Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/307

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303
THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SCHOOL

to poison the atmosphere for those who are kept decent. All these children, breathing an insufficient quantity of more or less polluted air, are in many instances cramped into penitential desks, ten minutes' stay in which provokes intolerable restlessness, and are told by a much overworked teacher, also ill-supplied with a like bad quality of air, to keep still and to do a uniform task, a task which is too easy for some, too hard for others, and mainly distasteful to all. The teacher does her best; the pupils do better than one would suppose; both are victims of ill-planned conditions. Nothing superior to rigid discipline and unvaried tasks can be thought of when sixty little individualities, bursting with life and spirits, must be dampened into order and dragged forward somehow into that formidable next grade by an overwrought teacher whose work is judged solely by its outward results.

The inevitable outcome of such conditions, especially with growing girls and the teacher herself, is headache, nervousness, ill-temper—all the present and future ills which lurk in this Pandora's box of bad hygiene and overcrowding. Moreover, to serve as an antidote, we find in most cases nothing but some listless calisthenics, monotonous marching, and aimless romping in a bricked back-yard. So much do most schools contribute towards that foundation of a useful life, good health. Alertness, vigor, dexterity, self-command, individuality, can hardly develop out of such anti-natural conditions as these. The boy may be vigorous, alert and dexterous; but it will be in spite of the school, it will be because his life outside the schoolroom, that life which he loves, is full, as the school life is devoid, of the means to encourage those admirable and necessary qualities.

And those other virtues which the employer of young men is always seeking and so seldom finds, for which municipal life is crying out, without which the nation will perish—does one get them, as a rule, because of or in spite of the public school training? Does the setting of uniform tasks, with penalties for their neglect, either uniform or gauged by the passing temper of the teacher, develop an eagerness to work and a delight in labor? Do wholesale lessons explained by wholesale to sixty children, each one of whom has a different mind-content, a different means of apprehension, each of whom needs, therefore, special leading over every new difficulty—do these tend to promote readiness, quickness and alertness? Nothing, on the contrary, could be better calculated to dry up that intense eagerness to know, that grasping after new ideas, which most children come to school with and which, alas! so many go away without. Do desiccated text-books, rote work, graded lessons, the whole abominable system of yearly promotion, result in that quickness of adaptation, that fertility of resource, which are the very soul of civilization? Is honesty encouraged by the usual school discipline and methods? Does truth-telling always plainly get