A Boys' School in Utopia

THERE exists a wide-spread complaint against the kind of workman turned out by our American educational system. People have been looking in vain to see the universities which they have cherished at the expense of millions of dollars turn out scholars and statesmen of the first rank. They recognize great ability, great power, and great learning, but not inspiration. Perceiving at the same time a pernicious spread of luxury, in a generation whose proport ion of indolent persons is great, they begin to doubt the wisdom of their investment.

The schools and colleges meanwhile have been made aware of their shortcomings by a constant fire of criticism, dating from I don’t know how far back. A well-to-do parent finds his son at twenty-four years old running errands on State Street. He turns to the private school which his son attended and asks, ‘Why did you teach my boy Latin, French, and German, and make him read the first three books of Paradise Lost, and Dryden’s Palamon and Arcite, etc.? Look at him now — doing arithmetic from morning till night, and it will be two years at least before he is any use on “the street.” You have not prepared him for life.'

The justification given by the school for this young man’s training has been two-fold: first, that any work has the disciplinary virtue of all work, so that it does not much matter what the work is so long as it is work; second, when the baffled parent has complained further, ‘But why should not you have provided work which fitted my son directly for the life he is going to lead, instead of work which fitted him for a life he is not going to lead?' the school has replied, ‘There will be time enough to learn the work which is to be done in later life, therefore now we offer those studies which result in culture; for the school should give a broader outlook than would be possible in preparing directly for a life’s work.’

Here is an antagonism between culture and drill. Both must have their due, but the school, in trying to meet the claims of each, tried to kill two birds with one stone. A means of obtaining culture, that is, the study of the classics, was applied to the use of drill in work, with the hope that culture would also be gained. Conjugations and declensions were made odious because there is poetry in Latin and Greek, and in the end the Iliad of Homer was used as a drudge. Is it strange that the boy came out with neither culture nor habits of work?

Hearing such criticism, the old-fashioned schoolmaster may explain that the natural scholar never finds fault with this method, while the boy to whom Homer is a drudge gets as much culture as he will get at all by being forced to work at the classics. He would have us know that all knowledge, especially all poetry not directly of our own time and nation, is enclosed by a tough husk, and until the young scholar is made to crack this husk, whether he wishes to or not, he cannot get the taste of the hidden meat; he therefore might as well learn to work in this way as in any other. There is undoubtedly truth in this view, and yet scarcely any one is satisfied with the results, from the point of view either of culture or of work; and the heart of the matter is, that to use for drill what should be studied for its own truth and beauty is not culture. This fact vitiates the value of such material for drill as well, for though it is good for boys to butt against a hard task, the use of which they cannot see, and at times to conform to a uniform standard with other fellows, even when that standard is an artificial one; nevertheless, when the school life is followed immediately by the relaxations of college life; when the work that is done, and the results which are obtained, are allowed to relapse into oblivion and are proven to have no purpose beyond self-culture, the value of school discipline is for the most part lost.

When we turn from the old system to examine the remedies which have been adopted, we find little relief. Socalled practical subjects are added to the number of studies already inadequately learned in school, so that a boy has a harder time than ever to learn anything thoroughly. The attack upon Latin does not propose to substitute anything which works out better; and the amount of any practical subject that is given in a preparatory school does not count for much beside the practical knowledge required by the world.

A criticism other than the attack upon the classics hits nearer the mark. The brain is not a library or store-room into which knowledge is to be imported and stored, but rather it has the attributes of a muscle which must be exercised. Yet in our education there is an incongruous difference between the treatment of the brain and the treatment of the muscles. If a man wishes to learn to dig, he starts at once to dig. But with the brain it is another story: ‘the educated’ have exercised it for some fifteen years before beginning to use it appreciably for any practicable purpose — a custom which has been doggedly continued, in spite of the growing dissatisfaction.

