Produced by Al Haines
REVERIES OF A SCHOOLMASTER
FRANCIS B. PEARSON
STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION FOR OHIO
AUTHOR OF “THE EVOLUTION OF THE TEACHER,” “THE HIGH-SCHOOL PROBLEM,” “THE VITALIZED SCHOOL.”
CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
NEW YORK CHICAGO BOSTON
COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
I. IN MEDIAS RES
VII. COMPLETE LIVING
VIII. MY SPEECH
XV. HOEING POTATOES
XVI. CHANGING THE MIND
XVII. THE POINT OF VIEW
XXIV. MY WORLD
XXV. THIS OR THAT
XXVI. RABBIT PEDAGOGY
XXVIII. PURELY PEDAGOGICAL
XXX. FOUR-LEAF CLOVER
REVERIES OF A SCHOOLMASTER
IN MEDIAS RES
I am rather glad now that I took a little dip (one could scarce call it a baptism) into the Latin, and especially into Horace, for that good soul gave me the expression _in medias res_. That is a forceful expression, right to the heart of things, and applies equally well to the writing of a composition or the eating of a watermelon. Those who have crossed the Channel, from Folkstone to Boulogne, know that the stanch little ship _Invicta_ had scarcely left dock when they were _in medias res_. They were conscious of it, too, if indeed they were conscious of anything not strictly personal to themselves. This expression admits us at once to the light and warmth (if such there be) of the inner temple nor keeps us shivering out in the vestibule.
Writers of biography are wont to keep us waiting too long for happenings that are really worth our while. They tell us that some one was born at such a time, as if that were really important. Why, anybody can be born, but it requires some years to determine whether his being born was a matter of importance either to himself or to others. When I write my biographical sketch of William Shakespeare I shall say that in a certain year he wrote “Hamlet,” which fact clearly justified his being born so many years earlier.
The good old lady said of her pastor: “He enters the pulpit, takes his text, and then the dear man just goes everywhere preaching the Gospel.” That man had a special aptitude for the _in medias res_ method of procedure. Many children in school who are not versed in Latin would be glad to have their teachers endowed with this aptitude. They are impatient of preliminaries, both in the school and at the dinner-table. And it is pretty difficult to discover just where childhood leaves off in this respect.
So I am grateful to Horace for the expression. Having started right in the midst of things, one can never get off the subject, and that is a great comfort. Sometimes college graduates confess (or perhaps boast) that they have forgotten their Latin. I fear to follow their example lest my neighbor, who often drops in for a friendly chat, might get to wondering whether I have not also forgotten much of the English I am supposed to have acquired in college. He might regard my English as quite as feeble when compared with Shakespeare or Milton as my Latin when compared with Cicero or Virgil. So I take counsel with prudence and keep silent on the subject of Latin.
When I am taking a stroll in the woods, as I delight to do in the autumn-time, laundering my soul with the gorgeous colors, the music of the rustling leaves, the majestic silences, and the sounds that are less and more than sounds, I often wonder, when I take one bypath, what experiences I might have had if I had taken the other. I’ll never know, of course, but I keep on wondering. So it is with this Latin. I wonder how much worse matters could or would have been if I had never studied it at all. As the old man said to the young fellow who consulted him as to getting married: “You’ll be sorry if you do, and sorry if you don’t.” I used to feel a sort of pity for my pupils to think how they would have had no education at all if they had not had me as their teacher; now I am beginning to wonder how much further along they might have been if they had had some other teacher. But probably most of the misfits in life are in the imagination, after all. We all think the huckleberries are more abundant on the other bush.
Hoeing potatoes is a calm, serene, dignified, and philosophical enterprise. But at bottom it is much the same in principle as teaching school. In my potato-patch I am merely trying to create situations that are favorable to growth, and in the school I can do neither more nor better. I cannot cause either boys or potatoes to grow. If I could, I’d certainly have the process patented. I know no more about how potatoes grow than I do about the fourth dimension or the unearned increment. But they grow in spite of my ignorance, and I know that there are certain conditions in which they flourish. So the best I can do is to make conditions favorable. Nor do I bother about the weeds. I just centre my attention and my hoe upon loosening the soil and let the weeds look out for themselves. Hoeing potatoes is a synthetic process, but cutting weeds is analytic, and synthesis is better, both for potatoes and for boys. In good time, if the boy is kept growing, he will have outgrown his stone-bruises, his chapped hands, his freckles, his warts, and his physical and spiritual awkwardness. The weeds will have disappeared.
The potato-patch is your true pedagogical laboratory and conservatory. If one cannot learn pedagogy there it is no fault of the potato-patch. Horace must have thought of _in medias res_ while hoeing potatoes. There is no other way to do it, and that is bed-rock pedagogy. Just to get right at the work and do it, that’s the very thing the teacher is striving toward. Here among my potatoes I am actuated by motives, I invest the subject with human interest, I experience motor activities, I react, I function, and I go so far as to evaluate. Indeed, I run the entire gamut. And then, when I am lying beneath the canopy of the wide-spreading tree, I do a bit of research work in trying to locate the sorest muscle. And, as to efficiency, well, I give myself a high grade in that and shall pass _cum laude_ it the matter is left to me. If our grading were based upon effort rather than achievement, I could bring my aching back into court, if not my potatoes. But our system of grading in the schools demands potatoes, no matter much how obtained, with scant credit for backaches.
We have farm ballads and farm arithmetics, but as yet no one has written for us a book on farm pedagogy. I’d do it myself but for the feeling that some Strayer, or McMurry, or O’Shea will get right at it as soon as he has come upon this suggestion. That’s my one great trouble. The other fellow has the thing done before I can get around to it. I would have written “The Message to Garcia,” but Mr. Hubbard anticipated me. Then, I was just ready to write a luminous description of Yellowstone Falls when I happened upon the one that DeWitt Talmage wrote, and I could see no reason for writing another. So it is. I seem always to be just too late. I wish now that I had written “Recessional” before Kipling got to it. No doubt, the same thing will happen with my farm pedagogy. If one could only stake a claim in all this matter of writing as they do in the mining regions, the whole thing would be simplified. I’d stake my claim on farm pedagogy and then go on hoeing my potatoes while thinking out what to say on the subject.
Whoever writes the book will do well to show how catching a boy is analogous to catching a colt out in the pasture. Both feats require tact and, at the very least, horse-sense. The other day I wanted to catch my colt and went out to the pasture for that purpose. There is a hill in the pasture, and I went to the top of this and saw the colt at the far side of the pasture in what we call the swale–low, wet ground, where weeds abound. I didn’t want to get my shoes soiled, so I stood on the hill and called and called. The colt looked up now and then and then went on with his own affairs. In my chagrin I was just about ready to get angry when it occurred to me that the colt wasn’t angry, and that I ought to show as good sense as a mere horse. That reflection relieved the tension somewhat, and I thought it wise to meditate a bit. Here am I; yonder is the colt. I want him; he doesn’t want me. He will not come to me; so I must go to him. Then, what? Oh, yes, native interests–that’s it, native interests. I’m much obliged to Professor James for reminding me. Now, just what are the native interests of a colt? Why, oats, of course. So, I must return to the barn and get a pail of oats. An empty pail might do once, but never again. So I must have oats in my pail. Either a colt or a boy becomes shy after he has once been deceived. The boy who fails to get oats in the classroom to-day, will shy off from the teacher to-morrow. He will not even accept her statement that there is oats in the pail, for yesterday the pail was empty–nothing but sound.
But even with pail and oats I had to go to the colt, getting my shoes soiled and my clothes torn, but there was no other way. I must begin where the colt (or boy) is, as the book on pedagogy says. I wanted to stay on the hill where everything was agreeable, but that wouldn’t get the colt. Now, if Mr. Charles H. Judd cares to elaborate this outline, I urge no objection and shall not claim the protection of copyright. I shall be only too glad to have him make clear to all of us the pedagogical recipe for catching colts and boys.
Mr. Patrick Henry was probably correct in saying that there is no way of judging the future but by the past, and, to my thinking, he might well have included the present along with the future. Today is better or worse than yesterday or some other day in the past, just as this cherry pie is better or worse than some past cherry pie. But even this pie may seem a bit less glorious than the pies of the past, because of my jaded appetite–a fact that is easily lost sight of. Folks who extol the glories of the good old times may be forgetting that they are not able to relive the emotions that put the zest into those past events. We used to go to “big meeting” in a two-horse sled, with the wagon-body half filled with hay and heaped high with blankets and robes. The mercury might be low in the tube, but we recked not of that. Our indifference to climatic conditions was not due alone to the wealth of robes and blankets, but the proximity of another member of the human family may have had something to do with it. If we could reconstruct the emotional life of those good old times, the physical conditions would take their rightful place as a background.
If we could only bring back the appetite of former years we might find this pie better than the pies of old. The good brother who seems to think the textbooks of his boyhood days were better than the modern ones forgets that along with the old-time textbooks went skating, rabbit-hunting, snowballing, coasting, fishing, sock-up, bull-pen, two-old-cat, townball, and shinny-on-the-ice. He is probably confusing those majors with the text-book minor. His criticism of things and books modern is probably a voicing of his regret that he has lost his zeal for the fun and frolic of youth. If he could but drink a few copious drafts from the Fountain of Youth, the books of the present might not seem so inferior after all. The bread and apple-butter stage of our hero’s career may seem to dim the lustre of the later porterhouse steak, but with all the glory of the halcyon days of yore it is to be noted that he rides in an automobile and not in an ox-cart, and prefers electricity to the good old oil-lamp.
I concede with enthusiasm the joys of bygone days, and would be glad to repeat those experiences with sundry very specific reservations and exceptions. That thick bread with its generous anointing of apple butter discounted all the nectar and ambrosia of the books and left its marks upon the character as well as the features of the recipient. The mouth waters even now as I recall the bill of fare plus the appetite. But if I were going back to the good old days I’d like to take some of the modern improvements along with me. It thrills me to consider the modern school credits for home work with all the “57 varieties” as an integral feature of the good old days. Alas, how much we missed by not knowing about all this! What miracles might have been wrought had we and our teachers only known! Poor, ignorant teachers! Little did they dream that such wondrous things could ever be. Life might have been made a glad, sweet song for us had it been supplied with these modern attachments. I spent many weary hours over partial payments in Ray’s Third Part, when I might have been brushing my teeth or combing my hair instead. Then, instead of threading the mazes of Greene’s Analysis and parsing “Thanatopsis,” I might just as well have been asleep in the haymow, where ventilation was super-abundant. How proudly could I have produced the home certificate as to my haymow experience and received an exhilarating grade in grammar!
