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Moral Education—The History of an
BY CHARLES K. TAYLOR, VALCOUR, CLINTON Co., N. Y.
FEW years ago, in a very modest way, an experiment was begun in two of Philadelphia's smaller public schools. The object of the experiment was
find, if possible, how a school could use its facilities and influences in direct character-making and training. "Character" can be a very inclusive
term, so that all which goes to make character, or MMININOINUUNINE
to influence character-even to chest capacity!— had to be considered.
In planning such a difficult matter many details had to be kept in mind. For instance, to be effective, a system would have to be founded upon fundamental principles of child psychology. This meant, among other things, that one had to know the different normal types of children—the mental types, the moral types, and the physical types. We forget, sometimes, that the mental, moral and physical are so intimately related that one cannot be affected without affecting the other two.
With some knowledge of "types" had to be an acquaintance with the characteristics displayed by children in different stages of development. Then, too, it was necessary to find at what stage of development certain ethical concepts could be comprehended. And here lies the great fault of so many moral training "courses”, even to the typical Sunday school lessons. These are likely to be chosen from an adult opinion as to what would be "good", for a child, rather than from the standpoint of an expert, who considers what concepts a child CAN understand and appreciate, rather than what ones we would like the child to understand and appreciate. Along with this—as though it were not a complicated enough matter already—one had to be aware of the moral and mental effect of physical conditions. This is, all considered, quite an amount of necessary information—not to be acquired in a day.
It was necessary to have at hand a working knowledge of schools, public and private, of their methods and facilities--not to speak of their faculties! That is, any system devised had to be practical. It had to suit itself to school conditions—the schools could not be expected to adapt themselves to anything that seemed radical. Few people are more conservative than educators and rightly so. Finally, with this material at hand, the whole end desired had to be considered in its relation to all these different points, and that brings us to our definition of "character development" or "moral education”, for the terms are really synonymous. With this we must go over the reasons for proposing the introduction of any character-making or moral educational system into the schools. There are several reasons.
First of all, if such a system is to be really efficient, it must include the whole moral field, for the different fields are closely related. That is, it must include citizenship, or political morals, it must include vocational morality, or the morality that should govern men in their relations as workers, and it must include private morality also—the morality that should govern men in their more intimate relationships.
So you see the projected scope of the experiment was not a narrow one.
It seems hardly necessary to discuss why schools should be willing, even anxious, to consider any workable system that would, even to a small extent, tend to accomplish anything useful in this important field. The pressing vital need for immediate steps is quite beyond dispute among those who are in close touch, not only with children, their education and training, but with the conditions existing and developing in society in general.
There appears to be, throughout the nation, the beginnings of a wide-spread desire for a better and higher kind of citizenship. We are beginning to realize that an inhabitant of a nation is not necessarily a citizen—even if he does vote, now and then. The arrival of scores of thousands of aliens each year, from various old world countries, is in itself a very potential danger to what might be called the “American Idea” of government and living. The newcomers are mostly ignorant of our manner of government, and of our manners and customs. They are very generally ignorant of our history and aspirations. Their forefathers have not taken part in the history of the nation and in its building.
Yet they come in their hundreds of thousands, forming no inconsiderable proportion of the population. They will either aid in the progress and prosperity of the people, or, if left ignorant and consequently a prey to dangerous demagogues, they may eventually aid in its downfall or decadence. No factor has it in charge to make real citizens of them--a most amazing state of affairs! We carelessly trust that they will automatically acquire our ideas and ideals. Many do, but very many do not. Here is a potential
; . danger which means much, one way or another, for our future!
Not only do the foreign-born need to be made into efficient and intelligent citizens; but also, many whose forefathers helped con struct the republic, seem to need training in the most primary qualifications of a good citizen. This is shown in the almost national prevalence of political "graft”-in a dishonesty which exists generally with very little constant effective opposition. If there were a general and fundamental politician morality, clean politics would be the rule instead of the exception. There is no general and fundamental political morality, and for the simple reason that there is little in the training of our American children which would tend to make them perceive the necessity for political morality when they are older. This is as true of native children as of the children of aliens.
