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TOMBS SCHOOL STEERING BOY OFFENDERS STRAIGHT
By MARY GILPIN ARMSTRONG Perhaps the least known school in New York City, certainly one which the committee of women failed to investigate in their tour last summer, is the Tombs School in the Tombs Prison, at Centre street. And a strange type of school it is, held in a small chapel with its gothic-shaped windows of imitation stained glass, covering but faintly the iron bars 'outside, its half-dozen long rows of seats arranged like pews, an elevated platform for an altar and a tiny organ at one side. This school convenes every morning at 8:30, but is over in forty minutes or so. Its pupils are limited to boys betweeen sixteen and twenty-one years of age-mostly “first offenders”—and the entire length of a course is usually no more than three weeks !
The Tombs class is a grim kind of school, to be sure, yet it is by far the pleasantest feature of the period of incarceration, for doubtless the boys feel something of their old carefree schooldays again as they file into the chapel in orderly line and seat themselves in the pews. And certainly the kindly mien of G. C. Marvin, the director of the Tombs School, makes them feel at home at once. For there is nothing of the pedagogue or preacher in Mr. Marvin, who is simply a matter-of-fact person with a keen interest in telling the boys what they should know to help them get back on the right path quickly. Arithmetic and spelling, of course, makes little appeal at such a time, especially when the course is of such short duration. But there are a number of things which the young men are eager to hear explained which are thus told them without the humiliation of asking. And for this reason they attend almost to a man, only those who expect to be called into court remaining outside.
“Don't get scared now; they won't hurt you," encouraged the kindly warden, as the visitor followed Mr. Marvin towards the chapel, doubtless looking serious at the prospect of coming face to face with seventy-five men charged with some sort of crime. And this friendly shot helped somewhat to lessen the strain the next moment when she was assigned to a guest's chair facing the class of doubtful-looking boys who seemed interested at having a slight change in the usual morning's program. A single swift glance convinced her that, while a few of these seemed exactly like ordinary boys, others seemed almost to have been born with hard faces and criminal jaws. Most of them were of Italian, Hebrew, and Irish extraction, and here and there were distributed a half-dozen negroes.
A LESSON ON PROBATION Mounting briskly to the platform, Mr. Marvin plunged at once into his topic. “Yesterday I explained the method of court procedure. Now I shall take up the questions of parole and probation,” he began. “These are two different forms of release which should be quite clear at the start. And I think I can best explain by telling a true story." Here he commenced a narrative, in easy conversational manner, dealing with Tom Jones, who, while of good family and character, had yielded to temptation under financial stress and was speedily brought to justice. Through his conformity to the truth, however, Tom was soon granted probation, and by obeying orders was restored to successful civilian life. Jack Smith, on the other hand, found guilty of a similar crime, told so many lies that he was deprived of these privileges and made to serve a full-time sentence. The tale was simply and directly told, with plenty of allowance for the frailty of the flesh, and the boys listened intently to the end.
“Now you may have a few minutes to talk, but don't leave your seats,” Mr. Marvin said, as he concluded his story with a caution to tell all their facts straight, so that they might receive the greatest consideration possible. At the expiration of the few moments of sociability the guard, who during the lesson had remained unobtrusively seated at the rear, assumed a disciplinary attitude at the door, like a teacher dismissing his class. “Row one out,” he commanded, and a dozen boys filed by, their soft shirts and prematurely wise faces making them look for all the world like an overgrown high school class in the lower East Side.
“Sure, they like their school!” beamed the warden, once more accosting the visitor, who had watched the last boy slip into his bare little cell, fitted out with an iron cot, a wash basin, and an electric light. “Mr. Marvin does a lotta good in this place, I can tell you. He talks plain common sense to the boys and they ask him all kinds of questions. They know he's interested in them and that helps them to feel that the world hasn't turned against them altogether. You know some of them get to thinking it has and they won't even try to do anything for themselves.
But I hear them talking about things he tells them, and I know they are glad that somebody cares."
THE TOMBS SCHOOL COMPARATIVELY UNKNOWN The Tombs School is a shining example of the quiet philanthropy one never hears about. Even since 1897—twenty-four years ago—the Tombs School Committee of the Public Education Association, headed by Mrs. J. K. West, has been carrying on its helpful work with very little publicity. In addition to morning talks on court procedure, hygiene, and first aid, and a series on business principles given by William N. Jackson, formerly of the National City Bank, it has been doing all sorts of kindly things to help restore the prisoners' self-respect. It has always stressed the importance of personal appearance, especially before the judge, and has offered free shaves and hair cuts to the poorest, who would not otherwise have been presentable in court. The committee's funds have provided the friendless and homeless boys with collars and ties, socks and a change of underclothing, handkerchiefs and tooth brushes, and a perceptible improvement in personal appearance and in the care of their cells has resulted from this work.
