Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/May 1899/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.


WE do not know whether the verb "to kindergartenize" has yet crept into the language, but, after reading the article of Miss Marion Hamilton Carter in the March Atlantic on The Kindergarten Child—after the kindergarten, one is disposed to think that such a verb is a present necessity. The question as to whether the kindergarten on the whole is a good institution is too wide for discussion within the restricted limits of the Table; but no one can read Miss Carter's article without being forced to the conclusion that, in some of its aspects, kindergarten work is of very doubtful utility. That lady found by actual experience with two or three successive levies of kindergarten children that they seemed to have an impaired rather than an improved faculty of acquiring knowledge, that their infancy seemed to have been artificially prolonged, that they had become accustomed to a nauseating amount of endearment in the language addressed to them by their instructors, that they seemed to expect to be continually amused, and that a certain drill through which they had been put for the alleged purpose of developing their powers of imagination had gone a long way toward making them incapable of speaking of things simply as they found them. All this is set forth in Miss Carter's article in a manner which leaves little doubt that she has described things substantially as they fell under her observation.

There is one important principle in education which it seems to us the kindergarten system too much ignores, if it does not completely set it at defiance, and that is that very young children require a great deal of letting alone. The spontaneous activity of the little ones—and they are sure to be active if they get the chance—is worth more for their education than any amount of directed activity. Their imaginations, too, will take care of themselves much better than we can take care of them. Nothing is less favorable to the development of imagination in a child than constant intercourse with grown people who have passed the imaginative stage, and whose daily duty it is to lay out ordered knowledge for assimilation by these babes. It is no wonder that part of the system should consist of special exercises for the cultivation of the very faculty which the system as a whole is so adapted to dull and to weaken. Anything much more silly, however, than the method described by Miss Carter it would be difficult to imagine.

The great popularity of the kindergarten is due in large measure to the fact that it relieves mothers during part of the day of the care of their small children. That it does this in very many cases at the expense of weakening the tie between mother and child there is too much reason to fear. The State has been stepping in more and more between parents and children, until now it lays its hand almost upon the cradle. The mothers of the republic are giving way, so far as influence over the rising generation is concerned, to the schoolmarms; but it is idle to expect that the latter can take the place of the mothers we used to know. The kindergarten constitutes a vast extension of the educational machinery previously in operation, and machinery is always impressive, especially to those who do not understand it. What people see is that the system works very smoothly and uniformly and rhythmically, and that it saves, or seems to save, them a great deal of trouble; and that it is enough to make them think it something very fine. Whether it is really saving trouble in the end is a question which we consider quite open to discussion. There is room, in our opinion, to inquire whether the stimulus of society is not too early and too systematically brought to bear on the infants who throng the educational nursery—whether it is well for children of three and four to be brought every day under the eye of, and more or less into competition with, a large number of companions of their own age. We doubt much whether it tends to simplicity of character, and we can not but regard it as distinctly unfavorable to the development of individuality. The rule of fashion begins at once to operate with great intensity, and the child loses the power of conceiving life except in the herd. As to whether trouble on the whole is being saved to parents by the new system, the question could best be answered by ascertaining whether, in the long run, parents have more or less trouble with their children now than formerly. We should be surprised to hear any one maintaining that they had less.

