William Hawley Smith.

Walks abroad and talks about them online

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" I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who
shall be complete!

" I swear the earth remains broken and jagged only to him or
her who remains broken and jagged!"

So says the latest prophet of the years, and ^mljy he
says it. One doesn't realize it at first flush. It is so great,
so mighty, that/ow and /can hardly understand that lue
are the ones, in particular, that the old man is talking
about. And yet, so it is, and we/cnozo it, when we come to
think about it. Surely, so far as I am concerned, the sun
and moon hang in the sky for me especially. Drop -iiie
out of the account, and what odds is it to me whether
there be any sun, moon, or whatsoever? And so on, to
the end of all the old poet's words claim for us.

Now, it is this view of humanity that makes life worth
living, for me. It is this infinite individuality a,nd personality
that is \vi you and in me, and \x\ everybody (white, black,
brown, or what you will), and which makes us all equals



TO YOU. 35

oil the great plane of spiritual being — it is this thing that
makes it seem worth while for me, or for you, or for any-
body to live at all, and to labor and strive to move our-
selves and the rest of the brethren on and up. It is this
that makes uie willing to sit down and write to yon, and
that will make it worth while for yo7i to read what I write,
if I say anything worth reading at all.

And, above all, it is this view of things that makes
the public school worth while, and that puts the teacher's
profession on the very topmost round of the ladder of
human employments. And especially is this so in this
great American democracy of ours, where we have under-
taken to make the total average of humanity so high that
to its hands can be safely entrusted the government of
this mighty people, the settlement of such gigantic ques-
tions as time has never before produced, the development
of a civilization that shall make all the former attainments
of the nations of the earth sink into insignificance by way
of contrast.

This is what we have undertaken to do, and if the
attempt ever succeeds, it must be because the public
schools make such success possible.

But if these schools ever perform the Herculean task
that is demanded of them, it will be because they so adapt
themselves to the m\\\\on-dLnd-ox\Q personalities of the chil-
dren of this nation, that they enable them to grow and
develop as God meant they should grow and develop,
each and all, everyone just as free to think and act as you
arc — not to thnik and act as you do, but as each one per-
sonally elects, after his own kind.

And, if this thing is ever done, it \s you who have got
to do it, so far as yon are concerned ; it is /, it is ei>erybody,
but each one in particular.

And so the questions that force themselves upon yon



30 WALKS AJiJWAV.

and upon me are, what can we do ? Mow can zve do it ?
And, above all, wi// we do somethini^, right now ?

Looking at the present status of the public schools,
you know and / know that they are not now doing all that
tliey should do, all that the requirements of the hour
demand that they should do. We know that zve do )iot
hold the great bulk of the cJiildren of the common people in these
schools but a small percentage of the time that these same chil-
dren oifght to be under careful discipline and training. How
can we hold these pupils longer, and train them as they
ought to be trained ? Long years of the most careful ex-
periment have proved that we cannot do it as our schools
are now fashioned, their curricula being what they now
are. The question is, how can we do it ?

Or, what is far more to the point, how can you do it,
beloved ? There's the rub. It is little or no odds \.o you
and yours what the others do ; the item that should
engage all your soul is, what can / do ? And what I beg
for is, that you do something toward the solution of this
momentous question in the special field in which you are
working. I don't ask or urge you to do, or to try, any-
thing radical. I beseech you not to try to solve the whole
problem for the whole nation at one fell swoop. I beg of
you not to seek for any wholesale or patent process that
can be aj^plied to all the schools in the country and instant
reacf be guaranteed to follow. From all these weaknesses
of the flesh and wiles of the devil, good Lord deliver you
— and us. But this ] do suggest, that, things being as
they are, you do what you can to better the situation in
yoitr immediate field of labor. Do that, /// yo7ir own way,
and great shall be your reward.

