Education for Individuality


THERE is a little bay in one of the rooms of our house, the width of a window, the depth of a child’s crib, which, in the blue print, was for the baby. The young couple who built this house had right intentions in the blue print. They told the architect what to do, and he did it; but the young pair weakened and kept a bureau in the little bay instead. That couple belong to the passing generation. They built at a time when at least one window in a house of forty was still dedicated to the chance of children; whereas my generation has become altogether practical, clearly recognizing in the blue print the greater convenience of bureaus. If children come, as they do sometimes, it is quite by accident; and you build hospitals for accidents. In short, accidents ultimately are a charge on the general public, to be provided for out of the public funds.

The public machinery for saving parents from their children approaches perfection. When some mechanical contrivance is found for manufacturing babies, the public will then have assumed the entire child-responsibility. At the present time a public something or somebody,—crèche, or nurse, ‘home’-kindergarten, cradle-roll, scoutmaster, camp, or school,—attends the babe from birth straight through to business, or début — where a public caterer provides the refreshment, a public orchestra the music, a public house the ballroom, and only the general public is lacking to complete what, since the christening, has been a public affair.

On my daily in-and-out-of Boston I pass the Y.M.C.A., the Huntington School, the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for school-children, the Children’s Hospital, Miss Winsor’s school for girls, the Boston School of Physical Education, Saint Joseph’s Industrial School, the Blind Babies’ Home, the Little Wanderers’ Home, a great parochial school, the Milton Academy for boys, the same for girls, the Quincy Boy-Scout Headquarters, a public playground, two or three kindergartens, several Sunday schools, and public schools at every turn — signs of the public’s determination to stand in loco parentis; some of it for necessary public ends, but much of it a poor public substitute for parents and private homes. Along the roads I dodge little groups of children forced into the edge of the honking swirl to play, father and mother forsaking them, and the courts and the A.L.A. taking them up.

Most parents provide for their children; some take personal care of their children; but few indeed are they who can be forced to take any part in the education of their children, education having become the business of schools, a factory process, turned over entirely to the public. Here and there is a sublime parent who plods doggedly over the alphabet and the algebra, getting an education for himself at this late day; but such are rare, the run of parents putting their babes into the kindergarten or some other educational incubator, while they themselves slip off the educational nest like cuckoos and cowbirds.

Much in our education is conventional and universal, calling for drill, efficient school-drill; many of the movements of education are mechanical mass actions, which require training by squads and companies, like soldiers. All the social aspects of education, all the togetherness of it, can nowhere be had so well as in school. And this is a very essential part of education. The professional teacher is no hireling. He is a necessary member of society, an indispensable factor in general intelligence, and so holds in his (or her) hand the very fate of the world. No one can take the professional teacher’s place, as no substitute can be found for the institution of the school. Parents and homes are not substitutes; nor, on the other hand, in a complete education, — an education for individuality, — are professional teachers and schools a real substitute for parents and homes.

If education for democracy is understanding based on common training and personal acquaintance in school, then education for individuality — a thing as elemental and personal as life itself— cannot possibly be the product of any school, but must begin, where individuality begins, in the cradle, finding its first and freest development in the home, the only institution of civilization devoted to the oneness of life as against life’s many-ness. The class, the school, the group-idea, is a prime factor in education for democracy. Nothing better has been devised to this end than our common public schools.

But democracy is only a system of government, only a way of living, and not life itself. So here, in spite of my democracy, and the mingling multitude, here am I, ‘lone-wandering,’ in endless search of myself. For æons I have been searching, from star to star down the ages, until I chanced this way, upon this daring experiment in democracy, which deeply interests me, and for the time delays me in my ceaseless search. I love the idea of democracy. I believe in liberty, equality, fraternity. I believe also in the divine right of kings; and if any kings were born unto my royal parents, or if any have been born unto me (as I suspect four have), then they must have their divine rights: must leave this crowd, this good, this necessary, this commonplace crowd, and wandering on with me, must search until each of us comes to the kingdom of his solitary soul.

