Education is a highly debated topic here in the United States. It was from the very beginning. Should we have a public education system? Who should teach? How should this system be organized. Today these questions and more linger, and as a teacher I usually have a front row seat to the debate.
Thomas Jefferson had his opinions about education as well:
"The article of discipline is the most difficult in American education. Premature ideas of independence, too little repressed by parents, beget a spirit of insubordination which is the great obstacle to science with us and a principal cause of its decay since the Revolution."—Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1822.
Not to contradict Mr. Jefferson, but I am a fan of insubordination now and then, especially when it serves a greater purpose for education. I'm always asking my students to question everything and to be independent. See? A debate in the making, with nearly 200 years separating us.
We both agree on the effectiveness of the "teacher glare."
After reading Eliza Leslie's The young ladies' Mentor or Extracts in prose and verse for the promotion of virtue and morality 1803, I find myself looking at a series of educational plans, a guide for educating a young person. The teacher in me finds threads, pieced together parts the mirror some of my own lessons. Except I think these lessons are good for girls AND boys.
Sbe begins with a brief introduction about the purpose of the book, one that I can stand behind:
What follows is a compiled list of prose from different authors; it consists of 17 short stories, 12 poems, 18 miscellaneous pieces, and 15 poetical pieces (more poems).
Teenagers, like any other age group, love to be entertained. While many of the stories focused on historical events, it was fantastic to see the different worlds depicted. The story of Mahoment provides a background for understanding the middle east, and Christopher Columbus' misguided but necessary adventures spanned the Americas. I was particularly fond of the descriptions of Sparta and the food of the past; nothing like a little broth, cheese, and wine to taste history!
To me, seeing these different settings in the compilation tells a youth that the world is BIG, and there's much to learn from different time periods and cultures. And while I imagine at least some young ladies groaned and pretended to listen, a few imagined worlds beyond the four walls of their house. I was one of those girls, and books like these kept that imagination alive!
Joan of Arc is one of my favorites. Such a strong, faithful woman! In the story she more portrayed as a warrior, especially at her trial where: "Her behaviour there no way disgraced her former gallantry she betrayed neither weakness nor womanish submission." Eventually her spirit did break after cruel mistreatment by her captors, and she agreed to recant her belief that she was sent by god to lead the armies. She was considered a heretic for wearing men's apparel. The English offered mercy if she donned womens' clothing; at one point they tempted her with men's clothing, and when she put it on they declared it a relapse of the original charges of cross dressing. Then "She was executed with the most infamous severity."
While Joan of Arc is considered a strong female character, the story seems to emphasize the fact that stepping outside of the social boundaries of clothing seemed to be her downfall. It was perhaps more of an egregious charge than leading the armies of men to victory. There's a lesson to be learned from this character; a woman of faith and courage may persevere, but heaven forbid don't wear the wrong clothing! I could see at least one nodding mama pointing this story out to her daughter, admonishing her for a pair of dirty gloves or mud on her hem.
Oddly enough, I don't look to stories for my lessons on virtue and morality. I find poetry to be closer to the center of the soul. In Hay-Making
, the preciousness of hard work in the field is presented: In order gay/While heard from dale to dale/Waking the breeze resounds the blended voice/Of happy labour love and social glee. I imagine at least one parent instructing her daughter that tidying up after herself is not the same labor as clearing a field! The lesson of hard work making happiness is evident here.
, the author proposes a humble but happy existence. I Envy not the proud their wealth/ Their equipage and state/Give me but innocence and health/I ask not to be great. I've had this exact same discussion with my own parents; no you don't need to buy every little thing, your health and happiness is far more important. There was a 19th century parent doing this, I'm sure.
And finally, the most sobering lesson of all: youth is fleeting. As found in The Close of Spring
: Ah poor humanity so frail so fair/Are the fond visions of thy early day/Till tyrant passion and corrosive care/Bid all thy fairy colours fade away. Because those young ladies, aged 12-16 years, for whom this book was written, would eventually grow up to be women. Those women would become wives, mothers, teachers, and suffer the loss of their youth. I recall my own mother saying this when I insisted
that I wear mascara and lipstick in junior high school. "Kristen," she would say. "Youth is the prettiest makeup." To this day I still rarely wear makeup (that might have more to do with laziness?)
I have one edit to my mother's lesson: HAPPINESS is the prettiest makeup.