Anent which, a letter has just this minute reached me,
just as I wrote the last sentence in the last paragraph. It
comes from a teacher in Kansas, and a portion of it reads



TO YOU. 37

thus : '' \Vc teachers out here are struggling for more
light on these great educational issues of the day. We
are approaching these momentous problems cautiously,
though fearlessly, and are bound to get at the true inward-
ness of them, so far as it is in our power to do so. We
may get great knots of egotism and self-confidence and
fossilized adherence to antiquated ideas knocked off from
our hide-bound anatomies; but, if so, we will gather
together what there is left of ourselves, and push forward
to grander and better things."

There ! That is the idea ! It is just such a spirit as
this that will break holes through all obscurities and let
the light in, somehow. There will be mistakes made, of
course there will ; but such a steadfast purpose as the
above words indicate cannot fail of yielding great results
as time goes on. Don't yo7( think so ?

One more remark and I am done with this theme.
Don't you see how all this means that jfo?i have got to be
the final judge as to what it is best to do under the present
circumstances ? You may advise, and counsel, and read,
and look up authorities, and watch what other people do,
and all that; but if you ever do anything worth while for
the cause, it will be \n your ozvn way — something that you
have thought out yourself and are willing to try, because
yo?( believe there is something in it.

It will be in vain for you to imitate what others have
done. Imitation is never of any account. As Mr. Emer-
son has it : " Imitation can never go above its level, and
the imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity from
the very outset. The inventor did it because it was
natural to him, but for any one else to do merely what he
has done, this is the veriest of slavish servitude, out of
which nothing good can come."

So don't imitate anything or anybody. It is written:



38 WALKS ABROAD.

"Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image. Thou
shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them, for I, the
Lord thy God, am a jealous God ! " Yea, truly, it is so.
So do not imitate.

But this you can do. You can get ideas from h.crc,
and there, wherever you get a chance to forage ; and )-ou
can adapt \.h.&se ideas, or ways and means, or what not, to
yo7tr particular needs, and all this greatly to your advan-
tage. It is Emerson who says again: " No genius is so
great that it can afford to dispense with the experience of
other.-." This is gospel truth, but see to it that you do
not merely imitate under the guise of availing yourself cf
the experience of others. Adapt everything ; adopt notJdn-j /
That is the rule to work by, and it will bring the best of
results ever and always.

What I want to say is, that if you or I ever amount
to anything on the tally-sheet of deeds in this world, it
will be because we —

" Ordain ourselves, loosed of limits and imaginary lines.

" Going where we list — our own masters, total and absolute.

" Listening to others, and considering well what they say.

" Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating —

" Nevertheless, gently, but with undeniable will divesting our-
selves of the holds that would hold us, and doing our own work in our
own way, as God meant we should do it even from the first."

Do this, my brother, my sister, zvJiocvcr yoii arc, and
you shall be blessed of God. You may be cursed by men,
but that will not. count; for the benediction of heaven
shall overwhelm all else, and bring you the perfect peace
and joy which the whole world else can not bestow, and
which, thank God, all the world can never take away from
you. Do yoji believe this ? And if you do, will you act
in accordance with your belief ? You need not answer
me ! Will you answer yourself?



AN OPEN BOOK. 39

This chapter is much more like a sermon than I
intended it should be when I set out to put it in order.
Nevertheless, the spirit said unto me, "Write!" and I
have written.



AN OPEN BOOK.

Did j>o?f ever take a "Written Arithmetic" that has
seen service, I don't care for how long, if only some one
has "gone through " it one or more times, and, holding it
up on its back between your two hands on the table before
you, so that it stands perfectly perpendicular, suddenly
release it, and notice where it will fall open? If you have
never done this, suppose you try it, and perhaps it will
put you on the track of something that you never thought
of before.

Now I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet,
but just so surely as you make this experiment I can fore-
tell where the pages will part. The book will fall open,
invariabl}', at the "Miscellaneous Problems" at the end
of fractions,

I discovered this the other day while I was rumaging
around in our attic, which is a sort of cemetery for dead
books, whose graves it is a kind of melancholy pleasure
to visit and linger over for a v, hile, now and again, calling
up old memories of this or that which these mummified
pages once made a part of (what memories some of those
yellow leaves do recall). I say, being thus engaged, I
picked up a copy of Adams's old arithmetic (the first
book of the kind that I ever sat up nights with), and as it
accidentally slipped from my hand and fell upon the floor
it opened as noted above. The pages that were exposed by
this display were worn almost to shreds, and many of the



40 WALKS AlinOAJ).

problems were so begrimed with thumb-marks that they
could scarcely be read, while the book, as a whole, was in
a pretty fair state of preservation.

