Education is the most sacred concern, indeed the only hope, of a nation. — GALSWORTHY.
THE average physical age of man is thirty-three; his average educational age is eighteen, or thereabouts. A few men go on to school after eighteen, but they learn nothing fundamental, for theories, methods, and facts are not fundamental: they belong to the useful, the professional. Here and there is a student perennially eighteen years old in mind, who unlearns a few important things in and after college; but most freshmen are what they are, and after three years in college they are seniors. They come to college with all their educational clothes on, asking the faculty if it will please help button them up. College gives a little better fit to the educational garment. We live on and learn, but the lessons from seventeen to seventy are only a review and an application of those we learned from six to sixteen.
In any national survey of education, therefore, the higher schools and colleges are negligible. Our education as a people is that of the secondary schools. In them, more than in any other American institution, more than in all other American institutions, are the issues of an enlightened national life; issues no longer national merely, for the war has made them vital to the life of the world. American democracy is now a worldissue. Already from overseas the peoples are coming to study our institution of democracy; the Japanese, with keen, characteristic insight, singling out the public schools — as if in them were the source and the secret of democracy.
Certainly no democracy can be better than its educational system; for democracy, more than any other political programme, is a programme of education. The spirit of democracy is the fruit of education, and never an inheritance, unless an education can be inherited, devised by will, and blessed upon a child by laying-on of hands. You can come by the spirit of aristocracy that way, for the God-I-thank-theethat-I-am-not-as-other-men spirit is a negation and an assumption. One may even assume that he is a Kaiser and a vice-gerent of God. We cannot assume vice-gerentcies and the like in America, so we stop modestly with whatever else there is to assume. We all alike inherit the Constitution; and it doth not appear at birth what we shall be, a President in Washington, or a Washington correspondent, or both; for every child, although born a presidential candidate, cannot commit his nomination and election to the hands of the priest, who christens him, as he can his social position; he must leave it all to the large, firm hands of the future.
How many American parents hate this divine hazard of democracy! ‘I will take no chance with my boy!’ a mother said to me recently, who had come from New Jersey to Boston with her young son: as if the democratic hazards for her boy might be fewer in Boston; and as if money and birth and breeding brought to Boston might overcome the handicap of equality conferred by the Constitution upon her son. Why is she afraid? Because I have boys in Hingham? Mine are not the only boys in Hingham, as they have already found out, and as her boy will soon find out. Every boy in Hingham is a challenge to my boys; so is every boy in Boston, and in Baton Rouge, and in Bagdad. It is the girls in Hingham that I am afraid of.
Money and birth and breeding count in a democracy — for and against a man; education and purpose, however, count a great deal more and altogether for a man. But count how? What is the true end of American education? ‘ Is it life or a living?' It is neither life nor a living. We can live and get a living without an education, as we can marry and give in marriage. But we cannot make the United Slates a democracy without education. The true end of American education is the knowledge and practice of democracy — whatever other personal ends an education may serve. Education has turned a corner since we went to school, and finds itself face to face with a bigger thing than life or the getting of a living. It is face to face with a big enough thing to die for in France, a big enough thing to go to school for in America — going to school, on the whole, being more difficult than dying. Life and the getting of a living may have been the proper ends of our private education heretofore; such ends are no longer legitimate. Neither life nor the getting of a living, but living together, this must be the single public end of a common public education hereafter.
This new and larger end demands a new and larger thought of education. The day of the little red schoolhouse, and all other little things in American education must pass. The large schoolhouse must come. Our present school concepts are as inadequate as are our present school appropriations and programmes. We must reconceive the nation’s educational needs; we must do it as vigorously, as generously, and as universally as we lately conceived her military needs; and we must create an educational machinery as effective as the military machinery to meet the needs.
But what a machinery is the little red schoolhouse, and the little threehundred-dollar schoolteacher, and the little thirty-cent interest of the average citizen in his public school! Can the Japanese be right in thinking the intelligence and spirit of America a product of American schools? They have long watched this democracy, and at last, having seen its temper tried by war, they have come to study into the secret of its magnificent behavior —as if it were an educational secret, and might be found in our public schools! They are right, but they are going to be terribly shocked, and shaken in their faith.
What do the Japanese expect to find? Surely nothing less than this whole nation in school, for we are a literate people; and nothing less than the whole nation in school together, one common school, for we are without caste as a people; and nothing less than the whole nation together in a common school until it gets the conception of democracy, the abstract, spiritual meaning of democracy; for democracy is a spirit, and they who know the truth of democracy know it in spirit.
