Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/July 1884/The Fruits of Manual Training

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By Professor C. M. WOODWARD, Ph.D.,


THE object of this paper is to consider directly the fruits of manual training. By manual training I do not mean merely the training of the hand and arm. If a school should attempt the very narrow task of teaching only the manual details of a particular trade or trades, it would, as Felix Adler says, violate the rights of the children. It would be doing the very thing I have always protested against. That, or very nearly that, is what is done in the great majority of European trade-schools. They have no place in our American system of education.

The word "manual" must, for the present, be the best word to distinguish that peculiar system of liberal education which recognizes the manual as well as the intellectual. I advocate manual training for all children as an element in general education. I care little what tools are used, or how they are used, so long as proper habits (morals) are formed, and provided the windows of the mind are kept open toward the world of things and forces, physical as well as spiritual.

We do not wish or propose to neglect or underrate literary and scientific culture; we strive to include all the elements in just proportion. When the manual elements which are essential to a liberal education are universally accepted and incorporated into American schools, the word "manual" may very properly be dropped.

I use the word "liberal" in its strict sense of "free." No education can be "free" which leaves the child no choice, or which gives a bias against any honorable occupation; which walls up the avenues of approach to any vocation requiring intelligence and skill, A truly liberal education educates equally for all spheres of usefulness; it furnishes the broad foundation on which to build the superstructure of a happy, useful, and successful life. To be sure, this claim has been made for the old education, but, the claim is not allowed. The new education has the missing features all supplied. The old education was like a two-legged stool, it lacked stability; the new education stands squarely on three legs, and it is steady on the roughest ground.

I shall be better understood if I briefly outline my idea of the features of a manual-training school: Boys from fourteen to eighteen years of age are admitted on examination. The grade is about that of a high-school. The course covers three years. The programme of every day includes three recitations (mathematics, language, and science), one hour of drawing, and two hours of shop-work—making a session, exclusive of lunch-time, of six hours. The order in which these exercises come varies in different divisions. The shops and shop-instructors are generally occupied during school-hours. In each subject taught the instruction is progressive and thorough. Mathematics begins with arithmetic and ends with trigonometry. Language may be English literature and composition, history and political economy; or Latin, or French. Science, beginning with Huxley's "Introductory Primer," runs through botany, physical geography, elementary physics, mechanics, and chemistry. Drawing is free-hand and mechanical, projection and "model," geometric, technical, and ornamental.

The shop-work runs impartially through the range of bench, lathe, and pattern work in wood; forging, brazing, and soldering metals; bench, lathe, planer, and drill work in iron, brass, and steel. The aim is to make every exercise in every branch disciplinary—intellectually and morally fruitful. With the exception of the choice of Latin and French, there is no option in the course.

I claim as the fruits of manual training, when combined, as it always should be, with generous mental and moral training, the following:

1. Larger classes of boys in the grammar and high schools; 2. Better intellectual development; 3. A more wholesome moral education; 4. Sounder judgments of men and things, and of living issues; 5. Better choice of occupations; 6. A higher degree of material success, individual and social; 7. The elevation of many of the occupations from the realm of brute, unintelligent labor, to one requiring and rewarding cultivation and skill; 8. The solution of "labor" problems. I shall touch briefly on each of these points:

1. Boys will stay in School longer than they do now.—Every one knows how classes of boys diminish as they approach and pass through the high-school. The deserters scale the walls and break for the shelter of active life. The drill is unattractive, and, so far as they can see, of comparatively little value. There is a wide conviction of the inutility of schooling for the great mass of children beyond the primary grades, and this conviction is not limited to any class or grade of intelligence. Wage-workers we must have, and the graduates of the higher grades are not expected to be wage-workers. According to the report of the President of the Chicago School Board, about one and one eighth per cent of the boys in the public schools are in the high-schools. From his figures it appears that, if every boy in the Chicago public schools should extend his schooling through a high-school, the four classes of the high-schools would contain some nine thousand boys; in point of fact, they have about four hundred.

Superintendent Hinsdale, of Cleveland, says, "Of one hundred and eight pupils (boys and girls) entering the primary school, sixty complete the primary, twenty finish the grammar, four are found in the second class of the high, and one graduates from the high-school." In St. Louis the average age at which pupils withdraw from the public schools is thirteen and a half years. Now, I doubt if any reflecting person would consider it an unmixed good if every boy in the city should go through the high-school as it is at present conducted. Under the circumstances supposed all would probably admit that some change in the character of the instruction would be necessary.

