We Must "Espouse" It

by Mrs. Ruth H. Barrus

In the sixteenth century the "wisest of Frenchmen", the father of essays, Montaigne, suggests in his essay "Of The Education of Children" that the parent and tutor should "form the will of the child." In his accent on liberal education, Montaigne sought to steer us away from authoritarianism, severe discipline and pedantry, toward an environment that would arouse "appetite and affection" for truth, beauty, knowledge, and reverence for virtue, judgment, and reason. Such an environment would shape the will of a child toward goals that would not just train a mind or a body, but would train a man. This environment Montaigne summed up in a few words: "We must espouse it!"

The "we" in this statement puts the responsibility of the environment and the shaping of the will of the child directly upon the parents. What "we" do in the early years of a child definitely points him in the direction he shall go and in the attitudes he will assume. The "we" also includes the child, for unless his attitudes reflect the good environment and training there will be no motivation toward high goals.

The archaic ward "espouse" is the key to the "doing". Espouse means "to be married to", "to take up the cause of", "to make one's own", "to embrace". A child senses quickly any insincerity on the part of parents as he is guided into new experiences and skills. Too often the cause for music training for the child is grounded on social pressures - if the neighbors' children are studying, then "my children should have the same advantage"; or desire to display talents - it is so wonderful to hear Johnny or Mary perform at school, church, and civic functions; or for practical reasons - - "that piano in our front room" or those instruments in the closet are going to waste! Somebody's got to 'learn' them!" Or for cultural advantages - "I never had an opportunity to take music lessons, but I'm going to see that my children do." There may be good in all these reasons for music study, but if they are the only reasons used, little motivation and achievement result. They tend to isolate the child from the warmth, comfort, and excitement of shared experience. The child is told to grapple with coordinating mental and physical concepts in an isolation that is frustrating and often agonizing.

But if a child senses from his infancy that his parents sincerely "espouse" the good and beautiful, the child can be led to the mountain of great experience and guided in his upward climb through the throes of discipline, patient repetition, sacrifice, disappointment into the pure air and throbbing vision of high creative fulfillment. It must be a sharing, helping, guiding experience. It is a process that has no meaning if it is pocketed in an hour of practice time each day. It must be a living process - a 24-hour a day adventure. It must be part of the air we breathe, the language we speak, the books we read, the pictures we look at, the entertainment we share. One hour each day cannot hope to compete with the many hours most children spend in the darkened recesses of our homes looking at the most costly of unpaid baby sitters, the television, with much of the time noisily imposes a psychedelic panorama of vulgarisms, crassness, violence-rendering picture upon the delicate spirit and soul sitting before the "box". It is here in the comfort of a soft chair that the initiative, the responsibility and individual achievement are discarded, and "espoused" is the incessant repetition of banality. It is here the sensitive world is rendered undesirable. It is a wise parent who encourages selectivity in TV listening, and who has the courage to frequently push off the TV button and turn up the lights to shared vital experience that demands imagination, initiative and achievement.

James Fletcher, while President of the University of Utah, paid tribute to his mother who was nationally honored as Mother of the Year. He said that because of his father's scientific involvements the family moved quite frequently from city to city, but wherever they went, his mother would take the children to art galleries and music recitals and concerts in that city. Her love for the arts and the sharing of them with her family contributed significantly to the growth of a most distinguished family.

The parent need not know a great deal about music or the arts generally to make them one's own. Just having desire and enthusiasm can be the commencement of a learning and growing experience which when shared with the child can lead to the greatest of adventures - fulfillment. Yes, we must espouse it!