The School-boy of the Future
The New System Encourages Initiative and Self Control, and Fits Him to he a Citizen.
THE following description of a model suburban school, written by Walter B. Norris, the English instructor in the United States Naval Academy, appeared in The Outlook. It presents in a clear, impressing style the wonderful possibilities of the new system that aims at all round development of the child, without sacrificing his individuality.
His name was Guilford, which was his mother’s maiden name. Tall, erect, with a clear, ruddy complexion . and a skin that showed the blood coursing within, but also spoke of an outdoor life, he came down to breakfast that morning a picture of seventeen-year-old health and happiness. It was a simple, light meal, in great contrast to the heavy breakfasts of my boyhood, but far more wholesome. When I was introduced to him as that South American uncle of his whose long absence had prevented his ever seeing me, he shook hands 'firmly and thanked me eagerly for the many curious gifts that had reached him every Christmas. Then, with boy-like abruptness, he asked me whether I was to stay long.
Upon hearing that I was to remain several months, he at once said: “Then we shall have time to show you the town. You know we have a bully place here, the finest suburban town around, and the greatest place for a boy you ever saw.”
“Why,” he continued, with boyish disregard of logic, “over in North Paterson they don’t even provide the high school principal with a residence, but he has to live out in town anywhere. Here he has a fine house on the school grounds, and gives parties and his clubs meet there. You ought to see the broad piazzas and beautiful decoration inside, all done by the students in the high school at that time. Its architecture is quite original, somewhat like a bungalow. It won a prize for us at the Philippine Exposition last year.”
At this point his father broke in and assured me that I was in a very progressive town, one so well managed that the envious, as he called them, had , nicknamed it “Spotless Town.” He seemed to think that the changes in educational methods since I went to school had made a boy’s life totally different from what we had lived a generation earlier. As I looked at the youth before me I did not see such a great difference in the product. He may have been rather finer in appearance, older in his talk, and more at ease in conversing with his elders, but I could not see much
I found, however, that he lived a very different life from what I expected of a boy not raised on a farm. Since a baby he had spent most of his time in the fresh air, and now slept in an open-chamber, winter and summer, through fair weather, rain, and snow. Jumping up in the morning, he made a dash for the shower in the bath-room, and after a dash of warm water turned on the cold, and then rubbed dry in a fine frenzy. He was no pampered child, for, rising early, he attended to the fires in winter and did the other small tasks about the house.
Furthermore, I was greatly astonished at the methods used in his schooling. Everything he did seemed to be play or mere pleasure. When I asked him what he studied, he laughed and said: “Father calls it ‘everything’; but I suppose you would call it algebra, botany, zoology, English, French, chemistry, physics, agriculture, geometry, physical geography, arithmetic, geology, architecture, wood-working, plastering, painting, manual training, plumbing, music, domestic science, elocution, gymnastics, and a few others. But we don’t bother about names much, and it isn’t divided into as many parts as that.”
“Besides,” he continued, “we don’t so much study as actually do things. Father always asks me if I have studied my French, and I always say, ‘No.’ Perhaps I’ve only read a description of the aeronautic war manoeuvres at Rheims, copied from the Paris ‘Matin,’ and talked it over in French with Charlie Kerr.”
“I believe,” he said in explanation of this, “we learn by doing, as I think I heard one of the speakers express it at a parents’ meeting I ushered at. Now, as this morning is Saturday and there is no real school work, my class is going to visit a jewelry store and observe the business, note the methods used, and learn something about gems and making jewelry. The proprietor is a Frenchman, so Miss Albright said it would be a delicate compliment to him to speak nothing but French during our visit. We discussed it yesterday in French, to make sure everybody knew the common words used in the trade, but we shall pick up a good deal more on the spot. Won’t you go with us?”
As I knew practically no French, having studied it only two years of my college course, and then not having been taught to speak it, I had to decline. But the incident impressed me. These young people were already using a foreign language naturally and practically, adding to their abilities in it in the same way we increase our command of English—by using what we have to acquire more, and making each addition permanent by actual
As for excursions to jewelry stores and other such strange jaunts, I could not help seeing that, as Guilford told us at lunch, there was much to learn there: artistic groupings in the window displays; fine mechanical workmanship with delicate tools and valuable material; and, besides, the practical illustration of many a law of chemistry, physics, and geology which I had known only as a form of words to be memorized.
