Source: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism;
Published: Pelican Books, 1937;
Transcribed: 2001 for marxists.org.
IN the case of young children we have gone far in our interference with the old Roman rights of parents. For nine mortal years the child is taken out of its parents' hands for most of the day, and thus made a State school child instead of a private family child. The records of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are still sickening enough to show how necessary it is to protect children against their parents; but the bad cases are scarce, and show that it is now difficult for the worst sort of parent to evade for long the school attendance officer, the teacher, and the police. Unfortunately the proceedings lead to nothing but punishment of the parents: when they come out of prison the children are still in their hands. When we have beaten the cat for cruelty we give it back its mouse. We have now, however, taken a step in the right direction by passing an Act of Parliament by which adoptive parents have all the rights of real parents. You can now adopt a child with complete security against the parents coming to claim the child back again whenever it suits them. All their rights pass to you by the adoption. Bad natural parents can be completely superseded by adoptive ones: it remains only to make the operation compulsory where it is imperative. Compulsory adoption is already an old established institution in the case of our Poor Law Guardians. Oliver Twist was a compulsory adopted child. His natural parents were replaced by very unnatural ones. Mr Bumble is being happily abolished; but there must still be somebody to adopt Oliver. When equality of income makes an end of his social disadvantages there will be no lack of childless volunteers.
Our eyes are being opened more and more to the fact that in our school system education is only the pretext under which parents get rid of the trouble of their children by bundling them off into a prison or child farm which is politely called a school. We also know, or ought to know. that institutional treatment of children is murderous for infants and bad for all children. Homeless infants can be saved from that by adoption; but the elder children are forcing us to face the problem of organizing child life as such, giving children constitutional rights just as we have had to give them to women, and ceasing to shirk that duty either by bundling the children off to Bastilles called schools or by making the child the property of its father (in the case of an illegitimate child, of its mother) as we have ceased to shirk women's rights by making the woman the property of her husband. The beginnings of such organization are already visible in the Girl Guides and the Boy Scouts. But the limits to liberty which the State has to set and the obligations which it haS to impose on adults are as imperative for children as for adults. The Girl Guide cannot be always guiding nor the Boy Scout always scouting. They must qualify themselves for adult citizenship by certain acquirements whether they like it or not. That is our excuse for school: they must be educated.
Education is a word that in our mouths covers a good many things. At present we are only extricating ourselves slowly and, as usual, reluctantly and ill humoredly, from our grossest stupidities about it. One of them is that it means learning lessons, and that learning lessons is for children, and ceases when they come of age. I, being a septuagenarian, can assure you confidently that we never cease learning to the extent of our capacity for learning until our faculties fail us. As to what we have been taught in school and college, I should say roughly that as it takes us all our lives to find out the meaning of the small part of it that is true and the error of the large part that is false, it is not surprising that those who have been 'educated' least know most. It is gravely injurious both to children and adults to be forced to study any subject for which they have no natural aptitude unless some ulterior object which they have at heart gives them a factitious keenness to master it. Mental disablement caused in this way is common in the modern examination-passing classes. Dickens's Mr Toots is not a mete figure of fun: he is an authentic instance of a sort of imbecility that is dangerously prevalent in our public school and university products. Toots is no joke.
Even when a natural aptitude exists it may be overcome by the repulsion created by coercive teaching. If a girl is unmusical, any attempt to force her to learn to play Beethoven's sonatas is torture to herself and to her teachers, to say nothing of the agonies of her audiences when her parents order her to display her accomplishment to visitors. But unmusical girls are as exceptional as deaf girls. The common case of a rooted loathing for music, and a vindictive hope that Beethoven may be expiating a malevolent life in eternal torment, is that of the normally musical girl who, before she had ever heard a sonata or any other piece of music played well enough to seem beautiful to her, has been set to practise scales in a cold room, tapped over the knuckles when she struck a wrong note, and had the Pathetic Sonata rapped and scolded and bullied into her bar by bar until she could finger it out without a mistake. That is still what school-taught music means to many unfortunate young ladies whose parents desire them to have accomplishments, and accordingly pay somebody who has been handled in the same way to knock this particular accomplishment into them. If these unhappy victims thought that Socialism meant compulsory music they would die in the last ditch fighting against it; and they would be right.
