Good Books and Stories Build Character

victorian family in the nursery or schoolroomI am weary of seeing this subject of education always treated as if “education” only meant teaching children to write or to cipher or to repeat the catechism. Real education, the education which alone should be compulsory means nothing of the kind. It means teaching children to be clean, active, honest, and useful.– John Ruskin

“Real education certainly is a spiritual as well as an intellectual process. It certainly does mean guiding children to see clearly the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, moving them deeply with sympathy for the good and repugnance for the evil, and inspiring them to act in  accordance with these perceptions. This is rarely accomplished by preaching at children or moralizing to them. But all good stories and books have recorded naturally and most often unconsciously the reaction of the author or story teller to various human qualities and types of human disposition, and through his art indeed by his very unconsciousness of what he is accomplishing, the storyteller makes the child feel deeply just what he has felt. If the author has felt affectation, artificiality, boastfulness, conceit, as ridiculous qualities, he makes them ridiculous; if he has felt cold self righteousness, cowardice, dishonesty, hypocrisy, treachery as ugly qualities, he has made them ugly, and the child vigorously separates himself from them and refuses them as he reads; if he has felt courage, compassion,  loyalty, truth, devotion, perseverance, purpose as splendid qualities,  he has made them splendid and the child has felt them to be splendid and desired to possess them in every fibre of his being.

It is not that such an author tells the child these qualities are thus and so, whereby he could do no more than make a pin prick of an impression on his intellect; he moves him to feel that they are so in the very depths of his spirit wherein he truly lives and moves and has his being, and so leaves a lasting impression upon him.

It is thus that truly worthwhile books and stories mould children’s ideals. But besides this general shaping of their standards there is in addition a specific use which the father, mother, or teacher may occasionally make of the stories. If a child has been unkind and discourteous, to read him such a story as Toads and Diamonds without any comment whatsoever is often the most effective remedy for the trouble.

If he has been unloving the beautiful story of the love of little Snow White and Rose Red for one another may do more for him than worlds of preaching.  And so quite without spoiling the stories or detracting at all from their right purpose to amuse and entertain one may often make this particular use of them with remarkably good results.”

to live for common ends

 

Above quotes taken from the introduction of My Book House: The latch key,  edited by Olive Beaupré Miller , available free at Google Books.

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