Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Mothers who love your children, do not set them too soon to the study of history;  let them dream while they are young.  Do not close the soul to the first breath of poetry.  Nothing affronts me so much as the reasonable, practical child who believes in nothing that he cannot touch.  These sages of ten years are, at twenty, dullards, or what is still worse, egoists."
 Edouard Laboulaye


Erin said...

Hmm. Interesting. St. Theophan I feel certain would have said the opposite. At least insomuch as hagiography/scriptures=history. Complicated questions indeed, but I've been contemplating sections of The Path to Salvation lately, so these issues are on my mind.

the striped rose said...

Maybe the key is the way the material is presented. Many of our history lessons have led to more imaginative play...

Anna said...

I knew someone would take issue with this quote :) I even hesitated to post it for the very reason you point out Erin. I posted it as I have been struggling to pull myself from the depths of burn out this spring, feeling as if we have not possibly accomplished what we should. It reflects my feeling of letting go, not stressing too much about formal learning in the very early years - I would by no means apply it to hagiography - in fact, I think it says just the opposite. What is an affront is the child who ONLY believes in that which he can touch (calls to mind St. Thomas :). Christ responded with how much more blessed are those who believe without seeing. Chesterton often has a similar sentiment in his writings, his point being that the imagination of the child is what enables him to be drawn to God, for if he is unable to consider or believe in that which he cannot see (or that which is not "scientific"/cold hard facts), then faith is beyond him. Poetry, beauty, imagination and stories are what help the child understand God. Dry facts do not. So, I guess that is my perspective of this quote. To allow those first years to be full of beautiful stories (from the saints, the scripture, the psalms, poetry, things which engage the imagination), not hard studies. And yes, St. Theophan would probably disagree to some extent, he certainly did not encourage the imagination. He also tells us not to demand feed our infants, to not always comfort them when they cry, to keep children on a schedule, and that it is good for them to be physically uncomfortable (not always wearing a sweater in the winter, etc :). While I pretty well embrace those ideas, many Orthodox moms would take issue with those ideas :) In fact, a few moms I know have some pretty harsh words for a monk who tells mothers how to nurse! So, I guess I will take a bit of a quibble with him over the imagination being not all bad, when it is used in the way God intended (as opposed to used in a corrupt way as a result of our sinfulness).

I agree Michele, I don't think the point of the quote was that we should not teach history. Rather, we must excite our children in their learning at an early age, to explore and wonder. And, that we must not begin too early - to feel like we must teach them so much at such an early age. For me, the quote calls to mind rows of school desks with 10 year old British school boys in uniforms reciting a bunch of facts. (and please, no one think I am attacking memorization - we are big on recitation here :)

Well, this comment got a bit long :) sorry, hope I explained what I meant without too much convoluted confusion!

Erin said...

Oh, I totally feel the burnout situation. And since we've only covered about half of the history we planned to cover for the year, I've been constantly thinking of ways to console myself with what we HAVE accomplished this year. Lots of it is just good reading of quality fiction, and I'm happy with that.

If you read the full text of St. Theophan's whole work (translated as The Path to Salvation in English), and not just that excerpted Raising Them Right booklet, you can get a better sense of the whole trajectory of what he teaches. (Personally, I kind of wish that little booklet didn't exist, but I completely understand its place and usefulness.) I think the full text puts everything in better perspective.

It also helps to have a little understanding of the Russian parenting issues he was addressing at the time, but I won't go into all that now. Since I am generally an on-demand nurser I can't say we are able to always be completely literal with everything we read. And yet, I think it's important to trust the wisdom of our saints and monastics and trust that they understood and understand things about how our passions are aroused and harmful habits are formed even in youth.

Having said all of that, the real issue is that thanks to some various situations that have arisen in our lives, I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about St. Theophan's comments about the imagination and considering the issue of maintaining childhood innocence while also being real and honest with children about the realities of life, sin and death. This has been the subject of much discussion (and even some writing) among us as a couple lately, so I have many thoughts swirling around. I'll leave it at that, but we could discuss in detail some other time if you like.

(As for the poetry section of the quote - yes! yes! yes!)

Thanks for posting!