If I were writing a book for men I should not speak of music: I should speak of verses written in literary Latin (meaning a sort of Latin that nobody ever spoke), or Greek, and of algebra. Many an unhappy lad who would have voluntarily picked up enough Latin and Greek to read Virgil, Horace, and Homer, or to whom Descartes, Newton, and Einstein would be heroes such as Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner are to unspoilt musicians, loathes every printed page except in a newspaper or detective story, and shrinks from an algebraic symbol or a diagram of the parallelogram of forces as a criminal from a prison. This is the result of our educational mania. When Eton was founded, the idea was that the boys should be roused at six in the morning and kept hard at their Latin without a moment's play until they went to bed. And now that the tendency is to keep them hard at play instead, without a moment for free work, their condition is hardly more promising. Either way an intelligent woman, remembering her own childhood, must stand aghast at the utter disregard of the children's ordinary human rights, and the classing of them partly as animals to be tamed and broken in, for which, provided the methods are not those of the trainer of performing animals, there is something to be said, and partly as inanimate sacks into which learning is to be poured ad libitum, for which there is nothing to be said except what can be said for the water torture of the Inquisition, in which the fluid was poured down the victims' throats until they were bloated to death. But there was some method in this madness. I have already hinted to you what you must have known very well, that children, unless they are forced into a quiet, sedentary, silent, motionless, and totally unnatural association with adults, are so troublesome at home that humane parents who would submit to live in a beargarden or a monkey-house rather than be cruelly repressive, are only too glad to hand them over to anyone who will profess to educate them, whilst the desperate struggle of the genteel disendowed younger son and unmarried daughter class to find some means of livelihood produces a number of persons who are willing to make a profession of child farming under the same highly plausible pretext.
Socialism would abolish this class by providing its members with less hateful and equally respectable employment. Nobody who had, not a genuine vocation for teaching would adopt teaching as a profession. Sadists, female and male, who now get children into their power so as to be able to torture them with impunity, and child fanciers (who are sometimes the same people) of the kind that now start amateur orphanages because they have the same craze for children that some people have for horses and dogs, although they often treat them abominably, would be checkmated if the children had any refuge from them except the homes from which they had been practically turned out, and from which they would be promptly returned to their tyrants with the assurance that if they were punished it served them right for being naughty. Within a few days of writing this I had read as part of the day's news of a case in which a mother summoned a schoolmaster because he had first caned her boy for hiccuping, which is not a voluntary action, and then, because the boy made light of the punishment, fell on him in a fury and thrashed him until he raised weals on him that were visible eight days afterwards. Magistrates are usually lenient in dealing with these assaults as with similar assaults by husbands on their wives (assaults by wives are laughed out of court): indeed they usually dismiss the case with a rebuke to the victim for being an unmanly coward and not taking his licking in good part; but this time they admitted that the punishment, as they called it, was too severe; and the schoolmaster had to pay the mother's costs, though nobody hinted at any unfitness on his part for the duties he had assumed. And, in fairness, it did not follow that the man was a savage or a Sadist, any more than it follows that married people who commit furious assaults on oneanother have murderous natural dispositions. The truth is that just as married life in a one-room tenement is more than human nature can bear even when there are no children to complicate it, life in the sort of prison we call a school, where the teacher who hates her work is shut in with a crowd of unwilling, hostile, restless children, sets up a strain and a hatred that explodes from time to time in onslaughts with the cane, not only for hiccuping, but for talking, whispering, looking out of the window (inattention), and even moving. Modern psychological research, even in its rather grotesque Freudian beginnings, is forcing us to recognize how serious is the permanent harm that comes of this atmosphere of irritation on the one side and suppression, terror, and reactionary naughtiness on the other. Even those who do not study psychology are beginning to notice that chaining dogs makes them dangerous, and is a cruel practice. They will presently have misgivings about chained children too, and begin to wonder whether thrashing and muzzling them is the proper remedy.