As I stood for an instant gazing at these ais-it-were-
footprints from my own paleozoic age, I fell to wondering
why the book happened to open just there (I always was
curious about things), and then it occurred to me that
perhaps other arithmetics might duplicate the act, under
similar circumstances.

So I turned to a row of arithmetical sarcophagi that
stood on a shelf just before me (there was a long line of
them, for some one has been going to school from our
family most of the time for forty years, during a large
share of which period those apostles of education, the
school book agents, have been going about making changes
and change wherever they went, and this row of mathe-
matical coffins is the earnest of their faithful labors), and
took down a copy of Greenleaf, which came next in order.

I set the book on its back on the floor, holding it
straight up with my hand, and then suddenly "let loose,"
and — there it was, just the same as its predecessor! Then
I tried Davies. There was neither variation njor shadow
of turning in the result! Then came Colburn, and Ra}-,
and Robinson, and White, and a whole hecatomb of later
fry, and in not a single instance did the sign fail. The
demonstration was perfect, at least so far as our family
was concerned.

But, like a true scientist that I am, I remembered that
one swallow doesn't make a summer, and it occurred to
me that, perchance, this phenomenon might be a peculiar
attachment of our family — so I set out to generalize from
the individual concept, which had taken its initiative as
above noted!

I went into the cellar of a down-town book store, about



AN OPEN HOOK. 41

a week after school began in the fall, and there 1 found a
cord or more of "exchanged" arithmetics (books which,
like Dead Sea fruit, had suddenly turned to ashes in the
hands of the children, just as they were beginning to like
them a little for old times' sake, if nothing else), and I
took down a couple of dozen or so of these "back-num-
bers," and began to try experiments with them.

At first I picked up the books at random and tested
them according to my theory, but presently it occurred to
me that even this might not be a thoroughly infallible
proof; for, without specially guarding the point, there was
i\ possibility that all the books thus taken might belong to
the children of some one nationality, and in these days of
positive science, if a principle is worth its salt it must be
established as world-wide in its application.

Afid so I got the idea of making a Pan-average-Ameri-
can-and-Foreign-born-school-child test of my hypothesis,
and to this end I went through that pile of old paper and
joicked out books in which the following names were duly
inscribed on the inside of the pasteboard covers (the "fly
leaves" were missing in all the books I examined): Peter
Brown, Solomon Isaacs, Patrick Murphy, Fritz Louten-
heizer, Ignaccio Papionelli, Lars Larson, Ann Jones, Marie
Chevalier, Jean McDonald, Topsy Johnson, Inez Dosa-
mantes, and Catharine Trediakovitchiski, and with these
I proceeded with my experimentation.

The result confirmed my most sanguine expectations;
for, in every case, the openings were as before noted, and
the pages exposed presented the same bedraggled and
generally worn-out appearance that I had noticed in the
first instance of the kind that came under my observation. *

*In behalf of scientific inquiry, it is due that 1 state that, in ti\e experiments
al)ovc mentioned, Solomon Isaacs' book seemed i)c)ssessed of a secret longing to
fall open at " Interest," while Topsy Johnson's evinced a disposition to open every-
where at once, but on a fair trial they both yielded to the greater pressure, and did
really fall apart as 1 have reported.



42 WALKS ABROAD.

And it is for these reasons that I feel justified in mak-
ing the bold prophetic statement that occurs in the second
paragraph of this chapter. I believe the fact to be verified,
beyond question, that books such as I have described,
treated as I have noted, will behave as I have herein said
they would. And if this postulate is established, let us
proceed to search for the cause of these remarkable phe-
nomena — for such I certainly consider them to be.

Here, then, is the problem: Why is it that there is
such singularity of eventuation, resultant from a uniformity
of actuation exerted upon certain similar books which
have previously been subjected to an apparentl}- incon-
stant mode of manipulation? (As a scientist, I hold that,
when dealing with scientific subjects, all the statements
pertaining thereto should be couched in scientific terms).

