The School Yard
( Originally Published 1916 )
FEW greater wrongs can be done an American child than to deprive him of the privilege of the Public School.
I am not so sure children get much training in the schoolhouse that really trains, for we are still monstrously medieval with our "grades," "courses of study," and "examinations," classifying human beings like cabbages, pigeon-holing them and working them through systems as if they were scientific specimens, instead of studying them and developing the singular talent in each of them.
But there is no doubt as to the educational value of the school playground. It is there that your little darling will learn that one thing he needs to know above and before all other things, to wit: DEMOCRACY.
It is there he will get the self-conceit punched out of him. He will learn to play the man. He will learn self-reliance, courage, and "not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think."
Children, even the offspring of snobs and snobesses, are natural born democrats. They know nn distinction of race, creed, or social position.
Your child will play with the little Chinese boy and never dream he is not a perfectly good human being until you teach him.
Sir Francis Vane of Hutton, in the September number of the Contemporary Review, tells how, when he had established a school in the Transvaal, the little whites and blacks studied and sported together in entire good will, until the Dutch parents begged him as a favor not to allow their children to play with colored ones.
He continues: "I have seen this fight of the young for freedom from race and caste prejudice, against elderly sinners—the laggards of time—not in one country, but in many. In Italy on the democratic sands of Viareggio, where Shelley died, I have seen little people playing in harmony together, and suddenly separated by those whose duty it was to instil wisdom and Christianity into them with these words : `I will not have you play with Protestant children.' I have seen at San Sebastian children educated in the vulgarity of class prejudice just as I have in race; and I can never forget my own first experience in this kind of stupid cruelty, when as a child of nine I had played with a small girl of the same age one long morning, and she, having been invited to our house to dinner, to my surprise and mortification was sent to the kitchen for her meal while I had mine in solitary state in the day nursery. To my vehement inquiry why we should be divided, the governess's reply was, `But you are a little gentleman'--a poor and inexplicable consolation for having my food alone !"
For sometime to come, doubtless, grown-ups will continue their vulgar, Pharisaic, and septic notions and practices of class prejudice; but something should be done to save the little ones.
Parents should realize that no more dangerous idea can get itself fixed in the child mind than that he is of a class apart from and superior to ordinary people; or that there are insuperable barriers between high-born and low born, rich and poor, white and yellow, Hebrew and Christian.
Georg Ebers describes a saint in Mount Sinai who crawled into a hole, away from the wicked world, but when they found him dead they found also that he had written upon the wall that famous line of Terence, "Homo sum; humani nihil a me alien puto." (I am a man, and I consider nothing human alien to me.)
No institution for the inculcation of the sense of humanity has ever been devised that is better than the United States public school yard.