Schooling should start sooner, be tough, weed out failures
FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT
FRANC. R. JOUBIN
I decry the pernicious American (and Canadian) system of “keeping up with the Joneses"—and I dread the new prospect of “keeping up with the Joneskis.”
In terms of education, however, I am afraid we must do so if we hope to survive. And all the signs I have seen indicate that we are falling short of the mark.
Why is it that in North America the admission of ignorance and a thirst for knowledge are construed as causes for shame? Wc have developed the dangerous and hypocritical pretense of knowing everything. Moreover, through a weird social convenience it is considered rude to voice contrary opinions or even to be outil spokenly honest.
Instead of learning by thinking, we can now absorb
I our knowledge from movies, which have developed
escapism to a high art by swinging us on a crazy trapeze from the emotional extremes of hate and terror to “love” at fusion temperatures; from television with its sugarcoated knowledge in capsule form—one free with every tube of tooth paste; from lurid pocket novels, made more attractive in pornographic covers; from newspaper headlines, often carrying freedom of the press to abusive excess; and from magazines, with more pictures than print because too many people are bored with II reading and thinking.
The time has come—and some would say is overdue —when we should take an agonizing reappraisal of our entire educational pattern. And, to be honestly objective about it, one must look at education in the home as well as in the school, because the efficiency of any education-
Ial system is based on the success of home training in self-discipline.
In recent years I have had the dubious pleasure of
becoming an oracle and Horatio Alger type because I had the good fortune of leading a small and faithful group of co-workers in the discovery and development of more than a dozen new mines. Since then (1951) I have delivered a number of “visiting fireman” lectures
to parent-teacher groups, insti-
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For the sake of argument
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FRANC. R. JOUBIN
“Education is pictured as a happy grab bag of some work and some play ... all in soft doses”
tutes, and universities in Canada and the United States, and at each one, almost without exception, some incident has occurred to make me question our system and our philosophy of education.
This is typical: At an Ontario university a fourth-year geological-engineering student approached me after a talk and said, “Is there any real future in geology? I want to get married this spring, so I don’t want to spend the summer or the rest of my life in field work. Do you think law offers a better future?”
This grave uncertainty, this basic lack of faith or conviction has been put to me a hundred times or more. Each time I react with mixed sympathy and alarm.
1 am not an educator. In fact, 1 am somewhat out of touch with the educational system of today except where I work around the edge of the problem— as the parent of a teen-ager, as a primaryand high-school trustee, as a technicalinstitute counselor, as a lecturer to university groups (mostly in the engineering faculties), and as an employer.
From these fringes, however, 1 have drawn several conclusions:
1 Parents and educators up to university entrance are guilty of underselling education to the young. (Education is pictured as a happy grab bag of some work, some play, some social adjustment —all in soft doses. This approach develops a lazy desire for education rather than a burning demand for it.)
2 We are forgetting that education must be the development of knowledge and that knowledge is power, a readily marketable commodity in any society.
3 Too little attention is paid to the need for gainful employment during youth.
4 We are fast losing the use of our hands as creative tools.
5 Formal education could well start as early as three years of age. (At least educational training should start then. Certainly six years of age is too late if the home will not provide the pre-school lessons in self-discipline our students need. One of my strongest personal convictions is that true success comes from the realization that work is fun.)
6 Primary and high schools give far too little homework. (They don’t demand enough real brain exercise, not only in terms of hours but in terms of accomplishment.)
7 We should return to the competitive grading system and accelerate the bright students, fail or retard the slow.
8 We should revive the strap—not for use in cases of mental deficiencies, but to control clear-cut cases of insubordination.
9 Schools are not the best, or only, places to learn “social adjustment.” The home, the streets, the back alleys, the playing fields are far superior.
10 There is a national and personal waste of time, effort, money and facilities, by training university graduates (mostly girls) who do not practice their professional training. (As a result, we are excluding brainy people who should go to university but don’t. There definitely is an unreasonable prejudice against female professional people and we must learn to change this situation if the best use of our universities is to be made.)
