Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/May 1898/A Study of Children's Ideals

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A GREAT Herbartian wave sweeping across the schools during the last few years has carried away much of the lifeless mechanical drill which characterized the old education. In its place has been left the vitalizing influence of the study of humanity. Believing that the contemplation of the world's greatest thoughts and noblest deeds must result in arousing kindred enthusiasms, literature and history have been introduced to our youngest children. We have given this teaching a sufficient time to prove its efficacy. Is it giving our children lofty ideals? Is it exalting goodness, wisdom, strength, truth, patriotism? It is enkindling generous desires to perform noble deeds?

As a working basis for the solution of these problems, papers were collected from fourteen hundred and forty school children in answer to the following questions:

"What person of whom you have ever heard or read would you most like to resemble? Why?"

Being written as a regular composition exercise, these answers with one exception show every evidence of sincerity. Out of the total number only seven children fail to return a ready response, and their hesitation seems due to a premature development of fatalism. "Nobody," writes a boy of fifteen, "because it will do me no good to want to resemble any one." A girl of twelve reaches the same conclusion from a feminine reliance upon authority. "I would not like to envy of the people. Because they say it is not right. They say that God made you to be so."

To believers in the culture-epoch theory our results are most satisfactory, implying no accidental selection of ideals. Half the papers came from San Mateo County, California, and half from St. Paul, Minnesota; but, widely apart as are the sources, the results are so nearly identical that they have been collated together. The only pronounced difference, it may be stated, consists in the fact that while seventy-three St. Paul children find their ideal in the Divine Being, he is referred to by only four Californians.[1]

Sources of Children's Ideals.—The ideals of the children naturally fall into three groups:

1. Acquaintances.
2. Historical characters, past or contemporary.
3. Characters from literature.

The comparative importance of each source at different ages is shown in Chart I.

As might be expected, the younger children pay little attention to the outside world. At seven years of age forty-seven per cent of the children find their ideals in father or mother, in neighbor or friend, thirty-nine per cent in literature, and fourteen per cent in history.

Chart No. 1.—Sources of Ideals.
History - - - - - Literature - · - · - Acquaintances ————

But this relation changes with great rapidity, the two former elements steadily growing less important, until, at the age of sixteen, eighty per cent of the children's ideals are historical characters, twelve per cent characters from literature, and only eight per cent are acquaintances.

All this indicates strongly the expansion of the child's personality. The world of a young child, centering at first, so psychologists tell us, about his mouth, does not grow much larger than the circle of his own immediate desires and needs before the age of seven. Those characters, either real or imaginary, to whom he feels his personal relation therefore furnish his ideals. But he soon begins to feel his integration with the outside world. He reaches out beyond his own little circle, endeavoring to form some bond with the larger world. He is growing into the social consciousness, which makes him akin to all those who have felt and hoped and acted as he feels and hopes and desires to act. The characters of literature become secondary to the authors who created them. The great men of all times—Cæsar, Napoleon, Washington, Lincoln, Grant—embodying to a supreme degree the traits previously admired in his acquaintances, supplant those nearer ideals whose imperfections are more easily perceived. Enthusiasms are aroused for those men who represent contemporary society. At fifteen years of age twenty-nine per cent of the boys and twenty per cent of the girls choose as ideals the statesmen, rulers, authors, artists, explorers, and philanthropists who are making the history of to-day. Two papers, written just before the last presidential election, emphasize this participation in social movements, often extremely partisan. A boy of thirteen

Chart No. II.—Ideal Attributes.

Seven years
of age.
Twelve years
of age.
Fifteen years
of age.
Per cent. Per cent. Per cent.
Goodness 25 23 22
Goodness to self or class 27 4{ 0
Truth and honesty 4 9 10
Business and possessions 10 3 2
Appearance 3 3 4
The marvelous 12 1 0
Feminine accomplishments 0 2 4
Intellectual ability or accomplishment 3 10 12
Bravery, freedom, adventure, war 3 10 12
Discovery and invention 5 19 13
Patriotism 2 1 0
Leadership 0 6 10
Miscellaneous 4 13 18

writes: "William McKinley. Why? Because his whole career shows such a nobleness of character, such true patriotism, and such honest thought that history can not help but say that a grander, nobler man never breathed the breath of life."