Just here I interrupt myself to let the imagination follow me homeward on the days when grades were issued. The triumphal processions of the Romans would have been mild by comparison. The arch look upon my face, the martial mien, and the flashing eye all betoken the real hero. Then the pride of that home, the sumptuous feast of chicken and angel-food cake, and the parental acclaim–all befitting the stanch upholder of the family honor. Of course, nothing like this ever really happened, which goes to prove that I was born years too early in the world’s history. The more I think of this the more acute is my sympathy with Maud Muller. That girl and I could sigh a duet thinking what might have been. Why, I might have had my college degree while still wearing short trousers. I was something of an adept at milking cows and could soon have eliminated the entire algebra by the method of substitution. Milking the cows was one of my regular tasks, anyhow, and I could thus have combined business with pleasure. And if by riding a horse to water I could have gained immunity from the _Commentaries_ by one Julius Caesar, full lustily would I have shouted, _a la_ Richard III: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
One man advocates the plan of promoting pupils in the schools on the basis of character, and this plan strongly appeals to me as right, plausible, and altogether feasible. Had this been proposed when I was a schoolboy I probably should have made a few conditions, or at least have asked a few questions. I should certainly have wanted to know who was to be the judge in the matter, and what was his definition of character. Much would have depended upon that. If he had decreed that cruelty to animals indicates a lack of character and then proceeded to denominate as cruelty to animals such innocent diversions as shooting woodpeckers in a cherry-tree with a Flobert rifle, or smoking chipmunks out from a hollow log, or tying a strip of red flannel to a hen’s tail to take her mind off the task of trying to hatch a door-knob, or tying a tin can to a dog’s tail to encourage him in his laudable enterprise of demonstrating the principle of uniformly accelerated motion–if he had included these and other such like harmless antidotes for ennui in his category, I should certainly have asked to be excused from his character curriculum and should have pursued the even tenor of my ways, splitting kindling, currying the horse, washing the buggy, carrying water from the pump to the kitchen and saying, “Thank you,” to my elders as the more agreeable avenue of promotion.
If we had had character credits in the good old days I might have won distinction in school and been saved much embarrassment in later years. Instead of learning the latitude and longitude of Madagascar, Chattahoochee, and Kamchatka, I might have received high grades in geography by abstaining from the chewing of gum, by not wearing my hands in my trousers-pockets, by walking instead of ambling or slouching, by wiping the mud from my shoes before entering the house, by a personally conducted tour through the realms of manicuring, and by learning the position and use of the hat-rack. Getting no school credits for such incidental minors in the great scheme of life, I grew careless and indifferent and acquired a reputation that I do not care to dwell upon. If those who had me in charge, or thought they had, had only been wise and given me school credits for all these things, what a model boy I might have been!
Why, I would have swallowed my pride, donned a kitchen apron, and washed the supper dishes, and no normal boy enjoys that ceremony. By making passes over the dishes I should have been exorcising the spooks of cube root, and that would have been worth some personal sacrifice. What a boon it would have been for the home folks too! They could have indulged their penchant for literary exercises, sitting in the parlor making out certificates for me to carry to my teacher next day, and so all the rough places in the home would have been made smooth. But the crowning achievement would have been my graduation from college. I can see the picture. I am husking corn in the lower field. To reach this field one must go the length of the orchard and then walk across the meadow. It is a crisp autumn day, about ten o’clock in the morning, and the sun is shining. The golden ears are piling up under my magic skill, and there is peace. As I take down another bundle from the shock I descry what seems to be a sort of procession wending its way through the orchard. Then the rail fence is surmounted, and the procession solemnly moves across the meadow. In time the president and an assortment of faculty members stand before me, bedight in caps and gowns. I note that their gowns are liberally garnished with Spanish needles and cockleburs, and their shoes give evidence of contact with elemental mud. But then and there they confer upon me the degree of bachelor of arts _magna cum laude_. But for this interruption I could have finished husking that row before the dinner-horn blew.
My neighbor came in again this evening, not for anything in particular, but unconsciously proving that men are gregarious animals. I like this neighbor. His name is Brown. I like the name Brown, too. It is easy to pronounce. By a gentle crescendo you go to the summit and then coast to the bottom. The name Brown, when pronounced, is a circumflex accent. Now, if his name had happened to be Moriarity I never could be quite sure when I came to the end in pronouncing it. I’m glad his name is not Moriarity–not because it is Irish, for I like the Irish; so does Brown, for he is married to one of them. Any one who has been in Cork and heard the fine old Irishman say in his musical and inimitable voice, “Tis a lovely dye,” such a one will ever after have a snug place in his affections for the Irish, whether he has kissed the “Blarney stone” or not. If he has heard this same driver of a jaunting-car rhapsodize about “Shandon Bells” and the author, Father Prout, his admiration for things and people Irish will become well-nigh a passion. He will not need to add to his mental picture, for the sake of emphasis or color, the cherry-cheeked maids who lead their mites of donkeys along leafy roads, the carts heaped high with cabbages. Even without this addition he will become expansive when he speaks of Ireland and the Irish.
But, as I was saying, Brown came in this evening just to barter small talk, as we often do. Now, in physical build Brown is somewhere between Falstaff and Cassius, while in mental qualities he is an admixture of Plato, Solomon, and Bill Nye.
When he drops in we do not discuss matters, nor even converse; we talk. Our talk just oozes out and flows whither it wills, or little wisps of talk drift into the silences, and now and then a dash of homely philosophy splashes into the talking. Brown is a real comfort. He is never cryptic, nor enigmatic, at least consciously so, nor does he ever try to be impressive. If he were a teacher he would attract his pupils by his good sense, his sincerity, his simplicity, and his freedom from pose. I cannot think of him as ever becoming teachery, with a high-pitched voice and a hysteric manner. He has too much poise for that. He would never discuss things with children. He would talk with them. Brown cannot walk on stilts, nor has the air-ship the least fascination for him.
One of my teachers for a time was Doctor T. C. Mendenhall, and he was a great teacher. He could sound the very depths of his subject and simply talk it. He led us to think, and thinking is not a noisy process. Truth to tell, his talks often caused my poor head to ache from overwork. But I have been in classes where the oases of thought were far apart and one could doze and dream on the journey from one to the other. Doctor Mendenhall’s teaching was all white meat, sweet to the taste, and altogether nourishing. He is the man who made the first correct copy of Shakespeare’s epitaph there in the church at Stratford-on-Avon. I sent a copy of Doctor Mendenhall’s version to Mr. Brassinger, the librarian in the Memorial Building, and have often wondered what his comment was. He never told me. There are those “who, having eyes, see not.” There had been thousands of people who had looked at that epitaph with the printed copy in hand, and yet had never noticed the discrepancy, and it remained for an American to point out the mistake. But that is Doctor Mendenhall’s way. He is nothing if not thorough, and that proves his scientific mind.
Well, Brown fell to talking about the Isle of Pines, in the course of our verbal exchanges, and I drew him out a bit, receiving a liberal education on the subjects of grapefruit, pineapples, and bananas. From my school-days I have carried over the notion that the Caribbean Sea is one of the many geographical myths with which the school-teacher is wont to intimidate boys who would far rather be scaring rabbits out from under a brush heap. But here sits a man who has travelled upon the Caribbean Sea, and therefore there must be such a place. Our youthful fancies do get severe jolts! From my own experience I infer that much of our teaching in the schools doesn’t take hold, that the boys and girls tolerate it but do not believe. I cannot recall just when I first began to believe in Mt. Vesuvius, but I am quite certain that it was not in my school-days. It may have been in my teaching-days, but I’m not quite certain. I have often wondered whether we teachers really believe all we try to teach. I feel a pity for poor Sisyphus, poor fellow, rolling that stone to the top of the hill, and then having to do the work all over when the stone rolled to the bottom. But that is not much worse than trying to teach Caribbean Sea and Mt. Vesuvius, if we can’t really believe in them. But here is Brown, metamorphosed into a psychologist who begins with the known, yea, delightfully known grapefruit which I had at breakfast, and takes me on a fascinating excursion till I arrive, by alluring stages, at the related unknown, the Caribbean Sea. Too bad that Brown isn’t a teacher.
Brown has the gift of holding on to a thing till his craving for knowledge is satisfied. Somewhere he had come upon some question touching a campanile or, possibly, _the_ Campanile, as it seemed to him. Nor would he rest content until I had extracted what the books have to say on the subject. He had in mind the Campanile at Venice, not knowing that the one beside the Duomo at Florence is higher than the one at Venice, and that the Leaning Tower at Pisa is a campanile, or bell-tower, also. When I told him that one of my friends saw the Campanile at Venice crumble to a heap of ruins on that Sunday morning back in 1907, and that another friend had been of the last party to go to the top of it the evening before, he became quite excited, and then I knew that I had succeeded in investing the subject with human interest, and I felt quite the schoolmaster. Nothing of this did I mention to Brown, for there is no need to exploit the mental machinery if only you get results.
Many people who travel abroad buy postcards by the score, and seem to feel that they are the original discoverers of the places which these cards portray, and yet these very places were the background of much of their history and geography in the schools. Can it be that their teachers failed to invest these places with human interest, that they were but words in a book and not real to them at all? Must I travel all the way to Yellowstone Park to know a geyser? Alas! in that case, many of us poor school-teachers must go through life geyserless. Wondrous tales and oft heard I in my school-days of glacier, iceberg, canyon, snow-covered mountain, grotto, causeway, and volcano, but not till I came to Grindelwald did I really know what a glacier is. There’s many a Doubting Thomas in the schools.
The psychologist is so insistent in proclaiming his doctrine of negative self-feeling and positive self-feeling that one is impelled to listen out of curiosity, if nothing else. Then, just as you are beginning to get a little glimmering as to his meaning, another one begins to assail your ears with a deal of sesquipedalian English about the emotion of subjection and the emotion of elation. Just as I began to think I was getting a grip of the thing a college chap came in and proceeded to enlighten me by saying that these two emotions may be generated only by personal relations, and not by relations of persons and things. I was thinking of my emotion of subjection in the presence of an original problem in geometry, but this college person tells me that this negative self-feeling, according to psychology, is experienced only in the presence of another person. Well, I have had that experience, too. In fact, my negative self-feeling is of frequent occurrence. Jacob must have had a rather severe attack of the emotion of subjection when he was trying to escape from the wrath of Esau. But, after his experience at Bethel, where he received a blessing and a promise, there was a shifting from the negative self-feeling to the positive–from the emotion of subjection to that of elation.
The stone which Jacob used that night as a pillow, so we are told, is called the Stone of Scone, and is to be seen in the body of the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. The use of that stone as a part of the chair might seem to be a psychological coincidence, unless, indeed, we can conceive that the fabricators of the chair combined a knowledge of psychology and also of the Bible in its construction. It is an interesting conceit, at any rate, that the stone might bring to kings and queens a blessing and a promise, as it had done for Jacob, averting the emotion of subjection and perpetuating the emotion of elation.
