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Being a parent who has patronized the schools for the past six years, I can say with sincerity that there is nothing unusual in the part that I have taken in the school work of my children. We have kept them regularly at school and have insisted upon their doing the home work assigned. We have assisted in the home work, but never to the extent of passing upon the correctness of that work. Report cards have been examined with care and a word of disapproval has been spoken when the markings have been lower than it is good for a pupil to get. It is the quiet but firm understanding that the home sustains the teachers and the school is not much in debate in the home talk. To show the children and the teachers that we appreciate the service of the teachers we either entertain the teachers once or twice a year as the guests of the children, or the children make some slight present to the teachers, at our suggestion or at theirs, at proper intervals during the school year. We have been fortunate enough to convince the teachers that if our children are not doing the right thing in school that the teachers have felt free and frank to give us immediate notice. I suppose that the children have had some high marks that they did not really deserve, but we have forgiven the teacher for that flattery inasmuch as it gave the children a little temporary inspiration. All this is commonplacerránd perhaps out of place, in this paper, but as I am writing from experience, I feel that a little testimony may be good for those who have not yet tasted the joys of sending children to the public schools.
We have always exercised our right to vote for good people to serve as school officers, and when they were installed into office, we have allowed them to manage and direct the schools without interference or suggestion. I have made up my mind that, as a rule, school patrons only should serve as school officers. The school patron who fails to turn out and help elect the best school patrons for school officers has very little cause to whimper if the schools are not run right. Life is too short to be in controversy all the time. The ballot box should settle some things in school matters, as it does in civil matters.
But you and I have found parents, who in their time were public school teachers, who take a very intense interest in the schools and in their children in their school work. They have the advantage of knowing better than you do how they should be taught and they are not unwilling to let you know it, some in one way and some in another. Now if they think that is their parents' part in the school work, of course it is so, and you will accept their suggestions or directions with much pleasure and great courtesy and little debate. There can be no harm done to you by such a course, and sometimes it is a great source of satisfaction to a mother or father to know that they have told the teacher what is what. Dismiss the incident without any repetition of it to intimate friends and continue to be a diligent student of the best methods of modern teaching. I may be wrong—in fact I suppose I am—but it is my notion as I write this that teachers lose a lot of nerve force trying to adjust their methods to suit every critic.
A school is made up of individuals, differing in ability, temperament and disposition. The teacher has a complex problem, and it is little wonder that there are times when some parents feel like complaining, or at least inquiring about, some matters concerning the schools, and doing it with the best of good intentions. It may truly be said to be a parent's legitimate part in school work. It is here that both the parent and teacher are in error, or likely to be. Neither gets the other's point of view, and too often when the conference is over there is left a strained situation that counts for no good to the children or the school in general. Knowing the sensitiveness of teachers as well as I do, as a parent, I shall need to have a very grave matter at stake before I shall ever complain, and then I shall make it to a school officer or superintendent. A teacher who will do a serious wrong in the schoolroom is not the one who will mend it at the suggestion of the parent in the case. An unjust complaint against a teacher coming through the school officer strengthens rather than weakens the teacher, and in that case neither the parent or the teacher have any unpleasant interview to forget. Parents usually will not agree with this way of handling the matter, and some teachers will not, but experience has forced me to the opinion that it is ever the thing for teachers to complain directly to parents about the shortcomings of their children, but never the right thing for the parent to complain directly to the teacher about her shortcomings. I am not at all disturbed if you do not believe in this practice.
With one statement you may agree with me, if any, in this talk, and that is that parents should and do love their own children best. If a child gets into trouble at school, of course it is natural for him or her to place the blame with someone else. It is the expected thing except perhaps with the parents of that particular child. It is the parent's part to have the good sense to know there are two sides to every story. Between the extrénies of the parent who threatens home punishment for school offenses, and the parent who blames the teacher for all school punishments, there is a happy mean in the parent who has so reared his children to respect all teachers that they have few school difficulties. If parents could get the notion that the public schools have no favorites, what a service they could be in school work. In all my experience I never met a teacher who graded a child too low. I have met some freaks who have padded the markings and have graded high. Still we do have parents who unfortunately get themselves into a frame of mind to write something like this to the teacher:
“ It has come to my notice that my boy, attending your school, has been put back one grade, although there are others inferior allowed to remain. Also that my little girl is made to remain after school for missing a word or two in spelling or some such little trifle. Now, these things will not be tolerated unless explained to our entire satisfaction. If the teachers can't do better work it is time for a change. I want my children to go to school willingly instead of, as at present, being compelled to drive them. I am a taxpayer here and help to support the schools and will insist that these matters be adjusted.”