There are then two evils in our system which have been assailed by the criticisms of the day, and which as yet have not been adequately remedied: first, the confusing of studies for culture with disciplinary work or drill; second, the failure to appreciate the real needs of the brain. But there is a deeper evil which includes them both, and which has been but vaguely appreciated in current criticism. This is not a question of subject-matter, it is not wholly a question of method. It is the evil inherent in the study of Latin, Greek, or any other subject, when it cannot be recognized as palpably useful to one’s fellow men. I do not mean useful at the end of a long period of time by the fruit of some remote and undefined mental advantage, but useful in ways which are felt by the community in which one lives. Athletics has its hold on schools and colleges because it is the one conspicuous opportunity for the free play of a man’s better instincts. What is done on the athletic field is done for the school.

In the early days of our country, when education meant simply intellectual development, the hard discipline of nature, the farm work and household work, were so near to each individual, and the question of earning a living was so pressing, that the more fundamental part of education was taken as a matter of course. This is no longer true. And now we are dangerously near to letting the foundations of education crumble away while we putter over the superstructure.

The really old-fashioned educational system upon which ours is founded had a vigorous common sense about it. School ended for the boy at fourteen or fifteen, the freedom of college began at once, and the boy must stand on his own feet. An intellectual standard of a comparatively uniform type was demanded of college graduates. Roughly speaking there was, outside of mathematics and the limited number of sciences then studied, only one system of thought of any importance to be learned, and this involved a real knowledge of Latin and English literature. To be without this was to be, in a sense, unfit. The college provided the simple and direct means of mastering this system; and young men set themselves to the task of acquiring it. The pressure of real life therefore was felt throughout the system, and the spirit of earnestness permeated education. In other words, the use of one’s studies was not lost sight of as now.

We cannot go back to the simple and vigorous régime of the past, nor would we think of abandoning the richer opportunities of to-day. Yet we are none the less bound to solve the problem, as the older generation did, of learning to work while young. Therefore something must be found to replace the pressure which the world and its overshadowing difficulties formerly exerted.

The function of the school is to develop the individual in relation to the community in which he lives, in relation especially to his use. The change which is needed is one which will affect the attitude of mind of the schoolboy. Instead of coming to school to be served by highly-paid experts and scholars, the student should be taught that he must do the serving; that what he does is not for himself, but for the school. The great primary lesson of life is that we must serve our country; why then should not education begin by our learning to serve our school? I do not mean by this that a pupil must get high marks for the sake of the school. This is dinned into him already. It is an artificial stimulus. He knows that so far as the school is concerned it is only a point of pride, for the real good of high marks is a good to himself. I mean he must serve the school by taking some responsibility, such as he would take were the school a community in which each individual must do his share of the work.

There are two great advantages which becoming of use will bring the boy: first, direct contact with facts; second, responsibility.

Let us imagine a school planned as a community, in which much or all of the necessary work of maintaining life is shared or accomplished by the scholars; and let us imagine the different opportunities for the learning of practical lessons by experience in such a school. In the first place, there is transportation. Much can be learned by carrying one ton of weight one mile in distance, whether by hand or horse, by steam, electricity, or gasolene. A small farm school which should make its boys carry all provisions from a distant railroad station, maintaining horses for this purpose, raising hay to feed them, etc., would have an enormous advantage over some of our large private schools, in developing a certain form of common sense; and if such experience were given on a large scale in schools throughout the country, and the problems of transportation were thus made personal, some of the current hallucinations about ' big business ’ would be dissipated.

Another opportunity is the school newspaper. A school paper should be an organic part of school life, instead of a froth which floats over the top of it. If masters could make the paper an organ of their own, with scholars working under them, it would give a great impetus to the practice of writing. It is a foolish superstition, this letting the boys ‘do it all themselves.’ Any normal boy would rather do something which is worth while under a man than do something which is not worth while ‘all himself.’

Accounting and banking enter into the life of every school. These are not such mysteries as boys are brought up to suppose, for the handling of money is not, as we are sometimes vulgarly taught, demoralizing, but tends rather to produce exactitude, fair-mindedness and veracity. Here the opportunity for sound instruction is great.