We are aware that parents, for the most part, enthusiastically testify that their children enjoy the kindergarten very much; but may it not be possible for children, as well as their elders, to like what is not altogether for their good? We do not consider that we can safely follow all a child's likes and dislikes in the matter of diet, or companionship, or hours for going to bed and rising. Sensible people do not think that everything children crave should be given to them, or that more than a limited number of excitements should be thrown in their way. It is one of the drawbacks to wealth that the possessors of it can hardly refrain from half burying their children beneath a profusion of toys, and crowding upon them such a multitude of distractions, in the way of travel, shows of all kinds, and society, that all chance of development from within is well-nigh destroyed. It has been remarked by many that the children of to-day who rarely read a story that is not illustrated, have much less imagination than the children of former days, who in reading had to make and did make their own mental pictures. Yet what pampered child ever said he or she was pampered too much? What overflattered child ever asked for a surcease of flattery? What child suffering from an excessive amount of social excitement ever requested that it might have less of such unhealthy stimulation? The inference we draw is that it does not settle the question finally in favor of the kindergarten to say that children enjoy it. If Miss Carter's experience is to be depended on, the result at least of some kindergarten training is to stimulate the vanity of the little ones and give them a quite undue sense of their self-importance. They would enjoy that while it lasted, poor little things! but it would be a bad preparation for the subsequent work of education. One broad fact stares the educational world in the face, and that is that the average child has to-day, at a given age, a less capacity for learning than the average child of twenty-five or thirty years ago. What share the kindergarten may have had in this retardment of intellectual development is a question which deserves investigation. Messrs. McLellan and Dewey, in their work on The Psychology of Number (International Education Series), say (page 154): "We have known the seven-year-old 'head boy' of a kindergarten, conducted by a noted kindergarten teacher, who could not recognize a quantity of three things without counting them by ones.… There is surely something lacking either in the kindergarten as a preparation for the primary school, or in the primary school as a continuation of the kindergarten, when a child, after full training in the kindergarten, together with two years' work in the primary school, is considered able to undertake nothing (in arithmetic) beyond the number twenty." These authors enter into a very elaborate analysis of the number concept, and lay down with extreme care what they conceive to be the best lines of approach to the youthful mind in the teaching of arithmetic. It seems to us, however, that the number concept will dawn upon the youthful mind without much effort on the part of teachers when the time arrives for it to be of use. In most childish games the element of number is involved. The smallest girl with a skipping rope will get into the way of counting her skips with a more or less distinct conception of the difference between one number and another. So in the matter of "turns" in any game in which two or more are engaged: if one child wants to have more "turns" than it is entitled to, the others have to be very young indeed not to protest. In a tug-of-war with, say, four on each side, the addition of a fifth to one side without permission would make trouble in the camp. When candies are being distributed the arithmetical sense is generally keenly alive.

We conclude by commending Miss Carter's article to the careful consideration of all who are interested in educational problems. She writes with a certain tinge of vexation, and, without meaning it, may have somewhat forced the case against her kindergarten children.

The Atlantic Monthly deserves credit, we must add, for the many able and timely articles which it has lately been publishing on educational topics—articles stamped by the breadth of thought and high culture which are characteristic of our contemporary, and eminently adapted to assist in delivering our educational methods from bondage to a mechanical routine, and bringing them nearer to the simplicity and freedom of Nature.


Since the United States turned its ambition toward the tropics, the question as to whether its political institutions can be extended to the inhabitants there has been widely discussed. As might be expected, the philanthropic advocates of expansion have insisted that "the blessings of freedom and civilization" are not limited by latitude or longitude. Any other position would, of course, have involved them in the charge of inconsistency and hypocrisy. But certain philosophic expansionists, as they may be politely called, have taken the opposite view. "It is a cardinal fact," they say, quoting the language of a recent essay of Mr. Benjamin Kidd, "that in the tropics the white man lives and works only as a diver lives and works under water.… Neither physically, morally, nor politically can he be acclimatized in the tropics." Still quoting his language, they say again that "a clearer insight into the laws that have shaped the course of human evolution must bring us to see that the process which has gradually developed the energy, enterprise, and social efficiency of the race northward, and which has left less richly endowed in this respect the people inhabiting the regions where the conditions of life are easiest, is no passing accident, nor the result of circumstances changeable at will, but part of the cosmic order of things which we have no power to alter."

Whether Mr. Kidd recognizes the odious significance of his captivating speculation or not, it is certainly a plea and an apology for slavery and political despotism in the tropics. Most welcome will it be to all those nations and people of easy conscience and measureless greed that now hold in bondage of greater or less intensity millions of the inhabitants of that rich and splendid region. But there is reason to believe that it must be relegated to the limbo of a kindred and popular superstition. Within the past year much has been said about the genius of the Anglo-Saxon for freedom and the ethnic incapacity of the Latins for that boon of civilization. Even so great a scholar as Guizot encourages this extraordinary theory. Again and again does he point out in his History of Civilization how the spirit of freedom may be traced to the Teutonic hordes that swarmed the forests of Germany. He does so despite the overwhelming evidence against him to be found in his own pages even. In apology for his misinterpretation of social phenomena there can be urged his ignorance of the law of evolution and of the hardly less important law of the militant origin of despotism and the pacific origin of freedom. No such apology can, however, be made in behalf of Mr. Kidd, or of any other apostle of imperialism. Not only have they at command all the generalizations of social science, but all the facts upon which those generalizations are based, to prove that neither climate nor race is a limitation upon freedom.

