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62 WALKS ABROAD.

From wliat I observed, I think this is due partly to a
natural bent of mind, suited to language study, which the
Mexicans possess; but, perhaps more than this it comes
from the naUiral 7)iet]iods of teaching a foreign language
which are used in the Mexican schools. These are largely
inductive, and consist in making pupils actually talk the
language they are studying, rather than merely teaching
them rules about how to talk if they ever get so they can!
The signs of the times begin to indicate that similar
methods will, before long, be largely used in the study of
foreign languages in our own schools; and when they are,
perhaps our children will show up as well in thir branch
of learning as the Mexican children do now.



MEXICAN CLASS-ROOM WORK.

As a workman is known by his chips, so is a school
known by the pupils it turns out. This is universally true,
but I make a special application of the principle in the
case of the National Normal School, of the City of
Mexico.

And, so far as Normal Schools are concerned, expe-
rience leads me to believe that the place to look for its
"chips" is in the "model school," or "training depart-
ment" of these institutions. The students of the normal
schools proper become mere repositories, or storage bat-
teries, as it were, of the theories and arts of the professors
under whom they learn their trade. But in the training
department one gets a view of ultimates — of the way in
which these theories and arts " pan out," as a cold and
heartless money-making man-o'-the-world would say.

Being aware of this fact, I spent small time in view-
ing the elegant laboratories and other mechanical appli-



MEXICAN GLASS-ROOM WORK. 63

ances for making teachers with which this institution is
so thoroughly equipped. All these are worth while,
doubtless; but I felt as though I would be willing to
"infer" considerable along these lines, if only I could get
my eye on the "finished product" of the concern. And
so I made straight for the model school, being once fairly
in possession of carie blanche to the institution.

I found a school of nearly three hundred pupils, of
all grades, from the primary up to the " higher branches,"
as in such cases made and provided. The school was well
organized, and the greatest of care was exercised not to
permit the crude efforts of "pupil teachers" to result
harmfully upon the innocents on whom they "practiced."

This was a thing that pleased me greatly, because I'
have known instances where it was not done, and where
the children who were worked upon by these " 'prentice
hands" — the chips — were terribly chopped up by the
performance,

I know a young man to-day who cannot read a page
in a magazine aloud, decently, but who can " elocute " any-
thing he has learned by heart in a most charming manner;
and all because, when he learned to read, in the training
department of a normal school, under a pupil teacher
who was let loose upon him Without a chaperone, he was
made to rehearse the same reading lessons over, and over,
and over again, so that he could " read tJieni elegantly with-
out looking at his book,'' as his teacher used artlessly to say,
when his class came up for examination before the whole
school.

You see, this pupil teacher was marked on the work
she did with this class, and the proof of her work was a
show performance of her reading class before the whole
school. And what so good a show as a nice, clean class
of little folks, all dressed in their best clothes, standing



64 WALKS ABROAD.

in a row, reading, oh so charmingly, from books held in the
left hand, and which they didnt have to look at at all?

And this was called teaching reading.

The woman who did this thing told me, recently, that,
now she has come to realize the enormity of her work
with that class, she has never dared even to pray for for-
giveness; and whenever she meets one of the pupils whom
she so ignorantly abused, she is fain to call on the rocks
and mountains to fall upon her!

Perhaps her "punishment to fit her crime" may some
time be to sit for ages and ages, and be compelled to
listen to the stumblings and baitings of persons whose
instruction in this branch of learning has been elocu-
tionary drill to the neglect of sight reading!

But then, in all professions it is apt to be pretty hard
on the patients of the ones who are learning the trade.
Who was that celebrated surgeon that performed a very
delicate and critical operation upon a lady's eye, and who,
being complimented on his marvelous skill, replied: " Oh,
but you should see the bushels of eyes I ruined while
learning to be so skillful ! "

And so I was glad to find the greatest of care in the
supervision of the pupil teachers in this school.

