Address on Industrial Education, November 16, 1906 Also known as: The Importance of Industrial Education from the Social Standpoint, November 16, 1906

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Head of Hull House, Chicago.

When I come to New York I frequently hear generalizations which English travelers have made in regard to Chicago, and usually I regret to say, the generalizations are not very flattering. Sometimes, however, a traveler who comes West from New York says an illuminating word concerning the cities on the Eastern coast. This happened a year or two ago, when a cultivated man, who had spent six months in America said that, while Americans prided themselves upon being free from tradition, and liked to think that they treated every situation from the most practical standpoint, regarding it solely upon its own merits, he had discovered that they were more bound by the traditions they did not know, than any people he had ever met.

He insisted that this contention could be demonstrated most readily from their educational methods. American schools, as he saw them, emphasized first one and then another aspect of education, but these were always traditional aspects. Some schools placed the emphasis on the three R's. This was, of course, a result of the financial period, when merchants desired cheap and efficient clerks. In response to this demand the children were taught to add columns of figures quickly and correctly and to come promptly to their tasks in the morning. Other schools laid stress upon chaotic "general knowledge" and held exercises on "current events." These exhibited a survival of the encyclopedic period of the French Revolution and the early Liberal Movement.

The schools which placed emphasis upon grammar and the precise fidelity to absurd spelling -- as he was pleased to call it -- exhibited survivals of the Renaissance, while the schools which [page 2] cared much for the essay, the syllogism and absurd logic which is used nowhere in real life, showed the abridged form of medieval disputation. It was, of course, easy to trace the classical influence in other schools, while still others emphasized the Fairy Tale, as the direct inheritance of the child from the matriarchal period.

Our schools, it seemed to him, waged an unending battle among themselves, but it was always fought within the charmed circles of the survivals and recapitulations of the past. Curiously however, each school insisted that its own method was original, though like the famous gentleman, who spoke prose without knowing it, the school man often prided himself upon making discoveries of methods which had been used centuries before.

He made two exceptions, I am happy to say, and one of these schools was in Chicago, and the other was in New York. He said that throughout the country in only these two schools did he find educators facing the situation which actually existed. Only in these two places were they organizing the child's activities, with some reference to the life which he would later lead, and attempting to give him some [clue] as to what to select and what to eliminate when she should come into contact with contemporary social and industrial conditions.

Our astute traveler deemed it very strange that with a remarkable industrial development all about us, affording such [amazing] educational opportunities, that our schools should continually cling to a past, which did not fit the American temperament and was not adapted to our needs. He concluded that our educators had been overwhelmed by the size and vigor of American industry, that they were too timid to seize upon the industrial situation and to extract from it, its enormous educational value. He lamented that this lack of courage and initiative, not only failed to fit the child for an intelligent and conscious participation in industrial life, but that the lack of properly educated men was reflected in the industrial development itself. This development in its turn, reflected old habits, and without enough intelligence to eliminate the bad or to select the good, repeated the traditional mistakes of industry.

American cities exhibit stupendous extensions of the medieval Ghetto, huge areas of the Lancashire factories, and of the Black Country in which the social life of the workers repeat the coarse [page 3] jollities of Restoration London. This condition is the inevitable result of separating education from contemporary life and of assuming that cultivation and learning have nothing to do with industrial development. Education under such circumstances, becomes unreal and far-fetched, industry becomes ruthless and materialistic, and the educated person contributes nothing which has a direct bearing upon its development. To separate educational interests from contemporary life means not only that education grows meaningless and comes to rely upon tradition for its inspiration, but it also means that contemporary life, because this educational interest is withdrawn from it, becomes mechanical and uninspired by the variation and charm of youth.

