The Magic of "Together" by Nora A. Smith

Children's Rights and Others

"'Together' is the key-word of the nineteenth century."

It is an old, adobe-walled Mexican garden. All around it, close against the brown bricks, the fleur-de-lis stand white and stately, guarded by their tall green lances. The sun's rays are already powerful, though it is early spring, and I am glad to take my book under the shade of the orange-trees. In the dark leaf-canopy above me shine the delicate star-like flowers, the partly opened buds, and the great golden oranges, while tiny green and half-ripe spheres make a happy contrast in color. The ground about me is strewn with flowers and buds, the air is heavy with fragrance, and the bees are buzzing softly overhead. I am growing drowsy, but as I lift my eyes from my book they meet something which interests me. A large black ant is tugging and pulling at an orange-bud, and really making an effort to carry it away with him. It is once and a half as long as he, fully twice as wide, and I cannot compute how much heavier, but its size and weight are very little regarded. He drags it vigorously over Alpine heights and through valley deeps, but evidently finds the task arduous, for he stops to rest now and then. I want to help him, but cannot be sure of his destination, and fear besides that my clumsy assistance would be misinterpreted.

Ah, how unfortunate! ant and orange-bud have fallen together into the depths of a Colorado cañon which yawns in the path. The ant soon reappears, but clearly feels it impossible to drag the bud up such a precipice, and runs away on some other quest. What did he want with that bud, I wonder? was it for food, or bric-a-brac, or a plaything for the babies? Never mind,—I shall never know, and I prepare to read again. But what's this? Here is my ant returning, and accompanied by some friends. They disappear in the canon, helpfulness and interest in every wave of their feelers. Their heads come into sight again, and—yes! they have the bud. Now, indeed, events move, and the burden travels rapidly across the smooth courtyard toward the house. Can they intend to take it up on the flat roof, where we have lately suspected a nest? Yes, there they go, straight up the wall, all putting their shoulders to the wheel, and resting now and then in the chinks of the crumbling adobes. Up the bud moves to the gutters,—I can see it gleam as it is pulled over the edge,—they are out of sight,—the task is done! How easy any undertaking, I think, when people are willing to help.

* * * * *

In a high dormer window of a great city, in a nest of quilts and pillows, sits little Ingrid. Her blue Danish eyes look out from a pinched, snow-white face, and her thin hands are languidly folded in her lap. She gazes far down below to the other side of the square, where she can just see the waving of some green branches and an open door.

Her eyes brighten now, for a stream of little children comes pouring from that door. "Look, mother!" she cries, "there are the children!" and the mother leaves her washing, and comes with dripping hands to see every tiny boy look up at the window and flourish his hat, and every girl wave her handkerchief, or kiss her hand. They form a ring; there is silence for a moment and then, 'mid great flapping of dingy handkerchiefs and battered hats, a hearty cheer is heard.

"They're cheering my birthday," cries Ingrid. "Miss Mary knows it's my birthday. Oh, isn't it lovely!" And the thin hands eagerly waft some grateful kisses to the group below.

The scene has only lasted a few moments, the children have had their run in the fresh air, and now they go marching back, pausing at the door to wave good-by to the window far above. The mother carries Ingrid back to her bed (it is a weary time now since those little feet touched the floor); but the bed is not as tiresome as usual, nor the washing as hard, for both hearts are full of sunshine.

Afternoon comes,—little feet are heard climbing up the stair, and Ingrid's name is called. The door opens, and two flushed and breathless messengers stand on the threshold. "We've brung you a birfday present," they cry; "it's a book, and we made it all our own se'ves, and all the chilluns helped and made somefin' to put in it. Miss Mary's down stairs mindin' the babies, and she sends you her love. Good-by! Happy birfday!"

"Happy birthday" indeed! Golden, precious, love-crowned birthday! Was ever such a book, so full of sweet messages and tender thoughts!

Ingrid knows how baby Tim must have labored to sew that red circle, how John Jacob toiled over that weaving-mat, and Elsa carefully folded the drove of little pigs. Everybody thought of her, and all the "chilluns" helped, and how dear is the tangible outcome of the thoughts and the helping!

* * * * *

Far back in the childhood of the world, the long-haired savage," woaded, winter-clad in skins," went roaming for his food wherever he might find it. He dug roots from the ground, he searched for berries and fruits, he hid behind rocks to leap upon his living prey, yet often went hungry to his lair at night, if the root-crop were short, or the wild beast wary.

But if the day had been a fortunate one, if his own stomach were filled and his body sheltered, little cared he whether long-haired savage number two were hungry and cold. "Every one for himself," would he say, as he rolled himself in his skins, "and the cave-bear, or any other handy beast, take the hindmost." The simplicity of his mental state, his complete freedom from responsibility, assure us that his digestion of the raw flesh and the tough roots must have been perfection, and the sleep in those furred skins a dreamless one.