Now, there’s Hazzard, the big, glorious Hazzard. I met him first on the deck of the S. S. _Campania_, and I gladly agreed to his proposal that we travel together. He is a large man (one need not be more specific) and a veritable steam-engine of activity and energy. It was altogether natural, therefore, that he should assume the leadership of our party of two in all matters touching places, modes of travel, hotels, and other details large and small, while I trailed along in his wake. This order continued for some days, and I, of course, experienced all the while the emotion of subjection in some degree. When we came to the Isle of Man we puzzled our heads no little over the curious coat of arms of that quaint little country. This coat of arms is three human legs, equidistant from one another. At Peel we made numerous inquiries, and also at Ramsey, but to no avail. In the evening, however, in the hotel at Douglas I saw a picture of this coat of arms, accompanied by the inscription, _Quocumque jeceris stabit_, and gave some sort of translation of it. Then and there came my emancipation, for after that I was consulted and deferred to during all the weeks we were together. It is quite improbable that Hazzard himself realized any change in our relations, but unconsciously paid that subtle tribute to my small knowledge of Latin. When we came to Stratford I did not call upon Miss Marie Corelli, for I had heard that she is quite averse to men as a class, and I feared I might suffer an emotional collapse. I was so comfortable in my newly acquainted emotion of elation that I decided to run no risks.
When at length I resumed my schoolmastering I determined to give the boys and girls the benefit of my recent discovery. I saw that I must generate in each one, if possible, the emotion of elation, that I must so arrange school situations that mastery would become a habit with them if they were to become “masters in the kingdom of life,” as my friend Long says it. I saw at once that the difficulties must be made only high enough to incite them to effort, but not so high as to cause discouragement. I recalled the sentence in Harvey’s Grammar: “Milo began to lift the ox when he was a calf.” After we had succeeded in locating the antecedent of “he” we learned from this sentence a lesson of value, and I recalled this lesson in my efforts to inculcate progressive mastery in the boys and girls of my school. I sometimes deferred a difficult problem for a few days till they had lifted the growing calf a few more times, and then returned to it. Some one says that everything is infinitely high that we can’t see over, so I was careful to arrange the barriers just a bit lower than the eye-line of my pupils, and then raise them a trifle on each succeeding day. In this way I strove to generate the positive self-feeling so that there should be no depression and no white flag. And that surely was worth a trip to the Isle of Man, even if one failed to see one of their tailless cats.
I had occasion or, rather, I took occasion at one time to punish a boy with a fair degree of severity (may the Lord forgive me), and now. I know that in so doing I was guilty of a grave error. What I interpreted as misconduct was but a straining at his leash in an effort to extricate himself from the incubus of the negative self-feeling. He was, and probably is, a dull fellow and realized that he could not cope with the other boys in the school studies, and so was but trying to win some notice in other fields of activity. To him notoriety was preferable to obscurity. If I had only been wise I would have turned his inclination to good account and might have helped him to self-mastery, if not to the mastery of algebra. He yearned for the emotion of elation, and I was trying to perpetuate his emotion of subjection. If Methuselah had been a schoolmaster he might have attained proficiency by the time he reached the age of nine hundred and sixty-eight years if he had been a close observer, a close student of methods, and had been willing and able to profit by his own mistakes.
Friend Virgil says something like this: “They can because they think they can,” and I heartily concur. Some one tells us that Kent in “King Lear” got his name from the Anglo-Saxon word can and he was aptly named, in view of Virgil’s statement. But can I cause my boys and girls to think they can? Why, most assuredly, if I am any sort of teacher. Otherwise I ought to be dealing with inanimate things and leave the school work to those who can. I certainly can help young folks to shift from the emotion of subjection to the emotion of elation. I had a puppy that we called Nick and thought I’d like to teach him to go up-stairs. When he came to the first stair he cried and cowered and said, in his language, that it was too high, and that he could never do it. So, in a soothing way, I quoted Virgil at him and placed his front paws upon the step. Then he laughed a bit and said the step wasn’t as high as the moon, after all. So I patted him and called him a brave little chap, and he gained the higher level. Then we rested for a bit and spent the time in being glad, for Nick and I had read our “Pollyanna” and had learned the trick of gladness. Well, before the day was over that puppy could go up the stairs without the aid of a teacher, and a gladder dog never was. If I had taken as much pains with that boy as I did with Nick I’d feel far more comfortable right now, and the boy would have felt more comfortable both then and after. O schoolmastering! How many sins are committed in thy name! I succeeded with the puppy, but failed with the boy. A boy does not go to school to study algebra, but studies algebra to learn mastery. I know this now, but did not know it then, more’s the pity!
I had another valuable lesson in this phase of pedagogy the day my friend Vance and I sojourned to Indianapolis to call upon Mr. Benjamin Harrison, who had somewhat recently completed his term as President of the United States. We were fortified with ample and satisfactory credentials and had a very fortunate introduction; but for all that we were inclined to walk softly into the presence of greatness, and had a somewhat acute attack of negative self-feeling. However, after due exchange of civilities, we succeeded somehow in preferring the request that had brought us into his presence, and Mr. Harrison’s reply served to reassure us. Said he: “Oh, no, boys, I couldn’t do that; last year I promised Bok to write some articles for his journal, and I didn’t have any fun all summer.” His two words, “boys” and “fun,” were the magic ones that caused the tension to relax and generated the emotion of elation. We then sat back in our chairs and, possibly, crossed our legs–I can’t be certain as to that. At any rate, in a single sentence this man had made us his co-ordinates and caused the negative self-feeling to vanish. Then for a good half-hour he talked in a familiar way about great affairs, and in a style that charmed. He told us of a call he had the day before from David Starr. Jordan, who came to report his experience as a member of the commission that had been appointed to adjudicate the controversy between the United States and England touching seal-fishing in the Behring Sea. It may be recalled that this commission consisted of two Americans, two Englishmen, and King Oscar of Sweden. Mr. Harrison told us quite frankly that he felt a mistake had been made in making up the commission, for, with two Americans and two Englishmen on the commission, the sole arbiter in reality was King Oscar, since the other four were reduced to the plane of mere advocates; but, had there been three Americans and two Englishmen, or two Americans and three Englishmen, the function of all would have been clearly judicial. Suffice it to say that this great man made us forget our emotion of subjection, and so made us feel that he would have been a great teacher, just as he was a great statesman. I shall always be grateful for the lesson he taught me and, besides, I am glad that the college chap came in and gave me that psychological massage.
When I write my book on farm pedagogy I shall certainly make large use of the horse in illustrating the fundamental principles, for he is a noble animal and altogether worthy of the fullest recognition. We often use the expression “horse-sense” somewhat flippantly, but I have often seen a driver who would have been a more useful member of society if he had had as much sense as the horses he was driving. If I were making a catalogue of the “lower animals” I’d certainly include the man who abuses a horse. Why, the celebrated German trick-horse, Hans, had even the psychologists baffled for a long time, but finally he taught them a big chapter in psychology. They finally discovered that his marvellous tricks were accomplished through the power of close observation. Facial expression, twitching of a muscle, movements of the head, these were the things he watched for as his cue in answering questions by indicating the right card. There was a teacher in our school once who wore old-fashioned spectacles. When he wanted us to answer a question in a certain way he unconsciously looked over his spectacles; but when he wanted a different answer he raised his spectacles to his forehead. So we ranked high in our daily grades, but met our Waterloo when the examination came around. That teacher, of course, had never heard of the horse Hans, and so was not aware that in the process of watching his movements we were merely proving that we had horse-sense. He probably attributed our ready answers to the superiority of his teaching, not realizing that our minds were concentrated upon the subject of spectacles.
Of course, a horse balks now and then, and so does a boy. I did a bit of balking myself as a boy, and I am not quite certain that I have even yet become immune. Doctor James Wallace (whose edition of “Anabasis” some of us have read, halting and stumbling along through the parasangs) with three companions went out to Marathon one day from Athens. The distance, as I recall it, is about twenty-two miles, and they left early in the morning, so as to return the same day. Their conveyance was an open wagon with two horses attached. When they had gone a mile or two out of town one of the horses balked and refused to proceed. Then and there each member of the party drew upon his past experiences, seeking a panacea for the equine delinquency. One suggested the plan of building a fire under the recalcitrant horse, while another suggested pouring sand into his ears. Doctor Wallace discouraged these remedies as being cruel and finally told the others to take their places in the wagon and he would try the merits of a plan he had in mind. Accordingly, when they were seated, he clambered over the dash, walked along the wagon-pole, and suddenly plumped himself down upon the horse’s back. Then away they went, John Gilpin like, Doctor Wallace’s coat-tails and hair streaming out behind.
There was no more balking in the course of the trip, and no one (save, possibly, the horse) had any twinges of conscience to keep him awake that night. The incident is brimful of pedagogy in that it shows that, in order to cure a horse of an attack of balking, you have but to distract his mind from his balking and get him to thinking of something else. Before this occurrence taught me the better way, I was quite prone, in dealing with a balking boy, to hold his mind upon the subject of balking. I told him how unseemly it was, how humiliated his father and mother would be, how he could not grow up to be a useful citizen if he yielded to such tantrums; in short, I ran the gamut of all the pedagogical bromides, and so kept his mind centred upon balking. Now that I have learned better, I strive to divert his mind to something eke, and may ask him to go upon some pleasant errand that he may gain some new experiences. When he returns he has forgotten that he was balking and recounts his experiences most delightfully.
Ed was one of the balkiest boys I ever had in my school. His attacks would often last for days, and the more attention you paid to him the worse he balked. In the midst of one of these violent and prolonged attacks a lady came to school who, in the kindness of her generous nature, was proposing to give a boy Joe (now a city alderman) a Christmas present of a new hat. She came to invoke my aid in trying to discover the size of Joe’s head. I readily undertook the task, which loomed larger and larger as I came fully to realize that I was the sole member of the committee of ways and means. In my dire perplexity I saw Ed grouching along the hall. Calling him to one side, I explained to the last detail the whole case, and confessed that I did not know how to proceed. At once his face brightened, and he readily agreed to make the discovery for me; and in half an hour I had the information I needed and Ed’s face was luminous. Yes, Joe got the hat and Ed quit balking. If Doctor Wallace had not gone to Marathon that day I can scarcely imagine what might have happened to Ed; and Joe might not have received a new hat.
I have often wondered whether a horse has a sense of humor. I know a boy has, and I very strongly suspect that the horse has. It was one of my tasks in boyhood to take the horses down to the creek for water. Among others we had a roan two-year-old colt that we called Dick, and even yet I think of him as quite capable of laughter at some of his own mischievous pranks. One day I took him to water, dispensing with the formalities of a bridle, and riding him down through the orchard with no other habiliments than a rope halter. In the orchard were several trees of the bellflower variety, whose branches sagged near to the ground. Dick was going along very decorously and sedately, as if he were studying the golden text or something equally absorbing, when, all at once, some spirit of mischief seemed to possess him and away he bolted, willy-nilly, right under the low-hanging branches of one of those trees. Of course, I was raked fore and aft, and, while I did not imitate the example of Absalom, I afforded a fairly good imitation, with the difference that, through many trials and tribulations, I finally reached the ground. Needless to say that I was a good deal of a wreck, with my clothing much torn and my hands and face not only much torn but also bleeding. After relieving himself of his burden, Dick meandered on down to the creek in leisurely fashion, where I came upon him in due time enjoying a lunch of grass.