As a general result we find that what we call education is a failure. The poor woman's child is imprisoned for nine years under pretext of teaching it to read, write, and speak its own language: a year's work at the outside. And at the end of the nine years the prisoner can do none of these things presentably. In 1896, after twenty-six years of compulsory general education, the secretary of the Union of Mathematical Instrument Makers told me that most of his members signed with a mark. Rich male children are kept in three successive prisons, the preparatory school, the public school (meaning a very exclusive private school malversating public endowments), and the university, the period of imprisonment being from twelve to fourteen years, and the subjects taught including classical languages and higher mathematics. Rich female children, formerly imprisoned in the family dungeon under a wardress called a governess, are now sent out like their brothers. The result is a slightly greater facility in reading; and writing, the habits and speech of the rich idle classes, and a moral and intellectual imbecility which leaves them politically at, the mercy of every bumptious adventurer and fluent charlatan who has picked up their ways and escaped their education, and morally on the level of medieval robber barons and early capitalist buccaneers. When they are energetic and courageous, in spite of their taming, they are public dangers: when they are mere sheep, doing whatever their class expects them to do, they will follow any enterprising bell-wether to the destruction of themselves and the whole community. Fortunately humanity is so recuperative that no system of suppression and perversion can quite abort it; but as far as our standard lady's and gentleman's education goes the very least that can be said against it is that most of its victims would be better without it.
It is, however, incidentally advantageous. The university student who is determined not to study, gains from the communal life of the place a social standing that is painfully lacing in the people who have been brought up in a brick box in ill-mannered intercourse with two much older people and three or four younger ones, all keeping what they call their company manners (meaning an affectation which has no desirable quality except bare civility) for the few similarly reared outsiders who are neither too poor to be invited in nor too rich to condescend to enter the box. Nobody can deny that these middle class families which cannot afford the university for their sons, and must send them out as workers at fifteen or so, appear utterly unpresentable vulgarians compared to our university products. The woman from the brick box maintains her social position by being offensive to the immense number of people whom she considers her inferiors, reserving her civility for the very few who are clinging to her own little ledge on the social precipice; for inequality of income takes the broad, safe, and fertile plain of human society and stands it on edge so that everyone has to cling desperately to her foothold and kick off as many others as she can. She would cringe to her superiors if they could be persuaded to give her the chance, whereas at a university she would have to meet hundreds of other young women on equal terms, and to be at least commonly civil to everybody. It is true that university manners are not the best manners, and that there is plenty of foundation for the statement that Oxford and Cambridge are hot-beds of exclusiveness, university snobs being perhaps the most incorrigible of all snobs. For all that, university snobbery is not so disabling as brick box snobbery. The university woman can get on without friction or awkwardness with all sorts of people, high or low, with whom the brick box woman simply does not know how to associate. But the university curriculum has nothing to do with this. On the contrary, it is the devoted scholar who misses it, and the university butterfly, barely squeezing through her examinations, who acquires it to perfection. Also, it can now be acquired and greatly improved on by young people who break loose from the brick box into the wider social life of clubs and unofficial cultural associations of all kinds. The manners of the garden city and the summer school are already as far superior to the manners of the university college as these are to the manners of the brick box. There is no word that has more sinister and terrible connotations in our snobbish society than the word promiscuity; but if you exclude its special and absurd use to indicate an imaginary condition of sexual disorder in which every petticoat and every coat and trousers fall into one another's embraces at sight, you will see that social promiscuity is the secret of good manners, and that it is precisely because the university is more promiscuous than the brick box, and the Theosophical or Socialist summer school more promiscuous than the college, that it is also the better mannered.
Socialism involves complete social promiscuity. It has already gone very far. When the great Duke of Wellington fell ill, he said 'Send for the apothecary', just as he would have said 'Send for the barber'; and the apothecary no doubt 'your Graced' him in a very abject manner: indeed I can myself remember famous old physicians, even titled ones, who took your fee exactly as a butler used to take a tip. In the seventeenth century a nobleman would sometimes admit an actor to an intimate friendship; but when he wrote to him he began his letter, not 'My Dear So and So', but' To Betteyton the player'. Nowadays a duke who went on like that would be ridiculed as a Pooh Bah. Everybody can now travel third class in England without being physically disgusted by unclean fellow-travellers. I remember when second class carriages, now extinct, were middle class necessities.
