Saturday, March 5, 2011

In 1950s -- Avoiding the "softness" of "New York -- California style of education"

By Don Lynch

From the Nov. 3, 1953 edition of The Argus-Observer

Ernie Hill, Foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, has made an interesting report on the experiences of his son Jonathon in attending schools in New York, Tokyo and London.

The boy had lacked interest in school in the United States and Japan and had repeatedly been tardy, but has taken a real interest in his work in London.

Hill reports, “I once went this school in New York. When I put my head in the door, someone fired a book at me. All the kids were standing up and were screaming. The teacher was shouting and banging on the desk.

“They’re so spirited this morning,” she told me outside. “Their little personalities are expressing themselves. We do nothing to curb their ego.’ When she went back into the classroom, she was beaned by an orange.

“Then, at the American school in Tokyo six of them gave their egos a workout by pushing one boy through a window.”

Hill says that British schools don’t operate that way. Jonathon was never late for school in London. He started doing his homework conscientiously and even studying ahead. When asked what would happen if he didn’t get his homework done, the boy said:

“Well, the Head would send you down to his study. He wouldn’t talk or beg you to do your work. He would just give you six of the best . . . that’s wallops with his birch cane. And boy do they hurt.”

Asked what would happen if a student threw a book, Jonathon said, “That would be a Monday night detention of three to five hours plus six of the best, plus no more swimming or football for the rest of the term.”

Hill reported that under the British influence Jonathon said, “ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Yes, thank you,’ and ‘No thank you,’ just like a civilized human being.”

Hill said he wasn’t worrying about Jonathon’s personality or ego, but just “basking in the warm glow of an unbelievable transformation.”

Thank goodness the Ontario schools and other schools in this region are not so progressively minded that the kids are permitted to run wild. We have a healthy compromise here between the severity of the English system and the softness of the New York-California style of education.

My father, a lifelong school teacher now retired, made practical application of the birch-cane technique with good results. He didn’t abuse it, but he did require discipline and order in his school.

I remember very well one occasion when he marched all of his ninth grade boys around the room whacking each one across the back with his belt when they came by his desk. They had refused to leave the outside basketball court to return to class after the noon hour. They never did it again.

There was another time I remember better from personal experience. We kids were confined to a playroom in the schoolhouse basement because of severe weather. One boy used a wooden pointer teachers used for blackboard instruction, put it in the furnace until it was charred and then wiped it across the faces of some of the rest of us. I took it away from him and broke it over his head. About that time we got caught.

The next morning I watched the old man cut three good strong lilac branches, and then walked to school through the deep snow of that year with him and the lilac branches.

The three us of who were in that fight stood up before the room and one lilac branched was used on each of us. I was ashamed because I couldn’t keep from doing a little jig while the other boys were tough enough to stand and take it.

However, the old man wasn’t always so stern. He yielded to the idea of progressive education to the extent of spending considerable effort on directing the learning process along lines that appealed to the interests of individual youngsters. Students got a chance to work on projects they liked and to acquire their learning in terms they would understand.

With that background, it’s no wonder that discipline seem to me an essential prerequisite of education. Attention is essential to learning and discipline is necessary to get attention from most youngsters.

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