Walter Hines Page.

The rebuilding of old commonwealths, being essays toward the training of the forgotten man in the southern states; online

. (page 3 of 6)
Online LibraryWalter Hines PageThe rebuilding of old commonwealths, being essays toward the training of the forgotten man in the southern states; → online text (page 3 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

teacher m the young ladies' seminary
caused a heated discussion throughout
the church and two factions sprung up.
The resignation of the principal's wife
was demanded; and the principal him-


self had the hard fortune to be obHged
to choose between his wife and his
ecclesiastical superiors. All these un-
happy events caused much gossip at
the tea-parties of the other churches,
and one of them established a modest
school for girls of its own. It was this
same year that the sturdy old master
of the boys' school died, and so many
people lacked confidence in his partner
that its patronage seriously fell off.
In a year or two he ceased to teach and
became a life insurance agent. A
young scholar from the university then
came and took up the remnants of the
school and did the best he could with
it. During these eight or ten years of
such recurrent misfortunes, there grew
up, perhaps half a dozen more schools
for children. Almost every social set
found that there was a lady in it who
had some particular reason for teaching,


and her friends of course sent their
children to her; and thus the educa-
tional advantages of the town con-
tinued to be unusual. For, with every
social division among the people and
with every church difference, schools
continued to multiply.

These events in the life of the town
covered a good many years. It had
grown somewhat ; but it had not grown
rapidly. It was essentially the same
kind of town that it had been ten
years before. Yet important changes
had been going on, and the most im-
portant was the change in the public
school. It became so crowded with
the children of the poorer class that
it was necessary to build a second
school-house. This was built in the
end of the town where well-to-do
people lived, and more and more of
them took to sending their children to it.


About that time a greater interest
was taken in public school education
throughout the State. The univer-
sity had been made free to every pupil
in the Commonwealth who was pre-
pared to enter it, and the public school
system was much talked about and

It so happened that the principal
of one of the public schools in North-
wood at that time was an uncommonly
energetic man — a man who knew how
to manage men. He made a very
careful study of the population, and
this is what he fpund — that, in spite
of all the schools in the town, there
were a great many children that were
not at school at all. There were many
more of them than anybody would
have believed. He found also that
even those that got a smattering of
book-learning got nothing else, and


that few received further instruction
than the schools in the town gave.
He made a hst of all the families in
Northwood, and it filled a book almost
as big as a banker's ledger. He put
down in it the boys and the girls whose
education was prematurely arrested.
One night he sat down with the simi-
mary of this book before him, and he
said to himself, "These people are not
in earnest about education; they are
simply playing with it and are fooling

He showed this summary first to one
man, then to another. In this way
first one man and then another was led
to think about the subject in a new
way. I need not tire you with the
details of the agitation that followed;
for it extended over many years. But
the result was that a third public
school was built. Then sometime later


a high-school was built. In a few
years it was fotind inadequate, and
the building was used as still another
primary public school and a larger
house was put up for the high-school.
By this time the public schools had
ceased to be regarded as schools for
the poor. They were the best schools
in the town, and almost all the people
in the town sent their children to them.
Long ago, the old scramble about
teachers had ceased. Influential citi-
zens had stopped trying to get places
for their widowed daughters-in-law and
their wives' nieces in the schools be-
cause they needed work. Only well-
trained teachers, as a rule, were en-
gaged. The best men in the town
served on the school-board, and they
had got so tired of the scramble for
places that they had a law passed by
the legislature which permitted them


to appoint a school director, who in
turn could himself appoint teachers,
and nobody else could. They held
him responsible; and, since he was not
elected, he had no temptation to ap-
point incompetent ones.

With the feeling of security, every
school principal and teacher became
courageous. Especially courageous was
the principal of the high-school. He
put a carpenter-shop in the base-
ment which developed into a wood-
working department, and he graded
the pupils on their course in wood-
work just as he graded them in any
book-study. This pleased the people.
They said that he was "practical."
But he took the trouble to explain that
he was not training carpenters, and he
insisted that they must not mis-
understand him.

But the plan was so popular that a


well-to-do builder, whose son had taken
a great interest in the wood-working
course, gave the school a very much
better shop. Then by some other
stroke of good luck (I've forgotten the
details of the story) a shop was added
for work in iron — a little shop, almost
a toy-shop; but the children were
taught there. Then came a garden,
for a quarter of an acre was set aside
and the children learned to plant and
to work things that grow. In the
meantime a small chemical laboratory
had been fitted up, and a physical
laboratory as well. Then a separate
building was given for use as a gym-
nasium. Somebody gave a small library.
At a public meeting a year or two
later it was decided to build a public
library next the school-house.

