The Morale of the School

EACH morning, through the newspapers, unrest cries out to us from some new quarter. We are neither surprised nor dismayed. Having sustained the morale of the nation against its enemies abroad, we are confronted, as we expected to be, with the more difficult problem of defending the morale of the nation against its enemies at home — against organized opponents of law and order, foes of individual liberty, promoters of industrial unrest, economic illiterates among employers and the employed, immigrants and others who are ignorant of our history and our national aspirations. Our task is to bring to bear in time of peace the lessons of our struggle to maintain morale in time of war.

Wert capable of war — its tug and trials? Be capable of peace; its trials;
For the tug and mortal strain of nations come at last in peace — not war.

‘Morale will win the war.’ Throughout the struggle, we came back again and again to that central idea. Armies, ships, food, ammunition, aircraft — we knew that all these were indispensable; but early in the war we saw that victory would come in the end to the side which longer maintained the morale of its armies in the field and of its people at home. To strengthen morale was the supreme object of the most extensive, varied, and costly propaganda ever used. And on both sides the burden of the song was always the same — the glorification of war aims! For a clear and persistent conception of a great common purpose is the backbone of morale.

Exactly what is morale? Professor Hocking says it is good condition of the inner man. After some time spent with the armies in France, he defined morale as ‘the state of will in which you can get most from the machinery, deliver blows with the greatest effect, take blows with the least depression, and hold out for the longest time. It is both fighting-power and staying-power, and strength to resist the mental infections which fear, discouragement, and fatigue bring with them. And it is the perpetual ability to come back.’

Until the war was won, the army of the United States in France had morale. From every camp, officers and doughboys sent home the same message: ‘Tell the folks we are glad to be here. Nothing on earth can pry us loose until the war is won.’ But after the signing of the Armistice, their morale was badly shaken. ‘The job is done,’ they cried. ‘Get us out of here; the quicker the better.’ Virtually nothing had changed except the purpose; but with that everything had changed. The backbone of morale was broken.

Our own War Department early saw the importance of making each soldier feel that the war was his war. Indeed, the only course required of all students in the Students’ Army Training Corps was a course in the Issues of the War. Whatever else the recruit might not know, the Government insisted that he should know what he was fighting for. The policy was sound. The definite understanding on the part of every member of a group of the greatness of a common purpose is the staying-power of morale, whether that group be a nation, or a labor-union, or a salesforce, or a fraternal order, or an army, or a school. Without that factor in morale, all other factors sooner or later become meaningless.


And so, in war or in peace, the chief defense against the foes of morale is education. And as there is only one agency of education that can be made to reach effectively all the future citizens of the state, the morale of a nation is largely in the keeping of its public schools. It is commonplace to say that the nation will be no better than its public schools, and the schools no better than the teachers; but it is not commonplace to grasp the idea that the teachers will be no better than their dominant purpose. Since the right conception of that purpose is the backbone of school morale, the chief means of strengthening the teaching profession is a training of prospective teachers and a continued training of teachers in service which ensures a broad and compelling view of the function of the school. To open up such a vision, training must proceed beyond the uninspiring details of classroom method and the dull facts of the too remote history of education. Otherwise, teachers are like soldiers who memorize many facts concerning past wars, and then go to the front in a new war, with little idea what it is all about.

A full understanding of the mission of the public school in defending the morale of the nation against its enemies cannot come without a knowledge of economic and political institutions. In these fields, virtually all the enemies of morale dig their trenches. Yet the traditional high-school and normalschool training, neglecting these fields, leaves the teacher a prey to hordes of vagrant, half-clad theories. It is the result of a happy accident, not of a professional requirement, if he knows the meaning of Bolshevism, for example, or sabotage, or the effect of recent legislation on the distribution of wealth; or if he understands the function of capital, the constitutional guaranties of liberty, or the relation of the unstable dollar to the cost of living; or if he has read the history of Socialism, or of conscription, or of freedom of speech.

Instead of learning such essentials as these in the training of citizens, prospective teachers spend many years in trying to memorize the chaotic spelling of the big dictionary in which are petrified the worshiped accidents of time; in preparing to teach mathematical processes which a majority of their pupils will never use; and often in studying foreign languages which they themselves could not use even if, by chance, they should need them in later years. No doubt there is value in all these studies. No doubt some time must be spent in acquiring that which is not education at all, but merely the tools of education. But the total effect of such studies is not liberalizing or inspiring; and teachers’ training courses are weakest in the one field that could make the vocation most fraught with meaning. No teacher can to-day gain a vision of the wider reaches of his work without an economic and political outlook.