I AM. If I live with ordinary people, God also dwells among them, there being no other sort. I am one of them. All I have, they give me. All they give me, I would give them back, and more. But giving them all I have still leaves me all I am. I cannot give this; they cannot receive it. I am that I am; as God is. And this essential self, this eternal I, cannot go with anybody to school.


Whatever leads me out, deepens, quickens, strengthens the personal, the peculiar in me, the bent of my nature, educates the individual in me. The school can develop what I have in common with others; what I am in myself will often be repressed, discouraged, defeated by school, unless I am more powerful than the machine, or find freedom or help from without. The most natural and powerful of these individualizing forces should be the home.

One of the insistent charges brought, against the public school is that it ignores personality, hinders the brilliant, and is attended by terrible risks — all of this because it is a public school. But these faults are neither public nor private—they are just school, any school, an inherent fault in the machine. Moreover, they are inherent in human nature, too — the risks, I mean. God planted three risks in Eden: Adam, Eve, and the Tree; and Eve had no choice but to take two of them! Risks have to be taken; and the sooner certain of them are taken, the better — while still holding little Eve’s hand in your own, you can show her how, without shying or sighing, she can safely meet them. I am afraid of life’s risks; but I am giving my children all the varieties of them found in the public schools, knowing that the best private school in the land has quite as choice a selection.

Just so I give them night air to breathe at night, it being the only kind there is at night; and a child cannot stop breathing because it is night. Children need risks as chickens need grit in their gizzards. The only way to save a child from risks is to forestall its being born. Once conceived, a child is little else than a risk; and when he starts to school he must be told of the risks, must be taught how to meet the risks, how even to risk the risks and to take life’s daring chance. If there is an individualizing force, and one better than another in the whole school programme, it is the risks at school.

And as for the other charge against the public school, of hindering the brilliant and making for mediocrity — that is the fault of all schools, so far as it is true. It is largely false, however — pure academic talk, indeed, and flatly contradicted by human nature. Neither principalities nor faculties can seriously thwart the brilliant mind; and if personality so feeble were,

Heaven itself would stoop to her,

as Heaven has time and again, and as Heaven did in the original pattern of personality.

The public school does not recognize the brilliant mind as standard. But what other school does? Which is the All-Brilliant Boys’ School? And does its headmaster still live? How I covet the headship of the All-Brilliant School, where nature breeds

Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things, —

the intellectually overdone, the physically underdone, the morally undone,— prenatal freaks in need of a surgical operation, or, it may be, a term in jail! The All-Brilliant School is a reform school. The public school (the private school, too) must specialize in the average. The school has a mass work to do, a national function to perform— to educate for democracy; the education for individuality must be given us elsewhere, but not in any school. The terms are paradoxical. You can school the individual, but you cannot school individuality, either in a public, or in the most select of private schools. Individuality can be educated, but it cannot go to school.

Clearly recognizing the social and the individual ends of life, we as clearly recognize two principles in education — one making for social solidarity, the other for individuality. A true American education must realize the highest individuality, as well as the widest democracy. Dedicating the school to the ends of democracy, we shall find the education for individuality wherever we can. And we find it everywhere, but nowhere so close at hand, so early at work, and so powerfully at work, — if it works at all, — as in the home. Here the poet is born, and here, not in school, he is educated for poetry.

The precious, personal thing —

The soul that rises with us, our life’s star, —

hath here, if anywhere, its rightful place assigned it in the shining heavens. No school can do this. No schoolteacher to the end of life’s lessons has quite this celestial chance. Yet, beside the average home, the little red schoolhouse, as an educational centre, looks like a university; and the average redschool-house teacher, poor as she is (and she is terribly poor), when put beside the average parent, is a teaching genius.

Life should be reconceived in terms of the child: our towns should be destroyed and built again for the child; houses torn out and made over for the child; home life reordered and adjusted to the child; marriage approached, and entered into, for the child; the very education of boys and girls to include the meaning of the child; and if it is a question which shall have the higher education, the boy or the girl, send the girl to college for the sake of the future child. I have said elsewhere that the hope of the race is in Eve — in her making the best, she can of Adam; it would be truer to say, in her making the best she can of little Cain and Abel.