The conclusion is obvious. There should be in the United States a wide and general training in real citizenship. The public school is the only factor that can take up this vitally important matter. For this reason, then, in the Philadelphia experiment, a considerable part of the time and endeavor was spent in devising a method for teaching practical citizenship—for teaching political morality, in a rather broad way.
While there may sometimes be a doubt as to the necessity for training in citizenship—at least in the schools—there can be little argument against teaching or training in what we may call vocational morality, business morality, or the morality that should govern all workers of whatever financial or social status. It is true that there is in progress a general wave of improvement or of desire for improvement in general business morals, and in this great work the schools can be of enormous help. But the matter goes further than this. A great deal of unhappiness and loss of moral stamina of one kind or another is caused by the fact that
many men enter unsuitable vocations, or vocations for which they are inadequately prepared, and that many more enter vocations the characteristics or possibilities of which they know little.
For these reasons, then, a system for teaching of vocational morality should not only endeavor to inculcate the right and necessary principles, but should give each youth some little knowledge of the character of many common vocations and of their own fitness for them. Of course there should be facilities for training youths in the vocations they finally choose, but the first step mentioned is the most important.
Finally comes the great question of training in personal morality, which, of course, includes the teaching of simple ethics. There is a remarkable diversity of opinion in this particular field. The great majority seem to think that the requirement is adequately filled by "talks” on the part of the teacher-talks on simple ethical subjects—very much on the order of the Sunday school lesson. And this kind of lesson is about as effective as the average Sunday school lesson. That is, it is usually concerning an ethical concept not particularly fitted to the understanding of the class. Furthermore, while talking to, or rather "at” children does have some effect, the fact remains that children learn infinitely more by doing than by being talked to, and much more through their own efforts, physical and mental, than by any other method. For this reason, then, a system that would bring children to the point of reaching proper conclusions on ethical subjects through their own mental effort would be the most efficient, and it is this type of system which the experimenters endeavored to construct. But this is a little aside from the immediate subject. Our subject now is the necessity for training in personal morals or practical ethics, and particularly in the schools.
Those who have studied this subject realize that no agency but the school can make, at present, any general and effective effort to give a definite training for character, except a rather small proportion of intelligent and careful homes. The children of the poorer districts are too often neglected in this respect. Where the parents would be willing to study their children and to give them such appropriate training as lies in their power to give, too often financial pressure makes it well nigh impossible to give care and attention in this matter. Neglect, however, in the character development of children is not characteristic of the less financially fortunate part of the population. The well-to-do are particularly careless. The poor boy is likely to acquire at least
. a certain amount of character-strength and stamina because of necessity he learns to do things for himself, and, what is more, to do disagreeable things cheerfully and as a matter of course. The children of the well-to-do family have few duties and have to do few things that are disagreeable. On the other hand, they are freed from all responsibilities and useful labor. Others do for them essentials that they would gain much by doing for themselves. Their parents or caretakers seem to spend a large amount of time finding amusements for them, not being aware that a child's greatest pleasure, and gain through pleasure, comes from finding his or her own amusement. It is a part of the ancient fallacy that happiness comes from having and being done for rather than through doing.
City conditions and a vast percentage of us have the misfortune to live in cities !—are not an aid to the building up of a sound morality in children. Crowding in tenements and the artificial life in apartments are equally throttling. The lure of the street, the unsavory moving pictures, the yellow journal, the low comedy of so many vaudeville performances—and, be it said, of so many so-called "comic" journals and supplements all have their effect. Not only so, but the well-to-do particularly seem bent on crushing out the natural instincts and customs of childhood, by substituting those of their elders, so that the children live in an artificial, semi-adult atmosphere, to their ultimate undoing.
So we have many influences leading a child away from a sound morality, and not a sufficient number leading toward it. There is, as has been said, no general, wide-spread, efficient endeavor to build up, in each individual child, a knowledge of the respect for right living, in the widest and best sense of that term. We have no real general effort towards character development and moral education. The majority of homes are not doing their part—and perhaps could not even if they would. The Sunday school reaches but a small fraction of the juvenile population, and is far from being very effective. So there remains only the school to do the work, with the hope that if the school does the work for one genera