Prelude to the First Edition
1. Flight from the City
II. Domestic Production
III. Food, Pure Food, and FreshFood
IV. The Loom and the Sewing-machine
V. Shelter
VI. Water, Hot Water, and WasteWater
VII. Education--The Schoolof Living
VIII. Capital
IX. Security versus Insecurity
X. Independence versus Dependence

HOMESTEADING CATALOG
HOME PAGE




    

    

CHAPTER SEVEN
EDUCATION--The School of Living

    WHEN we were considering shaking thedust of the city from our feet, the school question was one which caused us a greatdeal of worry. Our boys were seven and eight years old; they had been going to schoolfrom the time they had entered the kindergarten classes in the city's public schools.At the time we were planning to leave the city they had already made more scholasticprogress than other children of their age; one was a half-year ahead, and the othera full year ahead, of their chronological age. The credit for this, we now know,was due less to the elaborately organized public schools of New York City than toour use at home of same of the methods of child-training developed by Dr. Maria Montessori,the Italian educator, in whose theories the country was just then becoming interested.We had used the Montessori methods from the moment the boys were old enough to startfeeding and dressing themselves. So impressed were we by her approach to the problemof child education that we constructed our own "didactic" apparatus becausenone of it was at that time on sale in this country.

    Without having pushed our boys, butmerely by giving them a chance to take advantage of the opportunities which the schoolsoffered them, they were making excellent progress. Now we were committing ourselvesto a way of living which would take them away from the educational advantages ofcity schools. Should we risk what would happen to them in one of the "littlered schoolhouses" which still abounded in 1920 in New York State? If we wereconfronted by such an emergency, would we prove equal to teaching them at home? Wedecided we would. When I compared Mrs. Borsodi to the average school-teacher in thepublic schools, I saw no reason why she could not teach the children just as well,if not better, at home. She might lack the technique for handling a large class,and she might not have been drilled in the syllabus required by the state Board ofRegents, but when it came to individual instruction, I was confident that she coulddo more for the children than could public schools, no matter how well managed.

    When we finally got to the country,our worst expectations were realized. The school in our district was impossible.The school board consisted of "oldtimers" whose principal concern was tokeep the tax rate down. Not only were the teachers which the board selected unequalto their responsibilities, but the social and moral atmosphere was bad. In that respectit was worse than the city. There at least the contacts of our boys with childrenwhom we considered undesirable were limited. And the number of children made it possibleto select only those for companionship of whom we approved. In a small school, suchas that with which we had to contend, the damage which the bullies or perverts areable to do is all out of proportion to the damage which they can do in a large one.The situation in our district, and I believe in the country generally, has in thepast decade shown great improvement. The coming of the school bus has made it possibleto eliminate most of the impoverished one-room schools, and in the large consolidatedschools which have taken their place, city conditions of school organization areto a large extent duplicated.

    We first tried cooperation with theschool board and with the teachers. Most of the board members proved impossible.When we talked about educational problems to them, we found ourselves talking ina foreign tongue. The teachers were, in general, not quite so hopeless; at leastthey knew what we were talking about. But most of them were immature; most of themhad been more or less ruined by the rigid regimentation which the state requiredof them. We did manage to win the cooperation of the first teacher to whom the boyswere turned over, and as long as she was in charge of the school she tried to makethe conventional scheme work. But the next teacher resented bitterly our interest,and reluctantly we decided that this method of trying to make the country schoolendurable was love's labor lost.

    We finally decided to take the boysout of school altogether.

    A talk with the county superintendentof education won his cooperation. In fact, he decided that the sort of educationour boys would receive under the plan we outlined would more than meet the requirementsof the law. Our plan was to use the regular textbooks, to follow the state procedurein teaching as laid down in the syllabus of each subject, and to have one of thepublic-school teachers who lived in the neighborhood come in once each month to putthe boys through an examination which would insure their finishing up each year preciselyas well as did the boys attending public school. This plan, we believed, would preparethem for high-school even though they had none of the "benefits" of classwork for a few years.

    Thus began our experiment in domesticeducation. And again, individual production proved its superiority to mass production.Mrs. Borsodi found it possible to give the boys, in two hours' desk work, all thetraining which they were supposed to get, according to the state, in a whole schoolday plus the work which they were supposed to do at home. One of her first discoverieswas that the training of the boys on such sheer fundamentals as addition, subtraction,multiplication, and division had been so poor that mathematical progress and understandingwere almost impossible. She made the boys retrace their steps. Some conscientiousdrilling on the A, B, Cs, and they were then able to gallop through the more difficultparts of arithmetic. Working closely with them, she knew whether or not they reallyunderstood. She did not have to rely upon an examination to find out--an examinationwhich revealed little to the teacher because of its mechanical limitations. Two hoursof such study, I agreed with Mrs. Borsodi, were sufficient for the sort of thingupon which the public schools concentrated; the rest of the day would prove of moreeducational value to the boys if devoted to reading and play. The play, in such ahome, was just as educational as the reading. Productive and creative activitiesin the garden, the kitchen, the workshop, the loom-room furnished the boys opportunitiesto "play" in ways since adopted as regular procedure by the progressiveschools. In our home, however, such play was directly related to useful functions;they were not merely interesting exercises.

