L.Frank Baum, Education And Aunt Jane’s Nieces

L.Frank Baum, the famous writer of many children’s books, had an undisguised distaste and wariness for formal education.  He satirized formal education in the character of the Highly Magnified Wogglebug, who, through a mix-up in a science experiment, became human size(“highly magnified”) with an air of superiority.  The Wogglebug thinks crude puns proof of a higher intelligence and mimics the attitudes of the professors whom he watched.  He establishes the Wogglebug College where “scholars” are given magic pills to swallow that are full of information for the next exam.  But the Wogglebug and his arrogance is out of place in Baum’s world where people usually don’t brag about their accomplishments but demonstrate them through action.  Baum is more concerned with the Latin root of education,”educare”, “to draw out”, rather than the formal curriculum that originated with the ancient Greeks.

Baum placed great emphasis on moral and social education as opposed to formal education.  It is significant that in Aunt Jane’s Nieces there is almost no mention of college or formal education.  To Baum, character development is the only meaningful kind of education.  He makes this clear through the personage of Uncle John in Aunt Jane’s Nieces on Vacation(The girls have proposed starting their own newspaper in Millville, which causes Arthur Weldon, Louise’s fiancee, to condemn the venture as madness.):  “I’m educating my girls to be energetic and self-reliant.  I want to bring out and develop every spark of latent ability there is in them.  Whether the Millville Tribune succeeds or fails is not important;  it will… tax their best resources of intellect and business ability…”  For Baum, intellect is sharpened through challenging experiences instead of studying books.  Baum was a doer and this spirit permeates all ten of the Aunt Jane’s Nieces volumes.

Baum believed that only through hard work, persistence and true friendship could an individual’s mental life unfold.   Using Uncle John as a kindly mentor, he subjects the nieces to difficult obstacles they need to overcome.  The nieces are exposed to violence, dissipation, rampant corruption, condescension and abduction, but they always persevere.  Despite being competitors for an estate, they learn to appreciate each others strengths and help each other to deal with their weaknesses.  The last volume in the series, Aunt Jane’s Nieces in the Red Cross, subject them to their toughest test:  the agonies of war.  This dark book, stark in its description of war casualties, shows the nieces as caring, active participants as they heal the wounded and deal with the psychological trauma of war.  But they have been well-trained by their teacher, Life, and are able to bring joy and comfort when needed, and so are educated in the highest sense of the term.