From the observed influence of manual training upon boys and indirectly upon the parents, I am led to claim that when the last year of the grammar and the high schools include manual training, they will meet a much wider demand; that the education they afford will be really more valuable; and, consequently, that the attendance of boys will be more than doubled. Add the manual elements with their freshness and variety, their delightful shop exercises, their healthy intellectual and moral atmosphere, and the living reality of their work, and the boys will stay in school. Such a result would be an unmixed good. I have seen boys doing well in a manual-training school who could not have been forced to attend an ordinary school. If the city of Boston shall carry out this year, as I hope it will. Superintendent Seaver's plan for a public manual-training school for three hundred boys, there will be, in my judgment, one thousand applications for admission during the first three years.

2. Better Intellectual Development.—I am met here with the objection that I am aiming at an impossibility; that, if I attempt to round out education by the introduction of manual training, to develop the creative or executive side, I shall certainly curtail it of elements more valuable still; that the educational cup is now full; and that, if I pour in my gross material notions on one side, some of the most precious intellectual fluid will certainly flow out on the other.

Now, I deny that the introduction of manual training does of necessity force out any essential feature of mental and moral culture. The cup may be, and probably is, full to overflowing, but it is a shriveled and one-sided cup. It is as sensitive and active in its own defense as are the walls of the stomach, which, when overfed with ill-assorted food, contracts, rebels, and overflows, but which expands and readily digests generous rations of a varied diet. Did you ever see one whose mind was nauseated with spelling-books, lexicons, and grammars, and an endless hash of words and definitions? And did you, in such a case, call in the two doctors, Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel? And did you watch the magic influence of a diet of things prescribed by the former, and a little vigorous practice in doing, in the place of talking, under the direction of the latter?

The students of a well-conducted manual-training school are intellectually as active and vigorous as in any high-school. Nay, more, I claim, and I have had good opportunity to observe the facts, that even on the intellectual side the manual-training boy has a decided advantage. I have been in charge of both kinds of school, and I know whereof I speak. The education of the hand is the means of more completely and efficaciously educating the brain. Manual dexterity is but the evidence of a certain kind of mental power; and this mental power, coupled with a familiarity with the tools the hands use, is doubtless the only basis of that sound, practical judgment and ready mastery of material forces which always characterize those well fitted for the duties of active, industrial life.

I go a step further. When the limit of sharp attention and lively interest is reached, you have reached the limit of profitable study. If you can hold the attention of a class but ten minutes, it is worse than a waste of time to make the exercise fifteen. The weary intellects roll themselves up in self-defense, and suffer as patiently as they can, but the memory of those moments of torment lingers and throws its dreadful shadow over the exercise as it comes up again on the morrow; and how automatically, as these over-taught children take their places again, do they begin to roll themselves up into an attitude of mental stupidity! Intellectual growth is not to be gauged by the length or number of the daily recitations. I firmly believe that in most of our schools there is too much sameness and monotony; too much intellectual weariness and consequent torpor. Hence, if we abridge somewhat the hours given to books, and introduce exercises of a widely different character, the result is a positive intellectual gain. There is plenty of time if you will but use it aright. Throw into the fire those modern instruments of mental torture—the spelling and defining books. Banish English grammar, and confine to reasonable limits geography and word-analysis. Take mathematics, literature, science, and art, in just proportion, and you will have time enough for drawing and the study of tools and mechanical methods.

Manual exercises, which are at the same time intellectual exercises, are highly attractive to healthy boys. If you doubt this, go into the shops of a manual-training school and see for yourselves. Go, for instance, into our forging-shop, where metals are wrought through the agency of heat. A score of young Vulcans, bare-armed, leather-aproned, with many a drop of honest sweat and other trade-marks of toil, stand up to their anvils with an unconscious earnestness which shows how much they enjoy their work. What are they doing? They are using brains and hands. They are studying definitions, in the only dictionary which really defines the meaning of such words as "iron," "steel," "welding," "tempering," "upsetting," "chilling," etc. And, in the shop where metals are wrought cold (which, for want of a better name, we call our machine-shop), every new exercise is like a delightful trip into a new field of thought and investigation. Every exercise, if properly conducted, is both mental and manual. Every tool used and every process followed has its history, its genesis, and its evolution.

I have been speaking of the shops of the manual-training school, not of the ordinary factory. In the latter everything is reduced as much as possible to a dull routine. Intellectual life and activity are not aimed at. The sole object of the factory is the production of articles for the market. In a manual-training school, on the other hand, everything is for the benefit of the boy; he is the most important thing in the shop; he is the only article to he put upon the market. No one can learn from a book the true force of technical terms and definitions, nor the properties of materials. All descriptive words and names must base their meaning upon our own consciousness of the things they signify. The obscurities of the text-books (often doubly obscure from the lack of proper training on the part of the authors, who describe processes they never tried, and objects they never saw) vanish before the steady gaze of a boy whose hands and eyes have assisted in the building of mental images.

