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PAPERS AND DISCUSSIONS
IS THE CHILD THE WARD OF THE NATION?
JAMES B. ASWELL, STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC EDUCATION, BATON ROUGE, LA.
The responsibility for the child's birth may rest with the parent as a mere breeding animal, but the responsibility for the child's living must rest with the parent as the socially, morally, politically responsible agency for the enrichment of the child's life, and for giving it its highest individual efficiency. But this parent does and must enter into the community life in which he and the child must live. The community thus becomes vitally interested in the character of the training the parent gives the child, deeply concerned as to the individual that is growing into its life; for the community in this century has a right to expect from the child through the parent a high quality of business and social service. The life of the community not only depends upon, but is the expression of, the intelligence and morality of its individual members. The child, in this sense, is the ward of the community.
But the community is an organic part of that larger organization, the state, whose stability and efficiency must depend upon the individual over whose training the community is watching with zealous care. Thus the state in looking to the community and the parent for the material for its life and perpetuity finds its first concern in providing for the education of the child, the citizen to be, that he may vote intelligently, work effectively, live honestly; that he may have vision, courage, character. Thus, the child is the ward of the state, not as an adopted creature, but by his inherent right as the fellowcitizen of every other individual in the state. He has a right to demand such opportunity as will enable him to render, in his own way, the most efficient service, and thus become a valuable asset to the state, worthy of the privilege of citizenship.
A fifteen-year-old boy, charged with stealing a sack of flour, said in court, 'I stole it because the world owes me a living." The state does not owe the child a living, but it owes him a fair chance to earn a living. It owes him infinitely more, the privilege of learning and loving truth which is fundamental in all right educational effort; it owes him an environment which helps him establish for himself definite character-standards.
When the armies of Louis XIV were devastated in Flanders, the monarch exclaimed: "Has God forgotten all that I have done for him?" The state is not responsible to the parent for educating his child because of anything the parent has done, but the state is responsible for the development of the individual for his own sake, the building of complete manhood as a prerequisite of citizenship, whereby the state ultimately profits. It is not the business of the state to force every child's education into one mold, suppressing individual motive, and thus produce a colorless civilization. All legitimate educational
endeavor whose purpose is character building should be encouraged, for when all our educational institutions, public, private, and parochial, are given opportunity for the rendition of their best service, still our educational equipment is pitifully inadequate to the varying demands of the century. Moreover, education in a democracy is not a state drill for the state's defense, irrespective of the amount of the individual profit derived from the drill. The state owes it to itself to provide for the education of the child because of what the child may become. It is the business of the state to protect him and aid him as he grows into the state, a man-righteous, strong, and free.
The state is the guardian of the child not in the sense of paternalism, but out of self-interest it seeks to develop the thinking, struggling individual who serves to interpret and modify tendencies in the social movement. The freethinking individual is vital to the life of social progress and indispensable to its growth. "He is the only avenue through which the social temper may flow and emerge in forms new for the weal or woe of the state." A picture or a poem must strike some general sentiment or have so general a meaning that the average man may understand and feel its beauty before it can approach popular appreciation. The state best serves itself when it gives hope to the humblest man, and raises the life-standard of the average man. Society itself is not a thinker, not a doer; it is always moved by individuals who work upon it through other individuals. The individual thinks, feels, and protests against existing conditions, causing others so to do, and thus creates a change in the common mind by which society disintegrates to socialism or finds expression in triumphant democracy.
The reason, therefore, for the need of a common intelligence consecrated to the common good is not far to see. Ignorance is possible in a despotism, but perilous in a democracy. Under our system of government education develops the individual and results in the smooth organization of society. Its purpose is to save both the child and the state. Recognition of this fundamental truth which compels the allegiance of all intelligent people to this sense of unity of purpose will bind forever the interests of the child and the state, and thus assure a greater concern on the part of the state in giving the best education and the fullest opportunity to all its children, regardless of rank or station.
I come from a section where the people love this nation and its institutions; but from a section where the people believe not only in the Jeffersonian principle of state rights, but in the state's duty to its children. They believe that a vote is a dangerous weapon in the hands of an ignorant man, and that the state shirks its duty to its children at its own peril. They believe that the same considerations that justify the existence of the state justify direct state control of the public schools. So firm is this belief in the state's sovereign right to control certain social political organizations that it will not be surrendered to federal authority. There are grave unsettled questions in the country, but four things may be considered settled finally: First, There will never be any social equality between the two races in the South-nor anywhere
else, for that matter; second, Control will remain in the hands of the white race; third, The two races will worship in separate churches; fourth, The two races will be educated in separate schools.
But in addition to the interests of a single class or section, there is the interest of a common country. New Orleans is not interested in the management of Chicago's electric-light plant or in the maintenance and control of Chicago's local police force. These are matters affecting Chicago only. But New Orleans is vitally interested in what is being done in Chicago to prevent the spread of tuberculosis, as is Chicago deeply concerned with the battle that is being waged in New Orleans to make impossible the recurrence of yellow fever. These are matters affecting the nation. The failure of New Orleans or Chicago to educate her children constitutes a national evil which must have a far-reaching and dangerous effect upon the life of the whole people.
New Orleans has many local affairs in which Chicago is not interested; Chicago has private business that is of no concern to New Orleans. But these two cities, as parts of a national being, are vitally interested in the larger national life of each other. In its physical and geographical life, the great valley, on whose borders nestle these cities, illustrates this truth. Up from the South come the vapor-laden winds of the Gulf, carrying refreshing rains to plain and prairie in summer, and capping the Rockies and Alleghanies with snow in winter. Rains and melting snows take up their load of silt and hurry down the mountain side to form the creek and river and finally to form the mighty Mississippi. Could you see that great river at this moment towering between his leveed banks ten feet above our fine plantations, you would see him struggling beneath a load of silt, the choicest of these northern soils, with which he has built the rich plains of the lower Mississippi. Thus our balmy breezes bring you life and freshness and return to us bearing the cream of your soils, and the ceaseless flow of winds keeps up the valley's life.
