life in common, and dispense their charities coldly, as if they were a custom or an obligation of their order; they meditate on eternal life, on salvation, and rewards and punishments in a future life, but without being touched by these thoughts. The real truth is that they have lost their faith, and that they do not love one another; ambition, anger, envy and even hatred, drive away internal peace; and corruption begins to filter in under these other sins; a sign of a deeper decadence now begins to show itself, for chastity has been lost. That which is, par excellence, the standard of Christianity, the sign of respect for life, the consecration of the purity which leads to eternal life, has been overthrown together with faith. The love of man is not compatible with the excesses of the beast. It is through purity that an ardent love to all mankind, and comprehension of others, and intuition of truth, arise like a perfume. It is that ardent fire called charity or love, which keeps life kindled, and gives value to all things. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned," says St Paul, "and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not charity, I am nothing. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am became as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal" (1 Cor. xiii.).
In "degenerate" convents the greatest and most elevated acquirements, and the highest level of perfection reached, are lost; just as a person punished by degradation first loses the last and highest acquisitions, and only keeps the lower.
In social convents, on the other hand, the ultimate attainment has not yet been reached; that is the difference and the contrast. The social elevation towards Christianity is only on its first steps. Love is lacking, and thence chastity; and all this is absent owing to the arid void left by the absence of faith, and the oppression of spiritual life. Positive science has not yet touched the inner man, and the social environment does not therefore realize, in its "force of universal civilization," the loftier human acquisitions.
When we occupy ourselves with the "moral education" of our children, we ought to ask ourselves if we really love them and if we are sincere in our wishes for their "morality."
Let us be practical. Fathers and mothers, what can you hope for from your children? The European war is far less dangerous to their bodies than the spiritual risks which they run. We must imagine a much greater war, a universal one, to which all young men are called, and where the survivors are pointed out as absolutely exceptional. Therefore you are educating your sons for death. What, then, is the use of troubling so much about them? Is it not useless to take care of their soft hair, and their rosy nails, and the fresh and bewitching beauty of their vigorous little bodies, if they are to die before long?
Ah! all those who love children must fight in this deadly war, and struggle for peace:
The creed which Mme. de Hericourt sets forth in her book, "La Femme Affranchie," about the time of the French Revolution, is very eloquent.
"Mothers, you admonish your children, saying, 'Do not tell lies, because this is unworthy of a person who respects himself. Do not steal: would you like it if people stole your things? It is a dishonest thing to do. Do not oppress those of your companions who are weaker than yourself, and do not be rude to them, for that would be a cowardly act.' These are excellent principles. But when the child has become a young man his mother says, 'He must sow his wild oats.' And sowing his wild oats means that he must perforce be a seducer, an adulterer, and a frequenter of brothels. What? Is this mother, who told her boy not to tell lies, the same person who permits him now that he is a man, to betray a woman like herself? And, although she taught her child not to steal another child's toy, she thinks it lawful for her son to rob a woman like herself of her life and her honor. And she who advised him never to oppress the weak, now permits him to range himself among the oppressors of a human being whom society has made into a slave."
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These mothers acquiesce in the degrading fact which perverts all humanity. There is a strong social movement to-day against the white slave traffic; and at the same time the science of eugenics has arisen which tends to protect the health of posterity.
These are excellent things. But the question which lies at the root of all these questions is a spiritual question. It is not the white slaves who are the "lost" human beings; they are the victims of a universal act of perdition and slavery. If such a grave spiritual danger is hanging over us, what external hygiene can save us, unless it is preceded by a direct struggle against this danger? The really "lost" are those who persist in a state of death, without perceiving it.
If any one perceives the danger, he may by this mere fact find himself in the way of salvation. The so-called white slaves, held in scorn by society and oppressed by punishment, cry vengeance in the sight of the universe, and cover mankind with shame; but they are not the really lost—they are not the only slaves. He who is lost is the innocent, well-educated young man who, without remorse, unconscious of his own degradation, takes advantage of a human being who is made a slave for him, and, moreover, covers her with contempt, without hearing the voice of conscience which admonishes him: "Why beholdest thou the mote which is in thy brother's eye? Cast out the beam which is in thine own eye." This man, who seeks, perhaps, to protect his own body from disastrous consequences, although very often it is not possible to escape them, and therefore risks, for nothing, suicide of his own person and of his species; and who only cares to seek a social position for himself and an honored family—this is the man who is really lost in darkness, and reduced to slavery.
And his mother is also a slave, for she cannot follow her son, whom she brought up with so much care for his body, and who cared for his moral good with all the passionate love of her heart; she is a slave, when her son is forced away from her, to go perhaps to death or to the ruin of his physical health, and to descend into moral degradation, while she can do nothing but watch him, silent and immovable. She excuses herself sadly, saying that her dignity and purity forbid her to follow her son in these paths. It is as if she were to say, "There is my son, wounded and bleeding; but I cannot follow him, because the road is muddy, and I might dirty my boots." Where is the heart of a true mother? How can maternal sentiment fall so low? "She only is dignified and pure," cries Madame de Hericourt, "who is capable of bringing up her son in such a way that he will never have anything shameful to confess to his mother."
The mother who has lost all her authority is herself lost.
Maternal dignity, on the other hand, is great and powerful. Behold in ancient times the Roman matron, Veturia, the mother of Coriolanus! Having heard that her son, a traitor to his country, was coming to attack Rome at the head of an alien army, she went bravely out from the protecting walls of the city, advanced towards the powerful leader through the hostile host, and asked him, "Art thou my son, or art thou a traitor?" At those words Coriolanus renounced his unworthy undertaking.