If climate determined the character of the political institutions of a people, many questions would be suggested at once that would be beyond solution. Why, for instance, should a certain freedom have existed in Athens, and the most intolerable despotism in Sparta? Again, why should there be despotism in Russia and Germany as well as in Morocco and Egypt? Another series of questions equally perplexing can be raised. Why should there be more freedom in England to-day than six hundred or even one hundred years ago? The climate has not changed in the interval. Why should the institutions of Spain in the thirteenth century have been more liberal than in the seventeenth? Why was it that the freedom that existed in Germany before the Thirty Years' War had virtually ceased to exist at the Peace of Westphalia? Here also the climate had not changed. Why, finally, was there a reaction toward despotism in France after the French Revolution, in Germany after the disturbances of 1848, in England after the Crimean War, and in the United States after the rebellion? The only satisfactory answer to these questions is to be found in the fact that militant activities always lead to despotism, and pacific activities always to freedom. When people get into war, the central power must exercise all the authority over life and property essential to success in battle. The impulse thus given to despotism spreads to every part of the social fabric. When people are devoted to the pursuits of peace, the forces that make for freedom transform their ideas, feelings, morals, and institutions, political, industrial, and social.

Whether despotism exists, as Mr. Kidd and his followers assume, among all the indigenous populations of the tropics, only a careful investigation of the subject would permit one to say. But that it must, as they contend, always exist there, none of the laws of social evolution gives the slightest warrant. Wherever it does exist, it had the same origin that it had in England, and in obedience to the same forces of peace and industry that operated against it in that country, it must pass away. The struggles between clans and tribes for the possession of desirable territory, or for the capture of food or slaves, or for the gratification of predatory and belligerent instincts, gave rise to the permanent chief, to the ruling hierarchy, and to all the other characteristics of a militant society. The degree of heat or humidity or the luxuriant vegetation of the tropics had no more to do with this political organization than the degree of cold, or the dryness of the atmosphere, or the comparative poverty of the soil of some of the Western States with the similar political organization of the Indians that roamed over them. None of these physical characteristics can prevent the play of those forces that drive people eventually to the adoption of that form of social organization that will best promote their happiness. As the social philosophy of evolution shows, the social organization best fitted for this purpose is the one where the largest individual freedom prevails. Since the abolition of slavery and serfdom and many other forms of despotism has been found necessary for the best interests of society in Europe, we have a right to believe that the abolition of the same forms of despotism will be found necessary for the best interests of society in the tropics.

It is true that in the tropics the white man has found it uncomfortable to work, and has often reduced the indigenes to a kind of slavery. But that either is inevitable and unavoidable because of the laws of social evolution, or any more than a temporary reversion, there is no reason for holding. Alfred Russel Wallace, who spent twelve years in the tropics, says in a recent article that the white man can and does work in every part of them. If he does not work, it is simply for the same reason that he does not work in Europe or the United States—namely, because he does not have to. When, however, necessity lays its heavy hands on him, driving him to earn his living by the sweat of his brow, he does it in the tropical region quite as well as he does in the temperate. That is shown particularly in Queensland. But when natives can be reduced to slavery the crime is committed with slight compunction, and defended on the same ground that it was defended in the South and elsewhere. The time must come, however, as it came in Brazil and in other countries where slave labor was found too wasteful and demoralizing, when it will be displaced with free labor. The time must come, too, when free institutions will be found as essential under the equator as farther north. Without them social evolution can not reach its highest point, nor man attain to his greatest happiness, a state that he is always seeking, no matter where he lives.