The employments of weaving, of bronze work, of furniture construction and the like, as taught in sloyd schools, are interesting in this connection as presenting opportunities for production, and perhaps for export trade. Any one of these would be an unmitigated nuisance if introduced artificially for the sake of developing a special side of school life; yet any might come naturally as following some natural advantage which the school possessed, and might become of inestimable benefit to the inhabitants. The George Junior Republic, for instance, has a bakery which has a good trade outside the Republic, not simply because friends will buy its products out of sentiment, but because it can sell bread in neighboring towns. The Thompson’s Island Farm and Trade School has an excellent weather bureau; and were our school in Florida we should have orange groves, in Dakota wheat-fields and a flour-mill, and so on; the education always taking color from the uses and strength of the community to which the school belonged.

There are, besides, the problems of lighting, of heating, of caring for the grounds, of plumbing and carpentering, even of laundry work and cooking. It is all very well to take some of these responsibilities off the boy’s shoulders, but why should he be guarded from them all as if they were harmful, or only allowed to come in contact with them in vacations or as a sort of play? Each is a trade, industry, or art; and a large part of life consists in these simple matters of maintenance. A boy will therefore profit much by a period of farm life, in which he and his fellows are thrown upon their own resources so that there is no avoiding the physical dirty work involved, or in a little different way, by experiences like the week-end camping trips taken by the boys of the Thatcher School in California. To be sure, — financially, that is, in relation to the outside world, — our school exempts its scholars from the burden of maintenance, and mayor may not find it expedient to establish an internal financial system. Moreover, the responsibilities and details of lighting, of heat ing, of providing, are not easy to deal with. If, however, some part of them can become a feature in a school-boy’s life, there is a solid gain to him, and whether these particular duties be given or withheld, a fellow should in some way learn what it means to earn his passage. Thus the school may keep the aim of self-sufficiency and eventual self-support clearly before its citizens.

The community life brings a great deal of education of the most fundamental sort, incidentally. It teaches the dependence of one part of the social mechanism on another, and the relation of the parts to the whole. It tends to counteract the dangerous tendency of class differentiation. It shows the uses of wealth, and the nature of accumulation, with its responsibilities and dangers. It shows the importance of manual work, and at the same time the preëminence of thought. In a small community these lessons are written in a language which boys can understand, and it is good for them to get a first-hand knowledge of the simple factors which make up the complicated problems of political economy. There is something farcical about the study of economics for men who have not worked for a living, bought and sold, or by some other actual experience learned what these facts are about which the lecturer is speaking. To many men each year in business brings increasingly an appetite for the thought and discussion upon economic questions which were to them in college as philosophy to a child.

Not only in such instances as this, but by the whole course of study in school and college, a boy is kept away from the stuff upon which the mill of his mind is to work. Both by his years of recitations at school, and by his endless listening to lectures in collegers, he kept away from facts. If to see a fact in the distance were sufficient, such instruction might suffice; but to get the feel of a fact, to be able to gauge it, to know whether it kicks or bites, is what a man needs. And we may see examples of failure in our systematic education throughout the length and breadth of the country when, in city elections, the man and his followers whose principal education has been in the streets and bar-rooms, obtain the power.

Greater than the value of contact with facts is the value of responsibility. In a man’s life, it is the arrival of some responsibility which arouses his powers and makes durable the qualities of manliness. The effect of responsibility is instantaneous. It is like a magnet in its power to charge the individual with the faculties needed for the matter in hand: a light is generated among the fragments of information. Even after a systematic education, these fragments seem to lie in the mind in a chance order until this light appears and shows them ready for use; then abilities develop which never would develop, even with practice, without responsibility.

Why are we ever allowed to get a training without putting it to use? The learner should test his acquirement in some market, however small, for we ought to use our powers while acquiring them, or soon afterwards, and it is but rarely that a science or an art requires a long, wasteful preparation. The advanced forms of knowledge can wait till the appetite for them is keen, as it is sure to become in a boy who, feeling the responsibility of duty, recognizes that advanced knowledge will help him to perform that duty. But now the rich men’s sons, and often poor men’s sons, too, who attend private and public schools lacking responsibility, and being kept constantly at w’ork, whose standard of excellence is artificial because arbitrarily chosen by masters, become pauperized, literally pauperized, so that they do not know how to be of marketable service to their fellow men, and cannot become so until their whole attitude of mind is changed and they have begun at the bottom and worked up again. In our community school the dealing with real facts involves the taking of real responsibility, and the discipline of real work will be the result.