In the same way, in these days, the true mother should pass beyond the walls of prejudice and the frontiers of slavery, and have sufficient dignity to be able to confront her son, saying to him: "Thou wilt not be a traitor to humanity!"
What pressure can have been brought to bear on a woman to have made her lose the sacred right of saving her son? and what can have so weakened affection as to lead a youth to despise the maternal authority in order to make himself a young man?
It is this death of the soul and not external facts which pronounce our sentence.
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If positive science, which has limited itself to the study of the external causes of maladies, or the causes of degeneration, and has confined itself to the inculcation of physical hygiene—that is to say, the protection of material life—has contributed so largely to morality, how much more may we hope for moral elevation from a positive science which concentrates upon the protection of the "inner life" of man?
And if the first part, scrupulously following the truth by exact research, has arrived at the social realization of Christian principles, we may presume that its continuation, conducted with the same loyalty and exactitude of research, will in like manner succeed in filling up the voids which still exist in modern civilization.
This is, I believe, the clearest and most direct reply to those who ask what can be hoped for in the morality and religion of the new generations, from our "pover-ositive" method of education.
If experimental medicine, by going back to the causes of diseases, has succeeded in solving the problems which concern health, an experimental science which concentrates upon the study of normal man's psychical activities should lead to the discovery of the superior laws of life and of the health of mankind.
This science has not yet been established, and awaits its investigators; but we may foresee that if universal hygiene, which gives humanity a guide to physical life, has come from medical research, then this new science should produce a hygiene which will give to all men practical guidance in moral life.
And if positive medicine arose in the hospitals, where sick people were collected by private and public generosity, with charitable intentions and under the guidance of empiricism, this science should, above all, concentrate and find its experiences in schools: that is to say, in the places where all children are gathered together for their social elevation, and with the empirical guidance of education.
What was the elevated note of scientific medicine which gradually superseded the empirical method? While empirical medicine believed in blood-letting and blistering, scientific medicine elevated and illustrated the ancient principle which had been forgotten, and which contained all the new wisdom in a synthesis: the medicinal force of nature, vis medicatrix naturae. A natural power of fighting and conquering illness exists in the living organism, and it is to this that we must look in order to construct rational medicine; he who believes that the doctor and the medicine cure the sick is an empiricist; but he who knows that it is "only the organism" that can produce the cure, and that therefore we must protect and assist the force which nature gives for our salvation, is a scientist.
Now the sum of treatments necessary to protect the natural forces of defense and reorganization in positive medicine, are much more minute and are diffused in much vaster fields than the old empiricism.
The great number of specialists who replace the single type of doctor of the last century, is sufficient to emphasize the enormous difference in practise which the new tendency involves.
It is interesting also to give a glance at the progress which has been made in medicine; it has begun to cure diseases; and thence it has gone on to discover the laws of normal physical life, and to show the healthy how to preserve their health. When it reached this point it found that the same measures which are necessary for preserving health are the best for curing disease; because it is the same source of life which gives health and the vis medicatrix naturae. Thus, for example, the rational diet of to-day is not only a hygienic measure which all should adopt in order to keep themselves in health, but the most important factor in the cure of illness. Dietetics, whether for the victims of gout, pellagra, fever, tuberculosis, or diabetes, is of primary importance; lithia salts, caffeine, and creosote are useless in comparison. The modern tendency is to reject these poisonous remedies altogether, and to substitute the natural remedies of rest, medical gymnastics, hydropathic treatment, and, above all, climatic treatment. Psychiatry and neuropathology have introduced the treatment of work: that is, a course of orderly intelligent activity, to give occupation to individuals who begin to show signs of mental failure. By degrees, as progress is made in this direction, the conception of "natural healing" will triumph—the ever clearer conception, that is to say, of the forces which sustain life.
It is only Nature which can do everything, and if the doctor is to become useful he must follow in her footsteps and serve her with increasing fidelity.
It is natural that investigation should lead to attempts at interpreting these forces upon which health depends, and these studies of "immunity" have been the most brilliant, widely diffused and scientific of all medical studies.
When Metchnikoff believed he had discovered that the leucocytes in the blood absorb and digest microbes and thus save man from infection, it seemed as if a ray of clear and simple light had illuminated all the mystery. But no sooner was his theory promulgated than it was demolished by the successive studies in which it was subjected to a destructive criticism, because the leucocytes are not always able to absorb living microbes; certain "conditions" of the organism are requisite in order that they may have this power, and so the knotty point was merely shifted. Moreover, it is not the actual microbes which cause disease, but their toxines. Thus the theories of toxines seemed to be the true guide for researches; but then we entered into a sea of complications, and it is obvious that only "aspects" and "attributes" of immunity are accessible to us, but that the substance, the last word, underlying all those aspects which research has revealed is: mystery.
For this reason, there is silence to-day as to questions of immunity; that which was once familiar as a popular idea remains among the obscure studies which not even the students of the university should approach.
Nevertheless, it is "impossible" that the medical science founded upon natural forces should develop, unless the imperative necessity be recognized of studying the mystery of life which conceals its source, but continually expands its forces.
The invisible but real source of health and healing is always there, at the climax of all efforts; and the palpitating energy which springs inexhaustibly therefrom is the only reality which makes evident this revival of the living. This medical science and this mystery cannot but form a unity.
It is probable that this will be brought about by that science which studies the health and the maladies of the soul. If this should discover that the soul, too, is corruptible, subject to disease and death, that it has its laws of health and its vis medicatrix naturae, treatments tending to respect and aid this precious force of life should multiply immeasurably; and at the same time the mysterious source whence it gushes should impose itself on modern medicine, as the question of immunity has done. Then life, morality and religion will be indissolubly united.