The same process that has levelled the social intercourse between dukes and doctors or actors can level it between duchesses and dairymaids, or, what seems far less credible, doctors' wives and dairymaids. But whilst Socialism makes for this sort of promiscuity it will also make for privacy and exclusiveness. At present the difference between a dairymaid and any decent sort of duchess is marked, not by a wounding difference between the duchess's address to the dairymaid and her address to another duchess, but by a very marked difference between the address of a dairymaid to the duchess and her address to another dairymaid. The decent duchess's civility is promiscuous; but her intimate friendship and society is not. Civility is one thing, familiarity quite another. The duchess's grievance at present is that she is obliged by her social and political position to admit to her house and table a great many people whose tastes and intellectual interests are so different from her own that they bore her dreadfully, whilst her income cuts her off from familiar intercourse with many poor people whose society would be delightful to her, but who could not afford her expensive habits. Equality would bring to the duchess the blessing of being able to choose her familiars as far as they were willing to respond. She would no longer have to be bored by men who could talk about nothing but fox hunting or party politics when she wanted to talk about science or literature, dressmaking or gardening, or, if her tastes were more curious, the morbidities of psyche-analysis. Socialism, by steamrollering our class distinctions (really income distinctions) would break us up into sets, cliques, and solitaries. The duchess would play golf (if people could still find no more interesting employment for their leisure) with any charwoman, and lunch with her after; but the intimate circle of the duchess and the charwoman would be more exclusive and highly selected than it can possibly be now. Socialism thus offers the utmost attainable society and the utmost attainable privacy. We should be at the same time much less ceremonious in our public relations and much more delicate about intruding on oneanother in our private ones.
You may say, what has all this to do with education? Have we not wandered pretty far from it? By no means: a great part of our education comes from our social intercourse. We educate oneanother; and we cannot do this if half of us consider the other half not good enough to talk to. But enough of that side of the subject. Let us leave the social qualifications which children, like adults, pick up from their surroundings and from the company they keep, and return to the acquirements which the State must impose on them compulsorily, providing the teachers and schools and apparatus; testing the success of the teaching; and giving qualifying certificates to those who have passed the tests.
It is now evident in all civilized States that there are certain things which people must know in order to play their part as citizens. There are technical things that must be learned, and intellectual conceptions that must be understood. For instance, you are not fit for life in a modern city unless you know the multiplication table, and agree that you must not take the law into your own hands. That much technical and liberal education is indispensable, because a woman who could not pay fares and count change, and who flew at people with whom she disagreed and tried to kill them or scratch their eyes out, would be as incapable of civilized life as a wild cat. In our huge cities reading is necessary, as people have to proceed by written directions. In a village or a small country town you can get along by accosting the police officer, or the railway porter or a station-master, or the post-mistress, and asking them what to do and where to go; but in London five minutes of that would bring business and locomotion to a standstill: the police and railway officials, hard put to it as it is answering the questions of foreigners and visitors from the country, would be driven mad if they had to tell everybody everything. The newspapers, the postal and other official guides, the innumerable notice boards and direction posts, do for the London citizen what the police constable or the nearest shopkeeper rather enjoys doing for the villager, as a word with a stranger seems an almost exciting event in a place where hardly anything else happens except the motion of the earth.
In the days when even the biggest cities were no bigger than our country towns, and all civilized life was conducted on what we should call village lines,'clergy', or the ability to read and write, was not a necessity: it was a means of extending the mental culture of the individual for the individual's own sake, and was quite exceptional. This notion still sticks in our minds. When we force a girl to learn to read, and make that an excuse for imprisoning her in a school, we pretend that the object of it is to cultivate her as an individual, and open to her the treasures of literature. That is why we do it so badly and take so long over it. But our right to cultivate a girl in any particular way against her will is not clear, even if we could claim that sitting indoors on a hard seat and being forbidden to talk or fidget or attend to anything but the teacher cultivated a girl more highly than the free activities from which this process cuts her off. The only valid reason for forcing her at all costs to acquire the technique of reading, writing, and arithmetic enough for ordinary buying and selling is that modern civilized life is impossible without them. She may be said to have a natural right to be taught them just as she has a natural right to be nursed and weaned and taught to walk.
So far the matter is beyond argument. It is true that in teaching her how to write you are also teaching her how to forge cheques and write spiteful anonymous letters, and that in teaching her to read you are opening her mind to foul and silly books, and putting into her hands those greatest wasters of time in the world, the novels that are not worth reading (say ninetynine out of a hundred). All such objections go down before the inexorable necessity for the accomplishments that make modern life possible: you might as well object to teaching her how to use a knife to cut her food on the ground that you are also teaching her how to cut the baby's throat. Every technical qualification for doing good is a technical qualification for doing evil as well; but it is not possible to leave our citizens without any technical qualifications for the art of modern living on that account.
