Walter Lorenzo Sheldon.

An ethical Sunday school: a scheme for the moral instruction of the young online

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{ educational institutions. Surely it would be folly to



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48 AN ETHICAL SUNDAY SCHOOL.

f I undertake to teach little children the elements of a

j { Higher Criticism/

A great deal of stress, however, should be laid on
the pictures which are to be made use of in connec-
tion with these stories. But it would be a sad mis-
take for teachers to employ without discrimination
the illustrated Bibles which are appearing at the
present time. Such books for the most part, I
fear, are made to sell. The art in their illustrations at
times may be beautiful, but is at other times positively
atrocious. The pictures in certain instances may
help the story and make it edifying ; in other in-
stances they have the contrary effect, and suggest a
crude or grotesque supematuralism of which a good
teacher will feel heartily ashamed. Surely in this
direction it were better to make use of plain common
sense.

The method we have been employing, therefore,
has been to gather our pictures from all possible
sources, such as the periodical literature of recent
years, which is a perfect gold mine for such purposes ;
on the other hand gleaning irom the illustrated Bibles.
But we cut the pictures out and mount them on card-
board, in this way trying to build up a small library
of illustrative material which may go on growing all
the while. We are doing this not only for the Bible
stories, but for all the subjects dealt with in our whole



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THE ** BIBLE" IN OUR SUNDAY SCHOOL. 4Q

course of instruction. In every class of study there
must be a concrete element brought out, as some-
thing by which education may enter through the eye,
while in other ways the teacher is trying to reach the
mind or heart through the ear.



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CHAPTER IV.

STUDY OF THE HABITS.

At about the age of nine years we begin the syste-
matic work we are outlining in our course of instruc-
tion. The first year Is devoted to a study of the
''Habits". The teacher takes up one habit after
another, talking it over with the boys and girls, seeing
what impressions they may have concerning it, what
they have learned about it for themselves out of their
own experiences and observations, and then adding
to this the wisdom which the older mind can impart.

It is necessary at the outset to have a general talk
about habits and what they mean; distinguishing
them from instincts, so that the young may realise
how they themselves acquire habits and are respon-
sible for them, and therefore what an important part
in life is played by the habits one acquires.

Then the teacher may devote a morning to a talk
about the habit of " Exaggeration," for instance,
asking the boys and girls what they know about it ;
how they would describe it ; what examples they
have seen of it among themselves. Then comes the

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STUDY OF THE HABITS. 5 1

question : " What leads people to exaggerate ? " Do
people, for instance, consciously tell a lie ? If what
they tell is not a lie, what does it mean, or what leads
to it, or what are the motives inspiring it ? Along
with this must go the problem as to the effect on a
person's whole life or character from the habit of
exaggeration ; how it comes that he cannot be trusted,
and cannot even trust himself, So that by-and-by he
does not even know, himself, whether he is telling the
truth in what he may be saying.

It is in the study of the Habits, as I conceive it,
where we have the best opportunity for employing
classic sayings or proverbs from all ages and from all
literatures. While such materials can and should be
made use of in all the subjects we deal with through-
out our course of instruction, yet they seem most of
all adapted to these miscellaneous habits we form in
our early life. Proverbs or sayings are detached
truths, standing out by themselves, each one with its
own kernel of wisdom. Besides this, they have
grown up out of practical experience as the lessons
of life itself, with the same want of system or order
by which much of our practical and severe instruction
in ethics must come.

With this purpose in view we have selected a series
of proverbs which are attached to each lesson and
which may have some point of application to the



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52 AN ETHICAL SUNDAY SCHOOL.

subject of the day. As an example we give the ones
which belong to the lesson on *' Self-conceit".

Conceit may puff a man up, but it never props him up.

There is more hope of a fool than of him who is wise
in his own conceit.

The goslings would lead the geese to grass.

Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works.

All is sugar to the vain, even the praise of fools.

Every man has just so much vanity as he wants
understanding.

Every one thinks he has more than his share of
brains.

No man sympathises with the sorrows of vanity.