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Let us now turn to children of two and a half and three years old, who touch everything, but especially those objects which they evidently prefer, the most simple objects, as, for example, a square block of paper, a square inkstand, or a round, shiny bell. All things which "are not meant for them."
Then the mother comes and takes them away; half caressing, and at the same time tapping the little hands, she calls out, "Don't touch! naughty!" I once was present at one of these many family scenes, which pass unnoticed. The father, who was a doctor, was sitting at the writing-table; the mother was holding in her arms a very small child, who was stretching out its little hands to the various objects upon the table. The doctor said, "That child is incorrigibly naughty, although it is so young. However much its mother and I try to cure it of this fault of touching my things, we never succeed." "Naughty! naughty!" repeated the mother, holding its little hands tightly, while the child threw itself back, howling, and throwing its feet about as if it wished to kick.
When children are three or four years older, the struggle becomes more severe: they want to do things. Those who observe them carefully discover that they have some "tendency." They wish to imitate what their mother does, if their mother is a housewife. They willingly follow her into the kitchen, they wish to share her work, to touch her things, and they try furtively to knead and cook and wash clothes, and sweep the floor. The mother feels wearied by them; she keeps on repeating, "Be quiet; leave it alone. Don't tease me. Go away." Then the child makes a great noise, throws himself on the ground, and kicks; but then he begins again to do as much as he can without being seen, as quickly as possible; and by trying to wash things in a hurry, gives himself a bath; trying to conceal some contraband ragout, he makes the floor dirty. The mother's anger, cries, and reproofs increase; and the child reacts with naughtiness and tears; but begins again almost at once.
Where the mother does not do her own work, the child, if intelligent, is still more unfortunate. He looks for something which he cannot find, and cries for no reason, he flies into a passion for which no one can account; some fathers lament this, almost with despair. "My child is very intelligent, but so naughty! nothing will satisfy him. It is no use to buy toys for him, he is really overdone with them; nothing is of any use."
The mother asks anxiously, "What do you advise me to do when the child is naughty? and when he gets into passions? He is so naughty, he never keeps still; I cannot contend with him any more."
It is rare to hear a mother say, "My baby is good—it is always asleep." Who has not heard some poor mother shout in a threatening voice to the crying babe in her arms, "Be quiet, be quiet, I tell you!" and then, naturally the child is frightened, and redoubles its cries.
This is the first contest of the man who enters the world: he has to struggle with his parents, with those who have given him life. And this occurs because his infant life is "different" from that of his parents; the child has to form himself, whereas his parents are already formed. The child must move about a great deal, to coordinate his movements, which are not yet under control; the parents, on the other hand, have their voluntary mobility organized, and can control their movements; perhaps also they are often tired after their work. The child's senses are not yet fully developed; his powers of accommodation are insufficient, and need help from touching and feeling, in order to take account of objects as well as of spaces; and his eyes are rectified by the experience of his hands. The parents, on the contrary, have developed senses, and have already corrected the primitive illusions of these; their powers of accommodation are perfect, if they have not spoilt them by abuse; in every way cerebral activity leads the senses to receive an exact impression; they have no need to touch. Children are anxious to get knowledge of the external world; their parents know it too well already.
Therefore they do not understand each other.
Parents want their children to do as they do, and any diversity is called "naughtiness." Think of the mother who drags her child along with her; he has to run while she walks; his legs are short, while hers are long; weak, while hers are strong, he has to bear the weight of his body and his disproportionately large head, while the mother has a head and body which are proportionally lighter and smaller. The child is tired and stands and cries, and the mother exclaims, "Come on, you naughty little thing! I won't have any nonsense. Do you want me to carry you, lazybones? No, I won't give in to you."
Or again, we see mothers who, when their children sit down on the ground—or lay themselves flat on their stomachs with their feet in the air, and support themselves on their elbows, while they look round them, call out, "Off the ground! You are making yourself dirty, naughty child."
All this may be translated in this way: "The child is different from the adult. The formation of his body is such that his head and his body are enormously large in comparison with his small, slender legs, because they are the part which will grow most. Hence the child cannot endure walking, and prefers to lie at full length, which is the most healthy position for him. He has a wonderful tendency towards development; he gets his first ideas of external life and assists his senses of sight and hearing by touching, in order to realize the forms of objects and distance. He moves continually, because he must coordinate and adapt his mobility. Hence he moves a great deal, walks very little, throws himself on the ground, and touches everything, and these are signs that he is alive, and that he is growing." No—all this is looked upon as naughtiness.
This is evidently not a moral question. We do not seek for means to correct these depraved tendencies of the man who is but just born. No, it is not a moral question. It is, however, a question of life.
The child seeks to live and we want to hinder him. In that sense it does become a moral question, as regards ourselves, since we have begun to examine those errors on our part which do harm, and infringe the rights of others. Moreover, our own egotism is concealed beneath our errors of treatment; what we really resent in the child is that he gives us trouble; we struggle against him in order to protect our own comfort, our own liberty. How often at the bottom of our hearts we have felt that we have been unjust, but have stifled this impression. The little rebel does not accuse us or bear us malice. On the contrary; just as he persists in his "naughtinesses" which are forms of life, so does he persist in loving us, in forgiving us everything, in forgetting our offenses, in longing to be with us, to embrace us, to sit upon our knees, to fall asleep on our bosom. This, too, is a form of life. And we, if we are tired or satiated, repulse him, masking this excess of selfishness under a hypocritical pretense of concern for the child himself: "Don't be so silly!" Insult and calumny are always on our lips in the eternal refrain: "Naughty, naughty." And yet the figure of the child might stand for that of perfect goodness, which "thinketh no evil, delighteth not in iniquity, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things." As to us—no, we cannot always say as much of ourselves.
