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The University of Hard Knocks - Chapter 6

Chapter VI

The Problem of "Preparedness"

Preparing Children to Live

THE problem of "preparedness" is the problem of preparing children for life. All other kinds of "preparedness" fade into insignificance before this. The history of nations shows that their strength was not in the size of their armies and in the vastness of their population and wealth, but in the strength and ideals of the individual citizens.

As long as the nation was young and growing--as long as the people were struggling and overcoming--that nation was strong. It was "prepared."

But when the struggle stopped, the strength waned, for the strength came from the struggle. When the people became materially prosperous and surrendered to ease and indulgence, they became fat, stall-fed weaklings. Then they fell a prey to younger, hardier peoples.

Has the American nation reached that period?

Many homes and communities have reached it.

All over America are fathers and mothers who have struggled and have become strong men and women thru their struggles, who are saying, "Our children shall have better chances than we had. We are living for our children. We are going to give them the best education our money can buy."

Then, forgetful of how they became strong, they plan to take away from their children their birthright--their opportunity to become strong and "prepared"--thru struggle and service and overcoming.

Most "advantages" are disadvantages. Giving a child a chance generally means getting out of his way. Many an orphan can be grateful that he was jolted from his life-preserver and cruelly forced to sink or swim. Thus he learned to swim.

"We are going to give our children the best education our money can buy."

They think they can buy an education--buy wisdom, strength and understanding, and give it to them C. O. D! They seem to think they will buy any brand they see--buy the home brand of education, or else send off to New York or Paris or to "Sears Roebuck," and get a bucketful or a tankful of education. If they are rich enough, maybe they will have a private pipeline of education laid to their home. They are going to force this education into them regularly until they get them full of education. They are going to get them fully inflated with education!

Toll the bell! There's going to be a "blow out." Those inflated children are going to have to run on "flat tires."

Father and mother cannot buy their children education. All they can do is to buy them some tools, perhaps, and open the gate and say, "Sic 'em, Tige!" The children must get it themselves.

A father and mother might as well say, "We will buy our children the strength we have earned in our arms and the wisdom we have acquired in a life of struggle." As well expect the athlete to give them his physical development he has earned in years of exercise. As well expect the musician to give them the technic he has acquired in years of practice. As well expect the scholar to give them the ability to think he has developed in years of study. As well expect Moses to give them his spiritual understanding acquired in a long life of prayer.

They can show the children the way, but each child must make the journey.

Here is a typical case.

The Story of "Gussie"

There was a factory town back East. Not a pretty town, but just a great, dirty mill and a lot of little dirty houses around the mill. The hands lived in the little dirty houses and worked six days of the week in the big mill.

There was a little, old man who went about that mill, often saying, "I hain't got no book l'arnin' like the rest of you." He was the man who owned the mill. He had made it with his own genius out of nothing. He had become rich and honored. Every man in the mill loved him like a father.

He had an idolatry for a book.

He also had a little pink son, whose name was F. Gustavus Adolphus. The little old man often said, "I'm going to give that boy the best education my money can buy."

He began to buy it. He began to polish and sandpaper Gussie from the minute the child could sit up in the cradle and notice things. He sent him to the astrologer, the phrenologer and all other "ologers" they had around there. When Gussie was old enough to export, he sent the boy to one of the greatest universities in the land. The fault was not with the university, not with Gussie, who was bright and capable.

The fault was with the little old man, who was so wise and great about everything else, and so foolish about his own boy. In the blindness of his love he robbed his boy of his birthright.

The birthright of every child is the opportunity of becoming great--of going up--of getting educated.

Gussie had no chance to serve. Everything was handed to him on a silver platter. Gussie went thru that university about like a steer from Texas goes thru Mr. Armour's institute of packnology in Chicago. Did you ever go over into Packingtown and see a steer receive his education?

