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The tailor boss called him over to talk with us. The young fellow thrust his hand out at me confidently and he looked me square in the eye, smiling. He was the new American criminal personified; the laughing, 20th century, thrill-hunting kiiler of our great cities. He had gone to high school and had stood well there. his fall from honesty had been sudden. "Some of these young lifers," another warden told me, "keep on kidding and joking and don't seem even to realize they're in prison. And lots of them seem to think they're heroes because they are in prison."
They take nothing seriously, these new criminals. One warden, who, ac cording to prison rules, must censor all letters, read me a letter which a young "dude bandit," who had nine years of the penitentiary before him for robbery, had written to his girl in Chicago. There wasn't a serious word or a decent thought in that "love letter."
Warden Preston E. Thomas of the Ohio State Penitentiary, one of America's old-timers in prison work, described this new criminal to me: "The old-time safe blower or burglar took the greatest pains not to have a dangerous weapon on his person. He didn't want to kill. He didn't want a gun or even a large knife. He wanted to be able to prove to the police, if he was caught, that he had not intended to murder; that he planned to run away rather than fight it out with his victim.
"But these days it's different. The first thing these young fellows do is to get a gun. They intend to use it. They don't depend on their skill or their wits or their physical strength
not these little hair-polished rats. They depend entirely on their revolv ers and on killing."
Even the old-time crooks cannot understand these young criminals. For instance, the old-time crook had few slang words that dealt with shooting. The word "croak," meaning to kill, was about the only slang for murder.
A "rod" in the new slang, means revolver. A "stick" means the same thing. "Unhook it" is a signal to shoot. "Give him the works"" is an order to pour bullets into the body of a victim. "Step on it" means "pull the trigger." There is a terrible meaning behind each light and easy phrase of murder slang. "Can you walk?" is a question meaning "Are you brave enough to risk going to the electric chair?" To say you "can't walk" is to admit that you're afraid to kill.
"Capital punishment is a terrible thing," Warden Thomas told me, "but I believe there are times when it is justified. When three or four of these young new crooks get together, and talk about getting their 'rods' into shape and pick out the one of their number who is to give the signals and the one who is to pull the trigger which will give some citizen 'the works,' it seems to me that you have the highest possible essence of premeditated murder."
Warden Thomas describes our new young criminals as "young fellows who have lost their feelers." They seem without any of the attributes that come from emotion. "What's the matter with most of them!" I asked him. "They never had any home life," he answered.
A Binder, specially designed to hold twelve copies of The Reader's Digest, is supplied for the convenience of subscribers at cost price, $1.50 postpaid, returnable if it does not please you. It is strongly made of red buckram, with THE READER'S DIGEST in gold letters on the back.
Bridging Schools with Life
Condensed from The Review of Reviews (March '26)
HE curriculum of the common school has been growing like a mushroom, expanding from year to year with the influx of new studies. The result is that it is gorged with an excessive quantity of knowledge. Our children have no such omniverous appetite for learning. Besides, this overfeeding forbids proper assimilation. By common consent the first necessity is reduction or simpliication.
Progressive schools are now blazing a new trail by organizing the course of study around a few thought-centers in the leading studies. Typical projects drawn from life constitute these centers. A miscellaneous collection of detached facts, no matter how numerous or how important, can never take the place of one of these strategic centers of organized knowledge. Such thought-centers, with their unity and broad perspective, furnish a means for mastering the world.
The Muscle Shoals project, as a hydro-electric power station, is dealt with (in the sixth or seventh grade) in a fully elaborated classroom treatment. The dam and power house are presented as an object-lesson in the control and use of river power for doing man's heaviest work. Agriculture demands the nitrates as cheap fertilizer for worn-out lands. The cities within a radius of 200 miles require cheap power for all kinds of manufacturing, lighting, etc. The railroads can use electricity for transportation. As a substitute for coal, water power is rising into vast importance. The dams and locks would open cheap transport for heavy -freight on the Tennessee River. The South and, to some extent, the whole
country is affected by Muscle Shoals.
By comparing the power at Muscle Shoals with other water powers at Keokuk, at Niagara, at Great Falls, and on dozens of rivers, the national gignificance of hydroelectric power begins to reveal itself in full measure. An elaborate treatment of this important topic surprises boys and girls with a view of new forces at work in our modern world. We do not need to be told that these youngsters respond with open eyes and ardent minds.