If the struggle between the adult and the child could be brought to an end in "peace," and the adult, accepting the conditions of infant life, would seek to help the child, the former would be able to advance towards one of the most sublime enjoyments which Nature can bestow: that of following the natural development of the child, and seeing the man evolved. If the opening rosebud has become a commonplace of poetry, how much greater is the poetry of the infant soul in its manifestations? Now this ineffable gift which was placed beside us, in order that the miracle might accompany us and comfort us, we trample under foot in our wrath, blaspheming as if demented.
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When the child desires to touch and to act, in spite of "punishments of every kind," he persists in exercises necessary "to his development," and displays a strength of will in the matter against which we are often powerless; he shows the same persistence as in breathing, in crying when he is hungry, and in raising himself when he wants to walk. Thus the child turns to external objects which respond to his needs: if he finds them, he displays his powers in muscular or sensory exercises, and then he is joyous; and if he does not find them, he is restless as when his desires are unsatisfied. Toys are too light to satisfy arms which require to make the efforts necessary in lifting and moving objects; they are too complex to satisfy senses which need to analyze a single sensation. They are vanity, and in themselves they represent simulacra and parodies of actual life. And yet they form the world of our children, in which they are constrained to "consume" their potential powers in a continuous exasperation, which incites them to destroy things.
Happily, children do not hear the pronouncement of the common formula, that children have an "instinct" for destruction. Nor are they familiar with the other axiom which contradicts this: That the instinct of "property," in other words, selfishness, is strongly developed in them. On the contrary, the child has merely the overpowering instinct to "grow," and therefore to raise and to perfect himself; in every period of life he seeks instinctively to prepare himself for the next period. This fact is very much more comprehensible than the strange instincts we calumniously attribute to him.
Just try the experiment of allowing children to act for themselves; they are at once "transformed." In the Guerrieri Gonzaga Children's House, it sufficed to provide a comb, to transform the naughtiest, most rebellious of the children, the one whom the teacher designated as in need of "taming," into a lively and attractive little girl, who combed the hair of her companions most carefully, with evident delight. We had only to say to an awkward, lethargic child, who came forward holding out her arms to have her sleeves pulled down for her: "Do it yourself," and there was a flash of intelligence in her eyes, her weary face was lighted up by an expression of satisfied pride and amazement, and she began to pull down her sleeves with positive delight. When these children were given a little basin and a piece of soap, how carefully they emptied and replaced the receptacle, fearing to break it, and how caressingly they handled the soap, laying it down very gently! It seemed as if the task had been confided to a mechanism of moving figures, with an accompaniment of music: the figures were the children, the music was their own joy.
These children, occupied in dressing, cleaning, washing, combing, cleansing, and arranging their environment, work themselves. As a result, they love useful objects so much that they will preserve a piece of paper for years, and instead of knocking against furniture, and breaking objects, they perfect their movements.
But we place ourselves beside these lives which are hastening triumphantly to their salvation, and seek to bind them to ourselves, in spite of the struggle which has begun and the fear we have already provoked. We approach them gently and seductively; and because when a child breaks things he is obviously grieved, and therefore would endeavor to correct and perfect his movements, we spare him this grief, which would be in the nature of "an act of repentance on the part of the muscles which have transgressed," and give him unbreakable objects: plates, basins, and drinking vessels made of metal, toys made of stuff, woolly bears, india-rubber dolls. Henceforth his "errors" will be concealed. Every error of the muscles will pass unnoticed by the child: he will no longer feel the pain of evil-doing, repentance, an effort to perfect himself. He will be able to sink into error; behold him, clumsy, heavy, without expression in his face, a stuffed bear in his arms! He is now bound fast to vanity and error, and has lost all consciousness thereof.
The adult hems him in ever more closely: he does everything for the child, dresses him, even feeds him. But the child's desire is not to be dressed and materially nourished: his deep desire is to "do," to exercise his own powers intelligently, and thus to rise to his higher level. With what subtle insinuations does the adult seek to confound him! You are exerting yourself and why? That you may be washed? That you may put on your pinafore? You can have all this done for you without any effort. You will find it all done with greater perfection and ease. Without moving a finger you shall have a hundred times more done for you than you could accomplish for yourself, even with all the exertion of which you are capable. You need not even put the bread into your mouth, you shall be spared even this trouble, and you will take in nourishment all the more copiously.
The devil was less cruel when he tempted Christ in the wilderness, showing Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. "All these things will I give Thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me." But the child has not the power to answer like Christ: "Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written: Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." The child ought to obey God, who has prescribed that his nature shall demand action; and that he should conquer his world as he has conquered life, to the end that he may elevate himself and not to the end that he may acquire external splendor and comfort. When tempted, however, he cannot resist. He ends by possessing the objects, the pretty, ready-made things; his soul makes no progress; he loses sight of the goal. Behold the child clumsy, unsteady, inept, enslaved! Those incapable muscles encase a captive soul. He is oppressed far more by this fatal inertia than by the physical contests which initiated his relations with the adult. Often he has fits of rage like the sinner; he bites the bear that he cannot break, cries desperately when he is washed and has his hair combed, rebels and struggles when he is dressed. The only movements allowed by the devil are those of anger. But gradually he sinks into the depression of impotence. Adults say: "Children are ungrateful; they have none of the higher feelings as yet; they care only for their own pleasure."
