Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/579

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be said on both sides, and we have no doubt the soundest arguments will prevail in the end.




A few weeks ago a most extraordinary story appeared in the daily papers of this city—a story of a panic that had occurred in one of our public schools in consequence of a statement made by a little girl that she had seen the devil coming into the building. It was at the hour of the noon recess, and the boys and girls were in their respective playrooms. No sooner had the words been uttered than all the girls in the room were seized with abject terror and began to scream in a frenzied manner, begging and praying to be saved from the fiend. The boys, whose room adjoined that of the girls, heard the shrieks and became almost equally terror-stricken. When the teachers appeared on the scene they could not for some time learn what the cause of the excitement was, so hysterical had the whole mass of the children become. Shortly a crowd gathered round the building, largely composed of women who had children in the school, and who, when they heard that the devil had appeared on the premises, became perfectly frantic themselves. The police having been sent for took possession of the building, and with considerable difficulty peace was finally restored.

It would appear from this that the devil superstition is not quite so extinct in the community as most of us perhaps have been in the habit of believing. It seems the children had been frightening one another for some time previously with stories of the devil, ghosts, etc., so that there had been a certain preparation for the panic that finally broke out. This is a matter, we think, in which teachers might very properly interest themselves a little. It does no small child good to believe in a devil capable of donning the conventional horns and tail and starting out on errands of destruction; and it is not probable that any important theological doctrine could be upset if children were told that such a devil was really a negligible quantity. There ought to be some way of talking even to very young children which would tend to take their thoughts off ghostly mysteries of all kinds, and concentrate them on what is beautiful and interesting and healthful in the world around them. The true corrective to devil worship—and all fear of the devil is a kind of worship—is the study of Nature and of the powers inherent in Nature. It should not be difficult to make children feel that there is really no scope left for the devil in the world as we know it to-day. Of course, if their parents or Sunday-school teachers, on the other hand, tell them that the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, the more wholesome teaching which we are advocating may be so far antagonized. No effort should, however, be spared in the public schools to put all the thoughts of the children on a natural and rational basis, and thus as far as possible to secure for them immunity against hurtful and degrading superstitions. This incident should be taken to heart by teachers generally, as showing the importance of knowing what thoughts are really engaging the minds of their pupils. The devil has had his day—he had a good thousand years of human history pretty much to himself—and there is really no impropriety in trying to keep him out of the schools of modern New York.