How small a learning, after all, it takes to teach the alphabet and the multiplication-table and the Bible! How much time it takes, though, and patience, and joy in your children, and love of learning! But not any more of love and joy and time than parents who take their children at par can afford to give them; nor more than we have actually given our children in our own home.


‘Oh, your home is exceptional!’ Our home is exceptional — it is servantless, and has been since the beginning of the war; it is so remote that I must rise at 5.30 A.M. to start the fire, in order to catch a train for Boston in time for my first lecture at 10 o’clock; and so exceptional is the place that, when I get home at night, I descend from my car, gaze out over the landscape, and exclaim, ‘Mullein Hill, I am here!’ Let. no one tell me anything about this exceptional place or its exceptional inhabitants. I am tolerably well acquainted here; and I know that for glorious sunrises and inconveniences and ordinary folk this hilltop is positively unique.

Education never went forward under greater difficulties of this sort. Yet forward it has gone, steadily, the main thing of the day, the great circumstance of life. My part in it has been small: that of janitor, and school committee, and sometimes pupil, the teaching being largely done by the children’s mother. Still, I am on the Faculty, and was present the day the systematic work was begun: the day the o’dest. boy (he was five), seeing a picture of John Gilpin in the back o.f a magazine, asked who he was and where he was galloping. Down came the old leatherbound Cowper, and away went the five-year-old to Islington, to Edmonton and Ware, then short about, back over the road again, —

Nor stopped till where he had got up,
He once again got down.

Gilpin rode the Calender’s horse that day. Neck and neck with him on Pegasus rode the boy, conscious for the first time in his small years of the swinging rhythm in the gait of the steed, and of the beat — the beat — of the golden hoofs.

Soon there was another five-year-old up behind his brother (now six); and with that we bought Pegasus, and gave him to the children — as good an investment as we ever made. None of our children lisped in numbers, and perhaps none of them will, but not for lack of poetry. Poets are born, of course, and are made after being born, too; but the real poet is something more: he is, and was from the foundation, a preordained part of the divine scheme of things; but next to him, in the divine order, comes the lover of poetry. I agree with Dr. Arnold, the master of Rugby, that, if I could teach my boys but one thing, that thing should be poetry — to strengthen their imagination, to chasten their sensibilities, to quicken and deepen their emotions, to give them their glorious mother-tongue, and the language of real life, and the significance of real things — which is all ‘flub’ and ‘floating island’ to the ‘practical’ man.

‘John Gilpin’ was followed by ‘The First Snowfall,’ ‘To a Waterfowl,’ ‘The Death of the Flowers,’ ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,’ Addison’s Hymn, ‘Sir Patrick Spens,’ the First, Eighth, Twenty-third, and Twenty-fourth Psalms — all of them committed to memory; the Eighth Psalm, recited under the listening stars; ‘The Death of the Flowers,’ conned over and over as we tramped the naked woods in the gray melancholy of November.

All this time they were learning to read for themselves, chiefly with the fascinating pictures in the advertising ends of the magazines. Never was there a school primer that made words so compelling! The things to eat — cake all true to color, all cut and ready to pick off the plate; stuff to drink; things to wear; places to see; endless, wonderful! ‘What do the words say?’ was the constant duet. This was not ‘ learning to read’ — it was eating and drinking, bathing, and climbing — living in words.

The teacher used any ‘method,’ and all methods (based on the phonetic), the eager minds grappling with the syllables in a catch-as-catch-can tussle for their tantalizing stories. That first reading lesson began with the pretty sounds, ‘ Coca-Cola — as Refreshing as a Summer Breeze or a Dip in the Sea’; and the next lesson was, ‘Peter’s Milk Chocolate, as High as the Alps in Quality’; and the delicious thing was done! They had learned to read, and were quickly at work with their new magic in ‘The Water Babies,’ their first reading-book. A few lines a day, reviewed the next day, with lines in advance, and soon the story was coming steadily, and faster and faster as the familiar word-faces multiplied toward the middle of the volume. What a delightful way to learn! And such a story! such a sermon! such a lot of fun! such sweet verses! such a truly great book, too! Then they did it over again; and later on, these two put the two younger boys through it, until Tom and Mrs. Be-done-by-as-you-did came and joined our family.

