Craftsmanship in Teaching
by William Chandler Bagley
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In similar fashion, the other written work was gone over and annotated. Every pupil in this system of schools had a sample of his written work examined at regular and frequent intervals by the superintendent. Every teacher knew just what her chief demanded in the way of results, and did her best to gain the results demanded. I am not taking the position that the results that were demanded represented the highest ideals of what the elementary school should accomplish. Good penmanship and good spelling and good language, in the light of contemporary educational thought, seem to be something like happiness—you get them in larger measure the less you think about getting them. But this possible objection aside, the superintendent in question had developed a system which kept him in very close touch with the work that was being done in widely separated schools.

He told me further that, on the infrequent occasions when he could visit his classrooms, he gave most of his time and attention to the matters that could not be supervised at "long range." He found out how the pupils were improving in their reading, and especially in oral expression, in its syntax, its freedom from errors of construction, its clearness and fluency. He listed the common errors, directing his teachers to take them up in a systematic manner and eradicate them, and he did not fail to note at his next visit how much progress had been made. He noted the condition of the blackboard work, and kept a list of the improvements that he suggested. He tested for rapidity in arithmetical processes, for the papers sent to his office gave him only an index of accuracy. He noted the habits of personal cleanliness that were being developed or neglected. In fact, he had a long list of specific standards that he kept continually in mind, the progress toward which he constantly watched. And last, but by no means least, he carried with him wherever he went an atmosphere of breezy good nature and cheerfulness, for he had mastered the first principle in the art of both supervision and teaching; he had learned that the best way to promote growth in either pupils or teachers is neither to let them do as they please nor to force them to do as you please, but to get them to please to do what you please to have them do.

I instance this superintendent as one type of efficiency in supervision. He was efficient, not simply because he had a system that scrutinized every least detail of his pupils' growth, but because that scrutiny really insured growth. He obtained the results that he desired, and he obtained uniformly good results from a large number of young, untrained teachers. We have all heard of the superintendent who boasted that he could tell by looking at his watch just what any pupil in any classroom was doing at just that moment. Surely here system was not lacking. But the boast did not strike the vital point. It is not what the pupil is doing that is fundamentally important, but what he is gaining from his activity or inactivity; what he is gaining in the way of habits, in the way of knowledge, in the way of standards and ideals and prejudices, all of which are to govern his future conduct. The superintendent whom I have described had the qualities of balance and perspective that enabled him to see both the woods and the trees. And let me add that he taught regularly in his own central high school, and that practically all of his supervision was accomplished after school hours and on Saturdays.

But my chief reason for choosing his work as a type is that it represents a successful effort to supervise that part of school work which is most difficult and irksome to supervise; namely, the formation of habits. Whatever one's ideals of education may be, it still remains true that habit building is the most important duty of the elementary school, and that the efficiency of habit building can be tested in no other way than by the means that he employed; namely, the careful comparison of results at successive stages of the process.


The essence of a true habit is its purely automatic character. Reaction must follow upon the stimulus instantaneously, without thought, reflection, or judgment. One has not taught spelling efficiently until spelling is automatic, until the correct form flows from the pen without the intervention of mind. The real test of the pupil's training in spelling is his ability to spell the word correctly when he is thinking, not about spelling, but about the content of the sentence that he is writing. Consequently the test of efficiency in spelling is not an examination in spelling, although this may be valuable as a means to an end, but rather the infrequency with which misspelled words appear in the composition work, letter writing, and other written work of the pupil. Similarly in language and grammar, it is not sufficient to instruct in rules of syntax. This is but the initial process. Grammatical rules function effectively only when they function automatically. So long as one must think and judge and reflect upon the form of one's expression, the expression is necessarily awkward and inadequate.

The same rule holds in respect of the fundamental processes of arithmetic. It holds in penmanship, in articulation and enunciation, in word recognition, in moral conduct and good manners; in fact, in all of the basic work for which the elementary school must stand sponsor. And one source of danger in the newer methods of education lies in the tendency to overlook the importance of carrying habit-building processes through to a successful issue. The reaction against drill, against formal work of all sorts, is a healthful reaction in many ways. It bids fair to break up the mechanical lock step of the elementary grades, and to introduce some welcome life, and vigor, and wholesomeness. But it will sadly defeat its own purpose if it underrates the necessity of habit building as the basic activity of early education.

What is needed, now that we have got away from the lock step, now that we are happily emancipated from the meaningless thralldom of mechanical repetition and the worship of drill for its own sake—what is needed now is not less drill, but better drill. And this should be the net result of the recent reforms in elementary education. In our first enthusiasm, we threw away the spelling book, poked fun at the multiplication tables, decried basal reading, and relieved ourselves of much wit and sarcasm at the expense of formal grammar. But now we are swinging back to the adequate recognition of the true purpose of drill. And in the wake of this newer conception, we are learning that its drudgery may be lightened and its efficiency heightened by the introduction of a richer content that shall provide a greater variety in the repetitions, insure an adequate motive for effort, and relieve the dead monotony that frequently rendered the older methods so futile. I look forward to the time when to be an efficient drillmaster in this newer sense of the term will be to have reached one of the pinnacles of professional skill.


But there is another side of teaching that must be supervised. Although habit is responsible for nine tenths of conduct, the remaining tenth must not be neglected. In situations where habit is not adequate to adjustment, judgment and reflection must come to the rescue, or should come to the rescue. This means that, instead of acting without thought, as in the case of habit, one analyzes the situation and tries to solve it by the application of some fact or principle that has been gained either from one's own experience or from the experience of others. This is the field in which knowledge comes to its own; and a very important task of education is to fix in the pupils' minds a number of facts and principles that will be available for application to the situations of later life.

How, then, is the efficiency of instruction (as distinguished from training or habit building) to be tested? Needless to say, an adequate test is impossible from the very nature of the situation. The efficiency of imparting knowledge can be tested only by the effect that this knowledge has upon later conduct; and this, it will be agreed, cannot be accurately determined until the pupil has left the school and is face to face with the problems of real life.

In practice, however, we adopt a more or less effective substitute for the real test—the substitute called the examination. We all know that the ultimate purpose of instruction is not primarily to enable pupils successfully to pass examinations. And yet as long as we teach as though this were the main purpose we might as well believe it to be. Now the examination may be made a very valuable test of the efficiency of instruction if its limitations are fully recognized and if it does not obscure the true purpose of instruction. And if we remember that the true purpose is to impart facts in such a manner that they may not only "stick" in the pupil's mind, but that they may also be amenable to recall and practical application, and if we set our examination questions with some reference to this requirement, then I believe that we shall find the examination a dependable test.

One important point is likely to be overlooked in the consideration of examinations,—the fact, namely, that the form and content of the questions have a very powerful influence in determining the content and methods of instruction. Is it not pertinent, then, to inquire whether examination questions cannot be so framed as radically to improve instruction rather than to encourage, as is often the case, methods that are pedagogically unsound? Granted that it is well for the child to memorize verbatim certain unrelated facts, even to memorize some facts that have no immediate bearing upon his life, granted that this is valuable (and I think that a little of it is), is it necessary that an entire year or half-year be given over almost entirely to "cramming up" on old questions? Would it not be possible so to frame examination questions that the "cramming" process would be practically valueless?

What the pupil should get from geography, for instance, is not only a knowledge of geographical facts, but also, and more fundamentally, the power to see the relation of these facts to his own life; in other words, the ability to apply his knowledge to the improvement of adjustment. Now this power is very closely associated with the ability to grasp fundamental principles, to see the relation of cause and effect working below the surface of diverse phenomena. Geography, to be practical, must impress not only the fact, but also the principle that rationalizes or explains the fact. It must emphasize the "why" as well as the "what." For example: it is well for the pupil to know that New York is the largest city in the United States; it is better that he should know why New York has become the largest city in the United States. It is well to know that South America extends very much farther to the east than does North America, but it is better to know that this fact has had an important bearing in determining the commercial relations that exist between South America and Europe. Questions that have reference to these larger relations of cause and effect may be so framed that no amount of "cramming" will alone insure correct answers. They may be so framed that the pupil will be forced to do some thinking for himself, will be forced to solve an imaginary situation very much as he would solve a real situation.

