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Developing Mental Power
by
George Malcolm Stratton

[Childhood Education, 1922]

VII. THE CARE OF THE EMOTIONS

But some, while admitting that the corrected account of the mind may be truer to the facts, will deny that it is important for education. We must forever go on storing the mind and exercising its separate functions or faculties, they would hold, not because this alone is good, but because this alone is possible.

"How can we unlock the child's reservoir of energy?" they will ask; "How are we to make his emotions strength-givers indeed and not his ruin? Is it possible to enter among his wild instincts, leaving them no longer to howl in anarchy or under despotism, but to be a commonwealth governed freely by the best?"

It will require genius here as elsewhere to reveal fully what is admirable and fit for the work - genius that, when it comes, will make all that has gone before seem mere groping. Yet even now we can see something of the way along which we must go. Let me set down, almost as in a formal catalogue, particulars close to practice that promise to be of use in dealing with the emotions.

1. Emotions are of two kinds: strength-giving, sthenic [sic] emotions, like cheer, self-confidence, goodwill, love; and the strength-taking, asthenic emotions, like fear, shame, gloom. Even the weakening emotions have their place and use; there are times when we should be checked in mid-career. Yet such emotions are good only by exception and for a short time. The strength-giving emotions are for long and steady use; they add impetus, they put driving force into the machinery of interest and purpose. These are the emotions of the child which we should strive to make enduring.

2. What shall be the dominant emotions of the child will depend in part upon the condition of his body: upon freedom from disease; upon suitable food; upon physical exercise, including work that is measured to his strength; and upon sufficient and regular sleep. There is a natural cheer in children; they normally will have the strength-giving emotions if the hindrances to such emotions are removed.

3. But much will count beside bodily condition. A teacher who is happy can hardly have unhappy pupils; an irritable teacher will hardly have them other than cheerless and perplexed. Children catch more than learning; they catch the emotions of those about them. They are imitative; they feel, even when they cannot fathom, the good-will, the hope, the want of interest, the depression, of the teacher.

4. But besides example and imitation, there are ways to arouse admiration, confidence, cheer, and affection. Words of encouragement and appreciation, an occasional bit of merriment, a good-natured pleasantry even to drag from some disaffected one a smile, a zeal for the children and for their work - these, when added to the recognized teacher-abilities, help to give an undertone of joy in the work. Children's healthy admiration for the teacher, and honest pride in her person and power, is not to be despised. Stanley, when in darkest Africa, felt that he must look to his person and dress, even to hold his black followers. Trivial means may increase prestige and give a buoyant confidence that difficulties are superable, which adds to the power actually to overcome them.

5. There should be those externals that give a sense of pleasing order in the room without crowding and distraction; there should be simple and harmonious ornament by wall-tinting and pictures and flowers. Cheery lighting with a pleasant garden or wooded outlook may at times coax interest away from studies, but it will in the end repay in added energy for the work.

6. Irresponsible enjoyment of fine things, enjoyment directly sought and without ulterior motive, is worth the having. Pictures, instrumental music, songs, poetry, stories, and plays, if beautiful, are their own excuse for being; and the child should be encouraged to enjoy them, without tricking him through them into learning.

If children can be taught to sing with pleasure some melodies of Bach's (as I have seen it done by little children at Mrs. Hocking's school at Cambridge), I should prefer to leave it unknown to them who Bach was or when or where he lived or any other fact of him or his music that the children unprompted did not care to know. Where fine appreciation is forever subordinated to the art of wedging knowledge into the mind, a large end is defeated. We must multiply and keep open the channels of right pleasure, of right appreciation, as having an equal place with knowledge.

7. Imagination and courtesies are a means to heighten sympathy and pleasure. Only by imagination can one see through the opaque covering of many a stranger, into the life beneath. Fairy tales are an early way to know that appearance may belie reality, that the hunchback may be a prince in disguise, the toad an enchanted maiden.

Imaginative stories supplement acquaintance, giving pleasure from unaccustomed goodness and evil, showing without disastrous experience the right opportunities for fear and confidence, for love and hate. Manners, courtesies, are also a stimulant to appreciation, as symbols of respect and good-will. While they may be but empty insincerity, they will normally suggest the value of others and will soften the asperities of self-interest which youth is apt to show.

8. The fine arts should be attempted and prized for their hidden effect within the child, and far less or not at all for some external product delightful to observers. Moreover, in plays or in dramatic singing, besides the delight of the children in the immediate performance, and the taste which will open to them new delights, something may be expected from assigning the parts so as not to give the most admirable result to the audience.

I mean that while a blithe girl might more skillfully take a happy rdle, yet it would be shrewd to give the part to one who needs the gayety, letting some one well grounded in happiness play at solemnity or gloom. Those especially should try to sing who have no promise of voice, those paint who never will be able to paint. Youthful attempts at the violin and sketching which come to nothing, I can testify, may make music and landscape constant sources of delight. Not, then, by their fruits visible to others are these childhood practices to be judged, but by what they leave behind concealed in the permanent springs of appreciation.

9. Emotions, if they are to be steady strengthened of the mind, must become silent habits of emotion. An emotion is of little service that is a passing ebullition; it must become a durable trend, a lasting sentiment. Only occasionally will a situation arise that needs a passionate outpouring, fire and fury or ecstasy. And as for habits of emotion, they are knit up with habits of emotional expression, with habits of smiling, laughing, frowning, pouting, and the like.

To attack or to build stronger the emotion-habit, one may well attack or fortify the emotional expression, making the scowler stop scowling, making the pout give way to a smile, even though it be at first galvanic. Youths and adults, even teachers, may gain by some suggestion to themselves of the feeling that should be there.

They will learn, too, that in choosing one's associates - of persons, books, plays, or music - one is choosing also in some degree the hue of his own feeling. Persons inclined to melancholy will hardly profit by books or friends that hang the heavens with black. Teachers should occasionally read Leacock and Lamb and Uncle Remus, and leave to the humorists the works of Schopenhauer and the whole tribe of the prophets of despair.

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