What the Japanese will actually find is a democracy divided educationally against itself; wrong in its aim; weak in its purpose; feeble in its support; faltering in its faith; and not only divided, but hostile, in its educational plans. It is bad enough that eighteen per cent of our children do not attend school at all; it is not so bad for democracy, however, as that our other eighty-two per cent should be divided in their education by private, parochial, industrial, and the regular public schools, until we can be said to have no common educational programme, no common educational purpose, no common educational ideal — no common school. Yet what else but a common school can be the head of the corner of democracy? We must go to school; we must all go to school; we must all go together to school, with a common language, a common course of study, a common purpose, faith, and enthusiasm for democracy. Americanization is not this new educational ideal. The world is not to be Americanized. A few millions of foreigners in America need to be Americanized; but all the millions of Americans in America need to be democratized. Nothing less than the democratization of America dare be our educational aim.
I have not worked out the new course of study. This paper is a plea, not a programme. One thing I know: we must have a common school for all the people; and all the people must attend a common school until every American child has a high-school education. It is not a dream; it is not impossible — unless democracy is a dream and impossible.
The present standard of American education is a fourth-grade standard — and less! Only 6.36 per cent of all the children enrolled in American schools finish the eighth grade. This is not making America safe for democracy. On through the fourth grade to the end of the eighth grade, on from the eighth grade to the end of the high school, we must push the education of the whole people before we can trust the people with democracy.
There will be need of special schools aplenty — for the subnormal; private schools for the feeble-minded; vocational schools for the slow and the stubborn; but for the normal, one common school only, for rich and poor, up to the end of the high school; by which time we are pretty nearly all that we need to be for purposes of democracy.
Is this a new educational language? It is no newer than the new demands, no more foolish than genuine democracy. The old order has changed, and given place to so large an educational need that we have neither the mind nor the machinery for it. Take the country clear across, and our educational mind and machinery are little better than a reproach. And our machinery for education is better than our mind for it. We have better buildings, better teachers, better salaries — even better salaries — than public sympathy and support. Poorer than the poorest piece of kit in all of our educational outfit is the individual American’s support of his public school.
In this new and larger education there will be great elasticity, providing for the special case, the educational machine having a transmission with plenty of speeds ahead, and even a reverse gear for those who are backward. But a larger, simpler, speedier education is to be provided, that shall reduce the number of school years, and thus lessen the number of special cases; that shall reduce the number of narrow school courses — commercial, general business, college, and vocation — to one common course, one broad, universal course, thus educating for democracy first, and after that for life and a living — and even for entrance into college. Entrance into college! O Lord, how long shall American public-school education suffer this incubus of the college?
A special programme of training, vocational, business, or college, before the end of the high school, if not contrary to the Decalogue, is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, and a menace to democracy. Moreover, it is German, no matter how we try to clothe it. Such vocational training was in Germany, and is here, a deliberate attempt to create a working-class. Vocational education before the end of a general high-school course is education backward, the training of a man into a machine, a soul into a pair of hands. It is education for autocracy — the German system, which, in its ‘People’s Schools,’ carries 90 per cent of German children up to our eighth grade, then blocks all further education, except in trade and continuation schools. These are the ‘masses,’ and not an average of one in ten thousand gets through these ‘Peoples’ Schools’ into the gymnasium, or high school, with the other 10 per cent — the children of the ‘classes.’
Masses and classes until recently in American education have been one, the school doors opening alike to all; but now, under the guise of ‘education for a living,’ or in some other robe of light, the German devil of vocational training goes up and down the land, installing machinery in the high-school basements, to steal away the quiet of the study room; and, holding out ‘Big Money’ in one hand, and a desiccated textbook in the other, says to the restless high-school boys, ‘Choose!’
American education is going vocationally mad, going bad; for behind this mischievous propaganda is a purpose and a philosophy not had of democracy. Let me quote a passage from a textbook by a native American high-school teacher: —
‘In our country, where every youth in his first year in school learns that he may be president some day; where parents permit their children to look down upon their modest callings; where the higher professions are overcrowded, manual labor despised, the farms deserted, we often find in the serving class a weak, discontented class of people. In sharp contrast to them were the people who served us in Germany. They knew what they had to do and did it, without feeling that it injured their dignity.’