Only a compelling purpose can enable men to face together, in good spirit, the otherwise dreary details of daily routine. Digging ditches, counting tin cans, cleaning mules, recording endless figures — all this is hard to recognize at the front as the glorious defense of humanity which thrilled the new recruit who saw the ‘movies’ at home. Yet all these tasks have to be recognized as just that — essential parts of a vast, unified effort to achieve a great end. If war-bread, faulty shoes, vermin-infested bunks, bruised muscles, and frozen fingers meant merely so much pain and discomfort, no army could maintain its morale for a month. But such daily sufferings, when recognized as the concrete details that make up heroism, are more to be desired than all the comforts of home.

The daily life of the soldier is nothing but a sacrifice for an ideal in the midst of sordid material facts — mud and mules — which tend toward disillusion. The teacher, as frequently as the soldier, needs to burnish his ideals. He must begin his career with a wide horizon. He must know exactly what he is about when he sacrifices personal comfort and the prospect of material rewards for the hope of inspiring a new generation with a passion for service, freedom, justice, righteousness.

Adapting a verse from Kipling, someone has said, —

It teaching were what teaching seems,
And not the teaching of our dreams,
But only putty, brass, and paint,
How quick we’d drop her — but she ain’t.

Reports, records, schedules, examinations, filing systems, test tubes, themes — all the putty, brass, and paint of the teacher’s job — soon become insufferable to one who has never had a vision. He finds every detail belittling, for to him it is nothing but a detail. A mule is a mule; a tin can is a tin can. ‘ Blessed is the man who has found his work’ — if along with it he has found a clue to its larger meaning. ‘To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor’ — but only if one has the means of knowing where he is traveling, and why. There is not much blessedness in mere work; the beasts of the field have plenty of that. It is precisely this capacity for illuminating to-day’s lowly labor with high and remote purposes that makes us men and not beasts.


Without that quickening touch, no one can be a great teacher, or long remain a good teacher; and so the conscientious teacher is always in danger of being too faithful to the daily routine. ‘The main fault of half the good teachers in the elementary schools today,’ says Dr. Frank McMurray, ‘is the overconsciousness about little things. As a result, they become habitually tired, unsympathetic, and narrow, and therefore schoolish.’ That the word ‘schoolish’ has such a sorry connotation is a call for the teacher to go out to play. Teachers do not stop playing because they grow old; they grow old because they stop playing. Dr. G. Stanley Hall said something to this effect; and all his psychological research has yielded nothing of more value to teachers. We all know the teacher who ‘has no time for play’; who is dedicating himself to his work with such sacrificial earnestness that he himself is becoming emaciated. His class-work is like a clearance sale, followed by no replenishing of stock. The day soon comes when he goes to the cupboard and the cupboard is bare. At such times, his most urgent duty may be to leave the never-finished tasks of the schoolroom and swing into the open, where the flight of the red-wing is flashed in the sky-scattering river. On a winter evening, he may best serve his profession by throwing the latest set of spelling papers into the open fire, and dwelling a while with a mighty mind of the past, till he feels ‘like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken.’ Then let him greet the next day with a cheer, as, with a gladder face and a gladder voice and a gladder conscience, he dedicates the ashes of yesterday’s spelling papers to the new inspiration that is his.

‘What you all doin’ there, Sambo, strummin’ at the banjo an’ singin’ away all by yerself?’ cried a passer-by. ‘I‘se just serenadin’ ma own soul,’ the negro replied. So should every teacher take time to serenade his own soul. An unhappy person is not fit for daily contact with children. A certain little girl of the discriminating age of seven divides all the ministers she hears into two classes: those with glad voices and those with sad voices. Perhaps we should classify all teachers in this way and require the sad-voiced group to understand their work, in order to reap the just compensation of joy in their labor.

Scorn is often expressed for the teacher who regards his part of the world’s work as more important than any other part, and his subject as the one indispensable part of a liberal education; but if kindling vitality in others is becoming to the profession, we need whole faculties of such teachers. The staid dispenser of information, with well-groomed emotions, whose attitude and tone of voice seem to say, ‘Possibly, it will do you no harm to learn a little about this subject if you have nothing better to do,’ is not to be trusted with a vital message to youth. It will appear a lifeless thing — not poetry, but words; not music, but notes. Men have often observed that the crowning purpose of a teacher of adolescent boys and girls is to help them to discover commanding careers which shall mean to them what teaching means to him. But, first, his own career must command him. It will not command him until he understands it.