As I have already said, the course is four years, and
the normal students are not permitted to teach at all in
the training department until the last half of the second
year; and it is not until the fourth year that they are per-
mitted to have entire charge of a class, and hear recita-'
tions unattended by some professor of the school. This
guards the danger very well; and, judging from what I
saw, reduces the evil well toward the vanishing point. 1

But some of the ways of this school are things to
smile at, from our point of vision. For instance, in most
of the rooms I visited in the training department, where



MEXICAN CLASS-ROOM WORK. 65

recitations were going on, the teacher was smoking his
cigarette as he heard the boys recite; and, not to distract
his attention too much from his work, he had one of the
boys of the school standing near at hand, whose business
it was to " scratch a match " for him whenever his cigarette
went out, or he wished to light a fresh one.

To perform this service for the teacher was a great
honor rather than a disgrace, and in some of the rooms,
at least, I learned that it was the special prerogative of
the best boy in the school to thus be a torch bearer for his
chief.

It was also interesting to me how this position of
best-boyship was determined in some of the rooms. I do
not know how general the method is, but this was the
■modus operandi in at least one room I visited:

The teacher gives the pupils, from time to time, and
for various credits, bits of paper called vales, much like
" rewards of merits " that we used to get " in the old days
when I was young." Now when a boy becomes the law-
ful possessor of a number of these vales, they are his, to
do with as he pleases; and here is what he pleases to do
with them:

Everybody gambles in Mexico, and the boy who
aspires to become the best boy in school resorts to this
practice to gain the coveted position. And this is the
way of it: If he happens to be a clever reader, for instance,
he will challenge some member of his class to a reading
match, each party to the contest to "put up" an agreed
number of vales to " come into the game," as it were, and
then they "read for the pile !"

The teacher is also made particeps criminis, and to him
is given the position of umpire, or referee; though upon
this condition, that, if both boys succeed in readinrj the
5



m WALKS ABROAD.

lesson .perfectly, then the teacher must give to each of
them a number of vales equal to the total number they
have both together risked. If one boy trips, and the
other does not, then the successful one "wins the pile;"
'.vhile if both fail, the teacher " rakes in the stakes."

In this way the position of best-boy-in-the-school is
striven for, and in this way only can it be won, for the boy
who has the greatest number of vales at the end of each
month is the best boy in school !

But, once won, like other high positions which are
gained by equally creditable means in more countries
than Mexico, great is the power and glory thereof. For,
not only can the best boy in school light cigarettes for his
teacher, but he becomes the monitor of the school room
when the teacher is hearing recitations.

And so, between match scratchings the best boy
patrols the aisles of the school room, calling the other
boys to order, here and there as occasion requires, and
recording in the note book, which the teacher furnishes
him for such purpose, the delinquencies and shortcomings
of any who fail to heed his warnings and exhortations to
correct behavior. And from the record he makes there is
no appeal. The teacher will sustain it, every time, as why
should he not, for is it not the handiwork of the best boy
in school !

Another perquisite of this high office of best boy is,
that at the end of every month he is given all the tops,
marbles, balls, knives, kite-strings, and whatsoever the
the teacher or monitor has taken away from bad boys
during the four weeks previous.

How different all this is from what we are used to
here in the states. In this civilized land our teachers talk
to the children about virtue being its own reward, and
other unattractive maxims of similar import. But what



MEXICAN CLASS-h'OOM WORK. 67

inducements arc these to make one strive for the position
of best boy in school ; and who can tell what might be,
even here, if a conglomerate pile of tops, and balls, and
marbles, and kite-strings, and whatsoever were held before
the eager eyes of our children as the prize to be awarded
at the end of every month to the fellow who could win
the most vaUs from his schoolmates and teacher?

And then think of the emoluments of ofBce that
would rise to one's vision under such circumstances. Once
installed as monitor, with autocratic power, what job lots
of tops and balls, etc., one might confiscate from the bad
boys, in the full assurance that they would be placed
where they would do the most good at the end of the
month ! If that school does not turn out a full quota of
Quays, or Wanamakers, or Brices, or Jay Goulds, one of
these days, then shall I loose my faith in the power of
educational training to mould character !

