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.
When the subject matter is sufficiently weighty and permanent, then popular impression merges into public opinion. Discussion is the process by which this takes place. Popular impression is never unanimous. Neither is it divided into two or any other number of distinct phases. It is simply uncertain, hazy. If the question will not down, serious talk ensues, both formal and informal; sober periodicals publish expositions; evidence is adduced for this, that, and the other view; some experience - "the logic of events" - does much to clarify public consciousness. At last some one view becomes predominant; society "makes up its mind" and public opinion is formed.
The teacher was having a great deal of trouble with one boy. He was bright in his studies and well liked by his classmates. But they observed his conduct and began talking about it among themselves. They discussed it from all sides, and finally decided that the boy was to blame. Then they were uncertain what to do about it. After a great deal more discussion they decided to make it plain to this boy that they would not stand any more of such conduct. They called a class meeting at which several of the boys made speeches. They made it very plain to this boy that the class were behind the teacher. He made no more trouble after that.
Mass opinion carries individual opinion along with it; the individual who will not go with it, at least in external behavior, is obliged to take a definite stand against it. In this way society becomes organized on a large scale so that it can accomplish big undertakings. All has its basis in effective communication.
In the auditorium one morning all those were asked to stand who wished to subscribe to the school paper. A number of girls stood, so they wouldn't look as if they cherished their money too highly, although they had no intention of taking the paper.
It was proposed to bond the city for $800,000 for new school buildings and improvements on old buildings. The schools closed the day before election and had a great parade. The children marched through the streets carrying banners and singing songs which told what they wanted and why. Everybody was interested and turned out to see the parade. They also turned out the next day in equal numbers and good will, for an enormous vote was polled giving the schools what they had asked for.
But public opinion, like popular impression, is usually not unanimous. While some differences disappear under discussion, others are intensified, and new ones keep appearing. A difference gradually shapes itself as a definite proposition or question which can be answered by yes or no. If the question is an urgent one, public opinion becomes sharply divided into the two phases, pro and con, and on this definite issue the discussion continues. After a time one of the two sides may win, and then the question disappears. Or the question may be found unanswerable at the time because of lack of evidence. Thus in 1910 and 1911 there was a public opinion in Wisconsin favoring some kind of schooling for children from fourteen to sixteen years of age who have permits to leave the regular schools and go to work. It was not till 1912, however, that a law could be passed providing for continuation schools. Since then there has been some opposition to the opening of new schools, the hiring of additional teachers, and the rigid enforcement of attendance at the schools. The discussion is on the details of the law rather than the principle of it. In time these will also be mostly settled and the question will cease to attract public attention.