Ernest Beckwith Kent.

The constructive interests of children online

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But this is probably as strong and definite a statement as
would meet with general acceptance. As to the extent of such re-
sults, we have no definite knowledge, and there is the widest
difference of opinion regarding their rel.itive values as compared
one with another or with the regular school subjects. Eich of
these elements of value is exalted as the main purpose of the
work by the adherents of one or another system. More numer-
ous still are those who hold the opinion that any and all of these
values are too insignificant in comparison with the regular
school studies to justify their entrance into the curriculum. We
may as well admit that we know little about the real social
significance of these aims and less about the efficiency of the
means used to obtain them.

We have no positive evidence that the school handwork
affects a child's general motor control seriously, or even appre-
ciably. We do not know whether or how far the el ments of
knowledge which a child gains through handwork differ in kind
or degree from those gained through an equal time given to
observation and study. We know very little of the relationship
between the lines of ability required or cultivated by handwork
and those which belong to the other school subjects. The known
facts here are so few that one need consult only his personal


taste and inclination in deciding whether to go with him who
says that 'it is the best general student who excels in con.
structive work, or with him who claims that it is just the boy
stupid at his books who will lead his class in these more con-
crete and practical lines.

The situation is the same in regard to the specifically
economic values of manual work. We do not know whether the
adult efficiency of men in any walk of life is affected appreciably
by the handwork now found in the school, and can only guess
at the comparative importance from this point of view of the
different kinds of work now in vogue. It would indeed seem
probable that if the manual work were much increased and
specialized it would materially affect the future efficiency of
those children who are destined to earn their living in the
manual occupations, and it might perhaps have equal signifi.
cance for those who are to become industrial leaders and organ-
izers. But the school, in this country at least, has not dared
to offer enough special work to justify the expectation of any
such results in a marked way, for lack of knowledge as to what
children ought to receive it. Any way of ascertaining in ad-
vance what children would or should enter industrial occupa-
tions would probably make possible advantageous adaptations of
their early education. Such problems will doubtless become
subjects of serious study, and when this is done we may expect
results regarding all of them such as will have decided influence
on educational practice.

Tests will be devised which will develop facts regarding the
influence of handwork upon general motor ability and its
efficacy in developing constructive insight, inventiveness, and
the like; the correlations of skill and success in manual lines
with ^those in other lines may be easily determined; following
the later records of children from different types of schools
would give suggestions as to the influence of the curriculum on
choice of occupation ; a study of the boyhood characteristics of
men in different occupations ought to indicate ways of judging
what type of occupation a given child would incline to choose
when grown, and furnish suggestions regarding what sort of
specialization at school is desirable;— or at least it would prove
the impossibility of any such fore-knowledge. The following


section deals with material of this last sort bearing upon a single
set of occupations.

The desirability of a considerable opportunity for specializa-
tion was admitted after a long struggle so far as the colleges
were concerned, and more recently secondary schools have also
been developing an elective system. But in connection with
the elementary school the question has hardly been discussed,
in this country at least, the assumption being that this period
must be given wholly to lines of work which are supposedly
essential to all callings alike. This is however an assumption
rather than a proved fact, and the possibility of advantageous
specialization within these school years seems at least a question
worth considering. Perhaps the broadest basis for any specializa-
tion here would be the division of the children into two classes;
those who are to engage in constructive and mechanical occupa-
tions, and those who are not. In this case the problem of
selecting the right pupils for industrial occupations and of giv-
ing them the right kind of special training, is at present identi-
cal with the general specialization problem as regards the ele-
mentary school. The class of workers-with-materials apparently
would need to be divided into : (i) those who in subordinate
positions perform the actual operations upon the materials,
and (2) those who invent new methods and processes and suc-
cessfully organize industrial effort.

