Lexington, Va., 17 Jany. 1867
Prof. J. B. Minor1
University of Virginia
Albermarle Co., Va.
My Dear Sir:
I have been informed by the corresponding Secretary of the Educational Society of Va. that I have been appointed, in conjunction with yourself & the Rev. Dr. Dabney, a committee to prepare an address to the public & parents of Va., urging them to a more hearty cooperation with teachers in matters of instruction, discipline &c. The benefits that would be secured to education, and the aid which would be afforded teachers by such cooperation, would be very great; as all who have any experience on the subject must be aware of the obstacles at the very threshold of education, arising from the want of proper family management. If, therefore, they can be removed, much good will be attained; and this result can in some degree be accomplished by inducing parents to consider the fundamental principles to be observed in the education of their children.
In its broad & comprehensive sense, education embraces the physical, moral & intellectual instruction of a child from infancy to manhood. Any system is imperfect which does not combine them all; and that is best which, while it thoroughly develops them, abores the coarse animal emotions of human nature & exalts the brighter faculties & feelings. A child has everything to learn, & is more readily taught by having before it good examples to imitate, than by simple precepts. He should therefore, as far as circumstances will permit; be encouraged to associate with his parents; for his breast must be affected, his feelings moved, as well as his mind expanded. He may be taught that it is criminal to steal, & sinful to lie, & yet be unable to apply this knowledge to the government of himself; and it will therefore be of no value to him unless the principle is confirmed into a habit.
Obedience is the first requisite family training. It should be made sincere & perfect, & to proceed as much from affection as a conviction of its necessity. To accomplish this, great prudence & the exercise of much patience are necessary. By firmness mixed with kindness, the child by repeated experience will learn that he is not to follow his first impulse, and that self control, which even an infant can understand, is necessary to his comfort. Neither violence nor harshness should ever be used, & the parent must bear constantly in mind, that to govern his child, he must show him that he can control himself. One of the most common errors in the management of children is irregularly of behavior towards them. They are as skilful as pertinacious in their attempts to gratify their self will; at one time trying to evade authority, at another, to oppose it. If they once succeed, they are encouraged to persevere; and it is necessary for the parent to meet the first attempt with firmness, and not permit himself to be baffled either by evasion or resistance. Although a child may not yield to threats & may defy punishment, he can not resist patient kindness & gentle admonition.
The love of truth is equal in importance to habitual obedience. Every encouragement, even to the pardoning of offences, should be given to its cultivation. Children are naturally truthful, & they should be accustomed to hear the truth always spoken; & candor, integrity & confession of error, with a detestation of falsehood, dishonesty & equivocation should be sedulously inculcated. A strict adherence to promises made to them is of the utmost importance as well as the removal of all temptation to misconduct. They should also be prepared and warned against its attacks.
Sentiments of religion should be early impressed upon the minds of children by personal explanation & systematic instruction. As the intellect expands, its sacred truths will be comprehended & felt, and its motives & principles be strengthened & confirmed by practice & habit. An essential part of the education of youth, is to teach them to serve themselves, & to impress upon them the fact that nothing good can be acquired in this world without labor, & that the very necessaries & comforts of life must be procured by earnest & regular exertion. They should also be taught to know that after having been reared & educated by their parents, they should not expect them to further provide for them, & that their future subsistence & advancement must depend upon themselves. Parents sometimes commit the mistake of allowing their children, after having reached the period of life when they ought to be engaged in making a livelyhood, to rely upon them for support. This encourages them in injurious idleness, & destroys that spirit of self dependence which is necessary for their advancement in life, and causes them to appear so unreasonable as to depend upon them, after having arrived at the age of being able to think and act for themselves.
The choice of a profession is not of so much consequence as the manner in which it is pursued. If habits of self control & self denial have been acquired during education, the great object has been accomplished. Diligence & integrity in any useful pursuit of life will be sure to secure prosperity & fame; and success will result from engaging in that business in which the generosity of mankind are interested.
I have given you the foregoing sketch of what I have thought might form in part the groundwork of a suitable address, to be modified or suppressed as you and Dr. Dabney may determine. As I have no knowledge of the views of the Educational Society as to the kind of address that is desired. I must leave to you two its preparation; as I am sure you will do it more satisfactorily than I could.
What I have written is derived from my reflection & experience.
Very respectfully & truly yrs.
R E Lee
1. John Barbee Minor (1813-1895) was a jurist and head of the law program at the University of Virginia for fifty years.
Source: Photocopy of photocopy of letterbook pages, Lee Family Papers, Section 43, Mss1 L51c 738, pp. 15-18, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 February 2