You remember, then, that after he matriculates--after he gets the grand bump, said steer does not have to do another thing. His education is all arranged for in advance and he merely rides thru and receives it. There is a row of professors with their sleeves rolled up who give him the degrees. So as Mr. T. Steer of Panhandle goes riding thru on that endless cable from his A-B-C's to his eternal cold storage, each professor hits him a dab. He rides along from department to department until he is canned.

They "canned" Gussie. He had a man hired to study for him. He rode from department to department. They upholstered him, enameled him, manicured him, sugar-cured him, embalmed him. Finally Gussie was done and the paint was dry. He was a thing of beauty.

Gussie and Bill Whackem Gussie came back home with his education in the baggage-car. It was checked. The mill shut down on a week day, the first time in its history. The hands marched down to the depot, and when the young lord alighted, the factory band played, "See, the Conquering Hero Comes."

A few years later the mill shut down again on a week day. There was crape hanging on the office door. Men and women stood weeping in the streets. The little old man had been translated.

When they next opened up the mill, F. Gustavus Adolphus was at its head. He had inherited the entire plant. "F. Gustavus Adolphus, President."

Poor little peanut! He rattled. He had never grown great enough to fill so great a place. In two years and seven months the mill was a wreck. The monument of a father's lifetime was wrecked in two years and seven months by the boy who had all the "advantages."

So the mill was shut down the third time on a week day. It looked as tho it never could open. But it did open, and when it opened it had a new kind of boss. If I were to give the new boss a descriptive name, I would call him "Bill Whackem." He was an orphan. He had little chance. He had a new black eye almost every day. But he seemed to fatten on bumps. Every time he was bumped he would swell up. How fast he grew! He became the most useful man in the community. People forgot all about Bill's lowly origin. They got to looking up to him to start and run things.

So when the courts were looking for somebody big enough to take charge of the wrecked mill, they simply had to appoint Hon. William Whackem. It was Hon. William Whackem who put the wreckage together and made the wheels go round, and finally got the hungry town back to work.

Colleges Give Us Tools

After that a good many people said it was the college that made a fool of Gussie. They said Bill succeeded so well because he never went to one of "them highbrow schools." I am sorry to say I thought that way for a good while.

But now I see that Bill went up in spite of his handicaps. If he had had Gussie's fine equipment he might have accomplished vastly more.

The book and the college suffer at the hands of their friends. They say to the book and the college, "Give us an education." They cannot do that. You cannot get an education from the book and the college any more than you can get to New York by reading a travelers' guide. You cannot get physical education by reading a book on gymnastics.

The book and the college show you the way, give you instruction and furnish you finer working tools. But the real education is the journey you make, the strength you develop, the service you perform with these instruments and tools.

Gussie was in the position of a man with a very fine equipment of tools and no experience in using them. Bill was the man with the poor, homemade, crude tools, but with the energy, vision and strength developed by struggle.

The "Hard Knocks Graduates"

For education is getting wisdom, understanding, strength, greatness, physically, mentally and morally. I believe I know some people liberally educated who cannot write their own names. But they have served and overcome and developed great lives with the poor, crude tools at their command.

In almost every community are what we sometimes call "hard knocks graduates"--people who have never been to college nor have studied many or any books. Yet they are educated to the degree they have acquired these elements of greatness in their lives.

They realized how they have been handicapped by their poor mental tools.

That is why they say, "All my life I have been handicapped by lack of proper preparation. Don't make my mistake, children, go to school."

The young person with electrical genius will make an electrical machine from a few bits of junk. But send him to Westinghouse and see how much more he will achieve with the same genius and with finer equipment.

Get the best tools you can. But remember diplomas, degrees are not an education, they are merely preparations. When you are thru with the books, remember, you are having a commencement, not an end-ment. You will discover with the passing years that life is just one series of greater commencements.

Go out with your fine equipment from your commencements into the school of service and write your education in the only book you ever can know--the book of your experience.

That is what you know--what the courts will take as evidence when they put you upon the witness stand.

The Tragedy of Unpreparedness

The story of Gussie and Bill Whackem is being written in every community in tears, failure and heartache. It is peculiarly a tragedy of our American civilization today.