Then, again, the habit of clear-headedness, of precision in regard to the minor details of a subject, which is absolutely essential in the shop—an exact and experimental knowledge of the full force of the words and symbols used—stretches with its wholesome influence into the study of words and the structure of language. As Felix Adler says, the doing of one thing well is the beginning of doing all things well. I am a thorough disbeliever in the doctrine that it is ever educationally useful to commit to memory words which are not understood. The memory has its abundant uses, and should be carefully cultivated; but when it usurps the place of the understanding, when it beguiles the mind into the habit of accepting the images of words for the images of the things the words stand for, then the memory becomes a positive hindrance to intellectual development.

"Manual training is essential to the right and full development of the human mind, and therefore no less beneficial to those who are not going to become artisans than to those who are.... The work-shop method of instruction is of great educational value, for it brings the learner face to face with the facts of nature; his mind increases in knowledge by direct personal experience with forms of matter and manifestations of force. No mere words intervene. The manual exercises of the shop train mental power rather than load the memory; they fill the mind with the solid merchandise of knowledge, and not with its empty packing-cases."—(Professor E. P. Seaver, Boston.)

3. A more Wholesome Moral Education.—The finest fruit of education is character; and the more complete and symmetrical, the more perfectly balanced the education, the choicer the fruit.

To begin with, I have noted the good effect of occupation. The programme of a manual-training school has something to interest and inspire every boy. The daily session is six full hours, but I have never found it too long. The school is not a bore, and holidays, except for the name of the thing, are unpopular. I have been forced to make strict rules to prevent the boys from crowding into the shops and drawing-rooms on Saturdays and after school-hours. There is little tendency, therefore, to stroll about, looking for excitement. The exercises of the day fill the mind with thoughts pleasant and profitable, at home and at night. A boy's natural passion for handling, fixing, and making things is systematically guided into channels instructive and useful, as parents freely relate.

Again, success in one branch or study (shop-exercises are marked like those of the recitation-room) encourages effort in others, and the methods of the shop affect the whole school. Gradually the students acquire two most valuable habits which are certain to influence their whole lives for good—namely, precision and method. As Professor Runkle says, "Whatever cultivates care, close observation, exactness, patience, and method, must be valuable training and preparation for all studies and all pursuits."

Dr. Adler has pointed out, with great force and elegance, the influence of the exercises of the shop upon the formation of character. This influence, he holds, will be "nothing short of revolutionary, inasmuch as it will help to overthrow many of the impure conceptions that prevail at the present day." The tasks we set are not to be judged by commercial standards; our standard is one hundred per cent; the articles we make are not to be sold; they have no pecuniary value; they are merely typical forms; their worth consists in being true, or in being beautiful, as the case may be.

The manual-training school, when well conducted, seems to me to furnish to its pupils just the opportunity which Walter Scott, in "Waverley," says that his young hero was losing forever—"the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application; of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the powers of his mind for earnest investigation—an art far more essential than even that intimate acquaintance with classical learning which is the primary object of study" (at school).

4. Sounder Judgments of Men and Things.—The proverbially poor judgments of scholars have led to the popular belief that theory is one thing and practice a very different thing; that theoretically a thing is one way, practically another. The truth is, that correct theory and practice agree perfectly. If in his theory one leaves out a single element of the problem, or fails to give each its due weight, his theory is false. The school-men have been so accustomed to living in an ideal world, the world of books and books only, where they have found only ideal problems, and they have been so ignorant of the real world and the conditions of real problems, that their solutions have very generally been false.

A harmonious culture develops common sense, and common sense is at the basis of good judgment. We aim to raise that kind of fruit. Boys who put every theory to the practical test, who know something about what the idealists call "the total depravity of inanimate things," who probe and test every statement and appliance, with whom authority and tradition, the bane of too much "book-learning," have little influence, and who therefore are apt to take things at their true value, are fitted to focus correctly upon the problems of real life.

We hear much, and with good reason, of the value of directive intelligence. To be a director one must have good judgment. He who would successfully direct the labor of other men must first learn the art of successful labor himself; and he who would direct a machine properly must understand the principles of its construction, and be personally skilled in the arts of preservation and repair. Dr. Harris, therefore, tells but a half-truth when he says that "The new discovery (the invention of a new tool) will make the trade learned to-day, after a long and tedious apprenticeship, useless to-morrow. The practical education, therefore, is not an education of the hand to skill, but of the brain to directive intelligence. The educated man can learn to direct a new machine in three weeks, while it requires three years to learn a new manual labor."—("Education," May-June, 1883.)

