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branches to make up a curriculum, Europe knows practically nothing, with the meager exception of a few options between certain closely allied subjects, such as two modern languages, or two natural sciences, and the like. To what excesses our own secondary schools have sometimes gone in this respect need not be here recounted; the height of the elective fever seems to be past, and we are again realizing that age and experience may have something to say to youth even concerning the choice of its studies in the secondary school.
More profound and significant than choice of studies is the scope and encouragement given in the high school to the spontaneity and initiative of the students in non-academic matters. The most striking region for this freedom has, in general, been athletics, with its mechanism of teams and managers, trips and schedules, gate receipts and guarantees, involving often the gathering and expending of thousands of dollars, and all the responsibilities of large and complex business affairs. Less conspicuous but important are school publications, annuals and monthlies, with occasionally a weekly paper. Growing with a startling speed are the student social affairs,—dances, picnics, receptions, theater parties, and the like. Perhaps no more serious problems confront the high school principal than those arising out of these affairs; certainly no part of school life more seriously threatens both good work in school studies and that democracy which is so essential to our high schools. Fraternities must also be mentioned here, as the form in which the student impulse has come sharply into conflict with school authority; fortunately the outcome has served to show that the final word is still to be spoken, not by the students, but by the presumably better judgment of teachers and school boards. The violence of the conflict over fraternities does show, however, how powerful are the impulses and resolution of boys and girls of high
While in practically all cases the school authorities retain final authority in all these various activities, and in many cases take an active part in plans and methods, still the motive and ideals come in the main from the students, and must be reckoned as a real manifestation of their im
pulses; indeed, restraint is always a considerable part of the rôle of the faculty.
While we can not here undertake any full discussion of this great feature of the high school situation, we call attention to a few salient points. And first this system of freedom and encouragement to the natural impulses of youth should furnish invaluable evidence as to the real character of adolescent tendencies. Even a slight inspection of student activities in high schools enables us to note several marked impulses, particularly those of bodily activity and prowess, rivalry in various forms, especially in combination with class or clan spirit, fondness for note or its specious counterfeit notoriety, and finally the passion to be like one's elders, especially those immediately above us in age. In each case the impulse shows itself in rational and irrational forms: moderate athletic interest versus wild excess; healthy and human competition versus fierce and irresponsible conflict; a wholesome desire to lift one's self above mediocrity as opposed to the zeal which sacrifices health and well-rounded life for a mark or prize,—the latter, by the way, usually in athletics or debate rather than school studies; and lastly the indispensable instinct of maturing as contrasted with the avid pursuit of all sorts of collegesque earmarks, such as the familiar pegtop trousers and long pipes, school and class colors and yells, and other, not always even harmless externalities of the next higher academic grade. The main point is that the high school affords a unique field for the observation and determination of these impulses. One caution must be exprest here, however, in far fewer words than it deserves, namely, that the freedom of the high school is not individual but mass freedom, and hence the impulses which manifest themselves so clearly are mass impulses and common or prevalent characters; on special or individual impulses the situation throws no remarkable light; indeed, it is likely that much individual character is crusht under the wheels of the Juggernaut of the general taste and desire.
As to the degree and operation of the freedom itself, it is easy to be ultra conservative and condemn it as excessive and pernicious, or to be sanguine and quasi progressive and approve it as part and parcel of the good “New education.” Neither verdict is warranted by the evidence in hand, and in all probability neither is correct. Educational doctrine since Rousseau's day has been more and more deeply infected with his extreme conceptions of the great truth of the rights and needs of childhood. The old formula declared that the first duty of youth was obedience; the new, after Rousseau, forbids us ever to command; surely, here as elsewhere, the right path is that mean between the two extremes which Aristotle pronounces to be the very nature of virtue. The old education suffered loss almost beyond conception thru neglecting and even crushing the natural powers and impulsions of childhood; our peril seems rather to lie in the removal of guidance and restraint and allowing the natural impulses to run riot in the pursuit of the moment, and so lose their due and proper fruit for growth and development. The raw energies of youthful impulses and enthusiasms are in constant need of the counsel, direction, enlightenment, and even restraint of the adult intelligence and will. The real art of training is to direct and utilize these forces to the two great ends of developmental life, the normal joy and richness of childhood, and the highest realization of mature potentialities. The old education was blind to the former aim, the new tends to slight the latter; it remains for the future to harmonize and express both.
Meanwhile the wise teacher or parent will not be overanxious about the innumerable oddities and excesses of youth; the truth is that real dangers are usually not excesses or superfluities but rather defects. We must deplore the tendency in our schools to win their games at the cost of scholarship and even honor, and we can not fully approve the swirl of social affairs that just now threatens the work of our schools; but the real task is not so much the eradication of these evils as it is the infusion of new life into higher and still no less natural impulses,—those of clear thought and high mental development, fine and dominant social and personal honor, and, as Milton has it in his splendid Tractate on education, high hopes of living to be brave men and worthy patriots, dear to God and famous to all ages.”
We may well close with these noble words of the poet and schoolmaster, and a suggestion of their relation to the four characteristics we have considered: the democracy of the high school makes such ideals more than ever needed in our land; they have, for the age of early adolescence, a peculiar appeal, likely soon to pass away unless seized by education and solidified into habit and spiritual principle; by their power coeducation may be enabled to yield its characteristic benefits without falling into its peculiar perils; and only by their aid can the great currents of free activity in youth be directed permanently into the channels of a rich and beneficent life.
EDWARD O. SISSON UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
A CHRISTMAS VISION 1
Once upon a time three men, old and wise, led by a wonderful star, carried gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a newborn child.
“They laid their offerings at his feet :
The gold was their tribute to a king,
The myrrh for the body's burying."
Centuries rolled by, generations of men came and went, but the star continued to shine. It is shining still. For some eyes it has been lost in the multitude of other stars that light our human understanding. Many a man, wise in his generation, an earnest seeker for the king that is to be, has followed the light of some other star, and has laid his gift at the feet of a youth, a man, or even at the door of a temple, a dwelling-place, or a seat of learning. But again and again a man really wise, wise for all time, has singled out from the others the wonderful star, has followed where it leads, and has laid his gift at the feet of a child, at the feet of all children that are or will be, at the feet of childhood itself.
When the wise man sees in childhood that which some day will rule, he brings his gift of gold to the king. It was such a gift that Comenius brought more than three hundred years ago when he performed such important service in the cause of elementary education. They are gold that is heaped at the feet of childhood—all the institutions that are designed to fit it for kingshipschools, courses of study, child-labor laws, and so on.
* An address delivered before the Brooklyn Kindergarten Association, December, 1908.