MENTAL AND MORAL TRAINING.
The years of adolescence, during which rapid growth and development inevitably cause so much stress and frequently give rise to danger, are the very years in which the weight of school education necessarily falls most heavily. The children of the poor leave school at fourteen years of age, just the time when the children of the wealthier classes are beginning to understand the necessity of education and to work with a clearer realisation of the value and aim of lessons. The whole system of education has altered of late years, and school work is now conducted far more intelligently and with a greater appreciation of the needs and capacities of the pupils than it was some fifty years ago. Work is made more interesting, the relation of different studies to each other is more adequately put in evidence, and the influence that school studies have on success in after life is more fully realised by all concerned. The system of training is, however, far from perfect. In the case of girls, more particularly, great care has to be exercised not to attempt to teach too much, and to give careful consideration to the physiological peculiarities of the pupils. It is impossible for girls who are undergoing such rapid physiological and psychical changes to be always equally able and fit for strenuous work. There are days in every girl's life when she is not capable of her best work, and when a wise and sympathetic teacher will see that it is better for her to do comparatively little. And yet these slack times are just those in which there is the greatest danger of a girl indulging in daydreams, and when her thoughts need to be more than usually under control. These times may be utilised for lighter subjects and for such manual work as does not need great physical exertion. It is not a good time for exercises, for games, for dancing, and for gardening, nor are they the days on which mathematics should be pressed, but they are days in which much supervision is needed, and when time should not be permitted to hang heavily on hand.
Just as there are days in which consideration should be shown, so too there are longer periods of time in which it is unwise for a girl to be pressed to prepare for or to undergo a strenuous examination. The brain of the girl appears to be as good as that of the boy, while her application, industry, and emulation are far in advance of his, but she has these physiological peculiarities, and if they are disregarded there will not only be an occasional disastrous failure in bodily or mental health, but girls as a class will fail to do the best work of which they are capable, and will fail to reap the fullest advantage from an education which is costly in money, time, and strength. It follows that the curriculum for girls presents greater difficulties than the curriculum for boys, and that those ladies who are responsible for the organisation of a school for girls need to be women of great resource, great patience, and endowed with much sympathetic insight. The adolescent girl will generally do little to help her teachers in this matter. She is incapable of recognising her own limitations, she is full of emulation, and is desirous of attaining and keeping a good position not only in her school but also in the University or in any other public body for whose examination she may present herself. The young girl most emphatically needs to be saved from herself, and she has to learn the lessons of obedience and of cheerful acquiescence in restrictions that certainly appear to her simply vexatious.
One of the difficulties in private schools arises from the necessity of providing occupation for every hour of the waking day, while avoiding the danger of overwork with its accompanying exhaustion. In the solution of this problem such subjects as gymnastics, games, dancing, needlework, cooking, and domestic economy will come in as a welcome relief from the more directly intellectual studies, and equally as a relief to the conscientious but hard-pressed woman who is trying to save her pupils from the evils of unoccupied time on the one hand and undue mental pressure on the other.
Boys, and to a less extent girls, attending elementary schools who leave at fourteen are not likely to suffer in the same way or from the same causes. One of the difficulties in their case is that they leave school just when work is becoming interesting and before habits of study have been formed, indeed before the subjects taught have been thoroughly assimilated, and that therefore in the course of a few years little may be left of their painfully acquired and too scanty knowledge. Free education has been given to the children of the poor for nearly fifty years, and yet the mothers who were schoolgirls in the seventies and eighties appear to have saved but little from the wreck of their knowledge except the power to sign their names and to read in an imperfect and blundering manner.
Here, too, there are many problems to be solved, one among them being the great necessity of endeavouring to correlate the lessons given in school to the work that the individual will have to perform in after life. It would appear as if the girls of the elementary schools, in addition to reading, writing, and simple arithmetic, sufficient to enable them to write letters, to read books, and to keep simple household accounts, ought to be taught the rudiments of cookery, the cutting out and making of garments, and the best methods of cleansing as applied to houses, household utensils and clothing. In addition, and as serious subjects, not merely as a recreation, they should be taught gymnastics, part singing and mother-craft. No doubt in individual schools much of this modification of the curriculum has been accomplished, but more remains to be done before we can be satisfied that we have done the best in our power to fit the children of the country for their life's work.