11 1 often wonder if we use our uni-
versity plants in the most economic way. They appear to be geared to a primitive agricultural economy.
Occasionally, of course, I think back on my own rugged route of education— from the mid-Twenties, through the Depression, to the early Forties. When I compare it with what I see around me today, I am disturbed.
As an advocate of the hard-way approach to education, 1 am, of course, unpopular. But I am certain that the soft way is the cause of our educational dilemma today.
My high-school training in British Columbia covered three years against the present four and often five years of today. Throughout that period I was employed daily after school and on Saturdays as a bicycle-delivery boy and hítelas a baker’s helper. This employment took up twelve hours per week. 1 was sports-conscious in the personal participation sense, and school-YMCA sports took up another eight hours per week. About three hours per day were devoted to homework. 1 was only what you might call a good second-class student — I had to work hard to learn—but thanks to the disciplinary training of my only surviving parent, my mother, I could work when I had to.
Despite this heavy schedule, I found time to pass all my grades, engage in sketching and water-color work (some of it professionally), and to read much of the classical literature of two languages, French and English. My hobbies included tinkering with radio construction and the care of an assortment of pets: a goat, some pigeons, rabbits and a dog.
Strangely, I never felt I was being subjected to parental or scholastic slavery, as many students feel today with a fraction of those responsibilities. A monthly report card gave me my rank with precise, if brutal, frankness.
My education was not well-rounded, however, by today’s standard. Even to this day 1 am a totally inadequate ballroom dancer — though a good gandy dancer. Strangely, though, defects like this have not yet proved much of a handicap.
Since my school days something has happened to our attitudes toward educa-
tion, and the kind of regimen that was not unusual in the mid-Twenties and the late 'Thirties would be looked upon with horror right now.
Yet practically all of us in Canada were our usual complacent selves concerning our educational system until we were rudely alerted by the alarm of our southern cousins at the appearance in space of Sputnik 1. Prior to that, the majority of us were quite satisfied that the North American “permissive” system of education was the best available.
We seem to have lost the ability of critical self-analysis and we have replaced it with the self-imposed hypnosis that we are the super race of this era and it therefore follows that everything we have, that everything we do, is the best.
It alarms me that we on this continent, so vast, so rich in natural resources, so unfettered with political-historicalgeographical prejudices should exploit our inheritance with such a vulgar and dangerous philosophy, rather than in a decent and constructive humility. Yet, this is what we are doing.
We have the longest automobiles, the highest-paid, undulating guitar players, and the most pernicious credit system in the world. We are educating ourselves to want and accept these things.
Sputnik 1 demonstrated to the world and Sputnik 2 emphasized what intelligent men have always realized: no race, no color, no creed, no sex and no political system holds a monopoly on brain power. If any generalization, in fact, can be made about the development of outstanding minds, it is that the most conducive environment is a “hard” rather than a “soft” one.
If you examine the life histories and the educational backgrounds of the brilliant minds in the fields of science, the arts, statesmanship, you will find that the overwhelming majority were subjected to great financial, racial, political or other handicaps.
Even on this continent, with what we think is an enviable educational system, we have not been able to “grow” our own brains. Most of the leading scientists in the presently critical fields of fission, fusion, and rocketry development have been imports from countries whose educational systems did not offer much in the way of chocolate milk, soft drinks,
“Schools should be places where one learns to work,
where work becomes a pleasure”
respects work . . .
baton-twirling majorettes, and genuflecting guitar players. Most are the products of financial hardship and, often, racial or political persecution.
If the substance of education or the pursuit of knowledge can be reduced to a single key word, that word is “why.” It is truly surprising what a powerful lever in logic that simple word is. It nags me constantly but, like a traffic light, it controls, re-orients and keeps me aware of the mental route being followed.
