The Play State
Last week Peter went to work. He went into the scullery where Mummy was washing up and said he was going to help. He carried away a clean cup and put it in the pantry. Then he took a second. But soon he was taking away anything he could lay his little hands on, just for fun.
Presently he went out for a walk. He saw a pile of bricks where houses are being• built. " Bricks," he cried, and tried to move one to build with it himself. " Too big," said Manny. " Too big," echoed Peter. And when they got home he found some bricks that were not too big and built his house on the Window-sill.
Can we say that at one moment he was working and at another playing? He himself makes no such distinction, though sometimes he uses the word play parrotwise and sometimes he says he is washing or sweeping or helping. Some day he will make the distinction in his own mind but at present it exists only in the minds of the grown-ups who watch him. On what do they themselves base it?
The other day when reading Mr. Claude Claremont's book on The Chemistry of Thought we came upon a fascinating Appendix on the Montessori method and its relation to play. It suggested that play is distinguished from work by including always an element of make-believe. There is a pretence that what you are playing with is something that it is not, or that it matters whether you succeed or win. But work serves ends that do not have to be pretended and its emotions flow from non-fictitious situations.
It is an illuminating suggestion even if it does not adequately cover the play of Peter and the angels.
The Montessori doctrine is that children are driven into make-believe by being deprived by their adult environment of the opportunity to exercise their instincts for practical activities. Thus the little girl plays house under the table because the actual house she lives in is too big for her to look after it herself and her mother finds her in the way When she tries to help. Hence, when the age is reached at which conscious pretending becomes possible a world of make-believe comes into existence which the Montessori school dispels by providing the children with apparatus suited to their size and to the particular practical instincts that are at the moment ripe for development.
We are not altogether happy about the total abolition of the children's world of make-believe, but we see great scope for the application of the method to the world of grown-ups.
The specific practical instincts of children which Mr. Claremont stresses in this Appendix have their counterpart in adults. The normal man feels an urge to be making, shaping, planning, taking initiative or responsibility, and so on. And there is a natural medium in which these instincts can be exercised, namely in carrying out the necessary work of the world by which men feed and clothe themselves and hold society together.
But the trend of the industrialism of the machine age has been to get more and more of the world's work done without recourse to these creative and moral powers. A comparatively few high-grade organisers and technicians get full scope for them but all that is asked of the mass of producers is to submit to factory discipline and to repeat some narrowly specialised action in attendance on a machine. If their instincts for construction, design, organisation and the rest are to be satisfied it must be in something else than the world's work.
And it has been, in so far as they have been satisfied at all. Side by side with the expansion of Victorian industrialism there was a prodigious increase of fiction-writing and of the fiction-reading public; and the cinema is playing the same part during the present intensification of mechanisation and mass-production. Like children whose mother is too busy to let them help her in the housework, the workers of the machine-age have sneaked away to try to realise their humanity in a world of "let's pretend."
Mbst pathetic of all, the very crafts that have ceased to serve economic ends have been revived as hobbies.
This is a tendency of our age and progressives think that it must point to an ideal which they hold up before us as " the Leisure State." Only mechanise and mass-produce enough, they say, and the machine will do everything except three or four hours a day attendance on it. Granted that during those three or four hours a day you will be as apes, for the rest of the day you will be as men.
But will you? You are told that you will fill it with culture giving full scope for the creative instincts that industrialism has thwarted. There is mention of arts and crafts. You will be given, as it were, a doll's tea-service to wash and told to pretend that it matters. But it will not be a recovery of your manhood. It will be a return to childish ways.