    Best of all, the new scheme furnishedplenty of time for reading. The reading seemed to us all important. One of the terriblethings which the average school does to its pupils is to kill their love for books.All books, to the child who has had to "read" in class, tend to becometextbooks. The poetry, plays, novels, essays which are parts of their courses inEnglish are read, not to furnish rich experiences and to expand the imagination,but as subjects for recitation and grammatical analysis. This is a process whichdissects what should be a living thing, and the corpse of a poem which the childis made to study is no more what the artists who created it intended it to be thanthe corpse which medical students dissect is a living, breathing human being. Thereading of Ivanhoe was a part of the prescribed course of English in the public schoolduring the years they attended the district school. They were required to read inclass a paragraph at a time daily. The idea horrified me. So I suggested that theyread the whole story through at home without regard to their class work. The resultmore than pleased me. The boys discovered that Ivanhoe was a fascinating story; oneof them read it through several times before tiring of it. Instead of hating thestory, they learned to love it.

    As a result of our insistence uponthe fact that reading was fun, rather than work, books came to play naturally thepart in their lives which they should play in every educated person's existence.Their imaginations were broadened; the provincialism of city and country so prevalenttoday became impossible to them; even the textbooks acquired, by sympathetic magic,an entirely different significance from that which they develop in schools. Insteadof consisting of lessons to be memorized in preparation for "exams," theywere found to be keys to the accumulated knowledge of mankind. We found, however,that the Encyclopaedia Britannica was better for this purpose than all their textbooksput together.

    Most parents will probably shrink fromconsidering such an undertaking because of the amount of time they believe they wouldhave to devote to it. But such a supposition is a mistaken one. It really does nottake much time. We have acquired our notions about the number of hours children shouldstudy daily from the amount of time which they usually spend in school. There isa dreary waste of time inescapable in the process of mass education. Most of thetime of the children in public schools is devoted to waiting, not studying. Studyingof a sort is prescribed as a means of filling in the time devoted to waiting. Thechildren wait in classes, and they wait between classes. Occasionally there is aneducational contact between teacher and pupil. In between these contacts, the childrenare kept out of mischief by an amazingly ingenious series of time-filling exercises.What I consider an educational contact is usually a fortunate accident in our conventionalschools. Education is the exception, not the rule, because only when a child feelsa need for information and explanation, and feels it emotionally and intellectuallyand not mechanically, is that educational contact established. Mostly when theseneeds develop in the lives of school children, the routine of the schoolroom preventsthe teacher from responding to it, and the hunger is dissipated and replaced by boredom.

    Our experience showed that in sucha home as we were establishing these opportunities abounded. Education was reallyreciprocal; in the very effort to educate the boys, we educated ourselves. Indeed,it is a notion of mine that no real educational influence is exerted upon the pupilunless there is also an incidental educational effect upon the teacher. The averagepublic school is operated upon the theory that this personal relationship is unwise;that the relationship should be impersonal, objective, and mechanical, the exampleof Socrates and the peripatetic school to the contrary notwithstanding.

    With our method, we not only managedto avoid the handicap of a poor school, but the whole Borsodi family seemed to begoing to school. But it proved to be a school so different from that to which mostof us have become accustomed that I have had to invent a special name for it--theschool of living.

    In this school the members of the family,old and young, and those who have lived with us, have been both faculty and students.The subject which they studied has been living, the pedagogic system has beenwhat might be called the work-play method, the textbooks have been anythingand everything printed which touched upon the problems of the good life in any way.The absence of formality in this school may deceive the uninitiated, and the factthat a systematic educational activity is going forward may be overlooked. For thatreason I once put down the various projects which have in one way or another beenthe subjects of our study, and found that they formed a fairly comprehensive curriculumfalling into four major divisions--Art and Science, Management, History, Philosophy.

    Philosophy is a subject remote anddistant from life as it comes to most people in school. Yet there is no reason whyit should be. We need desperately philosophy as a guide to life. We need it as atool with which to train thought--logic for everyday use. But we need it also toform values and habits. We need for every-day living (1) economic policies, (2) physiological,(3) social, (4) biological, (5) psychological habits; and (6) religious, (7) moral,(8) political (9) educational, (1O) individual values. Why should we not approachthe practical questions which fall under these various academic classifications froma philosophic point of view? Yet as a matter of fact we make most of our decisions--oracceptances of decisions made by others--with utter disregard of their philosophicimplications.