The attempts to introduce self-government into schools do not by any means necessarily accomplish the same purpose, and often do not succeed in establishing a whit more self-government than the old-fashioned system unwittingly provided. A minute supervision over the boy’s life is preposterous in the light of his real opportunities for doing wrong, not only in vacations but during play hours, and that part of his life which counts is this free part. There is moreover a vicious trick in the manner in which these attempts have sometimes been made. This is to give, consciously or unconsciously, the appearance of self-government, without the reality. One instance of this is the introducing of a form of legislature, in order that boys may play at government. All such mockery is an injury to the self-respect of both boy and master. There must be a frank and genuine control of the school and the lives of its citizens, and where this control does not rest with the boy himself it must rest with the master; for a clearly defined placing of responsibility is as vital to a school as to a business. But the aim of self-government is to give boys the whole responsibility for their own lives.

It is often urged that a policy exactly the reverse of this, namely, the lifting of burdens from the young, gives them a better chance of all-round development. It is said that boys who go to work in the world early are narrow, — they have efficiency in one direction at the expense of character. The force of this is borne out by the fact that intelligent men who have missed a college education are almost invariably eager to have their children obtain one. We hate to see boys taking part in men’s work too young, and it is unquestionably better for the community to have the maturity of young men postponed. Be it so; but this freedom from responsibility is not education. It is the other factor in growth, the positive bringing on of maturity, or from the boy’s point of view the meeting of difficulty, the assuming of burdens, which is education. The exemption from the sterner duties of life is but temporary, simply a postponement, and the measure of exemption is the measure of ultimate responsibility. To meet the conditions of growth, then, the school must see that responsibilities come gradually, and always with suitable relaxations following the assuming of new burdens. Sooner or later the burdens must be borne, and it may be safely said that as we approach the goal of self-subsistence and self-government in the schools, the complaints against the kind of workmen turned out by our system will disappear.

I have assumed in this paper that the American system is one coördinated whole, in spite of the apparent diversity in its institutions which may make such an assumption seem inappropriate. Its colleges, its graduate schools, its high schools, private schools, trade schools, and the rest, vary much in method and aim, producing the most diverse types of individuals, and yet, virtually, the pace is set by half a dozen universities in the East, — that is, east of the Mississippi River, — the private schools falling directly into line, and the public schools pursuing similar ideals. It is easy to point out trade schools, and many departments in other institutions, to which the criticisms outlined above do not apply. In public schools, too, the pressure of bread-winning, or the personal influence of teachers, often counteracts what evils there may be, and produces earnest workers. I do not wish moreover to ignore the schools where the principles here advocated have been given a trial and have met with unequivocal success, such as the George Junior Republic, the Mount Hermon School, and others. I deplore that these, instead of being exceptional, are not characteristic of the American system, and for the purposes of this discussion I believe it justifiable to consider that system as a whole.

When we look at the good side of the picture, when we see the health and happiness, the ennobling influences in our private and public schools, there seems a certain folly in suggesting change. The best teachers, I believe, as a rule, are the most indifferent about revising their institutions. They feel that, so long as the teachers know how to teach, we borrow trouble when we attack the method. In the great essentials, boys are self-educated, and take their guidance from the home or from the world; and in the schools, good teachers can accomplish good results under any system. They know, besides, that both discipline and culture can be acquired from any work, if the spirit in which that work is undertaken be the right one. They also know that there is an excellence in their system which cannot readily be replaced. Ideas and subjects are introduced, step leading to step in the sequence best suited to the natural growth of the mind, according to a general scheme which grew like a tree, by a long, slow process, involed in the whole advance of civilization.

All these considerations overshadow the possibility of change, and joined to them will be the cry of each master for his subject. The German teacher will say, ‘What, will you give up German?’ and the chemistry master, ‘ What, will you give up chemistry?’ and so on, — the supposition being that in the quest for a practical use of learning we shall upset the whole scheme by which intellectual development has heretofore been attained.

