Lem Hooper on Text-Books
by Ellis Parker Butler
"The text-book for the use of the young beings in our schools, Durfey," said Judge Lem Hooper to his Court-Officer, "is one of the agitating subjects of the day, and I don't wonder at it. The irritation felt by one and all over the inadequacy of the text-book as at present manufactured is to be expected, and I wonder it did not spring up sooner. In this day and age, Durfey, when you can shove a pig into a hopper and see it come out of the other end of the chute in ten minutes, all nicely transformed into two hams, two smoked shoulders, a couple of slabs of bacon, sixty joints of sausage, and ten pails of Lily White Super-pure Leaf Lard -- Use No Other Brand -- the inefficiency of the school text-book sticks up like a sore thumb.
"The general feeling, Durfey, is that the educational machinery as exemplified by the text-book is about as modern as the spinning-wheel. What is wanted, Durfey, is a text-book into which you can shove a freckled lad with two front teeth missing and three warts on his knuckle-joints, giving him a gentle shove into the book at page 1, and pulling him out at page 200 with his brain manicured and a Bachelor of Arts diploma clutched in his lily-white hand.
"The book, Durfey, to give entire satisfaction, should operate without the need of too much attention from the teacher. One that would trim up the student in neat and tasty style while the educator was down street having a permanent wave put in her hair would be best. On account of the high cost of fuel I would not recommend a text-book that had to be run by steam power or gasoline; one that would operate like a vacuum-cleaner, by sticking the plug into the electric light fixture, would be more satisfactory. The meter would shut off the power when it showed the young rascal was in danger of becoming over-educated, if the teacher happened to be down street lengthening her pull with the Chairman of the Democratic County Committee.
"There was a day, Durfey, when any old dame could start a school, feeling she was fitted to train the young human if she had something for him to sit on, a pail of water with a dipper in it, and a patent medicine almanac or anything else with words printed on it. She was foolish enough, Durfey, to think that a text-book was but a book of texts, as you might say. If you showed her a dock down by the edge of the ocean, Durfey, she would say it was a dock -- it would not occur to her to think it was the whole ocean voyage, including the pool on the day's run, the captain's table, and the tip to the steward.
"'It is a dock,' she would say. 'It is not the best of docks, but I do not mind that. What is a dock, after all? It is only the thing from which the pilot departs with the ship.'
"But those days are no more, Durfey. When I was a kid here in Riverbank, Iowa, and the Board of Education decreed that a course on Temperance be included in the curriculum, it made little matter what the textbook was. 'Children,' the teacher would say, 'unfortunately the Temperance text-books have not arrived yet, no doubt because the engineer of the train took too much ale, the first taste of which is disgusting indeed, being bitter, clammy, and sickening. You will, therefore, turn to page eight of your Physical Geography of the Skies and look at the picture there. It says under it that it portrays the sun and the sun spots, but we won't mind that; if you will kindly imagine the disc to be brown and the spots the most hideous pink and green, you have there an exact image of the liver of the man that indulges in rum. The vote on the Prohibitory Amendment is one week from next Tuesday, and I am requested to ask all those present who do not want their papas' livers to look like a lizard to take part in the grand whoop-'em-up parade this Saturday afternoon, one and all to meet on the Court House steps. And Iowa went dry, Durfey.
"There was a time, Durfey, when the pig that was to become sausage was personally conducted through the intricacies of the process, but that sort of thing is a back-number now. Now the wide-eyed porkers lope up the gangplank in squads, and before the first squeal ceases to echo it mingles with the thump of the hammers that are nailing the reconstructed pig squad into the packing cases. Efficiency is the order of the day. There is no time to personally conduct the pig or the child, and the pork-machine and the text-book must be sans peur et sans reproche, which is French, Durfey, for 'self-acting and keen-cutting.' What we need is a text-book with a push-button set in the cover -- you push the button and the book does the rest.
"If you lead the pig to the pork machine, Durfey, you can let your mind rest easy -- the machine will do the whole job. Unfortunately, the text-book has not reached that state of perfection. The text-book has not yet been invented that will open its covers, suck a child through, and turn it out a completely stuffed sausage that satisfies equally well the propagandists of the Pro-Zanzibar Society and the Anti-Zanzibar Association. The education machine is not yet perfect. Its reproche is only 90 per cent sans.
"You ought to get busy and invent the perfect textbook, Durfey. When your fourteen-year-old girl goes to school and has to learn three-fifths of a musical scale, and cook one-eighth of an egg, and sew two-sevenths of an apron, and learn two-thirds of a folk dance, and three-quarters of forty other things, she has no time to learn her other lessons in school. She is sent home with eight to twelve text-books to teach herself from them after dinner. You can see the need, then, Durfey, of a perfect and self-acting text-book; nowadays the textbook has to be text-book and reference book and teacher, all in one. And I swear, Durfey, that this whole matter of the education of our children, and the school system of America, and the text-books and the teachers, would drive me to deep despair if it were not for one thing!"
"And what is that, judge?" asked Durfey.
"Why, the fact is, Durfey," said Judge Hooper, "that the kids seem to learn more now, and learn it better, than I did when I was a kid."