The School

THERE is no universal type of “The School ” in the United States. Indeed, such a thing as The School no more exists in reality than The Child or The Teacher; and consequently there are hardly any educational precepts which are universally applicable without exception or qualification. The country school is very different from the city school, and the parochial school from the school supported by taxation ; the boarding-school and the day school exhibit different methods and results; and the private school is of many sorts, — sometimes merely the personal venture of one man or of one woman, sometimes slightly endowed by an individual, a family, or a denomination with a piece of ground and a wooden building, and sometimes largely endowed with ample and beautiful grounds, permanent buildings, and funds for maintenance. Even the unendowed privateventure schools manifest great variety, some of them matching the public schools in paucity of teachers and meagreness of equipment, while others supply a teacher to every five or six pupils, and provide all possible means of illustration and manual training. American schools also differ widely in regard to their religious tone or atmosphere. The public schools are frequently conducted in theory without direct religious teaching of any sort; and this theory is pretty well carried into practice in those communities which contain a considerable proportion of Roman Catholics or Jews, but is not strictly observed in those large portions of the United States where the Catholics or the Jews are but few. Among the private schools, too, there is great diversity in regard to religious instruction and the direct effort made to bring about the admission of the pupils to church membership, with or without the consent of their parents. In some of the private and endowed schools the preparation of the pupils for the first communion, confirmation, or joining the church is one of the prime objects of the school, and the religious motive is kept constantly before the minds of pupils from an early age. In other private and endowed schools, no attention is paid to the bringing of the children into any church ; and the religious motive is but rarely appealed to, these things being intentionally left to the family and the church. Again, with regard to physical training and the care of the body, there is great variety of practice in American schools. Some of the endowed boarding-schools give more time to athletic sports than to Latin, English, science, mathematics, or history; while many of the public and private day schools pay only the scantiest attention to bodily exercise.

The chief characteristic of the American development of schools within the last thirty years is the decided improvement of the schools as machines. The national aptitude for mechanical invention has here been impressively exhibited. Both public and private schools have been better organized, and have been provided with better buildings, apparatus, and books; and the children in them have been more accurately graded with respect to mental size, capacity, and attainment, — just as the chickens which come through the incubator and the brooder on large hen farms are more accurately sorted and grouped according to size than any single hen’s brood can be, so that the stronger may not hurt or starve the weaker. Great improvement in rural schools has resulted from bringing the children daily from the farms by wagons into the central village, in order that one large graded school can be carried on at the centre, instead of many widely scattered small schools in which accurate grading is impossible. This improved machinery would be a doubtful blessing, if its smooth working did not require and encourage the employment of a superior class of teachers ; but the evils of the machine — the lack of attention to the individual child, the waste of time for the bright children, and the tendency to work for a fair average product instead of one highly diversified — are done away with so soon as a large proportion of teachers to pupils is employed — such as one teacher for from sixteen to twenty-five pupils — while the many advantages of the good machine remain.

The American idea that every child should go to school is not carried into effect in a single state. The National Educational Association has lately called attention to the fact that in the so-called Indian Territory, which is under the control of Congress, three fourths of the population are reported to be without schools for their children. As regards school administration, there is great diversity of practice in the American cities. New methods have been tried within the last ten years in many important cities; but there is no agreement as yet even on such fundamental matters as the best number for a school committee, and the best mode of selecting the committee. In some cities the school administration has been completely separated from other municipal business; but in others the board of aldermen or the common council controls the school committee in its expenditures, and even in its appointments. So numerous are the experiments now going on in school administration, and so successful have been some of the most radical experiments, that it is altogether likely that the next few years will see great changes in the methods and forms of school administration. At any rate, the last ten years have been a period of active and instructive experimentation.

There are now a considerable number of schools in the United States which undertake to supply all the influences of home, church, and school, at the most impressionable period of life. Such are the endowed schools for the children of rich people, the cheap country academies in or near which the great majority of pupils must board, their homes being at a distance, the preparatory departments maintained by many Western and Southern colleges, and the private schools, situated in the country, which rely on boarding pupils. These numerous schools have prospered during the last twenty years, because of the increasing number of families that can afford to send their children to school away from home, and because of the great increase of the urban population at the expense of the rural. The contrast is strong between the public day school in a city, which spends on each pupil only from $30 to $40 a year, and the endowed school in the country, where each child costs its parents from $800 to $1000 a year, vacations not included.