Examination questions of this type would react beneficially upon the methods of instruction. They would tend to place a premium upon that type of instruction that develops initiative in solving problems, instead of encouraging the memoriter methods that tend to crush whatever germs of initiative the pupil may possess. This does not mean that the memoriter work should be excluded. A solid basis of fact is essential to the mastery of principles. Personally I believe that the work of the intermediate grades should be planned to give the pupil this factual basis. This would leave the upper grades free for the more rational work. In any case, I believe that the efficiency of examinations may be greatly increased by giving one or two questions that must be answered by a reasoning process for every question that may be answered by verbal memory alone.


Thus far it seems clear that an absolute standard is available for testing the efficiency of training or habit building, and that a fairly accurate standard may be developed for testing the efficiency of instruction. Both training and instruction, however, are subject to the modifying influence of a third factor of which too little account has hitherto been taken in educational discussions. Training results in habits, and yet a certain sort of training may not only result in a certain type of habit, but it may also result in the development of something which will quite negate the habit that has been developed. In the process of developing habits of neatness, for example, one may employ methods that result in prejudicing the child against neatness as a general virtue. In this event, although the little specific habits of neatness may function in the situations in which they have been developed, the prejudice will effectually prevent their extension to other fields. In other words, the general emotional effect of training must be considered as well as the specific results of the training. The same stricture applies with equal force to instruction. Instruction imparts knowledge; but if a man knows and fails to feel, his knowledge has little influence upon his conduct.

This factor that controls conduct when habit fails, this factor that may even negate an otherwise efficient habit, is the great indeterminate in the work of teaching. To know that one has trained an effective habit or imparted a practical principle is one thing; to know that in doing this, one has not engendered in the pupil's mind a prejudice against the very thing taught is quite another matter.

That phase of teaching which is concerned with the development of these intangible forces may be termed "inspiration"; and it is the lack of an adequate test for the efficiency of inspiration that makes the task of supervision so difficult and the results so often unsatisfactory.

Nevertheless, even here the outlook is not entirely hopeless. One may be tolerably certain of at least two things. In the first place, the great "emotionalized prejudices" that must come predominantly from school influences are the love of truth, the love of work, respect for law and order, and a spirit of cooeperation. These factors undoubtedly have their basis in specific habits of honesty, industry, obedience, and regard for the rights and feelings of others; and these habits may be developed and tested just as thoroughly and just as accurately as habits of good spelling and correct syntax. Without the solid basis of habit, ideals and prejudices will be of but little service. The one caution must be taken that the methods of training do not defeat their own purpose by engendering prejudices and ideals that negate the habits. It is here that the personality of the teacher becomes the all-important factor, and the task of the supervisor is to determine whether the influence of the personality is good or evil. Most supervisors come to judge of this influence by an undefined factor that is best termed the "spirit of the classroom."

The second hopeful feature of the task of supervision in respect of inspiration is that this "spirit" is an extremely contagious and pervasive thing. In other words, the principal or the superintendent may dominate every classroom under his supervision, almost without regard to the limitations of the individual teachers. Typical schools in every city system bear compelling testimony to this fact. The principal is the school.

And if I were to sum up the essential characteristics of the ideal supervisor, I could not neglect this point. After all, the two great dangers that beset him are, first, the danger of sloth—the old Adam of laziness—which will tempt him to avoid the details, to shirk the drudgery, to escape the close and wearisome scrutiny of little things; and, secondly, the sin of triviality—the inertia which holds him to details and never permits him to take the broader view and see the true ends toward which details are but the means. The proper combination of these two factors is all too rare, but it is in this combination that the ideal supervisor is to be found.


[Footnote 10: A paper read before the fifty-second annual meeting of the New York State Association of School Commissioners and Superintendents, November 8, 1907.]




It is difficult not to be depressed by the irrational radicalism of contemporary educational theory. It would seem that the workers in the higher ranges of educational activity should, of all men, preserve a balanced judgment and a sane outlook, and yet there is probably no other human calling that presents the strange phenomenon of men who are called experts throwing overboard everything that the past has sanctioned, and embarking without chart or compass upon any new venture that happens to catch popular fancy. The non-professional character of education is nowhere more painfully apparent than in the expression of this tendency. The literature of teaching that is written directly out of experience—out of actual adjustment to the teaching situation—is almost laughed out of court in some educational circles. But if one wishes to win the applause of the multitude one may do it easily enough by proclaiming some new and untried plan. At our educational gatherings you notice above everything else a straining for spectacular and bizarre effects. It is the novel that catches attention; and it sometimes seems to me that those who know the least about the educational situation in the way of direct contact often receive the largest share of attention and have the largest influence.

It is in the attitude of the public and of a certain proportion of school men toward elementary teaching and the elementary teacher that this destructive criticism finds its most pronounced expression. Throughout the length and breadth of the land, the efficiency of the public school and the sincerity and intelligence of those who are giving their lives to its work are being called into question. It is discouraging to think that years of service in a calling do not qualify one to speak authoritatively upon the problems of that calling, and especially upon technique. And yet it is precisely upon that point of technique that the criticisms of elementary education are most drastic.

Our educational system is sometimes branded as a failure, and yet this same educational system with all its weaknesses has accomplished the task of assimilating to American institutions and ideals and standards the most heterogeneous infusion of alien stocks that ever went to the making of a united people. The elementary teacher is criticized for all the sins of omission that the calendar enumerates, and yet this same elementary teacher is daily lifting millions of children to a plane of civilization and culture that no other people in history have even thought possible. I am willing to admit the deficiencies of American education, but I also maintain that the teachers of our lower schools do not deserve the opprobrium that has been heaped upon them. I believe that in education, as in business, it would be a good thing if we saw more of the doughnut and less of the hole. When I hear a prominent educator say that we must discard everything that we have produced thus far and begin anew in the realm of educational materials and methods, I confess that I am discouraged, especially when that same authority is extremely obscure as to the materials and methods that we should substitute for those that we are now employing. I heard that statement at a recent meeting of the Department of Superintendence, and I heard other things of like tenor,—for example, that normal schools were perpetuating types of skill in teaching that were unworthy of perpetuation, that the observation of teaching was valueless in the training of teachers because there was nothing that was being done at the present time that was worthy of imitation, that practice teaching in the training of young teachers is a farce, a delusion, and a snare. Those very words were employed by one man of high position to express his opinion of contemporary practices. You cannot pick up an educational journal of the better sort, nor open a new educational book, without being brought face to face with this destructive criticism.

I protest against this, not only in the name of justice, but in the name of common sense. It cannot be possible that generations of dealing with immature minds should have left no residuum of effective practice. The very principle of progress by trial and error will inevitably mean that certain practices that are possible and helpful and effective are perpetuated, and that certain other processes that are ineffective and wasteful are eliminated. To repudiate all this is the height of folly. If the history of progress shows us anything, it shows us that progress is not made by repudiating the lessons of experience. Theory is the last word, not the first. Theory should explain: it should take successful practice and find out what principles condition its efficiency; and if these principles are inconsistent with those heretofore held, it is the theory that should be modified to suit the facts, not the facts to suit the theory.