But this does not justify us in giving our; children technical education and damning the consequences. The consequences would damn us. If we teach a girl to shoot without teaching her also that thou shalt not kill, she may send a bullet through us the first time she loses her temper: and if we proceed to hang her, she may say, as so many women now say when they are in trouble,'Why did nobody tell me?' This is why compulsory education cannot be confined to technical education. There are parts of liberal education which are as necessary in modern social life as reading and writing; and it is this that makes it so difficult to draw the line beyond which the State has no right to meddle with the child's mind or body without its free consent. Later on we may make conditions: for instance, we may say that a surveyor must learn trigonometry, a sea captain navigation, and a surgeon at least as much dexterity in the handling of saws and knives on bones and tissues as a butcher acquires. But that is not the same thing as forcing everybody to be a qualified surveyor, navigator, or surgeon. What we are now considering is how much the State must force everyone to learn as the minimum qualification for life in a civilized city. If the Government forces a woman to acquire the art of composing Latin verses, It is forcing on her an accomplishment which she can never need to exercise, and which she can acquire for herself in a few months if she should nevertheless be cranky enough to want to exercise it. There is the same objection to forcing her to learn the calculus. Yet somewhere between forcing her to learn to read and put two and two together accurately, and forcing her to write sham Horace or learn the calculus, the line must be drawn. The question is, where to draw it.
On the liberal side of education it is clear that a certain minimum of law, constitutional history, and economics is indispensable as a qualification for a voter even if ethics are left entirely to the inner light. In the case of young children, dogmatic commandments against murder, theft, and the more obvious possibilities of untutored social intercourse, are imperative; and it is here that we must expect fierce controversy. I need not repeat all that we have already been through as to the impossibility of ignoring this part of education and calling our neglect Secular Education. If on the ground that the subject is a controversial one you leave a child to find out for itself whether the earth is round or flat, it will find out that it is flat, and, after blundering into many mistakes and superstitions, be so angry with you for not teaching it that it is round, that when it becomes an adult voter it will insist on its own children having uncompromising positive guidance on the point.
What will not work in physics will not work in metaphysics either. No Government, Socialist or anti-Socialist or neutral, could possibly govern and administer a highly artificial modern State unless every citizen had a highly artificial modern conscience: that is, a creed or body of beliefs which would never occur to a primitive woman, and a body of disbeliefs, or negative creed, which would strike a primitive woman as fantatic blasphemies that must bring down on her tribe the wrath of the unseen powers. Modern governments must therefore inculcate these beliefs and disbeliefs, or at least see that they are inculcated somehow; or they cannot carry on. And the reason we are in such a mess at present is that our governments are trying to carry on with a set of beliefs and disbeliefs that belong to bygone phases of science and extinct civilizations. Imagine going to Moses or Mahomet for a code to regulate the modern money market!
If we all had the same beliefs and disbeliefs, we could go smoothly on, whether to our destruction or the millennium. But the conflicts between contradictory beliefs, and the progressive repudiations of beliefs which must continue as long as we have different patterns of mankind in different phases of evolution, will necessarily produce conflicts of opinion as to what should be taught in the public schools under the head of religious dogma and liberal education. At the present moment there are many people who hold that it is absolutely necessary to a child's salvation from an eternity of grotesque and frightful torment in a lake of burning brimstone that it should be baptized with water, as it is born under a divine curse and is a child of wrath and sin, and that as it grows into a condition of responsibility it must be impressed with this belief, with the addition that all its sins were atoned for by the sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God, on the cross, this atonement being effectual only for those who believe in it. Failing such belief the efficacy of the baptism is annulled, and the doom of eternal damnation reincurred. This is the official and State-endowed religion in our country today; and there is still on the statute book a law decreeing heavy punishments for anyone who denies its validity, which no Cabinet dares repeal.