Walking toward the creek, sore in body and spirit, I fully made up my mind to have a talk with that colt that he would not soon forget. He had put shame upon me, and I determined to tell him so. But when I came upon him looking so lamblike in his innocence, and when I imagined that I heard him chuckle at my plight, my resolution evaporated, and I realized that in a trial of wits he had got the better of me. Moreover, I conceded right there that he had a right to laugh, and especially when he saw me so superlatively scrambled. He had beaten me on my own ground and convicted me of knowing less than a horse, so I could but yield the palm to him with what grace I could command. Many a time since that day have I been unhorsed, and by a mere boy who laughed at my discomfiture. But I learned my lesson from Dick and have always tried, though grimly, to applaud the victor in the tournament of wits. Only so could I hold the respect of the boy, not to mention my own. If a boy sets a trap for me and I walk into it, well, if he doesn’t laugh at me he isn’t much of a boy; and if I can’t laugh with him I am not much of a schoolmaster.
I may be mistaken, but my impression is that “The Light of the World,” by Holman Hunt, is the only celebrated picture in the world of which there are two originals. One of these may be seen at Oxford and the other in St. Paul’s, London. Neither is a copy of the other, and yet they are both alike, so far as one may judge without having them side by side. The picture represents Christ standing at a door knocking, with a lantern in one hand from which light is streaming. When I think of a lantern the mind instantly flashes to this picture, to Diogenes and his lantern, and to the old tin lantern with its perforated cylinder which I used to carry out to the barn to arrange the bed-chambers for the horses. All my life have I been hearing folks speak of the association of ideas as if one idea could conjure up innumerable others. The lantern that I carried to the barn never could have been associated with Diogenes if I had not read of the philosopher, nor with the picture at Oxford if I had never seen or heard of it. In order that we have association of ideas, we must first have the ideas, according to my way of thinking.
Thus it chanced that when I came upon some reference to Holman Hunt and his great masterpiece, my mind glanced over to the cynical philosopher and his lantern. The more I ponder over that lantern the more puzzled I become as to its real significance. The popular notion is that it is meant to show how difficult it was in his day to find an honest man. But popular conceptions are sometimes superficial ones, and if Diogenes was the philosopher we take him to have been there must have been more to that lantern than the mere eccentricity of the man who carried it. If we could go back of the lantern we might find the cynic’s definition of honesty, and that would be worth knowing. Back home we used to say that an honest man is one who pays his debts and has due respect for property rights. Perhaps Diogenes had gone more deeply into the matter of paying debts as a mark of honesty than those who go no further in their thinking than the grocer, the butcher, and the tax-man.
This all tends to set me thinking of my own debts and the possibility of full payment. I’m just a schoolmaster and people rather expect me to be somewhat visionary or even fantastic in my notions. But, with due allowance for my vagaries, I cannot rid myself of the feeling that I am deeply in debt to somebody for the Venus de Milo. She has the reputation of being the very acme of sculpture, and certainly the Parisians so regard her or they would not pay her such a high tribute in the way of space and position. She is the focus of that whole wonderful gallery. No one has ever had the boldness to give her a place in the market quotations, but I can regale myself with her beauty for a mere pittance. This pittance does not at all cancel my indebtedness, and I come away feeling that I still owe something to somebody, without in the least knowing who it is or how I am to pay. I can’t even have the poor satisfaction of making proper acknowledgment to the sculptor.
I can acknowledge my obligation to Michael Angelo for the Sistine ceiling, but that doesn’t cancel my indebtedness by any means. It took me fifteen years to find the Cumaean Sibyl. I had seen a reproduction of this lady in some book, and had become much interested in her generous physique, her brawny arms, her wide-spreading toes, and her look of concentration as she delves into the mysteries of the massive volume before her. Naturally I became curious as to the original, and wondered if I should ever meet her face to face. Then one day I was lying on my back on a wooden bench in the Sistine Chapel, having duly apologized for my violation of the conventions, when, wonder of wonders, there was the Cumaean Sibyl in full glory right before my eyes, and the quest of all those years was ended in triumph. True, the Sibyl does not compare in greatness with the “Creation of Adam” in one of the central panels, but for all that I was glad to have her definitely localized.
I have never got it clearly figured out just how the letters of the alphabet were evolved, nor who did the work, but I go right on using them as if I had evolved them myself. They seem to be my own personal property, and I jostle them about quite careless of the fact that some one gave them to me. I can’t see how I could get on without them, and yet I have never admitted any obligation to their author. The same is true of the digits. I make constant use of them, and sometimes even abuse them, as if I had a clear title to them. I have often wondered who worked out the table of logarithms, and have thought how much more agreeable life has been for many people because of his work. I know my own debt to him is large, and I dare say many others have a like feeling. Even the eighth-grade boys in the Castle Road school, London, share this feeling, doubtless, for in a test in arithmetic that I saw there I noted that in four of the twelve problems set for solution they had permission to use their table of logarithms. They probably got home earlier for supper by their use of this table.
I hereby make my humble apologies to Mr. Thomas A. Edison for my thoughtlessness in not writing to him before this to thank him for his many acts of kindness to me. I have been exceedingly careless in the matter. I owe him for the comfort and convenience of this beautiful electric light, and yet have never mentioned the matter to him. He has a right to think me an ingrate. I have been so busy enjoying the gifts he has sent me that I have been negligent of the giver. As I think of all my debts to scientists, inventors, artists, poets, and statesmen, and consider how impossible it is for me to pay all my debts to all these, try as I may, I begin to see how difficult it was for Diogenes to find a man who paid all his debts in full. Hence, the lantern.
It seems to me that, of the varieties of late potatoes the Carmen is the premier. Part of the charm of hoeing potatoes lies in anticipating the joys of the potato properly baked. Charles Lamb may write of his roast pig, and the epicures among the ancients may expatiate upon the glories of a dish of peacock’s tongues and their other rare and costly edibles, but they probably never knew to what heights one may ascend in the scale of gastronomic joys in the immediate presence of a baked Carmen. When it is broken open the steam ascends like incense from an altar, while at the magic touch the snowy, flaky substance billows forth upon the plate in a drift that would inspire the pen of a poet. The further preliminaries amount to a ceremony. There can be, there must be no haste. The whole summer lies back of this moment. There on the plate are weeks of golden sunshine, interwoven with the singing of birds and the fragrance of flowers; and it were sacrilege to become hurried at the consummation. When the meat has been made fine the salt and pepper are applied, deliberately, daintily, and then comes the butter, like the golden glow of sunset upon a bank of flaky clouds. The artist tries in vain to rival this blending of colors and shades. But the supreme moment and the climax come when the feast is glorified and set apart by its baptism of cream. At such a moment the sense of my indebtedness to the man who developed the Carmen becomes most acute. If the leaders of contending armies could sit together at this table and join in this gracious ceremony, their rancor and enmity would cease, the protocol would be signed, and there would ensue a proclamation of peace. Then the whole world would recognize its debt to the man who produced this potato.
Having eaten the peace-producing potato, I feel strengthened to make another trial at an interpretation of that lantern. I do not know whether Diogenes had any acquaintance with the Decalogue, but have my doubts. In fact, history gives us too few data concerning his attainments for a clear exposition of his character. But one may hazard a guess that he was looking for a man who would not steal, but could not find him. In a sense that was a high compliment to the people of his day, for there is a sort of stealing that takes rank among the fine arts. In fact, stealing is the greatest subject that is taught in the school. I cannot recall a teacher who did not encourage me to strive for mastery in this art. Every one of them applauded my every success in this line. One of my early triumphs was reciting “Horatius at the Bridge,” and my teacher almost smothered me with praise. I simply took what Macaulay had written and made it my own. I had some difficulty in making off with the conjugation of the Greek verb, but the more I took of it the more my teacher seemed pleased. All along the line I have been encouraged to appropriate what others have produced and to take joy in my pilfering. Mr. Carnegie has lent his sanction to this sort of thing by fostering libraries. Shakespeare was arrested for stealing a deer, but extolled for stealing the plots of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Comedy of Errors,” and others of his plays. It seems quite all right to steal ideas, or even thoughts, and this may account again for the old man’s lantern. But, even so, it would seem quite iconoclastic to say that education is the process of reminding people of their debts and of training them to steal.
In my quiet way I have been making inquiries among my acquaintances for a long time, trying to find out what education really is. As a schoolmaster I must try to make it appear that I know. In fact, I am quite a Sir Oracle on the subject of education in my school. But, in the quiet of my den, after the day’s work is done, I often long for some one to come in and tell me just what it is. I am fairly conversant with the multiplication table and can distinguish between active and passive verbs, but even with these attainments I somehow feel that I have not gone to the extreme limits of the meaning of education. In reality, I don’t know what it is or what it is for. I do wish that the man who says in his book that education is a preparation for complete living would come into this room right now, sit down in that chair, and tell me, man to man, what complete living is. I want to know and think I have a right to know. Besides, he has no right to withhold this information from me. He had no right to get me all stirred up with his definition, and then go away and leave me dangling in the air. If he were here I’d ask him a few pointed questions. I’d ask him to tell me just how the fact that seven times nine is sixty-three is connected up with complete living. I’d want him to explain, too, what the binomial theorem has to do with complete living, and also the dative of reference. I got the notion, when I was struggling with that binomial theorem, that it would ultimately lead on to fame or fortune; but it hasn’t done either, so far as I can make out.
There was a time when I could solve an equation of three unknown quantities, and could even jimmy a quantity out from under a radical sign, and had the feeling that I was quite a fellow. Then one day I went into a bookstore to buy a book. I had quite enough money to pay for one, and had somehow got the notion that a boy of my attainments ought to have a book. But, in the presence of the blond chap behind the counter, I was quite abashed, for I did not in the least know what book I wanted. I knew it wasn’t a Bible, for we had one at home, but further than that I could not go. Now, if knowing how to buy a book is a part of complete living, then, in that blond presence, I was hopelessly adrift. I had been taught that gambling is wrong, but there was a situation where I had to take a chance or show the white feather. Of course, I took the chance and was relieved of my money by a blond who may or may not have been able to solve radicals. I shall not give the title of the book I drew in that lottery, for this is neither the time nor the place for confessions.