Another boy of fifteen writes:

"William Jennings Bryan. The reason that I would like to resemble him is because I have seen and heard him, and that is what some of these 'gold people' can not say about McKinley.

"Because Bryan had too much dignity, and he went to the people and explained the 'Silver Question' to them.

"Bryan is but 36 years old. The youngest man that has ever been nominated for president of the United States.

"He is but one year past the limited age to be a candidate for president.

"Bryan is well proportioned and well built, a good looking gentleman, and one of the smartest men in the United States, or in fact in the whole world, and is, without any exceptions, the greatest orator on the face of the globe.

"He has made as many as twenty speeches in a single day.

"Just think, all this, and is but thirty six years old.
"America had ought to be proud to have such a smart man."

From the ideals presented through the teaching of the home, the street, the newspaper, and the school, children are constantly selecting certain qualities to be emulated in their own lives. As Chart II indicates, the child's ideal must first of all be good, and to the majority of the younger children this goodness must manifest itself in some form directly benefiting themselves.

"My mamma, because she is so good and buys me clothes and shoes and hats," "My father because he is kind and gives me many things" "My aunt, because she is so kind and good. Because she lets me wheel the baby"—these papers show the original meaning of goodness. Conversely, whatever means goodness to the child must be a characteristic of his ideal.

Girls of ten write: "I want to be like George Washington because he was always good. He always kept his books clean and he loved his mother and father. George Washington obeyed his parience. He loved his parience too."

"I would like to be like Queen Elizabeth. The reason why I would like to be like her is because she was kind to everybody."

And a boy of eight writes: "I want to be like a king. Because he don't tell lies or do bad things"

As the reference of goodness to self disappears in the older children, we find it supplanted by either rectitude of life, or, still more commonly, by altruistic deeds for the benefit of humanity at large. A ten-year-old boy wants to be like his father, "For the reason that he does not drink and is honest" Boys of thirteen desire to be like George Washington, "Because he was so brave and honest, and he never told a lie" "He never did anything that he thought wasn't right and he did lots of good in the world" "He was always good to his men" Girls show more commonly than boys an appreciation of altruism.

Typical papers are the following:

Girl of eleven: "I would like to be as George Washington was, for he was good. He never told an untruth and helped other people whenever he could. I do'nt care very much if I am por or not, if I can only be as good as he was"

Girl of twelve: "Clara Barton, because she has done so much good in the world. She has taken care of the poor and has gone far away to help people. And so I wish I was as good as her, she has done so much for other people and is so kind to them"

Girl of thirteen: "I have heard a little about a girl and her teacher Miss Sullivan. She is a very good lady becuse she teaches a girl who is blind, deaf and mute, and can do most any school work so far as she has come in school. I would like to be like Miss Sullivan becuse she helps other people and I would like to help someone. I know I can not do so much but I try my best."

Very responsive are the younger children to the wonder-workers of myth and legend and Scripture: "Apollo, because he rides a golden chariot all the time"; "Hercules, because he held the earth on his shoulders"; "Quicksilver, because he can fly through the air and not get very tired" are attractive ideals. In very much the same spirit they desire to be like God, "His wonders to perform"

Of the total number of children, five per cent, most of whom are below twelve years of age, mention God and Christ as ideals. The moral attributes found in these Divine Beings are very similar to those found in George Washington or other human heroes. The majority of the children give a composite of characteristics which impress them in the Deity, into which enter the marvelous, the directly personal, and the moral. The Deity appealing to them must be anthropomorphic, human and yet superhuman, ministering directly to their personal needs. "He is onest" "He never tells a lie" "He is so kind and good" "He can do every thing" "He can turn something into enything" "He sends rain and snow for us to sled and skate" "When we go into the woods he will help us through" A boy of eleven writes: "If it was not only for Him, what would become of us. Maybe we would be stones which lay beneth the guter."

It is pleasant to find that to few of the older children do possessions make a character ideal. While ten per cent of the sevenyear -olds are attracted by the commercial side of life, at fifteen only two per cent consider that paramount, at least in an ideal life.

