Page images

but there is also a difficulty connected with it that cannot be ignored. The fixed schedule of study is fixed for all; the long courses are, with few exceptions, unmodified for the slow or the quick minds. The only reply the writer has been able to secure to the question, " What can be done to remedy this?" has been, "There is no escape from it, except in a few cases where very unusually bright children are promoted more rapidly than the others." The time taken for many children of more than average ability to complete a subject is unreasonably long; but the nature of the child must bend to the system, the system little or not at all to the peculiarities of the pupil. Now, nothing is more important, in creating and preserving "unconscious rectitude," than the element of spontaneity, and there can be no doubt that many children who pass through the long years spent in the public schools lose in this respect rather than gain. The kindergarten is obviating this danger somewhat; but wherever there is a suppressed mental life there must exist, in some degree at least, a suppressed moral nature there is a logical connection between the inflexible system that holds a responsive, sensitive child in its grasp for years, and mental reactions that too often develop into moral weakness, and occasionally into vice. This tendency is, no doubt, not entirely the fault of the system, as a hard-and-fast system, but in a large degree of those unscientific methods which merely tax the memory, stunt rather than develop the reasoning faculty, and usually make the child unhappy, and sometimes morbid. President Eliot has shown that there is a waste of time in the student life by keeping pupils too long on subjects that should be covered in a much shorter period. But this loss of time has a more important bearing than the one which he considers. The attempt to save time is important; the attempt to save the moral nature is far more important. The destruction of interest and enthusiasm in a child has

more than an intellectual significance; it interferes as well with his moral development. If one believes that there are certain definite laws for the growth of the soul, which have been discovered by the world's great teachers, he ought also to believe that the violation of these laws in the training of children must react on the moral as well as on the mental life of those who can least afford to pay the penalty. The destruction of individuality brutalizes a nature, and there is constant danger of this where mere system is conspicuous and becomes the controlling element. It is exceedingly difficult for an instructor to hold the interest and develop the enthusiasm of a pupil after an appropriate amount of time has been given to any one subject; and although it is true that the teacher is the most important factor in connection with the system, and that sing-song recitations and pure memorizing will, under any condition of affairs, produce unscientific results, yet the best teacher is influenced by the system under which he teaches. There can be no doubt that many children who pass through the long years of continuous school life lose in some degree the quality of spontaneity, and that the loss of it is accountable for the lack of some of those finer sentiments that have always been the glory and the beauty of human life.

No discussion of the moral problems of the public school system would be satisfactory if reference were not made to what has, perhaps somewhat exaggeratedly, been called "the pauperizing tendency of the public school system." Free tuition has led to free textbooks, until the principle has been clearly laid down that the State must furnish, without charge, to all its children whatever education they desire. Especially in the West has this been carried to its logical extreme, and the state university is asked to provide the highest special education not only without charge for tuition, use of buildings and apparatus, but in

some cases with free rooms that are furnished and warmed at the expense of the State. In other words, it is claimed that no money equivalent should be given for the benefit received and the service rendered. Parent and pupil can take from the State, but, except in what the pupil may return through his better preparation for citizenship, nothing is to be given for that which has been bestowed; and with large numbers of persons there is no sense of obligation whatever in the matter. It is said by those who oppose the extreme form which this theory has taken that it carries the paternal feature of government to a dangerous extent; that it makes the citizen selfish and grasping; that it may, and in many cases undoubtedly does, minister to that spirit which characterizes much of our American life, the spirit that ever asks, What shall we have? and seldom, What shall we give? and which is the bane of our present social order. It is further claimed that the results of this are already apparent in our national life; that the spirit which made our pension system is encouraged and developed by the "pauperizing tendency in the public school system."

Although it has been difficult to secure accurate information in regard to the results of this "free element" in education, it has become only too evident that many parents look upon the teachers as if they were servants; demanding everything from the school without any idea that they owe anything in return. Such facts as these - and there are ers which might be cited indicate some of the evil results of the plan, and make it very clear that here is an actual danger to the higher ethical conditions. We should carefully guard our national life at this point.

[ocr errors]



There seems to be no escape from this free element and its logical results. All that can be done is to ward off the possible danger by constantly holding before the pupils the idea that they must repay the State in good citizenship.