My opponents may point to medicine as a possible example of the opposite procedure. And yet if there is anything that the history of medical science demonstrates, it is that the first cues to new discoveries were made in the field of practice. Lymph therapy, which is one of the triumphs of modern medicine, was discovered empirically. It was an accident of practice, a blind procedure of trial and success that led to Jenner's discovery of the virtues of vaccination. A century passed before theory adequately explained the phenomenon, and opened the way to those wider applications of the principle that have done so much to reduce the ravages of disease.

The value of theory, I repeat, is to explain successful practice and to generalize experience in broad and comprehensive principles which can be easily held in mind, and from which inferences for further new and effective practices may be derived. We have a small body of sound principles in education to-day,—a body of principles that are thoroughly consistent with successful practice. But the sort of principles that are put forth as the last words of educational theory are often far from sound. Personally I firmly believe that a vast amount of damage is being done to children by the application of fallacious principles which, because they emanate from high authority, obtain an artificial validity in the minds of teachers in service.

I cannot understand why, when an educational experiment fails lamentably, it is not rejected as a failure. And yet you and I know a number of instances where certain educational experiments that have undeniably reversed the hypotheses of those who initiated them are excused on the ground that conditions were not favorable. That, it seems to me, should tell the whole story, for precisely what we need in educational practice is a body of doctrine that will work where conditions are unfavorable. We are told that the successful application of mooted theories depends upon the proper kind of teachers. I maintain that the most effective sort of theory is the sort that brings results with such teachers as we must employ in our work. It would be a poor recommendation for a theory of medicine to say that it worked all right when people are healthy but failed to help the sick. Nor is it true that good teachers can get good results by following bad theory. They often obtain the results by evading the theory, and when they live up to it, the results faithfully reflect the theory, no matter how skillful the teaching.


Statements like these are very apt to be misconstrued or misinterpreted unless one is very careful to define one's position; and, after what I have said, I should do myself an injustice if I did not make certain that my position is clear. I believe in experimentation in education. I believe in experimental schools. But I should wish these schools to be interpreted as experiments and not as models, and I should wish that the failure of an experiment be accepted with good, scientific grace, and not with the unscientific attitude of making excuses. The trouble with an experimental school is that, in the eyes of the great mass of teachers, it becomes a model school, and the principles that it represents are applied ad libitum by thousands of teachers who assume that they have heard the last word in educational theory.

No one is more favorably disposed toward the rights of children than I am, and yet I am thoroughly convinced that soft-heartedness accompanied by soft-headedness is weakening the mental and moral fiber of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls throughout this country. No one admires more than I admire the sagacity and far-sightedness of Judge Lindsey, and yet when Judge Lindsey's methods are proposed as models for school government, I cannot lose sight, as so many people seem to lose sight, of the contingent factor; namely, that Judge Lindsey's leniency is based upon authority, and that if Judge Lindsey or anybody else attempted to be lenient when he had no power to be otherwise than lenient, his "bluff" would be called in short order. If you will give to teachers and principals the same power that you give to the police judge, you may well expect them to be lenient. The great trouble in the school is simply this: that just in the proportion that leniency is demanded, authority is taken away from the teacher.

And I should perhaps say a qualifying word with regard to my attitude toward educational theory. I have every feeling of affection for the science of psychology. I have every faith in the value of psychological principles in the interpretation of educational phenomena. But I also recognize that the science of psychology is a very young science, and that its data are not yet so well organized that it is safe to draw from them anything more than tentative hypotheses which must meet their final test in the crucible of practice. Some day, if we work hard enough, psychology will become a predictive science, just as mathematics and physics and chemistry and, to a certain extent, biology, are predictive sciences to-day. Meantime psychology is of inestimable value in giving us a point of view, in clarifying our ideas, and in rationalizing the truths that empirical practice discovers. A very few psychological principles are strongly enough established even now to form the basis of prediction. Among the most important of these are the laws of habit building, some laws of memory, and the larger principles of attention. Successful educational practice is and must be in accord with these indisputable tenets. But the bane of education to-day is in the pseudo-science, the "half-baked" psychology, that is lauded from the house-tops by untrained enthusiasts, turned from the presses by irresponsible publishing houses, and foisted upon the hungry teaching public through the ever-present medium of the reading circle, the teachers' institute, the summer school, and I am very sorry to admit (for I think that I represent both institutions in a way) sometimes by the normal schools and universities.

Most of the doctrines that are turning our practice topsy-turvy have absolutely no support from competent psychologists. The doctrine of spontaneity and its attendant laissez-faire dogma of school government is thoroughly inconsistent with good psychology. The radical extreme to which some educators would push the doctrine of interest when they maintain that the child should never be asked to do anything for which he fails to find a need in his own life,—this doctrine can find no support in good psychology. The doctrine that the preadolescent child should understand thoroughly every process that he is expected to reduce to habit before that process is made automatic is utterly at variance with long-established principles which were well understood by the Greeks and the Hebrews twenty-five hundred years ago, and to which Mother Nature herself gives the lie in the instincts of imitation and repetition. It is conceivable that these radical doctrines were justified as means of reform, especially in secondary and higher education, but, even granting this, their function is fulfilled when the reform that they exploited has been accomplished. That time has come and, as palpable untruths, they should either be modified to meet the facts, or be relegated to oblivion.


It is safe to say that formalism is no longer a characteristic feature of the typical American school. It is so long since I have heard any rote learning in a schoolroom that I am wondering if it is not almost time for some one to show that a little rote learning would not be at all a bad thing in preadolescent education. We ridicule the memoriter methods of Chinese education and yet we sometimes forget that Chinese education has done something that no other system of education, however well planned, has even begun to do in the same degree. It has kept the Chinese empire a unit through a period of time compared with which the entire history of Greece and Rome is but an episode. We may ridicule the formalism of Hebrew education, and yet the schools of rabbis have preserved intact the racial integrity of the Jewish people during the two thousand years that have elapsed since their geographical unity was destroyed. I am not justifying the methods of Chinese or Hebrew education. I am quite willing to admit that, in China at any rate, the game may not have been worth the candle; but I am still far from convinced that it is not a good thing for children to reduce to verbal form a good many things that are now never learned in such a way as to make any lasting impression upon the memory; and our criticism of oriental formalism is not so much concerned with the method of learning as with the content of learning,—not so much with learning by heart as with the character of the material that was thus memorized.

But, although formalism is no longer a distinctive feature of American education, formalism is the point from which education is most frequently attacked,—and this is the chief source of my dissatisfaction with the present-day critics of our elementary schools. In a great many cases, they have set up a man of straw and demolished him completely. And in demolishing him, they have incidentally knocked the props from under the feet of many a good teacher, leaving him dazed and uncertain of his bearings, stung with the conviction that what he has been doing for his pupils is entirely without value, that his life of service has been a failure, that the lessons of his own experience are not to be trusted, nor the verdicts of his own intelligence respected. Go to any of the great summer schools and you will meet, among the attending teachers, hundreds of faithful, conscientious men and women who could tell you if they would (and some of them will) of the muddle in which their minds are left after some of the lectures to which they have listened. Why should they fail to be depressed? The whole weight of academic authority seems to be against them. The entire machinery of educational administration is wheeling them with relentless force into paths that seem to them hopelessly intricate and bewildering. If it is true, as I think it is, that some of the proposals of modern education are an attempt to square the circle, it is certainly true that the classroom teacher is standing at the pressure points in this procedure.