American school conditions are, then, so very different, that one would hardly expect to find any general principles of equal application under such diversified conditions. Nevertheless, there seem to be a few unconnected considerations which apply in some measure to all schools, although they must be applied in different ways by parents or teachers who have chiefly in mind a particular child or a particular school. These considerations, however, though unconnected, naturally fall into two groups,—those which concern education in general, and apply equally well to school training and to home training, and those which are chiefly, though by no means exclusively, applicable to schools. In the first group four distinct topics will be discussed, and then in a second group six mental habits will be considered which schools of every grade, large or small, in city or country, should endeavor to form in their pupils, with or without assistance from the pupils’ homes.

(1) For centuries there has been a discussion going on between the advocates of the useful or utilitarian in schools and the advocates of the ideal or humanistic. This discussion is still rife, but in American practice the advocates of the useful have certainly gained much ground within the last twenty years, partly because it has been perceived of late that the utilitarian and the humane are often identical, or, if not identical, consistent and harmonious. That a given piece of work, or a given occupation, may contribute to earning a livelihood does not prove that it is not good training in the humanistic sense. The training involved in making or doing certain things is not impaired if the things made are things which other people desire, or the things done are things which other people want to have done. Thus, to do chores about a barn or a house, if the chores are well done, is excellent training for any boy, the usefulness of the chores being no injury to them as means of training. Reading, writing, and ciphering contribute to the earning of a better livelihood than an illiterate person is likely to earn. They contribute, to be sure, to much else; but it is no injury to the training which the acquisition of these arts supplies that the arts themselves are useful. On the other hand, that a given occupation is pursued for sport, and no longer as a means of livelihood, does not necessarily withdraw it from the category of things useful for training. The natural boy’s pursuit of frogs, birds, and woodchucks is an informing survival of a habit indispensable to primitive man. Hunting and fishing were the most necessary means of livelihood for savages. They are pursued now as sports as well as for livelihood, and there is good training in them when practiced merely as sports. They teach civilized man alertness, accuracy of observation, quickness of action, endurance, and patience, just as they developed these valuable qualities in generations of savages who never knew what humanism, altruism, and idealism were. The justification of unproductive athletic sports, like ball games, races of all sorts, and dancing, lies in the facts that they develop in civilized man some of the invaluable qualities which hunting and fishing developed in savages, and that they recreate and revive in people who lead the unnatural life of civilization the power for useful work. They also defend young people against laziness and vice by affording pleasurable activities and innocent gladness. The coöperative motive comes into play in certain sports which demand a measure of selfdenying action on the part of each player to secure the success of the side or group to which he belongs. Whenever the success of the group calls for sacrifice of personal pleasure or distinction on the part of individual members, there is altruistic training in the sport. In regard to the cultivation of unselfishness, however, mere sports are inferior to productive labor, not only in childhood, but throughout life ; because they do not, as a rule, involve planning to supply the wants of others. Whether a given occupation or pursuit affords good training or not depends, then, not on the usefulness or uselessness of the thing done, but on the value of the powers or qualities which the occupation develops.