Impurity may not be a greater evil in public than in private schools; but there are certain conditions in the democratic commingling of children in the former which make it more than a possible evil. There can be little or no social distinction except that growing out of the location of the school buildings. There is the "up town" and the "down town" school; but if a pupil is admitted into the schools at all, there can be no law requiring him to be in one building rather than in another, except the regulation that arises from residence in a particular locality; and even this is not enforced in some cities and towns. The very idea of the public school makes any classification upon social and ethical grounds an impossibility. There are localities where this evil of impurity is nothing more than a potential danger; but there are very many others where it is a real evil. On the part of teachers there is a growing intelligence concerning it, and a greater vigilance in guarding against it. Those who do realize its enormity, and meet it aright, have secured results that ought to encourage all others; but there should be a most stringent requirement in this matter in defining the teacher's duties. In some of the best normal schools the students have the plainest and clearest instruction upon this subject. They are told the habits for which they are to watch, and the best ways to meet the evil of impurity in whatever form it is present among children. But such preparation is far from universal. Not many years ago, a graduate of one of these schools said that the teacher who gave her class instruction on this subject asked its members how many of them had not known of at least the existence of a vile vocabulary of words among their schoolmates. All but two of the large class replied that during their early life in the public schools they had heard what they could never forget, though no words could express the longing they felt to blot it from their memo

ries; and in looking back from their more mature standpoint, it seemed to them that the teachers must have felt no special duty in the matter. These were young women from the public schools of one of the older States. There is no doubt, however, that each year our public school teachers have an increasing sense of responsibility for purity in thought and word of the children under their care. The difficulties with which they have to contend are very great. The two or three children who, with an air of mystery, bring information in regard to forms of impurity have great power for mischief, especially when they put a base interpretation upon things that are in themselves pure; and the quick imagination of a child, together with the fact that this information is not guarded, as it would be if it came from an older and a wise person, makes it doubly dangerous. The testimony of one teacher, which has been repeated by many, is to the effect that the large majority of children in the public schools know, theoretically, as much about the forms of impurity at twelve and fourteen as they ever will.

Thus the situation calls for teachers wise in heart and head, watchful in regard to this danger, and skillful in meeting it; for the sense of disgrace that comes to many children from the mere acquisition of this information is a blow to that peculiar delicacy of feeling which exists with the highest morality. In many cases the inherent force of home training preserves the child from radical injury; but some children never escape the wrong that is done them, others are led into practices that seriously modify their usefulness, while still others are ruined.


The public school is a normal outgrowth of our social and political order, and its tendencies are the logical outcome of this order. Its dangers are those that exist in this democratic state, but it lies in the power of the schools to eradicate much of the evil in the state.

It is difficult to say how this is to be accomplished, but certainly the most effective method will be along the line of the general improvement of the system.

This improvement will be brought about by the divorce of the control of the schools from partisan politics; by the appointment of teachers for merit only, merit in which force of character should be regarded as a sine qua non; by the introduction of scientific instruction to the exclusion of mechanical methods; and by constantly making prominent the idea that the pupils are being fitted for citizenship and actual service. Something could also be said in regard to the necessity of a larger number of teachers, in order that the element of personal influence may be greater and more immediate.

As this paper is only a statement of the ethical problem of the public schools, and not an attempt to solve it, it is not within its province to discuss the many possible remedies that have been suggested by teachers and others who are studying this question. Few hesitate to say that there are defects in the system, and possible moral dangers associated with it, against which our national life should be guarded with great wisdom and persistence.

The public school stands in close relationship to every moral problem in the republic. The problem of municipal government is pressing upon thoughtful citizens to-day, and many schemes are devised to make it impossible for dishonest politicians to practice their dishonesty and selfishness; but a radical cure of this and all other evils in the body politic can be effected only by the creation of upright citizens. A majority of the voters receive their only training in the public schools. If low and selfish aims rule their conduct; if they lack the possibility of enthusiasm for a high purpose; if, in short, their lives are wanting in principle, it is not enough to say that demoralizing influences overthrow the good wrought within the

schools, because the business of the schools is so to establish morality that it cannot be overthrown by evil circumstances in after life. For, as has already been pointed out, the church and the home of the present day are not able to perform this work, and therefore the schools, because of the very idea which underlies their foundation and secures their continued support, and because of the amount of time which the child necessarily spends in them, must be held largely responsible for the foundation of character; in other words, for the training of upright and patriotic citizens. This, as has just been said, is their business. School boards and teachers are needed who realize this important fact, and who are willing and able to make the development of principle the central point in their work.

No one who examines carefully the present political and social order can fail to notice that there is a spirit of selfseeking abroad that is destructive of the noblest virtues and the highest ethical conditions; that vast numbers of citizens are controlled by the passion for getting rather than for giving. This is the dan

gerous element in the social problem. It is the bane of that partisanship that is ever willing to sacrifice the state for party supremacy; it is the moral obliquity of the pauper and the criminal, who are ever seeking to get something without rendering a fair and just equivalent. Is the public school laying its foundation deep enough? Has it struck its roots into the moral nature of these thirteen million children? These are the questions that serious and earnest people are asking. There is a striking similarity between the excellencies in our national life and the excellencies in our public school system. There is also a striking similarity between the evils in both. Can it not then be said that the eradication of the evils in the public schools will have very much to do with their eradication in the life of the state?