Typical papers are:

Boy of seven: "I like two be a king of a graet kasle. Why. A king has a graet kasle"

Boy of ten: "I would like to be like Doctor About. Because it is a nice Occupation, and is a smart business"

Boy of ten: "I want to be a preacher. He is a very good man and they have a very good position"

Girl of twelve:[2] "My teacher. Because she is a teacher and receives a large salary a month, and teaching is a good occupation"

Boy of fourteen: "Mr. Levy. Because he has not very hard work, and he has a Good time and plenty of money and he can get any amount of money because he owns plenty of land and mortgages on peoples land, he has everything he wants."

Boy of fourteen: "Fitzzimmon. Because there is money in it."

At seven years of age, three per cent of the children appreciate intellectual ability, which they commonly find among their acquaintances. As they grow older their favorite authors or artists are prized, though quite as often for their goodness as for their accomplishments, as expressed in some of the following papers:

Girl of seven: "Annie Dervine because she kin spell some words."

Girl of eight: "Olga, Becas she is a good reder."

Boy of nine: "H. W. Longfellow. Because he knows how to write poems, and knows many poems and he is called a poet and I would like to be called a poet."

Girl of nine: "Kate Douglas Wiggins, because she is so famouse and every body likes to read her books and she think of so many lovely things, because she was the first one that ever thought of having a kindergarden."

Boy of ten: "I would like to be William Shakespere because he is the famous poet in the United States."

Girl of eleven: "I would like to be like Kate D. Wiggins, because she was so kind to the poor little children in San Franceis. I have read about her that she was so kind to everone."

Boy of eleven: "I would like to resemble Lousia Alcott, she was one of the first to go to the war to help the wounded and dicing, then she wrote to some of her friends and told them to come."

Boy of fourteen: "The person whom I would like to resemble is John Greenleaf Whittier. The reason why is because he was a smart man and could write poetry."

Girl of sixteen: "I would like to resemble Shakespere, because he was such a famous poet."

The most significant increase is in those qualities which are accompaniments of an active life. To be brave, to be free, to have adventures, to go to war—these become ideal characteristics to nearly one fifth of the children of twelve. A mistaken youth of ten writes: "I would like to be like my father. Because he can do what he wants"; and a carefully reared boy of eleven finds his ideal in the neglected son of a Scandinavian washerwoman: "I would like to be like John hansen because he can play all day and doesen hafter saw wood." The pioneers of history and the heroes of frontier life and romance usually furnish this type of inspiration, as in the papers quoted below:

Boy of nine: "I would like to be like Bufullow Bill because he lived in the wild West where he went shooting buffulows and Indians, I would like to be like him because he was such straight shot in shooting."

Boy of nine: "I would like to be like Captain Jack Crawford. I like him because he is so brave and because he fought the Indians. I heard him speak at the Market Hall. He said, 'Once there was a man in front of me and one in the back and I killed them both at one time.'"

Boy of ten: "Captain John Smith because he made adventures all over america where he was captured many times by the Indians."

Boy of twelve: "Wicarta the New York detective Becuse he had so many adventures."

Boy of twelve: "Robison Crusoe. Becuse he had no expenses to pay and I would like to be near the Indians and a person would be more appt to discover something."

Perhaps to us the most important result of historical instruction in the lower grades is the making of patriots. At fifteen it is true that only ten per cent of the papers consciously emphasize the love of country. But Washington and Lincoln are the chosen ideals of forty per cent of the children above ten years of age, and the curves shown in Chart III are made up almost entirely of American heroes. Probably no greater variety of nationalities could be represented in an equal number of papers than are found in those forming the basis of the present study; nevertheless, the public schools have done their work. Children of English, German, Italian, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese parentage have become Americans, and their loftiest ideals are embodied in our national heroes. A striking illustration of this is the case of an English boy of thirteen, who last year refused to salute the American flag in the school exercises of Decoration Day, but who, the following„ November, named, as his hero of heroes, Abraham Lincoln, "because he was trueful, honest, kind and brave" Indeed, those children who select foreign ideals often apologize, as in the case of the ten-year-old boy who explains his choice of Napoleon, "He was in a great many more wars than Washington or Lincoln." This patriotic spirit is exemplified below:

Boy of ten: "George Washington because he saved our country."

