Wednesday, February 24, 2010

a passioned plea 1905

Mr. Charles B. Gilbert argued against the separate manual training school in discussion at the 1905 convention of the Eastern Manual Training Association as follows;:
"What is the great foe of democracy at all times? It is the building up of walls--permanent walls--between classes; is it not? So long as wealth disappears with a single generation or two generations there is not an great danger; but when we get into the position--condition (if we ever do)--that many of the countries of the world are in; if a child is born with the feeling that he is born in a class--that there is a great gulf or a high wall between him and his neighbor who is born in a different class; then democracy is dead.

Now occupation, of course, is not all of it; it is only a part of it; but when you have a mechanic class, as such, in a community, you are simply accenting the gravest danger of our labor problem. You are in your schools training children with the feeling that they are going to be necessarily and for all time in the wage-earning class, as distinguished from the capitalist class; and you are making these classes--you are tending to make them--permanent; because permanency is psychological and does not depend upon external conditions; you are training them in a feeling. External conditions can always be broken down; internal conditions--states of mind--cannot be broken down; and democracy is a state of mind. Democracy is not a form of government; it is a state of mind. It consists of a community of democratic people The business of the schools is to train democratic people; and every teacher in every line of work should endeavor to bring up the boys and the girls to the feeling that they must be democratic--that they stand equal in opportunity and in obligation with all other boys and girls who are growing up.

That may seem remote from the subject; but it is not. If you have your manual training high school as distinct from manual training in high schools, then you have a lot of boys and girls put off by themselves. You deprive all the others of the educational value--of the training--with the manual training affords; and then, having shut these off by themselves, the mechanical fro the high and aesthetic or social or more intellectual work; to become more and more like trade schools, with the emphasis on the mechanical. The teachers inevitably drift that way; they need--you need--the counteracting influence in your own school of the teachers of Greek and Latin and history, literature and all the other things; otherwise they tend to become master mechanics--instructors in mechanics. That is a great danger to both teacher and pupil."
The danger Gilbert pointed out was in two directions. One was that some children who by being placed in academic pursuits and denied manual training, would perceive themselves as being of a higher class, and thus marginalize the contributions of others. The equal danger in the other direction was that those put in the manual training or mechanics class, would fail to gain the academic lessons that would at some point allow them to transcend that class. This was an important discussion within the manual training movement that was put to rest in 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Hughes Act into law, thus applying the weight of federal dollars against the integration of hand and mind in programs inspired by educational Sloyd.

It is time to check on the workings of our democracy. Has it been endangered by our choices in education as Mr. Gilbert predicted in 1904? Regardless of where you stand, Republican, Democrat, or independent, and in examining the workings of Washington, DC, odds are you will say yes.

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