Were You Ever a Child?
Were You Ever
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
MOON-CALF, a Novel
THE BRIARY-BUSH, a Novel
Were You Ever
Second Edition, with a New Preface
Alfred ∑ A ∑ Knopf
COPYRIGHT, 1919, 1921, BY
ALFRED A. KNOPF, Inc.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
THE SCHOOL TEACHERS
OF MY CHILDHOOD
IN TOKEN OF FORGIVENESS
This book is intended as an explanation of thenew educational ideals and methods now beingfostered and developed, under great difficulties,by courageous educators, in various schools forthe most part outside the public school system.These schools are “experimental” in the sense thatthey are demonstrating upon a small scale the vastpossibilities of a modern kind of education. Theimportance of these schools consists not so muchin the advantages which they are now able togive to a few of our children, but rather in theprophetic vision they afford of all youth growingup with the same advantages.
Before that can happen, the public must discoverwhat the new education signifies, and whythe old educational system is unable to keep upwith the demands of modern civilization.
This book attempts only a small part of sucha tremendous task of enlightenment. But it doesundertake a brief review of the educational situation[Pg viii]in the light of our present scientific knowledgeof human nature—and more especially, ofthe human nature of the child.
Education may be said to be, essentially, an adjustmentbetween the child and the age in whichhe lives. That adjustment can be a painless andhappy one; at present it is a sort of civil war.This book deals precisely with the special problemsinvolved in the difficult process of reconcilingthe nature of the child with the nature ofour twentieth-century machine-culture.
The method chosen in these pages for the expositionof this situation is one which many readerswill consider unduly flippant, particularly inthose passages which deal with the failure of theold educational system. But one might as welllaugh at that failure as cry over it; for it is aridiculous as well as a pathetic failure. The importantthing is to recognize that it is a failure,and to lend a hand if we can in the creating of abetter kind of education.
|I||The Child 13|
|II||The School Building 22|
|III||The Teacher 27|
|IV||The Book 36|
|V||The Magic Theory of Education 47|
|VI||The Caste System of Education 53|
|VII||The Canonization of Book-Magic 58|
|VIII||The Conquest of Culture in America 63|
|IX||Smith, Jones and Robinson 69|
|X||Employer vs. Trade Unionist 74|
|XI||The Goose-Step 77|
|XII||The Gary Plan 80|
|XIII||Learning to Work 83|
|XIV||Learning to Play 90|
|XV||First and Last Things 96|
|XVI||The Child as Artist 100|
|XVII||The Artist as a Child 115|
|XVIII||The Drama of Education 124[Pg x]|
|XIX||The Drama of Life 132|
|XXI||The Right to be Wrong 149|
|XXVI||Education in 1947 A. D. 190|
Were You Ever a Child?
WERE you ever a child?...
I ask out of no indecent curiosity asto your past. But I wish to addressonly those who would naturally be interested inthe subject of Education. Those who haven’tbeen children themselves are in many respectsfortunate beings; but they lack the background ofbitter experience which makes this, to the rest ofus, an acutely interesting theme—and they mightjust as well stop reading right here. I pause toallow them to put the book aside....
With my remaining audience, fit though few, Ifeel that I can get down at once to the brass tacksof the situation. We have all been educated—andjust look at us!
We ourselves, as products of an educationalsystem, are sufficiently damning evidence againstit. If we think of what we happily might havebeen, and then of what we are, we cannot but concedethe total failure or the helpless inadequacy[Pg 10]of our education to educe those possibilities ofours into actuality.
Looking back on those years upon years whichwe spent in school, we know that something waswrong. In this respect our adult convictions findimpressive support in our earlier views on thesubject. If we will remember, we did not, atthe time, exactly approve of the school system.Many of us, in fact, went in for I. W. W. tactics—especiallysabotage. Our favourite brand ofsabotage was the “withdrawal of efficiency”—inour case a kind of instinctive passive resistance.Amiable onlookers, such as our parents or theboard of education, might have thought that wewere learning something all the while; but that’sjust where we fooled ’em! There were, of course,a few of us who really learned and rememberedeverything—who could state off-hand, right now,if anybody asked us, in what year Norman theConqueror landed in England. But the troubleis that so few people ask us!
