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Pedagogical Principles In Sex Education

( Originally Published 1923 )

Training is the Modification of the Child's Impulses. -All of our deliberate efforts to "educate" or train the child, all of our efforts at reformation, all of our rewards and punishments, are based on the assumption that there is something in the natural scheme of behavior which is subject to change. How far is this assumption warranted?

There is no question that habits result from repetition, that training produces results, that skill emerges from practice. Moreover, when it comes to knowledge it is very evident that what we know comes at least in large part from the outside. But how is it with the feelings, the tastes, the thinking, the ideals and purposes? These parts of our character or constitution are so prominent in the attitudes, and they are so important in determining how the child will in the end behave with respect to all the important issues of life, including sex, that the extent to which they can be modified or controlled is of vital concern to us. As already suggested (page 37), the child's impulses and feelings are not, to begin with, in any sense either good or bad. We must accept the child and his impulses without prejudice, and we must look upon all the elements in his make-up as having a legitimate place in life. Whether later in life the feelings and tastes, the ideals and purposes, turn out to be "good" or "bad" will depend for the most part on what happens during the intervening years. At any rate, this appears, from all the knowledge we now have upon the subject, to be the most helpful and profitable way of considering the nature of the living being with which we are concerned. For the vast majority of infants, whatever he does spontaneously or in response to stimuli and disturbances is "normal."

From the very beginning of the child's life we can see the primitive impulses and feelings undergoing change. The infant cries for food; we say he is "hungry." Now nothing can still his hunger but food, and therefore he should continue to cry until he is fed. We notice indeed that at first he does continue to cry, until the mother's breast or the nipple of the bottle touches his lips. But before long we observe that the sound of the mother's voice, or even of her footsteps, will make him suspend crying, if the voice or the foot-steps have for a number of times regularly preceded the arrival of his food supply. And just as he has automatically opened his mouth when the nipple touched the region of his mouth, he now opens his mouth in anticipation of the nipple, merely on hearing the appropriate sound. We say that he "associates" the sound with the coming of food. In this way, that is, by "association," a certain sensation—sound—has come to take the place of another sensation—touch-in getting him to open his mouth wide. And in the same way a sensation-sound again—has taken the place of taste and the satisfactions that go with that taste in making him stop crying. In short, his mode of behaving has been modified, and his way of feeling has been modified.

A few weeks later we may have an opportunity to see the child open his mouth, and smile, not merely at the sound of the voice, but at the sight of his mother, or of the bottle. Here we have another sensation substituted for the original one; and the satisfaction coming originally from stilling hunger, or tasting food, is transferred to the bottle or the mother. We say that the child "recognizes" his mother or the bottle. Let us recognize the fact that he has begun to develop affections from the constant association of satisfactions, pleasant feelings, with certain tastes and touches and sights and sounds.

This illustrates what is meant by the modification of primary instincts or feelings. Long before the child can be considered conscious or reflective, he establishes pleasant associations with certain sensations, and unpleasant associations with other sensations. This is unquestionably the beginning of his discrimination between what is likable or nice, and what is not likable, or disgusting, or nasty; that is to say, his first steps in the formation of tastes.

The actions which the child comes to perform as a result of the various experiences that come to him, as distinguished from the actions he performs in every situation before having had any experience, we call habits. To stop crying on hearing one sound, but not another, is a habit. To open the mouth or smile at the sight of the bottle but not at the sight of the dog, is a habit. To come at the sight of outstretched arms, or at a noise which sounds like "come here," is a habit. But with most actions, especially at first, there go various feelings, feelings of satisfaction, of comfort or discomfort; and the feelings become part of the habit.

In time, the feeling and the action may become separated, so that we can perform the action without having the original feelings, and we can have the feelings without performing the action. When the child is learning to walk, every step may mean a strain, an adventure; when the art of walking has been mastered, the process can be carried out not only without taking thought, but without feelings of effort. In the same way, after we have learned to write, we no longer feel effort with each stroke, and no longer feel relief at the conclusion of each word; such thoughts and feelings as we experience have to do altogether with the subject matter or purpose of the writing, and not with the muscular movements. On the other hand, the thrill which comes from tasting and chewing food that is liked may be experienced, though perhaps in a diluted degree, from recalling the last good meal, or anticipating in thought the next one—or even from hearing the dinner bell. Here we have the feelings with practically no muscular activity, or actual sensation. The habit, as we call it, or the association, has transferred satisfactions or strains or pleasure from the original sensations and actions to the ideas or memories. In this way the manner of thinking becomes a habit, just as does the mode of acting or of feeling.

There is much more to the forming of these various kinds of habit than mere repetition or association. It is apparently essential that satisfying or pleasurable feelings be a part of the experience, if the habit is to become definitely fixed. This is to some extent recognized in the practice of rewarding the child when he has done what we consider right. The pleasurable feeling may come from praise or approval, or from other manifestations that suggest a glow of satisfaction. Or it may come from a material reward or indulgence. Rewards are legitimate enough, but like punishments, they very often carry with them suggestions that we do not intend. For example, the candy which we give the child for having performed some little service or courtesy will make him feel glad that he has performed as he has; ut it may also get him into the habit of calculating his conduct in terms of the candy with which he will be recompensed. It would be much better for him to get he habit of feeling that candy and other good things come out of a happy environment, which includes parents and friends; and that the happiness of the environment ornes out of everybody's, including himself, doing helpul and kind acts.

It may be said incidentally that the chief effects of punishments are to block the flow of feeling as well as f action; and that while punishments do indeed pre-vent children from doing what is forbidden, at least where they can be caught, they also operate to establish antagonistic feelings, fears, and antipathies toward the persons with whom they are associated, so that they may o more harm than good.

It is upon the healthy growth and the everyday experiences that the emotional habits and attitudes at last !depend. Direct instruction will have some effect, especially when the child is old enough to carry ideas over into his own ideals and purposes. But the chief reliance of the early years must be upon the incidental and casual events, the suggestion made in passing, and often upon the intelligent recognition and use of situations that cannot be anticipated in any way. Through the effects of association, through the substitution and recombination of feelings and ideas, the whole scheme of habits will be formed, the preferences and prejudices, the suspicions and confidences, no less than the outward movements which we usually consider as alone subject to ,training. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we should keep before us a large plan of growth and living that will make use of the child's impulses as basic forces in the development of his whole character.

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