These fathers and mothers who toil and save, who get great farms, fine homes and large bank accounts, so often think they can give greatness to their children--they can make great places for them in life and put them into them.

They do all this and the children rattle. They have had no chance to grow great enough for the places. The child gets the blame for making the wreck, even as Gussie was blamed for wrecking his father's plant, when the child is the victim.

A man heard me telling the story of Gussie and Bill Whackem, and he went out of my audience very indignant. He said he was very glad his boy was not there to hear it. But that good, deluded father now has his head bowed in shame over the career of his spoiled son.

I rarely tell of it on a platform that at the close of the lecture somebody does not take me aside and tell me a story just as sad from that community.

For years poor Harry Thaw was front-paged on the newspapers and gibbeted in the pulpits as the shocking example of youthful depravity. He seems never to have had a fighting chance to become a man. He seems to have been robbed of his birthright from the cradle. Yet the father of this boy who has cost America millions in court and detention expenses was one of the greatest business generals of the Keystone state. He could plat great coal empires and command armies of men, but he seems to have been pitifully ignorant of the fact that the barrel shakes.

It is the educated, the rich and the worldly wise who blunder most in the training of their children. Poverty is a better trainer for the rest.

The menace of America lies not in the swollen fortunes, but in the shrunken souls who inherit them.

But Nature's eliminating process is kind to the race in the barrel shaking down the rattlers. Somebody said it is only three generations from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves.

How long this nation will endure depends upon how many Gussie boys this nation produces. Steam heat is a fine thing, but do you notice how few of our strong men get their start with steam heat?

Children, Learn This Early

You boys and girls, God bless you! You live in good homes. Father and mother love you and give you everything you need. You get to thinking, "I won't have to turn my hand over. Papa and mamma will take care of me, and when they are gone I'll inherit everything they have. I'm fixed for life."

No, you are unfixed. You are a candidate for trouble. You are going to rattle. Father and mother can be great and you can be a peanut.

You must solve your own problems and carry your own loads to have a strong mind and back. Anybody who does for you regularly what you can do for yourself--anybody who gives you regularly what you can earn for yourself, is robbing you of your birthright.

Father and mother can put money in your pocket, ideas in your head and food in your stomach, but you cannot own it save as you digest it--put it into your life.

I have read somewhere about a man who found a cocoon and put it in his house where he could watch it develop. One day he saw a little insect struggling inside the cocoon. It was trying to get out of the envelope. It seemed in trouble and needed help. He opened the envelope with a knife and set the struggling insect free. But out came a monstrosity that soon died. It had an over-developed body and under-developed wings. He learned that helping the insect was killing it. He took away from it the very thing it had to have--the struggle. For it was this struggle of breaking its own way out of that envelope that was needed to reduce its body and develop its wings.

Not Packhorse Work

But remember there is little virtue in work unless it is getting us somewhere. Just work that gets us three meals a day and a place to lie down to sleep, then another day of the same grind, then a year of it and years following until our machine is worn out and on the junkpile, means little. "One day nearer home" for such a worker means one day nearer the scrapheap.

Such a worker is like the packhorse who goes forward to keep ahead of the whip. Such a worker is the horse we used to have hitched to the sorghum mill. Round and round that horse went, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, his head down, without ambition enough to prick up his ears. Such work deadens and stupefies. The masses work about that way. They regard work as a necessary evil. They are right--such work is a necessary evil, and they make it such. They follow their nose. "Dumb, driven cattle."

But getting a vision of life, and working to grow upward to it, that is the work that brings the joy and the greatness.

When we are growing and letting our faculties develop, we will love even the packhorse job, because it is our "meal ticket" that enables us to travel upward.

"Helping" the Turkeys

One time I put some turkey eggs under the mother hen and waited day by day for them to hatch. And sure enough, one day the eggs began to crack and the little turkeys began to stick their heads out of the shells. Some of the little turkeys came out from the shells all right, but some of them stuck in the shells.

