Joseph Joubert (1754–1824). Joubert: A Selection from His Thoughts. 1899.

Chapter XVIII.

Of Education

[1]CHILDREN need models rather than critics.

[2]Education should be tender and severe, not cold and soft.

[3]Too much severity freezes our faults, and fixes them; often indulgence kills them. A good praiser is as necessary as a good corrector.

[4]When severity is applied in the wrong place, the sense of where to apply it rightly is lost.

[5]Teach children how to be good, but not how to feel. Other people’s arguments may make you reasonable, and other people’s maxims well-behaved; for virtue can be acquired; but borrowed feelings are an odious hypocrisy; they substitute a mask for a face.

[6]Insight is better than precept, for insight recognises, and applies precepts in the right way. Therefore give children such light as will enable them to distinguish good from evil in all things, without trying to teach them all that is bad, and all that is good, in immense and impossible detail; they well distinguish it well enough.

[7]Children should have their tutor within; he is much better placed and more watchful there than at their side; all children are naturally disposed to receive him; and in their conscience there is always a place ready for him.

[8]Neither in metaphysics, nor in logic, nor in morals must we give to the head what should be the business of the heart or the conscience. Make the love of parents a feeling and a command; never the subject of a thesis, or of mere demonstration.

[9]When children ask for an explanation, if it is given them, although they may not understand it, they are nevertheless content, and their minds are at rest. And yet what have they learnt? That what they wished to know is very difficult to know. But that is in itself knowledge; so they wait, patiently, and with reason.

[10]Education consists of things that should be said and things that should not be said, of silences and of teachings. Everywhere there are verenda, nefanda silenda, tacenda, alto premenda.

[11]In bringing up a child, think of its old age.

[12]The word good said to a child is always understood, and no one explains it to him.

[13]The direction of the mind is more important than its progress.

[14]Let us leave to each his own measure of talent, character, and temperament—trying only to perfect them…. Those who are born delicate should live delicate, but healthy; those also who are born robust should live robust, but temperate; let those with swift minds keep their wings, and the others their feet.

[15]In literature give children only what is simple. Simplicity has never corrupted taste; all that is bad in poetry is incompatible with it. It is thus that the purity of water is destroyed by the intermingling of earthy matter. Our taste in food is corrupted by too strong flavours, and our literary taste, pure in its beginnings, is ruined by over-emphasis. Be careful of these young eyes and young minds; make them happy; give them authors that repose and delight them.

[16]By teaching Latin to a child we teach him how to be a judge, a lawyer, and a statesman. The history of Rome, even the history of its conquests, teaches the young firmness, justice, moderation, the love of country. The virtues of her generals were still the virtues of the magistrate, and in their military tribunals they wore the same demeanour as in the curule chair. The actions, the words, the speeches, the precedents in Latin books, are all useful for the formation of public men. These books alone would be enough to teach the magistrate who knew the history and position of his country, what are his duties, and what should be the conduct of his life, his talents, and his tasks. This was well known to the eminent judge, who, in this century when excellent books have been written to cry down classical education, and when many people approve the study of modern languages only, said with as much courage as good sense, ‘I wish my son to know a great deal of Latin.’

[17]It is easier to make regularity beautiful than disorder, because disorder is naturally hostile to beauty, and to make it beautiful needs a peculiar power, that only nature can bestow. So that we should only give the regular as a model to beginners. The masters alone have the right to set any other before themselves.

[18]To teach is to learn twice over.

[19]The books of a teacher should be the fruit of a long experience, and the occupation of his retirement.

[20]‘Inspire, but do not write,’ said Lebrun. This is what needs saying to teachers; but they refuse to be like the Muses, and will write!