INFANCY AND THE STATE.
PROFESSOR RIDGE WAY'S address as President of the Anthropology Section of the British Association contained a serious warning against a little-noticed tendency in our dealings, recent and prospective, with social conditions. There is nothing, he thinks, to call for wonder in the falling off in the rate of increase of the middle class. More and more we are committing ourselves to a policy of class legislation. More and more we are throwing upon one section of the com- munity the cost of bringing up the children of another section. Politicians of both parties are agreed in advo- cating measures of this type. "The children of the working classes are educated at the cost of the State ; the offspring of the wastrels are given free meals ; and already there are demands that they shall be clothed at the expense of the ratepayers, and that the parents shall even be paid for providing them with lodging." It is upon the middle class that the burdens thus created fall with the greatest weight. Each year it becomes "more difficult for the young men and women in that class to marry before thirty." They naturally shrink from bringing up families of their own when they are already saddled with the cost of bringing up the families of other people. Our legislators "are selecting to continue the race the most unfit, physically and morally, while they discourage more and more the increase of what has been proved to be the outcome of a long process of natural selection." Nor is it only that the most unfit are picked out for this purpose ; we are deliberately treating them in a way that must in the 164 run make them more unfit. What is it that has 'given the middle class its superiority ? It is the fact that it has had little or nothing done for it. It has learned independence because it has had only itself to depend on. Yet to this lesson we have of late shut our eyes. What has answered so conspicuously in one class we are refusing to apply to another class. We are teaching the working class to depend on the community rather than on themselves. That is the sum and substance of our recent rating policy. Comparatively few of the working class pay the rates which in a continually growing proportion are laid out for their benefit. We see what the class which has had least done for it has reanaged'to achieve by virtue of this very neglect, but we refuse to draw the natural conclusion.
On two occasions we have of late called attention to fresh developments, in progress or promised, of this disastrous policy. But the Board of Education are unwearied in providing us with fresh material for com- ment. Their latest contribution in this direction is the "Report of the Consultative Committee upon the school attendance of children below the age of five." Before coming to this document, we should like to offer two preliminary cautions. The first is that the policy recom- mended is not as yet the policy of the Board of Educa- tion. "The very bulk and comprehensiveness of the Report," says the prefatory note, "render it impossible, without long and careful consideration, to express an opinion as to the conclusions of the Committee, and still less to formulate any new policy on them." The second caution is that the unfavourable opinion we have formea on the recommendations of the Committee will imply no depreciation of the information they have collected. The evidence is full of valuable matter, and the Report itself puts-this matter into a very convenient shape. Nor have we any quarrel with the Committee for insisting on the importance of remedying what is defective in the condition of children too young to go to school. What we find fault with is the limitation of outlook that characterises their choice of remedies. That choice seems to have been determined by a single considera- tion,—the immediate benefit of the children concerned. We do not admit that even as regards this comparatively narrow region the Committee have made out their case. Granting that the method they suggest would lead to the physical improvement of the children, we do not think that there would be any corresponding advance in their moral improvement. The Committee do indeed begin their recommendations with a concession—" The proper place for a child between three and five is of course at home with its mother "—and had they stopped here the greater part of the Report would be mere surplusage. But the significance of this admission is practically destroyed by the words that .follow. These are : "pro- vided that the home conditions are satisfactory in the sense defined by the Committee." To find out what this sense is we turn to p. 16, and there we read :—" When the mother does her duty by her children; when she knows how to care for them properly and to make the best use of hernarrow means; when her employment does not keep her away from home ; when the home itself is clean, well lighted, well ventilated, and not overcramped, and when the little children are within easy reach of some safe place to play in out of doors ; in such circumstances the home affords advantages for the early stages of education which cannot be reproduced by any school or public institution."• In other words, home life is best for young children in some unascertained, but probably minute, percentage of the actual homes of the poor. Indeed, as regards one of the conditions, that the home shall be "well lighted, well ventilated, and not overcramped," there are many in classes far above the poor in which it is very imperfectly satisfied. Children who have the command of a street in which there is little or no traffic are within easier reach of a safe play-place than those to whom the street is forbidden, and who have to make their weekly or daily journey to some distant park. In the older houses of most towns the room which serves for a nursery is often neither bright, nor airy, nor roomy ; and nothing probably but the unwritten law of philanthropic enterprise that only the poor may have their lives settled for them ' prevents the extension of the labour of this and similar Committees to the whole social area. For the present, however, it is only the children of the poor who, in default of a scarceiy attainable degree of perfection in their own homes, are to be "sent °during the daytime to places specially intended for their training." But why only in the daytime ? We should have thought that in point of deficient ventilation and overcrowding the night conditions are likely to be worse than those of the day. The State nursery should surely be occupied throughout the twenty- four hours. And have not the members of the Committee unduly contracted their Order of Reference ? They were directed to consider the case of children under five years of age. What they have done is to consider the case of children under live and over three years. But the character of the mother and the circumstances of the home may make it just as necessary to send a child to a
state nursery while it is under three v as when it is under five. Tile really complete and consistent course Would be for the State to take over the care of all children from birth till such time as they are able to earn their own living, except where the parents are 'able to Satisfy a Government official that they can do equally well by them at home.
Let us leave on one side the influence which the sub- stitution of State for home training would have upon the children, and consider for a moment what the result of the change is likely to be as regards the parent. The greatest difficulty with which the Committee had to deal was that created by the absence of the mother during the day. In the case of widows this is unavoidable. The mother is also the breadwinner. But in the case of wives the proposal of the Committee would only make the evil greater. At present the object of all who have at heart the-welfare of women who have husbands is to convince them that to neglect their children in order to supplement their husbands' wages is the worst possible economy. If their, places are supplied by a caretaker, some part of their earnings have to go to pay the substitute. If the sub- stitute is dispensed with, the children grow up untrained and uncared for, and the slight money gain is dearly pnrchased. As it is, these drawbacks, and the lesson con- veyed by them, are visible to every woman. But if they were hidden from her by the assumption of her proper duties by the State, the roll of careless mothers would grow longer every day. To keep children at home might even come to be regarded as merely an instance of selfish- neis -posing as affection. In the spacious nurseries of the State children would enjoy advantages which no mother could hope to give them in her own home ; and we may be sure that indolent husbands would not be slow to point out this fact to their wives, and to dwell on the .duty it imposed on them of subordinating their own pleasure to their children's real interests. The true function of the community in this matter is to educate the parents, and to remove as far as possible the causes which make it difficult for them to bring up their children in health and decency. To relieve parents of the duties they owe their children is to make the condition of both parties—the moral condition of the parent, the physical condition of the child—worse than it is already. It is natural perhaps that a Committee including eminent philanthropists as well as educational experts should think themselves wiser than Nature, and that under the guidance of this flattering belief they should set to work to devise a better relation than that which links together mother and child. That they may be successful in the destructive part of their enterprise we do not doubt. The child may be taught to regard its mother in much the same light as that in which the chicken may be supposed to regard the incubator to which it has just bid farewell. But there is something more to be taken into account. The economic value of the chicken is not lessened by the substitution of artificial for natural methods. Have we any assurance that a similar change will have equally innocent results when the subjects of it are human beings ?