Our Little Citizens- Primary Education Article, January, 1920 Part 1

SEveral things struck me about this article, some negative, some positive, some just historically interesting.  See what you think.

Our Little Citizens

Etta V. Leighton

Civic Secretary, National Security League Book,  1920

January, 1920, must be more than “Happy New Year” month for teachers and children. There can hardly be a teacher anywhere who is not seriously impressed by the need of teaching even to the little tots the ideals of our government assailed now on every hand.These children now in our classrooms are as much to be pitied as the little children in France and Belgium were while battle was raging about them. Some of the little French and Belgian children will never be anything but feeble-minded so great was the mental strain under which they lived and tried to grow. Some of our children will never be normal unless we can take special pains to counteract the terribly dangerous atmosphere of unrest in which they trying to live.

We have the child five hours a day, he sleeps about eight, leaving eleven hours when he is exposed to other than school influences. In his five hours with us we must develop strong concepts of growth, of building, of individual ownership to negative (sic?) the doctrines of destruction and revolution that are part the atmosphere to day in every community.
Stock -Taking The children will know that January is “stock-taking” month- that business men know that they must keep track of what they own if they intend to do a profitable business. By schoolroom attempts at stock-taking, by playing store, counteract the wicked and foolish notion now gaining currency that there is something wrong in seeking profit. The wild agitators are demanding that all industry be run for “service not profit” – nine-tenths of them don’t know what they mean,  the remaining tenth know that human nature and human honesty require that people shall profit by their work or by their investment. The agitators want to make profits all right,  but they want to divide these profits among themselves, and they are building up in the public mind an idea that makes a robber of every man,  who through saving, investment, or business makes a profit on what he does.

Splendid exercises in drawing, penmanship, and arithmetic can be made of this stock-taking in the schoolroom. Its value as civics is to build up several ideas:

1. “Counting our blessings remembering our joys as a counteractant of [un]rest
and discontent.

2 .Creating a business sense- desirability of always knowing where one stands financially.

3. Teaching the making of inventories and their use in obtaining insurance or loans.

4. Creating a sense of ownership, interest and pride in one’s possessions and desire to get the best use of them.

5. Teaching the distinction between real estate and personal property and noting the community tax on real estate and the tax on personal property.

6. Teaching the difference between luxuries and necessities. Showing that books, pictures etc. ought not be classed as luxuries.

7. Creating a feeling of gratitude towards parents and community for advantages given.

8. Creating a respect for property, the feeling that personal and private property must not be harmed or wasted. This feeling is most important.

It has been said that no truly sane person can destroy property.
The firebug who sets fire to property is clearly insane. The person who preaches destruction of property is likewise mentally unbalanced. One of our greatest tasks is to prevent wanton destruction by young people. The destructive instinct can be cured by cultivating the imagination so that the child can put himself in the owner’s place, and this can be done only when the child has himself a strong property feeling for his own possessions.

School Property

Think of the pleasant counting and writing lessons in making out a school property stock sheet. The third and fourth grades might make the inventory sheets for the entire building as a drawing lesson.  A triplicate set of sheets for each teacher might be [graded?] as an upper grade drawing lesson, but the sheets used
in the lower grades could have the names of the articles written. Grades I and II can count their possessions and put the figures down; perhaps Grade II can add all the totals. It would be a splendid demonstration of the value if the teacher could show the children an amount in bills and coin equal to the value of the furnishings and the property they are using. This is a thrift lesson and if the sum were large the teacher could no doubt get some business man to show the children the amount of money and talk to them for a few minutes of how many other things that money could buy if anyone did not realize that it should be spent to help the children to become good wise Americans.

Teach Definition of Capital

Whether you demonstrate the value by using the actual money or not, make the children understand that this furniture and these materials are the tools with which they work, that they are “Capital,” because, through their use, certain products in the way of written lessons, etc. and knowledge are produced. Above all, make everyone know that Capital is not just money. It is not something that a few rich men have. It is not something taken away from the poor man. Capital in its money form is accumulated savings invested in production and everyone of us who has money in a savings bank or in life insurance, everyone of us who has tools and material to work with is a capitalist. Don’t say “My children are too small to understand.” Your children are not too small to hear, and in their homes and on the street they are hearing the words ‘capital’ and ‘capitalist’ used as something that menaces their lives and that must be destroyed. If you don t try to simplify the truth for even small children, you are a left-handed emissary of the Reds.

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  1. Frances
    Posted March 30, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    One of the books I loved as a child was Jane’s First Term by Nancy Catty, about a primary school whose lessons were based on a “store” with the appropriate instruction in arithmetic, and reading and writing integrated as part of the necessary training of the “assistants”. I think we acquired a very tattered copy withdrawn from the library – probably knocking about somewhere in our home L-space back in England!

    Playing shops … I remember a toy Post Office, and my little sister asking for “A pound of stamps, please.”

  2. Cat Morris
    Posted March 31, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    You have likely researched this organization already. I have merely pulled up a wikipedia entry to discover their influence in American education:


    Thoughts on the article: 1) Yes, children are at the mercy of whatever bias or agenda prevails in their educational setting, 2) Political history repeats itself.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted March 31, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      Parts of it gave me the creeps. Schools only had a “child five hours a day” boggles the mind, especially compared w/today. I loved #6 as well as ‘Capital is not just money.’

      • Headmistress, zookeeper
        Posted April 1, 2016 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        Something else I thought, though, was that this educational approach resulted in the Greatest Generation, and we haven’t seen anything else like it since.

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