Next it was Mother Goose, then Æsop ‘in the brave old seventeenthcentury edition of Sir Roger L’Estrange,’ then Alice, then Pilgrim, then — I have lost count; but I know that right soon they were reading the Æneid in Mr. Harlan Hoge Ballard’s fine metrical translation; and with that their reading lessons were done.

But the Æneid was a summer’s work. Daily at ten they had their Virgil, reviewing the previous lesson, and reading ahead until the clock struck eleven. This, I think, has been one of their greatest educational experiences: the heroic story, the epic characters, the glorious poetry, the legend, the lore, the love of the past — all of it of incalculable worth.

Such reading is not for fact; it is for imagination and feeling. All great literature is simple enough for children, as easy to give them as The Katzenjammer Kids. Virgil is a noble book for children. A single incident from the reading will show the strong grip of the story.

Day after day, the reading had gone forward, and was now at the scene of the fall of young Lausus, and the grief of his father Mezentius, who, staggering to his feet, mounted his strong steed, Rhœbus.

Round and round Æneas he rode, filling the shield of his enemy with a forest of lances, until the great Trojan, desperately pressed, suddenly burst from behind his shield upon Mezentius and —

‘Deep in the hollow skull of the horse he buried a javelin, —

the steed, in its fall, pinning Mezentius to the earth, with Æneas, dagger drawn, triumphant over him. A mighty shout shakes all the battlefield. And then a hush! Mezentius is speaking: —

‘Why, cruel enemy, standest thou here with threats and revilings?
I have no quarrel with death,’ —

when a smothered cry breaks in on the reading. With cheeks flushed, eyes wide with pity, and breath hardly more than sobs, they heard the fallen warrior ask: —

‘Grant that entombed by the side of my son, we may slumber together,’ —

when a little hand crept out and covered the rest of the passage, a little head dropped weeping upon the table, while the other little listener, dryeyed, slipped silently down from his seat and buried himself in the lap of his mother.

This was a deeply significant event in their education. They may not have been born poets; but the love of poetry was born in them with this experience, making them ready now for school, and even for college.


I should like to name here many more of the things read in this creative fashion before the oldest boy was ten, when he and his brother began to go to school. Yet education is neither much nor little, but the Æneid, — in this case, — or whatever awakes the soul to an immortal love, or possesses the mind of an immortal power, or gives the spirit, to have and to hold, an immortal truth.

The reading went on, a little every day, after school was begun; and during the summer vacation the old order was entirely resumed—a quiet steady push through the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Tanglewood Tales, the Wonder Book, Gayley’s Classic Myths, The Frogs of Aristophanes (Murray’s translation), and many, many books besides; while still such reading was utterly unsuspected of being less real joy and boy-excitement than outdoor work or play.

Here I must touch upon another aspect of this phase of their education, — the daily reading aloud, — which went on with what I have just described, and which, so far as the children can remember, had no beginning, so early was it started.

A nap at noon allowed the boys to sit up until eight o’clock in the evening for this hour of out-loud reading. Their mother usually held the book. With faces scrubbed, each in his ‘bearclothes’ and bath-robe, ready for bed, the four would range themselves in small chairs before the fire, listening, night after night, year after year, to story, poetry, history, biography, essay, travel, the Atlantic, the news of the day, until that evening hour had become as studded with shining books as the clear sky last night was studded with shining stars.