This last sentence is not clear to me. Somehow it seems to imply that the man who learns to run a machine should be more intelligent and requires more education than the man who made it. As to "directive intelligence," I respectfully submit the following as a substitute for the dictum of Mr. Harris: "The practical education is, therefore, an education of the hand to skill and of the brain to intelligence. The combination will give the highest directive power."

5. Better Choice of Occupations.—This point is one of the greatest importance, for out of it are the issues of life. An error here is often fatal. But to choose without knowledge is to draw as in a lottery, and when boys know neither themselves nor the world they are to live in, and when parents do not know their own children, it is more than an even chance that the square plug will get into the round hole.

Parents often complain to me that their sons who have been to school all their lives have no choice of occupation, or that they choose to be accountants or clerks, instead of manufacturers or mechanics. These complaints are invariably unreasonable; for how can one choose at all, or wisely, when he knows so little!

I confidently believe that the development of the manual elements in school will prevent those serious errors in the choice of a vocation which too often wreck the fondest hopes. It is not assumed that every boy who enters a manual-training school is to be a mechanic; his training leaves him free. No pupils were ever more unprejudiced, better prepared to look below the surface, less the victims of a false gentility. Some find that they have no taste for manual arts, and will turn into other paths—law, medicine, or literature. Great facility in the acquisition and use of language is often accompanied by a lack of either mechanical interest or power. When such a bias is discovered the lad should unquestionably be sent to his grammar and dictionary rather than to the laboratory or draughting-room. On the other hand, decided aptitude for handicraft is not unfrequently coupled with a strong aversion to and unfitness for abstract and theoretical investigations. There can be no doubt that, in such cases, more time should be spent in the shop, and less in the lecture and recitation room. Some who develop both natural skill and strong intellectual powers will push on through the polytechnic school into the professional life, as engineers and scientists. Others will find their greatest usefulness, as well as highest happiness, in some branch of mechanical work, into which they will readily step when they leave school. All will gain intellectually by their experience in contact with things. The grand result will be an increasing interest in manufacturing pursuits, more intelligent mechanics, more successful manufacturers, better lawyers, more skillful physicians, and more useful citizens.

In the past comparatively few of the better educated have sought the manual occupations. The one-sided training of the schools has divided active men into two classes—those who have sought to live by the work of their own hands, and those who have sought to live by the work of other men's hands.

Hitherto men who have aimed to cultivate their minds have neglected their hands; and those who have labored with their hands have found no opportunity to specially cultivate their brains. The crying demand to-day is for intellectual combined with manual training. It is this want that the manual-training school aims to supply.

6. Material Success for the Individual and for the Community.—Material success ought not to be the chief object in life, though it may be sought with honor, and worthily won; in fact, success would appear to be inevitable to one who possesses health and good judgment, and who, having chosen his occupation wisely, follows it faithfully. This point might, then, be granted as a corollary to those already given and without further argument; but two points deserve special mention:

I have said that the only article our shops put upon the market is evenly-trained boys; I now wish to add that the article is a new one. You can not determine its value by invoicing the boys who, in the past, have drifted without proper education and without intelligent choice into shops and offices. I do not claim that manual training will change a dull boy into a bright one, or a bad boy into a good one. It is by no means a sovereign remedy for all the evils that boys are heir to; but it will give the dull boy a chance to become less dull, and the bright one a chance to retain his brilliancy. We have had some bad boys, but I honestly think their badness was less alluring and corrupting and hopeless than it would have been among boys less absorbed in their work. We have had some plain cases of failure, but they had failed everywhere else. It is not safe to reason that, because a boy can not succeed anywhere else, he must succeed in the shop. Brains are as essential to a good mechanic as to a good soldier or a good orator. Undoubtedly, more than half of our boys will find uses for their manual training, and they will have an immense advantage over the untrained boys. They are all fair draughtsmen. They have a wide acquaintance with hand and machine tools, and considerable skill in their use. They have an experimental knowledge of the properties of common materials; of the effects of heat, and the nature of friction. They have analyzed mechanical processes and been taught to adapt means to ends. Such boys will never become mere machine-men. They will never be content to put their brains away like a piece of ornamental toggery for which they have no daily use. If you wish boys to become narrow, unreflecting, bigoted, and helpless, when their machines break down and when they are thrown upon their own resources, don't send them to a manual-training school, for you will surely be disappointed.

Our graduates have been out of school less than a year, but I have seen enough to justify me in saying that their chances of material success are unusually good. As workmen, they will soon step to the front; as employers and manufacturers, they will be self-directing and efficient inspectors. They will be little exposed to the wiles of incompetent workmen.