At best, the teacher, no less than the soldier, soon finds the vision of his great achievement clouded by the irritating dust of dreary duty. He needs more than the philosophy of ‘smile’ to keep the foreground of his own life from becoming cluttered up with the sordid and commonplace — the unreasonable parent, the jealous colleague, the unsympathetic principal, the hard-fisted citizen, the contemptible gossip, the false witness. He must fight with the beasts of Ephesus in the valley of t he commonplace, and at the same time keep his eye on serene mountain-tops. He must have for a background a little Switzerland of his own, the abode of his highest aspirations, his holiest of holies, ‘where battle-scarred thoughts may be nursed back into life’ — and he must forever guard it against surprise attacks.

A teacher on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, as she shut the door upon each day’s routine, stood before the little schoolhouse and lifted her eyes to the hills. Then she swung into the saddle and cantered, through bracing air, over ten miles of silent, sweetscented prairie, to her cabin home. There, one day at sunset, aglow with physical vigor and with the thrill of life in the open, she unsaddled her horse, spoke a few secrets in his ear, and ran singing to her supper. It was her last song in the mountains. At the cabin door, she found a message from New York City, and to the city she went, to give comfort to her mother.

Before long she was taking the subway, morning and night, and teaching in a city school. On a subway train, a Western friend found her with a shopping list in her hand—‘braid, yarn, cocoa, harness-polish.’ “Harness-polish,’ cried her friend; ’what can you do with that in this place?'

‘Come with me to my mountain cabin in Harlem,’ she answered, ‘and you shall see.'

There, hanging in a corner of the little box of a 113th Street apartment, shining under many polishings, though long unused, was the saddle of her Montana days. It had helped her to keep alive a little Switzerland of her own; and so, through all the noisy, dirty, cramped city days, she had burnished this symbol of her ideals.


Yet visions need not blind a man to material facts. Indeed, the material fact of an empty stomach may blind him to a vision. All the armies in Europe understood the function of hunger in destroying morale. The most effective weapon for restoring order in Russia was food: a carload of Carnation condensed milk was worth more than a carload of Winchester rifles. The morale of the teaching staff to-day is in need of food. Not that a majority of teachers are starving, but all teachers are hungering for what is to them the bread of life: the means of professional growth, books, lectures, magazines, social intercourse, university summer schools, occasional travel to conventions and to centres of the best in music, art, drama, and religion. They need just such perspective as this, so that the academic molehill of routine tasks will not obscure their view of the mountain heights of ultimate achievement. And they hunger for time — time for recreation; time they must now spend, to eke out a living, at odd jobs, which deaden rather than enliven their enthusiasm for their main work. Hunger for the things of the spirit is as demoralizing to the morale of a teaching staff as hunger for food is to the morale of an army corps.

Nevertheless, in view of the paramount need of morale, and the impossibility of buying it with money alone, teachers are in danger of paying for increased salaries more than they are worth. In some cities, teachers have already paid too high a price. For, even if a teacher could get as much pay after six years of professional training as after a six weeks’ course in an automobile school, still the money would not be his chief compensation. Every teacher with the professional spirit desires, above all, unrestricted opportunities to serve; an open road ahead; freedom to give all that he has, at all times and in all ways suited to his own genius; independence in living up to his own code of ethics. He is loath to surrender all this to a laborunion. He knows that medicine would become a sorry trade if every physician, in the midst of an epidemic, had to ask a walking delegate how many children he could care for, at what hours, and for what pay; which physicians he would be permitted to consult, and what instruments to use. The teacher knows that any hour in the life of one of his boys may be as serious a crisis spiritually as influenza may be physically. And the teacher wants, in that hour, the utmost freedom of opportunity to save the boy.

To be subject to orders to strike would be as dangerous for the teacher as for the soldier on the eve of battle. To the teacher, arbitrary limitation of production is unthinkable. His products are for humanity; excess production of his commodities could not possibly confer special benefits on any one class. Humanity is his employer; humanity holds all the stock. His services now follow the ideal law of distribution — to every man according to his capacity to enjoy. If all commodities were so distributed, and no production artificially limited, our chief economic ills would be cured.

Teachers should deal directly with those to whom they are responsible — all the people. Judges, members of Congress, and policemen would make the same mistake in affiliating with any minority organization. Among servants of all the people, divided allegiance cannot be tolerated. Some advocates of a union of teachers with outside federations of workers contend that none of these evils are contemplated for the public schools. Such a union, nevertheless, does tend toward these evils. Teachers should have a national organization worthy of their cause; but they should have one which safeguards rather than endangers the morale of their profession.