In addition, the committee has provided a loan fund of $10 for the director, which is constantly borrowed in small amounts to tide the boys over until the first pay day. These loans have generally been repaid, according to Mr. Marvin, and most gratifying letters of appreciation have invariably accompanied their return. The assistance and advice offered the young men follow them after they leave prison as well, and provision for food and lodging are given until the boy becomes self-supporting. Often the delinquents are even sent to their homes in other cities at the expense of the committee.
Five magazines of the boys' own choosing are also provided for them—the Saturday Evening Post, World's Work, Physical Culture, Popular Science Monthly, and McClure's Magazineand there are also individual subscriptions to others, which are all in great demand to help pass the weary hours. In fact, all periodicals, current or old, are highly appreciated.
All of this work for the boy prisoners, while meeting with the full approval and encouragement of the Commissioner of Correction and his prison officials, is supported by private subscriptions. About $1,800 is required annually to do the work satisfactorily, a sum which seems very small when it is remembered how much the work does towards reclaiming these young “first offenders.” During the year 1919, 2,463 boys, and in 1920 1,823 boys, of all creeds and nationalities, passed through the school. So that in all the service cost less than $1 apiece, an 'amount which many consider negligible when one is helping to steer straight a group of boyish offenders.—(Reprinted from the New York Evening Post.)
OHIO DROPS MATHEMATICS AS REQUIRED
HIGH SCHOOL STUDY By W. Carson Ryan, JR., Educational Editor Is mathematics doomed as a required subject in the American high school? Are algebra and plane geometry to follow Greek and Latin into the discard, at least as far as requirements for graduation go?
This time it is Ohio that has revived the old controversy. In that state the Department of Public Instruction has just dropped from the high school standards its former requirement of one "unit" of mathematics for all students—the one unit usually meaning algebra. The Ohio high schools may continue to offer as much mathematics as at present, State Superintendent Vernon M. Riegel points out, but the study will be limited to those who need it or have a particular taste for it.
“It is not the department's purpose,” says Mr. Riegel, “to let down the bars on a formerly required subject simply because it is difficult, if it has universal value in the curriculum other than 'disciplinary.' On the other hand, it is not our purpose to hold any brief for a subject solely because it is difficult, with the idea that it is needed to “steel' the mind. The notion of 'general discipline' and the old 'faculty' psychology die hard in spite of the findings of all the best modern psychologists that ability acquired through the study of any particular subject does not spread itself and make for proficiency in various other subjects.
Our aim is not painless pedagogy nor sugarcoated curriculums, but we are sure it is wrong to retain a subject merely because it will provide opportunity for mental gymnastics."
To the claims of practical usefulness for mathematics, Mr. Riegel is similarly unsympathetic. That there are certain vocations, notably engineering, where a knowledge of mathematics is indispensable, he admits. “This does not argue, however, that all young people should have mathematics because it will be a necessity.for the few. It is not fair to impose a study upon a pupil on the contingency that he may some day utilize it in a practical way when the indications all point in the opposite direction. The exceptions that occur need not concern us half so much as the great body of young people who stumble along and drop out because they possess no aptitude for a subject such as mathematics, or such as Latin, which, like algebra, was once on the required list. Greek, too, knew the day when it was rated indispensable, but many have forgotten that it was ever taught in high schools.'
Some boys and girls, however, must prepare for college, and college entrance requirements remain unchanged. Mr. Reigel and the State Department would have the student who expects to go to college regulate his high school mathematics accordingly. Here is where the teacher comes in with a course of “guidance,” which will help to steer pupils in respect to higher education as well as in respect to occupations—a course the Ohio school authorities urgently recommend for the ninth school year.
In the meantime, with Ohio dropping algebra as a required high school subject and emphasizing a course on guidance as essential, the mathematicians themselves have been in the midst of a reform movement in mathematics that may determine the place of the subject in the high school of the future. For five years the National Committee on Mathematical Requirements, headed by Prof. J. W. Young of Dartmouth, has been working steadily at mathematics as at present taught in schools and colleges.
That this committee intends to recommend radical changes in mathematics teaching, particularly in secondary schools, is evident from the preliminary reports already issued. Some mathematicians have regarded the doctrine laid down by the commit
“dangerous," and have asserted that "it may wreck the whole basis of mathematical training in secondary schools." To this E. R. Hedrick of the University of Missouri, a former president of the Mathematical Association of America, replies that "it does wreck some of our traditional courses. Some of our traditional mathematics should have been wrecked."