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THE CITY OF NEW YORK
PROBLEMS OF SCHOOL-ROOM GOVERNMENT
It is safe to say that the majority of teachers go into their schools every Septeraber worrying more The importance of abcůt one particular problem good order
than allo otherscombined; and this is the problem of government in the class-room. Probably nine out of ten trustees and members of boards of education esteem good order more highly. than anything else in teaching. In some communities the only school topic that is discussed is the order which the teacher keeps. He is regarded as a success just in the measure that he can make the children "mind", or "toe the mark”. Perhaps this is as it should be, for "order is Heaven's first law"; and it must be the first rule of the school, as most people think.
In a very real sense, good order is absolutely essential to a healthy tone in a school, or anywhere else, for that matter. It requires that people, young and old, must so control themselves that all can perform effectively the tasks in hand. When a group of persons are out of order, they can not pull together; they interfere with one another, and both time and energy are wasted. Moreover, in the case of the young, bad habits may be formed which may later make it impossible for them to adapt themselves to the laws and rules of the society in which they must live. So it is not surprising that parents and school officers have placed good order above every other consideration in teaching. It shows they have appreciated, with greater or less clcarness, the fundamental necessity in human society, whether in the school-room or outside.
Memory carries the writer back to the district school in which he had his first experience in teachThe methods of ing. There was a painted line runan earlier day. sing across the floor in the front of the room. This had been used by a whole generation of predecessors to secure good order in their recitations. Whenever a class was called, the pupils came forward, faced the school, and “toed” this line, with their feet turned out at an angle of 60°, face to the front, and hands held behind the back, except when one was needed to hold a book. It was the custom then to insist on rigid motor restraint on the part of all children in every recitation. The teachers of the day gave more attention to government than to instruction proper. They used to have “disciplinary” periods, when all pupils were required to sit erect in their seats for fifteen minutes at a stretch, with arms folded, and every muscle tense. All communication during school hours was forbidden. Not even a friendly word now and then with one's seat-mate was permitted. Quiet and dress-parade behavior were constantly striven after. And yet there was a great deal of bad order in the schools, of which this one was typical. The pupils were fidgety in spite of the frequent chastisements; and they seemed often to be looking for a chance to start a rebellion. The
. teacher lived in continual fear of revolt in those schools; and not infrequently he was compelled to make a hasty and unconventional exit from the school-room, being aided thereto by the “big boys” in the school. At best there was a continual armed neutrality in the typical district school of New York State twenty-five years ago.
But to-day there is a very different tone in the school referred to. A new school building has replaced the old one, and the painted line has disappeared. One does not hear much now in that community about the teacher's keeping order. The pupils
have grown better. They are happier in school than they used to be, speaking generally, and they have a genuinely agreeable time with the teacher. Rarely now is a child whipped, whereas, in an earlier day, a school without frequent floggings was quite exceptional. Some of the readers of these pages can probably bear witness to the fact that during the last quarter of a century, nothing short of a revolution has taken place in the relations of teachers and pupils in the rural schools of the United States.
What has been responsible for this change? It has come about as a result, mainly, of two forces The factors which acting together. In the first have produced a new
place, there is now more inrégime in respect to teresting teaching of more vischool government tal studies than there was formerly. And in the second place, teachers to-day permit a greater indulgence of the spontaneous activities of pupils than they did formerly. It is believed now by most people that good order does not require the too rigorous suppression of the impulsive actions of the young. There seems to be reason in this latter point. I ask a five-year-old to look at a pair of stairs, and he is likely to begin going through the process of climbing stairs. If I show him an engine, he puffs; a dog, he barks; a lion, he roars; and so on ad libitum. What goes in through the senses is apt to run straight to the muscles, so that the child whose mind is being actively stimulated, can not keep "absolutely still” but for very brief periods at a time. Speaking generally, the older one gets, up to maturity, the more controlled he becomes—the steadier, the better poised, the better behaved. The increase of experience makes him so. The secret of it all is that a great blocking system gradually gets established in the central nervous system, and in consequence energy may be turned aside from special motor routes in ever-increasing quantities.
What, then, is the practical word for discipline? First of all, hold the attention of your pupils. The moment you lose their attention the energy will flow back into their muscles, and you can not make a law which will prevent the inevitable "restlessness" which will follow. And how can you hold their attention ? Mainly through the vigor, concreteness, and liveliness of your teaching. You never saw disorder in a room where there was magnificent teaching going on. Conversely, you never saw good order for any length of time where there was weak teaching. Put this down as the primal law of good order.
In nine cases out of ten, probably, a pupil who does not attend to the activities of the school is sim