After breakfast, but before this education excursion, I found Guilford engaged in repairing a study desk he said he had made himself at the school workshbp. His use of the working drawings he had made at the time he constructed it and his success in giving the desk simple but beautiful lines and in staining it an unobtrusive green showed me rather abruptly that his range of ability and workmanship was beyond what I had supposed. I could have done some of his mechanical ‘stunts’ myself, for, as I modestly stated at some time during every educational discussion I entered into, I had been raised on a farm and taught all kinds of manual labor. But I could never have done the work with the artistic skill and scientific accuracy he showed.
When I came to question him about the work and what he understood of it, I saw still more clearly that manual training, as I think it used to b.e called, had come to include more than it amounted to for me on the farm. In my younger days the pupils often repaired the district school and understood most of the mechanic arts. But such training came from the practical necessities of rural life, and was not thought of as any part of education. That term, represented in the concrete by the district school and in the flesh by the pedagogue, often a young college student, meant nothing but intellectual labor for the boy. But if he moved to the larger towns or cities, as so many did, education still remained purely intellectual, and he had no opportunity to learn to labor with his hands. Now, under the present system, the opportunity has been given even to the city boy, and, as he is not in the district-school age, intellectual and manual training are combined for him and made to serve each other in developing the head and hand of the individual.
The thing, however, which impressed me about the result of this training on Guilford was that he had learned manual arts from teachers far better equipped than mine had been. His had a broader outlook and a more scientific preparation. I had learned to plane, saw, nail, mix mortar, and paint simply that my labor might save hiring a regular workman; he had been taught these matters, not only that he might perform the operations themselves, but that his whole being might be broadened and developed harmoniously in all directions.
“This afternoon,” said Guilford at lunch, “you’ve got to come and see the sports on the playgrounds. We’re all going, anyway, and you’ll be interested, I think. We don’t have any one ‘big’ game here, as they do in some places, such as football or baseball, though we play both, and there is lots of interest; but there are a dozen or more games of different sorts, and only one out-oftown team present. The rest are all organized in the schools or among the townspeople. That gives more chance for everybody to participate.”
This last fact was impressed on me when I came down ready to start. I found the whole family in the automobile—Guilford as chauffeur, and the only one, as he cleaned and cared for the machine. The rest were in athletic attire, too—Helen, arrayed for field hockey, Judson for baseball, and Davis, with his pail and shovel, for the kindergarten sand garden. Even my sister-in-law wore a sweater, and remarked that she should either join a ladies’ field bowling tournament or watch the games while visiting Mrs. Rand, whose verandah overlooked the playgrounds.
“You’ll see,” she said, “that even the grown-ups have fields for baseball, association football, bowling, and golf. On the golf course you’ll find Frank(that was my brother) as soon as he can get home from town and change his clothes. You see, the town owns the playgrounds, and opens them to all. The higher taxes we have to pay for these privileges tend to keep out those who would not appreciate such luxuries, as they would call them. The social atmosphere is one of perfect democracy, and in all public matters the town officials, especially the director of education—you used to call him superintendent of schools—are influential and the leaders.”
I found the playgrounds beautifully placed near the outskirts of the town, surrounded with hedges and trees, beyond which, as we looked toward the town, were to be seen the gently sloping roofs of the school buildings, themselves situated on the same tract of land, and making, with their smooth lawns and wellmassed shrubbery, a pleasant picture.
When I had wandered about for a while, I began to believe what my sister-in-law had told me. Games of all kinds were going on, from prisoner’s base and such century-old pastimes, to lacrosse, football, field hockey, and golf. Children and young people of all ages were engaged in them, and I even saw a baseball nine of business men playing a team of fourteen-year-olds. The spectators were largely in some sort of athletic attire, and after a short period, for nothing seemed to last long, they went on the field as contestants, while the others retired to the swimming pool and baths in a near-by building—the municipal natatorium—only to reappear later as spectators.