Now, pursuing this investigation on the line of mbdern
methods of research (I am myself a devout disciple of
Bacon, and believe thoroughly in inductive ways of arriv-
ing at conclusions ) the first tiling to be done was to collect
data from which, if possible, to establish a theory that
should meet the requirements of the given proposition.

With this fundamental principle as the guiding star
of my action, I set out for our garret again, there to re-
surve)' the field of my primary observations.

On my way home I beguiled the weary horse-car half
hour by reading an article on railroads in a current num-
ber of one of the great monthlies, and there I came across
this sentence: "The rails on a heavy grade will last less
than half as long as those on a level stretch of road, for
it is a uniform principle, that, where the greatest amount
of friction is, there will be found the greatest amount of
wear and tear."

I am confident that it was the last three words in the
sentence that threw my thought again into the channel of



AN OPEN BOOK. 43

my research; for it occurred to me, then and there, by that
natural sequence of ideas with which all psychological
students are so familiar, that all the pages which had been
disclosed in the books I had let fall open were literally
covered (what there was left of them) with undeniable
marks of both " wear and tear;" and from this point it was
but a step to the conclusion that such record must have
been produced by a "great amount of friction." Yea,
verily !

With this hint I got into the top room of our house
once more, aud began to hunt for the friction-makers at
this particular place in all arithmetics that I know any-
thing about. And I found them, galore ! Hence this
chapter.

And, to make the case clear, I give herewith a few of
the retarding elements that I found, though some of them
were scarcely decipherable, owing to the great amount of
friction that had been exerted upon them. I have taken
them from the Miscellaneous-Problems-at-the-back-end of
fractions of several arithmetics, and have tried to select
them fairly, so as to truthfully represent the point T am
driving at. Thus, I read through the grime:

"In a certain orchard \ of the trees are peach, \ are
plum, I are cherry, and the remaining lii are apple; how
many trees in the orchard?"

"A can do a piece of work in 9 days, B and C can cio
.t together in 5 days, and B can do | as much as C. I low
many days would it take them to do it, all working to-
gether?"

"The sum of two fractions is |, and their difference
is I; what are the fractions?"

"A fish's head is 10 inches long, its tail is as long as
its head and \ its body, and its hodx' is as long as its head
and tail together; how long is the fisli?''



44 WALKS ABROAD.

But I need not extenuate, nor would I set dow n au^^Iit
in malice. To be sure, the problems I have g-ivcii abo\c
are the worst worn of any I found, and in some cases the
"tear" in them was so great that I had to supply the
fii^mrcs, but neither of these things in any way affects the
iirgument. Vou know that problems, of which the above
are but accentuated specimens, abound at this point in all
written arithmetics. Vou know what a time you had with
them when you went over them; and still better do }'ou
know, as a teacher, what a time you have had with every
class you have tried to put through them — or them
* through your class !

If you grew up in a country school, you know that
for winter after winter you sat in .the back seat and
scratched your head over these and similar problems; and
if you were reared on the graded-school plan, you know
that you labored on such examples night after night, and
got all the folks in the house to help you solve them, and
then did your best to vemQmhev Just //oia the figures looked
on your slate, so that you could reproduce them on exami-
nation, if you had to! In either case it took weeks to got
over the two or three pages of these puzzlers, and hence
the " wear and tear " that your old book doth show.

Now, the thing in all this that gives me pause is, how
does it come about that arithmetic-makers put such prob-
lems as these' in this part of the book? When you look
these examples steadily in the face, and probe into their
true inwardness, you cannot help asking what business
have they here, anyhow? And the only answer I can
possibly imagine as coming from anybody is this, that
they have fractions in them and so belong in />^^/ department
of arithmetic.

But what an answer is this! So does the calculation
of any one of the occultations of Jupiter's moons have



AX OPEN BOOK. 45

fractions in it, but that can hardly be urged as a good and
sufficient reason why such a problem should have a place
in Miscellaneous Problems in fractions in arithmetic!
And yet such an argument would be but a few degree-,
more flinty than the one which would place such problems
as I have quoted in this part of our school arithmetics.