And the only way to adjust things was to put the children in such grades of work that they were able to understand, thereby making it possible for them to get some pleasure out of their school life. How unfortunate it is that any parent should take such an unwise part in school work, that is, when he is able to frighten a modest and trembling school teacher with such a threat. . I am not saying that teachers do not need adnionishment and advice and suggestions. It must be frankly admitted that some teachers, by their great talk and boasting about what they are doing or are about to do in their schools, really court the parents into the belief that some radical move is on foot and that they are called upon to express their hearty condemnation of it. If silence is golden in any one it is in the teacher. It is sad to realize that some are as unwise as the chicken hunter who set out for his game with a brass band instead of a pointer. A teacher's life in the average school is too short for her to explain to all who will listen in the neighborhood just what methods she uses and how and why. At best teachers must be leaders in school progress. The teacher who does things acts, and then it is not so material whether the parents assist. The good thing is done and the way is made clear for another step in advance. If the schools halt in their improvement for parents to catch up generally there would be no advancement for the next ten years. There · is nothing unusual in this condition of affairs, and I only speak of it to show that it must be the expected thing that the point of view of the parent must frequently be different than that of the progressive teacher. It explains also why many successful teachers are not very popular. In some cases the very unpopularity of the teacher argues her success in the schoolroom work, but her lack of tact in her associations with the parents. Thoughtful parents will measure these conditions when estimating the true worth of the teacher.
The end sought, of course, is the active assistance of the parents in all school work. This is secured first of all by intelligent and forceful teaching in the schoolroom. With this add that thoughtful consideration for the parents at all times that should be shown. And then follows a variety of ways that may be very helpful: 1. Visiting them in their homes. 2. Inviting them to the school at regular and special times. 3. Parents or mothers' meetings. The method is best in which the teacher feels the greatest confidence in being able to carry out. The parents' part in these matters should be the most helpful and encouraging, for they reap the benefits.
I suppose that the parents will play much the same part in school work in the future as they have up to this time. The people as a whole are a conservative body. They do not think any more of us teachers than they should. If they did they would pay us more and treat us better, and think more about what we say. And right here a thought is suggested to me that parents may be of a very great service to teachers and schools, perhaps the very best service that can be rendered them. Public school teaching is a busy work. The teacher is in the public atmosphere and her name is much on the lips of the people. In some homes the parents speak of her with the highest esteem and in others, it is to be regretted, that her name is treated lightly if not offensively. The parent must be blamed if he fails to demand in the home the proper respect for the teacher of his children. Come what will there is but one just thing for the parent to do for his child. The more he can teach him to respect his teachers, the greater power the teachers will have with him for good in the schoolroom. The person who wilfully comes between the child and his teacher and sets the child against the teacher by any method is not far different from the character that deliberately sets the husband against the wife. Children naturally resist education enough without any of this sort of interference. The union between the parent and teacher should be so perfect that the one supplements the other in every laudable effort for the good of the child.
A Laboratory Experiment in Latin
MASON D. GRAY, CLASSICAL DEPARTMENT, EAST HIGH SCHOOL,
ROCHESTER, N. Y.
TO SECURE real interest in the study of Latin among our high school pupils
is becoming a more and more difficult problem. The abnormal athletic excitement now prevalent everywhere, the vastly greater number of individual interests outside of school life, the rapid development of special interests, connected, to be sure, with the school, but wholly extraneous to either scholarship or education, the disproportionate increase in freedom of action, as compared with growth in powers of self-direction and control, such are some of the influences that are operating to prevent classical studies from claiming and maintaining their proper position in the mind of the average pupil.