The present study deals only with this second class, and
is a consideration of facts regarding the boyhood environment,
education, activities, and interests of men of marked con-
structive talent, with a view to determining what boyhood
characteristics, if any, give promise of constructive talent in
the adult, and what elements of education and experience, if
any, regularly precede the manifestation of this ability in the

While one would expect the main significance of such study
to lie in its answer to the question of how definitely and in just
what ways boyhood may be expected to indicate adult abilities,
still it would be a rather extreme emphasis upon innate equip-
ment as the only factor in the production of genius which would
find no suggestions for education in the facts about to be ex-
amined regarding the boyhood of these engineers. Even Gal-


ton, whose Hereditary Genius gives such striking evidence in
support of the view that men having certain types of inborn gen-
ius are bound to attain ultimately a given degree of such suc-
cess regardless of environmental influences during childhood/
dismisses mechanical talent with these words :

"I do not, however, see my way clear to making- a selection of eminently
gifted engineers because their success depends in a very great degree on
early opportunities.""^

Such an admission — or assumption — from such an authority
would in itself seem a sufficient warrant for the attempt to
ascertain just what the early opportunities are which produce
eminently gifted engineers.

The following material was obtained by m:^ans of a question-
naire which is reproduced on the following page. It was sent
to one hundred leading members of the American Society of
Mechanical Engineers. As a suggestion regarding the decree
of ability here repr.2sented it mavbe stated that some half-dozen
('if those who replied) are millionaires, two of them many times
such. It was estim.ite.i that the li^t included no one who, if
salaried, would receive less than $7,500, while the average
salary-rate was placed at $12,000.

Occupation Inhi^hf yJ^^^'>'ji'J^^^)

At what age did you enter upon it?

Did you choose it then because it seemed necessary?

Because it seemed the most profitable?

Because of likin.^^ for just that kind of work?

Where was your home durin^ boyhood?

Country Village Town(0':-™-J City

With what lines of mechanical work were you thrown into close contact, if


iQalton, Hereditary Genius, pp. 37-49.
2 " « « p. 323.


In what lines of ability or taste were you considered exceptionally gifted dur-
ing this period?

Please number the following studies in the order of your preference for
them as a boy:

Arithmetic History Geography Literature


In which ones was your work exceptionally good? '

" " " " poor?

At what age did you leave school ?

What kinds of handwork did you do previous to your 17th year, and at
what ages respectively ?

Were you much or comparatively little interested in this work?.

Did father or mother possess exceptional manual skill ?.
Father's occupation ? ...

If you can recall them, please mention below, six things made or built by
you previous to your 17th year?

If vnable to recall agf^pliasc at ate Velicetv uhut years : e. g. 8-llil2-14-15-16-



Approx. Size




How far in your judgment did the doing of such work as a child affect your
choice of life work or your success therein ?

If your experience has led you to any conclusions respecting the place of
handwork in the Elementary School, will you please indicate them on
the other side of this sheet.

Method of Tabulation

Of these loo men, 22 were found to reside in Greater New
York, and these were selected as a test group with the hope of
making the returns absolutely complete within its limits. A
second letter to the six who ignored the first was all that proved
necessary to accomplish this. Thus the New York group repre-
sents the full 100 per cent of returns, and is valuable as a check
upon the results to be obtained from the whole body of returns,
which included 72 replies. As will be seen, however, the two
classes agree very closely ; sufficiently so to justify the assump-
tion that the percentages would not differ sensibly if the returns
were complete, /. e-, that the 28 who failed to reply did so for
accidental reasons and not because of any fundamental differences
with respect to the characteristics we are to study.

The names were also separated into three groups thought
to represent somewhat different types of mechanical ability,
group A including 'those whose success was primarily due to ex-
ceptional constructive and inventive ability as such ; group B,
those who combine large constructive ability with the ability
required to organize and conduct successfully a large con-
structive or manufacturing enterprise ; and group C, men whose
success, although "along strictly constructive lines, has been due
primarily to their powers of organization rather than to their
scientific or mechanical ability.