She that looks too much at herself, looks too little to
herself.

Self-exaltation is the fool's paradise.

Such lists could be expanded to any extent ; and
each teacher should be at liberty to gather from his
readings or every source at his command, illustrations
of this kind. There is no one method for introducing
these proverbs. Sometimes one of them can be
selected as a starting-point for the discussion on the
subject of the day. It might be written on the black-
board without any suggestions as to the theme which
is to be talked about ; and in this way a teacher may
lead up to what he proposes to make his chief point
of instruction in his lesson. At other times the entire
series could be read aloud at the end of the hour,



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STUDY OF THE HABITS. 53

furnishing something in the nature of a review of the
points which have been gone over in the talk with the
young people. Or, on the other hand, each pupil
might be given one of the proverbs to take home and
make inquiries about, bringing back an explanation
of it the next Sunday.

In all such lists of sayings or proverbs there will
be found one or more of peculiar beauty or value, as
having the very richest wisdom of all ages on the
theme or the habit which has been analysed. The
choicest of these should therefore be committed to
memory and lodged in the minds of the young as
the starting-point for a treasure-house of wisdom. If
nothing more in the course of the entire year were
accomplished in this study of the Habits, than to be
able to lodge such choice sayings in the memories of
the members of the class, enough would have been
accomplished to have made the year's effort worth
the while.

It is apparent also that no teacher should undertake
to handle this subject of ** Habits *' without having an
inexhaustible supply of stories at command ; other-
wise it will only be dry analysis to the young people
and make them tire of the method at the outset. But
the quantity of such material is so great that it will
be almost futile to undertake to furnish it as a part of
the system. The story should rarely, if ever, stand



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54 AN ETHICAL SUNDAY SCHOOL.

out as the real subject for the day ; but it should be
introduced constantly, and the points be worked out
by means of it. Sometimes it may come in at the
end and at other times at the beginning of the lesson.
No two teachers, if they are good teachers, would
probably begin any one of these lessons precisely in
the same way. It must depend on what has gone
before or on what proves to be of special interest to
the class of pupils the teacher may have.

I will give just one sample of this series of lessons
on the Habits. In most respects the method is the
same throughout all the notes furnished to the teachers.
They are intended as fanciful conversations carried on
between the teacher and the children. I take, for
instance, the one on " Being Conceited," the proverbs
for which have already been given.

Did you ever hear anything about ''being conceited " ?
Do you see any sense in that ? What would it mean to
you if you heard it said of anybody ?

What would conceited people do ? " Talk about
themselves,*' you say ? Yes, but how much ? '* Oh,"
you answer, '* a good deal." Then you think, do you,
that being conceited would mean talking about oneself
a good deal ?

But suppose a person should keep saying how much he
wished he was able to do something, or keep lamenting
because he was not strong enough to do it ; suppose he
went on repeatedly saying how much better some one



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STUDY OF THE HABITS. 55

else could do a certain thing than himself. That would
be talking a great deal about oneself, would it not ? Do
you think that would necessarily mean self-conceit ?

" No, not exactly," you answer. But why not ? That
certainly is talking about oneself? "Why," you say,
'* self-conceit means talking about oneself in a bragging
sort of way." Oh, is that it? I ask. But what do you
mean by bragging ?

'* Why," you say, ** bragging means telling how smart
we are, and how much we can do."

But is that all there is to bragging ? What if one
were to tell how much one could do, but at the same time
admitted that some one else could do it a great deal
better — would that be exactly bragging? "No, not
quite," you say.

What would be the difference ? '* Why," you answer,
" bragging would mean trying to show how much smarter
we are than other people, boasting over others, talking
about ourselves as superior to others."

Then that is what yoii mean by being conceited, is it —
always talking about oneself ^s being smarter or better
than other people ? And you call that " bragging," you
tell me.

I suppose, then, you mean that a person who never
talked about himself could not be conceited. Is that
what you mean ? " No," you say ; " for a person could
be conceited even if he did not talk about himself."

