Would it not be nice for country children to know that toward the end of the school year they would be given an excursion to the largest city of their state, to its slums, its factories, parks, and art galleries? They would grow up more intelligent about geography. They would read history, politics, sociology, and civil government with greater interest. They would have less contracted sympathies. They might even decide that they would rather live their life in the spacious country than in the crowded, rushing city.
City children, on the other hand, would reap worlds of physical benefit and untold inspiration from periods of recreation and study in the country, with its quiet, its greens and bronzes and yellows, its birds and animals, its sky that sits like a dome on the earth, its hopefulness. Winter sleigh rides and coasting would give new vigor and ambition. Why spend so much on teaching physiology, geography, and nature study, if in the end we fail to send the child where alone nature and hygiene tell their story? Why tax ourselves to teach history and sociology and commercial geography out of books when excursions to the city and country will paint pictures on the mind that can never be erased? What more attractive or more reasonable than appetizing, warm meals, or cool salads and drinks for the boys and girls who carry their little dinner pails and baskets down the long road where everything runs together in summer and everything freezes in winter? One needs little imagination to see the "smile that won't come off," health, punctuality, and school interest resulting from the school meal.
Again, if children must have teeth filled and pulled, eyes tested and fitted for glasses, adenoids and enlarged tonsils removed, surely the school environment offers the least affrighting spot for the tragedy. Thence goblins long ago fled. There courage, real or feigned, is brought to the surface by the anxious, critical, competitive interest of one's peers.
A South Ireland Argument For "Doing Things"
The economic defense of these remedies is many-sided. An English drummer once instructed me during a railroad journey from southern to northern Ireland. As we entered the fertile fields of Lord Dunraven's estate near Athlone, I expressed sympathy for other countries impoverished of soil, of wealth, and of thrift. My instructor replied: "It would pay the government to bring them all to this land free once a year, just to show them what they are missing." That his idea of an investment is sound has been proved by railroads and land companies and even by states, who give away excursions to entice settlers and buyers. Ambition at almost any cost is cheaper than indifference to opportunity. It would be cheaper for our American taxpayer to send school children to city and country than to pay the penalty for having a large number of citizens with narrow interests, unconscious of the struggles and joys of their co-citizens. Free meals, free books, free rides, free eyeglasses, are cheaper than free instruction for the second, third, and sixth terms in studies not passed because of physical defects,—infinitely cheaper than jails and almshouses, truant officers and courthouses.
The demoralizing results of giving "something for nothing" did not follow free schooling or free text-books. Perhaps they would not follow the free remedies that we are asked to copy from Europe. In fact, the word "free" is the wrong word. These remedies rather require cooperation of parent with parent. It has demoralized nobody because the streets are cleaned by all of us, country roads made by the township, police paid for by taxes and not by volunteer subscription.
The man whose children do not need glasses or nourishment or operation for adenoids would find it cheaper to pay for European remedies than for the useless schooling of boys unable to get along in school because of removable defects. An unruly, uninterested boy sitting beside your boy in public school, a pampered, overfed, undisciplined child sitting beside yours at private school, is taxing you without your consent and doing your child injury that may prove irreparable.
It costs $2.50 to furnish a child with eyeglasses. It costs $25 to $50 to give that child a year's schooling. If the child cannot see right and fails in his studies, we have lost a good investment and, after one year so lost, we are out $22.50. In two years we have lost $47.50. But, what is more serious, we have discouraged that boy. Used to failure in school, his mind turns to other things. He is made to think that it is useless for him to try for first place. Perhaps he can play ball, and excels. He chooses a career of ball playing. Valuable years are lost.
Initiative and competition are not interrupted any more by free eyeglasses and free operation for adenoids than by free schooling. There is only one place in the world where there is less competition or less struggle than among the ignorant, and that is among the ignorant and unwell. The boy who can't see the blackboard, who can't learn to spell, who can't breathe through his nose, and can't be interested, doesn't compete at all with the bright, healthy boy. Remove the adenoids, give glasses, make interest possible, and fitness to survive takes a higher level because larger numbers become fit to survive.
Professor Patten says that it is easier to support in the almshouse than in competitive industry a man who cannot earn more than $1.50 a day. The question, therefore, regarding European remedies is not, To what general theory do they belong? but, What will they accomplish? How do they compare with other remedies of which we know?