Physical and Moral Training

David Stow, 1832, quoted verbatim by Fraser, William (1868) Memoir of David Stow.

Mr Stow published at this time (1832) a little tract on “Physical and Moral Training” in which he forcibly shows the connection of the play – ground with moral culture. We have seen nothing clearer or more philosophical on this subject, nor told with greater simplicity and effect than what Mr. Stow then wrote. The principles he enunciated are, at the present time, by far too little recognised by our best educationists.

“Surrounded thus for several hours a day by such a world of pupils, it is the province of the shrewd, intelligent, and pious superintendent, to watch and direct all their movements; and whilst he daily participates in their juvenile sports, he, in consequence, gradually gains a thorough knowledge of their true dispositions, which at the proper time and season, he applauds or condemns on the principle of conviction, an example of which is subjoined,* which applause or reproof; we repeat is not usually given at the moment the noticeable circumstances occur in the play-ground, but rather when the children have re-entered the school, and are seated in the gallery when the impression made on the culprit, in such circumstances, is much more lasting; and what is also of great importance, the whole of the children have thus an opportunity of hearing a generous action applauded, or ungenerous and vicious conduct condemned, in the party in question.

The play-ground, or gravel part, is surrounded by a flower border, three to four feet in breadth, filled with evergreen shrubs, flowers, berry bushes, cherry trees, &c., &c. The box or flower edging must not be trod upon: and although quite at liberty, two hundred children, under these circumstances, and having such temptations within their reach, with perfect ease to the master, may be trained never to touch or injure any of the fruit or flowers; stoop to smell them they may, but handle they must not. The father and mother of a family, having five or six children, may say, this is what we have never been able to accomplish with our children, and we are sure we have done every thing in our power to establish such a system of obedience, and we have, in a great measure, failed – we wonder, and scarcely believe such a thing possible. Our simple answer to such persons no doubt is – see and believe. But the entire mystery (if any) rests in this. The five or six children of one family being of different ages consequently, in play and pursuits, and of course in understanding, they do not sympathize with each other; the pride or vanity of the elder, prevents their imitating the good qualities (it may he) of the younger branches, whilst, at the same moment, these younger are almost certain to imitate anything bad in the conduct of the, elder;  – but only form a class of six children of the same age, as in the case of an Infant School – apply the same principle of training, and the same or nearly similar results will instantly follow: for with these six of similar ages, there is, or may be formed, a perfect sympathy – perhaps the Infant System, from this very circumstance, might more properly be termed “The Sympathetic System of Training”. Let us ever recollect that, while sympathy is a most powerful engine in training to good, we see every day, amongst our unrestrained youth, its sad effects in training to evil.

A child brought up on this principle, will it is presumed less likely in his early or later years, to pilfer or rob, to pluck flowers or steal fruit, even when permitted to walk alone in a garden unobserved; for the principle ‘Thou God seest me’ is daily impressed on the conscience of the child. Were children generally so trained we would, perhaps, have fewer public buildings defaced or railings broken or cope-stones pulled down than heretofore; were our neglected city children under nine or ten years of age, under this sort of training and, daily taught to respect private property even to the value of a pin, the temporary use of a wooden brick in a play-ground, or of a ball or a marble is it at all likely that we would have such a dormancy of all right principle at present?  Never let us be surprised at the extent of crime, or of the character exhibited by those who have perfectly the opposite principles daily inculcated, and evil examples set before them such being in full accordance with their own natural  inclinations. The Scripture precept is not simply instruct, but train- “Train up”, unswervingly and perseveringly.

For the sake of exercise and health, gymnastic poles, or circular swinging ropes are introduced, one each, with six ropes attached for girls and boys. At this exercise the children never weary; it is perfectly free from danger; it also tends to open the chest and strengthen the arms and wrists. One or all of the six swinging at the one time, continue or leave off at pleasure being propelled onwards by the use of their limbs, and outwards by the centrifugal force, should a fall at any time take place, the shock is always slight and very convenient. Habits of good order and obedience are even induced by this exercise, for those unengaged form a circle around the pole, and sing and count from one to  forty, at which the six engaged must instantly let go the ropes; and they again in their turn, in order to give place to others.