Now it is not probable that a fully developed Socialist State will either impress these beliefs on children or permit any private person to do so until the child has reached what is called in another connection the age of consent. The State has to protect the souls of the children as well as their bodies; and modern psychology confirms common experience in teaching that to horrify a young child with stories of brimstone bells, and make it believe that it is a little devil who can only escape from that hell by maintaining a sinless virtue to which no saint or heroine has ever pretended, is to injure it for life more cruelly than by any act of bodily violence that even the most brutal taskmaster would dare to prescribe or justify. To put it quite frankly and flatly, the Socialist State, as far as I can guess, will teach the child the multiplication table, but will not only not teach it the Church Catechism, but if the State teachers find that the child's parents have been teaching it the Catechism otherwise than as a curious historical document, the parents will be warned that if they persist the child will be taken out of their hands and handed over to the Lord Chancellor, exactly as the children of Shelley were when their maternal grandfather denounced his son-in-law as an atheist.
Further, a Socialist State will not allow its children to be taught that polygamy, slaughter of prisoners of war, and blood sacrifices, including human sacrifices, are divinely appointed institutions; and this means that it will not allow the Bible to be introduced in schools otherwise than as a collection of old chronicles, poems, oracles, and political fulminations, on the same footing as the travels of Marco Polo, Goethe's Faust, Carlyle's Past and Present and Sartor Resartus, and Ruskin's Ethics of the Dust. Also the doctrine that our life in this world is only a brief preliminary episode in preparation for an all important life to come, and that it does not matter how poor or miserable or plague ridden we are in this world, as we shall be gloriously compensated in the next if we suffer patiently, will be prosecuted as seditious and blasphemous.
Such a change would not be so great as some of us fear, though it would be a cataclysm if our present toleration and teaching of these doctrines were sincere. Fortunately it is not. The people who take them seriously, or even attach any definite meaning to the words in which they are formulated, are so exceptional that they are mostly marked off into little sects which are popularly regarded as not quite sane. It may be questioned whether as much as one per cent of the people who describe themselves as members of the Church of England, sending their children to its baptismal fonts, confirmation rite, and schools, and regularly attending its services, either know or care what they are committed to by its dogmas or articles, or read and believe them as they read and believe the morning paper. Possibly the percentage of Nonconformists who know the Westminster Confession and accept it may be slightly larger, because Nonconformity includes the extreme sects; but as these sects play the most fantastic variations on the doctrine of the Catechism, Nonconformity covers views which have been violently persecuted by the Church as blasphemous and atheistic. I am quite sure that unless you have made a special study of the subject you have no suspicion of the variety and incompatibility of the British religions that come under the general heading of Christian. No government could possibly please them all. Queen Elizabeth, who tried to do it by drawing up thirtynine articles alternately asserting and denying the disputed doctrines, so that every woman could find her own creed affirmed there and the other woman's creed denounced, has been a complete failure except as a means of keeping tender consciences and scrupulous intellects out of the Church. Ordinary clergymen subscribe them under duress because they cannot otherwise obtain ordination. Nobody pretends that they are all credible by the same person at the same moment; and few people even know what they are or what they mean. They could all be dropped silently without any shock to the real beliefs of most of us.
A Capitalist Government must inculcate whatever doctrine is best calculated to make the common people docile wage slaves; and a Socialist Government must equally inculcate whatever doctrine will make the sovereign people good Socialists. No Government, whatever its policy may be, can be indifferent to the formation of the inculcated common creed of the nation. Society is impossible unless the individuals who compose it have the same beliefs as to what is right and wrong in commonplace conduct. They must have a common creed antecedent to the Apostles' creed, the Nicene creed, the Athanasian creed, and all the other religious manifestoes. Queen Mary Tudor and Queen Elizabeth, King James the Second and King William the Third, could not agree about the Real Presence; but they all agreed that it was wrong to rob, murder, 6r set fire to the house of your neighbor. The sentry at the gate of Buckingham Palace may disagree with the Royal Family on many points, ranging from the imperial policy of the Cabinet, or the revision of the Prayer Book, to which horse to back for the Derby; but unless there were perfect harmony between them as to the proper limits to the use of his riffle and bayonet their social relation could not be maintained: there could be neither king nor sentry. We all deprecate prejudice; but if all of us were not animated sacks of prejudices, and at least ninetenths of them were not the same prejudices so deeply rooted that we never think of them as prejudices but call them common sense, we could no more form a community than so many snakes.