Workshops, a garden, laboratories,
a library, a gymnasium — there were


other things as well. A kitchen was
built and the girls were taught to cook.
Then a dozen other things came along,
such as basket-making; singing was
taught tmcommonly well, and nearly-
all the young people learned to sing.
And the school had an orchestra.
Every boy and girl took a course of
work with the hands as well as with
the head; and it was discovered that
the head-work was the better done for
the hand-work.

At last a generation had grown up
that had been educated in the public
schools of Northwood. Nearly every
useful man in the town and most of
the useful women w^ere high-school
graduates. They made the social life
of the town. The doctor, the dentist,
the preacher, the mayor, even the
Governor, most of the merchants, the
owner of a knitting mill, the owner of


a furniture factory, the owner of a
great tin-shop, the owner of a wagon
factory — all sorts of successful men
had been graduated at this school and
most of them had got the impulse
there that shaped their careers.

And the high-school was both the
intellectual and the industrial centre
of the town and of the region. The
scholars went there to the library; the
farmers went there to consult the
chemist or the entomologist; men of
almost all crafts and callings found an
authority there. For this high-school
had now become what we should call
a college and a very well organized one

In the first period of Northwood's
history, you will observe, the town
carried the schools — carried them as a
burden. The schools of the cultivated
widow, the strenuous young lady and


the old fashioned scholar and the young
ladies' seminary, much as the several sets
and sects each boasted of its own in-
stitution, were really tolerated rather
than generously supported. The prin-
cipals had to beg for them in one form
or other. The public school was re-
garded as a sort of orphan asylum for
the poor. The whole educational work
of the town was on a semi-mendicant
basis; or it was half a sort of social
function, half a sort of charity. It
really did not touch the intellectual life
of the people. They supported it.
It did not lift them. The town carried
the schools as social and charitable

Now this is all changed. The school
has made the town. It has given
nearly every successful man in it his
first impulse in his career, and it has
given the community great renown.


Teachers from all over the country go
there to see it. More than that, many
pupils go from a distance to enter the
high-school. More than that, men have
gone there to live because of the school.
They go there to establish industries
of various sorts, because the best ex-
pert knowledge of every craft can be
foimd there. The town has prospered
and has been rebuilt. The architects
are high-school men ; the engineers who
graded the streets and made a model
system of sewers are high-school men;
the roads were laid out by high-school
men. There is a whole county of
model farms and dairies and good stock
farms. High-school men have in this
generation made the community a
new community. They conduct all
sorts of factories — they make furniture,
they make things of leather, they make
things of wrought iron; they have


hundreds of small industries. It is
said that a third of the houses in the
town contain home-made furniture after
beautiful old patterns that the owners
themselves have made. And there is
one man who does inlaid work in wood.
And all this activity clusters about
the public schools. The high-school
now not only affects but it may be
said to dominate the life of the town;
and this is the school that has built the
town, for it has given everybody an im-
petus and has started nearly everybody
towards an occupation. It has enabled
them to find their own aptitudes.

Now there is all the difference in the
world between the Northwood of this
generation, and the Northwood of the
generation before. It is a difference
so great that it cannot be told in one
morning. But the change is simply the
result of a changed view of education.


Education, Ladies and Gentlemen,
when it is dallied with, played with,
tolerated, and imperfectly done, is a
costly and troublesome thing. In the
first place it is talked to death. It
causes more discussion than politics
or than bad crops. There are many
persons who do not believe in it and
many more who wish they did not and
could get rid of the bother of it.

But when education becomes not
only part and parcel of the life of the
people, but a thing that they have all
profited by — a thing that underlies
life as the soil underlies the growth in
the garden — then education becomes
cheap and easy. Nobody asks what
it costs, nobody questions its benefits,
nobody harbours a doubt about it.

In one case the community grudg-
ingly supports its schools as a burden.
In the other case, the schools build the


community. And this is the lesson of

The difference between one concep-
tion of education and the other, when
it dawns on a man, changes his whole
attitude towards teaching and towards
social problems and towards the State.
He becomes another man. For one
view is selfish and the other is patriotic.
One undertakes to develop a few men
and women and it fails because no
man can be really well developed in a
community of undeveloped men. This
is one reason why isolated scholars are
so often impracticable, and this is the
reason why many business men tell you
that they do not believe in college
education. The other conception of
education is that it trains all the
members of a community and thus
enables every one to find his natural


To carry on education as a privilege
is to mistrain some and to leave the
others untrained. To carry it on as a
universal duty is to open to every one
his natural opportunity, to enable every
one to find himself and to find his use-
fulness to his fellows. It is to give
balance and flexibihty and symmetry
to the whole community.