We hear expressed on every side a great deal of sympathy for the child as the victim of our educational system. Sympathy for childhood is the most natural thing in the world. It is one of the basic human instincts, and its expressions are among the finest things in human life. But why limit our sympathy to the child, especially to-day when he is about as happy and as fortunate an individual as anybody has ever been in all history. Why not let a little of it go out to the teacher of this child? Why not plan a little for her comfort and welfare and encouragement? It is her skill that is assimilating the children of our alien population. It is her strength that is lifting bodily each generation to the ever-advancing race levels. Her work must be the main source of the inspiration that will impel the race to further advancement. And yet when these half-million teachers who mean so much to this country gather at their institutes, when they attend the summer schools, when they take up their professional journals, what do they hear and read? Criticisms of their work. Denunciations of their methods. Serious doubts of their intelligence. Aspersions cast upon their sincerity, their patience, and their loyalty to their superiors. This, mingled with some mawkish sentimentalism that passes under the name of inspiration. Only occasionally a word of downright commendation, a sign of honest and heartfelt appreciation, a note of sympathy or encouragement.

Carnegie gives fifteen million dollars to provide pensions for superannuated college professors; but the elementary teacher who is not fortunate enough to die in harness must look forward to the almshouse. The people tax themselves for magnificent buildings and luxurious furnishings, but not one cent do they offer for teachers' pensions. What a blot upon Western civilization is this treatment of the teachers in our lower schools. These people are doing the work that even the savage races universally consider to be of the highest type. Benighted China places her teachers second only to the literati themselves in the place of honor. The Hindus made the teaching profession the highest caste in the social scale. The Jews intrusted the education of their children to their Rabbis, the most learned and the most honored of their race. It is only Western civilization—it is almost only our much-lauded Anglo-Saxon civilization—that denies to the teacher a station in life befitting his importance as a social servant.


But what has all this to do with school supervision? As I view it, the supervisor of schools as the overseer and director of the educational process, is just now confronted with two great problems. The first of these is to keep a clear head in the present muddled condition of educational theory. From the very fact of his position, the supervisor must be a leader, whether he will or not. It is a maxim of our profession that the principal is the school. In our city systems the supervising principal is given almost absolute authority over the school of which he has charge. In him is vested the ultimate responsibility for instruction, for discipline, for the care and condition of the material property. He may be a despot if he wishes, benevolent or otherwise. With this power goes a corresponding opportunity. His school can stand for something,—perhaps for something new and strange which will bring him into the limelight to-day, no matter what its character; perhaps for something solid and enduring, something that will last long after his own name has been forgotten. The temptation was never so strong as it is to-day for the supervisor to seek the former kind of glory. The need was never more acute than it is to-day for the supervisor who is content with the impersonal glory of the latter type.

I admit that it is a somewhat thankless task to do things in a straightforward, effective way, without fuss or feathers, and I suppose that the applause of the gallery may be easily mistaken for the applause of the pit. But nevertheless the seeker for notoriety is doing the cause of education a vast amount of harm. I know a principal who won ephemeral fame by introducing into his school a form of the Japanese jiu-jitsu physical exercises. When I visited that school, I was led to believe that jiu-jitsu would be the salvation of the American people. Whole classes of girls and boys were marched to the large basement to be put through their paces for the delectation of visitors. The newspapers took it up and heralded it as another indication that the formalism of the public school was gradually breaking down. Visitors came by the hundreds, and my friend basked in the limelight of public adulation while his colleagues turned green with envy and set themselves to devising some means for turning attention in their direction.

And yet, there are some principals who move on in the even tenor of their ways, year after year, while all these currents and countercurrents are seething and eddying around them. They hold fast to that which they know is good until that which they know is better can be found. They believe in the things that they do, so the chances are greatly increased that they will do them well. They refuse to be bullied or sneered at or laughed out of court because they do not take up with every fancy that catches the popular mind. They have their own professional standards as to what constitutes competent schoolmanship,—their own standards gained from their own specialized experience. And somehow I cannot help thinking that just now that is the type of supervisor that we need and the type that ought to be encouraged. If I were talking to Chinese teachers, I might preach another sort of gospel, but American education to-day needs less turmoil, less distraction, fewer sweeping changes. It needs to settle itself, and look around, and find out where it is and what it is trying to do. And it needs, above all, to rise to a consciousness of itself as an institution manned by intelligent individuals who are perfectly competent themselves to set up craft standard and ideals.

IV [Transcriber's note: This is a typographical error in the original, and should read "V"]

But in whatever way the supervisor may utilize the opportunity that his position presents, his second great problem will come up for solution. The supervisor is the captain of the teaching corps. Directly under his control are the mainsprings of the school's life and activity,—the classroom teachers. It is coming to be a maxim in the city systems that the supervisor has not only the power to mold the school to the form of his own ideals, but that he can, if he is skillful, turn weak teachers into strong teachers and make out of most unpromising material, an efficient, homogeneous school staff. I believe that this is coming to be considered the prime criterion of effective school supervision,—not what skill the supervisor may show in testing results, or in keeping his pupils up to a given standard, or in choosing his teachers skillfully, but rather the success with which he is able to take the teaching material that is at his hand, and train it into efficiency.

A former Commissioner of Education for one of our new insular possessions once told me that he had come to divide supervisors into two classes,—(1) those who knew good teaching when they saw it, and (2) those who could make poor teachers into good teachers. Of these two types, he said, the latter were infinitely more valuable to pioneer work in education than the former, and he named two or three city systems from which he had selected the supervisors who could do this sort of thing,—for there is no limit to this process of training, and the superintendent who can train supervisors is just as important as the supervisor who can train teachers.

It would take a volume adequately to treat the various problems that this conception of the supervisor's function involves. I can do no more at present than indicate what seems to me the most pressing present need in this direction. I have found that sometimes the supervisors who insist most strenuously that their teachers secure the cooeperation of their pupils are among the very last to secure for themselves the cooeperation of their teachers.

And to this important end, it seems to me that we have an important suggestion in the present condition of the classroom teacher as I have attempted to describe it. As a type, the classroom teacher needs just now some adequate appreciation and recognition of the work that she is doing. If the lay public is unable adequately to judge the teacher's work, there is all the more reason that she should look to her supervisor for that recognition of technical skill, for that commendation of good work, which can come only from a fellow-craftsman, but which, when it does come, is worth more in the way of real inspiration than the loudest applause of the crowd.

Upon the whole, I believe that the outlook in this direction is encouraging. While the teacher may miss in her institutes and in the summer school that sort of encouragement, she is, I believe, finding it in larger and larger measure in the local teachers' meetings and in her consultations with her supervisors. And when all has been said, that is the place from which she should look for inspiration. The teachers' meeting must be the nursery of professional ideals. It must be a place where the real first-hand workers in education get that sanity of outlook, that professional point of view, which shall fortify them effectively against the rising tide of unprofessional interference and dictation which, as I have tried to indicate, constitutes the most serious menace to our educational welfare.

And it is in the encouragement of this craft spirit, in this lifting of the teacher's calling to the plane of craft consciousness, it is in this that the supervisor must, I believe, find the true and lasting reward for his work. It is through this factor that he can, just now, work the greatest good for the schools that he supervises and the community that he serves. The most effective way to reach his pupils is through the medium of their teachers, and he can help these pupils in no better way than to give their teachers a justifiable pride in the work that they are doing through his own recognition of its worth and its value, through his own respect for the significance of the lessons that experience teaches them, through his own suggestive help in making that experience profitable and suggestive. And just at the present moment, he can make no better start than by assuring them of the truth that Emerson expresses when he defines the true scholar as the man who remains firm in his belief that a popgun is only a popgun although the ancient and honored of earth may solemnly affirm it to be the crack of doom.




I wish to discuss with you some phases of the problem that is perhaps foremost in the minds of the teaching public to-day: the problem, namely, of making education bear more directly and more effectively upon the work of practical, everyday life. I have no doubt that some of you feel, when this problem is suggested, very much as I felt when I first suggested to myself the possibility of discussing it with you. You have doubtless heard some phases of this problem discussed at every meeting of this association for the past ten years—if you have been a member so long as that. Certain it is that we all grow weary of the reiteration of even the best of truths, but certain it is also that some problems are always before us, and until they are solved satisfactorily they will always stimulate men to devise means for their solution.