The illustration proves strikingly true when we pursue it into the industrial life of the people. Your rich fields send us grain and meat; our plantations send you cotton and sugar, and our ships bring for you the fruits of the tropics. Thus the great currents of trade and commerce through this valley minister to the life of the whole people.
The illustration proves sublimely true when pursued into the political and moral life of the people. We of New Orleans are interested in the prosperity of your crops because you feed us; you of Chicago are interested in the prosperity of our crops because we clothe you. But, because this is true, how great is our mutual concern about the kind of men that are reared! A Louisiana boy sits on the bench of the Supreme Court of Illinois; an Illinois boy wields the gavel in the hall of the national House of Representatives. A Louisiana boy, now governor of his state, a few days ago journeyed to the capital city of Illinois to stand by the grave beneath the blended flags of the two states to pay tribute to the fame and memory of Abraham Lincoln. When Admiral Davis represented this nation so humanely at Kingston a few days ago, we all
felt a national pride, and asked not whence he came he is a son of the nation. When the papers bear to us the sensational reports of the Thaw trial in New York, we hang our heads in shame. Alas, these, too, are the children of this nation! We ask not whence they came. Chicago! New Orleans! New York! San Francisco! a nation's life depends upon the kind of men you rear!
While the state is charged with the direct responsibility of protecting the individual and guaranteeing to the child a fair start in the world, yet happier and stronger is that state or community whose thought is fixed upon what concerns all the people, the national life and humanity. So, the watchful eye of the nation must be directed to the interests of the child for the ultimate purpose of establishing the highest standard of citizenship. No nation can become great until it becomes homogeneous, and a homogeneous nation cannot result from a heterogeneous public-school system. A homogeneous education in the nation is essential to distinctive national ideals, and ideals are the register of mental, moral, and spiritual attainment. Heterogeneity is the cause of Russian dissolution, while homogeneity is the bulwark of the German nation. It is clear, therefore, that unity of purpose and sympathetic co-operation of forces should be the watchword of our national educational system. The purpose, personal liberty, should be the same in all the states, but the method of its accomplishment should be controlled by local conditions and must forever remain vested in state authority. While the child is the ward of the family, the community, and the state, yet the nation in a larger sense bears the responsibility of working within constitutional limitations, through state authority, toward the highest development of the individual as such, for it is through his qualities of mind and heart and his wealth-producing power that the nation grows permanently rich and great. The nation, after all, is a mind-condition and is weak or strong as the common mind is loyal to its ideals and purposes.
The greatest glory of the American home is to develop an individual whose skilful intelligence and intelligent skill enable him to express his God-given powers in any direction that life may demand. A group of such homes forms a community which is the very essence of the power that makes possible the existence of government. The state, therefore, is made stronger by the individual community-development that finds expression in a larger and freer life. Moreover, the nation best serves itself when it encourages the individual states to develop in their own way. The germ of growth, the spirit of life, is in the individual. It grows in the home, it inspires the community, it develops the state, and finds its fullest expression in the life of the nation. As long as we recognize the sublime unity in our complex life there can be no permanent conflict of authority, for the right and power of the state and nation in this growing civilization and through an intelligent citizenship, will be respected and upheld.
Whether the national government has been a usurper of authority under the provisions given to regulate commerce among the states or whether the
Constitution has been made flexible to meet the growing demands of the new century, it is not my mission to discuss.
But what has the national government done directly, without usurping state authority, for the children of the republic? It has given a free military education to Lee and Grant and Sherman, and, in fact, with the possible exception of Forrest, to all the generals of the Civil War who made illustrious alike the name and fame of the North and the South. Through its land grants to the common schools it is enabling them to reach the forefront among the nations of the world. It has given through its agricultural and mechanical colleges a body of civil engineers who have made possible the marvelous achievements in railroad building, and through these colleges it has awakened an interest in agriculture that has become the life-blood of the nation's wealth. Through its investigations and research it has opened new fields of activity to its citizens.
What more can the nation do to bear its responsibility in the development. of the child? Whether the national government expends money to destroy the boll weevil and the cattle tick, or to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, or to put pure food on the markets of the country, it is merely striving to lift the burden from the individual and enable him to work in his own way under a clear sky. Whether it expends money for agricultural development, or for the study of its birds and fishes, or for its land surveys and improved forestry, or for western irrigation, or for levees in the great valley, it is done to reveal to the individual the wealth of beauty and natural resources that lie at his command. When he becomes wiser and wealthier, the nation profits by the better citizen.
What more? We may proclaim the importance of teaching agriculture in the rural schools, but until the teachers have been equipped for this work, it will not be effective. Note the difference between lecturing to children upon "agricultural topics" and teaching agriculture to country boys. The greatest good that the Congress of the United States can do at this time for the rural schools is to pass the pending bill giving support and recognition to the training of teachers of agriculture in the state normal schools.
What more? The people demand up-to-date information as to the daily markets of the country, and yet we have been satisfied to receive inadequate information as to the condition and movement of the children of the nation, three years late. The national government has dignified the commissioner of agriculture as a cabinet officer, and through this department large sums of money have been expended for investigation and publicity in model farms and experiment stations; but the Department of Education is merely a bureau whose chief, one of the noblest men of the nation, has received a salary less than that received by the manager of a convict farm in one of the states. This Bureau of Education has been graciously permitted to publish a great many out-of-date statistics. Why not make the commissioner of education a cabinet officer and supply him with money for the legitimate expenses of a