Discourse Concerning Education

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by a young Hippolyte-Léon Denizard Rival (1804-1869)

“Moral EDUCATION depends upon a multitude of causes that seem fastidious and therefore have a great influence, mainly in an age in which the character, similar to the soft wax, is susceptible to receiving all sorts of impressions.  Frequently a vice manifests itself in a child without us being able to recognize the cause; then we place blame on nature, while it may instead come from an impression received, which could have been avoided if more precaution had been taken.

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In a majority of institutions, the punishments which are employed, almost always quite severe, almost always inflicted with partiality and in a moment of impatience, irritate the child; she revolts, angers herself against the authority, and it is in this manner that we give her occasion to be a liar, temperamental, disrespectful, insubordinate, etc.: occasions which could have been avoided.  Should we be surprised to see the youth form a distaste for their studies, when in their classes everything breathes sadness, everything is made to dislike the work, I would even say to have it be hated?  In effect, how can the children love something which does not show them anything but the most unpleasant side, which really serves to punish them?  How can they love those people that are always busy in tormenting them, under the caprices in which they are constantly struggling?  How could they esteem these people, when they see their actions frequently contradict their precepts?  How can they become just, if they only experience partiality?  How can they be good if they are treated only with cruelty?  The spirit of a child, naturally little preoccupied, observes every nuance, even the most delicate, of the character of her master and knows how to take advantage of them with cleverness.  I saw a child of ten years employing flattery with such talent, just like the most able courtier.  The fragile character of a master had made her like this.  Here is then, the manner in which he had accomplished his duty as a teacher, without having, therefore, the least of bad intentions.

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Extreme prudence must be taken with regard to the conduct which we have in front of children, for we easily create in them a good or bad impression.  Everything, even the tone with which we speak, in certain circumstances, can influence them.  Should it be a surprise that in fact vices are developed in them whose sources are ignored?  One child can learn kindness with men that allow themselves to be dominated by their passions?  Can a child acquire noble sentiments with such paltry souls?  Can a child become polished with a man that isn’t?  Can, in a word, a child acquire social virtues with that one who does not possess them?  Without even mentioning the most palpable vices, here are a series of precise observations which essentially contribute to the formation of a child’s morality.  It is these very attentions which are negligent in a majority of institutions, and others still greater, ones which may be noticed without much effort.  But, they say, who is the man patient enough to dive into these small details?  Who is it that has sufficient dominance over themselves, to attend to their small expressions, about their smallest actions?  Who is it that will sacrifice, as a manner of speaking, their existence, to not occupy themselves if not to be useful to their student?  This man would be the being par excellence.  I respond:  The teacher, as I understand it, is not a mercenary whose objective is to gain money, and that sacrifices everything purely out of self-interest.  The reunion of all of these qualities in that same individual is hard, I confess to you; but if he cannot aspire to perfection, he should be of occasion to, at the very least, try to attain it as much as possible.  The obligation with which a teacher is self-imposed is quite difficult to fulfill, it is a sacred obligation when it is to be honored.

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Someone asked me one day if a man, such as the one which I have just described, exists, and if he would not be a chimerical being for our century; for I do not know, he said, anyone that is not dominated by a spirit of interest and selfishness, even those that want to appear philanthropic.  I responded that I did not however censure those who had in their sights a bit of their own interests, in this part, because each one must secure for themselves a means of existence; but he who makes of this a branch of commerce, a speculation; that sacrifices the interest (physical, moral or intellectual) of his own students to his own interest, here is the one I censure.  Therefore, there exist men such as the ones I described, even in our century; only a few exist, this is true, but it is what makes them even more respectable.  I will probably have an opportunity to speak once more about this article, and then I will be able to meet some of these men.”

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Le Petit Album de la jeunesse, par Alexandre de Villiers. Paris, 1825. Translated from French by the crew at IPEAK, and translated to English by the crew at Love and Charity Spiritist Center.

School principal, member of the Academy of industry, of the Universal Society of Statistic, of the Historic Institute, the Grammatical Society, the Society of Methods, correspondent of the Society of Emulation of Ain, etc. etc.  In April 18th, 1857, Hippolyte assumes the pseudonym Allan Kardec, in publishing his first book of the Spiritist Science, entitled The Spirits’ Book.