But, for all this — which seems to us so strange — I
never saw better class- work, anywhere, than I saw in the
training department of this normal school in Mexico.
The pupils were alert, prompt, obedient, and interested.

I heard one recitation in mental arithmetic which was
specially pleasing to me. It was a class of boys about
twelve years old. The teacher stood before them and
extemporized problem after problem, which involved the
special principle upon which they were then working,
which happened to be finding the area of rectangles, of
varied dimensions, with such complications as this: "How
many stone slabs, three feet long and two feet wide, would
it take to pave a court thirty feet long by eighteen feet
wide?"

As soon as the problem was announced the little fel-
lows, every one of them, went at it with knitted brows, all
the work being done mentally.



68 WALKS ABROAD.

And it was wonderful how rapidly they found correct
results. When a number had "raised hands" the teacher
called on some one to solve the problem orally. The
pupil would rise in his ]:)lace and first salute the
teacher by bringing his left hand to his forehead, and then
waving it forward, at the same time making a slight bow;
and then he would say, " Seiior, what are your com-
mands?" and then go on and solve the problem. There
were some mistakes, but the work as a whole was most
excellent.

To make sure that the work was not altogether a
"put up job" for the entertainment and delectation of
visitors, I asked the privilege of myself dictating a prob-
lem. This was most courteously granted, and the result
showed that the instruction reached to principles, and was
something more than mere parrot-like surface work.

In a word, the teaching done in this school struck me
as being as excellent in its results as any I have ever seen,
anywhere.

The school is semi-military, also, and all the pupils
have uniforms which they wear on special occasions.
Such occasions are frequent, as holidays, fete days, and
the like, are "as thick as blackberries" in Mexico.

But even this is made of much service to the boys
who attend this school; for, in order that they may be
neat and trim looking in thefr uniform, and when on
parade, they are held to the most rigid training regarding
their personal apparel and appearance every day at school.
Their faces and hands must be clean, their hair well
kempt, their clothes brushed, and their shoes blacked
every day. They are also held rigidly accountable for all
the belongings assigned to their care in connection with
their school work — their books, gymnasium outfit, gun,



MBA'I^'AN CLASS-Ji'OOM WORK. 09

etc., all of which tends to most excellent training, accord-
ing to my way of thinking.

It was a fine sight to see these three hundred or more
boys, from six to fifteen years of age, pay a visit to Diaz,
as they did on one of the days of late February or early
March. They came to school at the usual hour, eight in
the morning, all in uniforms, and as trim and neat looking
as proud and ambitious mothers could make them.

At the armory they received their guns, and what can
make a boy every inch a king equal to giving him a gun
to carry?

And every one, even the smallest, had his gun.

Then they formed into line, about half-past eight,
when, for some reason that I did not learn (perhaps it
was part of the plan, just to try the boys), there was a
halt in the proceedings; and for three mortal hours those
boys stood in line, though the sun was hot and beat
directly down upon them. It was a trying ordeal, surely.
But the boys stood it bravely, and for the most part held
their places in good form during all the slow passing
hours.

Finally, a little before twelve they got the word to
move, and away they went, a regimental band from Cha-
tultepec leading them, marching to the president's home,
which is about a mile from the school. Arrived there,
they were admitted to the residence, and the whole line
passed in review before the president, who shook hands
with every boy of them as they went by. Then they
marched back to school, where they broke ranks and went
home for the day, having been steadily in service for
between five and six hours.

Somehow I could not rid myself of the impression
that this experience was one that would be of lasting value
to the boys, in more ways than I can stop here to tell.



70 WALKS A BROA />.

This association of President Diaz with the children
of Mexico is a favorite act of his, and one of the means he
uses to keep himself in touch with the common people.
Thus, when the schools of the city closed the fall term, a
little before Christmas, a grand assemblage of all the
pupils of all the schools was held in the Alemeda for the
awarding of prizes, some 60,000 children being present.
The park was elaborately decorated with flowers, and
there were speeches and singing, etc., etc. Diaz presided,
and with his own hand delivered the prizes to the proud
and happy victors.

