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What The Child Should Learn And. Why

( Originally Published 1923 )

The Vocabulary.—The very first need for the cornmunication of ideas is a suitable vocabulary; and this is particularly lacking when we come to speak of sex and reproduction. Because the subject has been so long excluded from the every-day conversation, even within the family, most people have been obliged to resort to the vulgar and ribald terms, which almost inevitably carry with them suggestions of filth or indecency. In many cases trifling names for the parts of the body are introduced early in the child's life, or common words are arbitrarily applied to the organs and functions for which no suitable names are at hand. While both of these methods have the advantage that they confine the use of the terms in question to members of the family, they have the disadvantage of excluding, for too long, an acquaintance with correct technical terminology. There is often a further disadvantage. The words and syllables which we invent as well as the common terms which we arbitrarily apply for the purpose, often turn out to have native meanings and uses of their own. The meanings acquired at home early in childhood thus come to stand in the way of learning the common language of every-day life outside the home. They lead to a mental "crossing of wires," and to confusion ; and in many cases they act as obstacles to the. free and effective use of many words containing or resembling the sounds in question.

There is no need whatever for the use of arbitrary words or for the arbitrary use of common words. The correct technical terms for the organs and processes connected with reproduction and sex which the child needs to know are no more difficult to acquire than the correct names for the organs and processes related to other bodily functions.

Before reaching school age the little boy or girl should know the following terms:

Pertaining to parts of the body :

Breast Penis
Nipples Scrotum
Navel Testicle
Rectum Vulva
Foreskin Vagina

These are as legitimate and necessary parts of the child's vocabulary as arm and leg, mouth and nose, chest and abdomen or belly. To withhold names for these parts is to begin at once a forced separation between thinking about certain bodily functions and thinking about other bodily functions--a separation that grows with the years and forces the child to attach to the concepts thus emphasized, more and more suggestions and feelings of an unwholesome kind.

Pertaining to functions and conditions :

Emptying bowels Constipated
Emptying bladder Loose Bowels
Urinate Diarrhea
Defecate Pregnant

Pertaining to emotions, desires:

Hunger Envy
Fear Disgust
Anger Excitement
Shame Depression
Jealousy Sullenness

It must be recognized that in the present state of common thought there is some danger that the individual child who has acquired a clean and correct vocabulary at home is exposed to some embarrassment when he uses one of these terms among companions who are accustomed to the shorter and uglier words. The ordinary child, however, soon learns both to discriminate among the words suitable for different situations or surroundings, and to value what he has received at home in its true relations.

There is also the danger that the child's ingenuous use of certain terms will embarrass sensitive adults whose training and viewpoint require complete reticence; but that is not a matter of vocabulary, but of getting the child to confine his discussion of personalities to the home circle.

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