"Shell out, little turkeys, shell out," I urged, "for Thanksgiving is coming. Shell out!"

But they stuck to the shells.

"Little turkeys, I'll have to help you. I'll have to shell you by hand." So I picked the shells off. "Little turkeys, you will never know how fortunate you are. Ordinary turkeys do not have these advantages. Ordinary turkeys do not get shelled by hand."

Did I help them? I killed them, or stunted them. Not one of the turkeys was "right" that I helped. They were runts. One of them was a regular Harry Thaw turkey. They had too many silk socks. Too many "advantages."

Children, you must crack your own shells. You must overcome your own obstacles to develop your own powers.

A rich boy can succeed, but he has a poorer chance than a poor boy. The cards are against him. He must succeed in spite of his "advantages."

I am pleading for you to get a great arm, a great mind, a great character, for the joy of having a larger life. I am pleading with you to know the joy of overcoming and having the angels come and minister to you.

Happiness in Our Work

Children, I am pleading with you to find happiness. All the world is seeking happiness, but so many are seeking it by rattling down instead of by shaking up.

The happiness is in going up--in developing a greater arm, a greater mind, a greater character.

Happiness is the joy of overcoming. It is the delight of an expanding consciousness. It is the cry of the eagle mounting upward. It is the proof that we are progressing.

We find happiness in our work, not outside of our work. If we cannot find happiness in our work, we have the wrong job. Find the work that fits your talents, and stop watching the clock and planning vacations.

Loving friends used to warn me against "breaking down." They scared me into "taking care" of myself. And I got to taking such good care of myself and watching for symptoms that I became a physical wreck.

I saved myself by getting busier. I plunged into work I love. I found my job in my work, not away from it, and the work refreshed me and rejuvenated me. Now I do two men's work, and have grown from a skinny, fretful, nervous wreck into a hearty, happy man. This has been a great surprise to my friends and a great disappointment to the undertaker. I am an editor in the daytime and a lecturer at night.

I edit all day and take a vacation lecturing at night. I lecture almost every day of the year--maybe two or three times some days--and then take a vacation by editing and writing. Thus every day is jam full of play and vacation and good times. The year is one round of joy, and I ought to pay people for the privilege of speaking and writing to them instead of them paying me!

If I did not like my work, of course, I would be carrying a terrible burden and would speedily collapse.

You see, I have no time nowadays to break down. I have no time to think and grunt and worry about my body. And like Paul I am happy to be "absent from the body and present with the Lord." Thus this old body behaves just beautifully and wags along like the tail follows the dog when I forget all about it. The grunter lets the tail wag the dog.

I have never known a case of genuine "overwork." I have never known of anyone killing himself by working. But I have known of multitudes killing themselves by taking vacations.

The people who think they are overworking are merely overworrying. This is one species of selfishness.

To worry is to doubt God.

To work at the things you love, or for those you love, is to turn work into play and duty into privilege.

When we love our work, it is not work, it is life.

Many Kinds of Drunkards

The world is trying to find happiness in being amused. The world is amusement-mad. Vacations, Coca Cola and moviemania!

What a sad, empty lot of rattlers! Look over the bills of the movies, look over the newsstands and see a picture of the popular mind, for these places keep just what the people want to buy. What a lot of mental frog-pond and moral slum our boys and girls wade thru!

There are ten literary drunkards to one alcoholic drunkard. There are a hundred amusement drunkards to one victim of strong drink. And all just as hard to cure.

We have to have amusement, but if we fill our lives with nothing but amusement, we never grow. We go thru our lives babies with new rattleboxes and "sugar-tits."

Almost every day as I go along the street to some hall to lecture, I hear somebody asking, "What are they going to have in the hall tonight?"

"Going to have a lecture."

"Lecture?" said with a shiver as tho it was "small pox." "I ain't goin.' I don't like lectures."