I was a book-agent for one summer, but am trying to live it down. Hoping to sell a copy of the book whose glowing description I had memorized, I called at the home of a wealthy farmer. The house was spacious and embowered in beautiful trees and shrubbery. There was a noble driveway that led up from the country road, and everything betokened great prosperity. Once inside the house, I took a survey of the fittings and could see at once that the farmer had lavished money upon the home to make it distinctive in the neighborhood as a suitable background for his wife and daughters. The piano alone must have cost a small fortune, and it was but one of the many instruments to be seen. There were carpets, rugs, and curtains in great profusion, and a bewildering array of all sorts of bric-a-brac. In time the father asked one of the daughters to play, and she responded with rather unbecoming alacrity. What she played I shall never know, but it seemed to me to be a five-finger exercise. Whatever it was, it was not music. I lost interest at once and so had time to make a more critical inspection of the decorations. What I saw was a battle royal. There was the utmost lack of harmony. The rugs fought the carpets, and both were at the throats of the curtains. Then the wall-paper joined in the fray, and the din and confusion was torture to the spirit. Even the furniture caught the spirit of discord and made fierce attacks upon everything else in the room. The reds, and yellows, and blues, and greens whirled and swirled about in such a dizzy and belligerent fashion that I wondered how the people ever managed to escape nervous prostration. But the daughter went right on with the five-finger exercise as if nothing else were happening. I shall certainly cite this case when the man comes in to explain what he means by complete living.
This all reminds me of the man of wealth who thought it incumbent upon him to give his neighbors some benefit of his money in the way of pleasure. So he went to Europe and bought a great quantity of marble statuary and had the pieces placed in the spacious grounds about his home. When the opening day came there ensued much suppressed tittering and, now and then, an uncontrollable guffaw. Diana, Venus, Vulcan, Apollo, Jove, and Mercury had evidently stumbled into a convention of nymphs, satyrs, fairies, sprites, furies, harpies, gargoyles, giants, pygmies, muses, and fates. The result was bedlam. Parenthetically, I have often wondered how much money it cost that man to make the discovery that he was not a connoisseur of art, and also what process of education might have fitted him for a wise expenditure of all that money.
So I go on wondering what education is, and nobody seems quite willing to tell me. I bought some wall-paper once, and when it had been hung there was so much laughter at my taste, or lack of it, that, in my chagrin, I selected another pattern to cover up the evidence of my ignorance. But that is expensive, and a schoolmaster can ill afford such luxurious ignorance. People were unkind enough to say that the bare wall would have been preferable to my first selection of paper, I was made conscious that complete living was impossible so long as that paper was visible. But even when the original had been covered up I looked at the wall suspiciously to see whether it would show through as a sort of subdued accusation against me. I don’t pretend to know whether taste in the selection of wall-paper is inherent or acquired. If it can be acquired, then I wonder, again, just how cube root helps it along.
I don’t know what education is, but I do know that it is expensive. I had some pictures in my den that seemed well enough till I came to look at some others, and then they seemed cheap and inadequate. I tried to argue myself out of this feeling, but did not succeed. As a result, the old pictures have been supplanted by new ones, and I am poorer in consequence. But, in spite of my depleted purse, I take much pleasure in my new possessions and feel that they are indications of progress. I wonder, though, how long it will be till I shall want still other and better ones. Education may be a good thing, but it does increase and multiply one’s wants. Then, in a brief time, these wants become needs, and there you have perpetual motion. When the agent came to me first to try to get me interested in an encyclopaedia I could scarce refrain from smiling. But later on I began to want an encyclopaedia, and now the one I have ranks as a household necessity the same as bathtub, coffee-pot, and tooth-brush.
But, try as I may, I can’t clearly distinguish between wants and needs. I see a thing that I want, and the very next day I begin to wonder how I can possibly get on without it. This must surely be the psychology of show-windows and show-cases. If I didn’t see the article I should feel no want of it, of course. But as soon as I see it I begin to want it, and then I think I need it. The county fair is a great psychological institution, because it causes people to want things and then to think they need them. The worst of it is the less able I am to buy a thing the more I want it and seem to need it. I’d like to have money enough to make an experiment on myself just to see if I could ever reach the point, as did the Caliph, where the only want I’d have would be a want. Possibly, that’s what the man means by complete living. I wonder.
For some time I have had it in mind to make a speech. I don’t know what I would say nor where I could possibly find an audience, but, in spite of all that, I feel that I’d like to try myself out on a speech. I can’t trace this feeling back to its source. It may have started when I heard a good speech, somewhere, or, it may have started when I heard a poor one. I can’t recall. When I hear a good speech I feel that I’d like to do as well; and, when I hear a poor one, I feel that I’d like to do better. The only thing that is settled, as yet, about this speech that I want to make is the subject, and even that is not my own. It is just near enough my own, however, to obviate the use of quotation-marks. The hardest part of the task of writing or speaking is to gain credit for what some one else has said or written, and still be able to omit quotation-marks. That calls for both mental and ethical dexterity of a high order.
But to the speech. The subject is Dialectic Efficiency–without quotation-marks, be it noted. The way of it is this: I have been reading, or, rather, trying to read the masterly book by Doctor Fletcher Durell, whose title is “Fundamental Sources of Efficiency.” This is one of the most recondite books that has come from the press in a generation, and it is no reflection upon the book for me to say that I have been trying to read it. It is so big, so deep, so high, and so wide that I can only splash around in it a bit. But “the water’s fine.” At any rate, I have been dipping into this book quite a little, and that is how I came upon the caption of my speech. Of course, I get the word “efficiency” from the title of the book, and, besides, everybody uses that word nowadays. Then, the author of this book has a chapter on “Dialectic,” and so I combine these two words and thus get rid of the quotation-marks.
And that certainly is an imposing subject for a speech. If it should ever be printed on a programme, it would prove awe-inspiring. Next to making a good speech, I’d like to be skilled in sleight-of-hand affairs. I’d like to fish up a rabbit from the depths of an old gentleman’s silk tile, or extract a dozen eggs from a lady’s hand-bag, or transmute a canary into a goldfish. I’d like to see the looks of wonder on the faces of the audience and hear them gasp. The difficulty with such a subject as I have chosen, though, is to fill the frame. I went into a shop in Paris once to make some small purchase, expecting to find a great emporium, but, to my surprise, found that all the goods were in the show-window. That’s one trouble with my subject–all the goods seem to be in the show-window. But, I’ll do the best I can with it, even if I am compelled to pilfer from the pages of the book.
In the introduction of the speech I shall become expansive upon the term _Dialectic_, and try to impress my hearers (if there are any) with my thorough acquaintance with all things which the term suggests. If I continue expatiating upon the word long enough they may come to think that I actually coined the word, for I shall not emphasize Doctor Durell especially–just enough to keep my soul untarnished. In a review of this book one man translates the first word “luck.” I don’t like his word and for two reasons: In the first place, it is a short word, and everybody knows that long words are better for speechmaking purposes. If he had used the word “accidental” or “incidental” I’d think more of his translation and of his review. I’m going to use my word as if Doctor Durell had said _Incidental_.
So much for the introduction; now for the speech. From this point forward I shall draw largely upon the book but shall so turn and twist what the doctor says as to make it seem my own. With something of a flourish, I shall tell how in the year 1856 a young chemist, named Perkin, while trying to produce quinine synthetically, hit upon the process of producing aniline dyes. His incidental discovery led to the establishment of the artificial-dye industry, and we have here an example of dialectic efficiency. This must impress my intelligent and cultured auditors, and they will be wondering if I can produce another illustration equally good. I can, of course, for this book is rich in illustrations. I can see, as it were, the old fellow on the third seat, who has been sitting there as stiff and straight as a ramrod, limber up just a mite, and with my next point I hope to induce him to lean forward an inch, at least, out of the perpendicular.
Then I shall proceed to recount to them how Christopher Columbus, in an effort to circumnavigate the globe and reach the eastern coast of Asia, failed in this undertaking, but made a far greater achievement in the discovery of America. If, at this point, the old man is leaning forward two or three inches instead of one, I may ask, in dramatic style, where we should all be to-day if Columbus had reached Asia instead of America–in other words, if this principle of dialectic efficiency had not been in full force. Just here, to give opportunity for possible applause, I shall take the handkerchief from my pocket with much deliberation, unfold it carefully, and wipe my face and forehead as an evidence that dispensing second-hand thoughts is a sweat-producing process.
Then, in a sort of sublimated frenzy, I shall fairly deluge them with illustrations, telling how the establishment of rural mail-routes led to improved roads and these, in turn, to consolidated schools and better conditions of living in the country; how the potato-beetle, which seems at first to be a scourge, was really a blessing in disguise in that it set farmers to studying improved methods resulting in largely increased crops, and how the scale has done a like service for fruit-growers; how a friend of mine was drilling for oil and found water instead, and now has an artesian well that supplies water in great abundance, and how one Mr. Hellriegel, back in 1886, made the incidental discovery that leguminous plants fixate nitrogen, and, hence, our fields of clover, alfalfa, cow-peas, and soybeans.
It will not seem out of place if I recall to them how the Revolution gave us Washington, the Adamses, Hancock, Madison, Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton; how slavery gave us Clay, Calhoun, and Webster; and how the Civil War gave us Lincoln, Seward, Stanton, Grant, Lee, Sherman, Sheridan, and “Stonewall” Jackson. If there should, by chance, be any teachers present I’ll probably enlarge upon this historical phase of the subject if I can think of any other illustrations. I shall certainly emphasize the fact that the incidental phases of school work may prove to be more important than the objects directly aimed at, that while the teacher is striving to inculcate a knowledge of arithmetic she may be inculcating manhood and womanhood, and that the by-products of her teaching may become world-wide influences.
As a peroration, I shall expand upon the subject of pleasure as an incidental of work–showing how the mere pleasure-seeker never finds what he is seeking, but that the man who works is the one who finds pleasure. I think I shall be able to find some apt quotation from Emerson before the time for the speech comes around. If so, I shall use it so as to take their minds off the fact that I am taking the speech from Doctor Durell’s book.
The first school that I ever tried to teach was, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully taught. The teaching was of the sort that might well be called elemental. If there was any pedagogy connected with the work, it was purely accidental. I was not conscious either of its presence or its absence, and so deserve neither praise nor censure. I had one pupil who was nine years my senior, and I did not even know that he was retarded. I recall quite distinctly that he had a luxuriant crop of chin-whiskers but even these did not disturb the procedure of that school. We accepted him as he was, whiskers included, and went on our complacent way. He was blind in one eye and somewhat deaf, but no one ever thought of him as abnormal or subnormal. Even if we had known these words we should have been too polite to apply them to him. In fact, we had no black-list, of any sort, in that school. I have never been able to determine whether the absence of such a list was due to ignorance, or innocence, or both. So long as he found the school an agreeable place in which to spend the winter, and did not interfere with the work of others, I could see no good reason why he should not be there and get what he could from the lessons in spelling, geography, and arithmetic. I do not mention grammar for that was quite beyond him. The agreement of subject and verb was one of life’s great mysteries to him. So I permitted him to browse around in such pastures as seemed finite to him, and let the infinite grammar go by default so far as he was concerned.
