Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  11 (1885–86), 404–12.

Manual Training

Charles H Ham




Education, Utilitarianism, Engineering, Technology, Universities, Schools, Engineers, Mechanics, Laboratories, Gender, National Efficiency, Class, Race, Morality, Humanism

People mentioned:

William F M Goss , John M Ordway , Henry H Belfield

    Bemoans the persistence into the nineteenth century of the idea that 'education is [...] a polite accomplishment merely, having very little to do with the real business of life', which led in the 1840s to the 'extreme of violent opposition' against the 'educational reforms' of Horace Mann (404). Since the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876, however, a 'revolution, which is called manual training', has been 'sweeping rapidly to its culmination in this country'. At the Exposition, John D Runkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made the 'discovery' that the 'mechanic arts could be taught to classes "through a graded series of examples by the usual laboratory methods which are used in teaching the sciences"', and 'within a year a mechanic arts department was organized, a building with the necessary laboratories erected, a class formed, and the new method of instruction introduced'. Runkle's innovative methods of teaching, which encourage students to progress through 'successive steps in the manipulation of chipping and filing, forging, and machine-tool work', were the 'way that manual training as an educational agency made its advent' in America, and with the opening of the specially built Chicago Manual Training School in 1884 the subject 'laid hold upon the imagination of the American people'. Furthermore, several of the 'visitors of manual training schools are women. They are enthusiasts on the subject', and their 'comprehension of it is clearer than that of men. This is doubtless because they are possessed of a higher degree of intuition, are more imaginative, more unselfish and less ambitious, and have less aversion to labor'. (405) Contends that American schools of manual training must not, as Robert H Thurston proposes, simply replicate the 'trade schools of Germany, France and England', which are the 'product of a struggle for commercial, mercantile, and manufacturing supremacy' and which 'perpetuat[e] a system of caste in education which it is the chief mission of the civilization of this age to destroy'. The American model of manual training, on the other hand, has a positive 'mental and moral influence' (406), and it 'promotes altruism because it is objective [...] The skilled hand confers benefits upon man, and the act of conferring them has a reflex moral effect upon the mind' (412). To move from the European model to that used in America is 'to turn from the Malthusian theory of the law of life—that brutal theory which necessitates the starvation of hundreds of men that one man be well fed—to the theory of humanity and gentleness—that bright theory which contemplates the salvation and elevation of the race through the development of the best aptitudes of all its members' (407). Also mentions the Le Moyne Normal Institute in Memphis, which provides for the technical and manual 'education of colored youth of both sexes' (408). Concludes that this 'new system is the realization of the dream of every great thinker and reformer in education, from Comenius [...] to [...] Spencer' (412).

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