    History is another subject which undergoesa transformation when it too is domesticated. History really has three aspects withus: (1) past--which is the aspect to which it is usually confined; (2) current history--towhich the schools have only in recent years awakened; and (3) future history, whichis to me most important of all. We have to make plans, we have to adopt policies,we have to determine values--but these cannot be formulated wisely unless one projectspast and present into the future. Yet there is scarcely a day in our lives when suchplanning might not be made to add immensely to our comfort and happiness if it wereaproached from a historical standpoint.

    Art and science--sundered by the specialistsinto whose care their study has been intrusted by our schools--need to be broughttogether in selecting and preparing food, in designing clothes and costumes, in buildingand furnishing our homes. We need more chemists in our kitchens, and fewer in ourlaboratories; just as we need more artists in them and fewer in our large advertisingagencies. Every single step in practical living has both its artistic and its scientificaspects, and we do not live richly unless we bring to bear upon these apparentlyhumble and yet all-important living problems all the accumulated wisdom and skillof the ages.

    Finally, we need to study management--themanagement of living, not of business. We have management problems as individuals,as families, as civic groups--why should we not apply to home problems the care andthought and attention which we now bestow upon production, purchasing, marketing,and finance in business? Every family has to finance itself; every family has purchasingof many kinds to carry on--and how poorly that is done only those familiar with Consumers'Research can realize; every family markets services or produce, and practically everyfamily produces more or less in its kitchens, sewing-rooms, gardens. Under the schemeof living with which we have been experimenting, domestic and individual productionbecomes so immeasurably more important, that study of it is essential if it is tobe efficiently carried on.

    Here are most of the subjects taughtin our schools and universities, but in a new guise. As we have studied them theyare not subjects so much as essential parts of the whole problem of living. In theschools, specialization and the division of labor among the teachers, and preparationfor a life of specialization and the division of labor among the students, has ledto the isolation of each particular subject. In the intense concentration upon eachnarrow field, the relationship of each subject to life as a whole is distorted andthe true significance of what is studied is obscured. We ought, for instance, tostudy chemistry in order that we may live more richly; instead, we live in orderto develop and promote and expand chemical activity and chemical industry. Meansand ends are thus reversed, just as in our factories today men and women take itquite for granted that it is sane to devote their lives to the production of somethingto be sold or marketed, instead of devoting the best part of each day to the creationor production of something which enriches their own lives.

    In nothing is the present-day mistakesof educational institutions more apparent to me than in the separation of art andscience into separate, air-tight, and mutually opposed specialities. We have notonly separate teachers and separate courses--we have separate schools for the artsand for the sciences, with not a little contempt on the part of each group for thosedevoting themselves to the other. As a result, we are busily producing artists whoare ignorant of science, and engineers who are ignorant of art. If beauty and richnessbe considered the ends and objects of living, and the scientific and engineeringtechniques the means for attaining this end, then we are actually producing painters,writers, sculptors, poets who are supposed to specialize on the ends or objects ofliving, and scientists, engineers, chemists who are taught the means but not theends to be attained. The result is a sterile art, divorced from life, and a meaninglessmultiplication of sky-scrapers, subways, sewers, dams, bridges, and engineering worksof all kinds.

    In the homely things of life, so importantin the aggregate, this separation of art and science is now almost universal. Forinstance, take such a homely thing as bread--the staff of life. Bread ought to benutritious and it ought to be tasty. One without the other is an absurdity. Yet wehave chemists in our universities studying bread scientifically. They produce allsorts of facts about vitamins, about fermentation, about nutrition. And then we have,even today, many housewives baking bread and governing their approach to the problemprimarily by taste. The one sees bread as an object, scientifically; the other seesit as a flavor much as might an artist. Because of the housewife's ignorance of science,she may ruin her family's health; because of the scientist's ignorance of art, breadis produced which is unfit for consumption by cultivated palates. Of the two, thescientist may actually do more harm than the housewife, though it is hard to be certainabout the matter. At least the housewife's bread may taste well and so add to thepleasures of the table, but the scientist may reduce eating to the level of stokinga boiler.

    Some day I hope a group of intelligentand cultured people may find it worth while to establish such a school of living.Such a school, if it included enough families to determine really what is the goodlife experimentally, would furnish a demonstration of how to live to which the wholeworld might listen. Such a group would demonstrate that it is possible for men andwomen to make themselves independent and economically secure, and that centeringeducational activities directly upon the problems of living would add immeasurablyto mankind's happiness and comfort.

    The world is badly in need of sucha demonstration. All that the Borsodi family has thus far managed to do has beento show how badly it is needed.


Prelude to the First Edition
1. Flight from the City
II. Domestic Production
III. Food, Pure Food, and FreshFood
IV. The Loom and the Sewing-machine
V. Shelter
VI. Water, Hot Water, and WasteWater
VII. Education--The Schoolof Living
VIII. Capital
IX. Security versus Insecurity
X. Independence versus Dependence

HOMESTEADING CATALOG
HOME PAGE