Education for Citizenship

Malcolm Willey

TO THE sociologist, one of the most encouraging tendencies is the spread of the social sciences downward from the college curriculum into the courses of study in high schools, and even into the upper grades of the elementary schools. It was not long ago that the only recognition received by the social sciences in elementary and secondary school systems was in so-called courses in civics. For the most part these courses were highly formalistic. The student was drilled in governmental anatomy, memorizing the various departments of the state, the functions of each, and if he could eventually tell whether the department of education was a branch of the department of the interior, or subordinate to the department of agriculture, he was passed with credit, and assumed to have acquired the fundamentals that would make him an intelligent citizen and voter.

Rapidly this is all changing. The old formalism is giving way to a virile study of government, and emphasis is being placed upon the relation of the student to the social environment in which he is living. Government is being studied as some-thing vital and close at hand ; and the various problems that social life develops are being formulated for the boys and girls. Courses in civics, or problems in citizenship, or Americanization, as they are variously called, have become dynamic ; ideas are injected, rote memory is discounted, and the attempt is made to familiarize the student with some of the problems-social, economic, political-of the society in which he lives.

But obviously this change has brought with it certain dangers. It is all very well to make the student think, but it is equally important that the material which is given him should be accurate, in order not to create false conceptions in the plastic mind. When it is considered that the majority of school children leave school by their fifteenth year, that those who enter colleges are a precious minority, and that for the rank and file the only formal education is that of the gram-mar and high schools, the care that should be exercised in selecting material for these courses in "citizenship" is obvious. The pupil at this period of life is highly suggestible; he acquires stereotypes unquestioningly ; he accepts as truth whatever is told him in the classroom. The ideas and impressions received during these early years are rarely changed. Consequently there is urgent need for being certain that erroneous concepts and biases are not acquired.

Perhaps this need for care can best be demonstrated and made strikingly apparent by reference

( 677) to three recent volumes, issued to meet the growing need for high school text-books in social problems.[1]

The first of these volumes, Actual Democracy, is written by two members of the Newark, New Jersey, school system. The state of New Jersey by statutory enactment has required that all students before graduation from high school must have had a course "containing a treatment of some of the political, social, and economic problems of the American people."[2] To meet this requirement the commissioner of education of the state has prepared a syllabus, "Problems of American Democracy." The authors of this text ac-knowledge their indebtedness to this syllabus, and hence it may be assumed that the material in the volume would meet the New Jersey requirements.

It is clear that in a discussion of present day problems, private property must be considered, and a chapter on this is found in this volume. The emphasis of the chapter, and the material in it, is best made evident by one of the questions at the conclusion. Each chapter is supplemented by a set of topics for student discussion, and the last discussion problem on this topic of property is, "Show that private property and democracy are inseparable."[3] The chapter itself is summarized on page 63 as follows :

Private property is one of the fundamental institutions of American democracy. It is an unmistakable index of social progress. It originated because of social reasons; it has grown under continual subjection to the social sanction. It is the basis on which our whole social order has been built up. It cannot be destroyed without destroying also the ideals of liberty and democracy in which Americans believe.

Needless to say, the matter is by no means so simple and by no means so established as this dogmatic statement would make the student believe. And that private property is not separable from democracy is of course preposterous. Yet the student in the New Jersey high schools has no inkling as to the factors involved beyond the highly controversial assertions contained in the text quoted.

More palpable dangers of misconception arise when the authors begin the discussion of trade.

No text-book on problems of citizen-ship could well omit such a topic, but it is a topic that should be treated with the utmost care lest false impressions be implanted in the students' minds. How will the boys and girls of New Jersey picture trade unionism after they read this passage?:

