The Age of Misunderstanding
WOMEN AND THEIR WORK
ETHEL M. CHAPMAN
IT IS quite true, a lot of what we hear about the side-tracking interests of the high school girl. However, discerning a mother you may be, if you would drop around to the dressing room of the High School where your own blossoming, ’teen age daughter attends, somewhere about the time the recess bell rings,
you might get the shock of your motherhood. You would be about sure to find as
many girls as could crowd around the mirror, active with powder-puff and rouge and lip-stick as a vaudeville chorus. You would see girls of fifteen and sixteen wearing the Frenchiest coiffures shown in the movies, and you would see clothesemdash;well, like nothing you wore when you were sixteen. It’s all very well to rail and regret about it, but it doesn’t do any good. The girl herself doesn’t mind it; she has grown so blase to the criticisms of her make-up and her georgette blouse and her camisole, that one could almost believe she delighted in the publicity. Perhaps it would be as well to smile and call it “a phase she’s passing through”emdash;only for the possibility that she may not come through safely, Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with the girlemdash;with all the girls from all the good homes of the town.
Perhaps she likes to be daring; maybe she just doesn’t want to be different from the others. In any case, the chances are ten to one that she doesn’t really know why people need take it so seriously, for there’s one indefensible fault in anything our educational system tries to do to meet the school needs of the boy or girl apart from books and laboratoriesemdash;it’s too negative and too impersonal to reach a sympathetic place in their interests. An inspired teacher here and there can do it, but the whole problem has come to be something big enough for the combined efforts of parents and teachers and anyone else interested not only in girl welfare, but in the future of both boys and girls attending our high schools.
TN THE public schools, mothers espeeial-*• ly have come closer to an understanding of school problems through Home and School clubs, Parent-Teacher associations and other organizations for the same purpose. Important as this intimacy with school affairs may be while the children are
in the public school, it is vastly more needed when they reach the High School with all that this means in the way of change in their school work and in their own personal development. This is the time when boys and girls show a tendency to get away from the home; they begin to go out nights; they are less free with their confidences; in fact the adolescent period is a time when few parents know their own children. To estrange things more, so far as school matters go, the average parent does not know much about what the children
arithmetic and spelling and elementary geo-
are studying at High School. It was easy enough to follow them through the processes of simple arithmetic and
graphy and history, even to help them with their home-work when occasion required, but when it comes to Latin and algebra and ancient history as it is taught to-day even the fairly well educated parent may be somewhat at sea.
too the parents
of High School students do not know their children’s teachers. It was simpler in the public school. They only had one teacher at a time and she was usually a very approachable person. The average High School teacher is rather a superior being to the modest little mother who barely knows her. She moves in the “best society” in town, and while she may be intimate enough with the lawyer’s wife and the doctor’s wife she frequently has
the carpenter’s wife even when the carpenter’s home supplies her most promising pupils. It isn’t her fault emdash; altogether. It is just the natural working out of the prevailing custom which makes no provision for parents and teachers to get together on ground of com-
mon interestemdash;about the me vital interest of each of thei
ose when the Hi| opens in your tov this Fall, some women wl cared enough to take tl trouble would approach tne teachers wi’ regard to forming a co-operative socie* for the promotion of anything in the way school welfare. There is no doubt tb the teachers would welcome the ide What they want more than anythii else is the sympathetic co-operatilt; of parents and a cultivation of publ opinion along the lines of better educatio Once started, such a club could arrant evening gatherings where parents at pupils and teachers could become betti acquainted in an ordinary, friendly soci way, and where they could each leai something of the subject that is the re reason for their meeting. Perhaps yoi
school has “At Homes” now where you g all dressed up and are “received” by tí
staff, pass a few commonplaces with ; 0» neighbors, see your children disport then selves in party clothes, and come awa as much a stranger to the real school lit as ever. They may be very prett; pleasant little affairs but they don’t g far enough.
Suppose in addition to these functior something less formal could be arrange for one or two evenings every month t the school year. If someone, appreciate) the value of the High School in adu education would start a scheme to s« people studying with their children, wht miracles might be wrought. Perhag Mary is having a glorious year wit “As you Like It.” Why couldn’t th teacher who makes the story so glowin and human for her, give an “As You Lik It” evening for parents when her fatbt and mother could attend and afterward go home to read and discuss and enjb
Shakespeare with their daughter for the rest of the winter. The same would apply to practically any of the High School subjects. Few people know what the school is trying to get at in its teaching of science, yet there are lots of mechanics who might, be taking a course in science with their boys.
BUT the teacher-parent club has problems more difficult than these to deal with. It so happens that the High School age is the most “difficult” as well as in some respects the most beautiful in a life time. It is impressionable and idealistic, ready to respond to inspiration and full of hero-worship, but by some strange oversight of Nature, manhood or womanhood seems to arrive a year or two ahead of the instinct to govern it. There are all those girls crowding around the mirror in the dressing room—why? For no other reason than the woman’s time old desire to be attractive. Sixteen of to-day is not really very different from sixteen of sixty years ago, who spent many an agonizing night With her hair in curl papers, but she has a different way of expressing herself. Clothes and customs have changed, and some of these clothes and customs need dealing with. Young people of the middle teen ages enjoy a rather unlimited amount of freedom, in these days. After a girl from a home of the good old conservative sheltering kind has finished with high school, served her term at a finishing school and had her “coming out” party, she gees about decorously chaperoned for a while. During the time she is passing from a hoydenish tomboy to a demure debutante she is not nearly as carefully guarded.
