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terial advantage-but I am not at all convinced that this is to be deplored. Often you will go for an all-day ramble up some grassy plateau which rises gradually toward the mountains, climbing on and on until you reach a vantage point where, on the one hand, you have a view into the depths of a great valley dappled with the shadows of the clouds; and, on the other, of the palm-clad lowlands and the broad lagoons beyond; and, beyond them again, of the sea-50, 60 miles of blue sea. There, listening to the silence, busy with your own thoughts or deep in fathomless reverie, you will sit until evening, surprised that evening comes so soon; and the strange thing-from the old, high-latitude point of view-is that such a waste of time brings not anxiety but peace of mind. It is easy to believe that you have been fulfilling, during those long hours of idleness, a small but important function in the scheme of things. On such days you are convinced that loafing is.a virtue and that three-fourths of the unhappiness of the world is caused by the fact that men have forgotten how to loaf.
The strange thing, to me, is that so few people seem to want any solitude. They fly from it as though it were the wrath to come, and seem to have lost the capacity for being aloue even during very brief periods.
Optimism is a crowd quality; and it is only fair to say that during my residence in Tahiti I have met but very few optimists. I have often won. dered why it is that this small island should draw so many authentic pessimists. They are of all nationalities, from every walk of life, men of education, men of no education; but, diverse as they are in many respects, they have two qualities in common: they are all interesting men, and all are suffering from disillusionment. Almost without exception, these men are lookers-on at life, out of sympathy with the spirit of their times; and so, not being able to act with any enthusiasm, they talk.
Many of them, through years of practice, have become past masters in
the art of conversation, and it is this that makes them such interesting companions. I used to wonder why it was that even small gatherings at home were usually so tedious. To be sure, words flowed perpetually, but they had little significance or interest. We were bored with each other without knowing why. The trouble was, I think, that we did not know how to talk or what to talk about. Things and events alone had importance as matter for conversation; 30 we discussed them, and, if you had had the courage and the patience, you might have sat through an endless number of those so-called conversations without hearing so much as a fleeting reference to an idea.
The best method of getting things done at home is to set aside a day for doing them. We have Mother's Day when we must think of our mothers, and Father's Day when we must think of our fathers. Well, why not have an Idea Day when those who are too busy during the rest of the year think and talk ideas to the exclusion of everything else?
My experience leads me to believe that good talk is likely to result, even in groups of quite ordinary individuals, when favorable conditions lead to favorable occasions. In Tahiti one has ample leisure, not only to talk, but to think between periods of talk. Men come together after weeks or months of solitude, their minds surcharged with energy, their opinions carefully weighed and sorted against the time when they may be brought forth in company. During their lonely meditations, they are seized by great convictions or great doubts, and to share these is as necessary to them as breathing. The moment two or three of them meet, the conversation immediately centers around ideas, for things are conspicuous only by their absence, events by the rarity of their Occurrence. What a satisfaction it is to escape the dominance of thingsnot to be perpetually reminded of them, stimulated to think of them or to want them, or to acquire them without wanting them! Very few people here have accumulated possessions.
As for the pessimists I have been speaking of, nearly all have achieved Afluence in the Diogenic sense, estimating their wealth in terms of the things they can do without.
Although not yet among the truly opulent ones in this sense, I live much more cheaply than would be possible, even for a journalist, in America. In fact, my scale of living is about that of a small mechanic even that of a day laborer-at home.
My disillusioned friends are great readers, and this is another important minor advantage of living here: one has both the leisure and the inclination to read extensively. Most men Would agree that literature is the finest of the arts, music alone excepted. If this is true, then the time one gives to the reading of good books should be considerable, and here it is 80. In America, although I got through many books during the course of a year, it was reading with the eyes for the most part-rarely were mind and spirit fully engaged. There were too many distractions, and even when most deeply absorbed I was conscious all the while of the likelihood of interruption, so that I entered only halfheartedly the world of the imagination, like a doctor who goes to the theater expecting at any moment to be called away. For reading, one must have solitude and the assurance of freedom from interruption, and in Tahiti as nowhere else I have been able to fulfill both of these conditions. I have a small house which stands on a peninsula about an acre in extent. No road passes through it-only a footpath used by two or three native families. The house faces the sea, with a northwest exposure, and the nearest neighbors in that direction are some 800 miles away. Those to the right and left are closer at hand,
but they are the most discreet and thoughtful of neighbors and never intrude. Often I see no one for days, and in the secluded, sunny silence of the place it is easy to imagine that I am living on an otherwise uninhabited island. Here, many a time, secure from interruption, I have read for a solid week-mornings, afternoons, evenings, living in books more intensely than I have ever lived in the world of reality.
There is one more reason for living in Tahiti which has great weight with me: in a small island world one may comprehend all individual, social, and This political activity at a glance. adds enormously to the pleasure of living. One is bewildered by the complexity of life on a great continent. Here there is diversity without com. plexity, a mingling of races comparable to that in America, but on a small scale. To visit the Tahiti market of an early morning is to see the world in miniature: Polynesians, Chinese, French, English, Americans, Russians, Danes, Scandinavians; and it is of endless interest to see how these diverse elements accommodate themselves to their environment and to each other. But the ultimate result of this mingling is already clearly apparent. Within 50 years the Chinese have conquered Tahiti as completely as they will conquer all of French Polynesia well before the conclusion of this century.
But the Pacific is wide, and spangled with islands as the sky with stars. Although there is but one Tahiti, other crumbs of land exist where the anarchists may still find solitude and peace of mind, scaling lofty mountains for a distant view of the world, or walking lonely beaches, deep in unprofitable thought. 9.
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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.