Boy of ten: "Col. Allen. I like him becuse he saved our country one clear morning."

Girl of eleven: "Washington. I wish to be good myself as Washington has been, and mostly because I wish to do good for my country (the United States) as Washington has done."

Boy of thirteen: "Abraham Lincoln. It was he who proclaimed slavery ended."

Boy of thirteen (of foreign birth): "The one whom I should like to resemble most is George Washington, because he was brave honest and truthful, and moreover he freed his country without taking pay for his valuable services. He was also the one that formed the constitution of the honored country he had saved. These are the reasons why I should like to resemble him most."

But the older children are not satisfied with an ideal who is great and good and wise and brave; he must be the greatest or best or wisest or bravest of his kind. He must excel all others in his chosen line. George Washington, "because he was the greatest man that ever lived in America"; "John S. Johnson, the champion bicycle rider in the world"; Paderewski, "because he is the greatest musician in the world"; James Corbett, "because he is the champion fighter of the world"—these are examples for this desire of leadership, almost as strong in girls as in boys. Indeed, one of the most significant features of this study is the increase in male ideals among the girls. A corresponding influence of female ideals is not shown

Chart No. III.— Male Ideals.
Boys ———— Girls - - - - -

among the boys. Some of the younger boys wish to resemble their mother, the little girls with whom they play, or the heroines of romance; but with one exception all the boys above ten years of age who select female ideals mention authors, as in the case of a boy of fifteen, who writes, "I would like to be Annie Laurie,[3] to be travelling all around the world and you could learn a great deal in that way and make out reports for the Examiner and always be working."

As shown by Chart III, as many as sixty-seven per cent of the girls of fourteen and fifteen select male ideals. To be sure, there are many who, like the girls quoted below, choose the purely feminine type.

Girl of ten: "I would most like to resemble Elsie Densmore of whom I have read in the 'Elsie Book.' because she is pictured to be as near perfect as it is possible for any one in this world to be. She is pictured as a true Christian woman, and while she is accomplished and belongs to the 'upper ten' of society, she does not neglect her home duties, and does not look down on those about her. She spent much time in charity."

Girl of fifteen: "Agnes Wickfield. Because she was kind, good natured, gentle, unselfish, loving and had very good manners."

Girl of fifteen: "I would like to resemble the Lady Rowena. Because she was a very handsome woman of the Saxon tongue and every body admired her."

But, as is shown by Charts III and IV, among the girls of sixteen, fifty-one per cent choose male ideals, and fifty per cent emphasize as ideal those characteristics which twenty years ago would Chart

No. IV.—Masculine Virtues.
Boys ———— Girls - - - - -

have been considered pre-eminently masculine. Under the heading of Chart IV, "Masculine Virtues," are masked intellectual ability, patriotism, and the desire for freedom, adventure, war, leadership, fame, discovery, and invention. On the whole, nearly as many girls as boys find in the purely virile type their ideal.

This tendency can be attributed partially, no doubt, to the "Zeitgeist" but it must be remembered that the historical instruction in our public schools presents only male characters, and that it deals almost entirely with conquest and war. It is more difficult for the girl than for the boy to make connections with the outside world. This shows in the fact that at seven years of age sixty-two per cent of the girls and only thirty-one per cent of the boys find ideals among their acquaintances. But the potency of education shows in the seventy-two per cent of the girls who at fifteen find their ideals in historical characters, either past or contemporary. The following papers illustrate the curves in Chart IV:

Girl of twelve: "Washington. Because he went bravely to war."

Girl of twelve: "Julius Cæsar. Because of his bravery and greatness."

Girl of thirteen: "Remenyi. Because my name would become famous all over the world."

Girl of fourteen: "Columbus. Because he discovered America, and his name is wide spread."

Girl of fourteen: "Robinson Crusoe. I like him because he went through many adventures."

Girl of fifteen: "I would most like to resemble William McKinley, because he has such a strong will, and whatever he says that he will do he always does."