But devotion alone does not distinguish a calling from a trade. The law, medicine, and the ministry gained little until they added to their stores of highly specialized knowledge a firm insistence upon professional preparation. Teaching in some places is not far above medicine in the days when any person with a bottle of pills might style himself a doctor. The quack appears in every profession. Sadly enough, the efforts to advance teaching through insistence on professional preparation receive some opposition within the ranks of teachers. Just as it was the thirty-one Boston schoolmasters who opposed Horace Mann in founding the first normal schools, so it is some of our own university and college faculties who are antagonistic to-day to the professional training of collegebred teachers. ' They need no training,’ said a professor at Yale. ’Let them learn to teach by observing the mistakes of their teachers.’ Just as a man should learn to operate an automobile. we might add, by watching another man run it into a lamp-post. So long as professional training is regarded as unnecessary for teaching, we shall continue to read correspondence-school advertisements that herald among their phenomenal achievements the lifting of one pupil from brakeman to railroad president, and another from teacher to stenographer. But more and more effective is becoming the demand for professionally trained teachers, as more and more clearly we perceive that nowhere, from kindergarten to university, does teaching come to its own until the craftsman is prepared and inspired to develop for himself some of the materials, and methods, and larger reaches of his work. Fortunately, as schools are becoming more flexible and less institutionalized, adaptable to independent variation, freer from the domination of opinions and politics, and illuminated with scientific and socialized points of view, more and more are the ranks being recruited from experts — men and women with professional outlook.


Among the qualities essential to morale, we must include ability to subordinate personal interests; or, at least, the ability to see them in their enduring relations to larger interests, which, in the long run, amounts to the same thing. Yet morale does not cost the exorbitant price of individuality; Germany paid that price, but did not achieve lasting morale. No one need sacrifice individuality through loyalty to his firm or school or country. The individual does not become strong as the group becomes weak; it is in the midst of powerful associates that the individual thrives. And so the teacher who loses his life finds life, and finds it more abundantly. Through the school he achieves a kind of immortality — not the immortality of the soul, but that which seemed to the greatest of all teachers a higher end, the immortality of his work.

Readiness to wait, the negative element in morale, is as important for the soldier as readiness to act. ‘Patience,’ says Professor Hocking, ‘especially under conditions of ignorance of what may be brewing, is a torment for active and critical minds. . . . Yet impetuosity, exceeding of orders, unwillingness to retreat when the general situation demands it, are signs, not of good morale, but the reverse.’

In this description of the soldier, many a teacher recognizes himself. How eager he is to go further than his superior officers will permit! How clearly he sees an alluring objective beyond the day’s orders! He knows it is attainable, is perfectly willing to sacrifice himself in the effort; yet, if the teacher is a good soldier, he does not risk sacrificing the whole company; he stays cheerfully in old trenches longer than he personally thinks necessary; he marks time when his every muscle is ready for double-quick advance; he does team-work, just as a good football player follows the signals, waits for his interference, and does not insist on playing the game all by himself.

For the teacher thus to do his daily part in sustaining the morale of his group, he must have that attribute which is most constantly needed and yet by far the most difficult to attain. Dr. Charles W. Eliot says that when, at the age of thirty-five, he was elected President of Harvard University, one of the wise old men of Cambridge said to him: ‘What quality do you think you will need most in your new position?’ Dr. Eliot made several suggestions. ‘No, you are wrong,’ said his counselor; ‘your greatest need will be patience.’ And Dr. Eliot is not the only college president, or the only teacher, who has found this drudge of a virtue the only one that could carry him across the plateaus of despond.

When the morale of a school is thoroughly sound, its teachers and students are patient; hope long deferred does not overwhelm them; they are not afraid to acknowledge mistakes, do not seek to conceal their limitations, do not fear to acknowledge points of superiority in other institutions, do not minimize the difficulties that confront them, do not try to protect anybody through enforced silence, and do not need football rallies, or other organized attempts to create ‘school spirit.’

Which one of us, then, does most to fortify the morale of the school and strengthen it against its enemies? He who, first of all, protects his ideals. He who keeps to the fore the positive, not the negative, aspects of our common life; the things we have rather than those we lack; the work we can do rather than that we cannot do; the successes of our common efforts rather than our failures; the achievements of many law-abiding generations, as well as the grievances that invite further progress.

He does most for morale who is alert to discover and commend the good work of his colleagues; who shows pride in the achievements of other departments than his own; who starves his personal prejudices, plays the game, refuses to take offense; hangs up the receiver when the talk is mean; harbors no grudges, asks nothing for himself that he does not ask for all his coworkers; and who complains, if at all, directly to the responsible person.

In the school corps, he is the good soldier, the staunch defender of morale, who carries no concealed weapons of malicious gossip and enemy propaganda; who refuses to listen to disloyal talk; who sees afar off the enemy in ambush — the sneaking politician. He is the good soldier who packs up his troubles in his own kit-bag; who whistles most cheerily when the battle goes wrong; who meets reverses with redoubled determination; whose spirit triumphs over ingratitude and stupidity and slander, as if they were no more than the necessary chill and mud and vermin of trench warfare.