When, later in the afternoon, I met my brother, he had finished his golf and was refereeing a lively game of lacrosse for some youths of eighteen. This contact of men, old and young, had, he said afterwards, made the playing less intense, more friendly, and had kept it play rather than strenuous labor. Though there was no bitter struggle for victory at any price, there was much cheering and coaching of the contestants, and an evident desire not to be defeated.
The feminine part of the population were also provided with games suited to them, and the opportunities were taken, I was surprised to see. Indeed, I found that the children were taught to play the various games, which accounted, perhaps, for the uniform excellence of play and the readiness with which they turned from one to another. As a result, I learned that there was little athletic hero worship, for in so many kinds of play each found some game in which he could excel.
To make such play beneficial physically requires, of course, careful supervision. Physical examinations were given all school children, and a certain standard of health and strength required before the boy could indulge in the mpre strenuous forms of exercise or go on to more brain-fagging studies. The family physician also worked in conjunction with the school to make the development of the child physically and mentally harmonious.
“The schools,” said my brother, “are, in fact, the predominating factor in the community. If I should feed my children illcooked food, or even much of the food we used to eat on the farm, they would protest, for they have studied foods and know the good from the bad. My family doctor would protest and the school authorities would protest, as soon as they discovered the situation. Besides, the facts being once known, public opinion would soon bring me to mend my
A special case my brother cited to me concerning smoking. The influence of a study of the effects of tobacco on young men, especially students, by the physical training department of the schools had so stirred up public sentiment that without any law being passed smoking on the playgrounds ceased almost entirely, and the school-boy who smoked on the streets of the town showed independence worthy of a better cause.
“Another strong force which has already begun to show its influence,” said my brother, as we were on our way homeward, “has been exerted by an idea you have perhaps never heard of—the school city.”
“I confess not,” I had to answer.
'•Well,” he explained, “the school is made a self-governing community, organized like a city, with mayor, council, chief of police, and commissioners of various matters—fire protection, sanitation, street cleaning, etc. There are also courts to try offenders. All these officials are students, the teachers acting as friendly advisers and experts. What we should call securing discipline, and all the care of the school grounds and buildings, the reception of visitors, and the giving of entertainments are intrusted to the pupils themselves. If you could have been here last week and seen Guilford appearing in the school court against a boy who got angry and pulled up a rose-bush in the school garden, you would have appreciated the entire change in the attitude of the pupil toward the school and its work. Though entirely voluntary, the system has had such support from the pupils themselves and from public sentiment that a certain number of tax hours are exacted of each pupil—corresponding to city taxes—and the time is used in caring for the school buildings and playgrounds. The maintenance of them is thus reduced almost to the cost of materials and tools.”
As I suspected, I found that this system of self-control did not lighten the labors of the teachers. In fact, it required more of them, for the results in discipline had now to be secured indirectly, and many a teacher had failed because he lacked the tact and personality necessary. But it had proved successful, and had given the boys and girls a moral training in responsibility and self-control that I could see I had never secured from my school life.
As for system, there seemed to be no inflexible military regulations in force. There was no sudden jangling of bells and a universal commotion every hour. Pupils kept passing, seemed to leave the rooms at pleasure, but appeared to have individual tasks and to be going about them in a businesslike way. It was the atmosphere of a well-run shop or of a well-patronized public library.
When, however, one of the teachers to whom Guilford introduced me took me into several parts of the building to see work in arithmetic, English composition, and Latin, I found that the workshop comparison was the better one, for there was much more of activity than I had seen outside. Yet all was easy and natural, and pupils seemed to be treated, not as masses, but as individuals.
In the arithmetic section I visited I discovered what did not entirely correspond to my idea of arithmetic as it used to be taught. The pupils were tabulating the results of a survey of one of the playgrounds just made by some older puipils, and were being shown how to find the area of the irregular field, and how it should be divided to accommodate a baseball diamond, a lacrosse field, and a quarter-mile track. When the calculations were made, the pupils of a more advanced section were to do the actual surveying from the blueprints furnished by this class. It was no wonder that with such a practical problem the pupils were interested and keen to secure accuracy.