Then what would be going on in his mind if he were a
conceited person, and yet did not talk about himself?
What would he be thinking about? You say, "he
would be thinking to himself how much smarter or
better he was than other people ".

And so it is your opinion, is it, that merely thinking



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S6 AN ETHICAL SUNDAY SCHOOL.

of oneself about one's superiority would mean being
" conceited *' ? Yes, I agree with you there.

How do you think such a conceited person, who did
not talk to others about himself, would act ? Do you
think there would be any way of people knowing we
were conceited, if we were conceited in that way ? Would
anybody find us out ? ** No, you think not," you tell me.
But why ? '* Because,'* you say, ** we would keep our
thoughts to ourselves ; we wouldn't tell of the feelings
we have."

Now, do you think you could really do that ? Do you
suppose that you could deceive in that way and not show
it by your conduct, even if you said nothing about it ?

Take, for instance, two boys or girls, one of them very
conceited, and the other not so. How would they act
when trying to improve themselves ? Which one would
be going to others seeking for information, or trying to
learn from other people ? Would it be the conceited
one ?

** No," you say, ** it would not be the conceited one."
But why not ? Would he not want to improve himself
just the same ? " No," you answer ; '* he would be
thinking that he knew it already, fancying that he could
not learn anything from anybody else." Have you ever
come across boys and girls who acted as if they knew
more than their teachers did ? Don't you think they
were rather ridiculous ? , Are such boys and girls con-
ceited, do you think ? *' Yes, decidedly," you say.

Then which class of persons, do you suppose, are most
likely to go on improving themselves — those who are
very conceited, and think they " know it already," or
those who are rather doubtful about how much they
know and try to learn from others ? You think, do you,



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STUDY OF THE HABITS. 57

that "the conceited boy or girl would not improve so
much '' ? Yes, I agree with you there.

How do you think a conceited boy or girl would act
toward other people in the way of helping them ? If he
felt that he knew more and was smarter than they were,
then hie would try to help them, would he not, and make
them as smart as himself, or make them think they were
— ^would not that be his way ?

You smile at that, I see ; but what makes you smile ?
Why should that seem ridiculous ? ** Oh," you say, " he
would feel himself so much superior that he would have
a kind of contempt for them and would not try to help
them."

As a rule, do people like us or dislike us, if we are
conceited ? ** Oh, they dislike us," you answer. But
can you explain that ? Why should others dislike us if
we show self-conceit ? ** Oh,** you say, ** they would
dislike us because we should be showing that we had a
feeling of contempt for them ; we should not be trying to
help them when they needed our help." "We should
be inclined to * show off,* to them," you tell me.

But why should people mind our trying to " show
off," as you say ? " Because," you answer, " people who
do that are tiresome." You think, do you, that we get
tired of people who are all the time talking about them-
selves ? I am afraid you are right there.

And you think, do you, that people can even show off
without talking ? That is what you meant when you
said that a person could be conceited without constantly
speaking of himself ?

Do you mean to say, for example, that a person who
never talks of himself could constantly call attention to
himself? " Yes," you assert. How? I ask. He does not



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58 AN ETHICAL SUNDAY SCHOOL.

say to you, " look at me '*. ** True,*' you answer, " but
he acts that way.**

Why, how could a man act that way, if he did not say
anything? **0h,*' you tell me, "he could show it by
the way he walks, or holds his head, or by the way he
smiles.**

Now, as to a proverb about self-conceit, let me give
you one thought that is two or three thousand years
old. Think what it means when I read it to you : —

*' Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit ?
There is more hope of a fool than of him.*'

What sense is there in that saying ? What do you mean
when you say that there is no hope for a man wise in his
own conceit, or that you could do more with a fool than
with such a man ? Does it imply that the man has no
hope for himself? "Oh, no,** you answer, **he has a
great deal of hope for himself; he thinks he is going to
do wonderful things.'* Yes, I think you are right

You mean, do you, that other people are hopeless
about him ? But why do they feel that way ? What did
we say about the conceited man improving himself?
Did you tell me that he was more, or less, liable to
improve that the man who was not conceited ? ** Less
so,** you answer. Then you see, do you, why there is
little hope for a self-conceited man — he thinks he knows
it all and will not improve — is that what you have in
mind ? " Yes,'* you say.