They, the servant class of Germany, had been educated to servitude, he means; whereas, in this country, as he goes on to say, ‘A “bum” wanted a dollar for carrying three small handbags for us to the station’; all because of this idiotic American teaching about some day being president!
That ‘bum’ had had no presidential teaching. He might have had the ‘ business course’ in school, perhaps; for, instead of a promise of the presidency, our schools nowadays hold out the necessity of making money, making it quick, and a lot of it. ‘Double your salary’ is our educational slogan — salary, not wages. The next revision of the Bible will doubtless read: ‘The salary of sin is death.’ The word, with all its pretensions, has no place in our democratic dictionary. Vocational training can never result here in either the servitude or the servility of Germany. The American mind reacts in an American way — turns hostile, instead of servile; mobilizes into camps, instead of castes; and goes forth to fight, chanting the Declaration of Independence. European education, as James Bryce says, has taught men either to look up or to look down. In America we look at each other on the level, square in the eye; and our education must make that look friendly with perfect understanding.
As a matter of fact, however, we are not educating enough workers, laborers, I mean, who work with their hands; nor shall we till we educate everybody to work with his hands, to produce something, something elemental, essential for human existence. Who does not do some creative work with brain or hands lives a mendicant, dies a pauper, and lies buried in the potter’s field, no matter what mausoleum marks his tomb. We should be educated to the biology, the philosophy — the democracy — of labor, and should actualy be taught a trade, all of us; and every manager and professional man might well return once in seven years for a sabbatical year at that trade. But such training is not the business of the public schools.
I count myself a laboring man. I believe in labor and laborers. There must be a laboring class, educated as a class, and we must all belong. I have always worked with my hands, and the best I could with my head, too. A college class is not a garden of cabbages; not exactly. Work? God works. We all work, or ought to. Christ had his kit of tools. It is not work that divides masses from classes, and sets worker against employer, nor is it money; it is lack of understanding.
‘Capital and Labor must get together,’ is the slow and still half-sincere cry of Capital. That belief was not in Capital’s education, nor in Labor’s either; and both are asking, ‘How? How can a man be born when he is old? How can Capital and Labor, which are now separated, get together?’ But they must! Then they must begin together, and stay together, not as Capital and Labor, but as schoolboys and men.
Not long since, at a notable meeting of capitalists in Atlantic City, Labor was earnestly urged to get together with Capital — but not at Atlantic City. No labor leader was invited to get together with the capitalists there!
The separation is educational: it began in school; and, wide as it now is, it shall go even wider with the spread of vocational and class education. Education and shoemaking are not the same thing. Said the president of the Stetson Shoe Company to me, ‘We don’t want boys taught to make shoes in school. We can teach them better here at the factory. We want them educated by the schools. We need intelligent men, adaptable men, interested men, who see that their welfare and our welfare are one welfare.’ A few hours in a shoe-shop (sixteen hours in even a printing-shop!) will give the green hand skill enough for wages, doing for him all that the years of distracting vocational work in school would do, and do but poorly. Ask the manufacturer if it is good business to spend years for hours, especially those precious school years so greatly needed for intelligence, adaptability, and that community of interests which sees in welfare, ‘All for each, and each for all’!
A democracy is a whole people educated up to the standard desired by the Stetson Shoe Company. It is a whole people getting together; and the closer together, the better for the democracy. The purpose of our public-school system is to start the whole people together, and keep the whole people together for all their young years, until by calling and election their ways must part; a parting not to be allowed before the end of the high-school course, in order to forestall the unequal ideals of the future, the suspicions, jealousies, and savage interests that education can prevent, but for which there is no cure.
Such education is not skill. It is understanding. Let vocational guidance become a part of every high-school curriculum; but set up no machine in the cellar. Let no vocational work steal from the book work; let no trade, industrial business, no normal or technical school, divide the time with the high school. They must follow the high school.
Technical and normal schools are increasingly necessary; whereas trade schools—schools to teach moulding, shipbuilding, coal-mining, trawling, and tombstone-cutting — are sheer nonsense. What better trade school than the shop? The technical school is a college and should be of college grade. A high school of commerce makes commerce the business of babes. Why not also a high school of medicine, of theology, of law? Is commerce less exacting than these other callings? and are merchants so much poorer mentally than other men, that an eighth-grade education gives them intellectual room and verge enough?