The progressive school is thus beginning to deal with life problems in their full setting and in their native habitat. In this kind of study children are not trying to memorize words and phrases. They are getting experience. They are dealing with home and community interests at first hand. Their thoughts are taking root in life. They are getting a clear intelligence about necessary activities and arrangements in the surrounding world. The structure and organization of our modern society are gradually unfolding themselves to the minds of the children.
An illustration, drawn from school studies, is the steel industry at Pittsburgh. One of the large companies has its own iron mines in Northern Minnesota. Its operatives dig and load the ore upon the company cars and send it to Lake Superior ports. The company vessels transport it to Cleveland. From Cleveland it is transferred by cars to Pittsburgh. Unloaded at the steel works, it is fed into blast-furnaces and converted into pig-iron. Still molten, it is carried by ladles to the converters and changed into steel. Passing under great rollers it comes out in steel
plates, rails, and special shapes required for buildings, bridges, etc. The same company has offices in the larger cities where draftsmen are at work making plans for steel construction and sending in the orders to Pittsburgh. From its own coal mines coal and coke are brought by boat to the furnaces.
If one traces the steps in this process through its whole course and sees the relation of all these parts in their orderly progress, one can easily grasp the meaning of this whole industry in its relation to business and to life. Taken as a whole, it is an almost perfect type of the same steel industry at Cleveland, at Gary, at South Chicago, at Birmingham, Ala., in England, and on the Ruhr in Germany. Briefly, this 11lustrates what we mean by a large unit of instruction, organized into a natural whole, duplicating life.
But the school is accustomed to handle this topic not as one unit but in fragments. The steel industry at Pittsburgh is discussed in one place in the book, lake shipping in another, iron mines elsewhere, the coal mines somewhere else, Pittsburgh, the city, in still another connection.
Our present bulky curriculum has outgrown all reasonable limits. A complete relief can be had from this miscellaneousness and bulkiness by the wise selection of the few centers around which to organize knowledge. A few main topics or types, well mastered, are far better than an endless multitude of bare facts, scattered and disjointed. We must learn to be satisfied with the best possible samples and not try to gobble up everything. Fortunately the vast world of knowledge is simple, because, in its whole structure, it is built on this principle of types. The illustrative case, fully understood, is the interpreter or explainer of a multitude of similar cases. Know one thing well and you will quickly interpret a
Our children and teachers are now oppressed by the quantitative concep
tion of knowledge. They think they must learn a great number of facts about each of a great multiplicity of subjects. This is a serious mistake, because it tends to convert the school into a droning misery instead of a happy hunting ground. For example:
An elaborate type study of the early history and later enlargements of the Erie Canal, brought into comparison with other canals and traffic routes, illuminates a hundred years of the marvelous growth of this country in commerce, population and
The graphic story of the life and adventures of Daniel Boone, compared later with several others, will throw into a clear light the whole story of the backwoodsmen who crossed the mountains and took possession of that important domain west of the Alleghanies.
A careful study of the vertebrate structure of the horse, followed by a comparison with the like structure of a bird, a fish, a frog, and a few other backbone animals will furnish
comprehensive interpretation of this division of the animal kingdom.
The reconstruction of Vienna is a striking type and demonstration of the change that has taken place in the cities of Europe during the last century.
These life projects bring to the front the things that children find attractive and have a right to be interested in. The big outside world is always a powerful magnet to children. Compared with this, textbooks and school exercises are quite on a lower plane.
Moreover, these life projects are full of action. They are not tame, lifeless data. They have in them the same energy that is pulsing in the minds of children. The schoolmaster should learn that the children are all the time trying to break out from their narrow limits to make connection with this active, on-going world.
Seeing Ourselves in Our Dogs
Condensed from The Century Magazine (February, '26)
DOG is probably never more human than when he insists on keeping other dogs from using what he himself does not want. How often we all do that very thing! Even marriages have resulted from the desire to keep a supposed prize from another. After my sweet-natured Airedale, Jimmy, has exhausted the possi bilities of a soup-bone he is deeply distressed to see the bone exciting the interest of a visiting brother. How human!
Jimmy is scarcely able to eat if other dogs are fed near-by, so busy is he casting covetous glances at their plates. He is more interested in their food than in his own and is unhappy so long as another dog has a morsel left. Here perhaps is the animal origin of the human disposition not to be content with what we have, even when it is enough, but to worry about what the neighbors are doing. Old Badger has a slightly different philosophy from Jimmy's. He eats contentedly enough and minds his own business so long as there is food on his own plate. But being a rapid eater, he is usually through ahead of other dogs. The instant his own supply is exhausted, he begins to growl, obviously irritated because others still have food when he has not. Many of us are secretly like that, I fear, though less honest about it.