The speaker is perfectly honest. He has no place to put a lecture. I am not saying that he should attend my lecture, but I am grieving at what underlies his remark. He does not want to think. He wants to follow his nose around. Other people generally lead his nose. The man who will not make the effort to think is the great menace to the nation. The crowd that drifts and lives for amusement is the crowd that finds itself back near the caboose, and as the train of progress leaves them, they wail, they "never had no chanct." They want to start a new party to reform the government.

The Lure of the City

Do you ever get lonely in a city? How few men and women there. A jam of people, most of them imitations--most of them trying to look like they get more salary. Poor, hungry, doped butterflies of the bright lights,--hopers, suckers and straphangers! Down the great white way they go chasing amusement to find happiness. They must be amused every moment, even when they eat, or they will have to be alone with their empty lives.

The Prodigal Son came to himself afterwhile and thought upon his ways. Then he arose and went to his father's house. Whenever one will stop chasing amusements long enough to think upon his ways, he will arise and go to his father's house of wisdom. But there is no hope for the person who will not stop and think. And the devil works day and night shifts keeping the crowd moving on.

That is why the crowd is not furnishing the strong men and women.

We must have amusement and relaxation. Study your muscles. First they contract, then they relax. But the muscle that goes on continually relaxing is degenerating. And the individual, the community, the nation that goes on relaxing without contracting--without struggling and overcoming--is degenerating.

The more you study your muscles, the more you learn that while one muscle is relaxing another is contracting. So you must learn that your real relaxation, vacation and amusement, are merely changing over to contracting another set of muscles.

Go to the bank president's office, go to the railroad magnate's office, go to the great pulpit, to the college chair--go to any place of great responsibility in a city and ask the one who fills the place, "Were you born in this city?"

The reply is almost a monotony. "I born in this city? No, I was born in Poseyville, Indiana, and I came to this city forty years ago and went to work at the bottom."

He glows as he tells you of some log-cabin home, hillside or farmside where he struggled as a boy. Personally, I think this log-cabin ancestry has been over-confessed for campaign purposes. Give us steam heat and push-buttons. There is no virtue in a log-cabin, save that there the necessity for struggle that brings strength is most in evidence. There the young person gets the struggle and service that makes for strength and greatness. And as that young person comes to the city and shakes in the barrel among the weaklings of the artificial life, he rises above them like the eagle soars above a lot of chattering sparrows.

The cities do not make their own steam. The little minority from the farms controls the majority. The red blood of redemption flows from the country year by year into the national arteries, else these cities would drop off the map.

If it were not for Poseyville, Indiana, Chicago would disappear. If it were not for Poseyville, New York would disintegrate for lack of leaders.

"Hep" and "Pep" for the Home Town

But so many of the home towns of America are sick. Many are dying. Many are dead.

It is the lure of the city--and the lure-lessness of the country. The town the young people leave is the town the young people ought to leave. Somebody says, "The reason so many young people go to hell is because they have no other place to go."

What is the matter with the small town? Do not blame it all upon the city mail order house. With rural delivery, daily papers, telephones, centralized schools, automobiles and good roads, there are no more delightful places in the world to live than in the country or in the small town. They have the city advantages plus sunshine, air and freedom that the crowded cities cannot have.

I asked the keeper who was showing me thru the insane asylum at Weston, West Virginia, "You say you have nearly two thousand insane people in this institution and only a score of guards to keep them in. Aren't you in danger? What is to hinder these insane people from getting together, organizing, overpowering the few guards and breaking out?"

The keeper was not in the least alarmed at the question. He smiled. "Many people say that. But they don't understand. If these people could get together they wouldn't be in this asylum. They are insane. No two of them can agree upon how to get together and how to break out. So a few of us can hold them."

It would be almost unkind to carry this further, but I have been thinking ever since that about three-fourths of the small towns of America have one thing in common with the asylum folks--they can't get together. They cannot organize for the public good. They break up into little antagonistic social, business and even religious factions and neutralize each other's efforts.

