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Domestic Problems: Work and Culture in the Household By Abby Morton Diaz Characters: 13477

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

It is not to be supposed that enlightenment on subjects pertaining to the intellectual and moral training of children can be given to a young woman in text-book fashion, cut and dried, put up in packages, and labelled ready for use. But it will be something gained to set her thinking on these subjects, to make her feel their importance, and to inform her in what books and by what writers they have been considered. All this, and more to the same purpose, could be done by lectures and discussions, for which lectures and discussions even humble common sense need be at no loss to suggest topics. There are, for instance, the different methods of governing, of reproving, of punishing, and of securing obedience; the evils of corporal punishment, of governing by ridicule, of showing temper while punishing. Then there are questions like these: How far should love of approbation be encouraged? What prominence shall be given to externals, as personal appearance, the minutia of behavior, politeness of speech? How may perfect politeness be combined with perfect sincerity? Ways of inculcating integrity. How to teach self-reliance, without fostering self-conceit. How to encourage prudence and economy, and at the same time discourage parsimony. How to combine firmness with kindness. Implicit obedience a good basis to work on. How to enter into a child's life, and make it a happy one. How not to become a slave to a child's whims. The different amounts of indulgence and of assistance which different temperaments will bear. How shall liberality be inculcated, and extravagance denounced? On deceitfulness as taught by parents. On lying as taught by parents. On the impossibility of making one theory work in a whole family of children, or always on a single child. Shall obedience be implicit, and how early in the child's life shall it be exacted? On marriages. On the true issues of life. When shall ambition and the spirit of emulation be encouraged, and when repressed? The possibility of too much fault-finding making a child callous. If mere common sense discovers so many subjects, what number may not learning and wisdom discover when their attention shall be turned in this direction?

The "nursery-girl" topic might come up again, and be considered in its moral and intellectual aspects. Some mothers see their small children only once or twice a day, while the nurse is with them constantly. This fact might be made strikingly significant by placing it side by side with Horace Mann's words: "In regard to children, all precept and example, all kindness and harshness, all rebuke and commendation, all forms, indeed, of direct or indirect education, affect mental growth, just as dew and sun and shower, or untimely frost, affect vegetable growth. Their influences are integrated and made one with the soul. They enter into spiritual combination with it, never afterward to be wholly decompounded,"-also with a previously quoted assertion, founded on actual experiments, that "it is the medium in which a child is habitually immersed" which helps most in forming the child's character. The kind of reading which falls into the hands of the young would be found to be a lecture topic of appalling interest. Striking illustrations for such lectures could be taken from the advertisements and statistics of story-paper and dime-novel publishers. The illustrated papers which can be bought and are bought by youth are crammed to overflowing with details of vice and barbarity. They have columns headed "A Melange of Murder," "Fillicide, or a Son killing a Father," "Lust and Blood," "Fiendish Assassination," "Particulars of the Hanging of John C. Kelly," "Carving a Darky," "An Interesting Divorce Case in Boston," "A Band of Juvenile Jack Sheppards." And the pictures match the reading,-a jealous lover shooting a half-naked girl; a father murdering his family; an inquisitive youth peering into a ladies' dressing-room. If the contents of these papers are bad for us to hear of, what must they be to the youth who read them? Dime novels are advertised in these same papers as being issued once a month, and supplied by all the news companies, "Sensational stories from the pens of gifted American novelists!" "The Sharpers' League," "Lyte, or the Suspected One," "The Pirate's Isle," "Darrell, the Outlaw," "The Night Hawks, containing Midnight Robbery, Plots dark and deep," "The Female Poisoner," "Etne of the Angel Face and Demon Heart," "The Cannibal Kidnappers, a Sequel to the Boy Mutineers," "Life for Life, or the Spanish Gipsy Girl," "Tom Wildrake's School-days." Some of these papers are entitled "Boys' and Girls'" weeklies. The old saying is, "Build doves' nests, and doves will come." What kind of "nests" are being built by the young readers of these publications, of which it may almost literally be said, "no boy can do without one"? The boy at school has one between the leaves of his geography; the boy riding, or sailing, or resting from his work or his play, draws one from his pocket; the grocer's boy comes forward to serve you, tucking one under his jacket. In the way of statistics, it might be stated that nineteen tons of obscene publications and plates for the same were seized at one time in New-York City. Should representatives of "our best families" ask, "How does this affect us and ours?" it could be answered that catalogues of academies and boarding-schools are obtained, and that these publications are then forwarded to pupils by mail.

Topics of this kind would naturally suggest those of an opposite kind, as modes of awakening in children an appreciation of the beauty, the sublimity, the wonderfulness, of the various objects in the world of nature; also of cultivating in their minds a taste for the beautiful and the refined in art, literature, manners, conversation. These considerations could be effectively introduced into a lecture or lectures "On the Building of Doves' Nests." Is it not "essential" that mothers should have the time, the facilities, and the knowledge necessary for accomplishing what is here suggested, and that they be made sensible of its importance? But there is many a busy mother now who can scarcely "take time" to look out when her children call her to see a rainbow, much less to walk out with them among natural objects.

