LET’S GET TOGETHER
LAST June a great many children and parents and teachers faced disappointment and discouragement, and wondered why. The children for the most part agreed that their teachers expected too much of them and “never explained anything;” also that their parents “didn’t understand.” The parents with equal unanimity charged the children with being “so difficult these days” and the teachers with “being a mighty low-grade set.” The teachers for their part comforted each other with the reflection that “the modern child simply doesn’t know what real study means,” and that “if parents would stop jazzing around and pay a little more attention to their main job of bringing up children teachers might have a chance.”
Thus ended the last school year-substantially as the last fifty school years have ended-with each party of the educational triangle inwardly or outwardly throwing the blame for failure on the other two. Shall we begin this year in the same way? Perhaps we shall; but do we have to? Can’t we get together and talk it over? Can’t each of us get the other two points of view?
Boys and girls, think back a bit. You know perfectly well that we teachers have offered you at least three times as much information as we have ever asked you to give back to us on final examinations. You say we never explain things. How about that time last winter when the arithmetic teacher was explaining just how it happened that you couldn’t add three-fifths to seven-eighths and get ten-thirteenths? Do you remember what you were doing then? If you were not in some form of undetected mischief, then you were thinking of the coming snowball fight at recess or of some other equally unmathematical subject. And when the teacher said, “Does everybody understand? Is there any question?” you remained silent. She had explained and had offered to explain again, but you wouldn’t listen. You wouldn’t give her a chance.
And do you remember when dad looked over your report card and scolded you for having so many low marks? You thought he was pretty harsh and unsympathetic. Have you thought that perhaps his heart is so wrapped up in your success in life that your failure to do your best has been like a bit of cold steel entering that very vital part of him? Have you thought how you may perhaps feel some day when your children don’t do their best? You say now that dad and mother “don’t understand.” Think it over. Perhaps they are actually looking back at their own child-hood failures, and understand only too well what the habits of slackness acquired then have meant in their later lives.
Parents, you say that children are “so difficult these days.” Why are they difficult? Is it not perhaps chiefly your own fault? Are you giving them a square deal? Have you learned to be loving but not indulgent? Have you learned to be inexorably firm but not harsh? Have you learned to give them the liberty that the child of to-day is rightfully coming into without failing to demand a concomitant sense of responsibility? Have you learned to listen to their confidences without tirades of criticism? Have you learned to be a pal without insisting upon being the boss pal? How much, in short, have you tried to get in touch with these “difficult modern children”?
And how about the “low-grade set of teachers” that you complain about? What makes us “low-grade”? Will you “high-grade” ladies and gentlemen come and take over our jobs for a little while, including the forty or fifty restless children, and the gloomy, stuffy rooms, and the hard, immovable benches, and the antiquated courses of study, and the rigid methods of discipline? Oh, yes-and including our salaries? If you could only take our places for a little while, gentle parents, you might see how even the best of us cease to be as “high-grade” as we should like to be. And after you had tried to teach the children now in our care you might think that our results do not measure up quite so badly, after all. Consider also that, if we are actually low-grade to start with, it is because you who have the power of the almighty dollar in your hands have offered so little remuneration that too few really high-grade persons can be tempted to enter the teaching profession. Also think over the amount of moral support you have given us when your children came home and criticised us. How often have you met such criticism with the loyal answer that there must be some misunderstanding which you can clear up by coming frankly and in friendly spirit to us? How often, instead, have you said, “Well, of all things! I never heard of such methods!” And, fellow-teachers-for it is our turn now to examine our own hearts-how about the difficulties of teaching this enfant terrible, the modern child who has so many outside distractions and who “doesn’t know what real study means”? Do the difficulties really lie in the child? Or do they lie in our failure to keep pace with the expanding nature of child life, our failure to unchild and world, our failure to apply the best principles of education to the job of to-day? When the child of to-day rebels and says, “Why do I have to study that dry old stuff?” how many of us have ever answered, “I’m not sure. Let’s talk it over and see why”? And if in talking it over with the child and his mates we come to see that there is something of justice on the side of the child, how many of us have been square enough to modify our course of study where it really ought to be modified? Again, when a whole class has been lethargic over our presentation of a really interesting and worth-while subject, how many of us have admitted to ourselves that we must be the ones to blame? How many of us have strenuously gone about casting out the beams from our own eyes before railing against the motes in the eyes of our children?
