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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/191

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177
SCHOOL PLAYGROUNDS.

nasium" is a cavernous and ugly basement, a place full of shadows cast by the gloomy arches on which the building rests, with walls of brick and floors of asphalt. Little troops of silent, pale children arrive and depart all day for their physical culture, a dreary repetition of silent dumb-bell exercises. There is no speech nor language among them, no sound is heard but the jingle of the piano and the sharp tones of the monitor's counting. I have never heard the children count aloud or accompany the calisthenics by singing except in a private school. What an alternative for a free recess! No penitentiary drill could be more perfunctory, spiritless, dead. It must be said of the public schools that the thing they most seem to dread is the sound of a child's voice. The rude, untrained intonations, the slovenly speech, the slouching attitude remain rude, slovenly, and slouching, for all the school attempts to do for their improvement is infinitely little. Even the blessed relief of shaking the arm and hand to attract the teacher's attention has been reduced in some schools to lifting two fingers.

The pupils generally hate their calisthenics, or, in the new phrase, physical culture exercises. And they would hate just as sincerely regulated games superintended by some impossible master of sports. What they want is spontaneity in play. Public money is wasted in providing these abhorrent alternatives. Poor little Carthusians as young as six and seven years are kept in their rooms, and principally in their seats, above two hours at each session, and often after that to atone for some delinquency, most likely for speaking. In many schools they do not leave the room for any kind of exercise. If they were capable of demanding their rights they would call for both the abolition of the school lawn and calisthenic basement, and the restoration of their playground and recess.

From the cruelty of this repression nature finds a little way out; the children require of the neighbors what they have been deprived of by the school committee. All around the precincts of the temple of learning the trodden borders of the sidewalk, churned to mire in winter and trampled to rock in summer, speak of the victory of the boys. There are towns, perhaps, where they all go straight home, but in our town they gather four times a day in knots of twenties and fifties for some kind of fun. The patient neighbors go on removing coats and dinner pails from the pickets, clearing away papers and missiles from their inclosures, yet I discover that even they would vote to keep the school lawn; it improves the town. Very true. But ingenuity could well contrive some way of uniting the playground and the school park. Spaces of grass to rest the eye and decorate the square could be interspersed with inclosures of asphalt, furnished with a few parallel bars