To touch the springs of action in these pupils is to touch the very sources of power in the national life; and there is no opportunity to be compared with that offered by the public schools. The institution is so sacred, so far reaching in its influence, that it must be rescued from political strife and partisan narrowness. William Frederick Slocum, Jr.


In his own person Henry Vaughan left no trace in society. His life seemed to slip by like the running water on which he was forever gazing and moralizing, and his memory met early with the fate which he hardly foresaw. Descended from the royal chiefs of southern Wales, whom Tacitus mentions, and whose abode, in the day of Roman domination, was in the district called Siluria, he styled himself the Silurist upon his title-pages; and he keeps the distinctive name in the humblest of epitaphs, close by his lifelong home in the glorious valley of the

Usk and the little Honddu, under the shadow of Tretower, the ruined castle of his race, and of Pen-y-Fan and his kindred peaks. What we know of him is a sort of pastoral: how he was born, the son of a poor gentleman, in 1621, at Newton St. Bridget, in the old house yet asleep on the road between Brecon and Crickhowel; how he went up to Oxford, Laud's Oxford, with Thomas, his twin, as a boy of sixteen, to be entered at Jesus College; how he took his degree (just where and when no one can discover), and came back, after a London

revel, to be the village physician, though he was meant for the law, in what had become his brother's parish of Llansaintfread; to write books full of sequestered beauty, to watch the most tragic of wars, to look into the faces of love and loss, and to spend his thoughtful age on the bowery banks of the river he had always known, his Isca parens florum, to which he consecrated many a sweet English line. And the ripple of the not unthankful Usk was "distinctly audible over its pebbles," as was the Tweed to the failing sense of Sir Walter Scott, in the room where Henry Vaughan drew his last breath, on St. George's Day, April 23, 1695. He died exactly seventy-nine years after Shakespeare, exactly one hundred and fifty-five years before Wordsworth.

Circumstances had their way with him as with most poets. He knew the touch of disappointment and renunciation not only in life, but in his civic hopes and in his art. He broke his career in twain, and began over, before he had passed thirty; and he showed great æsthetic discretion, as well as disinterestedness, in replacing his graceful early verses by the deep dedications of his prime. Religious faith and meditation seem so much a part of his innermost nature, it is a little difficult to remember that Vaughan considered himself a brand snatched from the burning, a lawless Cavalier brought by the best of chances to the quiet life, and the feet of the moral Muse. Some time between 1645 and 1653 he was seized by a sorely protracted and nearly fatal illness; and during its progress his dearest friends were taken from him. Nor was the execution of the king a light event to so sensitive a poet and so passionate a partisan. Meanwhile Vaughan read George Herbert, and his theory of proportional values began to change. It was a season of transition and silent crises, when men bared their breasts to great issues, and when it was easy for a childlike soul "Weary of her vain search below, above,

In the first Fair to find the immortal Love."

Vaughan, in his new fervor, did his best to suppress the numbers written in his youth, thus clearing the field for what he afterwards called his "hagiography;" and a critic wonders what he found in his first tiny volume of 1646 or in Olor Iscanus to regret or cancel. The turn in his life which brought him lasting peace, in a world rocking between the cant of the Parliament and resurgent audacity and riot, achieved for us a body of work which, small as it is, has rare interest, and an out-of-door beauty, as of the natural dusk, "breathless with adoration," which is almost without parallel. Once he had shaken off secular ambitions, Vaughan's voice grew at once free and more forceful. In him a marked intellectual gain sprang from an apparently slight spiritual readjustment, even as it did, three centuries later, in one greater than he, John Henry Newman.

He was, in the only liberal sense, a learned man, full of lifelong curiosity for the fruit of the Eden Tree. His lines beginning,

Quite spent with thought I left my cell," show the acutest thirst for hidden knowledge; he would "most gladly die," if death might buy him intellectual growth. He looks forward to eternity as to the unsealing and disclosing of mysteries. He makes the soul sing joyously to the body: "I that here saw darkly, in a glass,

But mists and shadows pass,

And by their own weak shine did search the

And source of things,
Shall, with inlighted rays,

Pierce all their ways!"

His occupation as a resident physician must have fostered his fine eye and ear for the green earth, and furnished him, day by day, with musings in sylvan solitudes and rides abroad over the fresh hill-paths. The breath of the mountains is about his books. An early riser, he uttered a constant invocation to whoever would listen, that

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »