A world in need of 'the genius of children'
Originally printed as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel
Bronson Alcott was a philosopher, a schoolteacher, and a friend of Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science. He took a great interest in her lifework, and she in turn once referred to his character as "of holiest sort, bravest to endure, firmest to suffer ...."
Mr. Alcott was also good at spotting genius in children. He was one of those people who sincerely believed it was already there, within them, and he treasured it. In his classroom in the 1830s, he would set aside time from the usual school subjects - geography, spelling, reading, arithmetic - to have conversations with the pupils about the life of Jesus and about moral and spiritual topics (that sure was a different era!).
The children ranged in age from six to twelve years old. But don't let their ages fool you. The topics of conversation were probably meatier than most you'd hear among students today.
What was a typical discussion like? Here is a brief excerpt from one:
Alcott: What is praying sincerely?
Lemuel: Praying the truth.
Alcott: What is to be done in praying the truth? When you think of prayer, do you think of a position of the body - of words?
Lemuel: (earnestly) I think of something else, but I cannot express it.
Josiah: (burst out) To pray, Mr. Alcott, is to be good, really; ... and to be good to God alone, because then we are good for goodness' sake, and not to be seen, and not for people's sake. Well, so it is with prayer. There must be nothing outward about prayer; but we must have some words, sometimes; sometimes we need not. If we don't feel the prayer, it is worse than never to say a word of prayer. It is wrong not to pray, but it is more wrong to speak prayer and not pray. We had better do nothing about it, Mr. Alcott! We must say words in a prayer, and we must feel the words we say, and we must do what belongs to the words.
Alcott: Oh! There must be doing, must there?
Josiah: Oh! yes, Mr. Alcott! Doing is the most important part.
Josiah was six years old. Lemuel, a little older. What they and the others had to say in these conversations is priceless.
Yet one might argue that children these days are just too restless, too easily distracted, more interested in frivolous amusements than in exploring meaningful subjects. Why make the effort?
Bronson Alcott thought better. So did Jesus. Jesus was displeased when people held children back. He told his students not to forbid them from coming to him, "for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).
That says a lot about the timeless things that do interest children, and about their real nature - unselfish, brimming with spirituality, expressive of love and intelligence. For all of us, in fact, no matter what our age, these same "kingdom of God qualities" need to be valued and nurtured, not ignored or suppressed.
Someone else who saw the enormous worth of children was Mrs. Eddy. Her sense of their unique value comes through in this comment: "Ah, children, you are the bulwarks of freedom, the cement of society, the hope of our race!" ("Pulpit and Press," pg. 9).
The call on society today is not to underrate the genius of children - nor of today's truly childlike men and women. What a great thing it is to know ourselves and treat ourselves as God has made us. It's a resolution we should take seriously.
I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only. O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Psalms 71:16, 17
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society