Much has been said this evening concerning German education, but I suspect that they have developed those fine, technological schools in Germany in very much the same spirit as they have developed legislative protection for the working man. Modern legislation in Germany secures for the working man old age pensions, it cares for him when he is out of work, if this has come about through no fault of his own; it proposes to limit the amount of rent which he may be charged, as it has limited the amount of interest upon the money he borrows, and all this is done not primarily that industry may be advanced, but because Germany has waked up to the fact that human welfare is a legitimate object for Governmental action. Germany has attained this point of view before we have, and if we hope to compete with her industrially, it can only be accomplished when America makes the same connections between education and other material interests.

It would be mere imitation to reproduce the splendid technological schools of Germany unless we go back to her philosophers, historians and scholars. The Grimm brothers first found in simple people a tremendous human power, a reservoir of charm and beauty and art -- all those things which make life worth living. From that time, German educators and statesmen have assumed more and more, that it is their business to uncover and develop that power, and to utilize and protect that source of cultivation which lies in the people themselves. This is the achievement of Germany in contradistinction to our achievement in mechanical invention.

America perhaps more than any other country in the world, [page 4] can demonstrate what applied science has accomplished for industry. This service of science cannot be stated too strongly nor too generously. It has not only tremendously increased invention and elaborated machinery, but has made possible the utilization of all sorts of unpromising raw material. All the largest manufacturing concerns have come to establish laboratories as a matter of equipment, and our scientific and technological schools are constantly supplying them with trained men. One of the great services of science has been the elevation of industry into the spiritual realm, lifting the machine into the affairs of the mind. But this application of science has had to do largely with the process and the raw material and has had little to do with the worker. The training in the American technological school has been given to the inventor and to the superintendent and not to the workman.

After all, applied science is only a part of life and of knowledge, and perhaps it has come to pass, that applied science for the moment has done all that it can do, unaided, for the development of industry. It may be that machines cannot be speeded up any further without putting an unwarranted strain upon the nervous system of the worker. It may be that further elaboration will sacrifice the workman who feeds the machine, and that industrial advance lies not in the direction of improvement in machinery, but in the recovery and education of the workman. And if at this moment, America is not successfully competing with other nations, save as she is able to utilize her [unparalleled] raw material, then it may well be our concern to discover what may be accomplished by the application of "the art of life," if I may use that phrase, to the industrial situation.

Let America, by all means, keep the lead in the application of science to industrial development and push it further if it may be done advantageously, but let us also enter a new field, to see what may be accomplished for industry by cultivating the workman himself, so that his mind, his power of variation, his art instinct, his intelligent skill, may ultimately be reflected in the industrial product. It were simplest to begin with the child whom we are educating in our schools. When his mind has been freed, when he has been taught a technique, when his taste has been cultivated, then we may study the product and see what has happened to our industrial development and to our standing in relation to Germany. [page 5]

Mr. Mosely has cited the fact that a man in a modern factory may be required to sand-paper the end of a table leg from morning until night. It may come to pass after a while, that some of us will not want to have a table with a leg made like that, because we will not care to look at it for three hundred and sixty-five days in the year. We may become inexpressibly bored by tables and chairs which reflect absolutely nothing of the mind of the man who made them. We may come to dislike a table made by ten or twelve different men, as there are men in New York, I hear, who are not willing to wear coats made by thirty-six different coat-makers.

We need but to apply the same principle very little further and we shall refuse to be surrounded by manufactured objects which do not represent some gleam of intelligence on the part of the men or women who made them. Hundreds of people have already taken that very short step, so far as all decoration and ornament are concerned. If the children who are at present in the Public Schools shall come to have an educated taste, if they shall come to use their faculties intelligently, and as a result, to be interested in what they do, then our manufactured products will meet the demands of a cultivated nation, because they will be produced by cultivated workmen.

This result will imply a profound change in industry, but the change will primarily come about in the men who produce and will be essentially a result of education. The machine will not be abandoned by any means, but will at last be subordinated to the intelligence of the man who manipulates it. It will be used as a tool by the cultivated workman, as the simpler tools were used by the simpler workmen. It would not be at all surprising, if in the process of this transformation, which merely means getting the workman back again into his work, that the nation which accomplishes it first should easily, and as a matter of course, lead the markets of the world, as Germany is doing at the present moment, because she more nearly approximates the educated and understanding workman.