Already, then, two or three thousand years ago, people
knew that even the most stupid person had more chance
of improving than the conceited person. The trouble
would be that a conceited person might also be stupid
and not know it ; or, even if he were clever at the be»



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STUDY OF THE HABITS. $9

ginning, the stupid man might pass ahead of him by
gradually improving. And so there is a great deal of
wisdom in this old proverb.

What are the points that we have learned now about
being conceited ?

In the first place, that conceited people may talk a
great deal about themselves.

In the second place, that they may feel or he very
conceited, and yet not say it in words.

In the third place, that a conceited person can show it
by the way he acts.

In the fourth place, that a conceited person is not so
liable to improve, because he feels that he knows it already,
and will not try to learn from others.

In the fifth place, that a conceited person is not liable
to be helpful to others, but rather contemptuous toward
them.

And then we had the talk about the proverb.



Each lesson is worked out in this manner for the
teacher. It will be readily seen why we make use
of this special form of dialogue. These are notes
exclusively for the teacher, prepared in this way in
order to suggest the method to be pursued and the
points to be elaborated. We take it for granted,
however, that each teacher will introduce the questions
in his own way and draw out the answers in any
manner he finds most feasible. The members of the
class do not see these notes and really should not
know of their existence. The aim is, as far as possible,



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60 AN ETHICAL SUNDAY SCHOOL.

to get the boys and girls to see the points of the
lessons as coming out of their own experience, leaving
them to give the answers wherever this is possible,
and so having them feel that what is being taught
them may really come to them through what is going
on in their own lives.

To be sure, this method may be carried too far,
and the teacher ought always to make the young
feel that he knows more than they do. At times
the method of instruction should be dogmatic. We
may be obliged to say that we know this to be true,
because it has been found out through hundreds and
thousands of years in the experience of other people.

In this way we can go on with one habit after
another, as, for instance, "Generosity" or "Stingi-
ness " ; habits of " Borrowing,*' " Being Lazy,"
" Swearing," " Being Studious," " Pride," " Perse-
verance," " Order," " Humility," " Self-denial," or
" Procrastination ".

We may discuss such a habit as "Consideration
for Others". Any amount of talk can be aroused
over what such a habit really means. We begin,
for instance, with an illustration of a young man
in a crowded street car, where an old person, feeble
in health or strength, comes in, together with a
beautiful young woman ; and the man gives his
seat to the young woman, leaving the old person



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STUDY OF THE HABITS. 6 1

standing. Was that true consideration for others?
If not, why? What was wrong with the motive?
Then we can show the various reasons for displaying
true consideration for others, and the methods of
doing it. A fine opportunity is offered in such a
theme for discussing what the word ** gentleman "
or " gentlemanh'ke," " lady " or " ladylike," really
means ; so that the boys and girls may get some
definite idea of these terms in their earlier years,
and may be able to see that the spirit of the " lady "
or " gentleman *' is shown, not by the mere forms
in dealing with others, but by a true consideration
for people's feelings, inasmuch as conduct of this
kind is concerned with what is on the inside^ rather
than what is on the outside.

We may go on with the habits of ** Bravery,'* of
" Play,'' " Cheating," " Teasing," " Frugality "—
distinguishing between the habit of " being saving "
with money, and the larger frugality of being saving
in the way of using one's time or employing one's
efforts. A very successful lesson — especially with the
boys — deals with the subject of '* Being Soldierly,"
and what advantages are offered for developing a
broader and higher idea of chivalry ; at the same
time the elemental feature of becoming "soldierly"
involved in the idea of drills opens up the whole
subject as to the method for acquiring good habits,



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62 AN ETHICAL SUNDAY SCHOOL.

and how such habits can be strengthened only by
a slow process of drill ; so that a man may acquire
the habit of courage, of truth, or of generosity, only
by the same sort of drill or discipline by which one
becomes a good soldier.

