Never have boys and girls had it so much in their own hands as now to settle some of the biggest problems in life. Although parents do much, and the public through its schools, libraries, and playgrounds are doing more for boys and girls than has ever been done before, the fact still remains that young people today are settling, largely by themselves, such great questions as what they shall be in the world, how well they shall be prepared to take their place among the world’s doers, and how they shall use the very precious hours of school, occupation and leisure.
In many a school boys and girls decide to leave for work just as soon as the law will let them. In many cases they leave before they have finished the elementary school; they drop out from the lower grades just as soon as they reach their fourteenth birthday. In some cases, real need at home makes it necessary for children to get work, any kind of work, as early as possible. But in a vast number of cases the boy or girl fancies that working in a store or office is more interesting than staying in school, So they take their plunge into working life with no idea as to where they will come out a few years later, and with no thought as to how they might fit themselves to do the work which holds out the best opportunity for them.
So eager are they to begin “life,” as they imagine, that they neglect to think about the need of fitting themselves to fill a place in which they can be of the largest use to themselves and the world. They have not as yet found out, what later they may discover to their sorrow, that more and more the world wants those who are trained to do work of a definite kind with skill and decision. Too late many a youth learns that the big opportunities come only to those who are fitted to take advantage of them; that luck plays but very little part, and purpose and preparation a very large part, in all achievement.
In other words, although many boys and girls are trying to settle their future for themselves, they have not awakened to the fact that no life-career can be settled through whim, impulse or accident. Nothing can be of greater importance to a growing boy and girl than planning for the future, and no subject needs more thoughtful, earnest consideration, and search for the best help and counsel possible. There never has been a time when such life-work planning has been so much needed as the present. All the trades, professions, and businesses are undergoing great changes. The application of science and new ways of doing things are changing even the very furniture and fixings of shop and office.
Now the boys and girls who merely drift into jobs, without aim or plan, are not building a career at all. They do not know the difference between a job and a vocation, and as they have no purpose in choosing an occupation, the chances are that they will float from one place to another, and never stay long enough in any of them to learn anything of real value in advancing them selves. As they have not really studied the facts of the different vocations they have little to guide them in choosing the kind of work they can do best. The result is that positions are taken, not because a future career is offered, but because of such trivial reasons as that the work seems easy, the companionship agreeable, the hours short, or the pay attractive.
Later on, when more serious needs and aims develop and perhaps ambitions are awakened, these young workers, once so eager to get out of school, begin to wonder if they really have been using their time and energies wisely; they ask themselves what they have been learning that will lead to something better; indeed they question now, for the first time perhaps, if they are worth much more than any other untrained youngster just out of school. Perhaps they compare their progress during the precious years of early youth with that of others who have been using all their spare hours, giving up a good deal oftentimes, so as to enable them to do something more than unskilled and everlastingly juvenile work.
Such self-comparison does good, although, unfortunately, it is made too often when opportunity after opportunity has slipped by forever. Too late do many boys and girls discover the difference between what are called “blind-alley” or dead-end jobs and vocations. A blind- alley job will employ any boy or girl, no matter how aim less he or she may be as to the future, and perhaps pay fairly well for what seems to be light work, but in such jobs nothing is gained in the way of real skill; they do not call for reading and study; in other words, they do not train, and therefore can never really lead to anything worth while. Some of the best occupations pay beginners very little, but year by year they teach something of value; each year counts and leads to something better; each year advances those who study and keep on growing and learning all that can be learned in the work. In a very few years we can see a tide gap between the prospects of those who have been blindly drifting from one unpromising job to another, and of those who have been climbing step by step to more and more skill and knowledge and power.
The years from fourteen to sixteen have been Sled the “wasted years” in industry. The thought is that these years are so precious in career-planning that it is highly important to use them as much as possible in pre paring for what we care most to do and can learn to do well. These youthful years are indeed golden, and for many decisive. They mark a turning-point in many lives.
At sixteen we should know better than at twelve or four teen how much we owe to our teachers, friends, home, books, and our surroundings.
Between the ages of fourteen and sixteen we should begin to work for the place we want to win, with resources greater than we can command during earlier years. When we finish the elementary school we have the high school before us and many special kinds of schools. In the high school we often find several courses or departments open for our. choice. In all these secondary schools we find keen interest in the colleges which high school graduates may go to, or the great professional schools, or perhaps the business openings which are ready for the bright high school graduate.
Clearly the high school is the place for trying to settle on a life-calling. In the elementary school we cannot expect final decisions to be made; but very important decisions can and should be made in the high school. In the first place, we decide at this point, whether or not we shall use our school life so as to help us form good habits of work, doing well whatever we have in hand, and finishing whatever task we have begun. Above all else, we should decide rather early in life whether we shall be drifters or strong, purposeful men and women.