The president has succeeded in securing the passage
of a " compulsory attendance " law for the City of Mexico,
and it is rigidly enforced, the police of the city being the
truant officers thereof. This calls for large additions to
the school accommodations, but these are rapidly being
met under the skillful management of this marvelous head
of the Mexican government.

In a word, Mexico is rapidly coming to the front
educationally, as she is in other lines, and the magic name
that has conjured all these changes among what was sup-
posed to be a changeless people is Porfirio Diaz. Long
life to him !



''TILE ONLYr 71



"THE only;

Leaving Mexico to the tender mercies of her present
president, I turn my "walks abroad" once more into a
territory nearer home, where there are still multitudes of
men and things to " see " and talk about. In passing,
however, there is one reflection that comes to me from a
remark that I frequently heard while on Mexican soil :
"What would become of Mexico if Diaz should die, and
who would take his place ? "

This is a question worth asking, surely, and one that
the citizens of that republic need to keep well in mind ;
but the thought occurs to me that, should Diaz suddenly
be taken away, some one would be found who both could
and would take his place, with many chances to one in
favor of doing so successfully, great and able man though
the present president surely is.

Because, the fact is, that duplicates in any line of man-
hood are not nearly so hard to find in these days as they
used to be in the times when kings and other dignitaries
were supposed to be " the only " and truly great. Democ-
racy has given many a heretofore hidden human light a
chance to shine in the world, and it is amazing how bril-
liant some of these latent luminaries have become.

Indeed, it is no longer safe for anybody to declare
himself as " the only," for, as soon as he does so, some one
not only steps up and contests the validity of his claim,
but plucks his blushing honors from him before he has
time to say " who are you ? "

Why, I can remember, a couple of years or so ago,
when Zimmerman made a "world's record " on his wheel,



72 WALKS ABROAD.

which record was somewhere about 2:40, and we all envied
him his marvelous feat, and wondered if there could ever
be another like him 1 But he had hardly got his wind
after this greatest effort of his life, before along came
Windle and lowered the record, a half-dozen seconds or
so, at one fell stroke ; and then some one else put /iwi into
the background in the course of a week or ten days — some
heretofore unheard of fellow from Omaha, or Minneapolis,
or some other backwoods town in the wild and wooly
west ; a Swecj, I think he was ; anyhow, one out of the
great unknown — making a score clear and clean inside
the two-minute notch, and no one dares now to predict
how long even this limit will remain an ultimatum.

And so far as that first " world's record " is concerned,
the one we all once gaped at, I saw a " scrub race " of
boys, the other day, in which there were lads scarcely yet
in their teens who eclipsed it by some seconds.

Great is the stimulating power of a brilliant example
in the presence of uncurbed human ambition, and a fair
show and a free fight for everybody.

Nay, more than this, the infection seems to have
spread even to the brute creation, for Maude S. is no
longer Queen of the Turf, and John L. has forfeited his
right and title to the Championship of the World !

And so, I say, I suppose that, if Mr. Diaz should sud-
denly die, some one would be found who would take his
place, and perhaps eclipse even his brilliant and able
record. "The Lord advances and ever advances; always
the shadow in front, but always the reached hand of the
Almighty moving up the standard."

My reason for saying all this is the fact that, in my
walks abroad, now and again, I have observed divers and
sundry people ( and among them not a few school teachers,
hence this record in this particular place) who seem



''THE ONLY." 73

possessed with the idea that, in their several places and
positions, they are "the only," and that everything with
which they are now connected would at once go to the
" demnition bow-wows " if, for any reason, they should be
called upon, or compelled, to step down and out, so that
the places which now know them should know them no
more forever. But let these, et id ovine gams, grow modest
in the presence of the facts which I have just noted.

The truth is that there is no one man, or any set of
men, who carry this world either on their shoulders or in
their pockets ; and, in the main, the wheels will keep on
turning, right along, just as God has set them to turn, and
neither you, nor I, nor any of the rest of the neighbors, are
such important parts of the plan that, if we should drop
out, the whole concern would go to smash.

