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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/784

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

habit; the great point is to reconcile such vigilance with the liberty which its spontaneous development demands.

The progress of voluntary motions reaches its goal when they are willed, so to speak, in all their parts, going to their clearly conceived end by the simplest ways, with the greatest precision and accuracy. Then there is no more fortuitous or indeterminate motion, no more expenditure of useless force. Such a triumph of reflective activity may be observed, for example, in the accurate designer. Those know how much time and pains it takes to reach that point who, trying to teach children to write, have seen them at seven or eight, or more, years old, twist themselves, make faces, stick out their tongue, pucker their lips, and make ten useless movements to one useful one. This brings us back to the important fact that inhibition of noxious or useless acts, of automatic motions having no necessary relation to the willed act, is an essential element of the progress of mobility.

This is equally the case in the progress of the will generally. In morals, too, when the act consists as much in the inner resolution as in the motion that carries it out, while the will may begin by being a hardly conscious effort of desire tending toward its object, it will end by being to a large extent the contrary—or a conscious and intentional restraint, a spontaneous inhibition. I say spontaneous; but a long time will pass before the child becomes capable of controlling himself, of spontaneously resisting his impulses and desires; he will have to be helped in it at first.

It is the office of education to put the first check upon some of these impulses to the advantage of others, to oppose thought to thought, tendency to tendency, and fear to desire. That is why the subjection of children to a firm discipline is always the beginning of education. To resist them is to hold them up. To bend them to a rule, as broad as you please, but inflexible as to what it prohibits, to prevent their doing what ought not to be done, to exact from them only what is necessary, but exact it firmly, is to prepare them to govern themselves.

But, so far as the inhibition is not the child's own act, it is not an act of the will. It does not become that till after having been imposed often from without, and, having thereby become less painful, it is appreciated by the child itself for its results, and the will becomes the possessor of it. This is the reason that while the earliest discipline should be firm, it must nevertheless be broad and liberal, and become more and more so as the reasoning faculty is developed. I call broad and at the same time firm a discipline which, without yielding anything to caprice, or to the unregulated and tyrannical demands of the child, purposely avoids loading him down with prescriptions and prohibitions, and leaves him as much elbow-room as possible in order to accustom