Craftsmanship in teaching

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Craftsmanship in Teaching

E-text prepared by Barbara Tozier, Janet Blenkinship, Bill Tozier, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team (




Author Of "The Educative Process," "Classroom Management," "Educational Values," Etc.

New York The MacMillan Company 1912 All rights reserved Copyright, 1911, by the MacMillan Company. Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1911. Reprinted June, October, 1911; May, 1912. Norwood Press J.S. Cushing Co.--Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



The following papers are published chiefly because they treat in a concrete and personal manner some of the principles which the writer has developed in two previously published books, The Educative Process and Classroom Management, and in a forthcoming volume, Educational Values. It is hoped that the more informal discussions presented in the following pages will, in some slight measure, supplement the theoretical and systematic treatment which necessarily characterizes the other books. In this connection, it should be stated that the materials of the first paper here presented were drawn upon in writing Chapter XVIII of Classroom Management, and that the second paper simply states in a different form the conclusions reached in Chapter I of The Educative Process.

The writer is indebted to his colleague, Professor L.F. Anderson, for many criticisms and suggestions and to Miss Bernice Harrison for invaluable aid in editing the papers for publication. But his heaviest debt, here as elsewhere, is to his wife, to whose encouraging sympathy and inspiration whatever may be valuable in this or in his other books must be largely attributed.

URBANA, ILLINOIS, March 1, 1911


















"In the laboratory of life, each newcomer repeats the old experiments, and laughs and weeps for himself. We will be explorers, though all the highways have their guideposts and every bypath is mapped. Helen of Troy will not deter us, nor the wounds of Cæsar frighten, nor the voice of the king crying 'Vanity!' from his throne dismay. What wonder that the stars that once sang for joy are dumb and the constellations go down in silence."--ARTHUR SHERBURNE HARDY: The Wind of Destiny.

We tend, I think, to look upon the advice that we give to young people as something that shall disillusionize them. The cynic of forty sneers at what he terms the platitudes of commencement addresses. He knows life. He has been behind the curtains. He has looked upon the other side of the scenery,--the side that is just framework and bare canvas. He has seen the ugly machinery that shifts the stage setting--the stage setting which appears so impressive when viewed from the front. He has seen the rouge on the cheeks that seem to blush with the bloom of youth and beauty and innocence, and has caught the cold glint in the eyes that, from the distance, seem to languish with tenderness and love. Why, he asks, should we create an illusion that must thus be rudely dispelled? Why revamp and refurbish the old platitudes and dole them out each succeeding year? Why not tell these young people the truth and let them be prepared for the fate that must come sooner or later?

But the cynic forgets that there are some people who never lose their illusions,--some men and women who are always young,--and, whatever may be the type of men and women that other callings and professions desire to enroll in their service, this is the type that education needs. The great problem of the teacher is to keep himself in this class, to keep himself young, to preserve the very things that the cynic pleases to call the illusions of his youth. And so much do I desire to impress these novitiates into our calling with the necessity for preserving their ideals that I shall ask them this evening to consider with me some things which would, I fear, strike the cynic as most illusionary and impractical. The initiation ceremonies that admitted the young man to the privileges and duties of knighthood included the taking of certain vows, the making of certain pledges of devotion and fidelity to the fundamental principles for which chivalry stood. And I should like this evening to imagine that these graduates are undergoing an analogous initiation into the privileges and duties of schoolcraft, and that these vows which I shall enumerate, embody some of the ideals that govern the work of that craft.


And the first of these vows I shall call, for want of a better term, the vow of "artistry,"--the pledge that the initiate takes to do the work that his hand finds to do in the best possible manner, without reference to the effort that it may cost or to the reward that it may or may not bring.

I call this the vow of artistry because it represents the essential attitude of the artist toward his work. The cynic tells us that ideals are illusions of youth, and yet, the other day I saw expressed in a middle-aged working-man a type of idealism that is not at all uncommon in this world. He was a house painter; his task was simply the prosaic job of painting a door; and yet, from the pains which he took with that work, an observer would have concluded that it was, to the painter, the most important task in the world. And that, after all, is the true test of craft artistry: to the true craftsman the work that he is doing must be the most important thing that can be done. One of the best teachers that I know is that kind of a craftsman in education. A student was once sent to observe his work. He was giving a lesson upon the "attribute complement" to an eighth-grade grammar class. I asked the student afterward what she had got from her visit. "Why," she replied, "that man taught as if the very greatest achievement in life would be to get his pupils to understand the attribute complement,--and when he had finished, they did understand it."