On the other hand, communities will prosper when their young men prosper. This is the dynamic age; the great forces of Nature are being harnessed to do our work, and we are just beginning to learn how to drive. Invention is in its youth, and manual training is the very breath of its nostrils.

7. The Elevation of Manual Occupations from the Realm of Brute, Unintelligent Labor to one requiring and rewarding Cultivation and Skill.—A brute can exert brute strength; to man alone is it given to invent and use tools. Man subdues Nature and develops art through the instrumentality of tools. Says Carlyle: "Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing; with tools he is all." To turn a crank, or to carry a hod, one needs only muscular power. But to devise and build the light engine, which, under the direction of a single intelligent master-spirit, shall lift the burden of a hundred men, requires a high degree of intelligence and manual skill. So the hewers of wood and the drawers of water are in this age of invention replaced by saw and planing mills, and waterworks requiring some of the most elaborate embodiments of thought and skill. Can any one stand beside the modern drawers of water, the mighty engines that day and night draw from the Father of Waters the abundant supply of a hundred thousand St. Louis homes, and not bow before the evidence of "cultured minds and skillful hands," written in unmistakable characters all over the vast machinery?

In like manner every occupation becomes ennobled by the transforming influence of thought and skill. The farmer of old yoked his wife with his cow, and together they dragged the clumsy plow or transported the scanty harvest. Down to fifty years ago the life of a farmer was associated with unceasing, stupefying toil. What will it be when every farmer's boy is properly educated and trained? Farming is rapidly becoming a matter of horse-power, steam-power, and machinery. Who, then, shall follow the farm with honor, pleasure, and success? Evidently only he whose cultivated mind and trained hands make him a master of the tools he must use. With his bench and sharp-edged tools, with his forge and his lathe, he will "direct" and sustain his farm-machinery with unparalleled efficiency.

Some appear to think that the continued invention of tools and new machines will diminish the demand for men skilled in mechanical matters; but they are clearly wrong. True, they will diminish the demand for unintelligent labor—and some prominent educators, who take ground against manual training, have apparently no idea of labor except unintelligent labor. If there are more machines, there must be more makers, inventors, and directors. Not one useful invention in ten is made by a man who is not a skilled mechanic. But, as I have said, the mechanics have suffered from a one-sided education. They have paid too little attention to science and the graphic arts. Hence every manual pursuit will become elevated in the intellectual scale when mechanics are broadly, liberally trained.

Undoubtedly the common belief is, that it requires no great amount of brains or intelligence to be a mechanic; and those who go through the schools are not expected by their teachers to be mechanics. Every bright farmer's boy, every gifted son of a mechanic, if he but stay in school, is sure to be stolen away from the occupation of his father and led into the ranks of the "learned professions."

Professor Magnus calls attention to the fact that the promising pupils of the elementary public schools of London, who receive scholarships on account of unusual abilities, are, from a lack of secondary schools suited to improve directly the condition of the artisan classes, always sent on through the classical schools to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and trained to professional or literary careers. Such a result does not react favorably upon the artisan class. The scholarship boys return no more to their homes, and the gulf is widened between the spheres from which they came and those to which they go. Says Magnus, "I very much doubt whether the nation gains much by sending these children into the already overcrowded paths that are open to the university students." This loss of the best minds and the lack of the results of a generous education do much to keep down the estimation in which the working-classes are held, and throw the elements of society out of their proper balance.

Here is where the influence of manual training will be most beneficial. It will bring into the manual occupations a new element, a fairly educated class, which will greatly increase their value, at the same time that it gives them new dignity.

8. The Solution of Labor Problems.—Finally, I claim that the manual-training school furnishes the solution of the problem of labor vs. capital. The new education will give more compete development, versatility, and adaptability to circumstance, No liberally trained workman can be a slave to a method, or depend upon the demand for a particular article or kind of labor. It is only the uneducated, unintelligent mechanic who suffers from the invention of a new tool. The thoroughly trained mechanic enjoys the extraordinary advantage of being able, like the well-taught mathematician, to apply his skill to every problem; with every new tool and new process he rises to new usefulness and worth.

The leaders of mobs are not illiterate, but they are narrow, the victims of a one-sided education, and their followers are the victims of a double one-sidedness. Give them a liberal training, and you emancipate them alike from the tyranny of unworthy leaders and the slavery of a vocation. The sense of hardship and wrong will never come and bloody riots will cease when working-men shall have such intellectual, mechanical, and moral culture that new tools, new processes, and new machines, will only furnish opportunities for more culture, and add new dignity and respect to their calling.