The Humanizing Tendency of Industrial Education, May 1904

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Hull-House, Chicago.

There is no doubt that the school children educated under the present "manual training" system will in the end have a very different attitude toward labor and toward those who work with their hands, from the attitude which most of us, who were educated under the old régime, unconsciously hold.

A child from an "advanced school" will have reproduced and in a measure reinvented the processes of spinning and weaving from the savage apparatus of a few sticks of wood to a colonial wheel and loom of his own manufacture. Such a child will never see a piece of cloth without a certain recognition of the historic continuity of effort, of the human will and ingenuity which lie back of it; but better still perhaps such a child, having learned something of the lives of textile workers for thousands of years and the part which daily habit and occupation has played in human development, will be interested perforce in the textile workers of the present moment and will know how superficial an education must be which is not based upon and adapted to the industrial life of its age. He will seek to know the lives of workmen, their habits, needs and hopes, not in a [page 2] [image  THE TEXTILE ROOM, HULL-HOUSE]

[page 3] [image IRISH WOMAN SPINNING]

philanthropic spirit of offering them "educational advantages," but in the much more democratic desire to test the usefulness and validity of his own knowledge that it may run on all fours and be fitted to contemporary needs.

These young people may at length be able to restore a genuine relation between the workman and the scholar without all the groaning of spirit which now afflicts the classically educated individual, when he attempts to restore a balance between the cultivation of his hand and brain. These children are growing up all about us, and in the meantime there is much preaching of the doctrine of this new education, and some of us have at least learned its creed, and when challenged can give reasons for our faith. It is perhaps because of this that in Chicago where the new education [page 4]


has long been urged, where the schools of Colonel Parker and John Dewey were founded upon the recognition of the educational value in industrial development, that a large body of teachers was found who were willing to be identified with the central body of labor composed of men trained in industry. Is this body of teachers merely anticipating a changed attitude of mind which must become daily more general as the new education makes its way? May we hope that in time it may teach us to search for the skill and workmanship which lie hidden in the large foreign colonies forming so great a proportion not only of our cities but in increasing numbers of the smaller towns? The pity of the present situation is that with the children thus prepared [page 5] [image RUSSIAN WOMAN SPINNING] to understand, we do so little to bring them into contact with those who so sorely need this understanding.

A peasant does not cease to be a peasant when he gets into a ship and crosses the ocean, and yet in all the revival of "peasant industries" from Ireland to Russia none of them has as yet taken place among these transplanted peasantry. It would be a comparatively easy matter to bring this about, and the Hull-House shops and the little experiment of the Labor Museum are chiefly interesting because they represent an early attempt in this direction. The shops have afforded a place with materials and tools to "old country workmen," metal workers from Russia and Bohemia, potters from Germany, woodcarvers and glassblowers from Italy, and have also afforded to these workmen a [page 6] [image ITALIAN WOMAN SPINNING] chance to teach not only classes of children, but of adult Americans who were anxious to claim for themselves something of this old-time skill.

A glimpse of the Hull-House shops on a busy evening incites the imagination as to what the ideal public school might offer during the long winter nights, if it became really a "center" for its neighborhood. We could imagine the business man teaching the immigrant his much needed English and arithmetic and receiving in return lessons in the handling of tools and materials so that they should assume in his mind a totally different significance from that the factory gives them, as the resulting product would possess for him the delicacy and charm which the self-expression of the workers always implies. Even the cant phrase of the "dignity of labor" might [page 7] receive a new meaning. The kitchen, which every ideal school possesses, could give opportunity for Italian women to teach their neighbors how to cook the delicious macaroni, such a different thing from the semi-elastic product which Americans honor with that name. The peasant soups, the national dishes which old European travelers boast about, could with a little care be discovered and revived. To learn to speak English would be a comparatively easy thing for an Italian woman while she was handling kitchen utensils and was in the midst of familiar experiences -- it would be a very different matter from learning it in the cramped, unnatural position which sitting at a child's school desk implies, using a book with a sense of bewilderment.

Their desire to learn to make "American clothes for the children" could easily be gratified by kindly American women who realize how slow the Italian women are to adapt their children's clothing to this severe climate and how bitterly they suffer illness and loss because of this lack of adaptation, but in return the American woman would receive demonstration of the early textile methods, little exhibits of petticoats and kerchiefs such as would make her own clothing look cheap and uninteresting. She would receive a lesson in "the estimating of wealth in terms of life" which would be worth ten chapters in Ruskin or as many lectures on "the Consumers' League."

More than that, the American woman would have issued forth from her own experience into the understanding of some one who spoke a different language, whose life had been spent in widely divergent activities. She would have been able to do this through that quickened historic perception and that enlarged power of human intercourse which is supposed to divide the cultivated person from the limited person, the cosmopolitan from the provincial. It would really be a large return for her simple service to the Italian woman.

If we imagine these activities going on in the public school of the future, it would, of course, be equipped with swimming baths where the famous divers of the Bay of Naples could well give lessons to the rest, as indeed the workmen often do now in the school gymnasiums. It is not difficult to see that the peasant, the newly arrived emigrant, would have an opportunity to "teach" his American neighbor which the present evening school, supplied almost solely with the apparatus for reading and writing, utterly denies to him. The average American firmly believes that in order to know European life he must cross over to Europe, and he remains perfectly oblivious to the fact that at least in its essential industries, in its historic implication and charm, it has already crossed over to us.

The Labor Museum at Hull-House has been able to put into historic sequence and order ten methods of spinning, from the Syrian to the Norwegian, and almost as many methods of weaving. These have all been collected from the resources of the neighborhood itself, not that spinning and weaving may be taught, but that their development may be demonstrated by reproduction of the actual processes, so that the many young people who work in the tailoring trades, who make neckties and who knit underwear, may have some idea of the material they are handling and of its connection with the long effort of their parents and grandparents.

So long as so-called cultured Americans judge "foreigners" from the most superficial standpoint and without any attempt to know them from the historically industrial standpoint, we can scarcely be surprised that the children of the foreigners quickly grow ashamed of them because they do not speak English nor wear department store clothes. That narrow standard of judgment is responsible for much loneliness, bitterness of spirit and strained affection, and digs ever deeper that gulf between father and sons which might be avoided did we but realize the humanizing power, the healing which lies in genuine industrial education.

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