Blind Obedience Kills Character
by Teachers College in the News - 1930
Teachers College in the News. From the White Plains Daily Reporter.
Dr. E. K. Fretwell is quoted by the White Plains Daily Reporter:
"There is no character development in blind, dull obedience. Most normal parents would rather see their children dead than have them develop into 'yes, yes adults' and yet they are continually complaining if their children react to life in a way that is absolutely normal from a child viewpoint. The rubber stamp kind of child is easy to live with, for he always washes behind his ears and says 'yes please' and 'no thank you,' but nevertheless he is not a normal child," Dr. Elbert K. Fretwell, of Teachers College, Columbia University, told the Parent-Teacher Association at Mamaroneck Avenue School.
"Unquestioned obedience on the part of any child," the speaker went on to say, "means either of two things, the child is below par mentally and cannot think for himself, or else he has been so squelched by the adults about him that every bit of initiative and leadership in his being has been obliterated. A child must be taught to play the game of life according to the rules of life just as he would play a game in his play life, which is the real life of the child, according to the set rules. He must be taught that if he breaks the rules, he is out of the game. There is no other medium for learning to play according to the rules, so effective as play. It is while his mental attitudes are still being formed that the child learns from character building, active, healthful, co-operative games that he must play according to the rules or be disqualified. Later in life, when these mental patterns have been formed, that same child will play his part in adult life just as he did in the games of childhood," the educator believes.
"We place all too little importance on child life," Professor Fretwell went on to say. "We are living in an adult world with all of our environment adapted to the comforts of adults. We never stop to consider that the little people about us are individuals with rights and wishes and mental attitudes and reactions that do not conform with ours in the least. As an example of an environment un-adapted to child life, Dr. Fretwell pointed to the staircase in Mamaroneck Avenue School.
"Have you ever stopped to consider what a tremendous amount of physical energy it takes for a child to climb that staircase that was built to suit the comfort of adults. Try some time climbing up and down off a chair as many times as there are steps in that staircase and you will understand why the little people are utterly fatigued and wonder why school buildings are not built for children. In every phase of our life we are trying in a similar way to make children conform to rules and a physical environment adapted to adults. We are trying to make miniature adults of these little people who are so totally different from us, and if we succeed in doing it we rob them of their right to live a child's life, and to develop normally into happy, well-balanced worth while adults."
Another interesting point stressed by the speaker was the true measure of goodness and character. "In the case of children," he asked the parents, "what do you mean when you say that your child is a good child? Do you mean just that, or do you mean that he is no bother to you? You've killed every normal reaction in him, you've taken from him his initiative, you've made a rubber stamp personality that responds the same way to a given stimulus every time. What is he good for? Has he any qualities of leadership? Can he stand on his own feet? Does he manifest a normal interest in why he should do this and that or have you made him uncomfortable every time he showed that he was a normal individual curious enough to want to know why you have set down this or that rule?"
Dr. Fretwell stressed the point that he was not advocating lawlessness for children in order to let them express themselves as individuals. On the contrary, he believes that in every home there should be the rules and regulations of the game of that home circle. The child should have explained to him the why and the wherefore of the rules and then there should be a demand by the parents of strict adherence to these rules. If there is a rule that all children wash their hands before eating, the breaking of that rule should disqualify the child from participating in that meal with the family and there should be no weak moments on the part of the parents.
Another way of taking away the initiative from the child is by doing too much for him, Dr. Fretwell said. In the modern steam heated apartment, it is almost impossible for a child to grow up normally, even with the best efforts of the parents, but with the habit of the parent of doing everything for the child instead of letting him do it for himself, the child hasn't a chance of developing any character.
Character, the speaker defined as the sum total of everything we do and not as a negative thing. We are what we are because of what we have done, rather than what we have not done. He cited Lindbergh, Taft, Hughes and many other men prominent in the world of affairs as examples of men who were known for what they have done.