I should say at the outset, however, that I shall not attempt to justify to this audience the introduction of vocational subjects into the elementary and secondary curriculums. I shall take it for granted that you have already made up your minds upon this matter. I shall not take your time in an attempt to persuade you that agriculture ought to be taught in the rural schools, or manual training and domestic science in all schools. I am personally convinced of the value of such work and I shall take it for granted that you are likewise convinced.

My task to-day, then, is of another type. I wish to discuss with you some of the implications of this matter of utility in respect of the work that every elementary school is doing and always must do, no matter how much hand work or vocational material it may introduce. My problem, in other words, concerns the ordinary subject-matter of the curriculum,—reading and writing and arithmetic, geography and grammar and history,—those things which, like the poor, are always with us, but which we seem a little ashamed to talk about in public. Truly, from reading the educational journals and hearing educational discussion to-day, the layman might well infer that what we term the "useful" education and the education that is now offered by the average school are as far apart as the two poles. We are all familiar with the statement that the elementary curriculum is eminently adapted to produce clerks and accountants, but very poorly adapted to furnish recruits for any other department of life. The high school is criticized on the ground that it prepares for college and consequently for the professions, but that it is totally inadequate to the needs of the average citizen. Now it would be futile to deny that there is some truth in both these assertions, but I do not hesitate to affirm that both are grossly exaggerated, and that the curriculum of to-day, with all its imperfections, does not justify so sweeping a denunciation. I wish to point out some of the respects in which these charges are fallacious, and, in so doing, perhaps, to suggest some possible remedies for the defects that every one will acknowledge.


In the first place, let me make myself perfectly clear upon what I mean by the word "useful." What, after all, is the "useful" study in our schools? What do men find to be the useful thing in their lives? The most natural answer to this question is that the useful things are those that enable us to meet effectively the conditions of life,—or, to use a phrase that is perfectly clear to us all, the things that help us in getting a living. The vast majority of men and women in this world measure all values by this standard, for most of us are, to use the expressive slang of the day, "up against" this problem, and "up against" it so hard and so constantly that we interpret everything in the greatly foreshortened perspective of immediate necessity. Most of us in this room are confronting this problem of making a living. At any rate, I am confronting it, and consequently I may lay claim to some of the authority that comes from experience.

And since I have made this personal reference, may I violate the canons of good taste and make still another? I was face to face with this problem of getting a living a good many years ago, when the opportunity came to me to take a college course. I could see nothing ahead after that except another struggle with this same vital issue. So I decided to take a college course which would, in all probability, help me to solve the problem. Scientific agriculture was not developed in those days as it has been since that time, but a start had been made, and the various agricultural colleges were offering what seemed to be very practical courses. I had had some early experience on the farm, and I decided to become a scientific farmer. I took the course of four years and secured my degree. The course was as useful from the standpoint of practical agriculture as any that could have been devised at the time. But when I graduated, what did I find? The same old problem of getting a living still confronted me as I had expected that it would; and alas! I had got my education in a profession that demanded capital. I was a landless farmer. Times were hard and work of all kinds was very scarce. The farmers of those days were inclined to scoff at scientific agriculture. I could have worked for my board and a little more, and I should have done so had I been able to find a job. But while I was looking for the place, a chance came to teach school, and I took the opportunity as a means of keeping the wolf from the door. I have been engaged in the work of teaching ever since. When I was able to buy land, I did so, and I have to-day a farm of which I am very proud. It does not pay large dividends, but I keep it up for the fun I get out of it,—and I like to think, also, that if I should lose my job as a teacher, I could go back to the farm and show the natives how to make money. This is doubtless an illusion, but it is a source of solid comfort just the same.

Now the point of this experience is simply this: I secured an education that seemed to me to promise the acme of utility. In one way, it has fulfilled that promise far beyond my wildest expectations, but that way was very different from the one that I had anticipated. The technical knowledge that I gained during those four strenuous years, I apply now only as a means of recreation. So far as enabling me directly to get a living, this technical knowledge does not pay one per cent on the investment of time and money. And yet I count the training that I got from its mastery as, perhaps, the most useful product of my education.

Now what was the secret of its utility? As I analyze my experience, I find it summed up very largely in two factors. In the first place, I studied a set of subjects for which I had at the outset very little taste. In studying agriculture, I had to master a certain amount of chemistry, physics, botany, and zooelogy, for each and every one of which I felt, at the outset, a distinct aversion and dislike. A mastery of these subjects was essential to a realization of the purpose that I had in mind. I was sure that I should never like them, and yet, as I kept at work, I gradually found myself losing that initial distaste. First one and then another opened out its vista of truth and revelation before me, and almost before I was aware of it, I was enthusiastic over science. It was a long time before I generalized that experience and drew its lesson, but the lesson, once learned, has helped me more even in the specific task of getting a living than anything else that came out of my school training. That experience taught me, not only the necessity for doing disagreeable tasks,—for attacking them hopefully and cheerfully,—but it also taught me that disagreeable tasks, if attacked in the right way, and persisted in with patience, often become attractive in themselves. Over and over again in meeting the situations of real life, I have been confronted with tasks that were initially distasteful. Sometimes I have surrendered before them; but sometimes, too, that lesson has come back to me, and has inspired me to struggle on, and at no time has it disappointed me by the outcome. I repeat that there is no technical knowledge that I have gained that compares for a moment with that ideal of patience and persistence. When it comes to real, downright utility, measured by this inexorable standard of getting a living, let me commend to you the ideal of persistent effort. All the knowledge that we can learn or teach will come to very little if this element is lacking.

Now this is very far from saying that the pursuit of really useful knowledge may not give this ideal just as effectively as the pursuit of knowledge that will never be used. My point is simply this: that beyond the immediate utility of the facts that we teach,—indeed, basic and fundamental to this utility,—is the utility of the ideals and standards that are derived from our school work. Whatever we teach, these essential factors can be made to stand out in our work, and if our pupils acquire these we shall have done the basic and important thing in helping them to solve the problems of real life,—and if our pupils do not acquire these, it will make little difference how intrinsically valuable may be the content of our instruction. I feel like emphasizing this matter to-day, because there is in the air a notion that utility depends entirely upon the content of the curriculum. Certainly the curriculum must be improved from this standpoint, but we are just now losing sight of the other equally important factor,—that, after all, while both are essential, it is the spirit of teaching rather than the content of teaching that is basic and fundamental.

Nor have I much sympathy with that extreme view of this matter which asserts that we must go out of our way to provide distasteful tasks for the pupil in order to develop this ideal of persistence. I believe that such a policy will always tend to defeat its own purpose. I know a teacher who holds this belief. He goes out of his way to make tasks difficult. He refuses to help pupils over hard places. He does not believe in careful assignments of lessons, because, he maintains, the pupil ought to learn to overcome difficulties for himself, and how can he learn unless real difficulties are presented?

The great trouble with this teacher is that his policy does not work out in practice. A small minority of his pupils are strengthened by it; the majority are weakened. He is right when he says that a pupil gains strength only by overcoming difficulties, but he neglects a very important qualification of this rule, namely, that a pupil gains no strength out of obstacles that he fails to overcome. It is the conquest that comes after effort,—this is the factor that gives one strength and confidence. But when defeat follows defeat and failure follows failure, it is weakness that is being engendered—not strength. And that is the trouble with this teacher's pupils. The majority leave him with all confidence in their own ability shaken out of them and some of them never recover from the experience.

And so while I insist strenuously that the most useful lesson we can teach our pupils is how to do disagreeable tasks cheerfully and willingly, please do not understand me to mean that we should go out of our way to provide disagreeable tasks. After all, I rejoice that my own children are learning how to read and write and cipher much more easily, much more quickly, and withal much more pleasantly than I learned those useful arts. The more quickly they get to the plane that their elders have reached, the more quickly they can get beyond this plane and on to the next level.

