Sidney Hook on public education

Another evocative quotation from Sidney Hook’s autobiographical Out of Step. In an earlier post I quoted Hook’s account of his family’s living conditions. Here Hook recalls his authoritarian schooling:

hooksidney-50x59“Although the public schools were religiously attended (children feared the wrath of their parents much more than the threats of the truant officer), the classroom experience was far more enjoyable. First of all, the discipline was exacting. Our teachers were little more than martinets. We had to sit erect, with our hands clasped on the edge of the desks or folded behind our back, in absolute silence. Everything was done at command, according to a rigorous and rigid schedule. Even the occasional interesting lesson would be broken off when the allotted time was up, no matter how eager the students were to continue. The slightest infraction of proper conduct—a whisper, a paper dropped on the floor, a shove, a pinch, or the dipping of a girl’s braid in the open inkwell—evoked withering sarcasm, denigrating scolding, and corporal punishment—whacks with the twelve-inch ruler on open extended palms, and whacks with the heavy ferule on the rump. Only the boys got the latter treatment, which was more humiliating than painful. In addition there was staying in after school was over and writing a hundred times some silly sentence like ‘I must not talk to my neighbor.’ Conversely, the ‘good’ students were relentlessly held up to the rest as a model by insensitive teachers, unaware of how hateful ‘teacher’s pets’ were to other children. This happened to me all too often.” (p. 12)

Sounds like young Sidney’s school was much in the tradition of education developed and promoted by Plato, St. Augustine, and Kant.


discipline-111x100[Image source.]

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