Fundamentals of Christian Education


Chapter 4—Thoughts on Education

No work ever undertaken by man requires greater care and skill than the proper training and education of youth and children. There are no influences so potent as those which surround us in our early years. Says the wise man, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The nature of man is threefold, and the training enjoined by Solomon comprehends the right development of the physical, intellectual, and moral powers. To perform this work aright, parents and teachers must themselves understand “the way the child should go.” This embraces more than a knowledge of books or the learning of the schools. It comprehends the practice of temperance, brotherly kindness, and godliness; the discharge of our duty to ourselves, to our neighbors, and to God. FE 57.1

The training of children must be conducted on a different principle from that which governs the training of irrational animals. The brute has only to be accustomed to submit to its master; but the child must be taught to control himself. The will must be trained to obey the dictates of reason and conscience. A child may be so disciplined as to have, like the beast, no will of its own, his individuality being lost in that of his teacher. Such training is unwise, and its effect disastrous. Children thus educated will be deficient in firmness and decision. They are not taught to act from principle; the reasoning powers are not strengthened by exercise. So far as possible, every child should be trained to self-reliance. By calling into exercise the various faculties, he will learn where he is strongest, and in what he is deficient. A wise instructor will give special attention to the development of the weaker traits, that the child may form a well-balanced, harmonious character. FE 57.2

In some schools and families, children appear to be well-trained, while under the immediate discipline, but when the system which has held them to set rules is broken up, they seem to be incapable of thinking, acting, or deciding for themselves. Had they been taught to exercise their own judgment as fast and as far as practicable, the evil would have been obviated. But they have so long been controlled by parents or teachers as to wholly rely upon them. He who seeks to have the individuality of his scholars merged in his own, so that reason, judgment, and conscience shall be subject to his control, assumes an unwarranted and fearful responsibility. Those who train their pupils to feel that the power lies in themselves to become men and women of honor and usefulness, will be the most permanently successful. Their work may not appear to the best advantage to careless observers, and their labor may not be valued so highly as that of the instructor who holds absolute control, but the after-life of the pupils will show the results of the better plan of education. FE 57.3

Both parents and teachers are in danger of commanding and dictating too much, while they fail to come sufficiently into social relation with their children or their scholars. They maintain too great a reserve, and exercise their authority in a cold, unsympathizing manner, which tends to repel instead of winning confidence and affection. If they would oftener gather the children about them, and manifest an interest in their work, and even in their sports, they would gain the love and confidence of the little ones, and the lesson of respect and obedience would be far more readily learned; for love is the best teacher. A similar interest manifested for the youth will secure like results. The young heart is quick to respond to the touch of sympathy. FE 58.1

Let it never be forgotten that the teacher must be what he desires his pupils to become. Hence, his principles and habits should be considered as of greater importance than even his literary qualifications. He should be a man who fears God, and feels the responsibility of His work. He should understand the importance of physical, mental, and moral training, and should give due attention to each. He who would control his pupils must first control himself. To gain their love, he must show by look and word and act that his heart is filled with love for them. At the same time, firmness and decision are indispensable in the work of forming right habits, and developing noble characters. FE 58.2

Physical training should occupy an important place in every system of education. It is the duty of parents and teachers to become acquainted with the human organism and the laws by which it is governed, and so far as possible, to secure to their children and pupils that greatest of all earthly blessings, “a sound mind in a sound body.” Myriads of children die annually, and many more are left to drag out a life of wretchedness, perhaps of sin, because of the ignorance or neglect of parents and teachers. FE 59.1

Many a mother spends hours and even days in needless work merely for display, and yet has no time to obtain the information necessary that she may preserve the health of her children. She trusts their bodies to the doctor, and their souls to the minister, that she may go on undisturbed in her worship of fashion. To become acquainted with the wonderful mechanism of the human frame, to understand the dependence of one organ upon another, for the healthful action of all, is a work in which she has no interest. Of the mutual influence of mind and body, she knows little. The mind itself, that wonderful endowment which allies the finite with the infinite, she does not understand. FE 59.2

For generations, the system of popular education, for children especially, has been destructive to health, and even to life itself. Five and even six hours a day young children have passed in schoolrooms not properly ventilated nor sufficiently large for the healthful accommodation of the scholars. The air of such rooms soon becomes poisonous to the lungs that inhale it. And here the little ones, with their active, restless bodies, and no less active and restless minds, have been kept unoccupied during the long summer days, when the fair world without called them to gather health and happiness with the birds and flowers. Many children have at best but a slight hold on life. Confinement in school makes them nervous and diseased. Their bodies become dwarfed from want of exercise and the exhausted condition of the nervous system. If the lamp of life goes out, parents and teachers are far from suspecting that they themselves had aught to do with quenching the vital spark. The sad bereavement is looked upon as a special dispensation of Providence, when the truth is, inexcusable ignorance and neglect of nature's laws had destroyed the life of these children. God designed them to live in the enjoyment of health and vigor, to develop pure, noble, and lovely characters, to glorify Him in this life and to praise Him forever in the future life. FE 59.3

Who can estimate the lives that have been wrecked by cultivating the intellectual to the neglect of the physical powers? The course of injudicious parents and teachers in stimulating the young mind by flattery or fear, has proved fatal to many a promising pupil. Instead of urging them on with every possible incentive, a judicious instructor will rather restrain the too active mind until the physical constitution has become strong enough to sustain mental effort. FE 60.1

That the youth may have health and cheerfulness, which are dependent upon normal physical and mental development, care must be given to the proper regulation of study, labor, and amusement. Those who are closely confined to study to the neglect of physical exercise, are injuring the health by so doing. The circulation is unbalanced, the brain having too much blood and the extremities too little. Their studies should be restricted to a proper number of hours, and then time should be given to active labor in the open air. FE 60.2

Little children should be permitted to run and play out of doors, enjoying the fresh, pure air, and the life-giving sunshine. Let the foundation of a strong constitution be laid in early life. Parents should be the only teachers of their children, until they are eight or ten years of age. Let the mother have less care for the artificial, let her refuse to devote her powers to the slavery of fashionable display, and find time to cultivate in herself and her children a love for the beautiful things of nature. Let her point them to the glories spread out in the heavens, to the thousand forms of beauty that adorn the earth, and then tell them of Him who made them all. Thus she can lead their young minds up to the Creator, and awaken in their hearts reverence and love for the Giver of every blessing. The fields and hills—nature's audience chamber—should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbook. The lessons thus imprinted upon their minds will not be soon forgotten. FE 60.3

God's works in nature have lessons of wisdom and gifts of healing for all. The ever-varying scenes of the recurring seasons constantly present fresh tokens of His glory, His power, and His love. Well were it for older students, while they labor to acquire the arts and learning of men, to also seek more of the wisdom of God,—to learn more of the divine laws, both natural and moral. In obedience to these are life and happiness, in this world and in the world to come.—The Review and Herald, January 10, 1882. FE 61.1