A Canadian town was horrified last winter when it was found that a number of the sixteen year old sons and daughters of the best families were meeting clandestinely on the school campus in the evenings, in a most compromising way. The parents had suspected nothing. The girls left home in the evenings supposedly to study their lessons at the homes of other girls; the boys, if they were questioned at all, gave equally passable excuses. Everyone considered it an unprecedented case, except the social worker in the town, she knew that the same thing had occurred, is occurring, in other places. What is to be done about it?
There’s no more lovely creature under the heavens than a sixteen year old girl, unaffected happy, serious, just glimpsing the wonder of her womanhood—no more charming individual than the grown up boy fired with the same ideals and ambitions as the young men who went out to teach our public schools twenty years ago and left his influence to the good of his pupils to this day. But you can’t look over a roomful of high school girls without seeing a great many who need someone to clear their vision, to help them to be sensible. You can’t find any class of high school boys without some cases of perversity and weakness that need special directing and building up.
Among his dreams for a broader education, Professor S. B. McCready has a scheme, which like most of his ideas will probably be put into practice before everyone has finished criticising it as too Utopian, a scheme to give the adolescent boy and girl the vital thing in their education which has always been neglected. The plan is to have on every High School staff a woman with the special gift of personality and sympathy which make her naturally a leader of girls and their confidante. She would have to be a qualified teacher and, in most schools, would have to teach some of the regular subjects on the curriculum, but her special work would be to teach the girls something of how to live—the responsibility of womanhood and citizenship—what her vote should mean in the governing of the country later on, and what her personal influence means just now. For it’s of no use to talk to a girl about the immodesty of her dress or tne thoughtlessness of her deportment unless you give her a reason that is vital and human, that will appeal to that finest of instincts stirring close to, and right along with the troublesome desire to “dress up.” It means teaching her something of the ethics of sex hygiene and motherhood.
And the plan likewise provides for a young man to take the same place with the High School boys, to lead them in their sports, to instil in them the British spirit of fair play, the principle not to take advantage of an opponent because he is on
the other side—in general to teach them the ideals of Canadian citizenship.
THERE is so much that a few clear visioned women could do to help. In one Canadian city a few years ago some of the mothers and teachers organized a High School Women’s Institute. From the very first it was a reform society. There was a nice new library in the town and the women wanted to hold their meetings there because the school was, well, rather dirty. But the teachers felt that if the children could spend five days a week in the school, their parents cduld stand it for one afternoon a month, and possibly some good might come of it. The mothers came and were disgusted with the school housekeeping. They left a message to that effect written in the dust on the walls and they sent a note to the school board about it. It was something of a shock to the board. Never before had anyone suggested to them what they should or should not do concerning school affairs and they rather resented the interference, especially from women. Then as it always happens after the first shock to an established custom has passed, someone saw a glimmer of sense in it; someone else saw a whole lot of fun in a situation that could drive the chairman of the board to a white fury, and someone came out boldly and said that the women were right—if the school was dirty something should be done about it; another suddenly enlightened the chairman “Why that’s your dirty old school, Jones; it’s up to you.” And Jones, that night, his wrath still warm, searched out the janitor and ordered him to get a vacuum cleaner and clean the school. And again the women, hearing what was being done, were not satisfied. “A vacuum cleaner!” they stormed. “What that school needs is soap and hot water and scrubbing.”
Of course it finally got all that, but it was only the beginning of the campaign. The mothers had monthly meetings with the teachers and studied the welfare of the High School student as it could be promoted in the home. Believing that conditions in the parks and amusement places of the town were not all that could be desired for the young people, they succeeded in getting a social worker invested with the authority of police woman. They arranged educational features for the good of the whole town—for instance at one time they borrowed an Art Loan collection from Boston partly for the purpose of selecting pictures for the school and partlyto give the town’s-people a week’s series of entertainments with lectures on art subjects. They started two playgrounds in the town and helped the public schools to get playground equipment. And, as it always happens, the greatest thing was the invisible. They got the whole city interested in education and influenced public opinion to call for larger school grants and to secure such definite improvements as a Household Science department in the school. Their work might well go down as a precedent in community service.
But whatever you undertake, be democratic in your organization. Y ou want the leaders of the community of course. Think what it would mean to have a doctor interested, who would know just where the danger line came in for the teen age girl, when both home ambitions and school demands forced her beyond the safe endurance of her own new physical life. It is not uncommon for some mother who doesn’t think to come to the doctor just before the June examinations and explain that Mary’s studying hard for her matriculation, also she is trying her intermediate exam in music—she is young for either of these, of course, but she would feel so badly if she failed and—can he give her something to tide her over? And the doctor finds Mary perhaps on the verge of a physical breakdown, from which no drugs can ever fully restore her. It is just one of the matters on which mothers and teachers should get together. Yet valuable as is this professional advice and interest of outside members, the club is really for the teachers and parents. It is important that you get every mother interested for the sake of your own children as well as hers. Intelligent motherhood, like education, will gain no marked impetus while it is restricted to a fortunate few. It must be made a general possibility in order to become a general benefit.