Girl of fifteen: "The person whom I should like to resemble if I were a man is Sir Francis Drake. He was a man of action. The reason I should like to resemble him is because he made a great many dangerous journeys around the world."

The tendency shown in Chart IV is best expressed by the following papers.[4] A girl of ten writes:

"I would like to resemble Barbara Fichy (Frietchie). Why? Because she was such a brave lady, and you know that there are not very many brave ladies."

Another girl of thirteen says frankly:

"I believe that I would rather resemble a man than a woman, because the deeds of woman, although sometimes great, selfsacrificing and brave, sink into insignificance when compared with the valorous deeds of man."

In conclusion, we are able to distinguish three marked types of children's ideals. Those of the youngest children must be good and kind, with desirable possessions and marvelous powers. As the children grow older, the last two attributes are supplanted by courage, freedom, wisdom, and truth, while the ideal of children of sixteen must add to these qualities altruism, patriotism, and tho ability to lead. In the case of the girls, however, a divorce is evident between the ideals adopted and the line of life best suited to the interest of the race. The girl of to-day demands freedom, strength, independence, activity, and recognition. Can we not embody them in the person of "brave ladies" as our ten-year-old girl expresses it? Surely, among the "Pioneers of History" enough women have played a part brave, strong, patriotic, and wise, so that material exists for commemoration. Far more than a "Woman's Bible" which appeals only to the mature, do we not need a Woman's History," which shall become a factor in increasing this three quarters of one per cent who desire to become wives and mothers—which shall present ideals embodying the most attractive virtues, and still permitting of a home?

This study proves that our instruction in history and literature is emphasizing goodness, truth, wisdom, bravery, patriotism, and the ability to lead, the characteristics we most desire in our children. Ethical instruction, then, in our best public schools, is anything but lifeless and impotent, as is taken for granted in much of the popular discussion. Morality is inculcated by the most effective method possible—most effective because best adapted to the child's demand for virtue embodied in a human form. Jesuit self-extinction, Chinese filial piety, emphasize the power of suggestion no more strongly than do these children's papers. When teachers and parents shall have the wisdom to consciously select and present to children those ideals into which they ought to grow, endowed with those qualities naturally seized upon by the developing soul, the cause of moral education will be immeasurably furthered.[5]

State Normal School, Mankato, Minn.

A bronze statue in honor of Marcello Malpighi, the famous doctor and microscopic anatomist of the seventeenth century, was unveiled in September, 1897, at Crevalcore, near Bologna, Italy. The Royal Society of London sent an address of congratulation. A memorial volume on Malpighi and his works, edited by Dr. Vallardi, is to be published, and will contain a note by Prof. M. Foster.
  1. See in the Pedagogical Seminary, vol. ii, No. 3, an article by Prof. Earl Barnes, entitled Theological Life of a California Child. Professor Barnes says, "Many California children seem to be ignorant of the most common and most generally accepted theological concepts of Christian people."
  2. Teaching is not an attractive occupation to these boys; while nearly five per cent of the girls speak of this profession, it is mentioned by one boy only, ten years of age, who writes, "A teacher because they get money."
  3. The nom de plume of a well-known Western journalist.
  4. The following recent studies also show the same tendency:

    A Preliminary Study of Children's Hopes. J. P. Taylor. In Annual Report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of New York, 1895-'96.

    Children's Ambitions. Hattie Mason Willard. Studies in Education. Edited by Earl Barnes, vol. i, No. 7.

    Mr. Taylor's study finds thirty-eight per cent of the girls wishing to be teachers, twenty-four per cent milliners and dressmakers, eleven per cent clerks and stenographers, three per cent housekeepers, and three quarters of one per cent wives and mothers. Mrs. Willard finds thirty-five and a half per cent of her girls wish to be teachers, eight per cent music teachers, thirty-one per cent milliners and dressmakers, six per cent clerks, typewriters, and bookkeepers, and three per cent housekeepers.

  5. The writer wishes to acknowledge her indebtedness for the papers used in making this study to Miss Etta M. Tilton, superintendent of San Mateo County schools; to Miss Mary Hanchett, principal of the Scheffer School; and to Miss Laura Hand, principal of the Van Buren School, of St. Paul, Minnesota.