The contempt in which cultivated persons have habitually held the useful or utilitarian in education has probably been due to the association of the useful with the sellish or mercenary. Now, the nineteenth century gradually developed a new conception of the useful as the serviceable, to one’s self through others, and to others through one’s self. This new conception of the useful ought to modify profoundly the whole course of education, in its materials, methods, and results. Humanism and idealism eternally contend against animalism and selfishness, and seek perfection. On the way to idealism, altruism needs to be cultivated in children to offset their natural egotism, and to enlarge their conception of usefulness, so that it shall be no longer conterminous with selfishness. In this view, the more productive the labor of children can be made, whether at school or at home, the better for the children. Any employment for children which enables them to produce something wanted by others affords training in altruism, and is therefore idealistic or humanistic, if the motive be made plain, and be enforced, and if the operation itself afford either mental or bodily training. The child, from the first years that it can do anything serviceable to others, ought to get training in useful work both at home and at school; and the part of the school in this training should be planned with the utmost care, from the earliest school days. The main reason why the natural bringing up of children on a farm is better than any artificial substitute which city schools can supply is that the children on a farm get, in a natural way, this training in altruism and coöperative productiveness, while they help father and mother in their daily labors. The money motive of productive labor is not always useful to children ; but the coöperative, unselfish motive in production invariably has great moral value, no matter what the nature of the work may be, whether washing dishes, shelling peas, bringing wood for the stove, tending horses, driving the cows to pasture, or weeding the strawberry bed. Producing something useful by its own labor gives keen satisfaction to a child, just as it does to a man. What Washington wanted to do, when he finally retired to Mt. Vernon, was " to make and sell a little flour annually.” Many a bereaved woman has found more consolation in tending a garden, and in making good use of the flowers, than in all Milton, Watts, and Tennyson. This wholesome human quality all schools ought to develop systematically from the beginning. There lies the solid foundation of the kindergarten methods. That is one merit of forging, carpentering, sewing, cooking, basketry, and gardening as school work. One of the advantages for children of reciting poetry, telling stories, and writing letters is that in such exercises they not only absorb but give out. Enabling the children to make something or do something which is acceptable to other people ought to be a leading object at every school.

It is no longer necessary, then, to confound the utilitarian with the selfish, or to imagine that whatever in early training is useful must be materialistic, or contributory to the animal or to other lower needs of man rather than to his spiritual needs. There should, of course, be careful limitation in the use of productive labor for children as training for their bodies and souls. This labor by children should seldom be pushed to the point of fatigue, and should never be carried on till it becomes automatic activity,— such automatic action of eye and hand as makes piecework in a factory pecuniarily profitable to both employer and employed. The training motive of the serviceable labor should always be kept in mind; and the labor should not be enforced by the mere earning motive, or by fear of punishment.

(2) Consideration of this sort of discipline in real service for others leads naturally to the suggestion of another amendment in home and school training, which runs counter to cherished practice in education. It has long been believed that the minds of children should be opened and interested through products of the imagination and not through things real, — through fairy stories, myths, nonsense verses, and tales of rogues, monsters, mermaids, phantoms, ghosts, witches, demons, and torments. Much of this nursery and school material is immoral, ugly, and horrible ; but it is passed down from generation to generation as something sacred and improving. A great deal of the reading material supplied to young children is of this quality ; so that the mind of the bookish child gets filled with this unreal rubbish, instead of being charged with natural and real wonders. The school should provide real things for the observation and study of children ; for the real can be made just as fascinating and wonderful as the unreal, and it has the advantage of being true. Contact with the real tends always to make the child’s mind less introverted, and less absorbed in imagined scenes or situations which excite emotion but call for no action, and the child itself more competent to do something for others, less liable to the selfishness of passive reception, and more disposed to active outflowing toward others.

(3) A great object in school life, no matter what the grade or kind of school, is the bringing of a child into intimate contact with other children, and with other adults than its parents. It was at school that most of us, whose family life was reasonably private, learned the difference between the bully and the protector, the selfish and the self-forgetting, the deep and the shallow, the loud and the quiet, the truthful and the false, the clean and the foul, the pioneer and the conserver, the leader and the follower. It is astonishing how early in life we begin to make these distinctions. Little children soon learn to discriminate between adults in these respects, as well as between their contemporaries. When a little child has had several teachers, his observations on their mental and moral qualities are very instructive to him, though the instruction is all unconsciously received. What a series of moral lessons is involved in the child’s process of becoming convinced that this teacher is fair or unfair, or that teacher truthful or untruthful ! It is at school that all these elementary lessons in human nature are ordinarily learned, particularly in the country, where each family is more or less isolated. The alleys and tenements of a crowded city give their children many other opportunities of learning the moral and immoral qualities of associates and neighbors ; but the country child, or the protected child in the city, must get these important lessons at school. The social teaching of the school is so important that its quality in this respect sometimes dwarfs all others in the minds of parents; and this is true of the poorest classes in American society as well as of the richest. It is often said that wellto-do parents choose the school for their children by the social standing of its pupils. It is equally true that tenementhouse parents, whenever choice is permitted to them, endeavor to keep their children out of schools where they would meet undesirable children of the same walk in life or of a higher walk. Thus, parents of American birth will keep their children out of the public kindergarten and primary school, rather than bring them into association with a large proportion of children of foreign parentage. The insuperable objection of Southern whites to schools which receive negro children as well as white is an instance in point. In the Northern states a few negro children may be sent to a school mostly white without injury to the white children ; but in the rural districts of the South it would be quite another thing to send a few white children to a school mostly negro. In New York City, which is said to contain 600,000 Jews, if any school, public or private, comes to include a majority of Jews, Christian parents will avoid it for their children if possible. These difficulties merely illustrate the very great importance which attaches to the social training of school life.

