I wish to lay special stress upon the absurdity, not to call it by a harsher term, of running children through the same mill in a lot, with absolutely no real reference to their individuality. No two children are alike. You cannot expect them to develop alike. They are different in temperament, in tastes, in disposition, in capabilities, and yet we take them in this precious early age, when they ought to be living a life of preparation near to the heart of nature, and we stuff them, cram them, and overwork them until their poor little brains are crowded up to and beyond the danger-line. The work of breaking down the nervous systems of the children of the United States is now well under way. It is only when some one breaks absolutely away from all precedent and rule and carves out a new place in the world that any substantial progress is ever made, and seldom is this done by one whose individuality has been stifled in the schools. So it is imperative that we consider individuality in children in their training precisely as we do in cultivating plants. Some children, for example, are absolutely unfit by nature and temperament for carrying on certain studies. Take certain young girls, for example, bright in many ways, but unfitted by nature and bent, at this early age at least, for the study of arithmetic. Very early,-before the age of ten, in fact,-they are packed into a room along with from thirty to fifty others and compelled to study a branch which, at best, they should not undertake until they have reached maturer years. Can one by any possible cultivation and selection and crossing compel figs to grow on thistles or apples on a banana-tree? I have made many varied and strange plant combinations in the hope of betterment and still am at work upon others, but one cannot hope to do the impossible.
THE FIRST TEN YEARS
Not only would I have the child reared for the first ten years of its life in the open, in close touch with nature, a barefoot boy with all that implies for physical stamina, but should have him reared in love. But you say, How can you expect all children to be reared in love? By working with vast patience upon the great body of the people, this great mingling of races, to teach such of them as do not love their children to love them, to surround them with all the influences of love. This will not be universally accomplished to-day or to-morrow, and it may need centuries; but if we are ever to advance and to have this higher race, now is the time to begin the work, this very day. It is the part of every human being who comprehends the importance of this to bend all his energies toward the same end. Love must be at the basis of all our work for the race; not gush, not mere sentimentality, but abiding love, that which outlasts death. A man who hates plants, or is neglectful of them, or who has other interests beyond them, could no more be a successful plant-cultivator than he could turn back the tides of the ocean with his finger-tips. The thing is utterly impossible. You can never bring up a child to its best estate without love.
BE HONEST WITH THE CHILD
Then, again, in the successful cultivation of plants there must be absolute honesty. I mean this in no fanciful way, but in the most practical and matter-of-fact fashion. You cannot attempt to deceive nature or thwart her or be dishonest with her in any particular without her knowing it, without the consequences coming back upon your own head. Be honest with your child. Do not give him a colt for his very own, and then, when it is a three-year-old, sell it and pocket the proceeds. It does not provoke a tendency in children to follow the Golden Rule, and seldom enhances their admiration and respect for you. It is not sound business policy or fair treatment; it is not honest. Bear in mind that this child-life in these first ten years is the most sensitive thing in the world; never lose sight of that. Children respond to ten thousand subtle influences which would leave no more impression upon a plant than they would upon the sphinx. Vastly more sensitive is it than the most sensitive plant. Think of being dishonest with it!
Here let me say that the wave of public dishonesty which seems to be sweeping up over this country is chiefly due to a lack of proper training-breeding, if you will--in the formative years of life. Be dishonest with a child, whether it is your child or some other person's child-dishonest in word or look or deed, and you have started a grafter. Grafting, or stealing,--for that is the better word,--will never be taken up by a man whose formative years have been spent in an atmosphere of absolute honesty. Nor can you be dishonest with your child in thought. The child reads your motives as no other human being reads them. He sees into your own heart. The child is the purest, truest thing in the world. It is absolute truth: that 's why we love children. They know instinctively whether you are true or dishonest with them in thought as well as in deed; you cannot escape it. The child may not always show its knowledge, but its judgment of you is unerring. Its life is stainless, open to receive all impressions, just as is the life of the plant, only far more pliant and responsive to influences, and to influences to which no plant is capable of being responsive. Upon the child before the age of ten we have an unparalleled opportunity to work; for nowhere else is there material so plastic.
TRAITS IN PLANTS AND BOYS
Teach the child self-respect; train it in self-respect, just as you train a plant into better ways. No self-respecting man was ever a grafter. Make the boy understand what money means, too, what its value and importance. Do not deal it out to him lavishly, but teach him to account for it. Instill better things into him, just as a plant-breeder puts better characteristics into a plant. Above all, bear in mind repetition, repetition, the use of an influence over and over again. Keeping everlastingly at it, this is what fixes traits in plants-the constant repetition of an influence until at last it is irrevocably fixed and will not change. You cannot afford to get discouraged. You are dealing with something far more precious than any plant-the priceless soul of a child.
KEEP OUT FEAR
And, again, keep fear out that
the child may grow up to the end of the first ten-year period and not learn what physical
fear is. Let him alone for that, if he is a healthy normal child; he will find it and
profit by it. But keep out all fear of the brutal things men have taught children about
the future. I believe emphatically in religion. It has been said "God made religion,
and man made theology," just as "God made the country, and man made the
town." I have the largest sympathy for religion, and the largest contempt I am
capable of for a misleading theology. Do not feed children on maudlin sentimentalism or
dogmatic religion; give them nature. Let their souls drink in all that is pure and sweet.
Rear them, if possible, amid pleasant surroundings. If they come into the world with souls
groping in darkness, let them see and feel the light. Do not terrify them in early life
with the fear of an after-world. Never was a child made more noble and good by the fear of
a hell. Let nature teach them the lessons of good and proper living, combined with an
abundance of well-balanced nourishment. Those children will grow to be the best men and
women. Put the best in them by contact with the best outside. They will absorb it as a
plant absorbs the sunshine and the dew.
(This is the text version. See the photographed version.)