Your Child: Today and Tomorrow
by Sidonie Matzner Gruenberg
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How far short our ordinary training falls of giving our various capacities their full development is shown by the exquisite acuteness of touch and of hearing acquired by children who become blind in infancy. The senses of touch and hearing are here developed so far beyond what ordinary persons ever attain that the belief is quite common that one who is defective in one sense has been compensated by "nature" with special capacity in the other senses. As a matter of fact, however, the extreme development is not the result of special endowment or "heredity," but altogether the result of special training or "environment."

There is a certain sense in which the idea of heredity impresses one with a paralyzing feeling of inevitableness. When a child is born his sex is irrevocably fixed; the character of his eyes and of his hair, the form of his features and the ridges on his finger-tips are unalterable except through mutilation or disease. But up to a certain limit the child will grow just in proportion to the nurture that he receives. And what that limit is we may not know until we find out through years of patient effort, through endless trying out in every direction. He will grow farther in some directions than in others, and the limit in each direction is the element of destiny supplied by heredity. Very few, however, reach their limit in many directions, and no person has ever reached his limit in every direction. The distance we do actually go depends, in practice, altogether upon the kind of environment that is supplied. This environment, so far as the growing child is concerned, is entirely within our control, and we have no right to give up our efforts and to shift the responsibility to unsatisfactory heredity until we are quite sure that all has been done that suitable surroundings and treatment—suitable "environment"—can do. We must watch and wait, and work hard while we wait and watch.



Is it not strange that "school," which we provide for our beloved children for their own good, at so great a cost of thought and money, should be so little appreciated by them? Is it not strange that "school," which is intended to give power and freedom, should be looked upon by the children as no better than a prison—a good place from which to escape?

We grown folks know how valuable school and training and discipline are. Do we not sometimes sigh that we had not more of these blessings in our own childhood? Or that we did not take advantage of the little we had? If the children only knew—perhaps they would not so eagerly seek to escape into what they vainly imagine to be "freedom." Perhaps.

Grown folks who have thought about the matter know, of course, that "freedom" is something different from merely being left alone. They know that freedom is a state to be attained only through effort. They know that freedom results from a discipline which makes a person the master of his impulses, instead of leaving him their slave. They know that the freedom worth striving for is freedom from our own caprices and moods, from our blindness and ignorance and passions. It is for this reason that we value discipline, quite apart from anything that it may contribute to our ability to live harmoniously with others, quite apart from anything it may do to increase our power in an economic sense.

But if discipline is the means for attaining freedom, how does it come about that in the past (and for most people to-day) discipline has appeared as a method of compelling children to do the right thing—"until they have the habit"? How does it come about that discipline, in the minds of most people, consists so largely of restraining children from doing undesirable acts—until they are well started into the safe age of discretion? The reason seems to be that the need for discipline or training makes itself most quickly felt where children—or older people—infringe upon the rights of others, or upon the proprieties. We miss discipline where a child fails of self-restraint, acts impulsively, or loses his temper. In short, failure of early training is indicated wherever there is lack of self-control, or a lack of proper application to the business in hand. It is therefore natural that discipline should early take the form of commanding and prohibiting.

It is but a short step from this view of discipline to the philosophy that what children do spontaneously, what they like to do, must be wrong. And the complement to this is the feeling that virtue and character can arise only from doing what is disagreeable or difficult.

But the newer studies in the psychology of childhood lead to a totally different theory of character formation. And many experiments made in schools and institutions confirm these new theories at every point. Moreover, if we look about, perhaps even in our own homes, I am sure we can all find abundant support for the modern view.

The new studies have to do with the relation that our emotions bear to our activities and especially to the formation of habits. To learn to do a thing, we have known for ages, we must practise continuously and uniformly. But we did not know that the state of feelings connected with the performance of the act had anything to do with the result. Richard must master the scales in his music study. These scales can be mastered in only one way—he must play them over and over and over again, until he just has them. But suppose Richard does not care to practise the scales over and over and over again? Suppose that he does not care whether he ever masters the scales or not. Well, he can be made to practise, at any rate; and perhaps some day he will thank his elders for having thus forced upon him the extremely valuable but unappreciated command of the scales.