The fact is that the fractional elements in these prob-
lems are mere trifling affairs as compared wiih the princi-
ples which the solution of these same problems involves.
And as for these principles, when the pupil "tackles"
these problems he has not been given one single word of
instruction as to how to deal with them and their likes.

For instance, take the first problem I have quoted.
\t heXongs io 2i general class of problems in which several
parts of a quantity are noted, and a definite number is
announced as being equal to the remainder that is left
when all these several parts are put together and this sum
is taken from the whole. But where, in his previous work,
has the child come across anything even remotely resem-
bling this? He has never been even so much as "expos-
ed" to such a situation.

And all of the other problems I have quoted are open
to the same criticism. Their solution demands a mastery
of principles that belong to mathematics far in advance
of the attainments of the pupils to whom such examples
are given. And hence the friction. Talk about bricks
without straw! An Israelite in Egypt with only a hand-
ful of Nile reeds out of which to make his daily talc of
adobe, was plethoric in resources as compared with the
destitute mathematical condition of the hordes of gram-
mar school children who are driven, head on, to these
problems, the country over, every day in the week!

But I would not care so much about that — I have no
objection to having the children worked, and worked hard,



46 WALKIS ABROAD.

i:i arithmetic; it is not about that, or anything like that,
that I complain — but what 1 do rebel against is, the de-
moralizing outcome of such a method of procedure.

And that such is the result, you and I are living
examples. These problems, and their likes, upset us,
mathmetically, for many a day and year. They made
guessers, and cut-and-try workers, and answer-hunters out
of us. When they were put at us we didn't know whether
to add, or subtract, or multiply, or divide; and so we tried
first one of these processes and then the other or perhaps
all four at once; and when we had it "figured through,"
we hastened to turn back to see if we had the answer!

Isn't that what these problems made us do, and do
they not make your pupils do the same, even unto this
day?

Now, if there is anything that mathematics ought to
teach it is definiteness of design, clear perception of pro-
cedure, and certainty of results — in a word, absolute accu-
racy should be the purpose of all mathematical training.
But the wrestling with problems like these, in the way we
all have to — if they are given to us in our early teens and
without a word of preparation for them — this tends to the
very reverse of accuracy, and generates in us a looseness
of thought and a dabbling with chances that drive us
close into the realm of shams and pretense, not to say
lying, before we are aware.

"What would I do about it?" I would cut everyone
of those problems out of the arithmetics, where they
occur — that is so far as giving them to pupils is concerned.
And then, when the boys and girls got so they could
manipulate numbers well — could add, subtract, multiply,
and divide whole numbers and fractions rapidly and
accurately; when I was certain that they knew their mul-
tiplication table so well that they didn't have to keep the



AN OPEN BOOK. 47

fore finger of their left hand in the book at that table
whenever they were working problems, and could add
without using their fingers for counters — when I was .^urc
they had passed that period, then I would take u^) a
STUDY OF PROBLEMS, CIS snc/i, and pursue the subject with
them intelligently, systematically, and definitely, till they
mastered it.

For instance, the first problem I have quoted belongs
to a class of problems, as I have already said. I would
take up, say, that class, or kind of problems, beginning
with very simple ones, and teach my pupils to see what
was given, and how the same must be manipulated to find
out what is required. For all problems of this particular
ki)id are zvorked in exactly the same zvaj.

And when my pupils had "caught the idea," I would
improvise a hundred similar problems, all involving the
same principle and worked in the same way, making the
numbers larger, and the complications more and more
intricate as we went along. And I would teach them to
recognize problems of this class, no matter where they
stand in the arithmetic.

Thus, there is no reason why this first problem should
not have its fractional parts expressed as hundreths, and
so find its place in decimal fractions, or percentage; but
if a pupil had studied it ^.s^ a problem., he would smile on
it under any form, and solve it accurately, every time.


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Online LibraryWilliam Hawley SmithWalks abroad and talks about them → online text (page 3 of 16)