The Children of the Nation, September 1912

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<Ladies Home Journal>

The Needs of Children <of the Nation>

If I were asked to state in one sentence my opinion of the needs of American children in city and country, I should be inclined to say that city children needed to be protected from the overstimulation due to their daily experiences and that country children needed to be aroused to an intelligent understanding of their surroundings. Looking at <modern> education very broadly we find within it these two trends: the city child is given nature study, by means of a tadpole in a glass jar or of a plant growing in a pot if open ponds and school gardens are not available, that his attention may be drawn from the noisy activity of the streets to the great processes of quiet growth; he is taught to work in wood and iron with simple hand tools that he may acquire some other notion of industry than that of a factory full of whirring machinery and noisy trip hammers driven by stream; the advanced educator dealing with the distracted city child endeavors to simplify life, to reduce it to its lowerst terms, to give his pupil a clue by which he may trace man's earlier and <more> geniune experiences.

The newer education introduced into the rural schools strives on the other hand to increase the child's interest in the life around him, to which he has often become indifferent through his very familiarity, and then to connect him through those newly aroused interests with as many other people as [page 2] possible. The plan would make rural life more interesting and at the same time break up its isolation. The simple lessons in agriculture in the spring term at school, start the boy to growing corn under the most approved conditions; in the fall he brings not only the "ripened ear" but the tall stalks as well to the corn carnival where those who win the township prizes go with their trophies for higher recognition at <to> the County Fair. Incidentally, the boy's experience may mean that the care of the seed corn the rotation of the cornfield, and the system of plowing on his father's farm have <are> all been changed.

The country boy whose arithmetic and book-keeping lesssons have had to do with the cost of feeding a cow in relation to the sale of the milk she produces, may quite easily convince his father that he is losing money every day he keeps his inferior herd of cows in spite of all his hard work and the demands of the neighborhood creamery. The boy and his father may begin a system of farm book keeping, much more complicated than the book-keeping of the counting room and much more closely allied with scientifc experiment. Such a boy consciously thinks "When I grow up, I will do this thing with my cattle," and ceases to think "When I grow up, I will work in an office in the city."

Similar teaching for the girls in dairying, horticulture and house keeping has certain counties markedly transformed the interests of country children. In one of the county high schools, before such instruction had been introduced, a class of severty-nine girls and seventy-four boys were asked what they proposed to do when they finished school. All but twelve boys and all but sixteen girls "wanted to go to the city" as a preliminary step to various career. Two years after imropoved methods of teaching throughout all of the schools in the same county, had been established, a smiliar [page 3] number of children replying to the same question almost exactly reversed the proportion of the answers. Only fifteen boys and only ten girls wanted to live in the city; the rest, after courses at the State University in agricuture, science, and household economics wished to develop "the possibilities of country life, in America." The great agricultural schools in this country were made possible by an act of Congress passed in July 2nd, 1862, advocated by President Lincoln in the darkest days of the Civil War; and again in 1887, during President Cleveland's administration, Congress passed the appropriaton for agricultural experiment stations in every state of the Union. The tremendous enthusiasm for agricultural education which at the present moment is fast reaching the remotest rural school and revivifying country life in American is nourished and directed from the federal and state departments of Agriculture. Although our common schools must always remain under local management, it is impossible to detach the remotest little red schoolhouse from the pulsing life of the nation.

A counterpart of this rural education is urged by educators all over <from> the national <city.> They would open continuation and trade schools like those which have been so widely established in Germany and have produced such marked effect upon the growth of German Industry. It seems wise that these schools, like the first agricultural schools, should be started by the state. There is no doubt that at one time the ideals of the American business man fairly captured our public schools and that the graduates of one class after another hoped to be clerks, book keepers, stenographers and office boys as if the entire country were one huge business undertaking. It is most important that these new schools should not be dominated by the manufacturer. While educators want the city child, who enters industry to have [page 4] industrial training, they wish it to be given him from the point of view of his own development and not from the point of view of cheaper skilled labor. At the present moment the boys in the Reform School have the best chance at an industrial education.

Quite recently I received a lerrer from a bewildered mother in a neighboring state, asking if her "wayward boy" might not be taken to a hospital to have "that portion of his brain removed which made him so crazy for machinery." She was not surprised to hear that he was in jail in Chicago for having stolen an automobile in order to take it apart, because from the time he was little, he had taken to pieces the family clock, sewing machine and carpet sweeper to see how they worked. Upon investigation we discovered that the judge himself was convinced that the boy had merely borrowed the automobile to examine a newly patented cylinder, but we were forced to agree with him that such a boy could only find his salvation in an education as a mechanic and that the place he could best secure it was in a state reform school. The judge reluctantly sent him there where he is said to be contented when at work in the machine shop, but what a commentary upon our educational system!

An investigation was recently made of one hundred <the> boys confined in the jail at Chicago, of whom there were <had been during the year> 1153 between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, all the younger boys having been sent to the Juvenile Court. It was quite pitiful to find that almost every boy had been engaged in an occupation which he "hated" and that a very few had really followed <taken> the line of their natural interests.

