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A Small Home is a Big Place

In his essay, Turning Inside Out, G.K. Chesterton makes a case for the central importance of education in the home, especially by mothers. The essay is quite timely. He sees a world in which education is seen as a grand task – so grand that it takes great experts and specialists to accomplish it. But he doesn’t think this is the way the world actually is:

Private education [i.e. education in the home] really is universal. Public education can be comparatively narrow. It would really be an exaggeration to say that the schoolmaster who takes his pupils in freehand drawing is training them in all the uses of freedom. It really would be fantastic to say that the harmless foreigner who instructs a class in French or German is talking with all the tongues of men and angels. But the mother dealing with her own daughters in her own home does literally have to deal with all forms of freedom, because she has to deal with all sides of a single human soul. She is obliged, if not to talk with the tongues of men and angels, at least to decide how much she shall talk about angels and how much about men.

In short, if education is really the larger matter, then certainly domestic life is the larger matter; and official or commercial life the lesser matter. It is a mere matter of arithmetic that anything taken from the larger matter will leave it less.

Hence his case for the massive, and massively important, role of mothers in the education of their children.

Modern Western societies would argue that in going out into the world, mothers are leaving the cramped, claustrophobic confines of a small house for the big wide world of freedom and advancement; or the small, tedious interaction with a child or two or three for ‘life out there’ to seek their fortunes on the market and with the masses. Chesterton says this line of thinking is wrong:

Every word that is said about the tremendous importance of trivial nursery habits goes to prove that being a nurse is not trivial. All tends to return of the simple truth that private work is the great one and the public work the small. The human house is a paradox, for it is larger inside than out.

His argument goes like this: society says that the State should be highly, maybe most highly, concerned with education. Mothers have the greatest opportunity to educate their children. And if these premises are true, then why on earth would the state want them separated from their children? That’s the argument (look up the essay to see it fleshed out), but that last quote is the takeaway for me.

When your children are at home, do not let them get the notion, and don’t get the notion yourself, that they are trapped in a small world. The home is, or at least should be, a place filled with God, the heavens, the stars and planets, human history, art, poetry, drama, story, love, joy, and much more. A small home should be a big place. And it ought to produce big people – who will, in turn, create their own small-big homes.

Quotes from the essay Turning Inside Out by G.K. Chesterton, from In Defense of Sanity.


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