Who has not seen patient mothers and nurses, "bearing" from morning till night the humors of four or five discontented children, who are screaming and playing pranks with their metal plates and rag dolls? They seem to say: "Children are like this," and a benevolent compassion takes the place of the natural reaction of impatience. Of such persons we say: "How good they are! how patient they are!"
But the devil, too, is patient after this fashion: he too can contemplate the agonies and impotent rebellions of the souls which are in his power, which are prostrate among vanities, oppressed by a great quantity of means, the ends of which they have lost, souls in which the consciousness of sin is extinguished, and which are gradually sinking into an abyss of mortal error. He is patient in contemplating them, in supporting their cries—and he too offers them bears and rubber dolls, and feeds them, stuffing them, that is to say, with new vanities which mask their errors, and nourish their bodies.
He who, seized with doubt, should ask concerning these mothers and nurses: "Are they really good?" might get an idea from the reply of Christ: "None is good save God," that is, the Creator. Goodness is the attribute of God. He who creates is good, only creation is good. Hence he only is good who helps creation to achieve its ends.
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Now we come to the school. Conceptions of goodness and naughtiness must be very definite here, for when a teacher has to leave the class-room, she calls one of the children, who, during her absence, is charged to write the names of the "Good" and the "Naughty" in two columns on the blackboard under these headings. The child, however, who is called out is quite capable of judging, for nothing is easier than to distinguish between goodness and naughtiness in schools. The good are those who are quiet and motionless; the naughty are those who talk and move. The results of the classification are not very serious. The teacher gives good or bad "conduct marks." The consequences are not disastrous; they are, so to speak, akin to the social judgments passed upon men whose conduct is appraised as good or bad. This does not affect society, and the judgment entails neither honors nor imprisonment. It is merely a pronouncement. But "esteem" and even "honor" depend upon it, things which have a high moral value. In school "good conduct" means inertia, and "bad conduct" means activity. The "esteem" of the head mistress, of the teacher and of schoolfellows, the whole "moral" part, in fact, of the system of rewards and punishments, depend upon these appreciations. As in society, they require no "judicial qualifications," no "authority" in those who form them; they are based on something that "all" can see and judge; they are the true moral judgment of the environment; indeed, any one of the children themselves, or even the class-room attendant, may write the list on the blackboard. There is, in fact, nothing mysterious or philosophical in conduct; it is the sum of acts committed, the facts of life itself, accessible to all, which determine it. And all can see it and pronounce upon it.
On the other hand, there are much more serious acts, the consequences of which affect the community and touch those principles of justice on which all are entitled to rely; they therefore require "authoritative judgments" against which there is no appeal; a kind of Supreme Court hastily convoked.
When in an examination the children, seated side by side, have there and then to give samples of what they have learnt, that is, to hand in that veritable legal document, an evidence visible and accessible to all judgments, the written task, be it dictation, composition or problem; if then one child helps another, he is not merely naughty, but wicked, for he has not only displayed activity, but activity for the benefit of another. The punishment may be very serious: the annulment of the examination, which may sometimes mean the loss of a whole year's schooling, the repetition of that year's course. A child who can help another is kind; well, he may be punished by having to pass the examination again, several months later, or even by having to go back for a whole year of his life and begin over again. There are many cases of this kind: the family of this kind-hearted child may have been very poor, and the child may have been making a great effort to come out well, and so to be able soon to help his family by his own childish work; who knows how his comprehension of this family condition may touch the heart of a child? He may have seen in his bewildered schoolfellow another poor boy in like circumstances. How often some quarrel in his home, or insufficient food, may have caused him to lie in bed, sleepless and excited, for hours? In the morning his mind was confused. Perhaps his unfortunate schoolfellow had been in like case just on the eve of the examinations.
It is essential to understand certain situations: the mother at home counts the days of each school year that passes, because to her these are so many days sacrificed; she is certainly following her boy at the examination with a heart full of anxiety; her face at the window when the child comes in sight asks, when he is yet afar: "How did it go?" This picture was perhaps present in the heart of the good-natured child when he helped his comrade.
He might, of course, keep all this to himself, perfect his own work, or hand it in first. For justice decrees that the time spent on the work should be counted by the minute, almost as by the chronometers of psychological experiment. Justice is rigorous. On the paper handed in by the child the teacher writes the hour: handed in at 10.32, handed in at 11.5. If two papers are about equal in merit, so that it can hardly be said from the contents which is the better of the two, though both are superior to all the rest, a difficult case arises: it must be decided which is to be the first. It is a matter of great weight, because the prize is in question. When there is a doubt, the hour decides. One paper was handed in at 10.30, the other at 10.35. The one handed in at 10.30 is pronounced the first, because the writer was able to do work of equal merit in five minutes less than his rival. On what may not a prize sometimes depend! Hence a diligent child must be very careful in his preparations for an examination; the two in question were equally clever and equally quick; but one had taken care to have good pens and flowing ink, and the other had not. Thus his negligence cost him the prize. It is true that the parents and not the children provide the pens. In strict justice all should have the same pens, but here we enter into a sea of scruples which might obscure justice. No, justice must be rigorous, but without scruples. Now the clever child who helped his companion lost time, and so by this alone he lost part of his merit; he therefore "sacrificed" himself for a comrade.
