Craftsmanship in teaching



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This is not to say that one condemns the man who devotes his life to the accumulation of property. The tremendous strides that our country has made in material civilization have been conditioned in part by this type of genius. Creative genius must always compel our admiration and our respect. It may create a world epic, a matchless symphony of tones or pigments, a scientific theory of tremendous grasp and limitless scope; or it may create a vast industrial system, a commercial enterprise of gigantic proportions, a powerful organization of capital. Genius is pretty much the same wherever we find it, and everywhere we of the common clay must recognize its worth.

The grave defect in our American life is not that we are hero worshipers, but rather that we worship but one type of hero; we recognize but one type of achievement; we see but one sort of genius. For two generations our youth have been led to believe that there is only one ambition that is worth while,--the ambition of property. Success at any price is the ideal that has been held up before our boys and girls. And to-day we are reaping the rewards of this distorted and unjust view of life.

I recently met a man who had lived for some years in the neighborhood of St. Paul and Minneapolis,--a section that is peopled, as you know, very largely by Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants. This man told me that he had been particularly impressed by the high idealism of the Norwegian people. His business brought him in contact with Norwegian immigrants in what are called the lower walks of life,--with workingmen and servant girls,--and he made it a point to ask each of these young men and young women the same question. "Tell me," he would say, "who are the great men of your country? Who are the men toward whom the youth of your land are led to look for inspiration? Who are the men whom your boys are led to imitate and emulate and admire?" And he said that he almost always received the same answer to this question: the great names of the Norwegian nation that had been burned upon the minds even of these workingmen and servant girls were just four in number: Ole Bull, Björnson, Ibsen, Nansen. Over and over again he asked that same question; over and over again he received the same answer: Ole Bull, Björnson, Ibsen, Nansen. A great musician, a great novelist, a great dramatist, a great scientist.

And I conjectured as I heard of this incident, What would be the answer if the youth of our land were asked that question: "Who are the great men of your country? What type of achievement have you been led to imitate and emulate and admire?" How many of our boys and girls have even heard of our great men in the world of culture,--unless, indeed, such men lived a half century ago and have got into the school readers by this time? How many of our boys and girls have ever heard of MacDowell, or James, or Whistler, or Sargent?

I have said that the teacher must take the vow of service. What does this imply except that the opportunity for service, the privilege of serving, should be the opportunity that one seeks, and that the achievements toward which one aspires should be the achievements of serving? The keynote of service lies in self-sacrifice,--in self-forgetfulness, rather,--in merging one's own life in the lives of others. The attitude of the true teacher in this respect is very similar to the attitude of the true parent. In so far as the parent feels himself responsible for the character of his children, in so far as he holds himself culpable for their shortcomings and instrumental in shaping their virtues, he loses himself in his children. What we term parental affection is, I believe, in part an outgrowth of this feeling of responsibility. The situation is precisely the same with the teacher. It is when the teacher begins to feel himself responsible for the growth and development of his pupils that he begins to find himself in the work of teaching. It is then that the effective devotion to his pupils has its birth. The affection that comes prior to this is, I think, very likely to be of the sentimental and transitory sort.

In education, as in life, we play altogether too carelessly with the word "love." The test of true devotion is self-forgetfulness. Until the teacher reaches that point, he is conscious of two distinct elements in his work,--himself and his pupils. When that time comes, his own ego drops from view, and he lives in and for his pupils. The young teacher's tendency is always to ask himself, "Do my pupils like me?" Let me say that this is beside the question. It is not, from his standpoint, a matter of the pupils liking their teacher, but of the teacher liking his pupils. That, I take it, must be constantly the point of view. If you ask the other question first, you will be tempted to gain your end by means that are almost certain to prove fatal,--to bribe and pet and cajole and flatter, to resort to the dangerous expedient of playing to the gallery; but the liking that you get in this way is not worth the price that you pay for it. I should caution young teachers against the short-sighted educational theories that are in the air to-day, and that definitely recommend this attitude. They may sound sweet, but they are soft and sticky in practice. Better be guided by instinct than by "half-baked" theory. I have no disposition to criticize the attempts that have been made to rationalize educational practice, but a great deal of contemporary theory starts at the wrong end. It has failed to go to the sources of actual experience for its data. I know a father and mother who have brought up ten children successfully, and I may say that you could learn more about managing boys and girls from observing their methods than from a half-dozen prominent books on educational theory that I could name.

And so I repeat that the true test of the teacher's fidelity to this vow of service is the degree in which he loses himself in his pupils,--the degree in which he lives and toils and sacrifices for them just for the pure joy that it brings him. Once you have tasted this joy, no carping sneer of the cynic can cause you to lose faith in your calling. Material rewards sink into insignificance. You no longer work with your eyes upon the clock. The hours are all too short for the work that you would do. You are as light-hearted and as happy as a child,--for you have lost yourself to find yourself, and you have found yourself to lose yourself.