But what happens in the course of this forced practise? There is resentment, and antagonism and a growing hatred of scales, of the man who first vented scales, of sloping rows of notes on the page of music. And this resentment is more likely to prevent a real mastery of the task than the enforced practise is to ensure it. The antagonism will, at any rate, counteract the value of the practise to a large degree. The third element in the fixation of habits that we have heretofore too generally disregarded is that of satisfaction; this is no less important than regularity and frequency of action.

The absence of satisfaction, to say nothing of the presence of opposite feelings, is of itself sufficient to prevent effective learning, whether of knowledge or of skill. And when the opposite feelings are present, the acquired act or idea tends to be pushed out of the system at the earliest opportunity. It is in some such way as this that many specialists in the workings of the human mind would explain so much of our "forgetting." They say that we forget either because we really wish to forget—the facts are unpleasant— or because we do not sufficiently care to remember—the facts are not sufficiently interesting, they do not sufficiently concern us.

Out of the psychological facts pertaining to the relation of the feeling state to the learning process and to the habit-forming process, is developed the doctrine of "interest" in education. The very name "interest" suggests to many that this must be some plan for sugar-coating education, or perhaps for giving children only what they like. And this is quite the opposite of the traditional view which is expressed by the humorist who said, "It does not matter much what you teach a boy, so long as he doesn't like it." But the idea of interest in modern psychology does not mean letting the child have his own way, any more than discipline means doing only what is unpleasant or difficult.

We can see the basic truth at the foundation of this view in the age-long usage of the race, which awards prizes and penalties for "good" actions and "evil" actions, respectively. If you should be asked "Why did you reward Maryann," "Why did you punish Henry;" you would no doubt say something like this: If we reward a child for doing what we approve, he is more likely to do that sort of thing again; if we punish, or impose unpleasant consequences, upon acts that we disapprove, such acts are less likely to be repeated. In other words, we have known right along that satisfaction somehow leads the child to repeat the conditions that brought about the satisfaction; and that suffering somehow leads the child to avoid the conditions that brought about the suffering.

What the new psychology does here is to unify what we have known. We say not the performance of an act alone will establish a habit; not the repetition alone will establish it; not the subsequent satisfaction alone. All of these factors must take part, and they must take part in association. The feeling must accompany the act. It is not sufficient that Richard be assured that some time in the vague future he will derive deep satisfaction from being master of the scales; he must somehow be made to feel a present concern either in what he is doing, or a real interest in the outcome. The time that is to elapse between the beginning of his "practice" and the satisfaction he is to receive must not be beyond the child's power to appreciate.

In our actual dealing with children our experience leads us to make use of these principles, often without realizing all that is implied. For example, when the young child by your side shows signs of weariness, and you still have some distance to go, you try to stimulate his interest by telling him of the good things to come at journey's end. If this does not serve your purpose, you draw his attention to the bird on the tree only a hundred feet away, or you challenge him to race with you to the next telegraph post. And if you challenge him to such a race, you are sensible enough to let him win it, for you know very well that nothing will discourage him so much as defeat—that is, the unpleasant feeling of failure; and you know that nothing will stimulate him quite as much as the satisfaction of defeating you. In other words, you set before him one goal after another, each but a small fraction of the main journey, and each within the appreciation of the child, and each offering a satisfactory conclusion that is readily and eagerly seized as worth striving for, here and now.

Now it may be asked, what discipline is there in doing always what brings satisfaction? How can the children ever learn to do the disagreeable but necessary tasks that make up so large a part of every-day living? Where will they ever learn that some things must be done, not because we like to do them, but because it is our duty to do them? And these are indeed serious questions. There are two sets of answers. One of them consists of the results actually achieved in dealing with children from the new point of view. The other is a challenge to make clear just what we mean by discipline and task and duty.