It has been said by a wise man, that England has come to a curious arrest in her industrial development, because she has been steadily concerned in opening new markets, for which her workmen have been making products for savages, who are quite willing to buy knives with no steel in them. After a while such [page 6] production reacts on the workingman himself, and he is not at all the same man he would have been had he been making an honest article for a discriminating, civilized people.

In a school such as we have, we educate both consumer and producer. These we do not divide into classes if we accept that newer political economy which holds that nation to be most prosperous in which its producers are at the same time its largest consumers. If every child received industrial training he would appreciate all industrial skill, as the technique upon one musical instrument gives a man an understanding of orchestral music which he could not otherwise possess. We would thus increase the demand for humanized and intelligent products, and our tables, chairs and clothes -- all of the other things which we use -- would be slowly transformed until they would be very unlike the tables, chairs and clothes we now see all about us.

This would seem to be a change in industry, but it would really be a change in education. The two no longer looking askance at each other, would come together, reacting to their mutual benefit. Nor would such result be because captains of industry demanded educated workmen as merchants previously demanded educated clerks. Such a demand would afford much too narrow a basis upon which to remodel education. It would be because the leaders of education and industry had united in a common aim and purpose.

Undertakings in which the educator and manufacturer are working together are in point of fact, to be found all about us. Perhaps the most significant one is the Manhattan Trades School for Girls which I saw again this morning. In this school they are "tackling" industry at its most painful point; they are preparing young girls of fourteen for the sewing trades which are already so overcrowded and so subdivided that there remains in them very little education for the worker. They are conquering this situation by equipping each apprentice with "the informing mind."

If a child goes into a sewing factory with a knowledge of the work she is doing in its relation to the finished product, with information concerning the material she is manipulating, the processes to which it has been subjected and those to follow, if she understands the design she is elaborating in its historic relation to art and decoration, her product must be a different thing from [page 7] that which she would produce if she were ignorant on all of these matters. Her daily life is lifted from drudgery to one of self-conscious activity.

When every boy and girl in the public schools has pleasure in his daily work, the play instinct will have a natural expression and will normally develop into the art impulse and that power of variation which industry so sadly needs. No force, however, will be sufficiently powerful and wide-spread to redeem industry from its mechanism and materialism, save the freed power in every single producer.

Did educators rightly estimate this tremendous wasted capacity and feel some responsibility toward contemporary industrial development, they would be ready to assert that a child of fourteen cannot go into the present factory because society is losing something too valuable by thus prematurely extinguishing that variety and promise and bloom of life which is the unique possession of youth. If that could be conserved and developed, directed and utilized, attached to a technique, think what the army of boys and girls entering industry at the age of sixteen might do for it! How easily the country that achieves this might win.

Where could this experiment be tried but in a Democracy? Who could believe so devoutly in the average child, and so successfully develop his capacities, as the American teacher? Let us give every child in every school an industrial education, not for the narrow reason of fitting him for the factory life of [today], but in order to relate him to the industrial development of his own time, which is but one manifestation of unfolding human life. Industry must be seized upon and conquered by the educators who now either avoid it altogether, by taking refuge in the caves of classic learning, or beg the question by teaching a tool industry advocated by Ruskin and Morris in their first reaction against the present industrial system.

It appears at moments, as if the educators affrighted by the ugliness and materialism of contemporary industry had fled the field forgetting that to which I think the Chairman, representing the University point of view, will agree: that any subject, however ugly and materialistic, may be treated from the educational standpoint, and may be brought into the "Kingdom of the Mind." Let us apply our finest educational insight and courage to the present industrial situation, insisting that mind is always [page 8] able to conquer matter; that the educated workman is the most valuable of national assets, and the nation which possessed this asset will be the successful competitor.