I believe there is no ground for this fear. In the first place, all the subjects taught, including even mathematics and chemistry, have in reality been given for the sake of culture, and rightly they should be provided for under this head. By solving the problem of culture we shall find a place for them. In this matter, schools have been greatly handicapped by a false notion in the community,—a superstitious feeling about ‘an education,’ as though it were a talisman. Some persons think it can be bought and sold, believing that the more they pay the better it will be. By an education they mean that which gives a cultivated tone, as though tone could be bought. It is hard for them to realize how incidental books and learning are to the man of culture, and how little money or advantages or anything counts beside a few simple moral influences.

Our prosperity was built up by men of stern habits of work, and these habits must be transmitted to each new generation, or culture will count for nothing. The American boy is by nature honest , patriotic, and eager to improve — he wishes to become a worker if given a chance. Do not let him be dazzled by the intellectual fire-works of modern thought under the names of progress, broad-mindedness, or culture. Tenets as old as civilization are more needed to-day, and all higher education, all culture, all scholarship, is based upon a sound and clean relation to the primary duties of life.

Let us then imagine the natural place which literature, art, and the like, take in an enlightened community, and reproduce the same conditions as nearly as possible in our school; and not heed those who look for culture as if it were a solid.

The community form of life will, in the nature of the case, make it easier for a boy to realize that he must be selfsupporting. His first lesson will be to make himself useful to the school, because if he does not do so he will not get along well. With this lesson stamped into his constitution, he is in a much stronger position with regard to whatever subject he may be interested in than under the present régime, whether he is to make that subject the means of his becoming directly useful to his school, or whether he is going to pursue it for its own sake as recreation.

The resources from which the boys of the last fifty years drew their education must be made available to him. Let our community-school maintain laboratories, libraries, text-books, and tutors, and provide lectures, music, and pictures. When some task has been undertaken which involves devotion and hard work, the worker ought to be led by the influences around him to devote his spare time to whatever is renovating and beautiful. Besides exercise for the body, and studies like Natural History which bring direct contact with nature, there is occasion in every man’s life for art, music, and poetry, and this creates a finer use within the school for the study of literature and its sisters. But the student’s activities should not lie only within the school, especially in science. He needs access to the nearest university, and even while living in school a pupil could be sent out to work under original workers, if he has shown unusual aptitude in some direction. If he shows a real devotion to writing and research, exempt him from tasks which would interfere with a literary career. Give him free play, for the school can afford to do this as well as the community. Let the school recognize literature, and science also, as an end in itself, at least an end which when attained makes the boy richer in mind, and happier; and this can scarcely be unless he can contribute in some way to the happiness of the school. Put a premium on any form of production, whether a translation, an exposition, a botanical discovery, a scientific device, or a work of art or piece of poetry which is desirable in itself. The principle which vitalizes work is that it shall be for something or somebody other than one’s self, and technical training involving effort wasteful except for self-development is only good where the ultimate use of that training is known. In general, then, and except in special instances, the activities in our school, after the maintenance of life is provided for, should be such as to make the school life itself happier, more varied, and more complete.

For culture as well as drill the community life is best. It gives the opportunity for suiting the work which will develop him best to the boy’s individual needs. It teaches all the fundamental lessons of citizenship by affording natural social experiences; that is, by practical examples. Work of many kinds lies ready to hand, for masters or managers to give or to withhold, for, as has been pointed out, the school stands between the pressure of the world and the scholar, and can allow as much or as little exemption from responsibility as it chooses. The relation of practical work to literature, science, and art is kept healthy, because practical work is recognized as a means, and the higher studies as goals.

Finally, boys may here become good citizens through knowing early what citizenship means, acquiring this lesson by experience, not by hearsay; learning before all else to do useful work for the community in which they live, and regarding culture as a means of accentuating, broadening, and deepening their abilities to serve their country, for they are to receive all exemption from responsibility as a debt of honor to be repaid by accepting a higher responsibility as men.