Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/October 1882/Industrial Education in Public Schools

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 21 October 1882  (1882) 
Industrial Education in Public Schools
By H. H. Straight

By Professor H. H. STRAIGHT.

THERE is a growing feeling among the students of industrial problems that our whole conception of education in general, and of industrial training in particular, needs revision and enlargement. This feeling is based upon such easily observed facts as the following:

1. Paupers are on the increase.

2. Our schools too often educate their pupils out of harmony with their environment, thus justifying the charge that education (falsely so called) unfits its possessors for useful industry.

3. The simpler and less important positions in the world's work-shop are as a rule greatly overcrowded, while in the upper stories there is a vast amount of unoccupied space.

4. The work done in the lower stories is often exceedingly shabby.

5. Many who aspire to the upper stories fail to enter—or, if they apparently enter, soon end in failure.

6. The chosen few who truly enter, and build up magnificent industrial fabrics, with the splendid fortunes which such fabrics imply, fail to educate their children to carry on their good work, or to do work of similar value in some other department of useful industry.

7. A whole community of prosperous workmen may be well-nigh reduced to beggary by the incoming of some new invention, or by change in the fortunes or tastes of consumers.

8. When old industries are swept away, and new ones established on the wrecks, there is usually little power on the part of workmen to adapt themselves to the new conditions.

9. The relentless law of the survival of the shrewdest and most unscrupulous, instead of the Christian law of mutual consideration and co-operation, too generally prevails among individuals and all kinds of human organizations.

That all education should be industrial, and that everybody should be industrially educated, we believe to be a perfectly tenable proposition. For one to be industrially educated he must be in possession of the following elements:

1. An industrial disposition, which leads to a cheerful and even happy devotion to some chosen employment, as the avenue through which to make his contribution to the world's wealth.

2. Industrial knowledge—such general and special knowledge as will put him in possession of the best human experience in the direction of his chosen vocation.

3. Industrial power—such a development of physical, intellectual, and artistic power as will remove as far as possible the chances of failure, and, by giving a just consciousness of strength, will enable him to work always with the hope, and expectation of success.

Will not all admit that it is at least desirable that such education should become universal?

In the brief time at our disposal, we can scarcely outline the place the public schools should occupy in the development of such a scheme and in the accomplishment of such results.

How can the industrial disposition be fostered? How can industrial knowledge be most economically and efficiently imparted? How can industrial power be developed? How can the different classes of the world's workers be brought into intelligent sympathy?

These are the great questions pressing for solution upon society in general, and upon the teacher in particular. Probably no friend of industrial education would claim that farmers, mechanics, or artisans of any kind, as such, should be fitted for their special work in the public schools, any more than that these schools should undertake the training of physicians, lawyers, painters, sculptors, statesmen. The public schools should rather form the road leading up to the base of the mountain of industry and art, thence branching to the various heights of the special industries, each special height having at its base a special school to fit its students for its climbing.

As all classes of our people are to be citizens of one common republic, popular education must extend sufficiently far to prepare for the one great common industry of citizenship. The power to read, write, and cipher, may be destructive or helpful to good citizenship, according as it is or is not guided by an intelligence suffused with conscientious regard for the rights of all men. This intelligence and regard can be developed only as the work of the schools is based upon a sound platform of principle. We believe this platform can be made so broad, so catholic—that its inherent naturalness and divinity shall be so readily apparent—that men and women, who desire to make united effort for the good of all, can easily stand upon it.

In the first place, the schools must recognize the true nature and place of the industrial instinct: that it is the creative instinct; one of the profoundest of the human soul, and one of the earliest to manifest itself. The plays in which the child finds his greatest delight are all embryo industries. My little two-year-old, who with his blocks and sticks builds a barn for his rubber camel, is as truly creating as the architect who, with greater skill and knowledge, constructs a palace. Why should not the joy in producing, which forms so large a part of the child's happiness, be carried forward into the industries of maturer years, deepened and ennobled by a knowledge of industrial relations, by experience of the value of industrial products, and, above all, by the consciousness of duty done in the contribution made to human comfort and well-being? Give this instinct a proper development, join with it the best human intelligence and the best human benevolence, and you have the ideal man—the man perfect as his "Father in heaven is perfect."