(4) The reaction of the school upon the home is something not sufficiently considered, even among people who are accustomed to the theory of what is called “ universal ” education. Yet this reaction ought to be one of the chief elevating influences of every school, particularly for those families which lack the elements of the intellectual life. Even the mechanical effects of the school on family life are of the utmost importance. The withdrawal of the children from the care of the mother for five or six hours a day makes possible for many a woman the proper discharge of her duties as wife and mother. The childbearing mother, in particular, needs to be relieved for several hours a day of the care of her children who are above three years of age, and to feel during this relief that the children are safe and under good influences. This view of the school is a just and proper one ; for the immense majority of the mothers of the nation not only bear the children, but do all the household work, and the greater part of the making and mending of the children’s clothes. The public school in city or country thus helps that family life on which the well-being of the state absolutely depends. One reason that mothers in the crowded quarters of American cities are apt to prefer the first grade of the primary school to the kindergarten is that the kindergarten has but one morning session of three hours, whereas the primary school has two sessions covering five or sometimes six hours. To relieve well-to-do families of all care of their children between halfpast eight in the morning and five in the afternoon, some private day schools now offer to provide luncheon, sports, and some afternoon study under supervision. For rich families who live in cities, the endowed or the private school in the country affords a means of rescuing the children, and particularly the boys, from the unwholesome effects of luxurious city life. The country school, or the private tutor in the country, is the inevitable adjunct of a rich family’s city life, unless indeed the family is content to forego for its children the out-of-door sports and other -wholesome interests which the country affords.

Since the opening of the nineteenth century, school methods have changed from generation to generation greatly for the better; so that each adult generation has been able to learn something from the schools of its children. And inasmuch as good literature of all the ages is constantly made more accessible, it may be hoped that through a good school’s use of good literature, old and new, each successive generation may profit by the schools of its children. The children returning from school ought to bring into their homes some fresh daily interest in what the children have been doing at school, or in what they are expected to do at home. Whenever the children’s manners and customs are improved through the good influence of the school, this improvement ought also to be manifested in the homes. The kindergartners in the public school system are now expected to visit the homes of their pupils and hold mothers’ meetings in the afternoons, when the kindergarten is closed ; and it is hard to say in which part of the day these well-trained women make themselves more useful to society, in the morning with the children, or in the afternoon with the parents. It is one of the most delightful things about the good school or the good college, that its influence on the intellectual life thus goes back to the homes from which its pupils or students come. Many a wellto-do family is much enlivened mentally by the weekly or quarterly return of the son or daughter from boarding-school or college. The fathers and mothers go to school and college again in the fresh experience of their children. This influence takes effect at both ends of the social scale. It contends with the poverty of the poor and the luxury of the rich.

The second group of considerations, applicable directly to schools of all kinds, deals with the cultivation of certain mental habits indispensable to that continuous growth of the soul throughout life which characterizes the finest human beings, and is the ultimate test of the success of the education given in youth.

