The skilful teacher will make it his first care,
as soon as a boy is entrusted to him, to ascertain his
ability and character. The surest indication in
a child is his power of memory. The characteristics of a good memory are twofold: it must be
quick to take in and faithful to retain impressions
of what it receives. The indication of next importance is the power of imitation: for this is a
sign that the child is teachable: but he must imitate
merely what he is taught, and must not, for
example, mimic someone's gait or bearing or defects.
For I have no hope that a child will turn
out well who loves imitation merely for the purpose
of raising a laugh. He who is really gifted will also
above all else be good. For the rest, I regard
slowness of intellect as preferable to actual badness. But a good boy will be quite unlike the
dullard and the sloth.
My ideal pupil will absorb
instruction with ease and will even ask some
questions; but he will follow rather than anticipate
his teacher. Precocious intellects rarely produce
By the precocious I mean those who
perform small tasks with ease and, thus emboldened,
proceed to display all their little accomplishments
without being asked: but their accomplishments are
only of the most obvious kind: they string words together and trot them out boldly and undeterred by
the slightest sense of modesty. Their actual achievement is small, but what they can do they perform with
They have no real power and what they have
is but of shallow growth: it is as when we cast
seed on the surface of the soil: it springs up too
rapidly, the blade apes the loaded ear, and yellows
ere harvest time, but bears no grain. Such tricks
please us when we contrast them with the performer's age, but progress soon stops and our admiration withers away.
Such indications once noted, the teacher must next
consider what treatment is to be applied to the mind
of his pupil. There are some boys who are slack,
unless pressed on; others again are impatient of
control: some are amenable to fear, while others are
paralysed by it: in some cases the mind requires
continued application to form it, in others this result
is best obtained by rapid concentration. Give me
the boy who is spurred on by praise, delighted by
success and ready to weep over failure.
one must be encouraged by appeals to his ambition;
rebuke will bite him to the quick; honour will be a
spur, and there is no fear of his proving indolent.
Still, all our pupils will require some relaxation,
not merely because there is nothing in this world
that can stand continued strain and even unthinking
and inanimate objects are unable to maintain their
strength, unless given intervals of rest, but because
study depends on the good will of the student, a
quality that cannot be secured by compulsion.
Consequently if restored and refreshed by a holiday
they will bring greater energy to their learning and
approach their work with greater spirit of a kind
that will not submit to be driven.
I approve of play
in the young; it is a sign of a lively disposition; nor
will you ever lead me to believe that a boy who is
gloomy and in a continual state of depression is ever
likely to show alertness of mind in his work, lacking
as he does the impulse most natural to boys of his
Such relaxation must not however be unlimited: otherwise the refusal to give a holiday will
make boys hate their work, while excessive indulgence will accustom them to idleness. There are
moreover certain games which have an educational
value for boys, as for instance when they compete
in posing each other with all kinds of questions
which they ask turn and turn about.
too reveal character in the most natural way, at
least that is so if the teacher will bear in mind
that there is no child so young as to be unable to
learn to distinguish between right and wrong, and
that the character is best moulded, when it is still
guiltless of deceit and most susceptible to instruction: for once a bad habit has become engrained,
it is easier to break than bend.
There must be no
delay, then, in warning a boy that his actions must
be unselfish, honest, self-controlled, and we must
never forget the words of Virgil,
So strong is custom formed in early years.
Georg. ii. 272.
I disapprove of flogging, although it is the regular
custom and meets with the acquiescence of Chrysippus, because in the first place it is a disgraceful
form of punishment and fit only for slaves,
and is in
any case an insult, as you will realise if you imagine
its infliction at a later age. Secondly if a boy is so
insensible to instruction that reproof is useless, he
will, like the worst type of slave, merely become
hardened to blows. Finally there will be absolutely no
need of such punishment if the master is a thorough
As it is, we try to make amends for
the negligence of the boy's paedagogus,
forcing him to do what is right, but by punishing
him for not doing what is right. And though you
may compel a child with blows, what are you
to do with him when he is a young man no longer
amenable to such threats and confronted with tasks
of far greater difficulty?
Moreover when children
are beaten, pain or fear frequently have results of
which it is not pleasant to speak and which are
likely subsequently to be a source of shame, a shame
which unnerves and depresses the mind and leads
the child to shun and loathe the light.
Further if inadequate care is taken in the choices of respectable
governors and instructors, I blush to mention the
shameful abuse which scoundrels sometimes make
of their right to administer corporal punishment or
the opportunity not infrequently offered to others
by the fear thus caused in the victims. I will not
linger on this subject; it is more than enough if I
have made my meaning clear. I will content myself
with saying that children are helpless and easily
victimised, and that therefore no one should be given
unlimited power over them.
I will now proceed to
describe the subjects in which the boy must be
trained, if he is to become an orator, and to indicate
the age at which each should be commenced.