There are several types of unionism in this country. First, we have what we may call "business unionism," which is trade conscious, but not class conscious. It is essentially a bargaining and a conservative institution : an example is the Railway Brotherhood. Second, is the "friendly or uplift union," which may be either trade or class conscious, is conservative, and favors collective bargaining and profit sharing. An example of this form of unionism was the society known as the Knights of Labor, which at one time had a large and influential membership. The third type may be called "predatory unionism." It is secret, either radical or conservative, class or trade conscious, and has two wings: "hold-up" unionism, the corrupt type recently exposed in our great cities ; and "guerrilla unionism" which never combines with employers, but engages in a secret and violent war-fare with capital. There is also, unfortunately, a fourth and more objectionable type of unionism which calls itself "revolutionary unionism." It may be either socialistic as was the Western Federation of Miners, or anarchistic like the Industrial Workers of the World. It is class, not trade, conscious and antagonistic to the wage and other systems of modern society. This unionism does not, as a rule, care for the rights of the employers, and is disposed to believe in the policy of sabotage, which varies from actual destruction of property to mere slacking on the job.[4]

Anyone at all familiar with the concept of stereotypes will at once recognize that such words as predatory, hold-up, guerrilla, and revolutionary are certain to raise prejudiced pictures of trade unionism in the minds of immature boys and girls. It may be safe to label unionism in this manner for maturer college students (as one or two economists have done in their writings) but even here the use of such highly colored words is questionable. Certainly their usage is not justified in high school texts ; certainly the authors would never dream of labeling business concerns in the same manner.

The dangers of the careless use of words is again clear if in this same book one turns to the discussion of immigration. There is much about "the menace to America of a large unassimilated population" which because of the stereotyped

( 678) language used may be questionable, but passing over this, the following will be found under the general topic of crime and immigration :

There is no doubt that there has been a tremendous increase in criminal thought and action affecting the political sphere in recent years which has been fomented by radical foreigners. In the early spring of 1919 the authors attended a socialistic mass meeting in New York City and saw thousands of foreign faces glow with approval and with the lust for cruel action as speaker after speaker denounced the government of the United States and by inference justified acts of violence against it.[5]

That this is not only unjustifiable, but actually conductive to ill feeling toward foreign stocks in this country seems evident to the writer. The use of emotionalized words such as lust and cruel is not only quite out of place in a school text-book, supposed to be impartial, but is actually pernicious. The inferences that young minds will certainly draw from such phraseology are bound to be distorted and antagonistic.

But even more unpardonable in this volume is the statement, on page 169, that "today American democracy is facing a life and death struggle with Marxian socialism." There is, of course, no basis in fact for such an extreme statement. And certainly untrue statements, or such highly opinionated conjectures as this, are not the kind of material that should find a way into American high schools.

The second book, The Common Sense of the Constitution of the United States, is a tiny volume interpreting the constitution clause by clause. This book really belongs to the earlier period of civics, for it is formalistic. Yet even the author's formal interpretations are open to criticism at times. The analysis of the first amendment can be cited as a point in substantiation of the thesis under consideration, namely, that great care must be used in stating material for high school classes. The following is the paragraph discussing the free speech clause of the first amendment :

This amendment also guarantees the right of free speech. There can, of course, be no such thing as absolute free speech. The only persons who say exactly what they think every minute in the day are babies and fools. If a person is in church, at a meeting, or in any public place, he will hardly say aloud every thought that passes through his head. There is reason in all things, and on general principles a person may say in this country any-thing he pleases, provided what he says is not libelous or slanderous, or contrary to the public morals; and provided that he does not advocate the overthrow of the government by force. In this country where we have a government, not of men but of laws, it is not reasonable that anyone should preach the overthrow of the government by force. If B says "Murder A, throw him out of office, and let me rule," then it is perfectly logical for C to advocate the murder of B after B has set himself up as ruler. This is anarchy.[6]

Anyone familiar with the writings of the social theorists is aware that this murder of A by B is not anarchy. And also, anyone familiar with the manner in which the high school mind works will also know that the student will carry away from a reading of this passage one idea: that anarchy and murder are synonymous. What anarchy really is, is not explained. The student in all probability leaves school and for the rest of his life links crime and a theory of society.