We can build nothing for democracy on a fourth-grade foundation: it is of sand. In exalting democracy, the war has magnified and mightily mutiplied citizenship over the face of the world, and revealed, not only how inadequate, but how dangerous, a thing for citizenship a little learning is. Yet here is the average fourth-grade man inheriting the citizenship of the earth. The world and they that dwell therein have, of a sudden, become democratic — become the average man’s with his fourth-grade education! What will he do with his world — in Russia? in America? Responsibility has not kept pace with liberty; education with ideality. Politically we have suffered a series of ‘double promotions,’ lifted from the first grades, and set down to problems, grades, and grades ahead.
There is only one thing to do: give us more education, which, in the United States, means an education to the end of the high school for every citizen, even though compelled by law; an undivided general course, broadly human, broadly democratic — and after that the shop, the technical school, and the college.
More education and a more democratic education is our great national need. Governments are not safe in the hands of any single class — a democracy, of all governments, the least safe. Heretofore the issues dividing us nationally have been sectional, economic, commercial, fiscal, the political cleavage never following social or ‘class’ fines. It is different to-day. The ugly word ‘class’ now thrusts up its long, low bulk like a reef dead ahead. We must go about!
Education is a class-leveler. Though not by any means a cure for the inequalities of life, education comes nearer than any other thing to being the lowest common denominator of the ‘vulgar fractions’ of society that we call classes. American education, however, is growing ever more divided. Instead of leveling class distinctions, our schools are erecting them, — the vocational school its class wall, the private school its class wall, shutting in between them the common public school—after the order of the old world, with all its old-world antagonisms.
A private school in a democratic system of education is a sort of dresscircle seat in heaven, un-American and anti-American, and no substitute at all for the common public school. All true forces of democracy are centripetal, getting-together forces; for, as Chesterton puts it, ‘All real democracy is an attempt (like that of a jolly hostess) to bring the shy people out.’ Out where? Out where the self-confident people are. But what private school that I know is jolly hostess to the shy and timid?
I prepared for college in a private school, at a time, though, when there was no common high school in my town. A private school, I say, but not of the ‘select’ variety, or I should not have been admitted. A lad of thirteen, I rode through the beautiful school-grounds on horseback, as direct from the farm as a can of morning milk. I had come on the gallop, bareheaded, barefooted — to my sudden confusion, when I found those shoeless feet tagging me into a book-walled study before a great, kind man, who stood looking me over quizzically, not critically; for he was not selecting me, I was selecting him, and it pleased and puzzled him.
For nearly five years I went to that institute which, with the coming of the town high school, had no excuse for being, and shortly ceased to be. In that same city were three other excellent academies, which died like the institute and rose again — in the common high school.
It has not happened so in some other places. In the town where I now live the old Academy is still doing business. The public high school in this town was opened in 1872, but the Academy, founded in 1784, did well, and in a public way, for almost a hundred years, what the high school is now doing. The Academy lives on, however — a select private school now, a sort of educational wedge, splitting the schoolchildren and dividing the town’s school interest and support.
The town’s public schools need undivided interest, and support. They are as good schools as they can be under the circumstances—though evidently they lack something which the Academy has, and which possibly they might have if the Academy were closed. The town’s public schools are not so good as they ought to be. And I have four sons to educate. These four are ‘all I have, and nothing but the best is good enough for them.’ I had hardly settled here before the grocery-man, bringing kerosene and coffee, remarked as grocery-men do here, ‘Of course, you’ll send your boys down to the Academy; they are nice and clean down there.’ And a little later, the town’s first citizen calmed my troubled school-spirit by concluding, ‘Then, if you don’t like the public schools, do as the rest of us do: send your children down to the Academy.'
This is how ‘the rest of us’ improve the public schools in Hingham; and in Weymouth next to Hingham; and in Braintree next to Weymouth; and in Quincy next to Braintree; and in Milton next to Quincy — and in Boston. The town of Milton has just built a magnificent high school. I pass it on my way to Boston, and I say, ‘Truly the Commonwealth believes in education.’ Then I remember that hardly a child of aristocratic Milton attends that public school.
