The human mind is like a field
by Fr.Terence O'Brien S.D.B.
I SHOULD like to say a word about "Explanation" itself, what its inherent value is, and what it is that it brings about. The human mind is like a field, and like a field it can receive seeds into it, which can germinate and grow; the field produces flowers, grass, grain for food and so on, depending on how fertile it is. In unfavourable conditions, however, the seed can rot away producing nothing, weeds and harmful plants growing in its stead.
Explanation is like seed sown in the mind: it germinates and produces its own flowers, grass, grain for food. It begets assurance, understanding, confidence and leads to valuing, appreciation good will. With it the mind expands; it sheds light in the darkness.
The mind of the child seeks for explanation naturally. It does so because it is like a vast uncultivated field, hungry and anxious to
be filled with all that can make it possible for it to produce fruit. It continues to seek explanations from others until it can begin to find out things for itself, unless it is choked off and made to feel guilty about its enquiring mind: to feel that somehow or other it is wrong to ask about things trots! grown-ups who have all the knowledge,
However it is not the things the child naturally enquires about, very important though these are. which I am concerned with here, but rather the things which conic' to him to be done from his parents, teachers and others. The habits which it is insisted (rightly enough) he must acquire, the ways
of conducting himself in various eircumstancea. If these come to him with little or no explanation they can only ytith great difficulty take root and have real permanence and depth. They remain conventional ways of behaving; they never become a real part of him and consequently can drop off in after life or he abandoned when any major obstacle or difficulty is encountered.
On the other hand they become repeatedly aware of the adults' disapproval and adverse reactions when they fail Ng do what is required, and so the matter in question, whatever it may be, becomes surrounded with an atmosphere of darkness and d culty, with all that follows on in Consequence. Whereas if only there can be appropriate explanations, light penetrates and surrounds it, and the thing in question can be received and accepted in depth.
There is a difference between explanation and instruction, both in the approach and the result. Instruction leads to knowledge, explanation leads to understanding. Explanation will often Involve instruction.
At how early an age should one begin to explain? As early as possible, as soon as the child can follow language. Although the child may not understand a great deal. seed is sown in this way, which will germinate later on Again, may I say that I am not simply referring to what the child asks about, hut with regard to what we want him to do, the habits we want him to form etc. The answer, therefore. to the question, about what should we explain is everything of any importance which is required of him. This should be done when first it is required of him, with periodic renewals at different stages of his life.
Children can struggle through with homework for years without ever having been helped to understand the value of it or shown how to organize a period of it efficiently. It is necessary to encourage them to persevere at it. but they should also be helped to realize that in a period of homework of any length, a complete break of ten minutes or so is very good for them and is in no sense dodging their work.
They are naturally expected to keep silence on occasion: This is normally just an imposition as far as they are concerned; they are not generally led to understand what silence really is and the great value it has when it is used properly. How true this is also of prayer. Children say prayers at stated times because they are lold to, and expected to; they get some instruction via the Catechism but mostly do not understand and come to love prayer, or come to like to pray spontaneously with enthusiasm.