Now it is a bad thing to drift, and no one takes proper advantage of his school days without some aim and desire as to the part he shall play later in the great world of effort. It does not matter if we change our ideas of what to be during early school days. Many a rough sketch is made by the architect who plans a building or by a painter who dreams of a picture. Model after model is made by the inventor and sculptor. But every discarded effort, however crude, made with a definite goal or ideal in view, is a step nearer to fulfillment.
Every normal boy or girl has some particular talent or talents, some interests more alert and some powers which are more pronounced than others. It is a large part of the business of the school and the home, and of the child, too, to find out just which are the strongest interests and capabilities of each, and to give these a chance to develop. They may not always develop. They may seem to vanish or to merge into new or hitherto undisclosed gifts and desires. This is well; again the school and home must respect these fresh signs of character and possibility and make the most of them. Destiny does not reveal all her secrets at once, but of this we can be sure: Whatever children, and grown-ups, too, put their best efforts into, is likely to be a blessing both to them and to the world, and wherever interests and talents find real scope there the most fruitful endeavors are likely to be found.
Somewhere in every program of school and home life children should be given an opportunity for discovering what their powers are. Where wise teachers and parents have done this, fewer young people become drifters and ineffective workers; schoolwork takes on new interest and the desire to prepare for a career becomes a mastering force.
For this reason the schools are undertaking new and most interesting duties. A modern school is unlike the school of a generation ago. Those who plan school buildings today must think of things which were not dreamed of twenty or thirty years ago as belonging to a school. We now make provision for school doctors and nurses, playgrounds, school shops, school kitchens, home visitors, vocational advisers, and departments which are like the businesses which we see in the world outside. All these opportunities have come in order to help boys and girls get a good start in life and to end the waste which is sure to follow a wrong start in life; they have come because it is impossible for anyone not a special student of an occupation to obtain a thorough knowledge of it.
Hundreds of new professions and trades have been or are developing because of the great strides made in transportation and invention, because of the vast growth of cities and countries, and because of world-markets and the free movement of masses of people from country to country. Years ago conditions were simpler; the neighborhood perhaps was small, and the neighbours few. Shops and factories and offices were not very far from home. Often several members of a family worked in one place, if indeed they did not own their o shop or store.
Now all this is changed. Years ago a few men made a whole shoe and a shoemaker was something more than a cobbler. To-day in the big shoe factories of Massachusetts and of the Middle West hundreds of men and women work at machines which make all the parts of a shoe, doing all the sewing, stitching, and polishing. A shoe to-day is made in from one hundred to two hundred different operations, some of them highly skilled, and all of them calling for great speed and endurance. Although a tailor may yet make a whole coat, we find in the big Rochester factories where men’s clothes are made, from fifty to sixty different persons working on one coat—some making buttonholes, some pockets, while others attend to the linings, pressing, and so on. Great bakeries are taking the place of the small neighborhood bake-shop, and dozens of different kinds of special operations are found in the large bread factories. The department store of the present day is divided into many separate departments or stores. The old-fashioned general store-keeper would find himself lost amidst the great specializations of such a store. It takes much study and ability to rise to the important positions of such a store. In the professions of law, medicine, dentistry, in most professions, indeed, the same growth of new specialties is going on.
The vocations need to be studied to-day not only from the angle of their multifarious subdivisions, but also of their effects on health and well-being. There is a mass of special literature, growing in volume, which deals with the special problems of health in the various trades.
There are studies of lead-poisoning in lead-using industries, tuberculosis in dusty trades, and fatigue and nervous breakdown in occupations which involve much monotonous repetition of the same motion of the hands or body. One must know something about these vital matters be gore deciding definitely on an employment. Often it is a matter of life or death to possess this knowledge.
Moreover, many of the best openings in all occupations are reserved for those who have taken special courses to be fitted for them. In every State there are various special schools which prepare for the skilled vocations. Nothing can be more profitable and interesting for home and school study than the catalogues of these schools. A boy or girl might start a useful home library of these educational catalogues and in using them with the teachers’ help find out where to go for the best training in a chosen work. Such knowledge is real power. It gives definite direction to ideals and desires, and opens up new channels of opportunity.
Many schools have begun to give such educational in formation as part of informal class talks and exercises; in connection with parents’ meetings; or as lessons in civics, geography, or economics. To know about the different vocations of a town or State and how best to fit for them is to get a good start on the road to citizenship.