Still, Milton, of course, believes in public schools — for the public. Milton, itself, however, is private. So is Hingham. We Hingham folk know that the American public-school system is the best in the world, and good enough — except for ‘my children.' Now, ‘my children’! Well, ‘my children’ really are extraordinary — four perfect specimens of the overage boy! They look it, act it — and actually seem to know it. I helped them, to be sure, but not so much as certain scions of auld Irish royalty down at the public school. They had help, too, from a bunch of stout descendants of the Vikings; and peculiar help, in outgrowing their Little Lord Fauntleroyity, from one who came to Hingham High School straight down the Appian Way. For all the roads that used to lead to Rome now run to Hingham, and terminate in her public schools. Here gather most of Hingham’s future citizens, quite un-Americanized — young Cangiano, Bjorklund, Weijane, Wainakainen, and with them four young Sharps, Americanized by birth, but not yet democratized. If these four Sharps can do some Americanizing, — and the public school is the best place to do it in, — they can get in turn some wholesome democratizing to balance the account. Do not the public schools need myfour boys? Shall the newcomers from overseas find only Shoelenburgs, Chiofolos, Kozlofiskis, and Salomaas in high school, with never a Sharp or a Smith among them?
Here are the names of the New England boys, dead on the fields of France, as published in the Boston Herald to-day — January 13.
NEW ENGLAND BOYS ON CASUALTY LIST
Killed in Action
BUXTON. CORP. VERNON C., Burlington. Vt. KARZOMAROYK. CORP. MARION, Ansonia, Ct. SHANSE, CORP. JOSEPH J., Torrington, Ct. LEFRANCOIS, PRIV. ROWELL J., Turlant, Vt. MEDEIROS, PRIV. JOHN P„ Now Bedford. MIKENEZONIS, PRIV. STANLEY, Bridgeport, Ct.
MOSCHELIO, PRIV. SALVATORE, 44 Dunstable Street, Charlestown.
MURAD, PRIV. JOHN S.; Portland, Me.
Not many Sharps and Smiths among these eight. Dear, gallant souls! how well they learned and lived their democracy !
My own four were too young to go, but they would have gone— to fight, to die, had the war lasted longer. If my four boys could fight for democracy in France, they can go to school for democracy in the United States! Good average boys my four are, just the kind to grow into democratic citizens, and just the sort to go to school with those little foreign Americans, like Karzomaroyk, Lefrançois, Mikenezonis, and Murad — killed in action in January!
And my boys are just the sort to help make Hingham’s public schools what they ought to be. Hingham’s public schools are far from what they ought to be, because four Sharps and a Smith or two are not enough. All the boys and girls of Hingham are necessary to make Hingham’s public schools what they ought to be. But instead of all going to Hingham’s public schools, Hingham’s few boys are scattered between the public schools and Derby Academy, Thayer Academy, Milton Academy, Dummer Academy, Andover Academy — boys who ought to be with my boys in Hingham’s common school; boys whom my boys will never know, not even when they meet later in Hingham’s town meeting. Yet Hingham is not so bad as its neighbor town of Hanover.
Hingham and Hanover are symptomatic of New England, as New England is symptomatic of the Eastern States generally. In the way of schools the state of New York is perhaps the least democratic community in the country, having practically no common school. The rich, and even the well-todo, of New York patronize only the private school. Let the Japanese visitors go down South, and they shall find another segregation — of white and black children in the schools, both being educated for life and a living, but neither for living together, for democracy. And yet the South’s treatment of the negro citizen is more consistent, and, on the whole, more democratic, than New England’s. Boston gives the negro the best of educations and the meanest of chances to live.
It is in the Middle West that our visitors shall come closest to their quest. The best public schools in the United States are the schools of the Middle West. The people of the West believe in their schools, they spend without stint for them, and to a degree most shocking to the exclusive East and South, they attend them. Their faith in public-school education was incorporated in the Act of 1787, setting aside the Northwest. Territory; wherein was a provision forever prohibiting slavery in all that territory and forever encouraging education. There are private schools in the West — in Chicago; and there are sure to be more as wealth increases and social privileges multiply; but the present generation of the West got its education in the public schools; and it is the system of education in the West, and the spirit of education in the West, that these visiting educators will carry back with them for adoption in Japan.
Under the Constitution, North and South, East and West share alike certain great obligations which, taken together, are democracy, the preparation for which can begin only in a common education. However different the social conditions into which we are born; however far diverging, through inheritance and personal effort, our individual paths, there is a common national inheritance into which we are all born, a body of common knowledge which we must all learn, a code of common principles which we must all follow, a load of common tasks which we must all shoulder, and a faith of common ideals to which we must all subscribe. These things in common demand a common experience and a common training, both of which are impossible once childhood is passed. A pure democracy does not exist, not yet, anyway; and if such an ideal state, by the nature of things, cannot exist, its bed-rock exists, broadly, firmly laid in the heart of youth and in our American public schools.