Another of the great problems connected with the children in elementary schools, a problem which, indeed, arises out of their leaving at fourteen, is that of the Continuation School or Evening School, and the system which is known as "half-timing." It is well known that although young people from fourteen to sixteen years of age are well able to profit by continued instruction, they are, with very few exceptions, not at all well adapted for commencing their life's work as industrials. The general incoherency and restlessness peculiar to that age frequently lead to a change of employment every few months, while their general irresponsibility and want of self-control lead to frequent disputes with foremen and other officials in factories and shops, in consequence of which the unfortunate child is constantly out of work. In proportion to the joy and pride caused by the realised capacity to earn money and by the sense of independence that employment brings, is the unhappiness, and in many cases the misery, due to unemployment, and to repeated failures to obtain and to keep an independent position. The boy or girl out of work has an uneasy feeling that he or she has not earned the just and expected share towards household expenses. The feeling of dependence and well-nigh of disgrace causes a rapid deterioration in health and spirits, and it is only too likely that in many instances where unemployment is continuous or frequently repeated, the unemployed will quickly become the unemployable.
So far as the young people themselves are concerned, it would be nearly always an unmixed benefit that they should pass at fourteen into a Technical School or Continuation School, as the case may be. Among the great difficulties to the solution of this problem is the fact that in many working-class households the few weekly shillings brought into the family store by the elder children are of very real importance, and although the raising of the age of possible employment and independence would enable the next generation to work better and to earn higher and more continuous wages, it is difficult for the parents to acquiesce in the present deprivation involved, even though it represents so much clear gain in the not distant future.
At the present time there are Evening Schools, but this system does not work well. All busy people are well aware that after a hard day's work neither brain nor body is in the best possible condition for two or three hours of serious mental effort. The child who has spent the day in factory or shop has really pretty nearly used up all his or her available mental energy, and after the evening meal is naturally heavy, stupid, irritable, and altogether in a bad condition for further effort. The evenings ought to be reserved for recreation, for the gymnasium, the singing class, the swimming bath, and even for the concert and the theatre.
The system of "half-timing" during ordinary school life does not work well, and it would be a great pity should a similar system be introduced in the hope of furthering the education of boys and girls who are just entering industrial life. There is reason to hope that a great improvement in education will be secured by Mr. Hayes Fisher's bill.
Another subject to which the attention of patriots and philanthropists ought to be turned is the sort of employment open to children at school-leaving age. The greatest care should be taken to diminish the number of those who endeavour to achieve quasi-independence in those occupations which are well known as "blind alleys." In England it is rare that girls should seek these employments, but in Scotland there is far too large a number of girl messengers. In this particular, the case of the girl is superior to that of the boy. The "tweeny" develops into housemaid or cook; the young girls employed in superior shops to wait on the elder shopwomen hope to develop into their successors, and the girls who nurse babies on the doorsteps are, after all, acquiring knowledge and dexterity that may fit them for domestic service or for the management of their own families a few years later.
The girls of the richer classes have not the same difficulties as their poorer sisters. They generally remain at school until a much later age, and subsequently have the joy and stimulus of college life, of foreign travel, of social engagements, or of philanthropic enterprise. Still, a residue remains even of girls of this class whose own inclinations, or whose family circumstances, lead to an aimless, purposeless existence, productive of much injury to both body and mind, and only too likely to end in hopeless ennui and nervous troubles. It should be thoroughly understood by parents and guardians that no matter what the girl's circumstances may be, she ought always to have an abundance of employment. The ideas of obligation and of duty should not be discarded when school and college life cease. The well-to-do girl should be encouraged to take up some definite employment which would fill her life and provide her with interests and duties. Any other arrangement tends to make the time between leaving school or college and a possible marriage not only a wasted time but also a seed-time during which a crop is sown of bad habits, laziness of body, and slackness of mind, that subsequently bear bitter fruit. It is quite time for us to recognise that unemployment and absence of duties is as great a disadvantage to the rich as it is to the poor; the sort of employment must necessarily differ, but the spirit in which it is to be done is the same.
One point that one would wish to emphasise with regard to all adolescents is that although occupation for the whole day is most desirable, hard work should occupy but a certain proportion of the waking hours. For any adolescent, or indeed for any of us to attempt to work hard for twelve or fourteen hours out of the twenty-four is to store up trouble. It is not possible to lay down any hard and fast rule as to the length of hours of work, because the other factors in the problem vary so greatly. One person may be exhausted by four hours of intellectual effort, whereas another is less fatigued by eight; and further, the daily occupations vary greatly in the demand that they make on attention and on such qualities as reason, judgment, and power of initiation. Those who teach or learn such subjects as mathematics, or those who are engaged in such occupations as portrait-painting and the higher forms of musical effort, must necessarily take more out of themselves than those who are employed in feeding a machine, in nursing a baby, or in gardening operations.