ROBERT E. LEE ON CHILD REARING
"In its broad and comprehensive sense, education embraces the physical, moral, and 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, abases the coarse animal emotions of human nature and exalts the higher faculties and feelings. A child has everything to learn, and 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 heart must be affected, his feelings moved, as well as his mind expanded. He may be taught that it is criminal to steal, and sinful to lie, and 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 in family training. It should be made sincere and perfect, and to proceed as much from affection as a conviction of its necessity. To accomplish this, great prudence and 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, and 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 irregularity of behavior towards them. They are as skillful 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 and may defy punishment, he cannot resist patient kindness and gentle admonition.
"The love of truth is equal in importance to habitual obedience. Every encouragement, even to the pardoning of offenses, should be given to its cultivation. Children are naturally truthful, and they should be accustomed to hear the truth always spoken; and candor, integrity, and confession of error, with a detestation of falsehood, dishonesty, and 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 and systematic instruction. As the intellect expands, its sacred truths will be comprehended and felt, and its motives and principles be strengthened and confirmed by practice and habit. An essential part of the education of youth is to teach them to serve themselves, and to impress upon them the fact that nothing good can be acquired in this world without labor, and that the very necessaries and comforts of life must be procured by earnest and regular exertion. They should also be taught to know that after having been reared and educated by their parents they should not expect them to further provide for them, and that their future subsistence and 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 livelihood, 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 and self-denial have been acquired during education, the great object has been accomplished. Diligence and integrity in any useful pursuit of life will be sure to secure and will result from engaging in that business in which the generality of mankind are interested.
"What I have written is derived from my reflection and experience."
Robert E. Lee, 1867