Chapter 15 : The Ingenuousness of the Child
ORIGIN AND IDEALS
TRANSLATED BY JOSEPH McCABE
[ISSUED FOR THE RATIONALIST PRESS ASSOCIATION, LIMITED]
LONDON: WATTS & CO., 17 JOHNSON'S COURT, FLEET STREET, E.C. 1913
THE INGENUOUSNESS OF THE CHILD
IN the Bulletin of September 30, 1903, we published the work of the pupils in the various classes of the Modern School, which had been read on the closing day of the second scholastic year. In these writings, in which the children are requested to apply their dawning judgment to some particular subject, the influence of mind over the inexpert, ingenuous reasoning power, inspired by the sentiment of justice, is more apparent than the observance of rules. The judgments are not perfect from the logical point of view, only because the child has not the knowledge necessary for the formation of a perfectly sound opinion. This is the opposite of what we usually find, as opinions are generally founded only on prejudice arising from traditions, interests, and dogmas.
A boy of twelve, for instance, gave the following principle for judging the value of nations:
Let me interrupt for a moment to point out that the young author identifies "civilized" with "just," and especially that, putting aside prejudice, he describes certain evils as curable, and regards the healing of them as an essential condition of justice. These evils are
This principle is fundamental and simple, as we should expect to find in an imperfectly informed mind, and it would not enable one to solve a complete sociological problem; but it has the advantage of keeping the mind open to fresh knowledge. It is as if one asked: What does a sick man need to recover health? And the reply is: His suffering must disappear. This is a naive and natural reply, and would certainly not be given by a child brought up in the ordinary way; such a child would be taught first to consider the will of supposed supernatural beings. It is clear that this simple way of putting the problem of life does not shut out the hope of a reasonable solution; indeed, one logically demands the other, as the child's essay shows:-
A girl of nine made the following sensible observation, which we leave in her own incorrect language:
The simplicity, clearness, and soundness of this observation need no commentary. One can understand our astonishment to hear it from the lips of a tender and very pretty little girl, who looked more like a symbolical representation of truth and justice than a living reality.
A boy of twelve deals with sincerity, and says:
It is sad that the mind of a child who regards truth as an incomparable good, "without which it is impossible to live," is induced by certain grave abuses to consider lying a virtue in some cases.
A girl of thirteen writes of fanaticism, and, regarding it as a characteristic of backward countries, she goes on to seek the cause:
A profound observation on the causes of fanaticism, and the cause of the causes. Another girl of thirteen indicates the best remedy of the evil in the following lines:
A boy of twelve regards the school as worthy of all respect, because we learn in it to read, write, and think, and it is the basis of morality and science; he adds:-
If that child preserves and develops the faculties it exhibits, it will know how to harmonize egoism and altruism for its own good and that of society. A girl of eleven deplores that nations destroy each other in war, and laments the difference of social classes and that the rich live on the work and privation of the poor. She ends:
A child of ten, in an essay which is so good that I would insert it whole if space permitted, and if it were not for the identity in sentiment with the previous passages, says of the school and the pupil:
A child of ten philosophizes on the faults of mankind, which, in her opinion, can be avoided by instruction and goodwill:
We will close with the following essay, written by young lady of sixteen, which is correct enough in form substance to quote in entirety:
Whatever be the logical value of these ideas, this collection shows the chief aim of the Modern School -- namely, that the mind of the child, influenced by what it sees and informed by the positive knowledge it acquires, shall work freely, without prejudice or submission to any kind of sect, with perfect autonomy and no other guide but reason, equal in all, and sanctioned by the cogency of evidence, before which the darkness of sophistry and dogmatic imposition is dispelled.
In December, 1903, the Congress of Railway Workers, which was then held at Barcelona, informed us that, as a part of its program, the delegates would visit the Modern School. The pupils were delighted, and we invited them to write essays to be read on the occasion of the visit. The visit was prevented by unforeseen circumstances; but we published in the Bulletin the children's essays, which exhaled a delicate perfume of sincerity and unbiassed judgment, graced by the naive ingenuousness of the writers. No suggestion was made to them, and they did not compare notes, yet there was a remarkable agreement in their sentiments. At another time the pupils of the Workers' School at Badalona sent a greeting to our pupils, and they again wrote essays, from which we compiled a return letter of greeting.2
1 I omit some of Ferrer's short comments on these specimens of reasoning and sentiment, as he regards them. One can recognize the lie echo of the teacher's words. The children were repeating their catechism. But (i) this is no catechism of violence and class-hatred, and (2) there is a distinct a appreciation of the ideas and sentiments on the part of the ch I children I translate the passages as literally as possible.-J. M.
2 This letter and the preceding essays are given in the Spanish edition. As they are a repetition of the sentiments expressed in the extracts already given, it is unnecessary to reproduce them here. Except that I have omitted papers incorporated by Ferrer, but not written by him, this is the only modification I have allowed myself.-J. M.
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