What impending visitation of a common enemy, what sudden descent of a fierce horde of strange, wild, long-forgotten creatures, first moved him to ally himself with barbarians number two and three for their mutual protection? And when long years of alliance in warfare, and mutual distrust at all other times, had slipped away, and when savages were turning into herdsmen and farmers and toolmakers, to what leader among men did a system of exchange of commodities for mutual convenience suggest itself?

One would like to have met that painted savage who first suggested combination in warfare, or that later politico-economist upon whom it faintly dawned that mutual help was possible in other directions save that of blood-shedding.

A union born of the exigencies of warfare would be strengthened later by the promptings of self-interest, and, lo! the experiment is no longer an experiment, and the fact is proven that men may fight and work together to their mutual profit and advancement.

'Tis a simple proposition, after all, that ten times one is ten; and the bees, the ants, the grosbeaks, and the beavers prove it so clearly that any one of us may read, though we pass by never so quickly. Yet all great truths appear in man's mind in very rudimentary form at first, and each successive generation furnishes more favorable soil for their growth and development.

First, men joined hands in offensive and defensive alliance; second, they found that, even when wars were over, still communication, intercourse, and exchange of goods were desirable; third, they discovered that no great enterprise which would better their condition would be possible without coöperation; and, fourth, they began to band themselves together here and there, not only for their own protection, for their own gain, but to watch over the weak, to succor the defenseless, and even to uphold some dear belief.

The magic of "Together" has thus far reached, and who can tell what Happy Valley, what fair Land of Beulah, it may summon into existence in the future?

The incalculable value of coöperation, the solemn truth that we are members one of another, that we cannot labor for ourselves without laboring for others, nor injure ourselves without injuring others,—all this is intellectually appreciated by most men to-day, all this is doubtless acknowledged; yet I cannot find that it has obtained much recognition in education, nor is especially insisted upon in the training of children.

But surely, if children have any social tendencies,—and the fact needs no proof,—these tendencies should be given direction from the beginning toward benevolence, toward harmonious working together for some common aim. This would be comparatively easy even in a nursery containing three or four little people; and how much simpler when school life begins, and when the powers of children are greatly increased, while they are in hourly contact with a large number of equals!

"Society," as Dr. Hale says, "is the great charm and only value of school life;" but this charm and this value are reduced to a minimum in many schools. "Emulation, that devil-shadow of aspiration," so often used as a stimulus in education, must forever separate the child from his fellows.

How can I have any Christian fellowship with a man when I am envying him his successes and grudging him his honors? Am I not tempted to withhold my help from my weak brother across the way, lest my assistance place him on an equality with me?

Again, the "monitor" system, as sometimes carried out, tends to separation and engenders dislike and distrust. I am not likely to desire close communion, except in the way of fisticuffs, with a boy who has been spying upon me all day, or who has very likely "reported" me as having committed divers venial offenses.

It is the idea of some teachers that discipline is furthered if children are trained to have as little as possible to do with each other, and there is no question that this method does facilitate a toe-the-line kind of government. It would probably be more satisfactory to such a teacher if each child could be brought to school in a sedan-chair, with only one window and that in front, and could be kept in it during the whole session.

As such a plan, however, is scarcely feasible; as children, with or against our wills, have a natural and God-given instinct for each other's company; as they keenly enjoy banding themselves together for whatever purpose, should not education follow the suggestions which an earnest study of child-nature can but give?

Froebel, with those divinely curious eyes of his, saw deeper into the child's mind and heart than any of his predecessors, and for every faint stirring of life which he perceived provided adequate conditions of development. True prophet of the coming day, his philosophy is rich with suggestions for the cultivation of the social powers of the child. No one ever felt more keenly than he the inseparable, the organic connection of all life; and with deep spiritual insight he provides nursery plays and songs by which the babe, even in his mother's arms, may be led faintly to recognize in his being one of the links of the great chain which girdles the universe.

Later, when as a child of three or four years he makes his first step into the world, and loosing his mother's hand, enters a larger family of children of his own age, he is still led to feel himself a part of a vast union, each member of which has ministered to him, and numberless ways are opened by which he can join with others to give back to the world some of the benefits he has enjoyed. Stories are told and games are played which lead him to thank the kindly hands which have furnished his daily bread, his warm clothing, and his sweet, white bed at night.

The feeling of gratitude, grown and strengthened, must overflow in action. The world has done so much for him, what can he do for the world? Is there not some little invalid who would greatly prize a book of dainty pictures, embroidered, drawn, and painted by her child-friends? Then he will join with his companions, and patiently and lovingly fashion such a book. Is the class room somewhat bare and colorless? Then he can give up some of his cherished work to make a bright frieze about the walls.