Has any man here doubt about this?
Does any man think that I am spin-
ning a pretty theory? Does any man
still hold to the notion that, if the
children of the rich are sent off to
college, and the children of the poor
have a little "schooling" so that they
can read a newspaper and calculate
the cost of a bale of cotton, we shall
continue to get along tolerably well?
Is any man here opposed to building a
good school-house in every school-
district of Georgia, and to employing


the best teachers in the world and to
making the school a training-place
for every child in the district — one for
whites and one for blacks? If you
hold these notions, you are a dead
weight on Georgia. You are one of
the reasons why its property is not
now worth five times what it is. You
are one of the reasons why the pro-
ducts of its soil are not five times as
great as they are, for such schools as I
mean would make most farmers highly
successful farmers. You are one reason
why the population of the State is not
twice or thrice what it is; for such
schools as I mean would attract good
people from every part of the world,
and cause more children to grow to
healthful maturity. You are one of
the reasons why Georgia is not one of
the greatest manufacturing States in
the Union, for such schools as I mean


would turn thousands of the best-
trained hands and minds to the making
of beautiful and useful things. You
are one of the reasons why the Georgians
have not more scholars, more orators,
more organizers of industry, more own-
ers of beautiful homes, more horses
and cattle and grass and fruit and more
good roads and more strong men and
more lovely women and more beautiful
children than any other State in the
Union. Last of all, you are not a
democrat. You have never thoroughly
read Thomas Jefferson. You do not
know that his ideal State was a State in
which every man was trained at the
public expense. You are a frayed-out
*' knight" of feudal times with a faded
plume, and you think in terms of the
Middle Ages ; and the sooner you know it
the better for the community, and I am
glad of a chance plainly to tell you so.


Of course, Ladies and Gentlemen,
there is no such man in your com-
munity. Perhaps there is no such
man in all Georgia. But there are
men in every community and in every
State in the Union who even yet do not
know the full meaning of what you are
doing. For what are you doing ? You
are not mere teachers of children as
the widow and the old scholar and the
old preacher in Northwood were. You
are also the builders of a new social
order. The future of Georgia is in
your hands. You are the high servants
of the State, but for that very reason
you are not the servants of any sect
or party or class, and sects and parties
and classes must keep their hands off
you. You must be free — you of all
men and women.

It falls to you to make it plain by
your work and by your bearing that


yours is the most patriotic and the
most important service that any class
gives to the State. You must stand
up for what you stand for. You know
what you are trying to do. Others
have various vague notions of social
growth. You know that there is only
one true science of building a stable
and broad-based democratic social
structure. You know what you need
for your work. Demand it as a right
in the name of the children of the
Commonwealth. In other words, never
for a moment be afraid of that dying
body of opinion which looks on the
public school as a sort of educational
orphan asylum. Stand to it, that it is
the nursery of the leaders of the world,
as by the high virtue of our invincible
democracy it is !

But to return to the school at North-


wood. The diploma given by the school
tells something more definite than
most diplomas tell, and every diploma
does not tell the same thing. One
recites what courses of study a boy has
taken and how well he has mastered
them. But it tells also that he can
swim well, that he can do work in iron,
that he can draw, that he has good
muscles. It tells, too, that he is per-
sistent and plucky, and that he is im-
selfish and thrifty. The diploma is
made to fit the boy, not the boy to fit
the diploma. It tells what sort of
boy he is, what he has done, and what
he is good for. A diploma given to a
girl likewise tells frankly the character
and the equipment of that particular
girl ; for the people of Northwood are so
much in earnest about education that
they have learned to be perfectly
frank. The diploma will tell that the


girl is of sound body, that she can
sing, that she can row, and it plainly
says that she has good manners ; it tells
her good qualities of mind and of
temper, as well as the success with
which she has pursued her studies.
It tells that she can lay out and work
a garden of roses or of potatoes. If all
the diplomas given to all the graduates
were the same, they would not value

The school, you understand, is not
a mere workshop, nor is it a place to
learn a trade. It does not make car-
penters of boys nor cooks of girls.
Nor does it make Greek scholars or poets
or musicians of them. But it comes
as near to making them the one thing
as the other. It comes as near to making
cooks and chemists and farmers as it
comes to making scholars. For those
high schools and colleges that teach


only books and train only the mind
and not the hands, — they do not really
make scholars as we used to suppose
that they did. The utmost that they
do is to teach the boy the rudiments
of scholarship and the method of work
by which, if he persist, he may some
day become a scholar. This school
does the same thing in scholarship,
but it does also a corresponding thing
in hand-work. The old kind of teach-
ers simply fooled themselves and mis-
led their pupils and the community
when they assumed that their courses
in literature and the like made scholars.
And what a wasteful self-deception it
was ! In Northwood, one boy may, if
he persist, become a scholar; another a
wheelwright ; another a farmer ; and so
on. And it is found that by doing
hand-work also the pupils do better
head-work as well. It simply opens to


all the intellectual life and the way to
useful occupations at the same time.

