Charles Darrow on Educating and Raising Children

One of my favorite free Kindle books is The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow, the great criminal defense lawyer best known as the hero in the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. The book is available from Project Gutenberg Australia. Here are his thoughts on educating and raising children, excerpted from the book.

Clarence Darrow courtesy of Wikipedia.



Schools probably became general and popular because parents did not want their children about the house all day. The school was a place to send them to get them out of the way. If, perchance, they could learn something it was so much to the good. Colleges followed the schools for the same reason. These took charge of the boy at a time when he could be of little or no use at home, and was only a burden and a care. All established institutions are very slow to change.

The defects of schools and colleges have been discussed for many years, and the lines of a rational and worth-while education have been developed to take their place, but still the old-time education with most of the ancient methods persists and flourishes yet. It is worse than useless to try to make scholars of the great majority of boys and girls. In fact, scholarship as it is understood is not so necessary to life as people have been taught to believe. Man does not live by books alone. Indeed, they fill a very small part of the life of even those who know how to read….

Training should always be with the view of equipping him for self-support, and should be manual as well as mental. No child should go forth from school or home without the best possible mental and physical development for facing its future in the world. Our compulsory school laws, as administered, do not and cannot perform that function. To force a child into school when he has no capacity or trend for that sort of education is worse than useless. It does not educate, but fosters a spirit that grows rebellious and desperate. He sees others doing just what he cannot do and decides that he is therefore inferior to the rest.

Children are naturally fairly adapted to some occupation. They may not care for books, but may like to make a chair, a table, or an automobile. Among rich and poor alike, comparatively few really care for books. Children like to play or work with their hands, which could easily be discovered by watchful, sensible parents and teachers, and if perchance children change their tastes and interests, the course of training should be changed accordingly. In modern cities we now have perhaps one manual school to ten of the other kind. It should be entirely the other way; there should be ten manual-training schools to one of those that teach reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar and the rest of the non-essentials that are taught in schools….

Punishing the child does not change its conduct; it only teaches it to deceive or conceal what he is doing by lying to his accusers. As a rule, there is little love and less understanding between parent and child. The ordinary parent approaches his offspring as if he were endowed with infallible wisdom and knew what is right and wrong, and invariably does right himself. If the child does wrong he is to be punished, or at least humiliated and made miserable.

The parent seldom sees the act from the standpoint of the child, and of course cannot brook opposition or even argument. The parent, too, is so much older than the child that it is difficult to comprehend the emotions that moved the child, and he seldom tries to. Often the child chooses some one else rather than the parent in whom to confide. To many parents the idea of a child’s disobedience is as terrible as the disobedience of Adam and Eve seemed to God, when they ate an apple.

Obedience is taught to the child as one of the chief virtues: “Theirs not to question why, Theirs not to make reply; Theirs but to do and die,” is the almost universal rule. If there is anything that the child needs in its training it is love and perfect confidence, and those cannot be received unless given. There is no reason why a child should not have its own ideas of right and wrong. What is wrong for the parent may not be wrong for the child. Right and wrong consist largely of intent, and there is a great gulf in both years and experience between the parent and the little one. If people are to have children they should be willing to take the responsibility that belongs with their rearing….

How often does one hear some stupid, blundering man or woman cry out that the children of to-day are spoiled by overindulgence, and how much better they were because their parents whipped them! Generally the good is not apparent; the old folks’ method did not improve their offspring so much as the braggarts claim. There is nothing within the range of his nature that cannot be taught to a child if the parent or teacher is wise enough to know how. The prisons are not filled with the children of parents who were too kind. They are crowded with those who never had parental teaching and cooperation and discernment and help needed by the very young.

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