A national holiday is perhaps approaching. He will unite with all the other babies in making flags, tri-colored chains, and rosettes to deck the room appropriately, and to please the mothers, fathers, and friends who are coming to celebrate the occasion.

One of the greatest pleasures which is offered is that of being allowed to "help" somebody. If a child is quick, neat, and careful, if he has finished his bit of work, he may go and help the babies, and very gently and very patiently he guides the chubby fingers, threads the needles, or ties on little caps, and conquers refractory buttons.

To be a "little helper," whether he is assisting his companions or the grown-up people about him, grows to seem the highest honor within his reach. He knows the joy of ministering unto others, and he feels that "to help is to do the work of the world."

Thus we endeavor to give external expression to the feelings stirring in the heart of the child, knowing that "even love can grow cold" if not nourished. The whole spirit of the work, if carried out as Froebel intended, must tend directly toward social evolution, and the intense personalism which is a distinguishing mark of our civilization, and is clearly seen in our children, needs anointing with the oil of altruism.

The circle in which the children stand for the singing is itself a perfect representation of unity. Hands are joined to make a "round and lovely ring." If any child is unkind, or regardless of the rights of others, it is easily seen that he not only makes himself unhappy, but seriously mars the pleasure of all the other children. If he willfully leaves the circle, a link in the chain is broken which can only be mended when he repents his folly and pleasantly returns to his place. Thus early he may be made to feel that all lives touch his own, and that his indulgence in selfish passion not only harms himself, but is the more blameworthy in that it injures others.

The songs and games cannot be happily carried on unless each child is not only willing to help, but willing also to give up his chief desires now and then. All the children would like to be the flowers in the garden, perhaps, but it is obvious that some must remain in the circle, in order that the fence be perfect, and prevent stray animals from destroying what we love and cherish. So there is constant surrendering of personal desires in recognition of the fact that others have equal rights, and that, after all, one part is as good as another, since all are essential to the whole.

In coöperative building, the children quickly see that the symmetrical figure which four little ones have made together, uniting their material, is infinitely larger and finer than any one of them could have made alone. If they are making a village at their little tables, one builds the church, another workshops and stores, others schools and houses, while the remainder make roads, lay out gardens, plant trees, and plough the fields. No one of the children had strength enough, time enough, or material enough to build the village alone, yet see how well and how quickly it is done when we all help!

The sand-box, in which of course all children delight, lends itself especially to coöperative exercises. They gather around it and plant gardens with the bright-colored balls; they use it for geography, moulding the hills, mountains, valleys, and tracing the rivers near their homes; they arrange historical dramas, as "Paul Revere's Ride," or the "Landing of the Pilgrims:" but no child does any one of these things alone; there is constant and happy coöperation.

It is the aim of one day's exercise, perhaps, to retrace with the child the various steps by which his comfortable chair and his strong work-table have come to him.

Across one end of the sand-box, a group of children plant a forest with little pine branches which they have brought. The wood-cutters come, fell the trees, and cut away the boughs. Another party of children bring the heavy teams, previously built from the play-material, harness in the horses (taken from a Noah's Ark), and prepare to carry off the logs. Now here come the road-makers, and they lay out a smooth, hard road for the teams, reaching to the very bank of the river, which another party of little ones has made. The logs are tumbled into the stream; they float downward, are rafted, carried to the mill; little sticks are furnished to represent the boards into which they are sawn; and the lumber is taken to the cabinet-maker, that he may fashion our furniture.

Though there be twenty children around the sand-box, yet all have been employed. Each has enjoyed his own work, yet appreciated the value of his neighbor's. They have worked together harmoniously and the doing has reacted upon the heart, and strengthened the feeling of unity which is growing within.

Such exercises cannot fail to teach the value and power of social effort, and the necessity of subordinating personal desires to the common good. Yet the development of individuality is not forgotten, for "our power as individuals depends upon our recognition of the rights of others."

It is true that the social problem is an intricate one and cannot be worked out, even partially, at any stage of education, unless the leader of the children be a true leader, and be enthusiastically convinced of the essential value of the principles on which the problem is based. Yet this might be said with equal truth of any educational aim, for the gospel must always have its interpreters, and some will ever give a more spiritual reading and seize the truth which was only half expressed, while others, dull-eyed, mechanical, "kill with the letter."

"After all," says Dr. Stanley Hall, "there is nothing so practical in education as the ideal, nor so ideal as the practical;" and we may be assured that the direction of the social tendencies of the child toward high and noble aims, toward the sinking of self and the generous thought of others,—that this is not only ideal, not only a following after the purest light yet vouchsafed to us, but is at the same time practical in its detailed workings, and in its adaptation to the needs and desires of the day.