In order to help the boys and girls of her class, a certain high school teacher made up an interesting program of class talks on the trades and professions. She stimulated the class to think about the various callings, and one question she wit to each pupil in respect to his chosen occupation probably stirred more thought and interest than any other. It was, “What service to the community do you expect to render by choosing this vocation?” Many a boy and girl had not looked upon choice of a lifework from this viewpoint. Indeed, how many people do? Yet those who go into their life-work with an ideal of service are the honored of the land.
Developing plans and ideals for future service, then, is one of the most precious activities which school and home can encourage. But the building of a life-career is not accomplished through mere wishing and dreaming. Desire does not move things. It is the physical, moral and mental energy back of any ideal which determines how far it is to be realized. In all good work, energy is one of the big items in settling success or failure.
Because the sense of masterful vitality in whatever one does is so important, all who direct the vocational interests of young people believe strongly in athletics, school gymnastics, camping, walking, simple food and plenty of rest. They know that a strong body, a rested frame and a clear brain, are needed to further a purpose in life. Very often the career which boys and girls say they wish to go into, or the work they say they wish to do, gives a good hint not only as to their intelligence, but also their physical condition. That story told by a friend of boys, Dr. John L. Elliot of New York, is much to the point: A pale, weakly-looking urchin applied for work one day at the boys’ club-house. “What kind of place would you like, my boy?” he was asked. The boy languidly answered, “Oh, I want a place where I can sit down.” Assuredly, health and achievement are pretty much tied up together. There have been striking cases, to be sure, in history where against the handicaps of a crippled body and a broken constitution great work has been done, and the world left a debtor to these wonderful men and women. A titanic will-power, a moral energy that could almost move mountains, made up for what these heroic workers lacked in health. Nature has a way of helping those who really try.
Energy, health, and good habits are needed to-day in the occupations perhaps to a degree never before called for. The whole world of business and manufacture is being swept by a movement which is called the efficiency movement. New professions are arising which aim to point out how to better ways of doing work. Mon are carefully studied at their lathes or desks, and every operation noted, whether it be in typewriting, laying bricks, or building a great machine. The result of such efficiency studies has been to make a greater demand than ever before upon clearness of brain, good eyesight and hearing, and a thoroughly sound constitution. Weak people cannot hold their own in work carried on with such efficiency demands. Stores, offices, and factories are be ginning to keep records of their employees in a way which is bound to sift out the careless and the untrained.
It is almost impossible today to “pick up” a trade or any other work and feel sure that we have mastered it. Conditions are more complicated than they were fifty years ago. Employers are too busy to teach; they expect others to attend to the teaching. In the professions, too, the standards have risen year by year. It costs more to become a doctor or lawyer to-day than ever before. To be successful in agriculture requires a scientific preparation such as an agricultural school or college alone can give. Girls who know how to cook, cater, and plan meals for hospitals, nurseries or other institutions are in great demand and are respected and paid like any other trained professional worker. Not so long ago any woman could hire out as a nurse. Today no doctor or patient cares to employ a nurse who has not been thoroughly trained in a school for nurses. Teaching requires long preparation; and positions as special teachers in drawing, cooking, sewing, manual training, playground work, stenography, and the arts and crafts are open only to those who have special qualifications, training and experience.
In time, every worth-while employment, if not all employments, will work out standards, too, and standards for any work always have the effect of shutting out those who cannot come up to them. Efficiency is the keynote of all twentieth century work, and to be efficient one must be trained. This age will not tolerate the wasteful methods or the crude devices of the past. Expensive machines only a few years old are often discarded for new and more costly machines which promise better, more economical, and larger results. Every day there is a vast casting aside of old methods and material. Workers unable to meet the new demands are unfortunately thrown out, too. There is keen rivalry for every good position. The in efficient, the weak and the aimless are not wanted.
Because the world is making such drastic demands upon the coming workers, every thoughtful tan and woman, every, teacher and reflecting parent, is planning ways to fit the children for the life and needs of this new century. The new opportunities for special education in our towns and cities have come in order to help boys and girls to find their places in the work of the world and to hold them successfully.
This is the explanation for vocational schools, industrial classes, school shops, and courses in business, millinery, cooking, printing and the like. The colleges and universities are adding vocational courses to their programs. We now have college schools of journalism, commerce, engineering, dentistry, and domestic science, in addition to those of medicine, law and theology. The list of special schools is a long one. In time it will be much longer. Evening schools offer special training facilities for those who are already at work.
All these new schools are intended to meet the new efficiency standards of the age. They are intended for boys and girls with energy, ambition and ideals to amount to something in the world; they show that education has taken on a new and broader meaning. They clearly indicate that hand-education is as valuable to hand-workers as book-education is to those whose tools are books. Any one is educated who keeps growing in sympathy, skill and power through work, no matter what the work may be. The world belongs to those who grow. Youth’s greatest duty is to grow into efficient manhood and womanhood.