In a narrower sense, this vow of artistry carries with it an appreciation of the value of technique. From the very fact of their normal school training, these graduates already possess a certain measure of skill, a certain mastery of the technique of their craft. This initial mastery has been gained in actual contact with the problems of school work in their practice teaching. They have learned some of the rudiments; they have met and mastered some of the rougher, cruder difficulties. The finer skill, the delicate and intangible points of technique, they must acquire, as all beginners must acquire them, through the strenuous processes of self-discipline in the actual work of the years that are to come. This is a process that takes time, energy, constant and persistent application. All that this school or any school can do for its students in this respect is to start them upon the right track in the acquisition of skill. But do not make the mistake of assuming that this is a small and unimportant matter. If this school did nothing more than this, it would still repay tenfold the cost of its establishment and maintenance. Three fourths of the failures in a world that sometimes seems full of failures are due to nothing more nor less than a wrong start. In spite of the growth of professional training for teachers within the past fifty years, many of our lower schools are still filled with raw recruits, fresh from the high schools and even from the grades, who must learn every practical lesson of teaching through the medium of their own mistakes. Even if this were all, the process would involve a tremendous and uncalled-for waste. But this is not all; for, out of this multitude of untrained teachers, only a small proportion ever recognize the mistakes that they make and try to correct them.

To you who are beginning the work of life, the mastery of technique may seem a comparatively unimportant matter. You recognize its necessity, of course, but you think of it as something of a mechanical nature,--an integral part of the day's work, but uninviting in itself,--something to be reduced as rapidly as possible to the plane of automatism and dismissed from the mind. I believe that you will outgrow this notion. As you go on with your work, as you increase in skill, ever and ever the fascination of its technique will take a stronger and stronger hold upon you. This is the great saving principle of our workaday life. This is the factor that keeps the toiler free from the deadening effects of mechanical routine. It is the factor that keeps the farmer at his plow, the artisan at his bench, the lawyer at his desk, the artist at his palette.

I once worked for a man who had accumulated a large fortune. At the age of seventy-five he divided this fortune among his children, intending to retire; but he could find pleasure and comfort only in the routine of business. In six months he was back in his office. He borrowed twenty-five thousand dollars on his past reputation and started in to have some fun. I was his only employee at the time, and I sat across the big double desk from him, writing his letters and keeping his accounts. He would sit for hours, planning for the establishment of some industry or running out the lines that would entangle some old adversary. I did not stay with him very long, but before I left, he had a half-dozen thriving industries on his hands, and when he died three years later he had accumulated another fortune of over a million dollars.

That is an example of what I mean by the fascination that the technique of one's craft may come to possess. It is the joy of doing well the work that you know how to do. The finer points of technique,--those little things that seem so trivial in themselves and yet which mean everything to skill and efficiency,--what pride the competent artisan or the master artist takes in these! How he delights to revel in the jargon of his craft! How he prides himself in possessing the knowledge and the technical skill that are denied the layman!

I am aware that I am somewhat unorthodox in urging this view of your work upon you. Teachers have been encouraged to believe that details are not only unimportant but stultifying,--that teaching ability is a function of personality, and not a product of a technique that must be acquired through the strenuous discipline of experience. One of the most skillful teachers of my acquaintance is a woman down in the grades. I have watched her work for days at a time, striving to learn its secret. I can find nothing there that is due to genius,--unless we accept George Eliot's definition of genius as an infinite capacity for receiving discipline. That teacher's success, by her own statement, is due to a mastery of technique, gained through successive years of growth checked by a rigid responsibility for results. She has found out by repeated trial how to do her work in the best way; she has discovered the attitude toward her pupils that will get the best work from them,--the clearest methods of presenting subject matter; the most effective ways in which to drill; how to use text-books and make study periods issue in something besides mischief; and, more than all else, how to do these things without losing sight of the true end of education. Very frequently I have taken visiting school men to see this teacher's work. Invariably after leaving her room they have turned to me with such expressions as these: "A born teacher!" "What interest!" "What a personality!" "What a voice!"--everything, in fact, except this,--which would have been the truth: "What a tribute to years of effort and struggle and self-discipline!"

