Ernest Beckwith Kent.

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school work. He says:

I have been fairly successful in my mechanical career,
but I never could have been a success in a manual training
school as my natural craving for large things would have made
it impossible for me to have applied myself.

The only other point emphasized with any unanimity con-
cerned the relation of early observation to mechanical achieve-
ment. The experiences related by six men would seem to contain
suggestions for the school that are of very great importance.
To quote from the letters of some of them :

(i) My actual work was undoubtedly an incentive to apply
my decided taste for mechanical work later, but it was rather
watching mechanics at their work that led me on. For in-
stance, though I have not at all observed the operations care-
fully since I was, say ten years old, I know I could fit a horse-
shoe or set a buggy tire to-day now that I am strong enough,
though I learned Jioiv it was done then. When I came to fire
and run a locomotive and work at locomotive repairs, it was a
good deal like harnessing a horse you had seen harnessed a
hundred times, ... I spent my boyhood time in such ways
constantly — whole days in engine rooms of mills, etc. — but I
actually made and finished few things of importance, if any
..... I vote for anything that will develop "mechanical in-
tuition;" and watching and thinking and trying to do this.

(2) (After indorsing the manual training idea in a general
way). . . in my own case, I feel that my constant love for see-
ing machinery at work, and learning by questioning and obser-
vation the what and why of things had most to do with my tak-
ing up engineering.

(3) I was fond of watching the machinists in the factory
and spent as much time there as I was allowed, with the result
of quickening my power of observation until I had the faculty of
carrying in my mind complex mechanisms.

(4) We need practical men, to be sure, and there are char-
acters which are distinctly mechanics. These must practice the
mechanical arts and must take delight in the execution of work.
The future engineer needs no such dexterity .... What I con-
sider of eminent importance for the future engineer would be
much observation especially if it can be done under a competent
teacher. With a bright student this develops into a comprehen.
siveness that can never be over- valued.


These replies seem to the writer to suggest a very strong
possibility that the "school excursion" properly developed and
systematized might become in the case of at least a few children,
the most broadly determining factor in their elementary educa-

It may seem surprising that none make any allusion tC' the
place of mechanical drawing as a school subject. Two, how-
ever, speak of freehand drawing as follows :

(i) I think freehand drawing .... very important as it
teaches a boy to express his conceptions clearly. I think
everyone should be taught to draw, just as to write, although
only those of natural talent can become either great authors or
great artists.

(2) I believe drawing the most important of all. Nothing
helps architect, engineer, mechanic, more than the ability to
sketch rapidly his ideas on paper.

The following from a man eminently successful both as en-
gineer and manufacturer, is perhaps the most comprehensive of
all the letters received:

I have no experience in teaching — only in using those who
have been taught. My ideas so far as they go on this subject
are about as follows :

1. Manual training and constructive work should be
taught and be as conipiilsory as arithmetic from the kindergarten
up to a certain point which seems to vary with each in-
dividual and can only be "stabbed at'' by the careful and indi-
vidual attention of the teacher.

2. The point to stop manual training as a part of the en.
forced curriculum and let it become elective, may be some-
where short of the high school, and I think it is.

3. Manual training is as natural and necessary to the
humans as hiding or running or chasing is to the wild animal's
young. All humans need some of it. Some humans need and
benefit greatly by a lot of it, while others need it to a certain
point beyond which it is an absolute waste and injury to them.

This is the only definite recognition of the importance of
opportunity in the school to specialize away from as well as
toward mechanics.

The two who refuse indorsement to school handwork write
as follows:

(i) Notwithstanding my love for mechanical work and en-
gineering, I do not favor instruction in manual operations in


schools or colleges, believing that the time can be spent to much
better advantage in the ordinary course of study. This does not,
of course, apply to manual training schools, where special in.
struction is given in some particular trade or occupation which
the student proposes to pursue as a life work.

