‘In the Spirit of the Family’ – Backhouse Lecture 1968 by Williams Oats

‘In the Spirit of the Family’

Let us take, for example, one of these ‘facts’, the so-called ‘aggressiveness’ of the young child and its ‘event’ or outcome which so often can take the form of a spate of destructiveness. This aggressiveness is a ‘fact’ of development. It is the drive at the base of the child’s desire to acquire mastery and build up confidence. He wants to do things for himself, to find out for himself; he is impatient when others would do things for him, he thirsts for knowledge and is eager for action. This aggressiveness then has a creative aspect, and only when it is frustrated does it turn to wilful destructiveness of person and of property. Experienced parents and teachers are not shocked at the ‘fact’ of aggressiveness – nor at its ‘event’ – they will indeed react not by ‘judging’ but by keeping on hand plenty of ideas and materials ready for such an emotional crisis. They know it’s much more satisfactory for the child (and the parent) to hammer nails into a block of wood than into the piano.

I have been constantly amazed at the swiftness with which a child’s behaviour can change its direction to flow from one to the other of the two courses just described. The important thing is that the home and the school should help the child deal creatively with this aggressiveness, or it will persist into adulthood in an anti-social form. That is why, I believe, war makes an appeal subconsciously to the masses of people. It represents a return to the emotional level of the nursery and provides an outlet for the destructive impulses which should have been outgrown in childhood, when violence was accepted as the only way to handle a frustrating situation. That is why war has such an incalculable effect on the outlook of the young child. Normally, the child finds that the creative expression of his aggressiveness receives the backing and approval of the adult world and this gives him confidence. But when the whole resources of the community are bent to destruction, the child, as it were, reasons within himself: ‘Why should I struggle with that part of me which says ‘destroy, destroy’, when the world proclaims the supremacy of the powers of darkness!’

The school and home must help the child to find creative outlets for this aggressive tendency. Art provides the young child such an outlet, particularly painting and modelling (if paper and paints are liberally supplied and clay is in really good supply). At one school during the war years we tried a minor experiment to test the effect of art upon the social behaviour of the 6-7 year olds. One class had two afternoons a week for painting, the other had none. The boys in the first class covered their paper with all the themes of war: splashes of red to represent bombs falling on ships, planes crashing and destruction let loose. The boys of the other group had no such outlet in art and this, I believe, caused them to seek an outlet in ‘destructive’ play – they incessantly ‘bashed’ each other in the playground, whereas the former group were much less anti-social in their play.

If education is conducted ‘in the spirit of the family’, the teacher then has a role akin to that of the parent – that of accepting the child as he is, so that the child can accept himself, believe in himself, and free himself from the fears and anxieties that have their root in self-hatred.

window paintings

window paintings

from AYM website Quakersaustralia.info – under publications – Backhouse Lectures