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TWO FACTORS IN SOCIAL PROGRESS.
HON. GEORGE H. MARTIN, SECRETARY STATE BOARD OF
EDUCATION, BOSTON, MASS.
The study of history need not be extended nor profound to reveal two forces acting through all past time toward social betterment.
One of these forces, individual initiative, has been so conspicuous as to overshadow the other, the force of co-operative effort,—what Prince Kropotkin calls the force of mutual aid. At first sight it seems as if the history of the world were comprised in the history of a few great men.
When the world has worn for itself deep ruts of custom in manners, in government, in religion, in education, in philosophic thought, some man appears who startles the world out of its sleep and its dreams with a discovery or an invention or a theory and starts it off on a new course.
Every Columbus, every Gutenberg, every Bacon is a Prometheus bringing fire from heaven to lift men nearer to the gods.
And yet the plain men, the every-day men, the unendowed men, the undistinguished men working in the mass have wrought changes in the force of nature and in the structure of society. With the instinct which has led the ants and the bees to perfect their social condition by co-operative effort, pre-historic man in his mound building, his lake villages and in his pueblos showed how the common good might be promoted by common labor.
The great monastic institutions of the Middle Ages were centres of civilizing forces. By common work the monks cleared the forests, drained the swamps, planted vineyards and orchards, and made the wilderness blossom as the rose. They reared those buildings whose very ruins are beautiful and in them worshipped God by serving men. They fed the hungry, nursed the sick and taught the ignorant. Every abbey was a monument to the force of religious brotherhood.
The old English parishes and boroughs illustrate another type of communal effort. The people by common labor built the roads and the parish churches. The towns by the sea dredged their harbors and built jetties and breakwaters. The obligation to maintain the public peace rested equally upon all the people. Social life, too, was communal. On the parish green the whole parish participated in the games and shows which were provided by the common purse. The May dances, the Robin Hood games, the archery contests and the harvest festivals kept alive the civic sense and perpetuated it from generation to generation.
The history of every New England town illustrates the working of these two forces. By the foresight and courage of a few men, the material interests of the towns have been promoted. They projected all new enterprises. They were foremost in the churches, incorporators of the academies, served the town in the legislature, and in time of stress held the people to their duty by the example of their own sacrifices. These men were in the town and of the town, but they were not the town. That had an existence of its own and it maintained a spirited and healthy communal life. The people together built the roads and defences.
In raising bees, ploughing bees, and husking bees, in sewing and quilting bees, they illustrated the principle of mutual aid.
The old Boston vote: "It was generally agreed upon that our Brother Philemon Pormort should be entreated to become schoolmaster for the teaching and nurturing of children among us," in its quaint phraseology breathes the spirit of the closest civic brotherhood.
The early conditions were favorable to the development of these two forces. The wilderness of New England with its recesses all unexplored, its resources all undeveloped, was endlessly tempting to the venturesome, and stimulating to the keen-eyed and the enterprising. At the same time the hardships were so appalling and the risks so great as to develop prudence and poise. As the local opportunities by the seashore were exhausted, each generation found room to expand in a limitless interior. When the moving population had pushed its way to the remotest source of the New England streams and business enterprise seemed to lose its nerve for want of exercise, the manufacturing cities arose and tempted back from the country the disciplined descendants of the pioneers. They became captains of industry and finance where their ancestors had been only privates.
While these circumstances tended to raise the personal factor to a high power, they also tended to quicken the social sense. Common sufferings and common dangers developed social sympathies, revealed social obligations and necessitated mutual aid. Every occasion for public expenditure was a subject of common knowledge. Not a dollar of public revenue was appropriated without deliberation and discussion.
Every offense against law and every lapse from virtue was also known and discussed in all its bearings, privately as well as publicly. All this tended to keep alive the civic sense.
The influence of the formal education in the schools was in the same direction. The schools kept but a few weeks in the year, and made no exacting demands upon the child's time. There were no age limits and no compulsion to secure regularity of attendance. The child was free to share in the activities of the family, of which he felt himself a co-operative member. The work of the school itself was so conducted as to develop a considerable degree of self-reliance. The opportunities of the schoolroom were like the opportunities of pioneer life. They appealed to the children of pluck. In getting their lessons, they found both incentive and reward. So the family and the school were co-operating agencies, but the school was subordinate and knew its place.
Are modern conditions wholly favorable to the development of the two forces which condition all social progress? It is no sign of pessimism to ask this question. Nor can it be answered by pointing to the unparelleled activities of the period. The demand for personal initiative is as urgent as ever. The rewards of success are greater than ever ; but the demand is inore exacting than in the past. The problems to be solved are more complex.
This is no less true in the realm of thought than in the realm of matter. Capabilities of a high order and superior training are demanded.
There must be penetration and grasp and alertness and patience. For impulse is not initiative. Is this
power being generated to such an extent that the supply is equal to the demand? Modern industrial conditions are not favorable to it, for initiative implies freedom, and the modern workman is not free. Industrial prosperity which is based on labor in which initiative has been atrophied for want of opportunity and which is unconscious of its own weakness, is only a sham prosperity, and has in it the seeds of its own decay.
Nor are the conditions wholly favorable to the awakening and quickening of civic sense. The civic unit has become too large to be thought of by an ordinary, untrained mind. Government by representation, too, inevitably tends to weaken civic ties. Men cease to be interested in public affairs when their contact with them is so remote.
The civic sense has also been deadened by the severity of the struggle for wealth. Competition has grown so fierce as to be absorbing. The maelstrom of socalled business, that is money-getting, tends to draw into its vortex the most intelligent and the most capa'ble. No man can serve two masters and many men have ceased to be citizens and have become only business men.
As school people we are under obligation to ask what modern education is doing to generate the two forces which we have been discussing. The relation of the home to the school has been reversed. The last has become first. By a process as steady as the incoming of the tide, the school has come to absorb the time and energy of all children. By lengthening the school term, by compelling attendance, by steadily raising the age limit, by carrying children away from home to