There is no other school American enough for my children. There are good private schools; there are poor public schools; but the one indispensable lesson for my child to learn is the lesson of American democracy — ‘ that each one’s duty,’ as James Bryce puts it for us, ‘ is not only to accept equality, but also to relish equality and to make himself pleasant to his equals.’ The best private school that fails to teach this lesson is a poorer school for America than the poorest public school that does teach it. It is not impossible for a private school to teach democracy; not impossible for it to be a democracy — or for a rich man to go to heaven.
What democracy is, and what it is to be democratic — these are the first things to learn in school; after them come other great things: to know the world of books, and be a citizen there; the world of nature, and be a citizen there; the world of art, and be a citizen there; the world of science, and be a citizen there. The world of men, however, laboring men, professional men, business men, Northern, Southern, Western men, Bingham men: to know these men, yourself as one of them, that they are America, is to be pretty safely educated for democracy — an education provided against by the very nature of the private school.
‘In my day at a public school,’ says John Galsworthy [a ‘public’ school in England is a private school here] . . . ‘the universe was divided into ourselves and “outsiders,” “bounders,” “chaws,” “cads,” or whatever more or less offensive name seemed best to us to characterize those less fortunate than ourselves. . . . The workingman did not exist for us, except as a person outside, remote and almost inimical. From our homes, touched already by this class feeling . . . we went to private schools where the teaching of manners, mainly under clerical supervision, effectually barred us from any contaminating influence, so that if by chance we encountered the “lower class” boy we burned to go for him and correct his “cheek.” Thence we passed into the great “Caste” factory, a public [our private] school where the feeling becomes, by the mere process of being left to itself, as set as iron. ... All learned to consider themselves the elect.... In result, failing definite, sustained effort to break up a narrow “caste” feeling, the public [private] school presents a practically solid phalanx of the fortunate, insulated against real knowledge of, or real sympathy with, the less fortunate. The phalanx marches out into the professions, into business, into the universities, where, it is true, some awaken to a sense of wider values — but none too many. From the point of view of anyone who tries to see things as they are, and see them as a whole, there is something terrific about this automatic “caste” moulding of the young. And in the present condition of our country it is folly, and dangerous folly, to blink it.’
It is folly, and dangerous folly, to blink such a system of education anywhere. It is worse than folly to tolerate it in America.
If there is a compensation, or an equivalent, for democracy, have the American private schools a patent on it? What can the private school do, because it is private, that the public school cannot do? Surely nothing which money can buy, for the public has the money. And it must spend it, until it puts every private school out of business. As for scholarship and deportment, the private school can hardly maintain the average standard of the public school, for private schools are notoriously sensitive to student fees. Did I say ‘standards’? Standardization is exactly what the private school avoids. Superior individual training is its strong claim; a claim which might have some force were this not a democracy where no man but the bad man and the handicapped needs an attendant.
Let the private school act as an asylum for the backward and stubborn, a function already recognized in some quarters as peculiarly its own. One of my friends, entering her son at a New Hampshire public school, was asked by the superintendent, —
‘Where has he been to school?’
‘In a private school near Boston.’ ‘Then we can’t take him,’ was the astonishing reply. ‘We have no private school in this district, no provision of any kind for the abnormal.’
The other day I stood looking across the street into the windows of a private school, windows literally darkened by the shadow of a great public-school building. This private school had been an old dwelling-house, one of a solid block of houses that it had appropriated much as a hermit crab appropriates an abandoned mollusk’s shell, the school accomodating itself to the house, not the house to the school. A single window to a floor let in the shadows of the street. The select children were in the study room; and as I looked, I chanced to see one of them seize what appeared to be her geography, and bring it down with a vicious smash upon the dear devoted head of her select sister. It was only the exceptional act, of course, which proves the abiding rule of good manners in private schools; but I could only think how human and hopeful private-school children are, and how like public-school children, really; and what a pity to mew up these few select girls in this dark, inadequate, abandoned house of gentry, when they might have spent the afternoon across the street with a thousand little unselected brothers and sisters, in the spacious halls of the great public school, — as I was spending my afternoon, it being the day before Christmas, — marching down the long ringing corridors to the tune of ‘Over There,’ for an hour of Christmas singing and story-telling in the sunny assembly-room; and marching back singing, ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning,’ every right hand at salute as the thousand little singers passed out between the Colors flanking the assembly-room door.