I have a theory which I have never exploited very seriously, but I will give it to you for what it is worth. It is this: elementary education especially needs a literary interpretation. It needs a literary artist who will portray to the public in the form of fiction the real life of the elementary school,--who will idealize the technique of teaching as Kipling idealized the technique of the marine engineer, as Balzac idealized the technique of the journalist, as Du Maurier and a hundred other novelists have idealized the technique of the artist. We need some one to exploit our shop-talk on the reading public, and to show up our work as you and I know it, not as you and I have been told by laymen that it ought to be,--a literature of the elementary school with the cant and the platitudes and the goody-goodyism left out, and in their place something of the virility, of the serious study, of the manful effort to solve difficult problems, of the real and vital achievements that are characteristic of thousands of elementary schools throughout the country to-day.

At first you will be fascinated by the novelty of your work. But that soon passes away. Then comes the struggle,--then comes the period, be it long or short, when you will work with your eyes upon the clock, when you will count the weeks, the days, the hours, the minutes that lie between you and vacation time. Then will be the need for all the strength and all the energy that you can summon to your aid. Fail here, and your fate is decided once and for all. If, in your work, you never get beyond this stage, you will never become the true craftsman. You will never taste the joy that is vouchsafed the expert, the efficient craftsman.

The length of this period varies with different individuals. Some teachers "find themselves" quickly. They seem to settle at once into the teaching attitude. With others is a long, uphill fight. But it is safe to say that if, at the end of three years, your eyes still habitually seek the clock,--if, at the end of that time, your chief reward is the check that comes at the end of every fourth week,--then your doom is sealed.


And the second vow that I should urge these graduates to take is the vow of fidelity to the spirit of their calling. We have heard a great deal in recent years about making education a profession. I do not like that term myself. Education is not a profession in the sense that medicine and law are professions. It is rather a craft, for its duty is to produce, to mold, to fashion, to transform a certain raw material into a useful product. And, like all crafts, education must possess the craft spirit. It must have a certain code of craft ethics; it must have certain standards of craft excellence and efficiency. And in these the normal school must instruct its students, and to these it should secure their pledge of loyalty and fidelity and devotion.

A true conception of this craft spirit in education is one of the most priceless possessions of the young teacher, for it will fortify him against every criticism to which his calling is subjected. It is revealing no secret to tell you that the teacher's work is not held in the highest regard by the vast majority of men and women in other walks of life. I shall not stop to inquire why this is so, but the fact cannot be doubted, and every now and again some incident of life, trifling perhaps in itself, will bring it to your notice; but most of all, perhaps you will be vexed and incensed by the very thing that is meant to put you at your ease--the patronizing attitude which your friends in other walks of life will assume toward you and toward your work.

When will the good public cease to insult the teacher's calling with empty flattery? When will men who would never for a moment encourage their own sons to enter the work of the public schools, cease to tell us that education is the greatest and noblest of all human callings? Education does not need these compliments. The teacher does not need them. If he is a master of his craft, he knows what education means,--he knows this far better than any layman can tell him. And what boots it to him, if, with all this cant and hypocrisy about the dignity and worth of his calling, he can sometimes hold his position only at the sacrifice of his self-respect?

But what is the relation of the craft spirit to these facts? Simply this: the true craftsman, by the very fact that he is a true craftsman, is immune to these influences. What does the true artist care for the plaudits or the sneers of the crowd? True, he seeks commendation and welcomes applause, for your real artist is usually extremely human; but he seeks this commendation from another source--from a source that metes it out less lavishly and yet with unconditioned candor. He seeks the commendation of his fellow-workmen, the applause of "those who know, and always will know, and always will understand." He plays to the pit and not to the gallery, for he knows that when the pit really approves the gallery will often echo and reëcho the applause, albeit it has not the slightest conception of what the whole thing is about.

What education stands in need of to-day is just this: a stimulating and pervasive craft spirit. If a human calling would win the world's respect, it must first respect itself; and the more thoroughly it respects itself, the greater will be the measure of homage that the world accords it. In one of the educational journals a few years ago, the editors ran a series of articles under the general caption, "Why I am a teacher." It reminded me of the spirited discussion that one of the Sunday papers started some years since on the world-old query, "Is marriage a failure?" And some of the articles were fully as sickening in their harrowing details as were some of the whining matrimonial confessions of the latter series. But the point that I wish to make is this: your true craftsman in education never stops to ask himself such questions. There are some men to whom schoolcraft is a mistress. They love it, and their devotion is no make-believe, fashioned out of sentiment, and donned for the purpose of hiding inefficiency or native indolence. They love it as some men love Art, and others Business, and others War. They do not stop to ask the reason why, to count the cost, or to care a fig what people think. They are properly jealous of their special knowledge, gained through years of special study; they are justly jealous of their special skill gained through years of discipline and training. They resent the interference of laymen in matters purely professional. They resent such interference as would a reputable physician, a reputable lawyer, a reputable engineer. They resent officious patronage and "fussy" meddling. They resent all these things manfully, vigorously. But your true craftsman will not whine. If the conditions under which he works do not suit him, he will fight for their betterment, but he will not whine.


