During The Early Years Education Is Indirect
( Originally Published 1923 )
During the Early Years Education is Indirect.—The educational value of information imparted by means of words presented in a more or less formal or organized way, is decidedly low. Even sound information, that is, information that is correct enough from the point of view of the facts it contains, may be pernicious in its effects when given prematurely or unskilfully.
During this period, sex education, like character education in general, should come with a minimum of information or appeal to reason. So far as the child is concerned, he should not recognize that what he receives is specifically related to sex, or for that matter, is specifically related to his education. His education now consists largely of the feelings which he is made to attach to the persons and things around him, to the processes of the household, to the required forms of eating and dressing and sleeping, to the keeping clean. It is a process of establishing prejudices with respect to what is nice and pleasing to the home folks, of acquiring values as to the manifestations of likes and dislikes, approval and disapproval, on the part of mother and father.
While the child should be unconscious of any attempts to make him adopt views and attitudes, the parents should certainly know what they are about. They should have the clear purpose of building up sound, normal, positive character, with due respect for the individuality of the child, and with due consideration for what he needs. We should consider the desirability of having the child adapt himself to social requirements and the rights of others; but we should not confuse these considerations with our own convenience or prejudices.
And while we must avoid formal and didactic instruction, we should still provide the child an opportunity for becoming acquainted with the world of living things in order that an adequate foundation may be laid for his subsequent intellectual approach to his problems. Information about the habits and behavior of plants and animals, acquired at first hand rather than through being told about them, may serve both to stabilize his curiosity and to make clear his understanding of the complex relationships which he is to study later. The former of these uses is now the greater. By becoming familiar with the facts of reproduction and sex in this direct way, before there can possibly be any unwholesome feeling associated with the facts, and before there can be any personal reference to his own impulses and desires, the child has prepared himself to consider sex in a thoroughly objective way, without prejudice and without undue agitation.
It is in these indirect ways that the mind and feelings are trained during this early period, so that the child is protected against the later suggestions which would make of sex something nasty, forbidden, sinful, or funny. Both ideas and ideals will have been established to fore-stall the prurient instruction of the streets.