In the typical Canadian classroom or home of today, how often do you hear the word “why” used in a sense ot sincere request for information? From my observation, use of that question seems limited to those between the ages of three and six.
Now, however, we are being forced to realize that others, including a rival power for world domination, may be doing a better job of education.
A difference in the educational viewpoint between the Old World and this continent concerns the question of social adjustment. Some, such as the Russians, ignore it—and we overdo it.
What it costs to learn
The opinion appears to prevail among our educators and parents, and is readily accepted by the students, that primary and secondary schools are intended as much to “adjust” the student as to teach him. This would be fine if social adjustment meant being able to live in the world. But it does not. Social adjustment, as we know it in our schools, means a curious form of tender sheltering or protection from the world. I his curious and inept form of “adjustment” creates maladjustment.
The primary and secondary schools should be places where one learns to work, where one learns to like and respect work, and where work consequently becomes a pleasure.
We are failing when we do not imbue our children with the fact that knowledge must be worked for intensely and that some sacrifices must be made in the realm of social pleasure to acquire it.
School work should mean the exercise of discipline both imposed and selfapplied, reliability, co-operation, industry, initiative, energy and, for those gifted with it, imagination.
Better students should be accelerated and encouraged. Ranking of students in classes certainly should be followed. Even the capabilities of teachers should be rated on the marks secured by their students, as is done in some countries.
I would strongly recommend more of the old-fashioned failing of gradeand high-school students to improve quality, even at the risk of reduced quantity.
And I would even suggest a six-day week, ten-month school year, with home work starting at one hour daily for first graders and gradually increasing to three hours daily for twelfth graders—except that I know it would provoke civil war and, it is my feeling, that the sixth day should really be spent in gainful employment.
Prince Charles, for example, at the age of eight, is studying French, grammar, geography, arithmetic — including long division and multiplication — advanced reading, writing and spelling. Not many of his North American counterparts, with substantially less assured futures, can claim to be as ambitious or as energetic, for the simple reason that few, if any, of them are being taught to be.
Our primary and secondary schools are doing a good volume job of assembly-line education, but the graduates are relatively ill-equipped to face the world and, according to some authorities, even to enter university — soft option and “country clubbish” as they be.
The fault lies, probably equally, with parents, educators and students—the parents for their laxity and indifference,
particularly in terms of discipline during pre-school days; the educators for their ivory-tower approach to everything from curriculum to psychology; and the students who will not realize the value of knowledge and that the school is the most convenient place to find it.
Our first mistake is in the pre-school age. It would appear that we have completely lost sight of the inner compul-
sions that motivate human beings. During the first three years of life our children learn the incredibly complex skill of eating with a fork. They learn a language, they learn to dress themselves, and a host of other important pieces of knowledge. Then, from three to six, they practically stagnate, in the educational sense.
“They must have their fun.” we say,
so instead of inducing them to make learning their fun we relegate them to the street or the back yard to “play.” Disciplinary training is reduced to the irreducible minimum “because they are too young to understand.”
At six we expect them to pick up where they left off three years before. By that time, however, the discipline of learning has been diluted. They have been conditioned to a “play life” and the return to a “work life” is both unpleasant and incomplete.
The sociologists say young children need a mother influence. They need loving and laughing. I would be the last to dispute this. But they also need to perpetuate the regimen of learning they impose upon themselves at birth. And if home influence is not adequate to do this, the lesser evil is to provide institutions for it.
Again, at six, the child is taught that school is the place for work and, except for short recesses, home is the place for play. That also is a wrong we do our young. Life itself is a condition of work. Small wonder high-school students resent homework: they’ve been taught to resent it.
The answer is to condition the student on the very first day of school to expect homework in ever-increasing amounts. This also is a discipline problem. Homework during the publicand high-school periods seems to be something a student does while catching up on his or her television or record-player entertainment needs.
