Gentle Wind School Newsletters

Did You Know...

In 1892, the following description of the public schools in the city of New York appeared in Forum Magazine. It was written by Joseph Rice, after his touring thirty six American city school systems. He concluded that the New York City public school system was typical of all cities and he described what he observed in the following way:

"She (the principal) believes that when a child enters upon school life that his vocabulary is so small that it is practically worthless and his power to think so feeble that his thoughts are worthless. She is consequently of the opinion that what the child knows and is able to do upon coming to school should be entirely disregarded, that he should not be allowed to waste time, either in thinking or finding his own words to express his thoughts, but that he should be supplied with ready-made thoughts as given in a ready-made vocabulary."
"The instruction throughout the schools consists principally of grinding these answers verbatim into the minds of the children."
"In order to reach the desired end, the school has been converted into the most dehumanizing institution that I have ever laid eyes upon, each child being treated as if he possessed a memory and the faculty of speech, no individuality, no sensibility and no soul." **

The world has changed a lot over the last hundred years. Modern education has not, has it? When Joseph Rice wrote his expose of American schools, he was part of a much larger effort called the Progressive Movement. He and his colleagues, identified by President Theodore Roosevelt as the muckrakers, wrote about social and political injustices. They were typical of the kind of social movement that usually precedes a war. That is, they attempted to warn people that American society had developed a disregard for human life--the attitude required by any society in order to enter a war.

The muckrakers wrote about the poor quality of tenement living, the abuse and mismanagement of this nation's labor force, political corruption and incompetent leadership, and the mistreatment of children both in schools and in factories. Roosevelt and most others in positions of power insisted that this nation was on the rise, and that these muckraking writers and publishers were no more than malcontents, radicals, and troublemakers. And so nobody listened to them. Then, America fell into two great wars. Thousands and thousands of lives were lost and millions more were physically harmed. People all over the world still suffer the emotional scars of these times.

Today, Americans are still building tenement houses, only now we call them low-income housing or apartments. Large corporations still abuse the labor force. Corporate executives are granted millions in annual bonuses while laborers must fight for a minimal cost of living raise. Our nation has just spent eight years enduring some of the most dishonest and corrupt government leadership in American history. We have voted for another four years of the same. Our children are being treated more like robots than ever before, "possessing no individuality, no sensibility, and no soul." Government leaders insist that this nation is on the rise.

There are a few muckrakers around now trying to tell people that something is wrong. They say that our oceans are being poisoned, our air is contaminated, and that soon our water will be unfit to drink. They are saying that schools are bad places and that children are being harmed. Do you think anyone is listening now?

** Joseph Mayer Rice, "The Absurdity of Primary Education," The Annals of America: Volume II, 1884 - 1894, Agrarianism and Urbanization (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1976.)