Do we want to make of our schools miniature hospitals, dispensaries, relief bureaus, parks? Or shall we use the momentum of society's interest in the school child to put within the reach of every school building adequate hospitals, dispensaries, relief centers, and parks for school child and adult? Shall every little school have its library, or shall the child be taught at school how to use the same library that is available to his parents and older brothers and sisters? If the library is to be under the school roof, if dispensary and relief hospital are to be conducted on the same site as the school, shall they be known as dispensary, library, relief bureau, each under separate management, or shall they be known as school under the management of school principal and superintendent? So complicated and many-sided is the problem of working together with one's neighbor for mutual benefit that it is a safe rule for the schools to adopt: We shall do nothing that is unnecessary or extravagant. We shall have done our part if we do well what no one else can do. Whatever any agency can do better than we, we shall leave to that agency. Work that another agency ought to have done and has left undone, we shall try to have done by that agency.
Immediately Opposite The Model Tenements, But Uninfluenced "Getting Things Done" By The Tenement House Department Their Special Need
I know a hospital where a welfare nurse was recently employed. Within a few blocks were three different relief agencies and two visiting-nurse's associations, having among them over one hundred visitors and nurses going to all sections of Manhattan. This nurse had the choice of telephoning to one of these agencies and asking it to call at the needy home of one of her hospital patients, or of going to the home herself. Had she chosen to use another agency, she could have been the means of furnishing the kind of help needed in every needy home discovered in her hospital rounds, but she chose to do the running about herself and thus of helping ten families where she ought to have helped five hundred. Much the same condition confronts the school that tries to do all extra work for its child instead of seeing that the work is done. Illustration is afforded by the New York tenement department. Whereas European cities have built a few model tenements, New York City secured a law declaring that everybody who built a tenement and everybody who owned a tenement should provide sanitary surroundings. At the present time a philanthropist, by spending two million dollars, could give sanitary surroundings to thirty-five families; by spending each year the interest on one tenth that sum he could insure the enforcement of the tenement laws affecting every tenement resident in New York City.
If schools are to perform surgical operations, they are in danger of being sued for malpractice; discipline will be interfered with. Finally, let us not forget that we are dealing with buildings, teachers, and school institutions as they exist. Where education is made compulsory, the unpleasant and the controversial should be kept out of school. Because a democratic institution, the American school should represent at all times a maximum of general agreement.
To take palliative measures to public schools not only leaves undone remedial work necessary for the health of public school children but neglects entirely the still large numbers who go to parochial, private pay, and private free schools; no one has had the temerity to suggest that the public shall force upon nonpublic schools a system of free operations, free eyeglasses, free meals.
Civilization has painstakingly developed a large number of agencies for the education and protection of mankind. Of these agencies the school is but one. Its first and peculiar function is to teach and to train. This it can do better than any other agency or combination of agencies. In attempting to "bring all life under the school roof," we use but a small part of our resources. Instead of persuading each of the agencies for the promotion of health to do its part for school children, we set up the school in competition with them. Thus in trying to do things for school children we are in danger of crippling agencies equipped to do things for both school children and their parents, for babies before they come to school, and for wage earners after they leave school.
Getting things done will lead schools to study underlying causes; doing things has heretofore caused schools to confine themselves to symptoms. Getting things done will leave the school free to concentrate its attention upon school problems; doing things will lead it afield into the problem of medicine, surgery, restaurant keeping, and practical charity.