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The Teacher Looks Ahead

by George D. Stoddard - 1942

In the midst of war it is helpful to ask ourselves as teachers and teacher guides what we may expect as we plunge deeply into the war and into preparations for a peace to follow. To the extent that teachers everywhere demonstrate the fine principles of democracy in their daily lives, we shall be able to place the young people of America—and perhaps of the world— on the true path to righteousness and happiness.

Now AND THEN good citizens are expected to look forwardto set a course, as it were, in order that a regard for future welfare may favorably affect present action. The role of parents makes frequent demands upon such prudence; the work of the teacher centers in it.1

In the midst of war it is therefore helpful to ask ourselves as teachers and teacher guides what we may expect as we plunge deeply into the war and into preparations for a peace to follow. We may inquire, for example, about the academic prospects for youth. In the past young people have been encouraged to continue their education up through high school and perhaps through college, not entirely in terms of higher education as a beneficent principle in human affairs. Schools at these levels have drawn upon the young persons who were not needed in business, industry, or agriculture. Since almost every able-bodied or able-minded person is now in demand, the schools inevitably decline. When the war ends the tide will change; school people, like everybody else, will be called upon to perform miracles of re­adjustment and reconstruction.

At that time there will be only three acceptable options for the young: they can return to school, obtain full-time employment, or undertake a program combining work and study. It is my hope that the choice will not be casual, but that it will be based on a careful survey of the aptitudes and needs of each person in relation to the long-time demands of a convalescent society.

Let us assume that the work-study combination will be more popular than heretofore and that tens of thousands of classroom teachers will be asked to take charge of the revised curricula. As teachers what will they need by way of preparation and experience? In common speech, does the academic teacher of today "have what it takes" to face realistic, tough-minded returning veterans of the new world war?

We can be reassured on several counts. Women everywhere are getting their hands dirty. The press informs us that on the fighting front in Pearl Harbor and Bataan nurses pushed forward resolutely under conditions that turned men's stomachs. At home we see them crawl under cars, work in the shops, and manage complicated machinery. Of course, it would be foolish to hold that all this is work, while their more traditional activity, as in teaching, is something else. Still, classroom teachers, by and large, incline toward the neat, clean, and starchy; they are sometimes slightly disdainful of training enterprises that enlist both muscle and mind. They may unconsciously ignore the drives and attitudes that characterize the vast bulk of the world's workers.

Today, as never before, we must recognize no distinctions of class, but only divisions of labor that are adjusted to each person's aptitudes and to the needs of the times. The teacher who feels at home in the quiet recesses of a library may well extend this sense of belonging to farm, factory, and front line. This does not mean that teachers can, by some kind of magic, be transformed into farmers, mechanics, or fighters, but it does call for a new familiarity with these occupations. We can extract from them nourishing concepts in the liberal and practical arts.

The millions of American young men who march away from boyhood surroundings will return as men of full stature, possessed, more often than not, of technical skills that they have really mastered. The sit-down, verbal exchange of the ordinary classroom may strike them as tame and unpromising. Certainly it would be a serious error to regard their wartime experience as chiefly manual, while designating school or college work as "intellectual." For all human beings experience is unified; we learn with our whole physiological mechanism.

The major problem is one of motivation and goal-seeking. As teachers and executives, we must abandon rigidity in favor of a realistic and pragmatic approach. Any efforts to carry on schooling as usual will be confronted by a new restlessness and it will not be confined to older boys who are resuming their studies. It will reach downward into elementary levels, for these pupils too, with the moral support of their parents, will expect increased activity and participation. Every teacher knows that activity programs are beautiful, so long as there is no loss in the mastery of essentials. Are we suggesting an impossible goal for the teacher? Can we improve instruction concurrently with more attention to health, recreation, vocation, work-experience, and pupil initiative? I think so; in fact, I can think of no other way to arouse the full enthusiasm of students. Given strong motivation in terms of a well-rounded life, the young and the old will approach their limits, whether the task be farming, figuring, or all-out fighting. In most school work we have not really known what those limits were.