No considerations, no extenuating circumstances will be allowed to mitigate the punishment. Family conditions, the mother ... nothing can avail against the canceling of an examination. Even in the case of great criminals extenuating circumstances are admitted in mitigation of punishment. But school is another matter; here we have to deal with definite facts: there has been an infiltration of one mind into another, and we are no longer able to judge the children individually by their work. Moreover, the examination is the individual test. If the canceling occurs at the final examination, the culprit must go through the year again, and when a year is repeated it is the entire year. It is not as with convicts, where months and weeks are taken into account. Here the unit of measurement is the school year. And then there is another point to consider in the case of convicts: their crimes may have been induced by irresistible forces and conditions, driving them to do evil.... But who is there who cannot refrain from doing good? To do good is certainly not an irresistible impulse!
However, to obviate such inconvenient impulses, school educates children to refrain from mutual aid throughout the year. It goes even farther: it directly prevents the children from communicating one with another. What a chase it is! The clever, practical teacher adopts regular strategic tactics, and is familiar with all the child's devices in this covert and deceitful contest. Children are "capable of anything" to support one another and communicate one with another. If "prompting" when one child is repeating a lesson might reach the teacher's ear, we find a companion sitting in front of him with the open book fastened to his shoulders, where the other is able to read it. Or if the wily teacher makes the patient come out from among the desks in order to prevent him from receiving any help, his companions may make signs to him, perhaps by means of the deaf-and-dumb alphabet. Then we find the teacher using the blackboard as a pretext for turning the pupil with his face to the wall, the while she keeps her burning eyes fixed on the class. Thus the patient is isolated. "Nothing escapes" a clever teacher; she is capable of surprising a rolled-up note slipped by one child under the desk of another; and of confiscating a piece of blotting-paper which two children interchange on the pretext of using it, when they have written upon it.
For this reason properly constructed desks should be open in front, because otherwise it is so easy to pass things under them; whereas with desks which are not only hygienic but "moral," such subterfuges would be difficult to carry out.
"Indeed, these desks which are open in front also facilitate surveillance of the scholars from the moral point of view; because, always seated, placed side by side without any possibility of spiritual communion, their heads dazed by the continuous vociferation of the teacher, these children very often contract vicious habits, such as onanism, which originate in the school itself. These are less openly discussed than spinal curvature, myopia, and exhaustion from overwork, but the evil has long been recognized, even before science entered upon the scene to make a study of the maladies engendered by school conditions. The sedentary habit impedes circulation in the pelvic basin, and induces stagnation of the blood; moreover, what other outlet is provided for the nervous energies? And the evil spreads in an alarming manner.
"But open desks make subterfuges impossible. All moral devices for combating abuses flourish in the school. In the schools in Rome, for example, order and surveillance are so perfect that children are not even allowed to go to the lavatory. It is well known what disorder was caused by this 'question of the lavatory.' If a child became tired of sitting still or listening to the teacher, he asked leave to go out: he was capable of remaining shut up in the lavatory for a considerable time, in order to raise his spirits a little in a place he preferred to that he had just left, for pupils are not allowed to linger in the corridors; the attendants are always on the watch. But these visits to the lavatory had become such an abuse that it was decided to take remedial measures. To-day the physiological time is reckoned more or less exactly, and at a stated hour the whole of the pupils, accompanied by the teacher, marching in line two by two, like soldiers drilling, proceed to the lavatories. The children of the first file enter in succession and the others halt, but continue to mark time; as by degrees the children come out of the lavatory, they form in file again, and begin once more to mark time together with their companions. The movement seems, indeed, appropriate to the occasion. We will say nothing of the state in which the last children in the file of forty or fifty (who did not go in as a pretence, since the 'physiological time' had been reckoned) will find the lavatory; nor will we ask what has become of hygiene. Let us look at the exterior of the lavatories; they have little doors with a large space above and a large space below; thus modesty, and at the same time morality, are safeguarded; within, nothing but the proper duty can be performed. The more modern lavatories in schools, however, are made without seats; with an aperture in the ground to obviate contact and ensure hygiene: the uncomfortable position prevents a longer sojourn than is necessary. It appears that this is the best practical method for installations of this kind in common lodging-houses, casual wards, and schools."
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School is the place where the "social sentiment" is developed; it is the child's society. As a fact, it is not the school in itself, nor the intercourse of the scholars, but the education given in the manner described above which is designed to develop this sentiment. Hence when my method became known, although I had spoken therein of places where children live together agreeably and work, I was asked in a critical tone: "And how will the social sentiment be developed if each child works independently?" We must therefore conclude that this system of regimentation in which the children do everything at the same moment, even to visiting the lavatory, is supposed to develop the social sentiment. The society of the child is therefore the antithesis of adult society, where sociability implies a free and well-bred interchange of courtesies and mutual aid, although each individual attends to his own business; in the society of the child it implies identity of physical attitudes and uniformity of collective actions, together with a total disregard of all pleasant and courteous relations; mutual help which is a virtue in adult society, is here considered the gravest fault, the worst offense against discipline.
Modern methods of instruction recommend the teacher to conclude every lesson with a moral, like the classic fables. Whether the lesson treats of birds, butter, or triangles, it must always end by pointing a moral. "The teacher must miss no opportunity," says the pedagogist; "moralization is the true aim of the school."
"Mutual aid" is the burden of the pedagogistic refrain, for the leitmotif of all moralities, not excepting that of the school, is "to love one another." To exhort children to help one another and show mutual affection the teacher perhaps adopts a psychological method in three periods distinguishing perception, association, and volition; or she may adopt the method of cause in its relation to effect; this is left to her discretion; but she must always keep her class in a state of "discipline" and "goodness," for these are its essential constituents.
But the factor which affords the most substantial support to the educative organism of the school is the system of prizes and punishments.
