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Habit-forming A Part Of Education

It follows from the importance of habit in our lives that no small part
of education should be concerned with the development of serviceable
habits. Says James, Could the young but realize how soon they will
become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to
their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates,
good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or
of vice leaves its never-so-little scar. Any youth who is forming a
large number of useful habits is receiving no mean education, no matter
if his knowledge of books may be limited; on the other hand, no one who
is forming a large number of bad habits is being well educated, no
matter how brilliant his knowledge may be.

YOUTH THE TIME FOR HABIT-FORMING.--Childhood and youth is the great time
for habit-forming. Then the brain is plastic and easily molded, and it
retains its impressions more indelibly; later it is hard to modify, and
the impressions made are less permanent. It is hard to teach an old dog
new tricks; nor would he remember them if you could teach them to him,
nor be able to perform them well even if he could remember them. The
young child will, within the first few weeks of its life, form habits of
sleeping and feeding. It may in a few days be led into the habit of
sleeping in the dark, or requiring a light; of going to sleep lying
quietly, or of insisting upon being rocked; of getting hungry by the
clock, or of wanting its food at all times when it finds nothing else to
do, and so on. It is wholly outside the power of the mother or the nurse
to determine whether the child shall form habits, but largely within
their power to say what habits shall be formed, since they control his

As the child grows older, the range of his habits increases; and by the
time he has reached his middle teens, the greater number of his personal
habits are formed. It is very doubtful whether a boy who has not formed
habits of punctuality before the age of fifteen will ever be entirely
trustworthy in matters requiring precision in this line. The girl who
has not, before this age, formed habits of neatness and order will
hardly make a tidy housekeeper later in her life. Those who in youth
have no opportunity to habituate themselves to the usages of society may
study books on etiquette and employ private instructors in the art of
polite behavior all they please later in life, but they will never cease
to be awkward and ill at ease. None are at a greater disadvantage than
the suddenly-grown-rich who attempt late in life to surround themselves
with articles of art and luxury, though their habits were all formed
amid barrenness and want during their earlier years.

THE HABIT OF ACHIEVEMENT.--What youth does not dream of being great, or
noble, or a celebrated scholar! And how few there are who finally
achieve their ideals! Where does the cause of failure lie? Surely not in
the lack of high ideals. Multitudes of young people have Excelsior! as
their motto, and yet never get started up the mountain slope, let alone
toiling on to its top. They have put in hours dreaming of the glory
farther up, and have never begun to climb. The difficulty comes in not
realizing that the only way to become what we wish or dream that we may
become is to form the habit of being that thing. To form the habit of
achievement, of effort, of self-sacrifice, if need be. To form the habit
of deeds along with dreams; to form the habit of doing.

Who of us has not at this moment lying in wait for his convenience in
the dim future a number of things which he means to do just as soon as
this term of school is finished, or this job of work is completed, or
when he is not so busy as now? And how seldom does he ever get at these
things at all! Darwin tells that in his youth he loved poetry, art, and
music, but was so busy with his scientific work that he could ill spare
the time to indulge these tastes. So he promised himself that he would
devote his time to scientific work and make his mark in this. Then he
would have time for the things that he loved, and would cultivate his
taste for the fine arts. He made his mark in the field of science, and
then turned again to poetry, to music, to art. But alas! they were all
dead and dry bones to him, without life or interest. He had passed the
time when he could ever form the taste for them. He had formed his
habits in another direction, and now it was forever too late to form new
habits. His own conclusion is, that if he had his life to live over
again, he would each week listen to some musical concert and visit some
art gallery, and that each day he would read some poetry, and thereby
keep alive and active the love for them.

So every school and home should be a species of habit-factory--a place
where children develop habits of neatness, punctuality, obedience,
politeness, dependability and the other graces of character.

Next: Rules For Habit-forming

Previous: The Tyranny Of Habit

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