In the second place, the schools must make a wise selection from the accumulated knowledge of the world. They must impart that knowledge which will enable their students intelligently to decide which one of the special heights of industry or art each is best fitted to climb. They must give that knowledge which will reduce to a minimum the difficulties in the way of change from one industry to another, often rendered necessary by the accidents of time and fortune.

All classes of citizens must have the knowledge which will form a basis for intelligent sympathy and appreciation among different classes of workers, and necessary to their action at the ballot-box, in order that each may recognize all as honorable and necessary, essential parts of one grand industrial whole.

In the third place, the public schools must develop general industrial power:

(a.) Physical Power.—They must take the best physiological knowledge the age affords, and under its guidance develop a body capable of enduring all the strains and fatigues likely to be brought upon it by at least the ordinary exigencies of life.

(b.) Intellectual Power.—They must impart the knowledge which it is their duty to give—according to the laws of mental assimilation—as discovered and interpreted by the best students of mental growth, to the end that mental dyspepsia may be avoided, and that the Best intellectual conditions may exist for the quick and accurate solution of at least the ordinary problems of life.

(c.) Artistic Power.—They must give such a development of the sense of the beautiful as will enable our people, not simply to enjoy the beautiful in the objects about them, but such as will give a finesse and finish x to whatever work they undertake, whether it be the culture of corn, the making of a coat, the building of a house, or the painting of a picture. Every workman should have, to the largest possible degree, the fine feeling of the artist, while every artist should be recognized as a working-man.

Over all this knowledge and these powers a conscience should preside that can say "ought" and "ought not" so loudly and distinctly that its commands can not go unheeded. This work is all to be done in the schools, through the ordinary subjects, properly related and taught.

I do not believe in multiplying subjects in our school curriculum. I believe most thoroughly in reducing them. Even among the old Greeks the time came when complaint was made that the children were pestered with a multitude of subjects, all thought necessary to a proper education, and accordingly all imperfectly acquired.

The territory and the time from which the Greek drew thought were but the merest fragment of that from which thought and material come pouring in upon the modern child. All ages and all climes are pouring their accumulated treasure and filth upon him. Selfishness and ignorance, backed by the hoarded wealth of generations, combine to force into his unwilling and aching mental stomach the products alike of malicious, shallow, and noble brains. The multiplication of subjects of study in the schools of ancient Greece was accompanied by a decline of mental vigor and spontaneity.

The only hope for our future lies in a wise choice of subjects for our schools—in a wise conservation and expenditure of the energies of our children. This multiplication of subjects, it seems to us, has grown out of a lack of proper appreciation of the essentials of the great departments of knowledge and their proper relations. What God has joined together, man, partly through ignorance and partly through desire of gain, has violently put asunder. Closely connected lines of study have been isolated. Great departments of thought have been cut up into petty fields, and then each little quarter-lot so covered by rubbish that teacher and pupil alike have been starved and enslaved when they ought to have been made vigorous and free through a knowledge of the truth. Industrial knowledge consists in acquaintance with industrial materials, processes, and relations.

Industrial materials are the various natural forces together with certain substances from the mineral, vegetable, and animal worlds. Industrial processes are those operations by which crude materials are converted into forms adapted to man's deeds. Industrial relations imply the mechanism of exchange, and all those considerations dealt with in political science. Let us consider briefly the possibilities of arithmetical teaching as a means of imparting solid industrial knowledge.

It was, doubtless, a great gain in teaching the elements of arithmetic when beans, corn, blocks, etc., were substituted for abstract statement. The principles stated and illustrated by Grübe, Horace Grant, Colonel Parker, and others, that a great variety of objects should be used in teaching number; that change from one class of objects to another sustains interest; that seeing and handling many classes of objects train the observing powers to make distinctions and classify things, are sound from the stand-points both of principle and practice. The illustrations used are all good; we only suggest what seems to us an improvement and a great gain.

During the last few years we have been experimenting with classes of children in a variety of ways. One general conclusion from these experiments is that number-lessons can be utilized in teaching children to recognize a large variety of industrial materials, and this too with a positive gain in interest and impressiveness to the work in number itself. Children can be taught in this way to recognize the common and useful trees by their leaves, fruit, wood, etc.; the common rocks, minerals, ores; the more important kinds of goods used in clothing.