The third volume, Text-Book in Citizenship, contains what are probably the most convincing bits of evidence in support of the thesis that untold harm may be done unless social material is carefully presented. R. O. Hughes, the author, is on the faculty of a Pittsburg high school. His book is profusely illustrated, and the illustrations deserve attention. Many of them are reproduced "by courtesy," and one cannot but be impressed in reading the credit lines under the photographs. Included among those granting "courtesy" are The Carnegie Steel Company, The Portland Cement Association, Swift & Company, The United States Steel Corporation, The Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company. The American Steel and Wire Company, The Westinghouse Electric Company, The Union Switch and Signal Company, The American Sheet and Tin Plate Company, The Illinois Steel Company, and others. These pictures, contributed by huge corporations, show scenes calculated to attract favorable attention : model factories, employees' gardens, model tenements, company flag raisings, faithful employees at annual picnic, classes in Americanization for workers, school children at tooth brush drills (this by courtesy of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company), corporation play-grounds for children, corporation classes in civil government, and many others of like stamp. On page 395 is a picture captioned, "An example of public welfare work by a great corporation,"

(679) which shows a newsboy at a drinking fountain, and into the stonework of this fountain is carved in immense letters : National Tube Company Public Fountain. Without questioning for the moment the motives of the National Tube Company, it does seem as though the author of the text is treading on dangerous ground in this manner of presenting the picture. Similarly with all the other pictures mentioned. To an unbiased reader they cannot but seem as testimonials to vast corporations and designed to instill in students of high school age an unquestioning admiration for these corporations and all they stand for. At least there is the very apparent danger that the students will react in this manner.

But it is not only the pictures that must be considered. The reading matter warrants comment. Thus, on page 470, one finds a paragraph with this heading : "Employers of the right sort." Reading a few sentences into this, the following is met : "The United States Steel Corporation reserves shares of stock which the employees may buy and so acquire a financial interest in the business." The chances are that a student preparing his lesson will copy into his note book, "Employers of the right sort-the United States Steel Corporation." An association is thus built up in a way that does not seem altogether justified. An opinion is thus established, uncritically, in the mind of the student.

Commenting upon the I. W. W. and the doctrine of direct action, the author says :

It is hard to see how a right-thinking American can possibly indulge in such performances or hold such theories. A decent man finds it difficult to sympathize with even oppressed people who use any such means to have their grievances corrected.[7]

Finally, in discussing certain phases of Russian problems, there is reference to "two able and unscrupulous leaders, Lenin and Trotsky." By the use of the word unscrupulous an unjustifiable connotation is raised in the students' minds, not only concerning the men themselves, but relating to the entire Russian situation as well. No impartial and mature scholar will admit that we know enough about Russia as yet, nor its leaders, to brand the country or the men at the head of it in such derogatory terms.

These examples cited from these three recently issued text-books by no means exhaust the material that might be called to attention. It is not the main purpose of this article to attack these, or any books, as such. The purpose here is to show the need for care in gathering and presenting material on social and economic problems to secondary school students so that they may not have false and unwarranted beliefs on the many topics they will be called upon to consider in after years. It must not be imagined that it is being charged here that the writers of these books are deliberately deceitful or consciously propagandizing. No such contention is raised. It is merely being pointed out that possibly through carelessness in phraseology, haste in writing, or lack of research, these authors have printed material that may well be, in fact will almost certainly be misread in the classroom ; have printed material that to the impartial observer seems calculated to bias immature students; have printed material and presented it in a way that is certain to prejudice youthful minds in favor of certain points of view, and to make them react against other points of view. These three volumes make evident the dangers that the newer methods of teaching civics introduce, and through their shortcomings should serve as warnings of the need for care in marshalling social and economic data. The fact that the books may be innocently prejudiced in no way alters the case. Innocent misstatement and misrepresentation work as much havoc as deliberate propaganda.


  1. Actual Democracy, by Margaret K. Berry and Samuel B. Howe. Prentice-Hall, Inc. New York. 1923.
    The Common Sense of the Constitution of the United States, by A. T. Southworth. Allyn & Bacon. Boston. 1924.
    Text-Book in Citizenship,
    by R. O. Hughes. Allyn & Bacon. Boston. 1923.
  2. See the Preface, Actual Democracy.
  3. Op. cit., p. 64.unionism
  4. Op. cit., pp. 73-74.
  5. Op. cit., p. 167.
  6. The Common Sense of the Constitution of the United States, pp. 91-2.
  7. Text-Book in Citizenship, p. 510. Italics are mine.

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