V

And the final vow that I would have these graduates take is the vow of idealism,--the pledge of fidelity and devotion to certain fundamental principles of life which it is the business of education carefully to cherish and nourish and transmit untarnished to each succeeding generation. These but formulate in another way what the vows that I have already discussed mean by implication. One is the ideal of social service, upon which education must, in the last analysis, rest its case. The second is the ideal of science,--the pledge of devotion to that persistent unwearying search after truth, of loyalty to the great principles of unbiased observation and unprejudiced experiment, of willingness to accept the truth and be governed by it, no matter how disagreeable it may be, no matter how roughly it may trample down our pet doctrines and our preconceived theories. The nineteenth century left us a glorious heritage in the great discoveries and inventions that science has established. These must not be lost to posterity; but far better lose them than lose the spirit of free inquiry, the spirit of untrammeled investigation, the noble devotion to truth for its own sake that made these discoveries and inventions possible.



It is these ideals that education must perpetuate, and if education is successfully to perpetuate them, the teacher must himself be filled with a spirit of devotion to the things that they represent. Science has triumphed over superstition and fraud and error. It is the teacher's duty to see to it that this triumph is permanent, that mankind does not again fall back into the black pit of ignorance and superstition.

And so it is the teacher's province to hold aloft the torch, to stand against the materialistic tendencies that would reduce all human standards to the common denominator of the dollar, to insist at all times and at all places that this nation of ours was founded upon idealism, and that, whatever may be the prevailing tendencies of the time, its children shall still learn to live "among the sunlit peaks." And if the teacher is imbued with this idealism, although his work may take him very close to Mother Earth, he may still lift his head above the fog and look the morning sun squarely in the face.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: An address to the graduating class of the Oswego, New York, State Normal School, February, 1907.]



II OPTIMISM IN TEACHING[2]

Although the month is March and not November, it is never unseasonable to count up the blessings for which it is well to be thankful. In fact, from the standpoint of education, the spring is perhaps the appropriate time to perform this very pleasant function. As if still further to emphasize the fact that education, like civilization, is an artificial thing, we have reversed the operations of Mother Nature: we sow our seed in the fall and cultivate our crops during the winter and reap our harvests in the spring. I may be pardoned, therefore, for making the theme of my discussion a brief review of the elements of growth and victory for which the educator of to-day may justly be grateful, with, perhaps, a few suggestions of what the next few years may reasonably be expected to bring forth.

And this course is all the more necessary because, I believe, the teaching profession is unduly prone to pessimism. One might think at first glance that the contrary would be true. We are surrounded on every side by youth. Youth is the material with which we constantly deal. Youth is buoyant, hopeful, exuberant; and yet, with this material constantly surrounding us, we frequently find the task wearisome and apparently hopeless. The reason is not far to seek. Youth is not only buoyant, it is unsophisticated, it is inexperienced, in many important particulars it is crude. Some of its tastes must necessarily, in our judgment, hark back to the primitive, to the barbaric. Ours is continually the task to civilize, to sophisticate, to refine this raw material. But, unfortunately for us, the effort that we put forth does not always bring results that we can see and weigh and measure. The hopefulness of our material is overshadowed not infrequently by its crudeness. We take each generation as it comes to us. We strive to lift it to the plane that civilized society has reached. We do our best and pass it on, mindful of the many inadequacies, perhaps of the many failures, in our work. We turn to the new generation that takes its place. We hope for better materials, but we find no improvement.

And so you and I reflect in our occasional moments of pessimism that generic situation which inheres in the very work that we do. The constantly accelerated progress of civilization lays constantly increasing burdens upon us. In some way or another we must accomplish the task. In some way or another we must lift the child to the level of society, and, as society is reaching a continually higher and higher level, so the distance through which the child must be raised is ever increased. We would like to think that all this progress in the race would come to mean that we should be able to take the child at a higher level; but you who deal with children know from experience the principle for which the biologist Weismann stands sponsor--the principle, namely, that acquired characteristics are not inherited; that whatever changes may be wrought during life in the brains and nerves and muscles of the present generation cannot be passed on to its successor save through the same laborious process of acquisition and training; that, however far the civilization of the race may progress, education, whose duty it is to conserve and transmit this civilization, must always begin with the "same old child."