The fragments to be had at the shops of the tailor, milliner, dressmaker, upholsterer, of any town, would supply, without cost, all the materials desired in this direction. Samples of these materials could be artistically arranged in numerical designs upon thin board or pasteboard and hung upon the walls for constant reference and review. It is no more difficult to say "two elm-leaves and three elm-leaves are five elm-leaves," "two sandstones and three sandstones are five sandstones," "two broadcloths and three broadcloths are five broadcloths," etc., etc., than to say "two blocks and three blocks are five blocks."

A second conclusion from our experiments is, that measures, weights, and moneys can be taught more efficiently than now, along with the early teaching of the fundamental arithmetical processes.

Number, the idea of the single and plural, enters into all our knowledge both of the external and internal worlds, from the time consciousness begins to act, until death. Our very first act of knowing is the recognition of a difference between two sensations. Distinguishing external objects into the single and plural—the one and the many, the little and the big—is one of the earliest lines of investigation for the infant and child. The work of the first few months of school-life is to bring this unconscious mathematical experience out into consciousness, and to give the child the beginning of the exact and quantitative method of study.

A child can very early learn to count twelve with the objects before him; can then learn to find the number of objects in a given group by counting; then by a single glance, when the groups do not contain a larger number than he has learned to count.

He can just as early and in the same connection learn to recognize an inch, two inches, twelve inches; can draw given numbers of lines of these lengths;^ can cut them out of paper, pasteboard, and wood. Similar work can be done with the foot and yard. Corresponding work can be done with the square and cubic inch and foot. The French measures can be used exclusively, or in connection with the English. Additions and subtractions can be performed with objects of these dimensions in the same manner as ordinarily with beans and blocks. The blocks may be made of wood of different kinds. Thus at the same time and with additional interest and effect there can be taught—1. The fundamental numerical operations; 2. The recognition of the useful woods; 3. The recognition of exact dimensions and proportions.

This last would lead at once into the investigation of the dimensions of the school-room, the objects in it, the parts of their own bodies, etc. The sense of dimension and proportion, generally so poorly cultivated, so important in numerous arts and industries, would thus receive an early and full development.

The constant drawing of these forms and dimensions, crudely at first, but more perfectly with practice, would lay an early and solid foundation for both mechanical and artistic drawing.

Why should not children early learn to mix paints and adorn their squares and cubes with the principal colors and their simpler hues and tints; then, with this as a foundation, go on to represent nature's simpler colors in the plant, animal, rock, and sky?

Thus not only would color-blindness be detected, but the color sense would be thoroughly developed, and the foundation laid in the knowledge and power given for successful work in numerous lines of industry. We would, then, urge the practicability of using common industrial materials, objects of definite dimensions, weights, colors, imagined values, as the objects by means of which to develop primary conceptions of number and of numerical operations—thus adding to the interest, saving time, and imparting industrial knowledge.

For advanced work in the development and application of arithmetical principles, we would use such simple scientific apparatus as we have on exhibition, or those materials which would lead at once into some principle of political economy. It is our conviction that during the time ordinarily spent by a class upon ratio and proportion, there can be given a better knowledge of these subjects, as such, than is ordinarily given; and in the same time there can be taught, by actual experiment, the law of action of the lever, the laws of vibration of the pendulum, the number of vibrations in each note of the musical scale, and still other important scientific principles. The pupil certainly will have at the end a tolerably correct idea of the mission of ratio and proportion in the scientific and commercial worlds. He will not be likely to make those failures in the application of simple arithmetical principles to scientific and commercial problems with which (I know from experience) he is at present justly credited.

The result of such a method would be to show definitely the place of mathematical science in the progress of civilization. The whole study would be dignified and glorified as is every kind of truth, when its true place and mission are discovered.

Do I hear you say, " This is all very fine in theory, but impossible in practice "? " We can not get the apparatus—we can not find the teachers "?

As for myself, I have no time for building castles in the air which can not be brought down to earth and built of solid material. Here are a few facts of positive knowledge: For a few dollars a working room or corner can be fitted up where all necessary apparatus can be made. There is no school whose boys and girls will not become enthusiastic in this kind of work, provided they have a little direction and encouragement of the right sort. The necessary funds for a beginning may be furnished by an exhibition, or by subscription of parties to whom the subject has been properly presented. It is our very positive conviction that for a much smaller sum than most people imagine there can be fitted up a school workshop in which the following results can be accomplished:

1. There can be made all the apparatus necessary to give a most excellent course in the elements of physical science.

2. There can be made, wholly or in part, blocks, weights, etc., whose use we have described.

3. Old bottles, test-tubes, tumblers, etc., can be graduated for the practical teaching of the liquid measures—each pupil having his own set of measures.