This common sense is not all inborn. Some of it is: for instance, a woman knows without being told that she must not eat her baby, and that she must feed it and rear it at all hazards. But she has not the same feeling about paying her rates and taxes, although this is as necessary to the life of society as the rearing of infants to the life of humanity. A friend of mine who was a highly educated woman, the head of a famous college in the north of London, fiercely disputed the right of the local authority to have the drainage of the college examined by a public sanitary inspector. Her creed was that of a jealously private lady brought up in a private house; and it seemed an outrage to her that a man with whom she was not on visiting terms should be legally privileged to walk into the most private apartments of her college otherwise than at her invitation. Yet the health of the community depends on a general belief that this privilege is salutary and reasonable. The enlargement of the social creed to that extent is the only way to get rid of cholera epidemics. But this very able and highly instructed lady, though still in the prime of life, was too old to learn.
The social creed must be imposed on us when we are children; for it is like riding, or reading music at sight: it can never become a second nature to those who try to learn it as adults; and the social creed, to be really effective, must be a second nature to us. It is quite easy to give people a second nature, however unnatural, if you catch them early enough. There is no belief, however grotesque and even villainous, that cannot be made a part of human nature if it is inculcated in childhood and not contradicted in the child's hearing. Now that you are grown up, nothing could persuade you that it is right to lame every woman for life by binding her feet painfully in childhood on the ground that it is not ladylike to move about freely like an animal. If you are the wife of a general or admiral nothing could persuade you that when the King dies you and your husband are bound in honor to commit suicide so as to accompany your so vereign into the next world. Nothing could persuade you that it is every widow's duty to be cremated alive with the dead body of her husband. But if you had been caught early enough you could have been made to believe and do all these things exactly as Chinese, Japanese, and Indian women have believed and done them. You may say that these were heathen Eastern women, and that you are a Christian Western. But I can remember when your grandmother, also a Christian Western, believed that she would be disgraced for ever if she let anyone see her ankles in the street, or (if she was 'a real lady') walk there alone. The spectacle she made of herself when, as a married woman, she put on a cap to announce to the world that she must no longer be attractive to men, and the amazing figure she cut as a widow in crape robes symbolic of her utter desolation and woe, would, if you could see or even conceive them, convince you that it was purely her luck and not any superiority of western to eastern womanhod that saved her from the bound feet, the suttee, and the hara-kiri. If you still doubt it, look at the way in which men go to war and commit frightful atrocities because they believe it is their duty, and also because the women would spit in their faces if they refused, all because this has been inculcated upon them from their childhood, thus creating the public opinion which enables the Government not only to raise enthusiastic volunteer armies, but to enforce military service by heavy penalties on the few people who, thinking for themselves, cannot accept wholesale murder and ruin as patriotic virtues.
It is clear that if all female children are to have their minds formed as the mind of Queen Victoria was formed in her infancy, a Socialist State will be impossible. Therefore it may be taken as certain that after the conquest of Parliament by the proletariat, the formation of a child's mind on that model will be prevented by every means within the power of the Government. Children will not be taught to ask God to bless the squire and his relations and keep us in our proper stations, nor will they be brought up in such a way that it will seem natural to them to praise God because he makes them eat whilst others starve, and sing while others do lament. If teachers are caught inculcating that attitude they will be sacked: if nurses, their certificates will be cancelled, and jobs found for them that do not involve intercourse with young children. Victorian parents will share the fate of Shelley. Adults must think what they please subject to their being locked up as lunatics if they think too unsocially; but on points that are structural in the social edifice, constitutional points as we call them, no quarter will be given in infant schools. The child's up-to-date second nature will be an official second nature, just as the obsolete second nature inculcated at our public schools and universities is at present.
When the child has learnt its social creed and catechism, and can read, write, reckon, and use its hands: in short, when it is qualified to make its way about in modern cities and do ordinary useful work, it had better be left to find out for itself what is good for it in the direction of higher cultivation. If it is a Newton or a Shakespear it will learn the calculus or the art of the theatre without having them shoved down its throat: all that is necessary is that it should have access to books, teachers, and theatres. If its mind does not want to be highly cultivated, its mind should be left alone on the ground that its mind knows best what is good for it. Mentally, fallow is as important as seedtime. Even bodies can be exhausted by overcultivation. Trying to make people champion athletes indiscriminately is as idiotic as trying to make them Ireland Scholars indiscriminantly. There is no reason to expect that Socialist rule will be more idiotic than the rule which has produced Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge, and Squeers.