This, I take it, is the deep-lying cause of the schoolmaster's pessimism. In our work we are constantly struggling against that same inertia which held the race in bondage for how many millenniums only the evolutionist can approximate a guess,--that inertia of the primitive, untutored mind which we to-day know as the mind of childhood, but which, for thousands of generations, was the only kind of a mind that man possessed. This inertia has been conquered at various times in the course of recorded history,--in Egypt and China and India, in Chaldea and Assyria, in Greece and Rome,--conquered only again to reassert itself and drive man back into barbarism. Now we of the Western world have conquered it, let us hope, for all time; for we of the Western world have discovered an effective method of holding it in abeyance, and this method is universal public education.

Let Germany close her public schools, and in two generations she will lapse back into the semi-darkness of medievalism; let her close both her public schools and her universities, and three generations will fetch her face to face with the Dark Ages; let her destroy her libraries and break into ruin all of her works of art, all of her existing triumphs of technical knowledge and skill, from which a few, self-tutored, might glean the wisdom that is every one's to-day, and Germany will soon become the home of a savage race, as it was in the days of Tacitus and Cæsar. Let Italy close her public schools, and Italy will become the same discordant jumble of petty states that it was a century ago,--again to await, this time perhaps for centuries or millenniums, another Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel to work her regeneration. Let Japan close her public schools, and Japan in two generations will be a barbaric kingdom of the Shoguns, shorn of every vestige of power and prestige,--the easy victim of the machinations of Western diplomats. Let our country cease in its work of education, and these United States must needs pass through the reverse stages of their growth until another race of savages shall roam through the unbroken forest, now and then to reach the shores of ocean and gaze through the centuries, eastward, to catch a glimpse of the new Columbus. Like the moving pictures of the kinetoscope when the reels are reversed, is the picture that imagination can unroll if we grant the possibility of a lapse from civilization to savagery.

And so when we take the broader view, we quickly see that, in spite of our pessimism, we are doing something in the world. We are part of that machine which civilization has invented and is slowly perfecting to preserve itself. We may be a very small part, but, so long as the responsibility for a single child rests upon us, we are not an unimportant part. Society must reckon with you and me perhaps in an infinitesimal degree, but it must reckon with the institution which we represent as it reckons with no other institution that it has reared to subserve its needs.

In a certain sense these statements are platitudes. We have repeated them over and over again until the words have lost their tremendous significance. And it behooves us now and again to revive the old substance in a new form,--to come afresh to a self-consciousness of our function. It is not good for any man to hold a debased and inferior opinion of himself or of his work, and in the field of schoolcraft it is easy to fall into this self-depreciating habit of thought. We cannot hope that the general public will ever come to view our work in the true perspective that I have very briefly outlined. It would probably not be wise to promulgate publicly so pronounced an affirmation of our function and of our worth. The popular mind must think in concrete details rather than in comprehensive principles, when the subject of thought is a specialized vocation. You and I have crude ideas, no doubt, of the lawyer's function, of the physician's function, of the clergyman's function. Not less crude are their ideas of our function. Even when they patronize us by saying that our work is the noblest that any man or woman would engage in, they have but a vague and shadowy perception of its real significance. I doubt not that, with the majority of those who thus pat us verbally upon the back, the words that they use are words only. They do not envy us our privileges,--unless it is our summer vacations,--nor do they encourage their sons to enter service in our craft. The popular mind--the nontechnical mind,--must work in the concrete;--it must have visible evidences of power and influence before it pays homage to a man or to an institution.

Throughout the German empire the traveler is brought constantly face to face with the memorials that have been erected by a grateful people to the genius of the Iron Chancellor. Bismarck richly deserves the tribute that is paid to his memory, but a man to be honored in this way must exert a tangible and an obvious influence.

And yet, in a broader sense, the preëminence of Germany is due in far greater measure to two men whose names are not so frequently to be found inscribed upon towers and monuments. In the very midst of the havoc and devastation wrought by the Napoleon wars,--at the very moment when the German people seemed hopelessly crushed and defeated,--an intellect more penetrating than that of Bismarck grasped the logic of the situation. With the inspiration that comes with true insight, the philosopher Fichte issued his famous Addresses to the German people. With clear-cut argument couched in white-hot words, he drove home the great principle that lies at the basis of United Germany and upon the results of which Bismarck and Von Moltke and the first Emperor erected the splendid structure that to-day commands the admiration of the world. Fichte told the German people that their only hope lay in universal, public education. And the kingdom of Prussia--impoverished, bankrupt, war-ridden, and war-devastated--heard the plea. A great scheme that comprehended such an education was already at hand. It had fallen almost stillborn from the only kind of a mind that could have produced it,--a mind that was suffused with an overwhelming love for humanity and incomparably rich with the practical experiences of a primary schoolmaster. It had fallen from the mind of Pestalozzi, the Swiss reformer, who thus stands with Fichte as one of the vital factors in the development of Germany's educational supremacy.