4. Easels, rules, etc., can be made for use in drawing.

5. Cases, shelves, brackets, etc., can be made for collections and for beautifying the room.

6. Pictures can be framed.

7. There can be made most, if not all, of the needed gymnastic apparatus, i. e., clubs can be turned, etc.

In short, the pupils can do a very large part of the work of properly fitting up the school-room, and this work can be so planned as to teach in the doing of it all the fundamental processes concerned in the various industries that deal with wood and metal. All this could be fitted into other lines of industrial work (sewing, modeling), and thus might be worked out a consistent and comprehensive scheme of general industrial training. Where are the teachers to be had? Let those who are giving their best thought to the problems of education first determine the sort of work that can and ought to be done in the schools, then let them submit their plans to the people through press and platform, and then reform the normal schools to suit the desires and demands of the people thus instructed. Consider for a moment what can be got out of a single piece of apparatus such as this system of levers:

1. There are the industrial processes concerned in its manufacture, making a smooth surface, a straight edge, a good joint, dividing the lever into equal parts, adjusting weights, little or more work with metal, according to taste and time—the wood may be finished in oil, varnish, or paint.

2. A good lesson in form can be given upon it.

3. It affords an excellent exercise in drawing. '- 4. There can be performed a series of simple experiments involving no mathematics. These may be made the basis of a series of simple language-lessons, the children observing the experiments and describing what is done and the results.

All this prepares the way for experiments involving arithmetical processes and leading to the law of the lever's action. I can imagine no better way of teaching ratio and proportion than through the results obtained from this series of experiment. The stimulus, interest, definiteness of thought coming from this method would more than compensate for the extra time.

5. The story of Archimedes and the discovery of the principle of the lever would interest a class of almost any age. Nothing could be better to cultivate language and develop the historical sense than the reproduction of such stories in oral and written speech.

This illustrates the uses to which I would put every piece of apparatus in our exhibit.

There is another very important item. The forms in which arithmetical quantities are actually put in commerce and science should be forms in which they come before the children in the schools. They should learn the ordinary business forms and operations, and should get a sense of the values of industrial products, in connection with their regular work in school.

These can be taught incidentally in connection with such language lessons as I have indicated—punctuation, forms of address, and nearly all the mechanism of writing, as ordinarily treated in works upon elements of composition and rhetoric.

During the last year, in my own teaching, I have had the reproductions of lessons in physics, geology, and natural history, put in forms of letters, advertisements, etc. The novelty added to the interest, while the many changes in the form of reproduction changed the point of view, stimulated thought, and caused the work, as a whole, to make a deeper impression.

The special value to the pupils of our schools, of the work involved in such an industrial course as we have indicated, would be:

1. The cultivation of observation and judgment, the discipline of hand and eye, obtained in this way, would not be second to that obtained in any other way.

2. The course in mathematics, together with the course in language and geography, could be made the means of acquainting them with those natural products and forces which underlie all industries and all arts.

3. They would learn in a general but efficient manner the fundamental industrial processes which underlie the more special processes of the common arts.

4. This general but genuine knowledge of materials, forces, and processes, will enable each student to choose, with a fair degree of intelligence, the industry for which he or she is fitted by special taste and power.

5. Such a course would make far easier than now the change from one occupation to another, which must ever remain an incident of growing industries.

6. It would give to each person, as employer, some power to judge of the work of the employed.

7. It would furnish a basis, in intelligence, for general sympathy and appreciation among different classes of workers.

8. The last and greatest good would be the cultivation of the industrial disposition, and the killing out of the absurd idea that our schools are free.

The schools simply represent society organized for the education of its children. Every stroke of work done in these schools has to be paid for, and at the proper time children should understand this fact, and should manifest their gratitude by doing all in their power for the betterment of the schools and the proper equipment of the rooms. This, I conceive, would form a most fitting introduction to the great industrial world, and would go far toward building up that spirit of industry and mutual helpfulness which should form the essential characteristic of the American citizen.

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  1. Read before the New York State Teachers' Association, Yonkers, New York, July 6, 1882.