I do not mean life at a boarding-school. If I speak of that, it is to be at another time. No, I mean life at a regular every-day school, in town or in the country, where you go in the morning and come away at eleven or at noon, and go again in the afternoon, and come away after two or three hours. Some young people hate this life, and some like it tolerably well. I propose to give some information which shall make it more agreeable all round.
And I beg it may be understood that I do not appear as counsel for either party, in the instruction and advice I give. That means that, as the lawyers say, I am not retained by the teachers, formerly called schoolmistresses and schoolmasters, or by the pupils, formerly called boys and girls. I have been a schoolmaster myself, and I enjoyed the life very much, and made among my boys some of the best of the friends of my life. I have also been a school-boy,--and I roughed through my school life with comparative comfort and ease. As master and as boy I learned some things which I think can be explained to boys and girls now, so as to make life at school easier and really more agreeable.
My first rule is, that you
Accept The Situation.
Perhaps you do not know what that means. It means that, as you are at school, whether you really like going or not, you determine to make the very best you can of it, and that you do not make yourself and everybody else wretched by sulking and grumbling about it, and wishing school was done, and wondering why your father sends you there, and asking leave to look at the clock in the other room, and so on.
When Dr. Kane or Captain McGlure was lying on a skin on a field of ice, in a blanket bag buttoned over his head, with three men one side of him and three the other, and a blanket over them all,--with the temperature seventy-eight degrees below zero, and daylight a month and a half away, the position was by no means comfortable. But a brave man does not growl or sulk in such a position. He "accepts the situation." That is, he takes that as a thing for granted, about which there is to be no further question. Then he is in condition to make the best of it, whatever that best may be. He can sing "We won't go home till morning," or he can tell the men the story of William Fitzpatrick and the Belgian coffee-grinder, or he can say "good-night" and imagine himself among the Kentish hop-fields,--till before he knows it the hop-sticks begin walking round and round, and the haycocks to make faces at him,--and--and--and--he--he --he is fast asleep. That comfort comes of "accepting the situation."
Now here you are at school, I will say, for three hours. Accept the situation, like a man or a woman, and do not sulk like a fool. As Mr. Abbot says, in his admirable rule, in Rollo or Jonas, "When you grant, grant cheerfully." You have come here to school without a fight, I suppose. When your father told you to come, you did not insult him, as people do in very poor plays and very cheap novels. You did not say to him, "Miscreant and villain, I renounce thee, I defy thee to the teeth; I am none of thine, and henceforth I leave thee in thy low estate." You did not leap in the middle of the night from a three-story window, with your best clothes in a handkerchief, and go and assume the charge of a pirate clipper, which was lying hidden in a creek in the Back Bay. On the contrary, you went to school when the time came. As you have done so, determine, first of all, to make the very best of it. The best can be made first-rate. But a great deal depends on you in making it so.
To make the whole thing thoroughly attractive, to make the time pass quickly, and to have school life a natural part of your other life, my second rule is,
Do What You Do With All Your Might.
It is a good rule in anything; in sleeping, in playing, or in whatever you have in hand. But nothing tends to make school time pass quicker; and the great point, as I will acknowledge, is to get through with the school hours as quickly as we fairly can.
Now if in written arithmetic, for instance, you will start instantly on the sums as soon as they are given out; if you will bear on hard on the pencil, so as to make clear white marks, instead of greasy, flabby, pale ones on the slate; if you will rule the columns for the answers as carefully as if it were a bank ledger you were ruling, or if you will wash the slate so completely that no vestige of old work is there, you will find that the mere exercise of energy of manner infuses spirit and correctness into the thing done.
I remember my drawing-teacher once snapped the top of my pencil with his forefinger, gently, and it flew across the room. He laughed and said, "How can you expect to draw a firm line with a pencil held like that?" It was a good lesson, and it illustrates this rule,--"Do with all your might the work that is to be done."
When I was at school at the old Latin School in Boston,--opposite where Ben Franklin went to school and where his statue is now,--in the same spot in space where you eat your lunch if you go into the ladies' eating-room at Parker's Hotel,--when I was at school there, I say, things were in that semi-barbarous state, that with a school attendance of four hours in the morning, and three in the afternoon, we had but five minutes' recess in the morning and five in the afternoon. We went "out" in divisions of eight or ten each; and the worst of all was that the play-ground (now called so) was a sort of platform, of which one half was under cover,--all of which was, I suppose, sixteen feet long by six wide, with high walls, and stairs leading to it.
Of course we could have sulked away all our recess there, complaining that we had no better place. Instead of which, we accepted the situation, we made the best of it, and with all our might entered on the one amusement possible in such quarters.
We provided a stout rope, well knotted. As soon as recess began, we divided into equal parties, one under cover and the other out, grasping the rope, and endeavoring each to drew the other party across the dividing line. "Greeks and Trojans" you will see the game called in English books. Little we knew of either; but we hardened our hands, toughened our muscles, and exercised our chests, arms, and legs much better than could have been expected, all by accepting the situation and doing with all our might what our hands found to do. Lessons are set for average boys at school,--boys of the average laziness. If you really go to work with all your might then, you get a good deal of loose time, which, in general, you can apply to that standing nuisance, the "evening lesson." Sometimes, I know, for what reason I do not know, this study of the evening lesson in school is prohibited. When it is, the good boys and quick boys have to learn how to waste their extra time, which seems to be a pity. But with a sensible master, it is a thing understood, that it is better for boys or girls to study hard while they study, and never to learn to dawdle. Taking it for granted that you are in the hands of such masters or mistresses, I will take it for granted that, when you have learned the school lesson, there will be no objection to your next learning the other lesson, which lazier boys will have to carry home.
Lastly, you will find you gain a great deal by giving to the school lesson all the color and light which every-day affairs can lend to it. Do not let it be a ghastly skeleton in a closet, but let it come as far as it will into daily life. When you read in Colburn's Oral Arithmetic, "that a man bought mutton at six cents a pound, and beef at seven," ask your mother what she pays a pound now, and do the sum with the figures changed. When the boys come back after vacation, find out where they have been, and look out Springfield, and the Notch, and Dead River, and Moosehead Lake, on the map,--and know where they are. When you get a chance at the "Republican," before the others have come down to breakfast, read the Vermont news, under the separate head of that State, and find out how many of those Vermont towns are on your "Mitchell." When it is your turn to speak, do not be satisfied with a piece from the "Speaker," that all the boys have heard a hundred times; but get something out of the "Tribune," or the "Companion," or "Young Folks," or from the new "Tennyson" at home.
I once went to examine a high school, on a lonely hillside in a lonely country town. The first class was in botany, and they rattled off from the book very fast. They said "cotyledon," and "syngenesious," and "coniferous," and such words, remarkably well, considering they did not care two straws about them. Well, when it was my turn to "make a few remarks," I said,--
I do not remember another word I said, but I do remember the sense of amazement that a minister should have spoken such a wicked word in a school-room. What was worse, I sent a child out to bring in some unripe huckleberries from the roadside, and we went to work on our botany to some purpose.
My dear children, I see hundreds of boys who can tell me what is thirteen seventeenths of two elevenths of five times one half of a bushel of wheat, stated in pecks, quarts, and pints; and yet if I showed them a grain of wheat, and a grain of unhulled rice, and a grain of barley, they would not know which was which. Try not to let your school life sweep you wholly away from the home life of every day.