The object of these lectures should not be to teach any particular theories on which to act in the management of children, but to so instruct, so to enlighten young women, that when the time for action comes they will act intelligently. With the majority of women the management of children is a mere "getting along." In this "getting along" they often have recourse to deception; thus teaching deceitfulness. They are

often unfair, punishing on one occasion what they smile at or wink at on another; thus teaching injustice. They lose self-control, and punish when in anger; thus setting examples of violence and bad temper. It is probable that a young woman who had been educated with a view to her vocation would be more likely to act wisely in these emergencies and in her general course of management, than one who had not. There would be more chance of her taking pains to consider. She would not work so blindly, so aimlessly, so "from hand to mouth," as do some of our mothers.

Such enlightenment is an enlightenment for which any good mother will be thankful. She wants it to work with. She feels the need of it every hour in the day. Why, then, is it not given to young women as a part of their education, and as the most important part? They are instructed in almost every thing else. They can give you the areas, population, boundaries, capitals, and peculiarities of far-away and insignificant provinces; the exact measurements of mountain ranges, lakes, and rivers; statistics, in figures, of the farthest isle beyond the farthest sea. They are lectured on the antediluvians, on the Milky Way, on the Siamese, Japanese, North Pole, on all the ologies; on the literature, modes of thought, and modes of life, of extinct races. They can converse in foreign tongues; they are familiar with dead languages, and with the superstitions, observances, and quarrels of certain races, barbarous or otherwise, who existed thousands of years ago. In fact, they are taught, after some fashion, almost every thing except what their life-work will specially require. Little will it avail a mother in her seasons of perplexity or of bereavement to remember "what wars engaged Rome after the Punic Wars, and how many years elapsed before she was mistress of the Mediterranean." This and the following questions are taken from the "Examination Papers" of a popular "Institute" for young ladies.

"Give names and dates of the principal engagements of the Persian wars, with the names of the great men of Greece during that period."

"Show cause, object, and result of the Peloponnesian war."

"Give names and attributes of the seven kings of Rome."

"After the kings were driven out, what does the internal history mainly consist of?"

"What were the social, and what were the civil wars?"

Common sense might ask why every child born in the nineteenth century must go to work so solemnly to learn the minute particulars of those old wars! Still common sense would not declare such knowledge to be altogether worthless; it would only suggest that woman wants the kind which will help her in her special department, more than she wants this kind. Said a lady in my hearing,-an only child reared in the very centre of wealth and culture,-"I was most carefully educated; but, when I came to be the mother of children, I found myself utterly helpless."

It is gratifying to know that in regard to these matters common sense has very respectable learning and wisdom on its side. A celebrated writer and thinker says, "If by some strange chance not a vestige of us descended to the remote future, save a pile of our school-books, or some college examination papers, we may imagine how puzzled an antiquary of the period would be on finding in them no indication that the learners were ever likely to be parents. 'This must have been the curriculum for their celibates,' we may fancy him concluding: 'I perceive here an elaborate preparation for many things; especially for reading the books of extinct nations (from which, indeed, it seems clear that these people had very little worth reading in their own tongue), but I find no reference whatever to the bringing up of children. They could not have been so absurd as to omit all training for this gravest of responsibilities. Evidently, then, this was the school-course of one of their monastic orders.' Seriously, is it not an astonishing fact, that though on the treatment of offspring depend their lives or their deaths, and their moral welfare or ruin, not one word on such treatment is ever given to those who will hereafter be parents? Is it not monstrous, that the fate of a new generation should be left to the chances of unreasoning custom, impulse, fancy, joined with the suggestions of ignorant nurses and the prejudiced counsel of grandmothers? To tens of thousands that are killed, add hundreds of thousands that survive with feeble constitutions, and millions that grow up with constitutions not so strong as they should be, and you will have some idea of the curse inflicted on their offspring by parents ignorant of the laws of life. With cruel carelessness they have neglected to learn any thing about these vital processes which they are unceasingly affecting by their commands and prohibitions; in utter ignorance of the simplest physiological laws, they have been, year by year, undermining the constitutions of their children, and have so inflicted disease and premature death not only on them but on their descendants. Consider the young mother and her nursery legislation. But a few years ago she was at school, where her memory was crammed with words, names, and dates; where not one idea was given her respecting the methods of dealing with the opening mind of childhood. The intervening years have been passed in practising music, in fancy work, in novel-reading, and in party-going; no thought having been yet given to the grave responsibilities of maternity. And now see her with an unfolding human character committed to her charge,-see her profoundly ignorant of the phenomena with which she has to deal, undertaking to do that which can be done but imperfectly even with the aid of the profoundest knowledge…. Lacking knowledge of mental phenomena, with their causes and consequences, her interference is frequently more mischievous than absolute passivity would have been."

This writer, it seems, would also have young men educated with a view to their probable duties as fathers, and so, of course, would we all; and much might be said on this point, especially of its bearing on the solution of our problem; still, as Mr. Frothingham said in a recent address, "The mother, of all others, is the one to foster and control the individuality of the child." It was "good mothers" which Napoleon needed in order to secure the welfare of France. "Such kind of women as are the mothers of great men," is a significant sentence I have seen somewhere in print. In fact, so much depends on mothers, that there seems no possible way by which our problem can be fully solved until the right kind of mothers shall have been raised up, and their children be grown to maturity.

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