To take the latter first, is it not true that one part of our object is in the form of acquired knowledge and acquired skill? Practising the scales, or studying the multiplication table is not an end in itself. We require study and practice because we believe that the knowledge or the skill is worth having. Now it has been shown over and over again that what is learned with satisfaction sticks; and what is learned with pain is thrown overboard the first minute the watchman is off his guard. Are the names of writers with the titles of their books less well remembered by children who learn them through the game of "Authors" than they are by children who might be required to memorize them from a catalog? Are the sums and products of numbers acquired in keeping scores of games less accurate and less permanent in the mind of the child than the same sums and products learned as school exercises? Is the skill acquired in handling tools—sewing costumes, or making scenery for an amateur play—any less effective or less lasting than the skill acquired in sewing yards of stitches or sawing yards of board just for "exercise" in a class? On the contrary, other things being equal, arithmetic and authors and sewing and tinkering can be made both more effective and more lasting when associated with pleasurable feelings than when performed under strain, compulsion and resentment. If it is only a question of "learning" this or that, there is no doubt that the pleasant way is in every respect the better way.

But, of course, it is not merely a question of learning the specific skill or knowledge. There is also the need for learning application, persistence through difficulties, endurance, and the other hardy virtues that distinguish a disciplined character. And here the contrast between the old attitude and the new is most marked. We can certainly force children to do what is disagreeable; we can hold them to their tasks when they are tempted to abandon the monotonous and wearisome round of uninteresting drudgery. But is this the only way to get for the children experience with such necessary, though unpleasant, work? We are assuming of course that such experience is necessary, since uninteresting work cannot be separated from most important undertakings. A typical experience in a school that has for several years conducted a class along the lines of the newer psychology can answer our question.

One of the difficulties that had to be overcome was the mastery of simple addition. Another was the art of writing; and of course reading is a necessary art of modern life. Instead of the usual drill and practice and exercises, this class passed through the drudgery stage without realizing that school was a prison. This was during the autumn of the Armistice. Food conservation and thrift were in the air. These children were presented with a quantity of garden vegetables, but there was more than they could use themselves, so the suggestion was made that they could have the surplus for future use. The children, under guidance, did all the work connected with cold-pack canning of the tomatoes. This work was not at every point "interesting," in the superficial sense; but the purpose of the entire project was one that appealed to the children, so that they were quite satisfied to do the many essential details. Did they not here learn to clean their dishes and jars as well as they would have done had the cleaning been a "duty" imposed arbitrarily from above? Must drudgery be dreaded to be well done?

Let the teacher who had charge of this class describe what happened, in her own words.

"The success of the first small group in carrying through the various steps ... led to further work of the same sort, as various vegetables were given us. The children also dried apples and lima beans which they gathered themselves at the school farm.

"That the interest in this rather exacting work was sustained for two months was doubtless due to the fact that the children had a genuine purpose in canning a large quantity of vegetables. For early in the work, upon the suggestion of one of the class, it had been decided to have a sale and use the proceeds to buy milk for a sick baby. Although I had not thought of this plan myself, I was glad to lend it my support.

"The final preparation for the sale occupied a large share of the time for several weeks. The chief consideration from the children's point of view seemed to be who should take charge of the business of selling. They had conducted a play store intermittently during the fall, but, upon testing, it was found that most of the class were ill prepared to act as salespeople.[A] The children readily recognized this fact and willingly went to work to drill on addition and subtraction. The most successful drill was accomplished by means of a dramatic rehearsal of the forthcoming sale, some children impersonating the visitors and the others the salesmen. Real money, correct prices, and the actual jars of vegetables and fruit were used for this play.

[Footnote A: Remember these were second-grade children—most of them seven or eight years old.]

"The need of invitations, of price lists, and of bookkeepers the day of the sale, was also recognized and led to much needed practice in written English. The prices were determined by a study of the latest food catalog, a small group with a teacher undertaking this work. It necessitated the use of an alphabetical index, and in some cases the calculation of the price of pints, when only quarts were listed, as we had used both pint and quart jars.

"Further preparation consisted of the making of labels for the jars and of posters for the room. The art teacher, when called in to advise, taught the children how to make accurate square letters, which they used in various sizes for the labels and posters. The making of fifty or more small labels with half-inch letters proved irksome to the little people, but they showed much persistence in completing the task, because of their interest in the sale. The eight children who made the final large posters did a great deal of intelligent, painstaking work. From the artistic point of view, the posters were not noteworthy, but they represented the children's own suggestions.