And how about our attitude toward the parents whom we declare to be “not on their jobs”? Have we ever thought how little we really know about whether the parents are “on their jobs” or not? We don’t like parents to judge us by the tales our children tell of us. Is it fair to judge the parents by their children? There is a gulf of black ignorance lying between us and these parents. And we have been deepening it and widening it with each generation. What do we do when a parent appears at the schoolroom door? Is it not true that inwardly we sigh or curse according to our natures, while outwardly we preserve an attitude of chilly courtesy or hypocritical delight-unless we break loose and use the opportunity to inveigh against the child of that parent? How often do we say, frankly and in a truly friendly spirit: “Well, Mrs. Blank, I am glad to see you. Won’t you sit down and visit us this morning and then come and talk with me after the children have gone home? No, Jimmy is not doing as well as he could, but I believe we can solve his problem if you’ll just come and give me what light you have on the subject.” I warrant that not many of us greet our parents in any such spirit. But we ought to. That is our salvation-getting together with the parents in behalf of the children.
Failure to get the other fellow’s point of view-that is the great stumbling-block in the way of educating our children. And, after all, it is we teachers and we parents-for the writer has children himself-who are to blame. At least we are old enough and ought to be wise enough to reform. Our children cannot be reached until after we have reformed. Possibly their reformation will go hand in hand with our own. Yes, probably it will, for they are wonderful little persons when it comes to responding to the influences about them. By all means, then, let us begin to hunt the other fellow’s point of view.
In thinking of our children let us remember that from the moment of birth they begin to have rights of individuality which grow and expand month by month, and that never in all the life of a child has any parent a right to invade the individuality of his child by his own individuality, or to try to shape the life of his child for the carrying out of parental ambition. We must help our children to find themselves. But for our protection, the protection of others in the world, and for the child’s own benefit, we must teach a child not to invade or violate the rights of others. We must be firm and constant in our efforts at this sort of discipline. And we must be reasonable-checking childish impulses only when we can show clearly that the safety of the child or the rights of others demand the check.
But it is in getting together as teachers and parents that we can perhaps accomplish the most immediate good. So let us consider ways and means. In the first place, we must frame our minds without antagonism. Each of us must assume that, while the other has probably grave faults and is perhaps not thoroughly competent, he is nevertheless really eager to do the right thing. Each of us must admit to himself that, while he is trying to do the right thing, there is no doubt that he is often failing. Each of us must realize that just as he could give good advice to the other so the other could give good advice to him. And then in humble but frank and friendly spirit each should seek the other.
For instance-and I am taking a real case that has come within my experience-Johnny is falling further and further behind in his lessons. He seems dull and uninterested. Yet now and then there is a flash of unusual intelligence. The teacher is puzzled and doesn’t know quite what to make of it. After much consideration of the problem on the part of the teacher, a letter goes to Johnny’s father: “Dear Mr. Blank, will you call me up soon and make an appointment to talk with me about Johnny? We don’t seem to be getting the best out of him, and I want your advice.” The father comes.
“I want you to understand,” says he, “that Mrs. Blank and I are mightily pleased with what you have already done for Johnny. We know he is still not doing all he can, but we don’t blame you a bit. Probably it is our own fault mostly. What have you to suggest?”
“I don’t want to suggest anything,” says the teacher, “until you tell me what you think I can do that I’m not doing.”
Whereat the father laughs deprecatingly, hesitates, but finally admits two things: First, that Johnny can’t seem to understand the grammar work required of him; and, second, that Johnny has a notion that teacher is down on him.
The teacher considers, resolves to have a quiet personal talk with Johnny, and makes sure that these two obstacles to Johnny’s progress shall be removed.
“And now,” says Johnny’s father, “how about us? What can we do?”
It is the teacher’s turn to hesitate deprecatingly, but Johnny’s father looks friendly and eager to be advised, so the teacher speaks:
“It seems to me that Johnny eats altogether too much candy. Has he perhaps too much pocket money not earned by himself?”
The father thinks a bit, admits the probability, and plans reform. The teacher goes on:
“Johnny is often late. He looks sleepy. Does he get to bed early enough?”
Johnny’s father blushes.
“I’m afraid not,” he says. “The evening is the only chance I get to talk with him, and I guess I let him sit up too late. What do you think is a proper hour for a twelve-year-old?”
The teacher gives his opinion modestly; the father agrees and promises to set forward the bed-time hour; they talk over a few more points about Johnny’s regime; and finally they begin to talk about Johnny himself-what his chief interests are, how cleverly he has constructed his wireless set from almost nothing, and what a really intelligent conversationalist he is. The teacher and father separate greatly encouraged, resolved to improve in their handling of Johnny, and, above all, inspired by the discovery of a very real common interest in Johnny.
This was not a super-teacher or a super-parent. It was a pair of average human beings blessed by the sane impulse to bury antagonism and to cooperate for the benefit of a perfectly average boy whom they had been mis-handling because they didn’t know all points of view. And the co-operation is equally as valuable when it is initiated in a friendly and frank way by the parent as when it comes from the teacher. Let us hope that more such average parents and teachers will be blessed this year with the impulse to co-operate, to get together for the benefit of more average boys and girls.
Source: The Outlook, 18 October 1922