This calls for a desperately simple sort of life. A child, however, is a desperately simple sort of creature; and life is a rather desperate sort of thing, with or without children. Still, a good book is a good thing; and a man’s fireside in the country is a comfortable place; and four shiny-eyed listeners, if they are little and chance to be your own, add a good deal to the book and the fragrant fire; while a good reader, if she loves reading aloud, and if she knows how to read aloud — I say that she also helps to rob the hour of its very desperate aspect.

It is impossible to catalogue here all these open-fire books — more poetry, story, history, biography, and nature than the children will get in college, or have time for after college, possibly. Yet it is not the many books, it is rather the kind of reading, that counts: for instance, Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast, with its trip around the Horn; then Lewis and Clark’s Journal, with the overland adventure down the Columbia; then Parkman’s Oregon Trail and The Conspiracy of Pontiac —• a more thrilling series for adventure than Deadwood Dick, or The Bucket of Blood, and for all that forms the vast and picturesque background of our American literature and history, a better course than they will ever have in college.

We no longer keep up the reading regularly; the cares of this world and college courses making short shift of that seven-to-eight. hour; but the old habit is strong upon us, and all through this Christmas vacation we have nightly had the reading and the fire, and the same four boys, but bigger now, with tears of joy on their faces at the doings of Sam Weller and the Pickwickians.

Reading is not the whole of an education. You may not call it education at all, reserving that term for the ‘ prep’-school work! A love of such reading as is here indicated is something so vital, anyhow, that it will do for an education.


Early in education for individuality should come universal history. The child’s mind is diagrammatic. It likes beginnings and ends. It draws a map. It wishes things related, and all brought home to Hingham. This only means that the child first feels out itself, and tries to explain the world in terms of self. The study of history with little children is imperative.

Nothing in our home education is so simple or so suggestive as our work in history, which, like the reading, began very early — with a revolving globe of the world for geography, and with Swinton’s Outlines of the World’s History for story and chronology.

Starting from Hingham as their geographical centre, the children would follow on the globe a steamship line to London for John Gilpin’s ride. This became a habit. Whatever study was going forward about the step-ladder table, there, among the closely crowded heads, was sure to be the revolving globe, with the geography of the situation — poem, or whatever it might be — before them: steamship routes as real as mountain ranges, Peking as near as Provincetown — the world never a flat map as it was to me, but a whole round sphere in this one globe, and an unbroken human story in this single book of Swinton’s.

This study of Swinton was the beginning of their historical and political interests, and of their sense of the sequence, of the relations, of the interactions, and of the unity of things, that has made history and literature a living thing to them, and life right here in Hingham a universal as well as a personal thing. Nothing wiser was ever done for them, nothing that has made them so free of the world, intellectually so free and unafraid, so variously interested in men and affairs, as this careful study of Swinton. They read the book through, then through again, and again, using up that copy, and thumbing wretchedly a second copy that I was obliged to get them.

This was the trunk-line of their educational travel. Everything went forward by this through route. The revolving globe on their table made all things right in space, the outline history made the same things right in time, and with time and space put to rights, this world, so full of a number of things, was quite set to rights in their young understandings. Take the Swinton yourself and, running the continuous thread of its story through your world of spilled and sprawling facts, see how neatly it strings them together! With the children it was magic. The picture of a ruined temple on the wall of their room belonged here or there in the history; the books of the house were searched, — poems, stories, lives of men, — because they enlarged the lessons in the history; the fixed stars in the skies became the firmer fixed because the little learners had come upon Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Galileo in their history. And so with everything in turn; the Pyramids in Egypt, the snowy peaks in Alaska, Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, and that other Abraham in Washington of the Americans — all came and took their proper places as the little torchbearers went flaring with their history down the shadowy street of Time.

This experience was fundamental. Behind all the children’s thinking, at the bottom of all their ranging interests, ordering and explaining all their opening world, was this history. Such study can hardly be started too early; nor can too great, stress be laid upon it, either in the home education or in the study at school. History must be made the keystone in the study arch. It is both fact and story, the natural meat and drink of childhood; and this short universal history, without thinning or Rollo-ing or babying in any degree, will be, not only meat and drink, but a light down all their educational pathway.


And now the Bible.