(2) I have never been opposed to handiwork as taught in
manual training schools, but I have never been in favor of it.
I consider it of very little value. I believe that any boy in-
clined toward the mechanic arts will find a way to satisfy his
cravings in the most practical manner. ... I consider the
workshops cf the nation the best mechanical training schools;
in them the science is "up to date" and everything is conducted
on a plane relative to the commercial value of the product.

Educational Applications

The value of this study to education is in the light it may be
thought to yield on these two questions, (i) How — if at all,
may the boy of exceptional mechanical talent be recognized as
such during boyhood } (2) When recognized, what special
education should be permitted or encouraged during boyhood ?^

Regarding the first we have the following facts : Of 72
leading enginers, 83 per cent took great interest in mechanical
work, 57 per cent admit exceptional ability therein, most of
them (and some others who made it not) substantiating this ad-
mission by records of work done. Forty-four per cent report
work which shows exceptional talent for and interest in
machinery, while 30 per cent made actual steam engines.
Science was a study liked by 72 per cent and thoroughly dis-
liked by none. Literature was the favorite study with only one
and the least favored by 49. Arithmetic, geography and his-
tory, each rank definitely as second, third and fourth re-
spectively. Ability in these studies runs closely parallel to
taste. Comparatively few (12 per cent) were good all-around

^C£. Galton: "We may therefore rest assured that the possession of a
strong special talent is a precious capital and that it is a wicked waste of
national power to thwart it ruthlessly by a false system of education. But
I can give no test which shall distinguish between a taste that is destined to
endure and a passing fancy, further than by remarking than whenever the
aptitudes seem hereditary they deserve special consideration."

English Men of Science, p. 196.


Students, most 01 them showing no special abilities except
mechanics, science and mathematics, and very little interest in
other matters— in anything pertaining to literature, history or

The agreement within the sub-groups is such as to justify
the assumption that all these statements would hold true in a
general way for any chance group of more^than twenty engineers
of the same rank, provided their boyhood occurred during the
same period, — and it seems safe to assume further that they
would apply to those boys of thejjresent time who are destined
to become engineers of that rank.

As to whether these are facts peculiar to engineers, we have
only partial evidence. They are seen to be flatly contradicted
by the boyhood characteristics of talented lawyers in every case
except the one of city rearing. A study of other professions is

On the whole, it would appear that we might select in ad-
vance something like half of the future engineers of this grade;
at least one-fourth, by the "steam engine test'' alone, another
fourth perhaps by consideration of their general mechanical and
scientific interests, abilities and the exclusiveness of these. ^

On the question of the early specialization to be allowed
such boys, there are these facts:— Eighty-four per cent of the
engineers had during boyhood a considerable contact with
things mechanical, 6^ per cent had contact with machinery and
50 per cent with the machine shop itself, (though 42 per cent of
the fathers were in non-mechanical occupations). Only 21 per
cent were reared on the farm and four-fifths of this farm group
mention more definite contact with machinery than the farm
itself afforded.

Nearly all approve of school handwork most often on the
ground of its assistance in developing "latent talent," this aim
seeming to involve the demand expressed by some that it should
be work of great variety. This great variety may not be easily

^The records considered make it sufficiently evident that talented
engineers as a rule do not have during boyhood that great variety of succes-
sive and equally absorbing interests which would seem to belong to the
boyhood of talented psychologists, if the boyhood of Professor Miinsterberg
is considered a typical one for that profession.

(See Atlantic Monthly, May, 1899.)


obtainable in schools generally and indeed might not be so de-
sirable except for this type of boy. However, it would seem at
least that this boy might well be encouraged to strike out on
lines perhaps impracticable for the bulk of the class, instead of
following^^a narrow and prescribed course. It would seem that
shops of the elementary school should be provided with a special
equipment including such things as foot lathes, small forge,
anvil, crucibles, etc., to furnish such boys opportunities for
the range of work demanded by their abilities and interests.

Their emphasis upon the value of observation as equal if
not superior to that of actual work, would suggest a responsi.
bility on the part of the teacher for making possible and en-
couraging such boys (if not the whole class) to spend a large
amount of time in such shops and factories.

