Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/89

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85
THE SCHOOL AND THE FAMILY

knowledge that is so common leads the young people to assume a superiority which they may in no wise possess in the more sterling qualities. We greatly overestimate the value of the three r's, the two g's and the one s. People are what they feel and do, much more than what they know; in any case the residuum of knowledge surviving the eight years of the elementary school is pitifully small.

One must learn to read in self defense. If ninety per cent, of the population carry pistols, it will not do for the remaining tenth to go unarmed. And people should learn to read in order to preserve and pass forward the social heritage, which may some time be the endowment of all, and is now the necessary condition for selection of those competent to improve or enjoy this heritage. But the present advantages of reading to the average individual are small, while it is probably injurious to family life. The main benefit of reading for most people seems to be that it is a substitute for alcohol, in which excess does not lead to such harmful consequences. The effect of reading the newspaper or current novel is similar to that from a small dose of alcohol or opium; it relieves conscious strain and the burden of routine individuality. A weekly journal or an ounce of alcohol on Saturday evening would doubtless be better than illiteracy or abstinence; but people will not run themselves as machines subject to the laws of utilitarian hygiene. The Bible may be read aloud and give solidarity to the family and community; the city newspaper absorbs the individual in transient details, not fit to be talked about or remembered. . Its tawdriness distracts from homely interests. As a social factor, it is more likely to lead to national hysteria than to solid homogeneity.

There is relatively less to be said against writing and more in its favor. Its acquisition, while likely to be harmful to the immature nervous system, is less destructive than learning to read. What the average man reads is rarely worth while; what he writes is ordinarily of use. As a matter of fact, he writes very little, and could get on fairly well without that little. But of course, under existing conditions, every one should know how to write. I have found that practising on the typewriter for twenty minutes a day for two months, namely, a total expenditure of twenty hours, will enable people to write faster, not to mention legibility, than they could after eight years of schooling and twenty years of practising with the hand, though doubtless it is this practise that makes typewriting easy to learn.

It has become necessary for every one to deal with numbers and quantities, but it is a question as to how far the average man is helped in this by the school work in arithmetic, with the possible extension to geometry and algebra. One of the most persistent errors of our scholastic methods is the teaching of a child of a certain age with great labor and at the production of much stupidity what could be learned