The differences between these classes are not large nor
regular, but the results are given in this form as helping to
show the limits of variation within the group as a whole. The
fact of such similarities, joined to these differing types of
talent, suggested that the boyhood characteristics which were
found common here might have no special application to men of
engineering ability but might belong to men of similar talent in


almost any occupation. As a test of this, thirty men equally
successful as lawyers were asked to answer the same set of ques-
tions. The results will be given beside those of the engineers.
While all means failed to extract replies from more than nine
of the lawyers, these returns seem worthy of some regard be-
cause they are so uniformly negative in regard to the mechanical
element in their make-up. It would doubtless be the most un-
mechanically minded of this group who would be the least likely
to attempt to answer such questions, so that it seems fair to as-
sume that we have here the records of that part of the thirty
which possesses the strongest mechanical interest, and that the
completereturns would show (if possible) still less of the charac.
teristics of the engineers than do those of the nine lawyers who

Their reports are tabulated in the same manner as those of
the engineers and are given in a parallel column. Though so
meagre, they seem to the writer a suflEicient indication that the
early evidences of mechanical talent are not to be found to any
extent in boys who are to become talenteJ lawyers. Whether
the lawyers or the engineers are the more highly specialized
type, cannot be determined without a study of still other pro-

As the New Yorkers were distributed quite evenly through
these three classes, it was necessary to make, in reality, six
separate classes instead of three. The results with these classes
support the general averages in most cases and are not recorded
separately in the text. The figures are in every case the percent-
ages of answers upon the total number (of sheets returned)
within that class ; in other words, each class record reads as if
based on 100 replies. ^The number of replies in each main group
is as follows :

A 19 New York (complete) 22

B 30 Lawyers 9

C 23

Total 72


These retuns may be considered under the heads of (i) en-
vironment, (2) special interests and abilities, (3) the handwork
actually done by them, (4) their views and opinions regarding
the place of handwork in the school.


Under this head we may consider the information regarding
loca!ion of home, parents' occupation, personal contact with
constructive and mechanical work, etc. The percentages show
the number living in country, city, etc.


N. Y.
























City 53 78 58 43 61 89

If the distribution of the population at the time of the boyhood
of these men b- taken into account, the contrast between city
and country is still further heightenerl. Only three of them are
under forty years of age, ai^d the average age is estimated at
between fifty-five and sixty. S ) their boyhood would center m
a general way about the yar i860. At that date the cities of
this country contained 16 per cent of the population.^ This 16
per cent apparently furnished 51 p.'r cent of the mechanical en-
gineers of the grade of ability which we are considering. As
the proportion of urban population has doubtless more than
doubled since that time (being 22 per cent of the whole in 1880
and 29 per cent in 1890)^ it is seen that merely upon a basis of
numbers to select from the city's present advantage over the
country in furnishing these men is very much increased. Add
to that the undoubted fact that it is on the whole the best of the
country population which the city has been adding to itself dur-
ing these forty years, an 1 we cannot but conclude that the pro-
portion of talented who are now living out their

^Mayo Smith, Statistics and Sociology, p. 369.
21 bid.


boyho'id on the farm is far below this 21 per cent, and that the
cities are at present producing far more such than the 53 per
cent of i860.

Whatever may be the present situation, the fact that forty
years ago the large city furnished 53 per cent of such men as
against 21 per cent from the country contrasts strongly with
widely held views concerning the exceptional value of farm and
c )untry life as education, anJ concerning the quality of mind
that it develops. In so far as this type of ability is held to be a
thing inborn, these figures indicate that the city succeeded
several decades ago in winning the 1 irger proportion of the best
blood— the best, that is for this i)urpose. Regarding their bear-
ing on early opportunity as a factor in the production of' ability, one would have said that this would be
just the kind of ability to profit in a peculiar degree from the
environment and experiences of farm and country life. Think-
ing of its varied contact with the physical world, its demands of
all sorts for amateur construction, building repairs and the like
which must often be met by novel and ingenious uses of the tools
and materials lying at hand, one would b^ quite likely to con-
clude that this life would be far the most effective in develop-
ing an acquaintance with materials and a versatility in discover-
ing and adapting means to ends which would count in an excep.
tional degree toward a constructive or mechanical career.
Evidently, however, the farm has no great significance here.
It would seem either that erivironment is an unimportant factor
compared to inb )rn genius and that the city has sometime since
possessed itself of the families that contain most of the genuises,
or else that, advantageous as the country environment appears
to bo, the city somehow surpas>

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Online LibraryErnest Beckwith KentThe constructive interests of children → online text (page 4 of 6)