I have but the most meagre acquaintance with the pedagogical dicta of the books–a mere bowing acquaintance–but, at that time, I had not even been introduced to any of these. But, as the saying goes, “The Lord takes care of fools and children,” and, so, somehow, by sheer blind luck, I instinctively veered away from the Procrustean bed idea, and found some work for my bewhiskered disciple that connected with his native dispositions. Had any one told me I was doing any such things I think I should, probably, have asked him how to spell the words he was using. I only knew that this man-child was there yearning for knowledge, and I was glad to share my meagre store of crumbs with him. His gratitude for my small gifts was really pathetic, and right there I learned the joys of the teacher. That man sought me out on our way home from school and asked questions that would have puzzled Socrates, but forgot my ignorance of hard questions in his joy at my answers of easy ones. When some light would break in upon him he cavorted about me like a glad dog, and became a second Columbus, discovering a new world.
I almost lose patience with myself, at times, when I catch myself preening my feathers before some pedagogical mirror, as if I were getting ready to appear in public as an accredited schoolmaster. At such a time, I long to go back to the country road and saunter along beside some pupil, either with or without whiskers, and give him of my little store without rules or frills and with no pomp or parade. In that little school at the crossroads we never made any preparation for some possible visitor who might come in to survey us or apply some efficiency test, or give us a rating either as individuals or as a school. We were too busy and happy for that. We kept right on at our work with our doors and our hearts wide open for every good thing that came our way, whether knowledge or people. As I have said, our work was elemental.
I am glad I came across this little book of William James, “On Some of Life’s Ideals,” for it takes me back, inferentially, to that elemental school, especially in this paragraph which says: “Life is always worth living, if one have such responsive sensibilities. But we of the highly educated classes (so-called) have most of us got far, far away from Nature. We are trained to seek the choice, the rare, the exquisite exclusively and to overlook the common. We are stuffed with abstract conceptions, and glib with verbalities and verbosities; and in the culture of these higher functions the peculiar sources of joy connected with our simpler functions often dry up, and we grow stone-blind and insensible to life’s more elementary and general goods and joys.”
I wish I might go home from school one evening by way of the top of Mt. Vesuvius, another by way of Mt. Rigi, and, another, by way of Lauterbrunnen. Then the next evening I should like to spend an hour or two along the borders of Yellowstone Canyon, and the next, watch an eruption or two of Old Faithful geyser. Then, on still another evening, I’d like to ride for two hours on top of a bus in London. I’d like to have these experiences as an antidote for emptiness. It would prepare me far better for to-morrow work than pondering Johnny’s defections, or his grades, whether high or low, or marking silly papers with marks that are still sillier. I like Walt Whitman because he was such a sublime loafer. His loafing gave him time to grow big inside, and so, he had big elemental thoughts that were good for him and good for me when I think them over after him.
If I should ever get a position in a normal school I’d want to give a course in William J. Locke’s “The Beloved Vagabond,” so as to give the young folks a conception of big elemental teaching. If I were giving a course in ethics, I’d probably select another book, but, in pedagogy, I’d certainly include that one. I’d lose some students, to be sure, for some of them would be shocked; but a person who is not big enough to profit by reading that book never ought to teach school–I mean for the school’s sake. If we could only lose the consciousness of the fact that we are schoolmasters for a few hours each day, it would be a great help to us and to our boys and girls.
I am quite partial to the “Madonna of the Chair,” and wish I might visit the Pitti Gallery frequently just to gaze at her. She is so wholesome and gives one the feeling that a big soul looks out through her eyes. She would be a superb teacher. She would fill the school with her presence and still do it all unconsciously. The centre of the room would be where she happened to be. She would never be mistaken for one of the pupils. Her pupils would learn arithmetic but the arithmetic would be laden with her big spirit, and that would be better for them than the arithmetic could possibly be. If I had to be a woman I’d want to be such as this Madonna–serene, majestic, and big-souled.
I have often wondered whether bigness of soul can be cultivated, and my optimism inclines to a vote in the affirmative. I spent a part of one summer in the pine woods far away from the haunts of men. When I had to leave this sylvan retreat it required eleven hours by stage to reach the railway-station. There for some weeks I lived in a log cabin, accompanied by a cook and a professional woodsman. I was not there to camp, to fish, or to loaf, and yet I did all these. There were some duties and work connected with the enterprise and these gave zest to the fishing and the loafing. Giant trees, space, and sky were my most intimate associates, and they told me only of big things. They had never a word to say of styles of clothing or becoming shades of neckwear or hosiery. In all that time I was never disturbed by the number and diversity of spoons and forks beside my plate at the dinner-table. Many a noble meal I ate as I sat upon a log supported in forked stakes, and many a big thought did I glean from the talk of loggers about me in their picturesque costumes. In the evening I sat upon a great log in front of the cabin or a friendly stump, and forgot such things as hammocks and porch-swings. Instead of gazing at street-lamps only a few yards away I was gazing at stars millions of miles away, and, somehow, the soul seemed to gain freedom.
And I had luxury, too. I had a room with bath. The bath was at the stream some fifty yards away, but such discrepancies are minor affairs in the midst of such big elemental things as were all about me. My mattress was of young cherry shoots, and never did king have a more royal bed, or ever such refreshing sleep. And, while I slept, I grew inside, for the soft music of the pines lulled me to rest, and the subdued rippling of my bath-stream seemed to wash my soul clean. When I arose I had no bad taste in my mouth or in my soul, and each morning had for me the glory of a resurrection. My trees were there to bid me good morning, the big spaces spoke to me in their own inspiriting language, and the big sun, playing hide-and-seek among the great boles of the trees as he mounted from the horizon, gave me a panorama unrivalled among the scenes of earth.
When I returned to what men called civilization, I experienced a poignant longing for my big trees, my sky, and my spaces, and felt that I had exchanged them for many things that are petty and futile. If my school were only out in the heart of that big forest, I feel that my work would be more effective and that I would not have to potter about among little things to obey the whims of convention and the dictates of technicalities, but that the soul would be free to revel in the truth that sky and space proclaim. I do hope I may never know so much about technical pedagogy that I shall not know anything else. This may be what those people mean who speak of the “revolt of the ego.”
I am just now quite in the mood to join the band; I mean the vocational-education band. The excitement has carried me off my feet. I can’t endure the looks of suspicion or pity that I see on the faces of my colleagues. They stare at me as if I were wearing a tie or a hat or a coat that is a bit below standard. I want to seem, if not be, modern and up-to-date, and not odd and peculiar. So I shall join the band. I am not caring much whether I beat the drum, carry the flag, or lead the trick-bear. I may even ride in the gaudily painted wagon behind a spotted pony and call out in raucous tones to all and sundry to hurry around to the main tent to get their education before the rush. In times past, when these vocational folks have piped unto me I have not danced; but I now see the error of my ways and shall proceed at once to take dancing lessons. When these folks lead in the millennium I want to be sitting well up in front; and when they get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow I want to participate in the distribution. I do hope, though, that I may not exhaust my resources on the band and have none left for the boys and girls. I hope I may not imitate Mark Twain’s steamboat that stopped dead still when the whistle blew, because blowing the whistle required all the steam.
I suspect that, like the Irishman, I shall have to wear my new boots awhile before I can get them on, for this new role is certain to entail many changes in my plans and in my ways of doing things. I can see that it will be a wrench for me to think of the boys and girls as pedagogical specimens and not persons. I have contracted the habit of thinking of them as persons, and it will not be easy to come to thinking of them as mere objects to practise on. The folks in the hospital speak of their patients as “cases,” but I’d rather keep aloof from the hospital plan in my schoolmastering. But, being a member of the band, I suppose that I’ll feel it my duty to conform and do my utmost to help prove that our cult has discovered the great and universal panacea, the balm in Gilead.
As a member of the band, in good and regular standing, I shall find myself saying that the school should have the boys and girls pursue such studies as will fit them for their life-work. This has a pleasing sound. Now, if I can only find out, somehow, what the life-work of each one of my pupils is to be, I’ll be all right, and shall proceed to fit each one out with his belongings. I have asked them to tell me what their life-work is to be, but they tell me they do not know. So I suspect that I must visit all their parents in order to get this information. Until I get this information I cannot begin on my course of study. If their parents cannot tell me I hardly know what I shall do, unless I have recourse to their maiden aunts. They ought to know. But if they decline to tell I must begin on a long series of guesses, unless, in the meantime, I am endowed with omniscience.
This whole plan fascinates me; I dote upon it. It is so pliable, so dreamy, and so opalescent that I can scarce restrain my enthusiasm. But if I should fit one of my boys out with the equipment necessary for a blacksmith, and then he should become a preacher, I’d find the situation embarrassing. My reputation as a prophet would certainly decline. If I could know that this boy is looking forward to the ministry as his life-work, the matter would be simple. I’d proceed to fit him out with a fire-proof suit of Greek, Hebrew, and theology and have the thing done. But even then some of my colleagues might protest on the assumption that Greek and Hebrew are not vocational studies. The preacher might assert that they are vocational for his work, in which case I’d find myself in the midst of an argument. I know a young man who is a student in a college of medicine. He is paying his way by means of his music. He both plays and sings, and can thus pay his bills. In the college he studies chemistry, anatomy, and the like. I’m trying to figure out whether or not, in his case, either his music or his chemistry is vocational.
I have been perusing the city directory to find out how many and what vocations there are, that I may plan my course of study accordingly when I discover what the life-work of each of my pupils is to be. If I find that one boy expects to be an undertaker he ought to take the dead languages, of course. If another boy expects to be a jockey he might take these same languages with the aid of a “pony.” If a girl decides upon marriage as her vocation, I’ll have her take home economics, of course, but shall have difficulty in deciding upon her other studies. If I omit Latin, history, and algebra, she may reproach me later on because of these omissions. She may find that such studies as these are essential to success in the vocation of wife and mother. She may have a boy of her own who will invoke her aid in his quest for the value of x, and a mother hesitates to enter a plea of ignorance to her own child.
I can fit out the dancing-master easily enough, but am not so certain about the barber, the chauffeur, and the aviator. The aviator would give me no end of trouble, especially if I should deem it necessary to teach him by the laboratory method. Then, again, if one boy decides to become a pharmacist, I may find it necessary to attend night classes in this subject myself in order to meet the situation with a fair degree of complacency. Nor do I see my way clear in providing for the steeple-climber, the equilibrist, the railroad president, or the tea-taster. I’ll probably have my troubles, too, with the novel-writer, the poet, the politician, and the bareback rider. But I must manage somehow if I hope to retain my membership in the band.
I see that I shall have to serve quite an apprenticeship in the band before I write my treatise on the subject of pedagogical predestination. The world needs that essay, and I must get around to it just as soon as possible. Of course, that will be a great step beyond the present plan of finding out what a boy expects to do, and then teaching him accordingly. My predestination plan contemplates the process of arranging such a course of study for him as will make him what we want him to be. A naturalist tells me that when a queen bee dies the swarm set to work making another queen by feeding one of the common working bees some queen stuff. He failed to tell me just what this queen stuff is. That process of producing a queen bee is what gave me the notion as to my treatise. If the parents want their boy to become a lawyer I shall feed him lawyer stuff; if a preacher, then preacher stuff, and so on.