Why the Bible? A strange course of study, — poetry, history, Bible, — plenty of rhyme with little reason! Remember this is education for individuality, and necessarily an elective course. Besides the poetry, history, and Bible, there were science and nature and chores — which I shall treat in another paper. If I must justify the ways of Mullein Hill to my readers, I would say the poetry was for the beauty of things, the history for the logic of things, and the Bible for the ultimate values of things.

The Bible is the humanest book in the world; and the King James Version of it is not only the greatest book in English literature, but the very source and fountain-head of English literature. Without the Bible, English literature is so wholly unthinkable that it strikes the mind as absurd. And an English education without the Bible is quite as unthinkable—but it is far from absurd. It is a denial. Children nowadays go to Sunday school, but not with a Bible; nor do they read out of a Bible when they arrive. They read from a ‘lesson leaf,’ a prepared substitute.

We are a Bible-starved nation. There is positively no substitute for the King James Version of the Bible, nothing to take its place, no revised, modernized, storyizecl version, nothing yet devised or to be devised that will do at all for the old ‘authorized’ Bible.

Our own children never went, to Sunday school — never ‘studied’ the Bible. They learned about the Old and New Testaments, the various groups of the books, the books in each group; they committed many psalms and other selections to memory; they know Who’s Who in the Bible, and they love the Book; but this they got by reading.

It is remarkable what you can get out of some books by reading them. We began the reading years ago, — none of us can remember when, — in a haphazard way (after the training I had had in Sunday school). This was soon changed to a regular, orderly way, which, starting with Genesis, went forward a chapter a day, until, by and by, it came to the end of Revelation. And the next morning we turned back and started in again with Genesis, which was as fresh as if we had not read it some two or three years before!

Each of us has his own Bible, and one of the boys is Bible-warden. He puts them on after breakfast, as the old servant in the Ruskin household put on the dessert. Every morning, as soon as breakfast is over, and while we are still at the table (it is fatal to rise), the Bibles are brought in and passed around, and beginning at the head of table, we read aloud in turn, dividing the chapter by verses equally among us. Seven mornings a week, D. V., we do this, and on Sunday morning, for years, those seven chapters were reviewed, discussed, and illustrated with a series of great Bible pictures. Besides this, we studied Toy’s History of the Religion of Israel, and read a life of Christ which I had the temerity to write for one of our popular magazines when a theological student; we followed Paul in his wanderings; but the daily reading was and is the big thing—right along from day to day, dry places, hard places, and bad places, never missing a line — not even the numbering of the Tribes, the building of the Tabernacle, the Who-begat-Whom chapters, Ruth and Rahab and the Scarlet Woman: everybody, everything, just as it reads, without a quiver, and with endless joy and zest.

If it is a ‘dry ’ place like the building of the Tabernacle, so much the better lesson in patience and concentration; if it is a ‘ bad ’ place (and there are some horrid spots in the Old Testament), the children had better have it frankly with us, than on the sly, and have it early while their only interest in it is the interest of fact. If it is a ‘hard’ place, as it was this morning in the fifteenth chapter of Joshua, we lick it up, to see who can do the cleanest job of pronunciation, who can best handle his tongue, and make most poetry out of the cities with their villages.

But there are the beautiful places, the thrilling places — the story, the poetry, the biography, the warning, the exhortation, the revelation, the priest, the prophet, the Great Teacher, the Twelve Disciples, kings and common people, and everywhere the presence of God.

I have not tried to shape the children’s religious faith, that being a natural thing without need of shaping, unless, distorted by dogma, it must be reshaped till it again becomes a little child’s. I have learned religion of them, not they of me, with my graduate degree in theology, which I would so gladly give in exchange for the heart of a little child!

We read the Bible as we read other books, for it is like other books, only better; and so we read it oftener — every morning after breakfast; we then say the Lord’s Prayer together, and do the best we can to sing the Doxology, little Jersey, the dog, joining in. This makes a good beginning for the day; and a very good beginning, too, for language, and literature, and life.