This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
In spite of all the arts, our understanding of persons who are distant from us in space or time depends upon our understanding of the persons whom we have met. Personality radiates through bearing, gesture, facial expression, and tone of voice, with subtlety surpassing that of any verbal means of communication.
The chief means of what we may call pre-verbal communication are the expression of the face - especially of the mobile portions about the eyes and mouth - the pitch, inflection, and emotional tone of the voice, and the gestures of the head and limbs. All of these begin in involuntary movements but are capable of becoming voluntary, and are all eagerly practiced and interpreted by children long before they learn to speak. ... - Cooley, Social Organization, p. 66.
That which we are, we shall teach, not voluntarily, but involuntarily. . . . Character teaches over our head. ... - Emerson, Essays, "The Over-Soul."
The character of a pupil is shaped by the personality of the teacher and the fellow pupils, by what they are and do, and by what they lead him by imitation to do, more than by anything that is conveyed in language. For that reason there have been no inventions in moral education. Mechanisms may extend the range but they cannot give quality. The processes of this most important part of education are not essentially different from what they were two thousand years ago.
A few weeks after a new teacher came to a school a parent remarked to her little girl about how polite she was getting to be. The child replied that her teacher walked around so politely that she could not help feeling polite, too.
If personality is so strong a factor in education, the segregation of pupils who exhibit objectionable qualities may need more attention than it has yet received; our ideas of personal liberty may have to be revised. Every teacher of experience knows that the work of a class or room is often hindered, and not infrequently demoralized, by the presence of a single pupil. He may be defective in some way - stuttering, feeble-minded, or with some physical deformity: any peculiarity will find imitators.
A child hard of hearing of ten said "I don't understand," or "What?" when spoken to. Other pupils in the room formed the habit of making the same replies.
I had a boy last year who had been kept in the primary room six years. He could get arithmetic pretty well but he couldn't read at all. He had a habit, when he was corrected for anything, of covering his face with his hands and leering at you from behind them. This habit was communicated to a great many of the boys in the room, and the correction of it was a task for the teachers in the upper grades.
Still worse is the influence of the morally defective.
There was a boy in our school who, although he was among the oldest, never seemed to feel disgraced to be in classes with children in the second and third grades. He would smoke on the school grounds, and disobey the school rules in every possible way. He left school when he was about eighteen, to the great relief of the people of the district.
A new family having four boys moved into our neighborhood. These boys were not liked by the older children because they were so rough and quarrelsome. The usually rough boys became more rough in order to defend themselves; the timid children became more timid.
In 1912 a principal in Brooklyn started a "campaign for segregation of incorrigible pupils in separate disciplinary schools." A circular of inquiry which he sent out "brought forth a harvest of replies telling of instances of depravity among pupils":
It is wrong to ask young teachers, many of them women, to handle these ruffians by moral suasion. I believe there are many worse cases which teachers are ashamed to write about. - New York Times, Feb. 26, 1912.
I had charge of a department in which there were several "leftovers," boys with vicious tendencies. Other boys who had previously held good records for study and behavior gradually fell off in both. When the vicious ones, in view of their failure to keep up class work, suggested that they leave school, I did not encourage them to remain. Things went much better after their withdrawal.
. . . Earl, a boy of fourteen, was bent upon disturbance. He broke through the rules at once, and caused confusion and interfered with other children by lawless tricks. There was but one thing to do, to put him out of the room and refuse him the privileges of the school. It was possible in this case to isolate him and give him individual treatment. But he never re-entered the regular class-work. Every system of schools ought to be supplied with rooms and teachers who can deal with special cases, and with smaller special groups. It is unjust to impose such a ruinous burden upon a room-teacher who has the charge of thirty or forty children. It upsets the order and efficiency of the room, worries the teacher to a frazzle, and does the boy himself no good. - McMurry, Conflicting Principles in Teaching, pp. 36, 37.