As to the regular school work of such boys it appears that
they took little interest in such subjects as literature and his-
tory, and were consequently weak in them. Not one ex-
presses any personal gratitude felt in later years that he was
forced to do this work — though two or three do speak in
more general terms of the value of being made to study hard at
things regardless of preferences. One, recording his weakness
in history, says, "I had great difficulty with such work as
Roman history that I could see no use in" ; and other replies
already quoted imply hearty belief in the value of early speciali-
zation, with little fear of its consequences. On the whole, such
specialization would seem advantageous for this type of talent
and rank of ability.


On ,the psychological side this study furnishes nothing
more than a quantitative statement of interests the existence of
which was already fully recognized. We know, for example,
from common observation that small boys like to make things
merely for the sake of making them. But the figures under
play-imitation measure this as a "20 per cent interest" just
before the twelfth year and less than a 5 per cent interest after
it. It is further shown that at the age of ten years, four-fifths
of a boy's play construction has passed beyond the stage of mere
play, and aims at an ulterior purpose of some sort. This pur-
pose is more often connected with play than otherwise. The
close agreement in these cases between the records of the two
schools taken separately seems a sufficient basis for assuming
that the estimates given are not far from correct.

While these figures have little direct practical application
to school work, the lists of articles given sugi^est specific pro-
jects for school handwork and give an idea of their relative
popularity with children. With reference to the record of girls'
work little need be said, as the interests there suggested are
well recognized in many schools. With the boys it
is seen that there is much variety in the play- imita-
tion class, the class which belongs mainly to boys
under eleven years. This would imply that the selection of a
subject for work is not a matter of serious importance at this
age; that any common occupation or object may be taken
indifferently, and that any phase either of primitive or of
modern life which can be brought in a vivid way before chil-
dren will stimulate initiative construction. Consequently hand-
work need not be made an independent subject, but may pro-
perly be subordinated to any line of study which may for other
reasons find place in the curriculum of these years. The play-
utility list, on the other hand, names only a few objects. Boats
alone make one-third of the whole, and the next third includes
only four other articles, animal contrivances, wagons, balls, and
houses. Croswell's list, as has been shown, agrees exactly on


this point except that his colder winters cause sleds to take the
place of animal contrivances.

If the 12.14 year old boy so regularly chooses to make these
things the school should evidently recognize this interest as
far as possible— as far, that is, as may be done without
sacrifice of educational ends. The teacher may well study with
care the mechanical and constructive possibilities of the ten or
so objects which rank first to discover how far and how well he
can utilize them. To the writer it seems quite obvious that in
the making of courses of study in handwork, much more atten-
tion might be given to the interest of the child than is done at
present. Whether the aim uppermost in the mind of the teacher
is to develop mechanical ingenuity, to vitalize work in physical
science or to give a general acquaintance with typical industries,
he will find an abundance of material adapted to his purpose in
the work preferred by the child. For instance, repro-
ductions in miniature of the boat or wagon may
appeal to the toy-interest, and at the same time estab-
lish connections with a large number of industries. The prob-
lem of motive power may be introduced and suited accurately to
the age, ingenuity, and attainment of the child; the subjects of
railroad and water transportation may also be brought in in this
connection. The vitality classification strongly encourages
attention to motive power as well as the facts brought out in the
boyhood work of the talented engineers. Of course facts regard-
ing a group of such men must not be applied too generally.
Still it seems to the writer that many of these suggestions for
the education of the engineer would be fully as applicable in the
case of the mechanic. The ordinary man whose best future lies
in mechanical work has probably a less insistent craving for it
than the future engineer, certainly less ability to push his way
into it against odds. So the opportunity for large variety of
work and experience during boyhood may be even more valuable
to the mere machinist than to the engineer in directing him to
his proper field of work.

This book is DUE on the last date stamped below

OCT 1 7 '(93i

4 1955,






UCLA-Young Research libr

LB1051 .K41

L 009 548 165 1

1 2 3 4 6

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