Even in the midst of war, the recreational day is likely to be as long as the working day. This shows the artificiality, in modern times, of any dichotomy as between work and play. For millions of adults the work that is carried on in home or community, in groups, committees, and volunteer organizations is every bit as importantand frequently more soul-satisfyingthan the fractionated demands of business or industry. That it may be work-for-pay, even though dollars are not exchanged, is apparent to those who have taken up gardening, canning, home mechanics, salvaging, or community service. The dividends are often discernible by economic reckoning; in any case, these activities generate a new interest in human affairs. They bring us down to earth, revealing untapped sources of social enrichment. In such work, as in programs of health, child protection, consumer education, political economy, and the fine arts, we can get a lift denied us since the passing of the old home-centered occupations.

Education for leisure, then, is something far beyond the casual skill of choosing a proper amusement. It is a bridge between where we are economically and geographically and where we want to be in fundamental psychological terms. The skills required in some jobs can be learned in a few days or weeks; this can never be true of matters relating to courtship, marriage, child rearing, health, government, and the arts. We turn on music with the flick of a dial, but we become participants, producers, or creators only after years of devoted study. We learn easily the ABC's of health, passing all verbal examinations, but the distressing mark of sixty per cent of the drafted population suitable for Army service is the true measure of our physical fitness. It is axiomatic that the field of education forever broadens itself, involving finally much more than the textbook contemplated.

Every well-trained teacher in the future will be a part-time technologist and economistand something of a psychologist to boot. Unless she knows the child, she will never understand the man. Fortunately there are general principles in psychology to enable us to predict behavior patterns in animal, young child, or adolescent. While there are few laws, there are some insights that cut across national and social strata. We know that an adult retains great sections of his life as a child, for on occasion he will regress to primitive forms of behavior. We know that the child strives consciously and unconsciously to grow up, unless unfortunate experiences produce a negative valence. The happy youth, like the happy child, is a product of what has been and what is to be, but his strength lies in a steady adjustment to the realistic demands of the day. All teachers have some awareness of this situation and all are to that extent engaged in mental hygiene. All teachers practice psychology and some have studied it sufficiently to set up their everyday classroom procedures in terms of scientific knowledge. For them there is still room for teaching as an art, just as the family physician finds a place for both technical knowledge and the warmth that comes from personal contact. We want neither scientifically cold teachers nor teachers whose sympathies, while genuine, are misguided because of weakness on the technical side.

As teachers we must be forever aware of the high purpose of our calling. In wartime we search angrily for the causes of a minor defeat, and we demand civil and military scalps when the campaign goes against us. We are sensitive to the right of a soldier to the best of everything in food, equipment, training, and leadership. But the soldier-boy of twenty-one is the schoolboy of a few years back; when he was growing up we were strangely tolerant of distressing lacks in food, health, training, and opportunity. In the midst of plenty we were afraid to feed him, kept back by taboos as irrational as any to be found in darkest Africa.

The question is, shall we again grow fearful when he returns? Ex-soldiers will then be as common as mud and sifted like rice into the countless small channels of farm, village, and city. To ask such a question is to give point to the school's social science curriculum; to avoid it is to return to the dull platitudes of the see-no-evil classroom.

No part of the school's course of study can remain unchanged by the mighty forces of this war. The impact on technical subjects has been well documented; the effects on the linguistic and philosophical side are now coming into view.

The American student, who has balked at learning "dead languages" or languages that lived esoterically in countries beyond our reach, is willing to acquire a knowledge of Japanese, Siamese, or Turkishnot to mention a dozen dialects that have scarcely been recorded. For the elite a scholarship will arise that should be firmly rooted in the necessity to understand the minds and the hearts of people everywhere. Back to America will come millions of Main Street Marco Polos with deeply etched impressions of a world outside. Will the classroom teacher, who is an expert, let us say in the teaching of arithmetic, be ready with examples? Will she divide 300 into 12,000 to yield the easy quotient of 40the number of hours it takes to reach the remotest spot on earth?

