What Should Our Schools Do for Boys and Girls of 14?, September 22, 1912


What Should Our Schools Do for Boys and Girls of 14?

By Idah McGlone Gibson

Nineteen out of twenty boys and girls leave school when they are 14. And nearly all of them proceed to look for work. Year after year the public schools of America dump this youthful product on their various communities, and in the slow process of absorption there is difficulty, peril and tragedy.

For the first time the boys and girls face Life -- which is mostly Labor -- and they must find places where they fit. If the boy and the job meet -- or the girl and the job -- it probably means a useful and happy life. But our society is clogged with misfits and derelicts of both sexes, whose failure dates from their fruitless search for the Right Work after leaving school.

With these thoughts in mind, I turned to two women who rank high among the most famous and successful educators in America. And here is what they say regarding this great problem.


Says Ella Flagg Young, Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools.

"How would you make the schools of more use to the scholar who must leave them at 14?" I asked Ella Flagg Young.


"That means," she answered, "to the child who must work for a living. I would give them more vocational training. From 12 to 14 I would have almost their entire time given to vocational pursuits. Last year we allowed children of 10 years to take up manual training for a half a day at a time, and, much to our surprise, we found that they were able to keep up the standard in their general studies with those who did no manual training work at all.

"Vocational training will have much to do with the success of the schools of the future. We have paid too much attention to preparing our boys and girls for college instead of preparing them for life. Our whole school system is founded on this idea, although we know that 95 per cent of the scholars leave school at 14. Even in our teaching of English we are depending too much upon the requirements of the Latin grammar. The English language is a living language, and as such is changing every day, and this will have to be taken into account before very long.

"Every child in the public schools should be taught at least the rudiments of a vocation. Two years ago I tried to persuade the board of education of Chicago to create a walking delegate teacher to be attached to each one of the schools. The business of this person, who would have to be selected with great care, would be to visit all the factories, machine shops, store and other commercial activities within a radius of three miles of a school, interest the proprietor of each in this educational project and ask him what he would require in the child making application for work in his establishment. These different vocations could be placed before the children or talked over with the mothers and fathers and a choice could be made, after which the child should be taught during the last two years at school only along lines which especially fitted him for this kind of work in life."

"Wouldn't this mean almost individual teaching?" I asked, "and wouldn't it take a good many more teachers than we have now to fit these children for the different occupations."

"I don't think so," she answered. "A friend of mine recently returned from the famous Italian school of Madame Montessori, where she found forty-five pupils, each one doing something different, and only one teacher to look after them.

"If a child is doing something which interests him, he does not need to be prodded to do his work every moment. It is only when he attempts to teach children things in which they are not especially interested that they need constant surveillance of their methods.

"The Chicago board of education turned down my plan, however, but I shall bring it up again in the near future in a little different form, and I hope to try it out in the Chicago schools."


Says Jane Addams, Head of Hull House and Famous Social Worker.

"Do our public schools [teach] the child who must make his own way in the world things which are of great material benefit?" I asked Jane Addams.

[image] JANE ADDAMS.

"I do not know that I think differently from any of those who are giving their minds to the education of our children," she replied. "One and all, they seem to think that the manner of teaching, at last, should be changed.

"I think we should give more attention to teaching the child to do things before we begin to teach him abstract things. The education of his hands should begin with, or even before, the education of his brain.

"From six to ten years of age the child is always interested in doing things. Abstract thought means little to him. His brain only means to him action and its motive. A girl likes the little tasks about the house, and a boy is always building something.

"It is then that the child's bent of mind should be fostered. Instead of this, however, the moment a child goes to school his hands learn to be idle and all his time is given to the mastery of reading, writing and arithmetic -- things which are very essential and necessary, but which, when taught to the exclusion of any manual labor, tend to make our young people despise our most glorious heritage -- work.

"I would like to see that the duties of everyday life are first taught to children. Girls should be taught housekeeping, the care of children, dressmaking and other domestic employment, and the boys should be taught to make things with their hands that are of everyday use.

"That this manner of education must come because it is fundamentally the basis of making the right kind of citizens, can be illustrated by a story that was told me by a young teacher in a country school situated in a fine farming district.

"At the beginning of the summer term the children were asked what they intended to become when they grew up. With the exception of two 35 of the boys, who averaged about 9 years old, were going to be rich merchants, doctors, lawyers, etc. One and all turned their thoughts to the over-crowded businesses and professions of the city.

"Their young teacher, with rare discernment, asked one boy to find out how much his father's cow was worth, how much milk it gave and what percent of profit it made after deducting its keep. Others were asked to do the same things with a field of corn, wheat, oats, hay or potatoes. Still others were told to look up the relative cost of farming with the best machinery to that of doing it in the old way.

"Every day that teacher had something new and interesting to offer about the farm. Arithmetic was studied only to work farm problems, composition class became a series of farm themes, even the poetry studied in the literature classes were pastoral in character.

"At the end of the summer school another vote was taken, and the figure were exactly reversed. Of the 35 boys there were only two who were not going to be farmers. 

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