Many cities, following the example of Boston, are establishing vocational bureaus, in which experienced people try to find places for the children who leave school early, in those occupations which offer a future [page 5] and a stimulus to further study. In such bureaus, the child's own taste is consulted as far as possible, his parents and his teachers are interviewed in regard to his capabilities, and the foreman or employer is induced to take an interest in him.

Even very poor parents are often willing to make a sacrifice of the child's immediate earnings when they are convinced not only that more education will give the child a better start, but that through more preparation he will soon bring more money into the household. Last year, in a little trade school at Hull-House, twenty girls were taught the elements of dressmaking, not frm the domestic standpoint but from that of a dressmaking establishment, that they might begin at a wage of four or five dollars a week for actual sewing, instead of two or three dollars a week for running errands for a year or more. The Italian parents who supported their daughters during six months of this preliminary trade training, often felt keenly the loss of the wages which the girls might have earned at once in a shop where they would have been finishing over and over again one part of a ready made garment <but would have learned nothing>.

At Hull-House, we constantly see promising boys and girls grow discouraged in one unskilled occupation after another. We know that 90% of these untrained children will always remain unskilled laborers, which means that throughout life there wages will average less than six hundred a year, and that a second generation of chidlren will in turn go prematurely to work with under nourished physique and under developed faculties.

Closely allied to the problems of education therefore is the question of child labor. Quite as education has come to be regarded from the national standpoint, so it has been found necessary to organize a National Child Labor Committee, that the subject may be studied in relation [page 6] to illiteracy, to health and to manufacturing interests. All over the country there is a growing sense of discomfort and compunction on the part of conscientious people in regard to this premature exploitation of little children, <which> of course, cannot be confined by state lines. Although children are prohibited from working in the glass factories in our own state, we have no guarantee that the glassware we are using every day has not been carried to hot furnaces in other states by thinly clad little boys, working at night, who easily contract pneumonia in the quick transition from overheated rooms into the chill night air; nor do we know that our coal has not been sorted by "breaker boys", deprived not only of play and education, but of the very light of day, sure to become a burden to the community later, as our poorhouses are already filled with paupers who, as overworked children, consumed the vitality which should have made them vigorous men.

In addition to these national efforts for the education and protection of children is still another movement, with its national organization and representation in many parts of the country, for although the Playground Movement was begun for city children, it is now endeavoring to bring clean sport and the training in team work to the children in the country as well. The child brought up on a remote farm is often at a disadvantage in later life because he has never learned to do things easily with other people, he is inclined to be "set in his ways" and to lack alertness and the ability to accommodate himself to new situations. He does not need organized play for the sake of fresh air and exercise, as city children do, but even more than they, he needs companionship and the discipline of keeping the rules of the game. [page 7]

He also needs help in his more passive pleasures. The [widespread] movement to protect the city child from the harmful influence of moving pictures which deal with suggestive and brutalizing themes has resulted, in Chicago, in the <repression> of one hundred and thirteen miles of films during the past year. But because the censorship had no jurisdiction outside of the city, the rest of the country suffers for the virtues of Chicago, as it were. The rejected films are exhibited in smaller towns and villages, where there is frequently no regulation whatever. Through the efforts of the Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago, two and a half million postal cards have been destroyed, fifty thousand obscene photographs and thousands of salacious novels, but no one knows how many of these of a similar sort are being sold in small places. Certainly the moving picture show is a great boon to the country and can be made a source of education as well as entertainment, if it is under supervision. A well lighted room for the show should be insisted upon, and in spite of the protests of the operator, it can be done by the aid of a device costing about twenty-five dollars. Public dance halls in the cities are much more carefully regulated each year. But commonly the young people in the country are either prohibited from dancing altogether or else they dance with a lack of decorum which no dancing master would tolerate. When the rural schools adopt the calisthenics and folk dances in which thousands of city children are now trained, the standard of group dancing will be so advanced that even the most careful parent could not object.

None of these changes, however, will come about of their own accord. The needs of the children in each locality must be carefully [page 8] studied, and who, after all, can do this so well as the women -- the teachers and mother, -- and then these needs must be met, so far as the resources of the community permit. Above all older people must not forget a child's love for adventure and romance, nor fail to keep in mind the child's suggestions for his own needs.

The generations do not follow each other in orderly rank but are grouped in families, young and old together, that they may not only love and cherish each other, but also teach and modify each other. While it is the business of each generation -- and above all of the women -- to hand on to the children the finest experiences which life has brought we must also remember that swift footed youth ever walks by a light of its own and that only as the elders catch its gleam will the path leading into the future be revealed to them. For the future belongs to the young and "The light they walk in darkens sun and moon and star."

The Children's Bureau, so recently opened in Washington with a woman, Miss Julia C. Lathrop, at its head, was established because of the obvious necessity of bringing together the child's varied interests, his education, his play, and his work, and of regarding them all from a broad and national standpoint. [page 9]

Ladies Home Journal.

The Children of the Nation.

sent Sept. 1912