Pedagogists make this the main feature of their treatment. All admit more or less the need of some external stimulus to induce school-children to study and behave well, although some are of opinion that it would be well to instil into the child the love of good for its own sake, and that a sense of duty rather than the fear of punishment should deter from evil. This opinion is generally recognized as lofty, but impracticable. To imagine that the child could be stimulated to work merely by a desire to do his duty is a "pedagogic absurdity"; nor is it credible that a child could persevere in the paths of industry and good conduct merely with a view to a distant end, such as the fine social position he might some day win for himself in the world by means of study. Some direct stimulus, some immediate token of approval, is necessary. True, it has been deemed advisable to make punishments less rigorous and the bestowal of prizes less ostentatious, and such modifications have now become general. Indeed, those fustigations and corporal punishments which not very long ago were usual in prisons, lunatic asylums, and schools have been abandoned in schools; the penalties of to-day are slight: bad marks, reproofs, unfavorable reports to the family, suspension of attendance. The ceremonial prize-giving is also a thing of the past, the solemn function at which the scholars mounted the platform as in triumph to receive their prizes from the hands of the noblest and most distinguished persons of the neighborhood, who accompanied the presentation with amiable words of encouragement while the public, consisting mainly of proud and agitated parents, murmured their approval and admiration. All these superfluities have been abolished; the prize, the object, is simply handed to the winner in an ante-room of the school.
The important matter is that the child shall receive the object he has deserved. The medals, too, with which pupils were formerly able to adorn their breasts, are now abolished; the prize is a book, a useful object. A sense of the practical has found its way even into our schools. Perhaps the good children will presently be rewarded by the presentation of a piece of soap, or the material for an apron, in a tete-a-tete between giver and recipient.
But a prize there must needs be.
However, throughout all the discussions of the pedagogists and the evolutions of punishments and prizes, no one has dreamt of asking himself what is the good which is rewarded, and what the evil which is punished, or whether, before urging children on to an undertaking, it would not be well to cast a glance at the undertaking itself, and judge of its value.
At last positive studies on the school question have shed sufficient light to enable us to construct a new base for the old question. Is it well to allure children by a prize, to incite them to exhaust their nervous systems and injure their eyesight? And is it well to check them by means of punishments, when, urged by an overpowering instinct of self-preservation, they seek to avoid these perils? At last we all know that the prize-winners of the elementary schools are the mediocre pupils of the high school; that the prize-winners of the high school are the exhausted students of the academies; and that those who gain prizes throughout their school career are those who are most easily vanquished in the battle of life.
Knowing this, is it well to stimulate on the one hand and to repress on the other, to the end that children may remain in this ruinous condition? Are not the perils of school life already serious enough, without adding stimuli to induce them to throw themselves into these perils with all their energies? A number of deeply interesting comparative studies have been made of late on clever and stupid school-children, those who gain prizes and those who incur punishment. Certain anthropologists, somewhat ingenious in matters of science, have studied the question in such good faith that they have even proposed to inquire whether the more brilliant prize-winners show evidences of morphological superiority, congenital marks of a natural privilege, a brain more highly developed than that of mediocrity. On the contrary, anthropological notes reveal their physical inferiority, i.e. their low stature and their remarkably narrow chest measurements. Their heads are in no way distinguished from those of less clever scholars; many of them wear spectacles.
Thus we get a clearer picture of the life of a child who diligently performs all his tasks with a dread of making mistakes which may become positive anguish; who learns all his lessons, thus of necessity depriving himself of a walk, a saunter, an hour of rest. Obsessed by anxiety to be the first, or even stimulated by illusions of a future more brilliant than that of his companions, exhilarated by the praises and prizes which make him believe himself to be "one of the hopes of his country," and the "solace of his parents," he rushes forward to future impotence, as if dazed by a fairy vision. His careless companions, on the other hand, have well-developed chests, and are the merriest boys in the class.
Other types of clever pupils are those who are helped at home by tutors, or educated mothers who devote themselves to their advancement; while other types of dull pupils, often punished, are poor children who are not made welcome in their homes, but are left to themselves, sometimes in the streets; or who are already working for their bread in the early hours of the morning, before coming to school. In an inquiry I made, the children who were praised and passed without examination were in the category of those who brought a good luncheon with them; the children at the bottom of the class, who incurred punishments, were those who brought no provisions, or only a piece of bread.
It must not be supposed that the above is an exhaustive enumeration of the causes which contribute to the deceptive phenomenon connected with prizes and punishments; but it is obvious that a clearly defined road has been marked out which should lead us to comprehension of the facts.
Prizes and punishments are not merely final episodes, they are exponents of the moral organization of the school. Just as the annulment of the examination of a pupil who has helped a companion is but the extreme instance of "an education" which tends to isolate the individual in his egotism; so the prize and the punishment are the extreme incidents of the constant principle on which the organism of the school is based: emulation. The principle is that children, seeing others cleverer than themselves, who get high marks, praises and prizes, will be stimulated to imitate these, to do better, to overtake their companions. Thus what may be described as a kind of mechanism is evolved, which uplifts the whole school, not merely towards work, but towards effort. It is the moral purpose to accustom children to "suffer."
