Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/March 1897/Correspondence

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: The article entitled A Study in Race Psychology, published in the January number of the Popular Science Monthly, has called forth several letters which show that the particular case there presented is far from being an isolated one. It is interesting to note also that the question of educational adaptation raised by the article is working in many minds, and has prompted experiments in many quarters. Before referring to these I would note that objection has been taken in one instance to discussions based upon a single case. It is in order to apply here the doctrine of Le Play, who believed that to understand society it is necessary to know its unit, the family. This, however, he declared did not necessitate the study of all families, but simply of typical families. Now, the unit of the school is the pupil, and to know the problem of the school it is necessary to study its typical unit. The study in question was a tentative experiment of this kind.

But to return to the correspondence. City and country are about equally represented in it, with the higher measure of appreciation for the study and its purport in the former. It would seem, indeed, that the problem presented is one well recognized in cities with large colored populations. The question raised in almost every case is how to adapt the day school to individuals or to a class of whom Isaiah is the type. I should answer that possibly the school is not the place in which the adaptation can be made. The school must treat the child primarily as part of a social whole. This is one of the chief benefits that it renders the community. It accustoms the young to act in concert and in obedience to a general law. On the other hand, it must approach the child also as an individual, but for obvious reasons it addresses itself to an average or normal individual. This is the underlying principle of grading which in some form or other obtains in schools of every order. Experience has shown, however, that society suffers if even a few individuals below the normal fail of development. In several foreign cities, notably Berlin and London, this has been as clearly recognized as the need of guarding against general illiteracy, and special schools for dull or abnormal children have been established at public expense. There are peculiar difficulties in the way of sifting out the colored population of a city like Washington, for example, on any such plan. Nor can we hope at present for a system of continuation schools such as is provided in Germany and Switzerland by which American youth, white or black, who leave school with the barest knowledge of the elements, might have their intellectual training prolonged, while at the same time they should be initiated into some art or trade. The only feasible plan at present is to supplement the school by auxiliary agencies, private or church. It is interesting to note that this is an expedient which is being attempted by leading colored men in the interests of the poorer and most backward of their race. Two notable efforts of this kind have been reported to me from Washington. One of these is of the nature of a veritable "settlement" in a forlorn purlieu of the city, the other is an industrial school in connection with a leading colored church. These efforts, however, are directed chiefly to girls, and they emphasize anew the extreme difficulty of adapting any agency of the kind to the needs of colored boys. The discussion of such adaptation has been promoted by the article in question. Inadequate as are these isolated experiments, they are the only resource while we wait the slow increase of pressure which, like the military and industrial stress of European countries, will yet force us to make larger provision and more varied adjustments for the education of the masses.

From the study of one hundred thousand school children of England Dr. Francis Warner is led to the conclusion that about fifteen in a thousand require particular training, and he urges that the expense of teaching this proportion in a special classroom and by special methods would be an efficient means of lessening crime, pauperism, and social failure. Discounting all hereditary differences between the black and the white races, the argument is nevertheless peculiarly applicable to the lower class of blacks on account of their well known social and family disabilities.Anna Tolman Smith.

Washington, January 25, 1897.