I take it that the philosophy of all this lies in the
fact that, in the eternal order of things, continual progress
is the everlasting law of existence ; and, since this is so,
whenever one becomes " the only," he has reached a
finality beyond which he will not go, because he does not
care to do so — does not hav'e to do so. And what one
does not have to do in this world he is apt to leave pretty
thoroughly alone.

And so this, " the only," state of mind leads any soul
that it possesses into the ways of death. It makes one
arrogant, domineering, bull-dozing. It is an attempt to
nullify the second commandment, which says to mankind,
"Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image," that is,
something that never changes. And when one becomes
" the only," in his own estimation or anybody's else, the
graven image epoch has arrived ; and when that comes
the sooner the turn is called the better.

And it will be called, so let us be modest.

Nearly every strike that has ever been inauguratecl



74 WALKS AUnOAlK

has had, as a main factor in its theory of its ability to
succeed, the idea that the strikers' were "the only," and
that no one could be found in all the world who could do
the work that they were doing. The failure of the great
bulk of these new phases of modern warfare shows how
greatly mistaken the people are who are possessed of this
fatuitous notion.

Doubtless we are great, but we are not " the only "
great.



"SPECIALTY BUSINESS."

I went to a play with a friend, a few evenings ago,
and we saw a lot of " Specialty Business," as it was put
down on the bill. I had never seen it before, and for the
most part I enjoyed it very much.

After the performance was over, my companion and
myself went to his room, and there we fell to talking about
what we had just seen. It transpired that he had seen
the company a great many times and was well posted on
their "business," and I very soon found that we had sat
the evening through with entirely different degrees of
pleasure. My friend remarked upon this, and finally went
on to say :

"That's one trouble with this 'specialty' work and
why it so soon grows stale ; you see it a few times, and
you see all there is in it, and after that it loses its charm
for you. There wasn't a single new thing to me in that
whole bill to-night, and 1 should have come out at the end
of the first act if I hadn't seen that it was all new to you,
and you were enjoying it so much."

I thanked him for his kindness, and then he went on :

" But, the fact is, this same sort of thing afflicts all



" SPEC I A L TY B US IN ESS." 75

actors, more or less. There was Barrett, who had his
specialty of skipping up the incline of a rising inflection
to the very top round of the ladder of tone, when he
wished to produce a startling stage effect ; and he had a
trick of perching on the very pinnacle of a climax till the
audience had to ' shoo ' him off with applause, as it were.
And there was McCullough who, on the other hand, would
go down, like McGinty, to the bottom of the vocal sea,
whenever he was fathoming a strong dramatic situation.
But these were tricks, both of them. And they all have
them."

And then he cited Clara Morris, who always threatens
to " skewer her brains " with a hair pin, no matter what the
play may be ; and Maggie Mitchell, who never fails to
put the end of her bonnet string in her mouth ; and Pat
Rooney, who would always preface an encore with an
address to the orchestra : " Put me up a few bars while I
catch my breath," — and so on, till our cigars were out,
and we went to bed.

After I got to bed, I fell to thinking of what my friend
had said, and I very soon discovered that actors are not
alone in this offending ; for I remembered that I had heard
preachers who must needs plead guilty to the same charge,
and some teachers, even, who would have trouble in
proving an alibi if brought to trial on this count.

I remembered, too, that I had heard Mr. Beecher use
the same illustration four several times, on four different
occasions, and each time when speaking on a theme en-
tirely different from that which formed the subject of his
discourse when I heard him use the figure before.

And then I became dimly conscious of certain sins of
my own, of a similar nature ; but the subject was not
pleasant ; and as I always like to go to sleep happy, I
did my best to think of something else, and succeeded



76 WALKS ABROAD.

so well that I was shortly dreaming as an honest man
should.

The next day I went to a teachers' institute in a little,
common-size country town, and, strange to say, I came
across the same thing there again.

The institute was made up of a wholesome and healthy
lot of country school teachers, marms and masters, and


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Online LibraryWilliam Hawley SmithWalks abroad and talks about them → online text (page 5 of 16)