This condition is one of the utinost concern to classical teachers, not only with respect to the progress of those pupils who have begun their Latin, but because of the assistance artificially afforded by these influences to those subjects with which Latin is in actual competition, and which by their form and matter appeal to the average boy as nearer in kin to those practical, superficial, but none the less engrossing interests that absorb so much of his thought and energy.
Every teacher of Latin must adopt, in the face of these tendencies, an attitude either of passive acquiescence or of active opposition. The former attitude can only be justified by the belief that the pendulum will swing the other way of its own accord. But we have no evidence that it is a pendulum at all. It certainly has, as yet, given no indication of swinging back and, should it do so, it is almost sure never to regain its normal equilibrium. On the other hand, in what way shall active opposition manifest itself, and become really effective in combating the evil? It is too often forgotten that, since the evil exists because of the immaturity of the people, we cannot hope to eradicate it by remedies that would be efficacious, were the patient mature. If we could imagine a school totally devoid of athletic sentiment, we should never hope to arouse an interest comparable to what now exists by merely presenting to pupils the rational arguments upon which our own belief in the value of athletics is actually based. Now, while our problem is the reverse of this, it is equally indisputable that we cannot destroy these abnormal interests by appealing to the reason of the pupil. If we are successfully to dispute to athletics and other foreign activities the exclusive right to this absorption of interest, it must be by creating in direct connection with Latin work an interest sufficiently strong to persuade pupils to devote their surplus time and energy to it. The antidote in this case must be compounded on the homeopathic principle, for we shall agree that it is not the interest itself that is objectionable, but the fields in which it operates. As soon as we have secured such an attitude toward some phase of their Latin work, their whole study of Latin assumes a significance in their education impossible before, for it has become an essential part of those wholly voluntary and spontaneous activities, that constitute the real life of the pupil and are of far greater influence upon his development than any merely passive interests, engulfed and destroyed the moment they emerge from the class room in the unequal struggle to which they are immediately subjected. These passive interests, intrinsically of far greater worth than those by which they are destroyed, must be armed and equipped with weapons strong enough to ensure their survival and their consequent participation in that mental life of the pupil which thrives apart from the class room, and apart from the merely mechanical preparation of assigned tasks.
But we cannot expect that appeals to reason will operate positively in the construction of interest in Latin any more effectively than they have negatively in the destruction of interest in athletics. Such interest, if secured at all, must spring spontaneously from the pupil in response to the presentation, without argument, of the subject, or some phase of the subject, in which we desire to secure it.
What phase of Latin work is adapted to arouse their interest? There has been a great development in the past few years along objective and illustrative lines in class room work. Pictures, the stereopticon, etc., are becoming more and more prominent; but, however much pupils enjoy such work, it does not arouse any feeling stronger than a pleasurable curiosity and the satisfaction of it. What is needed is an interest, springing from the pupils and sustained by them, that will make its object as natural and as interesting a topic of conversation outside the class room, as the schedule and stars of the football team. In other words some phase of ancient life must be found that both was of intense interest to the ancients and is capable of appealing on the same grounds to the same interests of a boy or girl to-day, and so furnishes a common bond joining the active real life of an American boy with the no less active and real life of the Romans.
We have found the answer to this question in the political life of the Romans. An interest in politics is and should be the birthright of every real American boy or girl. At the age of fourteen there is no phase of Roman life into which he is so capable of sympathetically and intelligently entering. Instead, therefore, of religiously excluding this interest from his four years of Latin work, we should make it the basis for establishing that community of interest upon the consciousness of which must depend his ultimate perception of the significance of Roman civilization, and which, when once secured in one phase, destroys the strange and foreign atmosphere, the feeling of unreality that from the first day constitutes so serious an obstacle to his progress in Latin. The introduction of the political interest becomes still more natural when we reflect that two of the four years are spent in the study of those authors whose political activities constitute the history of Rome in the last twenty-five years of the Republic.
The interest we are searching for cannot, of course, be developed from a mere study of ancient politics. We must reproduce through our pupils and put into actual operation the Roman political organization, the political parties, the campaign, the election and the other normal activities in the life of the state. Each of these several aspects will now be briefly described with reference to its practical incorporation into our state.