This will necessitate a deal of research work, for I shall have to go back into history, first of all, to find out the course of study that produced Newton, Humboldt, Darwin, Shakespeare, Dante, Edison, Clara Barton, and the rest of them. If a roast-beef diet is responsible for Shakespeare, surely we ought to produce another Shakespeare, considering the excellence of the cattle we raise. I can easily discover the constituent elements of the beef pudding of which Samuel Johnson was so fond by writing to the old Cheshire Cheese in London. Of course, this plan of mine seems not to take into account the Lord’s work to any large extent. But that seems to be the way of us vocationalists. We seem to think we can do certain things in spite of what the Lord has or has not done.
The one danger that I foresee in all this work that I have planned is that it may produce overstimulation. Some one was telling me that the trees on the Embankment there in London are dying of arboreal insomnia. The light of the sun keeps them awake all day, and the electric lights keep them awake all night. So the poor things are dying from lack of sleep. Macbeth had some trouble of that sort, too, as I recall it. I’m going to hold on to the vocational stimulation unless I find it is producing pedagogical insomnia. Then I’ll resign from the band and take a long nap. I’ll continue to advocate pudding, pastry, and pie until I find that they are not producing the sort of men and women the world needs, and then I’ll beat an inglorious retreat and again espouse the cause of orthodox beefsteak.
I have often wondered what conjunction of the stars caused me to become a schoolmaster, if, indeed, the stars, lucky or otherwise, had anything to do with it. It may have been the salary that lured me, for thirty-five dollars a month bulks large on a boy’s horizon. Possibly the fact that in those days there was no anteroom to the teaching business may have been the deciding factor. One had but to exchange his hickory shirt for a white one, and the trick was done. There was not even a fence between the corn-field and the schoolhouse. I might just as easily have been a preacher but for the barrier in the shape of a theological seminary, or a hod-carrier but for the barrier of learning how. As it was, I could draw my pay for husking corn on Saturday night, and begin accumulating salary as a schoolmaster on Monday. The plan was simplicity itself, and that may account for my choice of a vocation.
I have sometimes tried to imagine myself a preacher, but with poor success. The sermon would bother me no little, to make no mention of the other functions. I think I never could get through with a marriage ceremony, and at a christening I’d be on nettles all the while, fearing the baby would cry and thus disturb the solemnity of the occasion and of the preacher. I’d want to take the baby into my own arms and have a romp with him–and so would forget about the baptizing. In casting about for a possible text for this impossible preacher, I have found only one that I think I might do something with. Hence, my preaching would endure but a single week, and even at that we’d have to have a song service on Sunday evening in lieu of a sermon.
My one text would be: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” I do not know how big truth is, but it must be quite extensive if science, mathematics, history, and literature are but small parts of it. I have never explored these parts very far inland, but they seem to my limited gaze to extend a long distance before me; and when I get to thinking that each of these is but a part of something that is called truth I begin to feel that truth is a pretty large affair. I suspect the text means that the more of this truth we know the greater freedom we have. My friend Brown has an automobile, and sometimes he takes me out riding. On one of these occasions we had a puncture, with the usual attendant circumstances. While Brown made the needful repairs, I sat upon the grassy bank. The passers-by probably regarded me as a lazy chap who disdained work of all sorts, and perhaps thought of me as enjoying myself while Brown did the work. In this they were grossly mistaken, for Brown was having the good time, while I was bored and uncomfortable. Why, Brown actually whistled as he repaired that puncture. He had freedom because he knew which tool to use, where to find it, and how to use it. But there I sat in ignorance and thraldom–not knowing the truth about the tools or the processes.
In the presence of that episode I felt like one in a foreign country who is ignorant of the language, while Brown was the concierge who understands many languages. He knew the truth and so had freedom. I have often wondered whether men do not sometimes get drunk to win a respite from the thraldom and boredom of their ignorance of the truth. It must be a very trying experience not to understand the language that is spoken all about one. I have something of that feeling when I go into a drug-store and find myself in complete ignorance of the contents of the bottles because I cannot read the labels. I have no freedom because I do not know the truth. The dapper clerk who takes down one bottle after another with refreshing freedom relegates me to the kindergarten, and I certainly feel and act the part.
I had this same feeling, too, when I was making ready to sow my little field with alfalfa. I wanted to have alfalfa growing in the field next to the road for my own pleasure and for the pleasure of the passers-by. A field of alfalfa is an ornament to any landscape, and I like to have my landscapes ornamental, even if I must pay for it in terms of manual toil. I had never even seen alfalfa seed and did not in the least know how to proceed in preparing the soil. If I ever expected to have any freedom I must first learn the truth, and a certain modicum of freedom necessarily precedes the joy of alfalfa.
Thus it came to pass that I set about learning the truth. I had to learn about the nature of the soil, about drainage, about the right kinds of fertilizer, and all that, before I could even hitch the team to a plough. Some of this truth I gleaned from books and magazines, but more of it I obtained from my neighbor John, who lives about two hundred yards up the pike from my little place. John is a veritable encyclopedia of truth when it comes to the subject of alfalfa. There I would sit at the feet of this alfalfa Gamaliel. Be it said in favor of my reactions that I learned the trick of alfalfa and now have a field that is a delight to the eye. And I now feel qualified to give lessons in alfalfa culture to all and sundry, so great is my sense of freedom.
I came upon a forlorn-looking woman once in a large railway-station who was in great distress. She wanted to get a train, but did not know through which gate to go nor where to obtain the necessary information. She was overburdened with luggage and a little girl was tugging at her dress and crying pitifully. That woman was as really in bondage as if she had been in prison looking out through the barred windows. When she had finally been piloted to the train the joy of freedom manifested itself in every lineament of her face. She had come to know the truth, and the truth had set her free.
I know how she felt, for one night I worked for more than two hours on what, to me, was a difficult problem, and when at last I had it solved the manifestations of joy caused consternation to the family and damage to the furniture. I never was in jail for any length of time, but I think I know, from my experience with that problem, just how a prisoner feels when he is set free. The big out-of-doors must seem inexpressibly good to him. My neighbor John taught me how to spray my trees, and now, when I walk through my orchard and see the smooth trunks and pick the beautiful, smooth, perfect apples, I feel that sense of freedom that can come only through a knowledge of the truth.
I haven’t looked up the etymology of _grippe_, but the word itself seems to tell its own story. It seems to mean restriction, subjection, slavery. It certainly spells lack of freedom. I have seen many boys and girls who seemed afflicted with arithmetical, grammatical, and geographical grippe, and I have sought to free them from its tyranny and lead them forth into the sunlight and pure air of freedom. If I only knew just how to do this effectively I think I’d be quite reconciled to the work of a schoolmaster.
I keep resolving and resolving to reform and lead the simple life, but something always happens that prevents the execution of my plans. When I am grubbing out willows along the ravine, the grubbing-hoe, a lunch-basket well filled, and a jug of water from the deep well up there under the trees seem to be the sum total of the necessary appliances for a life of usefulness and contentment. There is a friendly maple-tree near the scene of the grubbing activities, and an hour at noon beneath that tree with free access to the basket and the jug seems to meet the utmost demands of life. The grass is luxuriant, the shade is all-embracing, and the willows can wait. So, what additions can possibly be needed? I lie there in the shade, my hunger and thirst abundantly satisfied, and contemplate the results of my forenoon’s toil with the very acme of satisfaction. There is now a large, clear space where this morning there was a jungle of willows. The willows have been grubbed out _imis sedibus_, as our friend Virgil would say it, and not merely chopped off; and the thoroughness of the work gives emphasis to the satisfaction.
The overalls, the heavy shoes, and the sunshade hat all belong in the picture. But the entire wardrobe costs less than the hat I wear on Sunday. Then the comfort of these inexpensive habiliments! I need not be fastidious in such a garb, but can loll on the grass without compunction. When I get mud upon my big shoes I simply scrape it off with a chip, and that’s all there is to it. The dirt on my overalls is honest dirt, and honestly come by, and so needs no apology. I can talk to my neighbor John of the big things of life and feel no shame because of overalls.
Then, in the evening, when resting from my toil, I sit out under the leafy canopy and revel in the sounds that can be heard only in the country–the croaking of the frogs, the soft twittering of the birds somewhere near, yet out of sight, the cosey crooning of the chickens as they settle upon their perches for the night, and the lonely hooting of the owl somewhere in the big tree down in the pasture. I need not move from my seat nor barter my money for a concert in some majestic hall ablaze with lights when such music as this may be had for the listening. Under the magic of such music the body relaxes and the soul expands. The soft breezes caress the brow, and the moon makes shimmering patterns on the grass.
But when I return to the town to resume my school-mastering, then the strain begins, and then the reign of complexities is renewed. When I am fully garbed in my town clothing I find myself the possessor of nineteen pockets. What they are all for is more than I can make out. If I had them all in use I’d have to have a detective along with me to help me find things. Out there on the farm two pockets quite suffice, but in the town I must have seventeen more. The difference between town and country seems to be about the difference between grubbing willows and schoolmastering. Among the willows I find two pockets are all I require; but among the children I must needs have nineteen, whether I have anything in them or not.
One of these seems to be designed for a college degree; another is an efficiency pocket; another a discipline pocket; another a pocket for methods; another for professional spirit; another for loyalty to all the folks who are in need of loyalty, and so on. I really do not know all the labels. When I was examined for a license to teach they counted my pockets, and, finding I had the requisite nineteen, they bestowed upon me the coveted document with something approaching _eclat_. In my teaching I become so bewildered ransacking these pockets, trying to find something that will bear some resemblance to the label, that I come near forgetting the boys and girls. But they are very nice and polite about it, and seem to feel sorry that I must look after all my pockets when I’d so much rather be teaching.
Out in the willow thicket I can go right on with my work without so much care or perplexity. Why, I don’t need to do any talking out there, and so have time to do some thinking. But here I do so much talking that neither I nor my pupils have any chance for thinking. I know it is not the right way, but, somehow, I keep on doing it. I think it must be a bad habit, but I don’t do it when I am grubbing willows. I seem to get to the bottom of things out there without talking, and I can’t make out why I don’t do the same here in the school. Out there I do things; in here I say things. I do wonder if there is any forgiveness for a schoolmaster who uses so many words and gets such meagre results.
And then the words I use here are such ponderous things. They are not the sort of human, flesh-and-blood words that I use when talking to neighbor John as we sit on top of the rail fence. These all seem so like words in a book, as if I had rehearsed them in advance. It may be just the town atmosphere, but, whatever it is, I do wish I could talk to these children about decimals in the same sort of words that I use when I am talking with John. He seems to understand me, and I think they could.