Let us take an example of such emulation. When the observant doctor entered the school, his attention was directed to the organs of sense, and he found many slightly deaf children among the pupils. Hearing less than the others, they appeared less intelligent, and as a "punishment" they had been relegated to the desks at the very back of the schoolroom. They were often set to repeat because they had never learnt to write "from dictation," and made incredible and unpardonable mistakes. Emulation and punishment had alike proved powerless; not even when they were placed as far as possible from the teacher did these deaf children improve! There were also lively children, who were repeatedly punished to induce them to keep still, and who were vainly exhorted to imitate companions whose conduct was exemplary. A large number of children suffering from adenoids, who consequently breathed through their mouths, and were incapable of fixing their attention, got bad marks and punishments because they were never attentive; meanwhile this defect of the open mouth was vainly combated by the kind and careful teacher, who multiplied moral tales concerning the ugliness of children who keep their mouths open, and, terrible to relate, even sit with their fingers in their mouths!
Many of the lazy children, who would not do the gymnastic exercises like the rest, who made pretexts for stopping and thus set a bad example, were found to be suffering from heart affections, anemia, or liver complaints. Yet one of the most brilliant examples of emulation is that of the gymnastic competitions, competitions in endurance and competitions in speed. The children are encouraged to continue the exercise as long as possible; or to cover the ground in the shortest possible time; here effort is the basis of the exercise. Now anthropological study has revealed the fact that there are two principal types of constitution: one in which the chest predominates, the other in which the legs predominate. When the chest is well developed and the lungs and heart strong, endurance is more natural than agility; the opposite holds good of the other type, in which, by reason of the length of the legs and the slightness of the chest, agility prevails. No emulation can change one type into the other. Morphological study of the child, whose body is transformed in successive ages, should be the basis for the organization of gymnastic exercises, and not emulation. That which has its origin in the body, as constitution or disease, should be considered in the body. No miracle can be performed by the sentiment of emulation.
This prejudice in favor of emulation is so deeply rooted that when, in 1898, I began my campaign in Italy to procure the formation of separate classes for deficient children in connection with the elementary schools, the principle of emulation was urged against me: the deficient children would no longer be helped by the example of the clever, industrious children; and when these weaklings had been deprived of the stimulus of emulation, they would accomplish absolutely nothing.
But emulation can only avail among equals. When "competitions" take place, "champions" are chosen. To a deficient child, the example of a clever companion is merely humiliating; his inferiority, his impotence are perpetually cast in his teeth by the victorious career of his comrade. He becomes more and more discouraged as the zealous teacher scolds and punishes him for his weakness and points out the radiant example offered by the strong. What would give him a ray of light, a glimpse of hope, would be for him to see the possibility of doing something within the limits of his own powers which might nevertheless have a value of its own; to penetrate into some sphere where he too might compete with some one and be encouraged. Then he would be like others, he would be exhilarated and comforted; and the feeble flower within him might expand. He has infinitely greater need of encouragement, solace, and external stimuli to excite him to activity than the normal child.
And what happens to the normal child, the clever boy, who serves as an example to his inferiors? Whom does he emulate? Who carries him along that he may ascend? If all need to be drawn upwards in order to climb, who is to draw him who stands above all? This time the question is out of place. In his case, the impulse will be retrograde. Here we have the thrice happy type of him who competes with his inferiors! This makes me think of a description given by Voisin of a competition arranged by one of the idiots in his asylum. This boy, who was very tall, selected all the shortest and youngest of the idiots, and challenged them to a race; he always came in first and was delighted. Such an example is not, however, peculiar to Voisin's asylum; it is the moral attitude of all who are ambitious, but idle, and are anxious to outshine others without too much fatigue, without perfecting themselves, counting much on the phenomena of contrast. Thus we find a fluent orator seeking to be preceded by an unskilful speaker; and pretty girls who have not the means to adorn themselves and thus set off their beauty, are fond of going about with their plainer friends.
I have read an amusing fable, which was evidently a parody of this phenomenon. There was once a king who had such a long nose that it was positively ridiculous. When a neighboring king proposed to visit him, he was much perturbed, being ashamed to exhibit his defect to a neighboring people. Then the prime minister thought of an expedient, and propounded this practical plan to the king: "Your Majesty, on this occasion let your noble court retire; I will search throughout the kingdom for the men with the most prominent noses, and for the time they shall constitute your court." This was done; and such noses appeared on the scene that that of the king seemed quite normal in comparison. Thus the august colleague noticed that the court was remarkable for its noses, but did not perceive that the king had a nose of abnormal length.
These stories of the competition between idiots and the court of noses make us smile; but the normal competitions between our children are not matters for mirth. The healthy children who, when side by side with the deaf, the sickly, and the deficient are only conscious of their superiority; the fortunate children who have the help of educated mothers and are brought into contact with poor, unhappy, neglected children, merely feel that they are examples to these; well-fed children refreshed by a long sleep in comfortable beds, placed side by side with little busy workers who get up before sunrise to sell newspapers, or deliver milk, and arrive at school already tired, imagine themselves to be superior to these, and to serve as a "stimulus" to them "to do better"—all these normal children are on the wrong moral track. They are being misled into an unconscious acceptance of injustice. They are being deceived. They are not better, they are only more fortunate than their companions; their kindly hearts should be led to recognize the truth; to pity the, sickly, to console the unfortunate, to admire the heroes. It is not their fault if, instead of all this, vanity, ambition, and error spring up in their hearts.
It is true that the teacher makes an attempt to educate their hearts aright, reminding them of ailing, unfortunate, and heroic children by means of moral stories which all learn without distinction in the same manner. She lays stress upon incidents illustrating the good feeling of mankind. Yet no one ever considers that the ailing, the unfortunate, and the heroic are all there among them, since all children go to school; but they cannot communicate with each other and recognize each other; and thus these subjects who are actually present are distinguished only as the ones who receive all the scoldings, punishments, and humiliations while their more fortunate companions lord it over them arrogantly as their examples, gaining prizes and praise, but losing their own souls in the process.