To argue against improved methods in teaching on the ground that they make things too easy for the pupil is, to my mind, a grievous error. It is as fallacious as to argue that the introduction of machinery is a curse because it has diminished in some measure the necessity for human drudgery. But if machinery left mankind to rest upon its oars, if it discouraged further progress and further effortful achievement, it would be a curse: and if the easier and quicker methods of instruction simply bring my children to my own level and then fail to stimulate them to get beyond my level, then they are a curse and not a blessing.

I do not decry that educational policy of to-day which insists that school work should be made as simple and attractive as possible. I do decry that misinterpretation of this policy which looks at the matter from the other side, and asserts so vehemently that the child should never be asked or urged to do something that is not easy and attractive. It is only because there is so much in the world to be done that, for the sake of economizing time and strength, we should raise the child as quickly and as rapidly and as pleasantly as possible to the plane that the race has reached. But among all the lessons of race experience that we must teach him there is none so fundamental and important as the lesson of achievement itself,—the supreme lesson wrung from human experience,—the lesson, namely, that every advance that the world has made, every step that it has taken forward, every increment that has been added to the sum total of progress has been attained at the price of self-sacrifice and effort and struggle,—at the price of doing things that one does not want to do. And unless a man is willing to pay that price, he is bound to be the worst kind of a social parasite, for he is simply living on the experience of others, and adding to this capital nothing of his own.

It is sometimes said that universal education is essential in order that the great mass of humanity may live in greater comfort and enjoy the luxuries that in the past have been vouchsafed only to the few. Personally I think that this is all right so far as it goes, but it fails to reach an ultimate goal. Material comfort is justified only because it enables mankind to live more effectively on the lower planes of life and give greater strength and greater energy to the solution of new problems upon the higher planes of life. The end of life can never be adequately formulated in terms of comfort and ease, nor even in terms of culture and intellectual enjoyment; the end of life is achievement, and no matter how far we go, achievement is possible only to those who are willing to pay the price. When the race stops investing its capital of experience in further achievement, when it settles down to take life easily, it will not take it very long to eat up its capital and revert to the plane of the brute.


But I am getting away, from my text. You will remember that I said that the most useful thing that we can teach the child is to attack strenuously and resolutely any problem that confronts him whether it pleases him or not, and I wanted to be certain that you did not misinterpret me to mean that we should, for this reason, make our school tasks unnecessarily difficult and laborious. After all, while our attitude should always be one of interesting our pupils, their attitude should always be one of effortful attention,—of willingness to do the task that we think it best for them to do. You see it is a sort of a double-headed policy, and how to carry it out is a perplexing problem. Of so much I am certain, however, at the outset: if the pupil takes the attitude that we are there to interest and entertain him, we shall make a sorry fiasco of the whole matter, and inasmuch as this very tendency is in the air at the present time, I feel justified in at least referring to its danger.

Now if this ideal of persistent effort is the most useful thing that can come out of education, what is the next most useful? Again, as I analyze what I obtained from my own education, it seems to me that, next to learning that disagreeable tasks are often well worth doing, the factor that has helped me most in getting a living has been the method of solving the situations that confronted me. After all, if we simply have the ideal of resolute and aggressive and persistent attack, we may struggle indefinitely without much result. All problems of life involve certain common factors. The essential difference between the educated and the uneducated man, if we grant each an equal measure of pluck, persistence, and endurance, lies in the superior ability of the educated man to analyze his problem effectively and to proceed intelligently rather than blindly to its solution. I maintain that education should give a man this ideal of attacking any problem; furthermore I maintain that the education of the present day, in spite of the anathemas that are hurled against it, is doing this in richer measure than it has ever been done before. But there is no reason why we should not do it in still greater measure.

I once knew two men who were in the business of raising fruit for commercial purposes. Each had a large orchard which he operated according to conventional methods and which netted him a comfortable income. One of these men was a man of narrow education: the other a man of liberal education, although his training had not been directed in any way toward the problems of horticulture. The orchards had borne exceptionally well for several years, but one season, when the fruit looked especially promising, a period of wet, muggy weather came along just before the picking season, and one morning both these men went out into their orchards, to find the fruit very badly "specked." Now the conventional thing to do in such cases was well known to both men. Each had picked up a good deal of technical information about caring for fruit, and each did the same thing in meeting this situation. He got out his spraying outfit, prepared some Bordeaux mixture, and set vigorously at work with his pumps. So far as persistence and enterprise went, both men stood on an equal footing. But it happened that this was an unusual and not a conventional situation. The spraying did not alleviate the condition. The corruption spread through the trees like wildfire, and seemed to thrive on copper sulphate rather than succumb to its corrosive influence.

Now this was where the difference in training showed itself. The orchardist who worked by rule of thumb, when he found that his rule did not work, gave up the fight and spent his time sitting on his front porch bemoaning his luck. The other set diligently at work to analyze the situation. His education had not taught him anything about the characteristics of parasitic fungi, for parasitic fungi were not very well understood when he was in school. But his education had left with him a general method of procedure for just such cases, and that method he at once applied. It had taught him how to find the information that he needed, provided that such information was available. It had taught him that human experience is crystallized in books, and that, when a discovery is made in any field of science,—no matter how specialized the field and no matter how trivial the finding,—the discovery is recorded in printer's ink and placed at the disposal of those who have the intelligence to find it and apply it. And so he set out to read up on the subject,—to see what other men had learned about this peculiar kind of apple rot. He obtained all that had been written about it and began to master it. He told his friend about this material and suggested that the latter follow the same course, but the man of narrow education soon found himself utterly at sea in a maze of technical terms. The terms were new to the other too, but he took down his dictionary and worked them out. He knew how to use indices and tables of contents and various other devices that facilitate the gathering of information, and while his uneducated friend was storming over the pedantry of men who use big words, the other was making rapid progress through the material. In a short time he learned everything that had been found out about this specific disease. He learned that its spores are encased in a gelatinous sac which resisted the entrance of the chemicals. He found how the spores were reproduced, how they wintered, how they germinated in the following season; and, although he did not save much of his crop that year, he did better the next. Nor were the evidences of his superiority limited to this very useful result. He found that, after all, very little was known about this disease, so he set himself to find out more about it. To do this, he started where other investigators had left off, and then he applied a principle he had learned from his education; namely, that the only valid methods of obtaining new truths are the methods of close observation and controlled experiment.

Now I maintain that the education which was given that man was effective in a degree that ought to make his experience an object lesson for us who teach. What he had found most useful at a very critical juncture of his business life was, primarily, not the technical knowledge that he had gained either in school or in actual experience. His superiority lay in the fact that he knew how to get hold of knowledge when he needed it, how to master it once he had obtained it, how to apply it once he had mastered it, and finally how to go about to discover facts that had been undetected by previous investigators. I care not whether he got this knowledge in the elementary school or in the high school or in the college. He might have secured it in any one of the three types of institution, but he had to learn it somewhere, and I shall go further and say that the average man has to learn it in some school and under an explicit and conscious method of instruction.


But perhaps you would maintain that this statement of the case, while in general true, does not help us out in practice. After all, how are we to impress pupils with this ideal of persistence and with these ideals of getting and applying information, and with this ideal of investigation? I maintain that these important useful ideals may be effectively impressed almost from the very outset of school life. The teaching of every subject affords innumerable opportunities to force home their lessons. In fact, it must be a very gradual process—a process in which the concrete instances are numerous and rich and impressive. From these concrete instances, the general truth may in time emerge. Certainly the chances that it will emerge are greatly multiplied if we ourselves recognize its worth and importance, and lead our pupils to see in each concrete case the operation of the general principle. After all, the chief reason why so much of our education miscarries, why so few pupils gain the strength and the power that we expect all to gain, lies in the inability of the average individual to draw a general conclusion from concrete cases—to see the general in the particular. We have insisted so strenuously upon concrete instruction that we have perhaps failed also to insist that fact without law is blind, and that observation without induction is stupidity gone to seed.

