The Social Life of Children

Porter Lander MacClintock
1904 The Elementary School Teacher  
Nothing more beneficent has come into modern education than the tendency to obliterate the distinctions between a child's school life and the other aspects of his life. Our debt is incalculable to those great teachers who have seen, and have taught us to see, that the whole life of the child is social, that the whole life of the child is educational-that it should be one harmonious piece of experience, flowing naturally on from home to school, from family to friends and teachers, with no jars
more » ... d no segmentation. We cannot fail to see that in the large sense of "social," all life is social where people-even two people-are adjusting themselves to one another and co-operating in living. We have all learned to see too that ideally, social pleasure, like every other pleasure, should arise out of normal and natural activitiesshould come as a by-product, an efflorescence, of our association with our fellows in some interest or activity. This is why we find the best society in Chicago at Hull House, in the studios, in the morning conferences at the club, rather than at the afternoon tea, or the formal reception, where we go seeking pleasure. It would, then, be quite ideal if it were possible to associate the child's social experience inseparably and joyously with his 1The substance of this paper was given as an informal talk before the Educational Department of the Chicago Woman's Club. Moved by pressure, apparently sincere, from many friends, and by the kind urgency of the editor of The Elementary School Teacher, I have written it out from my notes, well knowing that it has not by that process been transformed into a magazine article, but remains by nature an informal talk. I claim for it no originality. It is merely a practical presentation of ideas and hopes gathered from many sourcesideas and hopes that have been discussed so many times with friends, especially Dr. and Mrs. Dewey, Mr. MacClintock, and Mrs. Harding, that I cannot by any means tell what is mine among them and what is theirs. If any of them, or of the many others to whom I am indebted, chance to see this paper, let them claim their own property, if they can recognize it. 232 This content downloaded from on February 21, 2018 15:25:43 PM All use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions ( THE SOCIAL LIFE OF CHILDREN school experience and his family life. The family and the school, well and liberally organized, wisely and generously conducted, should, ideally, so fill the child's life that there would not be vacancies left to fill with society as society. But the home and the school are not well and liberally organized, nor wisely and generously conducted. Many homes are barren, either poverty-stricken or slipshod, and are therefore unsocial; many homes are luxurious, elaborate, filled with an atmosphere of servants and functionaries, and are therefore antisocial. The school life of the children, especially of the older children, but running back far into the elementary school too, is professionalized and technicalized, made into mere learning and not living, built around an elaborate and unsparing system of competition, until it is not only both unsocial and antisocial, but scarcely human. So, however unwilling we are that it should be so, we must acknowledge that the recreative out-of-school life of our children has been erected into a sort of institution, modeled upon adult "society," having its own machinery, its ceremonies and events. It is this specialized recreation, as distinguished from home life and from school life, that we must handle, gently and gradually transforming it, if possible, into the thing we should like it to be. Each school and each home has its own problems to deal with in this as in other matters. It is in these matters of specific detail that the problems become acute and vexatious. When we talk in general about the social life of children, we are obliged to handle it in so large a way as to seem well-nigh unaware of the specific individual problems. But there are a few fundamental principles everywhere applicable, in the light of which the difficulties that inhere in special situations and minor details grow smaller or disappear. It is comforting and reassuring to talk together over these principles and their application. The first principle of the social life of our children is that it should be democratic. There are reasons of several different kinds for this. In our day everybody that is not a democrat pretends to be. It is a pose, where it is not a sincere attitude. Bernard Shaw says being a revolutionist saves a man from being bored; so posing as a social democrat saves many a modern 233
doi:10.1086/453442 fatcat:vi7pxduu65gp5gfzlxqdm7m3py