(1) The first of these habits is the habit of strenuous, undivided attention. The length of time through which this attention can be maintained — which causes fundamental differences between adults — is not at first important; but the faculty itself needs to be developed from the earliest years. A little child can attend strenuously only for a very brief interval of time, like ten seconds or thirty seconds; an adult may perhaps after long training be able to give undivided attention for several minutes, but not for hours, or even one hour. The kind of attention which it is important to cultivate is that undivided attention which inhibits all other sounds, sights, or objects, except the particular object of the instant’s attention. It gives good promise of mental power in a child, if it is hard to call his attention away from the book or the game to which, for the moment, he is giving his mind. The capacity of complete mental absorption in the immediate object of contemplation is the precise thing to be aimed at. School discipline sometimes aims at a habit of prompt obedience to signals which interferes with the practice of intense attention. When, for instance, all the children in the room are expected to spring to their feet at the ringing of a bell or at the teacher’s word of command, it is a question whether the boy or girl who lingers a little, or starts only when he sees the others start, was not better employed at the moment than the majority who rise promptly at the signal. The chances are that the mother who becomes impatient when her boy, who is reading, does not attend to her call, is really wishing to interfere with the development of the most valuable mental power a human being can acquire. The wool-gathering, inactive, sluggish child is wholly incapable of this strenuous attention ; but it must be a dull teacher or a dull mother who cannot tell the difference between the child whose mind is never intent on the occupation of the moment, and the child whose mind is so intent that it neither sees nor hears anything from outside itself.

(2) Next in value come two habits which are so opposed to each other that care must always be taken not to destroy one in developing the other, namely, the habits of observation and of reading. By observation in this sense is meant the direct acquiring of facts through intelligent use of one’s own senses, and not through descriptions given by other people, either orally or in print. Children used to books will memorize what they read about birds, insects, kittens, or puppies, and seem to know something about these creatures, although they have never examined for themselves bird, insect, cat, or dog. Training in observing should be supplied by every school, quite independently of the training in reading ; but how few schools, whether primary or secondary, supply such training in any just proportion ! A greatly preponderating amount of bookwork is adverse to the development of the power of observation ; so that it is easy for a book-loving child to grow up to the college age without really cultivating at all the accurate use of his own senses, particularly if he lives in a large town or city, — an evil condition which applies to a larger and larger proportion of American children. In schools fortunately situated in the country, the excessive development of highly competitive sports may interfere to a serious extent with the cultivation of the powers of observation. To be sure, quick observation is required in skillful players of baseball or football; but the observation needed in those games soon becomes automatic, and loses its training or developing power. College teachers observe that, since the secondary schools began to cultivate the ball games in an exaggerated way, the number of students who come to college with developed habits of natural history observation, and love of natural history exploration on foot, is diminishing.

(3) The habit of reading is much easier to implant than the habit of observation, because of the immense variety of attractive books, and their accessibility. The good school should guide the child’s reading from its earliest years, protecting it from rubbish, and leading it into real literature ; for as means of lifelong intellectual growth, and of defense or refuge from the inevitable ills of life, there is nothing better than good books, even though one’s daily occupation leaves but a few minutes a day for reading. School and college can do nothing better for the rising generation than to implant this habit; and that public education which does not implant it on a great scale has in good measure failed.

(4) The training of the reasoning faculty is the next function of the school. In reasoning, the selection of the premises is the all-important part of the process. Now, the premises are arrived at by observation, or reading, or both. Given correct premises, most fairly intelligent people will draw the right conclusions. The main reason for the painfully slow progress of the human race is to be found in the inability of the great mass of people to establish correctly the premises of an argument. In the first place, an unreasoning confidence in the rightfulness of a conclusion makes adults, as well as children, careless as to the certainty of the premises. In the next place, the great majority of people are wholly uninstructed in some of the commonest fallacies ; they have no notion of the difference between an antecedent event and a true cause ; and they have no conception of the difficulty of really ascertaining or demonstrating a fact. Nobody has ever told them how very hard it is to prove a negative; nobody has ever put them on their guard against the common deceptions through the senses ; nobody has ever explained to them that it is impossible for most persons to repeat a sentence just as it was uttered, and that in consequence a given statement, transmitted through two or three mouths, is sure to be changed, and may be perverted, or reversed, without any serious moral defect in the transmitters. Every school ought to give direct instruction in fact-determining and truth - seeking ; and the difficulties of these processes ought to be plainly and incessantly pointed out. It is a common belief that the newspapers intentionally exaggerate and lie ; but the fact is that the young people who collect news for the daily papers have had little instruction in ascertaining facts, sifting evidence, or scientifically seeking the truth. Many of them, consequently, hardly know the difference between fiction and fact, between romance and truth ; and the editors are often in the same condition of mind. Hence a good part of the training which the public gets from the newspapers is training in incredulity, or in sifting the probable or credible out from the mass of things that are “ not so,” or in reserving judgment until the facts are established.