The people's schools of Prussia, imbued with the enthusiasm of Fichte and Pestalozzi,[3] gave to Germany the tremendous advantage that enabled it so easily to overcome its hereditary foe, when, two generations later, the Franco-Prussian War was fought; for the Volksschule gave to Germany something that no other nation of that time possessed; namely, an educated proletariat, an intelligent common people. Bismarck knew this when he laid his cunning plans for the unification of German states that was to crown the brilliant series of victories beginning at Sedan and ending within the walls of Paris. William of Prussia knew it when, in the royal palace at Versailles, he accepted the crown that made him the first Emperor of United Germany. Von Moltke knew it when, at the capitulation of Paris, he was asked to whom the credit of the victory was due, and he replied, in the frank simplicity of the true soldier and the true hero, "The schoolmaster did it."

And yet Bismarck and Von Moltke and the Emperor are the heroes of Germany, and if Fichte and Pestalozzi are not forgotten, at least their memories are not cherished as are the memories of the more tangible and obvious heroes. Instinct lies deeply embedded in human nature and it is instinctive to think in the concrete. And so I repeat that we cannot expect the general public to share in the respect and veneration which you and I feel for our calling, for you and I are technicians in education, and we can see the process as a comprehensive whole. But our fellow men and women have their own interests and their own departments of technical knowledge and skill; they see the schoolhouse and the pupils' desks and the books and other various material symbols of our work,--they see these things and call them education; just as we see a freight train thundering across the viaduct or a steamer swinging out in the lake and call these things commerce. In both cases, the nontechnical mind associates the word with something concrete and tangible; in both cases, the technical mind associates the same word with an abstract process, comprehending a movement of vast proportions.

To compress such a movement--whether it be commerce or government or education--in a single conception requires a multitude of experiences involving actual adjustments with the materials involved; involving constant reflection upon hidden meanings, painful investigations into hidden causes, and mastery of a vast body of specialized knowledge which it takes years of study to digest and assimilate.

It is not every stevedore upon the docks, nor every stoker upon the steamers, nor every brakeman upon the railroads, who comprehends what commerce really means. It is not every banker's clerk who knows the meaning of business. It is not every petty holder of public office who knows what government really means. But this, at least, is true: in proportion as the worker knows the meaning of the work that he does,--in proportion as he sees it in its largest relations to society and to life,--his work is no longer the drudgery of routine toil. It becomes instead an intelligent process directed toward a definite goal. It has acquired that touch of artistry which, so far as human testimony goes, is the only pure and uncontaminated source of human happiness.

And the chief blessing for which you and I should be thankful to-day is that this larger view of our calling has been vouchsafed to us as it has been vouchsafed no former generation of teachers. Education as the conventional prerogative of the rich,--as the garment which separated the higher from the lower classes of society,--this could scarcely be looked upon as a fascinating and uplifting ideal from which to derive hope and inspiration in the day's work; and yet this was the commonly accepted function of education for thousands of years, and the teachers who did the actual work of instruction could not but reflect in their attitude and bearing the servile character of the task that they performed. Education to fit the child to earn a better living, to command a higher wage,--this myopic view of the function of the school could do but little to make the work of teaching anything but drudgery; and yet it is this narrow and materialistic view that has dominated our educational system to within a comparatively few years.

So silently and yet so insistently have our craft ideals been transformed in the last two decades that you and I are scarcely aware that our point of view has been changed and that we are looking upon our work from a much higher point of vantage and in a light entirely new. And yet this is the change that has been wrought. That education, in its widest meaning, is the sole conservator and transmitter of civilization to successive generations found expression as far back as Aristotle and Plato, and has been vaguely voiced at intervals down through the centuries; but its complete establishment came only as an indirect issue of the great scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century, and its application to the problems of practical schoolcraft and its dissemination through the rank and file of teachers awaited the dawn of the twentieth century. To-day we see expressions and indications of the new outlook upon every hand, in the greatly increased professional zeal that animates the teacher's calling; in the widespread movement among all civilized countries to raise the standards of teachers, to eliminate those candidates for service who have not subjected themselves to the discipline of special preparation; in the increased endowments and appropriations for schools and seminaries that prepare teachers; and, perhaps most strikingly at the present moment, in that concerted movement to organize into institutions of formal education, all of those branches of training which have, for years, been left to the chance operation of economic needs working through the crude and unorganized though often effective apprentice system. The contemporary fervor for industrial education is only one expression of this new view that, in the last analysis, the school must stand sponsor for the conservation and transmission of every valuable item of experience, every usable fact or principle, every tiniest perfected bit of technical skill, every significant ideal or prejudice, that the race has acquired at the cost of so much struggle and suffering and effort.



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