A large quantity of wooden bricks are also introduced, whereby the future mason, or barrowman, or architect, may each exert intellectual skill, or muscular vigour. Casting the eye around the play-ground, some will be observed admiring the flowers in silence, others swinging or waiting their turn – others engaged building or carrying bricks; and in this, it is striking to observe how real superiority is tacitly acknowledged on the part of’ the children themselves and how many seem to have no higher ambition, day after day, than the office of barrowman, in carrying materials for the triumphal arch – the bridge – the castle – or rural cottage. Others, again, may be seen forming figures with gravel stones amidst the sand, perhaps some very humble followers of Sir Isaac; whilst others may be observed sitting on the school-door steps, in abstract reverie, if not in utter thoughtlessness. The whole of the parties above described may be influenced comparatively easily, but many – many, indeed, are to be found who are sadly too animal in all their propensities, and regarding the hoped – for effect upon whose habits it may always be said – teaching is nothing, ‘whilst training is everything. The play-ground, in its effects upon moral character, and in promoting habits of order, obedience, and cleanliness, forms full three-fourths of the value of what is peculiar to the Infant System; – other schools may, as here, teach Christianity, and cultivate the understanding; but it is the peculiar province of what is termed the Infant System, with its superintendence, out-doors as well as in-doors, to train physically and morally, and this may be applied to children above six as well as below it; always however, keeping this in view, that the earlier the better, and that prevention is at all times, than cure.

Schools or seminaries, therefore, of whatever description, whether for children under six or above that age, without an enclosed play-ground, are destitute of the best, if not the only opportunity of training children morally and physically.

*A child of a family commits a fault – he may steal his neighbour’s toy for example, or “take it” (as stealing in embryo is too often called) ; this propensity will be checked by a mother or father, in every variety of shape, according to their capabilities and temperament. Under favourable circumstances, the parent feels indignant at the exhibition of such a crime, in one so near and dear to him. The feelings excited (however much they may be under control), are instinctively perceived by the keen eye of the child, and in a greater or lesser degree, shut the avenues to the little one’s heart; and both parties being under excitement, what passes on such an occasion in the way of check or advice too frequently goes for nothing. There is less danger of such feelings in an experienced Infant Teacher, whose regard and attentions are necessarily divided amongst an hundred pupils, And we shall again suppose, that one boy steals his play-fellow’s toy – it may be a ball or a spinning-top – this happens in the play-ground, freely at play, and it is only when perfectly at liberty that infant character is truly exhibited: the teacher sees this or is told of it; he takes no notice of the circumstance at the moment, but on entering the school as usual, he commences the process of examination, by telling a story about a boy who stole his neighbour’s top or something else; in a moment the culprit’s head hangs down – it is unnecessary to mark him out – he is visible to all. Ninety-nine out of the hundred, (if we accept the injured party) sit in cool judgment upon the case, and at the master’s desire are requested to award the punishment due to such an offence.

In the meantime he forgets not to remind the child and all present that although he had not observed him, God assuredly had; or rather, the teacher draws out this statement, from the children themselves, – the  pannel at the bar, of course, remaining perfectly acquiescent. The question is again put, ‘what punishment?’ Some of the more furious boys, whose energies but to be regulated order to make noble characters, bawl out, ‘Beat him – cuff – him – thump him;” all the rest, in the meantime keeping silence conceiving such punishment sufficiently severe.

The master, however, will ask another question or two, rather than fulfil the commands of this unmerciful jury. Is this boy in the habit of stealing your play-things” No. “Do you think this is the first offence?” Yes. “Ought a child to be punished as severely for a first as for  a second or third offence?” No.  “What then shall we do to this boy?” Instantly the girls will cry out ‘Forgive him, forgive him, don’t beat him.’ Now, mark the natural effect upon all parties: the guilty is condemned by his fellows; the milder feelings are brought into play – and all have principles of truth and justice. Without wasting words, by carrying  out the probable conversation, or stating the various ramifications which this circumstance, and similar of daily occurrence amongst children, may present – for not only may the playthings have been stolen but a lie told to hide it, and even blows given by way of defence, all of which require distinct modes of treatment if not early checked, will harden the conscience and strengthen the evil propensities of our common nature – whatever effect such an examination may have on the guilty individual it will be most salutary upon all 1others. The feelings are thus moulded down to give way to principle; and whilst all see what really is (unfortunately) an everyday exhibition in the world, and what, perhaps, too latently exists in themselves, such exhibitions are made in circumstances which naturally call forth, not imitation, but abhorrence.

David Stow, 1832, quoted verbatim by Fraser, William (1868) Memoir of David  Stow.