Dogs of course have a decidedly noticeable trait of jealousy. Booth Tarkington once told me a story of two dogs, one his own and another belong. ing to Harry Leon Wilson. The two men and their dogs had been living together in Europe. Tarkington and Wilson made a trip to the United States, bringing along Wilson's dog, but leaving the Tarkington dog behind. The two dogs had always been great friends. But when the two men returned, having the Wilson dog with
them, Tarkington's dog seemed to realize that his one-time playmate had enjoyed a long trip with his master while he himself had been compelled to remain in a lonely kennel. He turned on the Wilson dog in jealous rage, and they were friends no longer.
One trait which I am sure most dogs possess more than their owners realize is a sense of embarrassment. I recall walking with old Badger one day when he started to chase what he thought was a rabbit but which proved to be only a piece of paper moved by the wind. When he discovered his error he immediately stopped short and looked around with a silly expression to see if I had noticed him. When I laughed at him he went slinking away, a picture of mortification. this connection George John Romanes tells of a terrier that used to be fond of catching flies on a window-pane, and if ridiculed when unsuccessful was evidently much annoyed. one occasion," says Mr. Romanes, "to see what he would do, I purposely laughed immoderately every time he failed. It so happened that he did so several times in succession and eventually became so distressed that he positively pretended to catch the fly, going through all the appropriate actions with his lips and tongue, and afterwards rubbing the ground as if to kill the victim; he then looked up at me with a triumphant air of success. So well was the whole process simulated that I should have been quite deceived, had I not seen that the fly was still upon the window. Accordingly I drew his attention to this fact, as well as to the absence of anything upon the floor; and when he saw that his hypocrisy had been detected he slunk away under some furniture, evidently much ashamed of himself."
Badger has long had an absurd habit, or one might almost call it a fetish, which I have never been able to explain except that the old rascal has a streak of get-even spirit. If I go away and leave him alone in the house, he is certain to go from one bedroom to another, jump up on each bed. and rumple it up. He never under any circumstances jumps on a bed if there is any one in the house, but the moment he is alone he seems to waste no time in carrying out this secret project. He is not prompted by a desire to lie on the bed, because he never remains longer than necessary to place the bed in a state of general disorder. It cannot be that he is doing it to try to find me, thinking I may still be in bed, because he has seen me go out of the front door. Can it be that he does it as a means of revenge for being left alone? He realizes each time that he is doing wrong and will later be scoided. Yet so great is his desire to commit this offense that ne would rather do it even though he must spend the rest of the day with a guilty conscience. Usually when I return from a brief absence, Badger comes bounding to the door in hilarious fashion to greet me. If he fails to do so I know that he has been alone in the house and is ashamed of having been up to his old tricks. I call him, and with great reluctance he finally comes, tail down, utterly dejected. It has been impossible to break up his habit of tearing up beds. never caught him in the act until one time when he and I occupied a small cabin in the Maine woods. I was in the habit of going to a near-by cabin for meals and would leave Badger in our cabin alone. Almost invariably when I returned the bed would be in a state of disorder. One day I went out, and then tiptoed back to where I could peek in the window. Immediately Badger jumped on the bed and began to rumple it up. He happened to glance toward the window and saw Without waiting for a word his
whole appearance changed to a shamefaced air that I have come to think of as his bedroom look, and he went slinking away. But as always under such circumstances he watched my face for a sign of forgiveness and at the first suggestion of a smile came bounding at me like a happy child. He has become acquainted with the joy of "making up."
Dogs like humans dislike to admit they are getting old or for any reason cannot do everything that they ever could. Badger, aged 15 at this writing, now prefers to lie quietly and sleep most of the time. But if he sees me playing with a younger dog, he is certain to make a great show of romping about, evidently to make me think that he is still just as spry as ever.
Dogs and folks share a broad-minded willingness to tolerate insults from those that they know they can whip. I once saw James J. Corbett smilingly permit an under-sized man to call him
I have often noticed that dogs practice a form of deceit in a spirit of politeness. My little Welsh terrier, Megan, seems to think my feelings might be hurt if she were to refuse food I offer her. When she has had enough she takes the food eagerly and dashes away as if to eat it in leisurely fashion in some favorite nook. But what she does is to drop it where she thinks I will not see it, hoping evidently that I will suppose she has eaten it.
How often I have wished I might do the same thing, especially when a charming hostess implores me to have a second helping of soggy pie prepared with her own fair hands! What a convenience it would be if I could run gaily with my plate out into the back yard and secrete it behind a bush!