Possibly it is just the tension of town life. I know that I seem to get keyed up as soon as I come into the town. There are so many things here, and many of them are so artificial that I seem unable to relax as I do out there where there are just frogs, and moon, and chickens, and cows. When I am here I seem to have a sort of craze for things. The shop-windows are full of things, and I seem to want all of them. I know I have no use for them, and yet I get them. My neighbor Brown bought a percolator, and within a week I had one. I had gone on for years without a percolator, not even knowing about such a thing, but no sooner had Brown bought one than every sound I heard seemed to be inquiring: “What is home without a percolator?”
So I go on accumulating things, and my den is a veritable medley of things. They don’t make me any happier, and they are a great bother. There are fifty-seven things right here in my den, and I don’t need more than six or seven of them. There are twenty-two pictures, large and small, in this room, but I couldn’t have named five of them had I not just counted them. Why I have them is beyond my comprehension. I inveigh against the mania of people for drugs and narcotics, but my mania for things only differs in kind from theirs. I have a little book called “Things of the Mind,” and I like to read it. Now, if my mind only had as many things in it as my den, I’d be a far more agreeable associate for Brown and my neighbor John. Or, if I were as careful about getting things for my mind as I am in accumulating useless bric-a-brac, it would be far more to my credit.
If the germs that are lurking in and about these fifty-seven things should suddenly become as large as spiders, I’d certainly be the unhappy possessor of a flourishing menagerie, and I think my progress toward the simple life would be very promptly hastened.
In my work as a schoolmaster I find it well to keep my mind open and not get to thinking that my way is the only way, or even the best way. I think I learn more from my boys and girls than they learn from me, and so long as I can keep an open mind I am certain to get some valuable lessons from them. I got to telling the college chap about a hen that taught me a good lesson, and the first thing I knew I was going to school to this college youth, and he was enlightening me on the subject of animal psychology, and especially upon the trial-and-error theory. That set me wondering how many trials and errors that hen made before she finally succeeded in surmounting that fence. At any rate, the hen taught me another lesson besides the lesson of perseverance.
I have a high wire fence enclosing the chicken-yard, and in order to make steady the posts to which the gate is attached, I joined them at the top by nailing a board across. The hen that taught me the lesson must be both ambitious and athletic, for time after time have I found her outside the chicken-yard. I searched diligently for the place of exit, but could not find it. So, in desperation, I determined one morning to discover how that hen gained her freedom if it took all day. So I found a comfortable seat and waited. In an hour or so the hen came out into the open and took a survey of the situation. Then, presently, with skill born of experience, she sidled this way and that, advanced a little and then retreated until she found the exact location she sought, poised herself for a moment, and went sailing right over the board that connected the posts. Having made this discovery, I removed the board and used wire instead, and thus reduced the hen to the plane of obedience.
Just as soon as the hen lacked something to aim at, she could not get over the wire barrier, and she taught me the importance of giving my pupils something to aim at. I like my boys and girls, and believe they are just as smart as any hen that ever was, and that, if I’ll only supply things for them to aim at, they will go high and far. Every time I see that hen I am the subject of diverse emotions. I feel half angry at myself for being so dull that a mere hen can teach me, and then I feel glad that she taught me such a useful lesson. Before learning this lesson I seemed to expect my pupils to take all their school work on faith, to do it because I told them it would be good for them. But I now see there is a better way. In my boyhood days we always went to the county fair, and that was one of the real events of the year. On the morning of that day there was no occasion for any one to call me a second time. I was out of bed in a trice, at the first call, and soon had my chores done ready for the start. I had money in my pocket, too, for visions of pink lemonade, peanuts, ice-cream, candy, and colored balloons had lured me on from achievement to achievement through the preceding weeks, and thrift had claimed me for its own. So I had money because, all the while, I had been aiming at the county fair.
We used to lay out corn ground with a single-shovel plough, and took great pride in marking out a straight furrow across the field. There was one man in the neighborhood who was the champion in this art, and I wondered how he could do it. So I set about watching him to try to learn his art. At either end of the field he had a stake several feet high, bedecked at the top with a white rag. This he planted at the proper distance from the preceding furrow and, in going across the field, kept his gaze fixed upon the white rag that topped the stake. With a firm grip upon the plough, and his eyes riveted upon the white signal, he moved across the field in a perfectly straight line. I had thought it the right way to keep my eyes fixed upon the plough until his practice showed me that I had pursued the wrong course. My furrows were crooked and zigzag, while his were straight. I now see that his skill came from his having something to aim at.
I am trying to profit by the example of that farmer in my teaching. I’m all the while in quest of stakes and white rags to place at the other side of the field to direct the progress of the lads and lasses in a straight course, and raise their eyes away from the plough that they happen to be using. I want to keep them thinking of things that are bigger and further along than grades. The grades will come as a matter of course, if they can keep their eyes on the object across the field. I want them to be too big to work for mere grades. We never give prizes in our school, especially money prizes. It would seem rather a cheap enterprise to my fine boys and girls to get a piece of money for committing to memory the “Gettysburg Speech.” We respect ourselves and Lincoln too much for that. It would grieve me to know that one of my girls could be hired to read a book for an hour in the evening to a sick neighbor. I want her to have her pay in a better and more enduring medium than that. I’d hope she would aim at something higher than that.
If I can arrange the white rag, I know the pupils will do the work. There was Jim, for example, who said to his father that he just couldn’t do his arithmetic, and wished he’d never have to go to school another day. When his father told me about it I began at once to hunt for a white rag. And I found it, too. We can generally find what we are looking for, if we look in dead earnest. Well, the next morning there was Jim in the arithmetic class along with Tom and Charley. I explained the absence of Harry by telling them about his falling on the ice the night before and breaking his right arm. I told them how he could get on well enough with his other studies, but would have trouble with his arithmetic because he couldn’t use his arm. Now, Tom and Charley are quick in arithmetic, and I asked Tom to go over to Harry’s after school and help with the arithmetic, and Charley to go over the next day, and Jim the third day. Now, anybody can see that white rag fluttering at the top of the stake across the field two days ahead. So, my work was done, and I went on with my daily duties. Tom reported the next day, and his report made our mouths water as he told of the good things that Harry’s mother had set out for them to eat. The report of Charley the next day was equally alluring. Then Jim reported, and on his day that good mother had evidently reached the climax in culinary affairs. Jim’s eyes and face shone as if he had been communing with the supernals.
That was the last I ever heard of Jim’s trouble with arithmetic. His father was eager to know how the change had been brought about, and I explained on the score of the angel-food cake and ice-cream he had had over at Harry’s, with no slight mention of my glorious white rag. The books, I believe, call this social co-operation, or something like that, but I care little what they call it so long as Jim’s all right. And he is all right. Why, there isn’t money enough in the bank to have brought that look to Jim’s face when he reported that morning, and any offer to pay him for his help to Harry, either in money or school credits, would have seemed an insult. My neighbor John tells me many things about sheep and the way to drive them. He says when he is driving twenty sheep along the road he doesn’t bother about the two who frisk back to the rear of the flock so long as he keeps the other eighteen going along. He says those two will join the others, all in good time. That helped me with those three boys. I knew that Tom and Charley would go along all right, so asked them to go over to Harry’s before I mentioned the matter to Jim. When I did ask him he came leaping and frisking into the flock as if he were afraid we might overlook him. What a beautiful straight furrow he ploughed, too. His arithmetic work now must make the angels smile. I shall certainly mention sheep, the hen, and the white rag in my book on farm pedagogy.
I take unction to myself, sometimes, in the reflection that I have a soul to save, and in certain moments of uplift it seems to me to be worth saving. Some folks probably call me a sinner, if not a dreadful sinner, and I admit the fact without controversy. I do not have at hand a list of the cardinal sins, but I suspect I might prove an alibi as to some of them. I don’t get drunk; I don’t swear; I go to church; and I contribute, mildly, to charity. But, for all that, I’m free to confess myself a sinner. Yet, I still don’t know what sin is, or what is the way of salvation either for myself or for my pupils. I grope around all the while trying to find this way. At times, I think they may find salvation while they are finding the value of _x_ in an algebraic equation, and possibly this is true. I cannot tell. If they fail to find the value of _x_, I fall to wondering whether they have sinned or the teacher that they cannot find _x_.
I have attended revivals in my time, and have had good from them. In their pure and rarefied atmosphere I find myself in a state of exaltation. But I find myself in need of a continuous revival to keep me at my best. So, in my school work, I feel that I must be a revivalist or my pupils will sag back, just as I do. I find that the revival of yesterday will not suffice for to-day. Like the folks of old, I must gather a fresh supply of manna each day. Stale manna is not wholesome. I suspect that one of my many sins is my laziness in the matter of manna. I found the value of _x_ in the problem yesterday, and so am inclined to rest to-day and celebrate the victory. If I had to classify myself, I’d say that I am an intermittent. I eat manna one day, and then want to fast for a day or so. I suspect that’s what folks mean by a besetting sin.
During my fasting I find myself talking almost fluently about my skill and industry as a gatherer of manna, I suspect I am trying to make myself believe that I’m working in the manna field to-day, by keeping my mind on my achievement yesterday. That’s another sin to my discredit, and another occasion for a revival. When I am fasting I do the most talking about how busy I am. If I were harvesting manna I’d not have time for so much talk. I should not need to tell how busy I am, for folks could see for themselves. I have tried to analyze this talk of mine about being so busy just to see whether I am trying to deceive myself or my neighbors. I fell to talking about this the other day to my neighbor John, and detected a faint smile on his face which I interpreted to be a query as to what I have to show for all my supposed industry. Well, I changed the subject. That smile on John’s face made me think of revivals.
I read Henderson’s novel, “John Percyfield,” and enjoyed it so much that when I came upon his other book, “Education and the Larger Life,” I bought and read it. But it has given me much discomfort. In that book he says that it is immoral for any one to do less than his best. I can scarcely think of that statement without feeling that I ought to be sent to jail. I’m actually burdened with immorality, and find myself all the while between the “devil and the deep sea,” the “devil” of work, and the “deep sea” of immorality. I suppose that’s why I talk so much about being busy, trying to free myself from the charge of immorality. I think it was Virgil who said _Facilis descensus Averno_, and I suppose Mr. Henderson, in his statement, is trying to save me from the inconveniences of this trip. I suppose I ought to be grateful to him for the hint, but I just can’t get any great comfort in such a close situation.
I know I must work or go hungry, and I can stand a certain amount of fasting, but to be stamped as immoral because I am fasting rather hurts my pride. I’d much rather have my going hungry accounted a virtue, and receive praise and bouquets. When I am in a lounging mood it isn’t any fun to have some Henderson come along and tell me that I am in need of a revival. A copy of “Baedeker” in hand, I have gone through a gallery of statues but did not find a sinner in the entire company. The originals may have been sinners, but not these marble statues. That is some comfort. To be a sinner one must be