We have another lesson on " Conscientiousness " —
not as an analysis of conscience, but using the word
in the more popular sense as applying to strictness
in minor things. We attach it to the phrase " being
strict with oneself". The pity of it is that we can
give so little time to such an important theme. If
there ever were a period when we are conscious of the
need of a new emphasis on this particular habit or
duty, it would be in these last days of the nineteenth
century. It does seem as if human nature were less
strict with itself in small things than in former days.
We are almost led to regret the passing away of the
grim Puritanism of other times, in spite of its gloomy
severity. If only there were a way of retaining its
conscientiousness without its gloom !

Now and then, to be sure, our attention has been
called to the fact that certain minds seem almost to
have been poisoned by an exaggerated development
of self-scrutiny or by over-conscientiousness. But
this has been particularly in the home of the New
England Puritans ; and we may rest assured that
for every one person who has suffered in this way



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STUDY OF THE HABITS. 63

from exaggerated conscientiousness, and whose nature
may have been warped by this cause, there have
been a thousand persons who have suffered from the
absence of this characteristic. It strikes me that
we may take the risk with comparative safety ; for in-
stances will be rare when we find too much self-
scrutiny or too much conscience. It were better to
risk the possibility of making a person over-conscien-
tious than to risk the chance of letting him become
careless about the minor duties which make up so
much of his daily life.

It may be asked why we begin our course of in-
struction on the analytic side, with the study of the
Habits, and, most of all, why we do it with so little
system. Should we not grade these habits, reduce
them to an order, and make them somehow develop
the points of an ethical scheme or hint at a future
ethical philosophy? In fact it will appear as if in the
method we are starting out with there were no system
at all.

To some extent this charge is true. Yet we are
taking this course with a purpose. We are begin-
ning to teach ethics to the young in this way by
the method of daily experience. It is the hard
knocks we get in our everyday life which bring home
to us the practical suggestions as to a true course of
conduct, and which lead us to try to find an answer



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64 AN ETHICAL SUNDAY SCHOOL.

to the problems confronting us. The lessons we get
from life are positively flung at us, and surely without
any system or order. Every form of experience we
may undergo can teach us something.

In the study of the Habits, therefore, we are trying
in some way to follow this method of life itself, to use
the same miscellaneous experiences without much
scheme or order, by which our everyday life forces
ethical instruction upon us. All that we shall try to do
at the start is to set the mind to thinking on these
everyday experiences — aiming to do more distinctly
what life itself is doing all the while. We desire to
urge the mind of the young person more positively
in the direction of availing itself of these everyday
experiences for ethical development. The hard blows
we get may compel us to think in this direction even
when we are very young ; but it is of importance that
we should make the minor blows serve the same
purpose.

By means of the study of the Habits, as well as by
means of the Bible stories, we are trying to give a
first turn to the mind in the sphere of ethics, making
the young see more clearly how everything a person
goes through with can teach him something as to the
true way to live. Out of the study of miscellaneous
habits we desire to develop the one supreme habit of
paying attention to the ethical lessons which life itself



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STUDY OF THE HABITS. 6$

may teach to those who will only look and listen.
We shall only be cultivating the eye of the mind, as it
were, on this point, encouraging it not to overlook all
that valuable instruction which may come to those
who are not stupidly blind.

This study of the Habits might be made use of
for any age. By a slight change in the language, in
the emphasis, or in the illustrations, the same points
could have their value to a child of nine or the youth
of fourteen or the young man of twenty-one years of
age.

We append a list of the Habits we study in the
one season's work for young people nine or ten years
of age : —

I. The Meaning of Habit,
n. More about Habits.
HI. Perseverance.
IV. Self-conceit.
V. Order.

VI. Consideration for Others.

Vn. Being Lazy.
Vni. Deception.

IX. Being Saving.

X. About Soldiers and Being Soldierly.


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Online LibraryWalter Lorenzo SheldonAn ethical Sunday school: a scheme for the moral instruction of the young → online text (page 4 of 13)