"The sale was conducted by the children, who made their own change, kept records of sales and wrapped up purchases. The various duties were agreed upon by the class, in accordance with each one's proved ability to carry them out, and everyone had some share."

In this simple account of an experimental class conducted at the Ethical Culture School, in New York, under the direction of Miss Mabel R. Goodlander, are many references to drill and practice. But throughout all of the work it was possible to maintain the interest of the children because, apparently, the attention was not on the drill as an end in itself, but upon the special skill or knowledge as a means to a more remote end. And this remote end was not the formal one of "passing," or being promoted, or getting a good mark, but the vital, urgent purpose of raising money through the sale for a sick baby's milk. Undoubtedly the "motives" of the several children in this class were varied and mixed—like the motives of good citizens who are united in support of a particular candidate, or a particular platform. But there was enough common purpose to insure cooperation and persistence and effort from every single child in proportion to his ability. The learning of stupid sums and the practice in penmanship are no more attractive to these children than they are to ordinary children in ordinary schools in all parts of the country. But they overcame all internal obstacles, went through with all of the monotony and drudgery, and to that extent triumphed over any disposition to shirk or to loaf or to dawdle or to flit from work to sensation.

And how is it with the learning of responsibility, with acquiring a sense of duty? Many of us have no doubt learned what we have learned of duty and responsibility, through the constant repetition of "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not" by our elders during our own growing years. But results at least as valuable have been obtained in the cases of others through the constant rubbing up against their equals in a free give-and-take atmosphere. Children learn to live with others by living with others. They learn to work with others—to "cooperate"—by working with others. They learn to play the game, to do teamwork, to play fair, to play in good form, to hit hard only by playing according to rule, with others, with worthy opponents, under good supervision. In short, the "discipline" that makes for power and freedom may be quite as easily obtained through the exercise of freedom as through external coercion—nay, more easily, and more effectively.

It is fair to ask whether training for a game is not quite analogous to our idea of training for life; and whether the methods which are found to be effective in the former kind of training are not equally valuable for the latter. Assuming the analogy, would you have a child learn the rules of such games as baseball or tennis from a book before allowing him to handle a ball, or before letting him see a game? Would you expect him to cooperate in teamwork after a long period of drill upon the rules governing team cooperation? Would you expect him to hit hard because he has learned the correct answer to the question, How should a player hit?

This may not seem a fair comparison to some of the "training" that has actually been tried. Perhaps a more familiar analogy would be in teaching a child correct movements for the game to be mastered, separated from any experience with real games. Boys are "practicing" for a game, and each one is drilling on some special detail, hitting, catching, running bases, long throws, or what not; each one of them has in mind as part of his moving purpose not only his team's success and glory, but his own individual responsibility. Contrast this with the same boys required to drill at precisely the same movements on the theory that the "exercise" will do them good, or that some time in the future they might have to meet a situation in which a long throw or a swift run would be significant. Do you expect the same enthusiasm and energy to be developed in both cases? And if not the same enthusiasm and energy, can we expect the same results—whether we view the results as so much skill or technic, whether we view the results as so much "training in drudgery," or whether we consider the results from the viewpoint of moral values as so much devotion, self-sacrifice, restraint? The "moral" values that have been for years attributed to athletics appear after all to be the effects of intense, enthusiastic, and interested participation in teamwork—that is, in purposeful and energetic concern with joint undertakings.

The responsibilities we wish to develop, the sense of duty, no less than the application and persistence, no less than knowledge and skill, are types of habits which are best formed under the glow of satisfying experience. Far from assuming a soft life for the child, the idea of interest assumes the most strenuous kind of life. And the experiences of all who have tried it justifies the assumption. The experimental class already mentioned, similar experiments by Mrs. Marietta Johnson at Fairhope, Alabama and elsewhere, experimental classes at the Lincoln School and at the Horace Mann School, at various "play" schools in this country and in England, all show more continuous application of the children to whatever they happen to have in hand, longer periods of intense activity, and no sign whatever of loafing or shirking. The activities selected by the children themselves involve just as much "discipline" as anything that can be selected for them.