There are two things that they are
all taught in that school. They are
taught to write a plain hand-writing,
and they look upon a bad hand-writing
as they look upon neglect of dress — it
is the mark of a sloven. And they are
all taught to write the English language
in short clear sentences, so that any-
body can understand what they write.

Now let us see how the people of
Northwood themselves look at educa-
tion. The simplicity of the work of
the school is what first strikes you.
And you find this same simplicity in
the people's conception of education.
They do not call it education. They
call it training. They speak of a boy
as trained in Greek or in metal-work;
and of a girl as trained to sing or to
draw or to cook. This frank and simple


way of looking at school-work has
changed their whole conception of
education. It has brushed away a vast
amount of nonsense, and cleaned the
mind of a great accumulation of cob-
webs. For one thing nobody in that
town makes addresses on the need of
education. A man would as soon
think of making an address on the
necessity of the atmosphere, or of fuel,
or of bread. And you never hear any-
thing about elaborate systems of edu- ,
cation, or the co-ordination of studies,
or the psychology of the unrelated.

They look at the trades and the pro-
fessions in the same simple way. They
say that one man has been trained as a
physician, that another has been trained
as a farmer, that another has been
trained as a preacher, that another has
been trained as a builder, another as a
machinist; and they lay less stress on


what a man chooses to do than upon
the way in which he does it. It is
respectable to have any calling you like,
provided you are trained to it; but it
isn't respectable to have any calling
unless you are trained. The town for
this reason is not divided into the
same sort of sets and classes that you
find in most towns. There is not one
class that puts on airs and regards
itself as the Educated Class, to which
all other classes are supposed to pay
deference. Of course some men read
more books than others ; some are more
cultivated than others, and there are
social divisions of the people there as
there are the world over. But when
everybody knows how to do something
well, a man who does one thing well en-
joys no particular distinction. A jack-
leg lawyer can't compel any great respect
from a really scientific horseshoer. The


mastery of anything is a wonderful
elevator of character and judgment.

Next to their simple and straight-
forward way of looking at education
what strikes you most about the people
of Northwood is their universal interest
in the school. Apparently everybody
has now been trained there. But when
one man thinks of the school he thinks
of the library ; another of the laboratory ;
another of the workshop; another of
music; another of chemistry. Books
are only one kind of tools, and the
other kinds are co-ordinate with them.
And everybody goes to the great school-
house more or less often. The singers
give their concerts there. I was there
once when a young man gave a per-
formance of a musical composition
of his own, and at another time when
a man showed the first bicycle that
had been made in the town. In three


months he had a bicycle factory.
Everybody is linked to the school by
his work, and there is, therefore, no
school party and no anti-school party
in local politics. There is no social
set that looks down on the school.
The school built the town, and it is the
town. It has grown beyond all social
distinctions and religious differences
and differences of personal fortune.
It has united the people, and they look
upon it as the training place in which
everybody is interested aHke, just as
they look upon the court-house as the
place where every man is on the same
footing. The fathers of our liberties
made the court-house every man's
house. The equally important truth
is that we must, in the same way,
make the public school-house every-
body's house before we can establish
the right notion of education.


Now no wise man has anything to
say against church schools or private
schools in their right places; for both
have their uses. But the history
of civilization has proved over and
over again that no church and no
private means can ever overcome the
social and financial and political and
religious differences of people and build
a training place for all. Nothing has
ever done this and nothing ever can
do it but a public institution that is
maintained by taxation and that be-
longs to all the people alike.

And now we come to the very heart
of the matter. To talk about educa-
tion in a democratic country as mean-
ing anything else than free public
education for every child, is a mockery.
To call anything else education at all
is to go back towards the Middle Ages,
when it was regarded as a privilege of


gentlemen or as a duty of the church
and not as a necessity for the people.

If a few men only are to be educated,
the accidents of fortune determine
which they shall be. These will regard
themselves as a special class, set off
by themselves; and a false standard
of education is set up both in the minds
of the educated and in the minds of
the uneducated. The uneducated re-
gard themselves as neglected. You
have the seeds of snobbery and of
discontent sowed over all the wide
wastes of social life, and the uneducated
part of the State simply adds to its
inertia rather than to its wealth and

But even this false conception of
education is not the worst result of a
system that benefits only a few. If
only a part of any community be trained,
the very part that needs training


least is the part that gets it. It is the
ignorant that are neglected, and the
State thus goes steadily down. For
those that are predisposed to ignor-
ance and idleness and a lack of occupa-

1 3 5 6

Online LibraryWalter Hines PageThe rebuilding of old commonwealths, being essays toward the training of the forgotten man in the southern states; → online text (page 3 of 6)