Play the game—don’t watch it
If we haven’t already ruined him for serious work, there’s a good chance the next step will. The school spirit, the “get behind the team” philosophy, is as dangerous to healthy young minds as playing hookey. The school football team will create an active outlet for the recreational needs of, at most, thirty boys. When they play, however, hundreds of their fellow students will sit on the sidelines and watch. Our professional educators even urge this audience-participation support. It has been seriously suggested that this is, primarily, a neurotic impulse used by educators to gain recognition for themselves because they are fearful of the recognition they will get from their academic records alone. I am not prepared to endorse this view completely but must go on record as a critic of audience participation in sports because it nurtures a lopsided nervous development.
Sports are constructive only if you participate personally. I hey develop both body and mind and they help co-ordinate both. I feel quite emphatically that there is no place for spectator sports in our schools. Naturally, not everyone can engage in participation sports hut almost everyone can and should engage in plenty of physical exercise. Simple walking or cycling can provide that.
1 feel we fail, also, to attach enough importance to our vocational and technical schools. It is in these schools that we train the doers as opposed to training the thinkers and planners.
Technical schools are particularly refreshing because there appears so much less social pretense in them than in the high schools and universities. There is an earthy honesty about them. There is visual evidence of practical accomplishment everywhere. Certainly this is not the setting for social clubs—as some universities have been described.
Canada can never have too many graduates from these schools, particularly as we have never enjoyed the remarkably efficient Old World training system of
apprentice, journeyman and master.
Several of the most outstanding men in the Canadian mining and metallurgie industries, responsible for creating and directing multi-million-dollar enterprises, did so on a formal education foundation of high school and two or three years of technical-institute training.
I can think of three such men offhand who are truly great builders of Canada: W. H. Durrell, the first general manager of the Iron Ore Co. of Canada; Jack Cunningham Dunlop, of Ventures Limited; and W. A. Hutchison, the new Canadian manager for Phelps Dodge. They were undoubtedly “exceptional” youths when they started out twenty-five years ago. They would probably be regarded as supermen or “queer ducks” today.
It is at the university level, however, that we find some of the most anomalous educational facts of life.
Most parents feel that it is an inalienable right of democracy to provide their young with university educations, should they want them. I couldn’t disagree more. It is enough for the state to provide the opportunity to meritorious students only.
A present tragedy of our universities is that the existing facilities, particularly in the freshman year, are clogged up with students who have no business there, even if they do pay the token tuition-fee portion toward a state-financed education. 1 subscribe wholeheartedly to the opinion of Dr. Hugh Keenlcyside, director of UN Technical Assistance: “Perhaps the greatest need in Canada and the United States is to clear out those who go to university for social, athletic, or business purposes . . . and make way for those who are prepared to work seriously in the arts, sciences, and professions. Let’s stop turning our colleges into country clubs.”
I do not suggest that we turn to the other extreme and regard our universities as “brain factories,” but probably our ideal should be closer to that end than to the social side of learning.
To a businessman, the handling of university plant and facilities might he considered inefficient. Millions of dollars’ worth of buildings and laboratories, libraries and residences, arc relatively idle and useless for four months of every year. From a purely business point of view it could be suggested that we need two staffs of professors, each working six months in the school, six months in industry or seeking advanced learning.
Ten years ago many of our war veterans proved that accelerated university training could succeed.
A serious fault at the university level, particularly in the freshman year, is the overcrowded class. It cuts into personal teaching—and that can be a tragedy.
I can remember with sincere fondness certain of my professors who lectured me in chemistry, mathematics and geology. Those particular teachers not only taught me, they inspired me throughout a period of desperate poverty.
A money-short student really needed inspiration during the mid-Thirty depression years, not only to scrape together the then-tremendous tuition fee of a hundred and fifty dollars but to scrape together enough food to keep us alive while one worked at part-time jobs and studied. Only inspiration coming from the professors kept us aware that the sacrifices were worthwhile.
Eventually 1 secured some valuable technical training to help my adopted country become a world leader in the Atomic Age. But make no doubt about it, it came the hard way. It’s the only formula for success that I know, if