talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

the education of children
new york, march 1, 1924

question: there is a way of educating children through suggestion during sleep. is it any good?

answer: this kind of suggestion is no better than a gradual poisoning, the destruction of the last vestige of will. education is a very complicated thing. it must be many-sided. for example, it is wrong to give children nothing but physical exercises.

generally, education is restricted to the formation of the mind. a child is made to learn poems by heart, like a parrot, without understanding anything, and parents are glad if he can do that. at school he learns things no less mechanically and feels nothing. in the development of his mind, he is as adult as a man of forty, but in his essence he remains a boy of ten. in his mind he is not afraid of anything, but in his essence he is afraid. his morals are purely automatic, purely external. just as he learns poetry by heart, so he learns morals. but a child's essence, his inner life, is left to itself, without any guidance. if a man is sincere with himself, he has to admit that neither children nor adults have any morals. our morality is all theoretical and automatic for, if we are sincere, we can see how bad we are.

education is nothing but a mask which has nothing to do with nature. people think that one upbringing is better than another, but in actual fact they are all the same. all people are the same, yet each is quick to see a mote in another's eye. we are all blind to our worst faults. if a man is sincere with himself, he enters into another's position and knows that he himself is no better. if you wish to be better, try to help another. but as people are now, they hinder each other and run each other down. moreover, a man cannot help another, cannot lift another up, because he cannot even help himself.

before all else you must think of yourself, you must try to lift yourself. you must be an egoist. egoism is the first station on the way to altruism, to christianity. but it must be egoism for a good purpose, and this is very difficult. we bring up our children to be ordinary egoists and the present state of things is the result. yet we must always judge them by ourselves. we know what we are like; we may be sure that with modern education children will be, at best, the same as ourselves.

if you wish your children well, you must first wish yourself well. for if you change, your children too will change. for the sake of their future you must, for a time, forget about them and think about yourself.

if we are satisfied with ourselves, we can continue with a clear conscience to educate our children as we have done up to now. but are you satisfied with yourselves?

we must always start with ourselves and take ourselves as an example, for we cannot see another man through the mask he wears. only if we know ourselves can we see others, for all people are alike inside and others are the same as we are. they have the same good intentions to be better, but they cannot be; it is just as hard for them; they are equally unhappy, equally full of regrets afterwards. you must forgive what there is in them now and remember the future. if you are sorry for yourself, then for the sake of the future you must be sorry in advance for others.

the greatest sin of all is to continue educating when you have begun to have doubts about education. if you believe in what you are doing, your responsibility is not as great as when you have begun to doubt.

the law demands that your child shall go to school. let him. but you, his father, must not be content with school. you know from your own experience that school provides only head knowledge—information. it develops only one center, so you must try to make this information come alive and to fill in the gaps. it is a compromise, but sometimes even a compromise is better than doing nothing.

the problem of sex: there is one important problem in children's education which is never thought about, or spoken about, correctly. a strange feature of modern education is that, in relation to sex, children grow up without guidance; with the result that this whole side is warped and twisted through generations of wrong attitudes. this is the primary cause of many wrong results in life. we see what results from such education. each one of us knows from his own experience that this important side of life is almost entirely spoiled. it is hard to find a man who is normal in this respect.

this spoiling happens gradually. manifestations of sex begin in a child from the age of four or five, and without guidance he may easily go wrong. this is the time to begin teaching, and you have your own experience to help you. it is very rare for children to be trained normally in this respect. you are often sorry for the child, but can do nothing. an when he himself begins to understand what is right and what is wrong it is usually too late and the damage is done.

guiding children in regard to sex is a very tricky thing, because each case require individual treatment and a thorough knowledge of the child's psychology. if you do not know enough, guiding him is very risky. to explain or forbid something often means to put an idea into his head, to implant an impulse toward the forbidden fruit, to arouse curiosity.

the sex center plays a very great part in our life. seventy-five percent of our thoughts come from this center, and they color all the rest.

only the people of central asia are not abnormal in this respect. there, sex education is part of the religious rites and the results are excellent. there are no sexual evils in that part of the world.

question: how much should a child be directed?

answer: generally speaking, a child's education must be based on the principle that everything must come from his own will. nothing should be given in a ready-made form. one can only give the idea, one can only guide or even teach indirectly, starting from afar and leading him to the point from something else. i never teach directly, or my pupils would not learn. if i want a pupil to change, i begin from afar, or speak to someone else, and so he learns. for, if something is told to a child directly, he is being educated mechanically and later manifests himself equally mechanically.

mechanical manifestations and the manifestations of someone who can be called an individual are different and their quality is different. the former are created; the latter create. the former are not creation—it is creation through man and not by him. the result is art which has nothing original. one can see where every line of such a work of art comes from.