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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #95

[This passage on education makes no mention of God, yet strongly resembles what George deCharms says about respecting the child’s innocence and inner growth process.]         Where authority is unavoidable, what is needed is reverence. A man who is to educate really well, and is to make the young grow and develop into their full stature, must be filled through and though with the spirit of reverence. It is reverence toward others that is lacking in those who        advocate machine-made cast-iron systems: militarism, capitalism, Fabian scientific organisation,  and all the other prisons into which reformers and reactionaries try to force the human spirit. In   education, with its codes of rules emanating from a Government office, its large classes and fixed curriculum and overworked teachers, its  determination to produce a dead level of glib mediocrity, the lack of reverence for the child is almost universal. Reverence  requires imagination and vital warmth; it requires most imagination in respect of those who have least actual achievement of power. The child is weak and superficially foolish, the teacher is strong, and in an everyday sense wiser than the child. The teacher without reverence, or the bureaucrat without reverence, easily despises the child for those outward inferiorities. He thinks it is his duty to ‘mould’ the child: in     imagination he is the potter with the clay. And so he gives to the child some unnatural shape, which hardens with age, producing strains and spiritual dissatisfactions, out of which grow cruelty and   envy, and the belief that others must be compelled to undergo these same distortions.        The man who has reverence will not think it his duty to ‘mould’ the young. He feels in all that lives, and most of all in children, something sacred, indefinable, unlimited, something individual  and strangely precious, the growing principle of life, an embodied fragment of the dumb striving of the world. In the presence of a child he feels an unaccountable humility – a humility not easily      defensible on any rational ground, and yet somehow nearer to wisdom than the easy self-confidence of many parents and teachers. The outward helplessness of the child and the appeal of dependence make him conscious of the responsibility of a trust. His imagination shows him what the child may become, for good or evil, how its impulses may be developed or thwarted, how its hopes must be dimmed and the life in it grow less living, how its trust will be bruised and its quick desires replaced by brooding will. All this gives him a longing to help the child in its own battle; he would equip and strengthen it, not for some outside end proposed by the state or by any other   personal authority, but for the ends which the child’s own spirit is obscurely seeking. The man    who feels this can wield the  authority of an educator without infringing the principle of liberty.      -Bertrand Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916), quoted in W. B. Curry, Education for Sanity (1947), pp. 3-4

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