(5)In all education of the young, and indeed in the whole training of life, it is a fundamental object to train the willforce of the individual and his power to originate thoughts and actions. After all, the will is the individual; and it is the ultimate end of living to make that will work justly and effectively. The weak-willed boy or man is the one most liable to go astray ; he has not force enough to be alert and industrious ; he cannot say no ; he cannot resist the seduction of the moment; he is at the mercy of casual companions. Both home and school training should therefore be directed to the cultivation of the individual child’s will-power. This cultivation can come only through choosing and doing ; it cannot come through submission, unreasoning obedience, inaction, or any sort of passiveness. In this respect, a child’s training closely resembles a whole people’s training. Democracy makes choices or decisions, and acts for itself. It does many things much worse than they might be done, or indeed are done, under a despotism ; but it wills and acts for itself, and thereby gets an education in the selfcontrol and self-created law and order, which form a virile and effective national character. For the child, as for the nation, there is virtue in deciding and doing, even though the things done are not done well. It sometimes seems to be the policy of elaborate school systems that the children are not to do things that they do ill, or at least that they are to repeat everything they attempt until they can do it well. This is a very unfortunate limitation of choosing and doing by children. They ought to attempt hundreds of things that they cannot perform with any approach to adult skill. They ought to use tools which they may injure in the using ; and the teacher ought to be content to have them try a little more difficult new thing, rather than repeat the identical thing in which they have not succeeded. There is more training in a new kindred attempt than in a repetition, if fresh observations and judgments are involved. False starts and unsuccessful experiments should only stimulate them to new and better directed attempts. It is the object of education to develop, not automatic action through long practice, but will-force, and the power and inclination to find or make one’s own way.

(6) Finally, there are certain sentiments which every school, public, private, or endowed, ought to help to strengthen and foster in the minds and hearts of its pupils. The world is still governed by sentiments, and not by observation, acquisition, and reasoning; and national greatness and righteousness depend more on the cultivation of right sentiments in the children than on anything else. The United States now contains such a variety of races, with such different histories, that the inculcation of the sentiments on which republican government depends is vastly more difficult than it was a hundred years ago. Such very different races as the Russians, Germans, Scandinavians, Jews, Bohemians, Armenians, and Sicilians have of course inherited diverse national stocks of sentiment and tradition. Thus the Jewish race has a stronger family feeling than any other in the civilized world. The Sicilians, who have had on the whole a miserable experience of government and its doings, are naturally destitute of the sentiments which lie at the foundation of successful free government. It is inevitable that a people on whom the Protestant Reformation has taken no effect whatever should feel differently toward the rights of free inquiry and personal liberty, from a people that has been trained by the experience of centuries to respect the rights of the individual soul, as Protestantism has expounded them. Now, the sentiments which American schools ought to cherish and inculcate are family love, respect for law and public order, love of freedom, and reverence for truth and righteousness. Incidentally, but incessantly, they ought also to teach the doctrine that we are all members one of another. Fortunately this last doctrine can be amply and forcibly illustrated by the experience of every household. The immediate dependence of one household on many others, and of one community on many others, has really become formidable during the last century; since every individual has become dependent on other people for the necessaries of life. It is high time that a direct and vigorous inculcation of the fundamental and indispensable social sentiments should be deliberately made a part of the discipline of every school and college in the country. There is not a religion, or a religious denomination, in the world which does not recognize these sentiments, or which objects to any of them ; and minor religious differences should not be allowed to prevent the teaching of these primary principles to all the children in the land.

Charles W. Eliot.