My teacher-guide explained that there was no real work in pure rhetoric, and that English composition was taught in all classes, each teacher examining all the written work handed him for spelling, punctuation, good paragraphing, and correct and effective expression. Besides that, however, there was the practical newspaper writing. Entering a room marked on the door “Editorial Department,” I found myself in a fully organized newspaper office. There were more people at work than customary, but all were busy on actual tasks. Student reporters and writers kept entering and handing in copy, neatly typewritten by their own hands. The teacher acted partly as editor-in-chief, partly as a general adviser and helper. The school published, I was told, a small daily newspaper, giving the official business of the school city and some other matter on general topics, all prepared and printed in the building by the school forces.
While I was waiting for Guilford to appear at half-past eleven, when he had said he would be free for a few minutes, I was approached by a “cub” reporter and asked for my opinion of the school and the community. After supplying him with some “stuff,” and being questioned regarding the latest revolution in South America, I turned questioner and asked the boy what he thought of this kind of education. In reply he told me an interesting story. He bad become very much dissatisfied with his school life in a distant city, where the methods used were rather ancient, and had about given up the idea of preparing himself for any definite vocation. Just them his father had to move to New York, and established his home in this suburb. The boy had become interested in the educational methods he saw there, had re-entered school, and was doing good work. “It’s not study we do here,” he said; “it’s work. It’s not like going to school and sticking to books for five hours in one hard seat; it’s just living all the time like other workers, and thus practising for the work one will do later. The schools made this town, sir. Did you know that? They’re the biggest thing in town now. I’d rather be the director of education here than mayor, and I’d get a larger salary, too.”
In the Latin department I found myself in the atmosphere of classical antiquity. Views of the Roman Forum, one or two statues, and many pictures of such remains of classic architecture as the Arch of Titus and the Coliseum helped to make one feel himself in the Rome of the Caesars. Even the decoration of the room and the furniture had a classic form—all made, I was told, by the students themselves. In the darkened lecture-room adjoining a teacher was giving a stereopticon lecture on the Roman house to some fifty pupils, including several of the club women of the town who were interested in the topic. The scope of the lecture particularly struck me. The talk ranged from matters of architecture and construction, including some scientific details, to its adaptation to the Roman climate, its sanitation, references to it in the Æneid and “Ben Hur,” and its lessons for us
At the close of the lecture a half-hour was spent in an open discussion—a strange school performance to me, for the pupils seemed to question the teacher. But I soon noticed that, though the teacher never tried to cover up his ignorance when he was unable to answer a query, he had the habit of retorting with a questionj which generally led the pupil to furnish his own answer. At times he called on some one else to explain, and thus before the time was up nearly every one in the room had taken part. Moreover, the pupils showed by their questions and answers that they had made considerable preparation before coming to the lecture.
Impressed with the broadness and originality of the methods used in the schools for the purpose of making the work practical, I was much surprised to find that the ¡shops of the school system occupied but little space; they were housed in a long, low building, beautifully surrounded with hedges, and looking very unlike the bare New England factories of my boyhood. This was due partly, I discovered, to the system of cooperation with manufacturers in the vicinity, who received pupils for much of the practical work, the boys working one week in the factories and then attending school for one week. By this means, some boys, I was told, had practically supported themselves, and been able to prepare for lucrative positions.
When I left the school building and started for home, Guilford insisted on taking me through the school fields. I had noticed signs of agriculture on Saturday, and I now found plots of vegetables, cereals, fruits, and flowers under careful cultivation by the school population. As far as possible this was made practical, and the products in the way of flowers, hedge plants, and trees were used in beautifying the school grounds or other public spots, or the pupils were given the results of their labor—vegetables, for instance. All ages participated, from the smaller children with their tree-culture and farming. Though most of the work was done with the simplest implements, the mechanical side was not neglected, and the school barn showed more agricultural machinery than I had seen in Argento your graduates become farmers ?” I asked Guilford.
“Oh, only a few of them,” he replied; “but we all learn to understand the principles and apply them around our homes. Then it seems to help people to love grass and flowers and make beautiful gardens around their houses. We boast thç most beautiful suburb around New York, and it’s largely due to the influence of the schools.”