Abbildungen der Seite

In different periods of society, in different climates, and under different forms of government, various institutions have naturally prevailed in the education of youth ; ,and even in different families, the children are educated in different manners, according to the various situations, dispositions, and abilities of the parents.

In the infancy of society, little attention can be given to the education of youth. Before men have arisen above the savage state, they are almost entirely the creatures of appetite and instinct : The power of instinct is not even always so strong, as to induce them to preserve and bring up their offspring. But even when their own wants are not so urgent, nor their hearts so destitute of feeling, as to prompt them to abandon their new born infants to the ferocity of wild beasts, or the severity of the elements, yet still their uncomfortable and precarious situation, their ignorance of the laws of nature, their deficiency of moral and religious principles, and their want of skill or dexterity, in any of the arts of life; -all these circuinstances together, must render men so situated, unable to regulate the education of their children with much sagacity or attention.

The parents may relate the wild inconsistent tales in which are contained all their notions concerning superior beings, and all their knowledge of the circumstances and transactions of their ancestors; they may teach their offspring to bend the bow, to point the arrow, to hollow the trunk of a tree into a canoe, or to trace the almost imperceptible path of an enemy, or a wild beast, over dreary mountains, or through intricate forests; but they cannot impress on their tender minds just ideas concerning their social relations, 'or their obligations to a Supreme Being, the framer and upholder of nature. They are at no pains to teach the youth to repress their irregular appetites, to restrain the sallies of passion when they exceed just bounds, or are improperly directed ; nor can they inform the opening understanding, with accurate or extensive views of the operations and appearances of nature itself. Besides all this, the man in his savage state, knows not how far implicit obedience to the commands of the parent are to be required from the youth, nor how far the youth ought to be left to the guidance of his own reason or humour.


When men have attained to such knowledge and improvement, as to be entitled to a more honorable appellation than that of savages, one part of their improvement generally consists in becoming more judicious and attentive în directing the education of their youth. They have now acquired ideas of dependence and subordinaton; they have arts to teach, and knowledge to communicate; they have moral principles to instil, and have formed notions of their relation and obligations to higher powers; and these they are desirous their children should likewise entertain. Their affection to their offspring, is now also more tender and constant. It is observed even in that state of society in which we are placed, that the poor who can scarce earn for themselves and their children the necessaries of life, are generally less susceptible of parental affection, in all its anxious tenderness, than the rich, or those whom Providence hath placed in casy circumstances.

In this improved state of society, the education of youth is viewed as an object of bigher importance. The child is dearer to the parent, and the parent is more capable of cultivating the understanding, and rectifying the dispositions of the child. The parent's knowledge of nature and dexterity in the arts of life, give him more authority over the child than the savage can possess : obedience is now inforced, and a system of education is adopted, by means of which the parent attempts to form the child for acting a part in social life. On some occasions the legislature itself interferes in the education of youth, which is considered as highly worthy of public concern, lest the foolish fondness



or the unnatural caprice of parents should, in the rising generation, blast the hopes of the State.

In reviewing history, we will find that this interference actually took place in several of the most celebrated governinents of antiquity. The Persians, the Cretans, and the Lacedæmonians, were all too anxious to form their youth for discharging the duties of citizens, to intrust the education of their children solely to the care of the parents. Public establishments were formed among those nations, and a series of institutions enacted for carrying on, and regulating the education of their youth: not such as the schools and universities of modern times, in which literary acquirements being the only object of pursuit, the student is maintained at his parents' expense, and attends only if his parents think proper to send him; but of a very different nature, and on a much more enlarged plan.

Among the Athenians, and afterwards among the Romans, we no where discover a regular system established by the laws for the education of youth; but we are not thence to conclude that such establishments were either unnatural or improper. The Athenians and Romans gradually rose from rudeness to refinement, so as to become

the glory and the wonder of the world, without resorting to such institutions : but though education was managed

amongst these and other nations of antiquity, without detaching children from the care and inspection of their parents, still education was every where regarded as an object of the highest importance. As the manners of mankind were improved; as the invention of arts and the discovery of science gradually introduced opulence and luxury, connubial, parental, and filial affection acquired greater strength, and greater tenderness: of consequence children were reared with more care, and that care was directed to form them for acting a becoming part in life. According to the circumstances of each nation, the arts which they cultiva


[ocr errors]

ted, and the form of government under which they lived; the knowledge they wished to communicate to their children, and the habits they endeavoured to impress upon them, were different from those of other nations. Again ; accordo ing to the different circumstances, tempers, abilities, and dispositions of parents, even the children of each family, were brought up in a manner different from that in which those of other families were managed. The Athenians, the Romans, the Carthaginians, conducted each the education of their youth in a different way, because they had each different objects in view.

Many men eminent for virtue and talents, amongst the ancients as well as the moderns, have devoted their time and attention to the theory and the practice of education. Quintilian and Cicero, Milton, Locke, Rousseau, &c. &c. have left us admirable treatises on this most important subject, unfolding systems very opposite indeed one to another; but all of them furnishing such lights as cannot fail to be of infinite service to those entrusted with the precious charge of the instruction of youth.

When a child arrives at the age of five or six years, it will be proper not only to exact obedience from hini, and to call his attention for a few minutes, now and then, to those things of which the knowledge is likely to be afterwards useful to him; but we may even venture to require of him, a regular and steady application, during a certain portion of his time, to such things as we wish him to learn. Before this period it would have been wrong to confine his attention to any particular task; the attempt would have produced no other effect, than to destroy the child's natu. ral gaiety and cheerfulness, to blunt the quickness of his powers of apprehension, and to render hateful what you wished him to learn. Now, however, the case is different; the child is certainly not yet sensible of the advantages which he may, for instance, derive from learning to read:



but such is the disposition of human nature, in every stage of life, to be more influenced by present objects, than by future prospects; that the mere sense of utility alone would not be sufficient to induce a child to apply to learning. Nothing, however, could be more absurd, than on this account to suffer a child to pass his time in idleness or foolish

a tricks, till views of utility and advantage should prompt him to employ himself in a different manner : on the contrary, he ought to be early habituated to application and the industrious exertion of his powers : besides at this period of life, we can command his obedience, awaken his curiosity, rouse his cmulation, gain his affection, call forth his natural disposition to imitation, and influence his mind by the hope of reward and the fear of punishment. When we possess so many means of establishing our authority over the mind of a child, without usurpation or tyranny, it cannot surely be difficult, with prudent and moderate management, to cultivate his powers, by making him begin, even at this early period, to give regular application to something which may afterwards be useful.

The question then arises, what task will be best calculated for a child at this period — that to which children are usually first required to apply_reading. Be not afraid that his abillities will suffer from an attention to books at so tender an age;. think not it is folly to teach him words before he has gained a knowledge of things: it is necessary,

, it is the voice of nature herself, that he should at the same time be acquiring a knowledge of things, and an acquaintance with the vocal and written signs by which they are distinguised : these are so intimately connected as tolead the one to the other. When we view an object, we attempt to give it a name, or seek to learn this name from those who know it; and in the saine manner when the names of substances or qualities are brought before us, we wish to know what these names signify. At the same



« ZurückWeiter »