Sunday, April 18, 2010

GKC: the first cataract of innocence

As you will learn if you click here, this past week your lunatic writer became godfather of a young man named Mark, the son of two dear friends - poets and writers - brilliant young people whom I met at Chesterton Conferences...
And it reminded me of the following excerpt (among others) from our Uncle Gilbert.

--Dr. Thursday.

I have just received a long, elaborate, and very able document from the Moral Instruction League, describing what they conceive to be a complete system of sensible education in ethics; a scheme of ethics to which everyone assents and which can therefore be substituted for the moralities of all the creeds. It is supposed to represent the morality in which all men agree. And really, I do not think I ever read a document with which I disagreed so much. I do not mean at all that it is an exceptionally silly document; in many ways it is exceptionally capable. The only mistake in it is the mistake (as I freely admit), of almost all the enterprising educationalism of our day. That mistake is simply that all the people who think about education never seem to think about children. I solemnly assure the reader that I have read whole books about education written by intellectual people with great ingenuity; and I can only describe the effect on my mind by some kind of wild parallel. It felt as if I were reading a book called "How to Breed Horses," and it was all written like this: "Many people can enjoy the sweet voices of the horses singing at daybreak who nevertheless know little of the way they build their nests; and who (when they have tamed them) will often neglect to clean out their cages and be content merely with occasionally smoothing their feathers." One could only come to a sort of blear-eyed conclusion that the man was not talking about horses at all. Exactly in the same way many modern educational documents, including this one, strike me as not being either bad for children or good for children. They are not about children. The man who wrote them has obviously not the most glimmering idea of what a child is like. To take the most obvious point, they all talk as if the child stood still to be educated. They talk as if the government of your home were entirely concerned with what you should do with the children. A great deal of it is concerned with the desperate question of what the children will do with you. They talk of giving this or that final touch to the shape of the child's will, as if the child had no will of his own. They talk of forming the child's mind as if the child had not formed his own mind and did not know his own mind uncommonly well. A child is weaker than a man if it comes to a fight or to knowledge of the world; but there is nothing to show that the child is weaker in will or in desire. You come away from a modern educational work with the feeling that you have been putting together little pieces of different-coloured clay until you have made the image or statuette of a small child. You come away from having to do with a small child with the sense of having been wrestling with gigantic angels and gigantic devils, with the first eddy of evil as it enters the universe and the first cataract of innocence as it comes from God.
[GKC ILN 1908 CW:111-2]


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