A lot of struggling churches compete with each other instead of massing for the common good. And when the churches fight, the devil stays neutral and furnishes the munitions for both sides.

So the home towns stagnate and the young people with visions go away to the cities where opportunity seems to beckon. Ninety-nine out of a hundred of them will jostle with the straphangers all their lives, mere wheels turning round in a huge machine. Ninety-nine out of a hundred of them might have had a larger opportunity right back in the home town, had the town been awake and united and inviting.

We must make the home town the brightest, most attractive, most promising place for the young people. No home town can afford to spend its years raising crops of young people for the cities. That is the worst kind of soil impoverishment--all going out and nothing coming back. That is the drain that devitalizes the home towns more than all the city mail order houses.

America is to be great, not in the greatness of a few crowded cities, but in the greatness of innumerable home towns.

The slogan today should be, For God and Home and the Home Town!

A School of Struggle

Dr. Henry Solomon Lehr, founder of the Ohio Northern University at Ada, Ohio, one of Ohio's greatest educators, used to say with pride, "Our students come to school; they are not sent."

He encouraged his students to be self-supporting, and most of them were working their way thru school. He made the school calendar and courses elastic to accommodate them. He saw the need of combining the school of books with the school of struggle. He organized his school into competing groups, so that the student who had no struggle in his life would at least have to struggle with the others during his schooling.

He pitted class against class. He organized great literary and debating societies to compete with each other. He arranged contests for the military department. His school was one surging mass of contestants. Yet each student felt no compulsion. Rather he felt that he was initiating an individual or class effort to win. The literary societies vied with each other in their programs and in getting new members, going every term to unbelievable efforts to win over the others. They would go miles out on the trains to intercept new students, even to their homes in other states. Each old student pledged new students in his home country. The military companies turned the school into a military camp for weeks each year, scarcely sleeping while drilling for a contest flag.

Those students went out into the world trained to struggle. I do not believe there is a school in America with a greater alumni roll of men and women of uniformly greater achievement.

I believe the most useful schools today are schools of struggle schools offering encouragement and facilities for young people to work their way thru and to act upon their own initiative.

Men Needed More Than Millions

We are trying a new educational experiment today.

The old "deestrick" school is passing, and with it the small academies and colleges, each with its handful of students around a teacher, as in the old days of the lyceum in Athens, when the pupils sat around the philosopher in the groves.

From these schools came the makers and the preservers of the nation.

Today we are building wonderful public schools with equally wonderful equipment. Today we are replacing the many small colleges with a few great centralized state normal schools and state universities. We are spending millions upon them in laboratories, equipment and maintenance. Today we scour the earth for specialists to sit in the chairs and speak the last word in every department of human research.

O, how the students of the "dark ages" would have rejoiced to see this day! Many of them never saw a germ!

But each student has the same definite effort to make in assimilation today as then. Knowing and growing demand the same personal struggle in the cushions of the "frat" house as back on the old oak-slab bench with its splintered side up.

I am anxiously awaiting the results. I am hoping that the boys and girls who come out in case-lots from these huge school plants will not be rows of lithographed cans on the shelves of life. I am hoping they will not be shorn of their individuality, but will have it stimulated and unfettered. I am anxious that they be not veneered but inspired, not denatured but discovered.

All this school machinery is only machinery. Back of it must be men--great men. I am anxious that the modern school have the modern equipment demanded to serve the present age. But I am more anxious that each student come in vital touch with great men. We get life from life, not from laboratories, and we have life more abundantly as our lives touch greater lives.

A school is vastly more than machinery, methods, microscopes and millions.

Many a small school struggling to live thinks that all it needs is endowment, when the fact is that its struggle for existence and the spirit of its teachers are its greatest endowment. And sometimes when the money endowment comes the spiritual endowment goes in fatty degeneration. Some schools seem to have been visited by calamities in the financial prosperity that has engulfed them.

Can we keep men before millions, and keep our ideals untainted by foundations? That is the question the age is asking.

You and I are very much interested in the answer.

On To Chapter 7...


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