Let me give a concrete instance of what I mean. Not long ago, I visited an eighth-grade class during a geography period. It was at the time when the discovery of the Pole had just set the whole civilized world by the ears, and the teacher was doing something that many good teachers do on occasions of this sort: she was turning the vivid interest of the moment to educative purposes. The pupils had read Peary's account of his trip and they were discussing its details in class. Now that exercise was vastly more than an interesting information lesson, for Peary's achievement became, under the skillful touch of that teacher, a type of all human achievement. I wish that I could reproduce that lesson for you—how vividly she pictured the situation that confronted the explorer,—the bitter cold, the shifting ice, the treacherous open leads, the lack of game or other sources of food supply, the long marches on scant rations, the short hours and the uncomfortable conditions of sleep; and how from these that fundamental lesson of pluck and endurance and courage came forth naturally without preaching the moral or indulging in sentimental "goody-goodyism." And then the other and equally important part of the lesson,—how pluck and courage in themselves could never have solved the problem; how knowledge was essential, and how that knowledge had been gained: some of it from the experience of early explorers,—how to avoid the dreaded scurvy, how to build a ship that could withstand the tremendous pressure of the floes; and some from the Eskimos,—how to live in that barren region, and how to travel with dogs and sledges;—and some, too, from Peary's own early experiences,—how he had struggled for twenty years to reach the goal, and had added this experience to that until finally the prize was his. We may differ as to the value of Peary's deed, but that it stands as a type of what success in any undertaking means, no one can deny. And this was the lesson that these eighth-grade pupils were absorbing,—the world-old lesson before which all others fade into insignificance,—the lesson, namely, that achievement can be gained only by those who are willing to pay the price.

And I imagine that when that class is studying the continent of Africa in their geography work, they will learn something more than the names of rivers and mountains and boundaries and products,—I imagine that they will link these facts with the names and deeds of the men who gave them to the world. And when they study history, it will be vastly more than a bare recital of dates and events,—it will be alive with these great lessons of struggle and triumph,—for history, after all, is only the record of human achievement. And if those pupils do not find these same lessons coming out of their own little conquests,—if the problems of arithmetic do not furnish an opportunity to conquer the pressure ridges of partial payments or the Polar night of bank discount, or if the intricacies of formal grammar do not resolve themselves into the North Pole of correct expression,—I have misjudged that teacher's capacities; for the great triumph of teaching is to get our pupils to see the fundamental and the eternal in things that are seemingly trivial and transitory. We are fond of dividing school studies into the cultural and the practical, into the humanities and the sciences. Believe me, there is no study worth the teaching that is not practical at basis, and there is no practical study that has not its human interest and its humanizing influence—if only we go to some pains to search them out.


I have said that the most useful thing that education can do is to imbue the pupil with the ideal of effortful achievement which will lead him to do cheerfully and effectively the disagreeable tasks that fall to his lot. I have said that the next most useful thing that it can do is to give him a general method of solving the problems that he meets. Is there any other useful outcome of a general nature that we may rank in importance with these two? I believe that there is, and I can perhaps tell you what I mean by another reference to a concrete case. I know a man who lacks this third factor, although he possesses the other two in a very generous measure. He is full of ambition, persistence, and courage. He is master of the rational method of solving the problems that beset him. He does his work intelligently and effectively. And yet he has failed to make a good living. Why? Simply because of his standard of what constitutes a good living. Measured by my standard, he is doing excellently well. Measured by his own standard, he is a miserable failure. He is depressed and gloomy and out of harmony with the world, simply because he has no other standard for a good living than a financial one. He is by profession a civil engineer. His work is much more remunerative than is that of many other callings. He has it in him to attain to professional distinction in that work. But to this opportunity he is blind. In the great industrial center in which he works, he is constantly irritated by the evidences of wealth and luxury beyond what he himself enjoys. The millionaire captain of industry is his hero, and because he is not numbered among this class, he looks at the world through the bluest kind of spectacles.

Now, to my mind that man's education failed somewhere, and its failure lay in the fact that it did not develop in him ideals of success that would have made him immune to these irritating factors. We have often heard it said that education should rid the mind of the incubus of superstition, and one very important effect of universal education is that it does offer to all men an explanation of the phenomena that formerly weighted down the mind with fear and dread, and opened an easy ingress to the forces of superstition and fraud and error. Education has accomplished this function, I think, passably well with respect to the more obvious sources of superstition. Necromancy and magic, demonism and witchcraft, have long since been relegated to the limbo of exposed fraud. Their conquest has been one of the most significant advances that man has made above the savage. The truths of science have at last triumphed, and, as education has diffused these truths among the masses, the triumph has become almost universal.

But there are other forms of superstition besides those I have mentioned,—other instances of a false perspective, of distorted values, of inadequate standards. If belief in witchcraft or in magic is bad because it falls short of an adequate interpretation of nature,—if it is false because it is inconsistent with human experience,—then the worship of Mammon that my engineer friend represents is tenfold worse than witchcraft, measured by the same standards. If there is any lesson that human history teaches with compelling force, it is surely this: Every race which has yielded to the demon of individualism and the lust for gold and self-gratification has gone down the swift and certain road to national decay. Every race that, through unusual material prosperity, has lost its grip on the eternal verities of self-sacrifice and self-denial has left the lesson of its downfall written large upon the pages of history. I repeat that if superstition consists in believing something that is inconsistent with rational human experience, then our present worship of the golden calf is by far the most dangerous form of superstition that has ever befuddled the human intellect.

But, you ask, what can education do to alleviate a condition of this sort? How may the weak influence of the school make itself felt in an environment that has crystallized on every hand this unfortunate standard? Individualism is in the air. It is the dominant spirit of the times. It is reenforced upon every side by the unmistakable evidences of national prosperity. It is easy to preach the simple life, but who will live it unless he has to? It is easy to say that man should have social and not individual standards of success and achievement, but what effect will your puerile assertion have upon the situation that confronts us?

Yes; it is easier to be a pessimist than an optimist. It is far easier to lie back and let things run their course than it is to strike out into midstream and make what must be for the pioneer a fatal effort to stem the current. But is the situation absolutely hopeless? If the forces of education can lift the Japanese people from barbarism to enlightenment in two generations; if education can in a single century transform Germany from the weakest to the strongest power on the continent of Europe; if five short years of a certain type of education can change the course of destiny in China;—are we warranted in our assumption that we hold a weak weapon in this fight against Mammon?

I have intimated that the attitude of my engineer friend toward life is the result of twisted ideals. A good many young men are going out into life with a similar defect in their education. They gain their ideals, not from the great wellsprings of human experience as represented in history and literature, in religion and art, but from the environment around them, and consequently they become victims of this superstition from the outset. As a trainer of teachers, I hold it to be one important part of my duty to fortify my students as strongly as I can against this false standard of which my engineer friend is the victim. It is just as much a part of my duty to give my students effective and consistent standards of what a good living consists in as it is to give them the technical knowledge and skill that will enable them to make a good living. If my students who are to become teachers have standards of living and standards of success that are inconsistent with the great ideal of social service for which teaching stands, then I have fallen far short of success in my work. If they are constantly irritated by the evidences of luxury beyond their means, if this irritation sours their dispositions and checks their spontaneity, their efficiency as teachers is greatly lessened or perhaps entirely negated. And if my engineer friend places worldly emoluments upon a higher plane than professional efficiency, I dread for the safety of the bridges that he builds. His education as an engineer should have fortified him against just such a contingency. It should have left him with the ideal of craftsmanship supreme in his life. And if his technical education failed to do this, his general education ought, at least, to have given him a bias in the right direction.

