Moral Briefs – Chapter LXI – Educate the Children

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonBefore reaching the age of reason, the child’s needs are purely animal; it requires to be fed, clothed and provided with the general necessities of life. Every child has a natural right that its young life be fostered and protected; the giver must preserve his gift, otherwise his gift is vain. To neglect this duty is a sin, not precisely against the fourth, but rather against the fifth, commandment which treats of killing and kindred acts.

When the mind begins to open and the reasoning faculties to develop, the duty of educating the child becomes incumbent on the parent. As its physical, so its intellectual, being must be trained and nourished. And by education is here meant the training of the young mind, the bringing out of its mental powers and the acquisition of useful knowledge, without reference to anything moral or religious. This latter feature – the most important of all deserves especial attention.

Concerning the culture of the mind, it is a fact, recognized by all, that in this era of popular rights and liberties, no man can expect to make anything but a meagre success of life, if he does that much, without at least a modicum of knowledge and intellectual training. This is an age in which brains are at a high premium; and although brains are by no means the monopoly of the cultured class, they must be considered as non-existent if they are not brought out by education. Knowledge is what counts nowadays. Even in the most common walks of life advancement is impossible without it. This is one reason why parents, who have at heart the future success and well-being of their children, should strive to give them as good an education as their means allow.

Their happiness here is also concerned. If he be ignorant and untaught, a man will be frowned at, laughed at, and be made in many ways, in contact with his fellow-men, to feel the overwhelming inferiority of his position. He will be made unhappy, unless he chooses to keep out of the way of those who know something and associate with those who know nothing – in which case he is very liable to feel lonesome.

He is moreover deprived of the positive comforts and happiness that education affords. Neither books nor public questions will interest him; his leisure moments will be a time of idleness and unbearable tedium; a whole world – the world of the mind – will be closed to him, with its joys, pleasures and comforts which are many.

Add to this the fact that the Maker never intended that the noble faculty of the intelligence should remain an inert element in the life of His creature, that this precious talent should remain buried in the flesh of animal nature. Intelligence alone distinguishes us from the brute; we are under obligation to perfect our humanity. And since education is a means of doing this, we owe it to our nature that we educate ourselves and have educated those who are under our care.

How long should the child be kept at school? The law provides that every child attend school until it reaches the age of fourteen. This law appears to be reasonable and just, and we think that in ordinary circumstances it has the power to bind in conscience. The parent therefore who neglects to keep children at school we account guilty of sin, and of grievous sin, if the neglect be notable.

Outside this provision of the law, we think children should be kept at school as long as it is possible and prudent to do so. This depends, of course, on the means and resources of the parents. They are under no obligation to give to their children an education above what their means allow. Then, the aptitudes, physical and mental, of the child are a factor to be considered. Poor health or inherited weakness may forbid a too close application to studies, while it may be a pure waste of time and money to keep at school a child that will not profit by the advantage offered. It is better to put such a child at work as soon as possible. As says the philosopher of Archey Road: “You may lead a young man to the university, but you cannot make him learn.”

Outside these contingencies, we think every child has a right to a common school education, such as is given in our system under the high school, whether it be fourteen years of age or over. Reading and writing, grammar and arithmetic, history and geography, these a.re the fundamental and essential elements of a common school education; and in our time and country, a modicum of information on these subjects is necessary for the future well-being, success and happiness of our children. And since parents are bound to care for the future of their children, we consider them likewise bound to give them such an education as will insure these blessings.