Money can get culture for the public schools; there is no patent on culture. All the factors of culture — buildings, pictures, books, music, and refined teachers — shall be had, and shall be had for all public schools, just as soon as the public recognizes education as strictly social, fitting us to live together. The Three R’s will be the beginning of this education, and democracy the bigger end toward which it moves. The Three R’s broadly handled, strongly, stirringly taught, and carried on until they compass the doctrine of democracy, shall be the common education of the future.
Give me the literature of the world, give me the power of expression, give me the magic of mathematics (denied me by the Creator), and besides these, give me the idea of democracy, as a moral code, as a social order, as a religious faith, and you have given me, not only wisdom and power, but an eye for the wind when I cart ashes for the city, and a sympathy for the flustered caretakers of the Belgian suite when I am entertained in Buckingham Palace. Before President Wilson’s visit only royalty had occupied the Belgian suite, and the aged attendants were troubled over the proper etiquette. You can imagine Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, out of the abundance and gentleness of their democracy, saying, ‘Oh, don’t make any fuss over us. Treat us just as you do your other guests. Whatever is good enough for royalty is good enough for us.’
It is the unabashed, complaisant American mediocrity, the lack of money and manners, that Hingham, and Boston, and New York draw back from in the public schools — the unwashed American, in the language of my groceryman. It is this and more: it is really American democracy itself which these people dislike. It is from America herself, her best self, that they withdraw — to set up about them their little neighborhood aristocracies.
The wise men from the East, except out of curiosity, perhaps, will not enter a private school in the United States, having learned in Japan how an aristocracy is created; what they have come seeking is the source and the secret of democracy; and they are right in coming to the public schools.
But suppose they come to Boston, to the only public school in the Back Bay? Oh, here is the secret for which they are seeking. They have followed the gleam, and it has led them to this school for rich and poor — if there are any poor in the Back Bay! Here shall be found the little citizens of the future, eleven hundred of them from the waterside of Beacon Street, over, far over from ‘between the tracks’; little seeds in the cold-frame of democracy, seatmates, classmates, playmates together in the nation’s Common School!
Common School! the nation has public schools, and private schools, but no common school. The Oriental visitors, who are used to a mild form of aristocracy in their own Japan, will stare with astonishment at the eleven hundred children in this Back Bay public school who are none of them Back Bay children. True, there are children from the Back Bay here —cooks’ children, coachmen’s children, from over on Beacon Street — while the rest are a floating riff-raff from somewhere west of Boylston Street, between the railroad tracks.
Back Bay children used to attend this public school, and a few may still attend. When it was made thoroughly democratic, however, the Back Bay withdrew its children, en bloc; but not its patronage. Back Bay women, believing in education and culture, have privately supplied this school with their money, ever since they deprived it of their children — money for drawing, dancing, singing, and a school visitor. And all these things money can buy; but the thing that money cannot buy is democracy. Only Back Bay children can supply the Back Bay school with democracy, and Back Bay children are not allowed to go to this Back Bay school. Eleven hundred children in the only Back Bay public school, and scarcely a Back Bay child among them!
As a nation, we understand the theory of democracy; collectively, we are eloquent preachers of the doctrine; but as individuals, we practise a different thing. We can die for democracy. Yet we cannot go to school for it; we cannot be democratic. We are sending democratic literature to the ends of the earth. Our Fourteen Peace Points were translated into three hundred native languages of India, whose millions of poor for the first time had the gospel of democracy preached to them. The isles of the sea heard, and the Japanese came seeking the truth of democracy, — in the only public school of the Back Bay of Boston!
‘We will drop things German, and take things American,’they say; but what do they find America doing? Dropping things American and adopting things German — the vocational in place of the liberal school, the private and the parochial in place of the common school. They find America fighting to make the world safe for democracy, and arraying her own citizens in warring camps of class and mass by a system of ‘education for a living,’ and by another system of ‘education for life,’ for place, and power, instead of for liberty, equality, fraternity.
I have four sons — one a politician, I hope; one a preacher; one a poet; one a combined farmer and a college professor, maybe! I am ambitious for them. But professor, or poet, or preacher, or politician, — I care not what, — one thing they shall be, if the public schools can make them: they shall be democratic citizens of this league of United States, and of the larger League of Nations which must unite the world.