I believe that all forms of vocational and professional education are not so strong in this respect as they should be. Again you say to me, What can education do when the spirit of the times speaks so strongly on the other side? But what is education for if it is not to preserve midst the chaos and confusion of troublous times the great truths that the race has wrung from its experience? How different might have been the fate of Rome, if Rome had possessed an educational system touching every child in the Empire, and if, during the years that witnessed her decay and downfall, those schools could have kept steadily, persistently at work, impressing upon every member of each successive generation the virtues that made the old Romans strong and virile—the virtues that enabled them to lay the foundations of an empire that crumbled in ruins once these truths were forgotten. Is it not the specific task of education to represent in each generation the human experiences that have been tried and tested and found to work,—to represent these in the face of opposition if need be,—to be faithful to the trusteeship of the most priceless legacy that the past has left to the present and to the future? If this is not our function in the scheme of things, then what is our function? Is it to stand with bated breath to catch the first whisper that will usher in the next change? Is it to surrender all initiative and simply allow ourselves to be tossed hither and yon by the waves and cross-waves of a fickle public opinion? Is it to cower in dread of a criticism that is not only unjust but often ill-advised of the real conditions under which we are doing our work?

I take it that none of us is ready to answer these questions in the affirmative. Deep down in our hearts we know that we have a useful work to do, and we know that we are doing it passably well. We also know our defects and shortcomings at least as well as one who has never faced our problems and tried to solve them. And it is from this latter type that most of the drastic criticism, especially of the elementary and secondary school, emanates. I confess that my gorge rises within me when I read or hear the invectives that are being hurled against teaching as a profession (and against the work of the elementary and secondary school in particular) by men who know nothing of this work at first hand. This is the greatest handicap under which the profession of teaching labors. In every other important field of human activity a man must present his credentials before he takes his seat at the council table, and even then he must sit and listen respectfully to his elders for a while before he ventures a criticism or even a suggestion. This plan may have its defects. It may keep things on too conservative a basis; but it avoids the danger into which we as a profession have fallen,—the danger of "half-baked" theories and unmatured policies. To-day the only man that can get a respectable hearing at our great national educational meetings is the man who has something new and bizarre to propose. And the more startling the proposal, the greater is the measure of adulation that he receives. The result of this is a continual straining for effect, an enormous annual crop of fads and fancies, which, though most of them are happily short-lived, keep us in a state of continual turmoil and confusion.

* * * * *

Now, it goes without saying that there are many ways of making education hit the mark of utility in addition to those that I have mentioned. The teachers down in the lower grades who are teaching little children the arts of reading and writing and computation are doing vastly more in a practical direction than they are ever given credit for doing; for reading and writing and the manipulation of numbers are, next to oral speech itself, the prime necessities in the social and industrial world. These arts are being taught to-day better than they have ever been taught before,—and the technique of their teaching is undergoing constant refinement and improvement.

The school can do and is doing other useful things. Some schools are training their pupils to be well mannered and courteous and considerate of the rights of others. They are teaching children one of the most basic and fundamental laws of human life; namely, that there are some things that a gentleman cannot do and some things that society will not stand. How many a painful experience in solving this very problem of getting a living could be avoided if one had only learned this lesson passing well! What a pity it is that some schools that stand to-day for what we call educational progress are failing in just this particular—are sending out into the world an annual crop of boys and girls who must learn the great lesson of self-control and a proper respect for the rights of others in the bitter school of experience,—a school in which the rod will never be spared, but whose chastening scourge comes sometimes, alas, too late!

There is no feature of school life which has not its almost infinite possibilities of utility. But after all, are not the basic and fundamental things these ideals that I have named? And should not we who teach stand for idealism in its widest sense? Should we not ourselves subscribe an undying fidelity to those great ideals for which teaching must stand,—to the ideal of social service which lies at the basis of our craft, to the ideals of effort and discipline that make a nation great and its children strong, to the ideal of science that dissipates the black night of ignorance and superstition, to the ideal of culture that humanizes mankind?


[Footnote 11: An address before the Eastern Illinois Teachers' Association, October 15, 1909. Published as a Bulletin of the Eastern Illinois Normal School, October, 1909.]




I know that I do not need to plead with this audience for a recognition of the scientific spirit in the solution of educational problems. The long life and the enviable record of this Society of Pedagogy testify in themselves to that spirit of free inquiry, to the calm and dispassionate search for the truth which lies at the basis of the scientific method. You have gathered here, fortnight after fortnight, to discuss educational problems in the light of your experience. You have reported your experience and listened to the results that others have gleaned in the course of their daily work. And experience is the corner stone of science.

Some of the most stimulating and clarifying discussions of educational problems that I have ever heard have been made in the sessions of this Society. You have been scientific in your attitude toward education, and I may add that I first learned the lessons of the real science of education in the St. Louis schools, and under the inspiration that was furnished by the men who were members of this Society. What I knew of the science of education before I came to this city ten years ago, was gleaned largely from books. It was deductive, a priori, in its nature. What I learned here was the induction from actual experience.

My very first introduction to my colleagues among the school men of this city was a lesson in the science of education. I had brought with me a letter to one of your principals. He was in the office down on Locust Street the first Saturday that I spent in the city. I presented my letter to him, and, with that true Southern hospitality which has always characterized your corps, he took me immediately under his wing and carried me out to luncheon with him.

We sat for hours in a little restaurant down on Sixth Street,—he was my teacher and I was his pupil. And gradually, as the afternoon wore on, I realized that I had met a master craftsman in the art of education. At first I talked glibly enough of what I intended to do, and he listened sympathetically and helpfully, with a little quizzical smile in his eyes as I outlined my ambitious plans. And when I had run the gamut of my dreams, he took his turn, and, in true Socratic fashion, yet without making me feel in the least that I was only a dreamer after all, he refashioned my theories. One by one the little card houses that I had built up were deftly, smoothly, gently, but completely demolished. I did not know the ABC of schoolcraft—but he did not tell me that I did not. He went at the task of instruction from the positive point of view. He proved to me, by reminiscence and example, how different are actual and ideal conditions. And finally he wound up with a single question that opened a new world to me. "What," he asked, "is the dominant characteristic of the child's mind?" I thought at first that I was on safe ground—for had I not taken a course in child study, and had I not measured some hundreds of school children while working out a university thesis? So I began with my list. But, at each characteristic that I mentioned he shook his head. "No," he said, "no; that is not right." And when finally I had exhausted my list, he said to me, "The dominant characteristic of the child's mind is its seriousness. The child is the most serious creature in the world."

The answer staggered me for a moment. Like ninety-nine per cent of the adult population of this globe, the seriousness of the child had never appealed to me. In spite of the theoretical basis of my training, that single, dominant element of child life had escaped me. I had gained my notion of the child from books, and, I also fear, from the Sunday supplements. To me, deep down in my heart, the child was an animated joke. I was immersed in unscientific preconceptions. But the master craftsman had gained his conception of child life from intimate, empirical acquaintance with the genus boy. He had gleaned from his experience that fundamental truth: "The child is the most serious creature in the world."

Sometime I hope that I may make some fitting acknowledgment of the debt of gratitude that I owe to that man. The opportunities that I had to talk with him were all too few, but I did make a memorable visit to his school, and studied at first hand the great work that he was doing for the pupils of the Columbia district. He died the next year, and I shall never forget the words that stood beneath his picture that night in one of the daily papers: "Charles Howard: Architect of Character."


The essence of the scientific spirit is to view experience without prejudice, and that was the lesson that I learned from the school system of St. Louis.

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