In teacher training today we must face certain realities. Extraordinary competition for the teacher's services the best teachers are the first to feel itappears in the form of genuine opportunity to render a greater service in the war effort. There will be no schools worthy of the name unless we win. It also appears in the form of secondary appeals of a financial or emotional character, for industry, war and prewar, would not stoop to offer skilled workers the pay of a teacher in a rural or small-town situation. Fortunately most teachers have a sense of loyalty to the work they are doing and they regard it truly as of the highest significance. What they need is a lift and not from puffing a cigarette! They need in their town and in their professional contacts a recognition of the essential nature of the task whereby the young are brought up as civilized persons, ready to take their places in a troubled world. A war of man power, technology, and trained leadership cannot be maintained if the essential structures for health, knowledge, and morale are allowed to deteriorate. Even the men who make planeswho can see their handiwork fly straight toward the battlefieldare glad to have the extra vitamins that come from military or naval citations. All honor to the teachers, supervisors, and executives who resolve to carry on the great fight in the shaping and reshaping of human material!

As every teacher must be a practical psychologist, so every professor needs a touch of applied philosophy. As I have suggested, even textbooks in arithmetic (which are as common as cabbages) will display a point of view.

For example, the professor in any field will note that, as a social cement binding nations and peoples together, free cultural exchange is inadequate. Otherwise, Germany would have achieved first rank as a leader of humanity. For decades, America sent her best minds to Germany for a final polishing; our universities are sprinkled with middle-aged and older men who are justly proud of degrees from German universities. Unfortunately the social exchange did not "take," for Germany herself abandoned science, except as a means of organizing destruction. This failure, stemming from 1914, should afford a permanent guard against complacency: any long period of peaceful relations cannot endure against the new issues of a particular year; it is not proof against the devastating power of the gangster's realism. Consequently many educational and religious leaders, possibly not devoted to science in the first place, express a loss of faith in scientists and all their works. As university persons we cannot afford to accept this nihilist dictum. Science alone is not enough, but there has never been any decent substitute for free inquiry and objective scholarship, for the right to think and experiment without hindrance from any source.

We might argue with some plausibility that religion too had failed utterly in its control of man's capacity for destructive hatred. In fascist Italy we have a state about as single-purposed in its religious drives as a nation could be. The outcome again is nasty; it lacks deadliness only in respect to limited Italian resources. The obvious truth is that Christian religion, as practiced in the western world, cannot by itself control man and keep his ways peaceful. Still, there is no hope at all, unless we return to the ideal of Christian brotherhoodof the essential dignity of man. When we get away from science, which is intrinsically productive and progressive, or from religion, which is basically friendly 'and freedom-loving, we become baffled, hateful, and murderous.

The key that should open the way to stability and harmony is the grand concept of democracy. It lets science and religion grow. It can be implemented in here-and-now laws, decisions, and practices; it has a bill of rights for every country that believes in its essential principle. We must seek to understand it through our social sciences, to re-examine the concept as mature students of human nature; it should not be mothballed out of adult life as a mere relic of childhood enthusiasm. For some, democracy can have meaning only in terms of personal and local rights; for others, it is, in addition, a missionary platform to be proclaimed with a touch of the old-time religion.

My guess is that the teacher and the teacher's professor belong in the missionary category. We belong to that peculiar class of persons who, knowing how. to spell a word, insist upon imparting the secret to others! By so doing, we earn a living and a right to share in the march of ideas. To the extent that teachers everywhere demonstrate the fine principles of democracy in their daily lives, we shall be able to place the young people of Americaand perhaps of the world on the true path to righteousness and happiness.

1 Address delivered at the Convocation of the Summer Session, Teachers College, July 8, 1942.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 44 Number 1, 1942, p. 1-6
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 9228, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 4:33:06 PM

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About the Author
  • George Stoddard
    Commissioner of Education of the State of New York
    GEORGE D. STODDARD, author of "The Teacher Looks Ahead," was recently appointed Commissioner of Education of the State of New York. Dr. Stoddard is well known for his work as director of the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station. Among his publications are Tests and Measurements in High School Instruction (with G. M. Ruch) and Child Psychology (with B. L. Wellman).
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