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The American Child by Elizabeth McCracken

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little children of one of them did it."

When I urged her to tell me how, she said, "We are invited to that
'leading spirit's' house to dinner to-morrow; and you can find out for
yourself, then."

It proved to bean easy thing to discover. "I am glad to see that, since
you have no parish-house, you are using your church for parish-house
activities," I made an early occasion to say to our hostess, after
dinner, on the Sunday. "You were not using it in that way when I was
here last; it is something very new, isn't it?"

"It is, my dear," said our hostess,--one of those of his flock whom the
minister had described as "conservatives of the strictest type"; "'very
new' are the exact words with which to speak of it!"

"How did it happen?" I asked.

She smiled. "Our minister and his wife declare that my small son and
daughter are mainly responsible for it!" she said. "They began to attend
the public school this autumn,--they had, up to that time, been taught
at home. You know what the population of this town is,--half foreign.
Even in the school in this district, there are a considerable number of
foreigners. I don't know why it is, when they have so many playmates in
their own set, that my children should have made friends, and such close
friends, with some of those foreign children! But they did. And not
content with bringing them here, they wanted to go to their homes! Of
course, I couldn't allow that. I explained to my boy and girl as well as
I was able; I told them those people did not know how to live properly;
that they might keep their children clean, because they wouldn't be
permitted to send them to school unless they did; but their houses were
dirty, and their food bad. And what do you think my children said to me?
They said, 'Mother, have they _got_ to have their houses dirty? Have
they _got_ to have bad food? Couldn't _they_ have things nice, as _we_
have?' It quite startled me to hear my own children ask me such things;
it made me think. I told my husband about it; it made him think, too.
You know, we are always hearing that, if we _are_ going to try to
improve the living conditions of the poor, we must 'begin with the
children,'--begin by teaching them better ways of living. Our minister
and his wife have all along been eager to teach these foreign children.
We have no place to teach them in, except our church. It was rather a
wrench for my husband and me,--giving our approval to using a church for
a club-house. But we did it. And we secured the consent of the rest of
the congregation,--we told them what our children had said. We were not
the only ones who thought the children had, to use an old-fashioned
theological term, 'been directed' in what they had said!" she concluded.

The children had said nothing that the minister had not said. Was it not
less what they had said than the fact of their saying it that changed
the whole course of feeling and action in that parish?

On the days when it is our lot to share in doing large tasks, the
children help us. What of the days which bring with them only a "petty
round of irritating concerns and duties?" Do they not help us then, too?

In a house on my square, there lives a little girl, three years old,
who, every morning at about eight o'clock, when the front doors of the
square open, and the workers come hurrying down their steps, appears at
her nursery window,--open except in very stormy weather. "Good-bye!" she
calls to each one, smiling, and waving her small hand, "good-bye!"

"Good-bye!" we all call back, "good-bye!" We smile, too, and wave a hand
to the little girl. Then, almost invariably, we glance at each other,
and smile again, together. Thus our day begins.

We are familiar with the thought of our devotion to children. As
individuals, and as a nation, our services to the children of our land
are conspicuously great. "You do so much for children, in America!" It
is no new thing to us to hear this exclamation. We have heard, we hear
it so often! All of us know that it is true. We are coming to see that
the converse is equally true; that the children do much for us, do more
than we do for them; do the best thing in the world,--make us who are so
many, one; keep us, who are so diverse, united; help us, whether our
tasks be great or small, to "go to our labor, smiling."

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