Chapter XIII (pages 224-236), “The Nursery-School”
The training identified as desirable in the earlier parts of the book: should it come from parents, or within schools? Nursery-schools are clearly preferred for both the rich and poor, at least among non-rural families; Russell has kind words (on page 224, and with more detail on pages 228 and 229) for the nursery school operated by Margaret McMillan – which still exists . Nursery schools provide peer companionship and space in ways that families cannot; Russell recommends (page 227) that parents send children to nursery schools at least part-time from the age of two.
Russell believes that medical and psychological issues interact for very young children: fear leads to bad breathing leads to illness, for example. “Such interrelations are so numerous that no one can hope to succeed with a child’s character without some medical knowledge, or with its health without some psychology [p. 225].” Kids thrive in more or less constant exposure to fresh air, without the need for heavy clothes; nevertheless, judiciousness is required to recognize exceptional circumstances and to avoid sudden chills. Parents do not come by this knowledge naturally, and Russell accuses his neighbors (in West Sussex, I presume) of harming their children by poor choices with respect to food, outdoor play, and bedtimes. Parents, he thinks, will not be convinced when informed of better methods.
Ms. McMillan’s school for poor children runs from eight in the morning until six at night, with the ideal being that the students should attend school from the ages of one through seven. They eat all of their meals at school, and get lots of outdoor exercise and fresh air when indoors. Russell endorses Ms. McMillan’s claim about the impressive intellectual and social achievements of her students. Universal access to nursery schools would greatly reduce intellectual and physical inequality. It could be achieved, except the government has indefensible spending priorities.
Progress in the education of young children has been achieved chiefly through studying older people who are mentally deficient. “I believe the reason for the necessity of this detour was that the stupidities of mental patients were not regarded as blameworthy, or as curable by chastisement; no one thought that Dr. Arnold’s recipe of flogging would cure their “laziness [p. 233].” Had a scientific approach, and not a moralistic one, been taken towards educating children, progress could have been made earlier. The whole concept of “moral responsibility” is misguided. The stupidities of both the rich and poor are products of their circumstances and their inappropriate educations.
“There is only one road to progress, in education as in other human affairs, and that is: Science wielded by love [p. 234].” Advances stem from those who love children and know the requisite science – and much better circumstances to achieve those advances have emerged with improved access for women to higher education. The application of science to education, without love for the children and the wish to make them loving, could produce monsters – and produce them efficiently. Alas, the love that generally is bestowed upon children does not extend to resistance to insane wars that will see many of them killed off in later years. Love must be prolonged from the child to the adult he will become, though hate will be marketed with the trappings of honor.