And yet this vow of fidelity and devotion to the spirit of schoolcraft would be an empty form without the two complementary vows that give it worth and meaning. These are the vow of poverty and the vow of service. It is through these that the true craft spirit must find its most vigorous expression and its only justification. The very corner stone of schoolcraft is service, and one fundamental lesson that the tyro in schoolcraft must learn, especially in this materialistic age, is that the value of service is not to be measured in dollars and cents. In this respect, teaching resembles art, music, literature, discovery, invention, and pure science; for, if all the workers in all of these branches of human activity got together and demanded of the world the real fruits of their self-sacrifice and labor,--if they demanded all the riches and comforts and amenities of life that have flowed directly or indirectly from their efforts,--there would be little left for the rest of mankind. Each of these activities is represented by a craft spirit that recognizes this great truth. The artist or the scientist who has an itching palm, who prostitutes his craft for the sake of worldly gain, is quickly relegated to the oblivion that he deserves. He loses caste, and the caste of craft is more precious to your true craftsman than all the gold of the modern Midas.

You may think that this is all very well to talk about, but that it bears little agreement to the real conditions. Let me tell you that you are mistaken. Go ask Röntgen why he did not keep the X-rays a secret to be exploited for his own personal gain. Ask the shade of the great Helmholtz why he did not patent the ophthalmoscope. Go to the University of Wisconsin and ask Professor Babcock why he gave to the world without money and without price the Babcock test--an invention which is estimated to mean more than one million dollars every year to the farmers and dairymen of that state alone. Ask the men on the geological survey who laid bare the great gold deposits of Alaska why they did not leave a thankless and ill-paid service to acquire the wealth that lay at their feet. Because commercialized ideals govern the world that we know, we think that all men's eyes are jaundiced, and that all men's vision is circumscribed by the milled rim of the almighty dollar. But we are sadly, miserably mistaken.

Do you think that these ideals of service from which every taint of self-seeking and commercialism have been eliminated--do you think that these are mere figments of the impractical imagination? Go ask Perry Holden out in Iowa. Go ask Luther Burbank out in California. Go to any agricultural college in this broad land and ask the scientists who are doing more than all other forces combined to increase the wealth of the people. Go to the scientific departments at Washington where men of genius are toiling for a pittance. Ask them how much of the wealth for which they are responsible they propose to put into their own pockets. What will be their answer? They will tell you that all they ask is a living wage, a chance to work, and the just recognition of their services by those who know and appreciate and understand.

But let me hasten to add that these men claim no especial merit for their altruism and unselfishness. They do not pose before the world as philanthropists. They do not strut about and preen themselves as who would say: "See what a noble man am I! See how I sacrifice myself for the welfare of society!" The attitude of cant and pose is entirely alien to the spirit of true service. Their delight is in doing, in serving, in producing. But beyond this, they have the faults and frailties of their kind,--save one,--the sin of covetousness. And again, all that they ask of the world is a living wage, and the privilege to serve.

And that is all that the true craftsman in education asks. The man or woman with the itching palm has no place in the schoolroom,--no place in any craft whose keynote is service. It is true that the teacher does not receive to-day, in all parts of our country, a living wage; and it is equally true that society at large is the greatest sufferer because of its penurious policy in this regard. I should applaud and support every movement that has for its purpose the raising of teachers' salaries to the level of those paid in other branches of professional service. Society should do this for its own benefit and in its own defense, not as a matter of charity to the men and women who, among all public servants, should be the last to be accused of feeding gratuitously at the public crib. I should approve all honest efforts of school men and school women toward this much-desired end. But whenever men and women enter schoolcraft because of the material rewards that it offers, the virtue will have gone out of our calling,--just as the virtue went out of the Church when, during the Middle Ages, the Church attracted men, not because of the opportunities that it offered for social service, but because of the opportunities that it offered for the acquisition of wealth and temporal power,--just as the virtue has gone out of certain other once-noble professions that have commercialized their standards and tarnished their ideals.

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