It may seem to be going rather far back, to be dealing with the problem ab ovo et ab initio, to hold as I do that much of the clashing that takes place between the two generations in the home is the outcome of an instinctive protest against the unfitness of the elders to have become parents. It is far more important to speak to parents of their duty to the unborn than to dwell on filial piety touching parents living or dead. Children have the right to ask of parents that they be well-born. Such children as are cursed and doomed to be born may not only curse the day that they were born but them that are answerable for the emergence from darkness to darkness.
Even if we did not insist upon dealing with fundamentals, children would, and they will, question the right of unfit parents to have begotten them. A new science has arisen to command parents not only "to honor thy son and thy daughter" but so to honor life in all its sanctity and divineness as to leave a child unborn,—if they be unfit for the office of parenthood. Honor thy father and thy mother living or dead is good; but not less good is it to honor thy son and daughter, born and unborn. Some day the State,—you and I,—will step in and enforce this command and will visit its severest condemnation and even penalty upon parents, not because a child has been born to them illegitimately in a legal or technical sense, but because in a very real and terrible sense they have been guilty of mothering and fathering a child into life which is not wholly viable—that is unendowered with complete opportunity for normal living.
Some day we shall surround marriage and child-bearing with every manner of safeguard and ultimately the major findings of eugenics will be embodied into law and statute. The duty of parents to a child born to them is high, but highest of all at times may be the duty of leaving children unborn. Race suicide is bad, but an unguided and unlimited philoprogenitiveness may be worse. About a decade ago, it was considered radical on the part of certain representatives of the church to announce that they would not perform a marriage ceremony for a man and woman, unless these could prove themselves to be physically untainted. Later the States acted upon this suggestion and forbade certain persons entering into the marriage relation.
Some day we shall pass from what I venture to call negative and physical malgenics to positive and spiritual eugenics. The one is necessary to insure the birth of healthy and normal human animals: the latter will be adopted in the hope of making possible the birth and life of normal souls. The normal, wholesome, untainted body must go before, but it can only go before. For it is not an end to itself but means to an end, and that end the furtherance of the well-being of the immortal soul.
But in reality the eugenic responsibility of parents is a negative one and, being met, the second and major responsibility remains to be met. The former involves a decision; the latter the conduct of a lifetime. Once upon a time and not so long ago, it might have been said that parents are not responsible for the heredity of which they are the transmitters. Today, with certain limitations, we charge parents with the responsibility of heredity which they bestow or inflict as well as with the further and continuous responsibility of environment. Whatever may be held with respect to the duty of parents as "hereditarians," there can be no doubt that it is the obligation of parents consciously to determine, as far as may be, the content of the home environment. I would go so far, and quite unjestingly, as to maintain that the least some parents can do for their children is through environmental influence to neutralize the heredity which they have inflicted upon them. Unhappily, it may be, we cannot choose our grandparents, but we can in some measure choose our grandchildren.
But environmental influence is more than a mouth-filling phrase. Parenthood and the begetting of children are not quite interchangeable terms. The continuity of parental functioning is suggested by the Hebrew origin of the term, child, which is etymologically connected with builder, parents being not the architects of a moment but the builders of a lifetime. This means that we are consciously to determine the apparently indeterminable atmosphere of our children's life and home. That this involves care of the bodily side of child-being goes without saying, but, as we have in another chapter pointed out, this stress seems to be needless. The primary and serious responsibility of parents is bound up with the education of a child. And the first truth to be enunciated is that parents can no more leave to schools the intellectual than to priest and church the moral training of a child.
I remember to have asked a father in a mid-Western city to which it had been brought home that its schools were gravely inadequate—why he, a man of large affairs, did not set out to remedy the conditions. His answer was, "I do my duty to the schools when I pay my school taxes." This was not only wretched citizenship but worse parenthood and still worse economics. It does much to explain the failure of the American school which is over-tasked by the community and pronounced a bankrupt, because it cannot accept every responsibility which the parental attitude dumps upon it. However much the school can do and does, it cannot and should not relieve the home of duties which parents have no right under any circumstances to shirk. A wise teacher in a distant city once wrote to me, having reference to the peace problem: "I personally see no hope for peace until something spiritual is substituted for the worship of the golden calf. And as a teacher I must say, if I speak honestly, that there is an increasing aversion to solitude and work both on the part of parents and pupils, due to false viewpoints of values and as to how the genuine can be acquired."
Two of the, perhaps the two, most important influences in the life of the child are dealt with in haphazard fashion. Parents later wonder where children have picked up their strange ideals and their surprising standards. Not a few of the roots of later conflict can be traced back to the earlier years, when children find themselves in schools wholly without parental co-operation and flung at amusements bound to have a disorganizing effect upon their lives. While parents must accept the co-operation of the school, the latter cannot be a substitute for the home nor the teacher a substitute for the parent. The school cannot operate in the place of the home, though it may co-operate with it. The school cannot do the work of a mother, not even the work of a father.
The same is true of parents in relation to college and university. Again I am thinking not of the youth who works and wins his way to and through college but of that type of family in which a college education for the children is as truly its use and habit as golf-playing by the father after fifty. The college-habit, I have said, is a bit of form when it is not a penalty visited upon a youth, who, after an indifferent or worse record at a preparatory school, must be forced into and through college. All of the consequences of college-education except a degree many somehow manage to avert. College education should be offered to youth as opportunity or reward, or parents will come to be shocked by the futility of it and the almost uniformly evil sequelae thereof. And parents have the right as upon them lies the duty to insist that their sons shall not loaf and rowdyize through four years at college and, when they do acquiesce in the ways and manner and outlays of the college-loafer and the college-rounder, they must not expect a bit of parchment to convert him into an alert, ambitious, industrious youth. If they do, as they are almost certain to do, the conflict will begin.