Saturday, April 23, 2011

Education and the Good Life, Chapter X

Chapter X (pages 178-186), “Importance of Other Children”

Peer groups and slightly older children do much to build character in the young. Contemporaries are better analogues for children than are adults, so they can more easily be emulated. Younger children like to play with older children, but this is true throughout the age spectrum. As a result, where there is free choice, the social groups become segregated by age. Age mixing occurs primarily within families, where only the eldest child lacks the advantage of having slightly older examples at hand. “Small families are in some ways a disadvantage to children, unless supplemented by nursery schools [p. 179].” Slightly older children naturally assume an authority when they play with younger kids, an authority to which the younger kids readily submit. Older children provide the templates and the prods for the reasonable ambitions of younger kids. Dealings with younger kids also provide opportunities for the moral education of the older children, who must learn to share and to accept the depredations that the clumsiness of the tots will generate.

Despite the utility of keeping company with children of different ages, it is contemporaries who are most important, at least for kids of age four or older. “Behaviour to equals is what most needs to be learnt [p. 183]” – because people of all situations are indeed your equals as adults. For this reason, schools, at least if they are good, provide a better environment for training children than within the family. Further, kids need a lot of play, and to meet this need, the company of their schoolfellows is desirable.

[Russell then notes that his godfather, John Stuart Mill, had little play in his childhood, though he did have an amazingly rigorous education starting at a very young age. (Mill detailed his unusual upbringing in his Autobiography.) “From the mere standpoint of acquiring knowledge, the results may be good, but taken all round I cannot admire them [p. 184].” Mill’s difficulty in accepting reasoning that led away from his father’s views constrained his creativity (Russell returns to this theme in Chapter XI, on page 191), and he had a hard time enjoying life. Russell then reveals that he himself had a sort of Mill-lite education, with the same result of adolescent thoughts of suicide. “When I began to associate with contemporaries, I found myself an angular prig. How far I have remained so, it is not for me to say [p. 185].”]

Not all children should be subjected to education with schoolfellows. People with exceptional capabilities but incurable social awkwardness can be bullied mercilessly, so they can be homeschooled – though proper upbringing during infancy would go a long way towards limiting excessive nervousness or social awkwardness.

No comments: