William Hawley Smith.

Walks abroad and talks about them online

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ruptured fish-nets, and umbrellas with fractured ribs and
punctured covers, and so on to the end of the heap, —
What is the 7ise^\ thought, of cleaning and dusting and
returning and regulating all this rubbish heap?

So I called the mistress of the house and told her
what I had been thinking about, and we held a council,
right then and there, with my thought as the basis of

This council lasted just two minutes, at the end of
which time I started a bonfire in the back yard, and into
that bonfire went every one of those useless, antiquated,
worn-out, and broken-down things, that once had a name


and a useful place in our lives, but which had had their
day, and were fit now only for cremation.

It was a big fire, and a hot one; and as I stood and
watched it, it really seemed to me that those ancient and
fragmentary wrecks actually smiled out of the flames,
while the crackle that came to my ears from the blaze
was like jolly laughter, as if even these inanimate things
realized that their end had finally come and they were
glad of it.

There is such a thing as living too long in this world!

And then I cleaned and dusted and carried back and
regulated what few /i7>e and still useful things were left
over of the once monstrous pile. They filled one small
corner of the room, and on the wide, ample space of the
clean floor that was left after they were all in place, wife
and I danced a horn-pipe in honor of the great deliver-
ance that we had experienced, and because we had time
to dance instead of cleaning and dusting and lugging back
and regulating those cart-loads of rubbish.

Besides this, we were able to dance from the fact
that we were not worn out by the doing of a quantity of
useless, yes, worse than useless work, handling a lot of
dead waste truck that was of no use to us or anybody else.

So we had a good time instead of being "dead tired,"
and there is space in the store-room that it is a pleasure
to behold. We can use that space too, for things that we
need every day, in our practice.

Weil, a few days after this episode, I dropped into a
school-room. Whatever comes or goes, I keep dropping
into school-rooms; somehow they have a wonderful fasci-
nation for me.

There was a class in history reciting —

I wonder if I need go any further with this paper, or
whether it would not be better to let each one of you


'• sing it yourself," troni here out? But I will tell the

"Mary may begin the lesson," said the teacher of the
history class.

So Mary rose and said: "Surmising that an expedi-
tion, conducted by Clinton, which had been previously
sent from Boston, was destined to attack New York,
Washington sent Gen. Charles Lee to protect that city.
It happened that on the very day of Lee's arrival there,
Clinton arrived off Sandy Hook. Thus foiled in his at-
tempt against New York, Clinton sailed to the South, and
was joined by Sir Peter Parker and Lord Cornwallis, with
a fleet and troops from England, when the whole force
proceeded against Charleston."

"That will do, Mary," said the teacher, "George
may go on."

And George stood up and said: "The people of
Charleston had made preparations against attack, by
erecting a fort of palmetto-wood on Sullivan's Island,
which commanded the channel leading to the town. This
was garrisoned by five hundred men, under Col. Moultrie.
On the morning of the twenty-eighth of June, the fleet
approached Sullivan's Island; but, after a conflict of nine
hours, during which Clinton was defeated in his attempt
to reach the Island, the ships, much shattered, drew off,
and afterwards sailed to the North."

And so it went on for twenty minutes; the pupils,
one after another, standing and repeating from memory,
the details of a fight that took place more than a hundred
years ago!

The children had what would be called good lessons;
that is, they had memorized some three or four pages of
brevier type, and could say it off glibly; but I wondered
if, when they sat down to rest and reflect, they did not


think to themselves: Wliat is the tise uf tiiis old rubbish
heap of carnage that we have labored so hard to carry
out, and clean and dust and carry back and regulate?
What do you think the use of it is, beloved?
Or do you think about it at all?

Or do you do as was done with the stufif in our old
lumber-room for years — just carry out, and clean, and
dust, and carry back, and regulate, year after year, and
never sit down to rest and reflect about it at all?

And when the class was excused, I said to the teacher:
" May I look at that book for a little while?"

She said I might, so I took the history from which
the class had been reciting, and sat down to it with my
note book for half an hour, and read, and noted, and

Here are some of the things I noted.
In the first place, at least three-fourths of the book is
taken up with detailed accounts of battles, fights, skir-
mishes, massacres, slaughters, and the like! Do you
doubt that? Pick up the first school history you come to,
and spend a half hour with it, as I did with this one, and
make notes, as I did; see what you find, and then reflect.
Here are the printed questions from the foot of one
of the pages the children recited from.

What can you say about the expedition against New York V

What was done by Clinton?

What was done by Clinton and Parker?

How were the people of Charleston prepared?

Give an account of the battle fought there?

Where, meanwhile, were the British concentrating a large force?

What troops joined Howe there?

What is said of the Hessians?

What move did Howe make from Staten Island?

Give an account of the battle there?

Give an account of the battle of White Plains?

To what objects did Howe next turn his attention?


And so on. It runs on like this tor pages and pages.
I would give more of it to prove my point, were it not
that these pages are too devoted to " live matter " to have
room for any more of this rubbish from an old lumber

And if this is so, if there is no room on six-cents-a-
pound paper for such things, how about the minds of
your children having room for the like?

Just sit down and rest and reflect on that for awhile.

But let me "summarize " for a little, even if I may
not proceed at length. School histories summarize a
great deal. The one I made notes from ( and it is as
good as any — they are all substantially alike ) summar-
izes to the extent of twenty-one pages, and the author then
makes the remark:

"If these summaries are memorized they will do
much towards enabling the pupil to retain, in compact
form, the matter that is treated in a more extended man-
ner in the body of the book." Vea, verily!

These twenty-one pages of summaries in this book,
contain 655 dates, with memoranda attached.

There are also thirteen pages of " Review Questions."

There are 541 of these review questions, 420 of which
are about battles, fighting, massacres, and the like.

In "addition to this, the book contains 239 subjects for
"Topical Review," the most of which subjects have for a
hub, around which all else revolves, some battle, fight, mas-
sacre, general, colonel, captain or victim of some sort. I
did not have time to count the details of this part of the
book, for it came recess time before I got through, and
I preferred to go and see the children play, rather than
spend any more time numbering the dead!

Well, what do you think about it, when you come to
sit down and reflect?


How would a bonfire do under the circumstances?
Don't you think that several of those 655 dates ( I
counted them every one! Don't stand up and tell me
that I am " fighting- a man of straw," and that " it is no
such thing." I hear the like of that every now and then;
but whatever I may have done or said heretofore, that is
off or on, I am solid on this score; and if you are not sat-
isfied with my count, you can make your own tally sheet
out of any U. S. school history that you can find ) — I say,
don't you think there are several of those 655 dates that
could be relegated to a bonfire and cremated, body and
hoois so far as the scliool cJiildren s memories are concerned,
and this with profit to everybody?

Of course, it is all right and proper to have these
dates and things set down in books so that we can get at
them and refer io them if we ever have the occasion to;
but to make the children carry them out and clean them,
and dust them, and cart them back, and regulate them —
is not the great bulk of all this labor in vain?

And heaven knows there is enough Iwe work to be
done in this world, not to waste time on labor in vain.
In a word, "life is too short" to warrant such a useless,
not to say senseless, amount of labor upon that which has
had its day, lived, died, and ought to be buried.

It was Jesus who said, " Let the dead bury their dead."
And, anyhow, this thing is sure, that dead things ought
to be buried or burned. I like burning myself.

So what about making a bonfire for the benefit of the
history class, when you clear out your course of study,
the next time you undertake that job!

When you get into that lumber-room, your course of
study, and make ready to carry things out of it, and clean
them, and dust them, and cart them back, and regulate


them, as you have to do, more or less, every season; when
you get tired, just sit down and rest and reflect; and then,
if you do not make a bonfire out of some of the old cord
bed-steads and empty picture frames and flameless lamps
and noseless pitchers and cracked jars that you find
there, why, then — well, you may say the rest.

And as for ancient history, I think a good share of
that could be bonfired. Kings, Emperors, Popes, Doges,
Consuls, Priests, Shahs, Pharoahs, and all their quarrels
and squabblings, with the times and seasons of the same
— -what a fine blaze they would make, and it is the only
fine thing they could make, as I count it.

The Sunday after all this took place, I went to
church — but no, 1 must draw the line there. These
pages are not for theological criticism. But if they were !

Some day, when I get grown up, I am going to write
a book on "The use of a bon-fire in this world, all along
the line."

Meantime, if you get impatient for that far day to
arrive, you can work the scheme out for yourself. It will
give you a great deal of pleasure to do this ; and if you
know how, you can dance and give thanks on the clear
spaces you will make in this mundane sphere, if you will
only practice what you preach in your volume, "The true
relation that exists between a rubbish pile and a bon-fire."

But whatever you do, or do not do, in a general way,
please do not forget your history class. If ever a big, hot
bonfire was needed, it is right there, in the average history
class of a common school.

Will you not pile out a few things from that lumber
room, and see to it that they never get back to torture
and muddle the heads of your children again ? I believe
you will ; and if you do, what I had left over from my
house-cleaning this spring will have been to some purpose.



1 wonder if I can be pardoned if I strike one more
blow on the head of the nail that I have been hammering
at for a good while now, namely, this giving the children
wisdom and knowledge in wholesale quantities, so to

I would not mention it again, only 1 see so much of
it as I go about, that I /cnozv it is the worst fault, the most
generally disseminated failing, in the schools of this
country to-day,

I see it everywhere I go — the children crammed with
great blocks and wads of alleged learning, hunks and balls
of science or language that stick in their intellectual
throats till they are well nigh mentally- strangled.

Witness the instance of the teacher in natural phil-
osophy that I saw before his class a couple of weeks ago,
who disposed of the steam engine, its construction and
working, in huo lessons ; and of the dynamos, ditto, in a
single recitation of half an hour, and all, as set down in
the book !

And yet, right across the street there was a large
electric plant, with magnificent steam engine and dynamos;
but not a foot did either pupils or teacher set within that
building, and not an eye among them all was opened to
look into the wonderful workings that were going on
within ear-shot of them all !

Why, right within sight and hearing of those boys and
girls there was interesting and profitable work enough, in
studying the engine and dynamo, to have kept them busy
for a month ; and yet the whole subject was disposed of


in three bookish lessons — abstractions that those young
people will hold in memory till they can get examination
marks on them, and then forget forever.

I wish I could truly say that this case was exceptional,
but it was not. T see its like in the majority of the
schools I visit. That is the truth I am pained beyond
measure to confess.

Indeed, as I look over, in retrospect, the couple of
hundred teachers that I have seen at work in their class-
rooms in the past three months, the thing that rises up
and appalls me is the very small amount of teaching,
real teaching, that I have seen done.

These teachers hear recitations, they test ihe children
to see if they have memorised \.\\\s, that, or the other, and,
in the great majority of cases, that comprises the bulk of the
work done in the school-room.

Do you teach, or do you hear recitations ? Just ask
yourself that question when you say your prayers to-night,
and then be thankful or pray for forgiveness, according to
the answer you get to your question !

I heard a sixth-grade class in geography the other
day that was exceedingly typical of most of the work
that is being done in that branch of study wherever I go.

And, by the way, what is the matter with geography
in our schools just now. Somehow, to use the vernacular,
this study seems to have got a black eye, all along the

Up in Chicago, a few days ago, the county superin-
tendent of that great county stated, in the presence of his
teachers there assembled, that, as a pupil, he had studied
two geographies. One he remembered was Peter Parley's,
and the other he was not sure of, but he rather thought it
was Mitchell's !


Of the first book, he said tliat all he could call to
mind was the two lines :

" The earth is round and Hke a ball
Seems swinging in the air."

He could not finish the verse, but even so, ho said
that he rememhered more of Peter Parley than he did of
the other book, whatever that might have been !

And if you had heard the applause that followed this
frank statement of Mr. Bright's, as the teachers who were
evidently greatly in sympathy with him in his open con-
fession, clapped their hands, I think you would have
realized what those same teachers actually think of
geography as it is regularly taught in our schools, as a
means of developing the mind !

There is a wonderful significance in such a little scene
as the foregoing, when one comes to get into the real
meaning of it.

But to this class : The lesson was on Florida, and the
teacher stood at her desk zmt/t her finger on the qncstiofis, as
she read them, one by one.


I see the like frequently, especially in the geography

Teacher — "George, what is the shape (jf Florida ?"

George (who is a boy of twelve, a sort of bullet-
headed boy) — " It's round ! "

Teacher — " Round, George ? Think again ! "

George — "Well, it's kinder funny lookin' ! "

Teacher — " What do you mean by that, George ? Be
careful now ! "

George ^" Well, it's kinder round on the bottom,

anyhow ! "

Teacher — "That will do, George ! Mary, what natural

division of land is Florida?"


Mary — " I don't know what you mean."

Teacher (evidently trying to teach) — "Why, Mary,
we have natural relations and natural conditions; now,
what should you think a natural division of land would

(I quote verbatim from notes made on the spot!)

But Mary couldn't make it out.

Isn't this too bad? And yet this teacher had taught
six years, and was getting fifty dollars a month !

I asked the superintendent about her, and he said he
knew very well what a poor, weak teacher she was; '" but,"
he added, "what can I do? She is a relative of two mem-
bers of the board, who insist that she shall stay where she
is, and it is sure death to me in my position if I try to put
her out! "

He added, " I came within one of getting myself
dropped out two years ago, when I stood up and attempted
to get rid of a couple of weak teachers that I had then on
my hands. They both happened to belong to the same
church; and, to make matters worse, it wasn't the church
that I attended, and so the cry was raised that I was
against them because they were not religiously of my
faith ! "

"Well," he said, "I did get them out, but it wouldn't
be safe for me to make another similar move for a year
or two yet, or I shall be out myself."

And what can one say to such an argument as that?
For my part, I am dumb. Nevertheless, I think it best to
set the record of this fact down in these chronicles, for us
to think about, and see what we had better do about the
likes, as they come up now and then.

And they will come up !

Rut there is another side to it all, and, thank God, it
it is the biggest and brightest side, too. And this great

GEOLiRArilY AND 31 U SIC. 215

big bright side is the noble personality of the great bulk
of the teachers I meet. They are good men and good
women, the great mass of them; and while many of them
teach books very poorly, still they are such "good fel-
lows," men and women both, that the children get a great
deal out of them in spite of everything.

That is the consolation I get in spite of the many
discouraging things I see. It shows up at recesses and
noons, and when the children meet their teachers just as
"folks," and not as "Masters" and "Ma'ams."

And the system that brings children and men and
women together thus, even though it has its faults, is on
the right track, and is bound to come to good. Though
we ought to teac/i more and better.

And what are we going to do about geography? Poor
old geography !

If any one has a word of suggestion, speak up. As
they used to say at prayer meeting, "there is an opening
for prayer or remarks." Have yo?( anything to say? Or,
better, is j/(??/r teaching of geography worth the time and
trouble you and your pupils are giving it? If not, what
are you going to do about it?

I visited a school in Wisconsin, last week, and while
going the rounds, from room to room, I chanced upon
the music-teacher of the school, a woman who was enthu-
siastic in her work, and who got most excellent results
from her endeavors.

This teacher went from room to room, teaching music
in all grades, from the lowest to the highest ; and I was so
much interested in what sh^ was doing that I followed
her from class to class, as she went about the building.

And the thing that impressed me, in nearly all her
classes, was the fact that almost every child in every class


sang, and that they did so with reasonable accuracy, so
that the general effect was exceedingly pleasing.

I asked her about this as we walked down the hall
between the acts, questioning her as to the possibility of
making a singer out of each and every child that came to
school, and her answer was so sensible that it is a pleasure
to me to quote it, as nearly as I can remember it. She
said :

"Well, I'll tell you; of course there are singers and
singers, and I simply try to do the best I can with what I
have to work with. But five years of experience has
taught me this : if I can get hold of a child young enough,
I can do something for him or her in the line of music.

" Not all of them, though, for once in a while I get hold
of a pupil that simply cannot learn to sing. But the great
bulk of them can do something at it, and many of them a
great deal.

"And in the last year or two I have stumbled upon a
way of handling my 'monotones' — that is what I call the
pupils who, when they first try to sing, do so all on one
pitch of voice — that has brought the most excellent re-
sults. I really don't know that the game is worth the
candle," she added, " but if it is worth while to try to
make all the children sing sovic.^ I have found a way that
does it fairly well.

" And this is what I do, and how my present method
differs from the plan I used for years.

" When T began my work, years ago, if I got hold of
a 'monotone' I would take such a pupil off by himself
and work with him alone, for hours, sometimes. And
while I labored very hard on such boys and girls, I never
got very much out of it.

" But now I do the very reverse of this. When I find
such a case, I seat the pupil where he will be surrounded,


on all sides, by children who naturally sing well. If you
will pardon the expression, I just soak him in music, and
hold him under, till, after a while, some of it begins to
penetrate into him !

" And if I can get hold of such children young enough
— can take them just as soon as they enter school, and at
once begin to work them on this plan, I can, in the great
majority of originally unpromising cases, get fair results ;
that is, I can succeed in getting them so that they can
sing some — at least they can sing when other people are
singing with them, and sometimes some of them get so
that they can sing fairly well by themselves.

"Though, as I have already said," she added, "I
don't know that the outcome pays for all the labor it
costs, both to the pupil and the teacher ; but still, if all
the children must be taught to sing, I have found this
method much the most satisfactory that I have ever tried."

And I wonder if there are not other cases where
pupils who are " born short " in one line or another could
be " soaked " in an environment of " longs " on their par-
ticular failing, and so, by a process of the most pro-
nounced induction, be compelled to take on at least a
semblance of what the regular thing demands that they
shall be possessed of ?

It may be a pretty thin sort of coating that such
pupils take on, but when a board, or a principal, or a cur-
riculum, insists that these things shall be done, somehow,
the soaking process seems to offer better chances of out-
put than anything I have seen for a long time.

218 \VALK;S AlillOAl),


I took a walk into Chicago a few days ago — went
up to eat, drink, and be merry, with the Normal Club of
the "Windy City."

And I found the town worthy of just that name, and
fully sustaining all the reputation it has ever had for blow
and bluster, to say nothing of bluff. A gale was coming
in from the northeast, that threatened to take the lake up
bodily and set it down, en masse, on Illinois soil. But that in-
land sea " kicked," as it were, at thus being routed out of its
bed; and the result was that there were troublesome
times on the surface of that generally civil piece of water.
A score or more of vessels were driven ashore, and some
twenty-five or thirty sailors were drowned.

We stood and saw the men go down — some of them
were only a little ways from the shore — down into the
pitiless depths that swallowed them as if they were
blocks of stone rather than men with human souls in
their bodies.

As I stood with the crowd of several thousands of
my fellow-men, and looked at the spectacle, I could but
wonder at the calmness with which we saw those brave
fellows, out there, go down into the Valley of the Shadow
of Death!

There was very little said in all the vast crowd along
the shore. The life-saving crew was at work, doing its
best, which amounted to nothing at all; and we all stood
there and looked on.

A ship would come driving in, dragging her anchor,
strike the ground, and then go to pieces. The crew clung


to the rigging, as best they could; but when the ship
struck and the break-up came, everything went, and the
men along with the rest.

And we stood there and looked at it all, and said
nothing, did nothing.

What could we say? What could we do?

But the sight stayed with me for a long, long time.
Indeed, I can see it all now when I shut my eyes.

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Online LibraryWilliam Hawley SmithWalks abroad and talks about them → online text (page 15 of 16)