There was one bit of candour in our schooling—atits very end. They called that ending aCommencement. And so indeed we found it.Bewildered, unprepared, out of touch with therealities, we commenced then and there to learnwhat life is like. We found it discouraging or[Pg 11]inspiriting in a thousand ways; but the thing whichstruck us at the time most forcibly was that it wasin every respect quite unlike school. The valueswhich had obtained there, did not exist outside.One could not cram for a job as if it were anexamination; one could not get in the good gracesof a machine as if it were a teacher; the docilitywhich won high “marks” in school was calledlack of enterprise in the business world, dulnessin social life, stupidity in the realm of love. Thevalues of real life were new and different. Wehad been quite carefully prepared to go on studyingand attending classes and taking examinations;but the real world was not like that. It was fullof adventure and agony and beauty; its politicswere not in the least like the pages of the CivicsText-Book; its journalism and literature had purposesand methods undreamed of by the professorwho compiled (from other text-books compiledby other professors) the English CompositionBook; going on the road for a wholesale housewas a geographical emprise into whose fearfuldarknesses even the Advanced Geography Coursethrew no assisting light; the economics of courtshipand marriage and parenthood had somehowbeen overlooked by the man who Lectured uponthat Subject.
[Pg 12]Whether we had studied our lessons or not;whether we had passed our examinations triumphantly,or just got through by the skin of ourteeth—what difference did it make, to us or tothe world? And what to us now are those triumphsand humiliations, the failure or success ofschool, except a matter of occasional humorousreminiscence?
What would we think of a long and painful andexpensive surgical operation of which it could besaid afterward that it made not the slightest differenceto the patient whether it succeeded orfailed? Yet, judged by results in later life, thedifference between failing and succeeding in schoolis merely the difference between a railroad collisionand a steamboat explosion, as described byUncle Tom:
“If you’s in a railroad smash-up, why—tharyo’ is! But if yo’s in a steamboat bus’-up, why—wharis yo’?”
It is our task, however, to investigate this confusedcatastrophe, and fix the responsibility forits casualties.
I. The Child
EDUCATION, as popularly conceived, includesas its chief ingredients a Child, aBuilding, Text-Books, and a Teacher.Obviously, one of them must be to blame for itsgoing wrong. Let us see if it is the Child. Wewill put him on the witness stand:
Q. Who are you?
A. I am a foreigner in a strange land.
A. Please, sir, that’s what everybody says.Sometimes they call me a little angel; the poetWordsworth says that I come trailing clouds ofglory from Heaven which is my home. On theother hand, I am often called a little devil; andwhen you see the sort of things I do in the comicsupplements, you will perhaps be inclined to acceptthat description. I really don’t know which isright, but both opinions seem to agree that I aman immigrant.
Q. Speak up so that the jury can hear. Haveyou any friends in this country?
[Pg 14]A. No, sir—not exactly. But there are twopeople, a woman and a man, natives of this land,who for some reason take an interest in me. Itwas they who taught me to speak the language.They also taught me many of the customs of thecountry, which at first I could not understand.For instance, my preoccupation with certain natural—[therest of the sentence stricken from therecord].
Q. You need not go into such matters. Ifear you still have many things to learn about thecustoms of the country. One of them is not toallude to that side of life in public.
A. Yes, sir; so those two people tell me. I’msure I don’t see why. It seems to me a veryinteresting and important—
Q. That will do. Now as to those peoplewho are looking after you: Are your relationswith them agreeable?
A. Nominally, yes. But I must say that theyhave treated me in a very peculiar way, whichhas aroused in me a deep resentment. You see,at first they treated me like a king—in fact, likea Kaiser. I had only to wave my hand and theycame running to know what it was I wanted. Iuttered certain magic syllables in my own language,and they prostrated themselves before me,[Pg 15]offering me gifts. When they brought the wronggifts, I doubled up my fists and twisted my face,and gave vent to loud cries—and they becamestill more abject, until at last I was placated.
Q. That is what is called parental love.What then?
A. I naturally regarded them as my slaves.But presently they rebelled. One of them, ofwhom I had been particularly fond, commencedto make me drink milk from a bottle instead offrom—
Q. Yes, yes, we understand. And you resentedthat?
A. I withdrew the light of my favour fromher for a long time. I expressed my disappointmentin her. I offered freely to pardon her delinquencyif she would acknowledge her fault andresume her familiar duties. But perhaps I didnot succeed in conveying my meaning clearly, forat this time I had no command of her language.At any rate, my efforts were useless. And herreprehensible conduct was only the first of a seriesof what seemed to me indignities and insults. Iwas no longer a king. I was compelled to obeymy own slaves. In vain I made the old magicgestures, uttered the old talismanic commands—invain even my doubling up of fists and twisting[Pg 16]of face and loud outcries; the power was gonefrom these things. Yet not quite all the power—formy crying was at least a sort of punishmentto them, and as such I often inflicted it upon them.
Q. You were a naughty child.
A. So they told me. But I only felt aggrievedat my new helplessness, and wished