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Moral Education in the Public Schools
THROUGH the foregoing lesson, materials have been furnished to the pupil for forming ideals. These new ideals create a longing, "A Divine Discontent." But the formation of ideals without an effort to embody them is fatal to the soul. The ideal must find expression in the life without. Both pupils and teacher, then, must have in mind a clear idea of what outward activities will represent these new ideals and of what changes in the form of school procedure will afford opportunity for their realization. Two additional classes must therefore be recognized in the organization of the school, the Good and the Bad. The rolls of these classes cannot be so rigidly fixed as in the classes based on knowldege. They also change more frequently. The manner of obtaining these rolls is as follows: (Quoted from an actual class conversation.)
Tr. You told me that I was to learn the class to which you belong from your actions. Which shall I look for, the good or the bad?
P. The good. (This is the invariable answer.)
Tr. Very well then, I will write down all the good actions I see, shall I?
P. Oh, you couldn't do that. There would be too many. You wouldn't have time for anything else.
Tr. Do you mean to say that there are more good actions than bad actions?
Tr. Who else thinks so?
(Invariably a unanimous or nearly unanimous response.)
* See Education for March and April for 1st and 2nd papers in this series.-EDITOR.
Tr. It is very comforting to think that is true. Well, then, I will look for the good actions, but if the bad are there, I cannot help seeing them. I will write these down, however much I may dislike to do so. When any boy or girl has what seem to be five wrong actions set down against his name in the book, he will come to the office, and we will talk it over to see if we agree about the actions being wrong. If we agree that the actions are bad, then we shall say that the boy or girl is, for the present in the bad class. No name will get into the book unless an action seeming bad to me puts it there. If I see you doing wrong I shall not stop you. Why not?
P. You are waiting to see into what class we are going to put ourselves.
The school will now have transformed ideals of thinking and acting.
Having the new ideals in mind, the school must be absolutely true to them in thought and action. This will be more difficult for the teacher than for the pupil. The teacher will see some of the children doing wrong. Her first impulse is to stop them at once as she would have done under the old organization. But she has promised that within limits she will not interfere, that she will let the pupils place themselves. There must be no doubtful watching, no suspicious attention, no arbitrary commands. At all times there must be the sympathetic eye, the hopeful face, the glow of faith, the inspiration of love. Seldom, but whenever it seems altogether best, the teacher may stiffen a failing will, by the words, "Which class?", as an athlete's grasp stiffens the failing muscle of the amateur gymnast. She has said she would "see," so she must be present always with the open vision looking for the "good" as the Heavenly Father standeth, "keeping watch above His own.”
When a boy has in some measure failed, which will be shown by some half-dozen "symptoms" in the book, the teacher takes him by himself and lets him face the first record, not condemningly, but sympathetically. Interviewing the teacher is not likely to
be a new experience to him, so when he is asked without censoriousness in voice or manner how he came to do that thing which seems evil, he will explain it away at once without hesitation. Without questioning his explanation, the teacher passes at once to the second entry, which the pupil will also explain, but not quite so readily. When the third entry is reached, embarrassment will begin to show itself, but the boy usually partially explains that too, though not even to his own satisfaction. After the fourth item, no excuse is attempted, and a conversation something like this follows:
P. I guess I must have done that to be mean.
Tr. (kindly) In which class do you seem to be putting yourself?
P. In the bad class.
Tr. Is that the class you wish to be in?
P. No, I want to be in the good class.
Tr. Who is the only one that can put you there?
Tr. Well, what are you going to do about it then?
And the boy goes out without anger or ill-will toward the teacher and with a stronger resolution to do the right thing.
What shall be done if John runs up another list and comes back? That is not altogether unlikely. The teacher goes through with her questioning again. There will be a difference this time. John's excuses will be threadbare, if he tries to use the old ones. He will sooner shamefacedly ask for another chance. The teacher, hesitatingly, regretfully says, "Why, I gave you another chance. You don't seem to have used it." "But I will try this time," is the almost invariable response. After some thought on the teacher's part, she decides to try him again, and the struggle with himself will be on in earnest this time.
And if he fails again? The teacher has at her command any
resource that she had at the beginning. She has not canceled any of the back charges. They are still to be met by John in some way. This cumulative effect will go far to make him thoughtful. Ordinarily had the teacher waited, he would have mistaken her waiting for weakness. Now, however, she has gained an advantage. Owing to the new organization, he will understand that the offences have not been condoned. Good conduct will bury the charges beyond resurrection. If the teacher thinks best to talk the matter over with his parents, there is evidence in writing, undisputed by John in his talks with the teacher, which he will not deny before them. If punishment of some kind is inevitable there will be undisputed ground for it. Usually an understanding with the parents will furnish ample basis for giving John "another chance."
There is an immense advantage in this course of training over the old way of settling individual offences. It gives the boy an opportunity to study his own character. These records enable him to get perspective on his own life.
When the writer first began to use this method of moral training she had a very enlightening experience. A boy with whom she had talked the first time had come back for a second interview. There were several items against his name, all of which he acknowledged as wrong. In a moment of discouragement, she said, "Well, Frank, the last time we talked together you told me that you were going to do better and I thought you were in earnest. I can't see a bit of improvement." The boy's eyes widened with surprise. "Why, Miss Norton," he said, "I haven't done one of those thing we talked about before." Looking back to the last record, the teacher found to her surprise and shame, that the boy had not repeated his offences and that his conduct had decidedly improved. "I beg your pardon, Frank," she said humbly, “I am afraid I forgot to look for the good things. I will try to do better myself next time.”
Meanwhile we have been neglecting in our discussion the larger and more important class, the Good Class. The widest difference between the old order of things and that brought about by the new is the added opportunity for the Good Class. The teacher will find the majority of the school working with her. No, she will find herself co-working with the majority. The Ideal is becoming the Real. Never for a moment must the teacher be betrayed into recalling the old organization. The children will not, the teacher must not. The reaction of the children to their new sense of responsibility will be a constant revelation to the teacher. There grows a new feeling of unity, of oneness of purpose, a new social consciousness. The children feel new confidence in the teacher, and inspire her with new confidence in them. And the Kingdom of Heaven, or the era of goodwill to men begins its reign in the schoolroom.
At intervals other lessons may be given, such as "Strength," "Manliness," "Helpfulnes," "The Shortest Rule," "Deny Thyself," "Freedom," and the like. Even such ideas as "Co-working with God," and other great truths may be discussed if developed skillfully and all theological dogma be avoided. Thorough preparation and skill are demanded, as in all teaching. No commonplace treatment will do for any topic. Such ideals must be built by the pupils as will insure vigorous efforts at expression in life. Training one's self in building and expression ideals constitutes a large part of spiritual life.
After each lesson, a little more freedom should be given to the pupils in order to furnish opportunity for embodying the enlarged ideal. Great care should be taken not to overtax their growing spiritual strength by too much responsibility or by a test prolonged beyond their present ability to meet. There must be a careful adjusting of conditions to meet their present needs and powers. Freedom must be given first within very narrow limits, these limits being gradually extended as the child grows in power to use his freedom wisely.
A few of the results of this method of moral education are worthy of consideration. The old "hear-a-pin-drop" discipline of