In these schools the children never hear the teacher call for "attention," for although everybody knows that attention is an essential of effective work, the attention takes care of itself where the children already feel a genuine concern in the outcome. And this concern insures satisfactory application, since the children look forward to satisfying results. This does not mean, of course, that either the work itself or the result is necessarily "pleasant," in the ordinary sense. Often, indeed, it is quite the reverse, as when the racer is exerting every last reserve of his energy in the final spurt, or when the contestants are in suspense awaiting the decision of the judges as to which is the best cake. And the endless grind of practice and preparation is no more "pleasant" to the child who knows the purpose and approves the purpose of his efforts (having taken part in selecting the undertaking) than similar exertion is to the child whose work is all planned and directed by outsiders; but the satisfactions connected with the exertions are different in the two cases, and the corresponding results are correspondingly different.

The principle of interest as a guide to the training of children can be applied in the home as well as in the school. It means, first of all, taking into account the interests, tastes, preferences of the children. As has already been suggested in earlier chapters, there are many occasions when the child may be consulted or given a choice of action, of amusements, of purchases, and so on—situations in which it is a matter of indifference to older people, but in which the making of a decision or a choice is both satisfying and valuable to the child. Even where the decision is not an indifferent one, our own should not be imposed in an arbitrary manner; when it differs from that of the child, we can get his assent and cooperation, where an arbitrary choice leaves him cold or even resentful.

The games children play, whether by themselves or with other children, are only in part manifestations of tastes: they represent to a degree stages of development. For the reason, therefore, that interests develop, we shall find that what is a favorable time for one child is not necessarily a favorable time for another child to learn a particular thing. This is very well shown by the great differences found among children, as to learning school subjects like reading or writing. In some the interest is aroused very early, and for them this is the best time; with others the interest does not appear until the third or fourth grade, or even later, and for such children this is the best time. There is no one period that is best for all children; by attempting to treat all alike, therefore, we not only waste a great deal of energy and good feeling, but we often defeat our purpose by antagonizing the children and thus making them resist the very things we want them to hug to themselves. And this is just as true of what we try to do in the home as it is of school teaching.

To discover the interests of the children requires that they be given an opportunity to express themselves. This means in most cases much more freedom than children have heretofore enjoyed. But it means also constant vigilance on the part of the elders, not so much to guard against the freedom being abused, as to guard against the opportunity being wasted. The taste in games or in reading, the choice of companions or of leisure time occupations must not only show themselves to be indulged; they must be seized upon by those who guide the children, as means for giving drive and direction to further development. A child who devotes too much time to athletics and too little to literature, may be drawn to reading through books about athletic contests of the classics, or through modern stories of college life. On the other hand, the boy who is prone to get his satisfactions vicariously and to neglect active participation in games and other activities, must be led through his reading, properly selected and unostentatiously placed under his nose, to more direct concern with producing practical effects in his environment. The interest, once discovered, must be the means for stimulating to greater exertion and to closer unification of the child's activities.

One of the things that presents a difficulty in every generation is the fact that the social and moral ideals change from age to age. We are thus constantly tempted to put into the characters of our children those traits that were valued highly by our parents, without always considering the importance of each item for the days in which our children will play their parts. Thus it comes about that many of the virtues that have a traditional value may be questioned when offered as staples for citizens of to-morrow. Obedience, for example, is a permanent necessity in a society that rests upon the assumption that one or a few chosen men represent the will of the gods on earth, but has only a transitory value in a democracy. As someone has said, obedience in childhood must be considered as a scaffold that is useful while the lasting parts of the structure are being put in place; when the desired structure is completed, obedience is naturally removed as of no further service. Now the kind of discipline required in a democracy calls for an attitude or disposition that makes cooperation with others come as a matter of course; it calls for the making of decisions, or the forming of opinions, on the basis of facts; and it calls for the habit of taking due account of the rights of others. The training for this class of habits is best obtained through methods that take full account of children's interests.

Just as the older outlook turned to "discipline" as a means for obtaining freedom, the new psychology utilizes freedom as a means for obtaining discipline. In both cases the end is of course the same—that is, the liberation of the human spirit and the organizing of the individual's powers to the greatest good. But as our ideas of human relations and of values have changed, science has given us new methods for attaining the final goals that we set ourselves.

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