Statements like these are very apt to be misconstrued or misinterpreted unless one is very careful to define one’s position; and, after what I have said, I should do myself an injustice if I did not make certain that my position is clear. I believe in experimentation in education. I believe in experimental schools. But I should wish these schools to be interpreted as experiments and not as models, and I should wish that the failure of an experiment be accepted with good, scientific grace, and not with the unscientific attitude of making excuses. The trouble with an experimental school is that, in the eyes of the great mass of teachers, it becomes a model school, and the principles that it represents are applied ad libitum by thousands of teachers who assume that they have heard the last word in educational theory.
No one is more favorably disposed toward the rights of children than I am, and yet I am thoroughly convinced that soft-heartedness accompanied by soft-headedness is weakening the mental and moral fiber of hundreds of thousands of boys and girls throughout this country. No one admires more than I admire the sagacity and far-sightedness of Judge Lindsey, and yet when Judge Lindsey’s methods are proposed as models for school government, I cannot lose sight, as so many people seem to lose sight, of the contingent factor; namely, that Judge Lindsey’s leniency is based upon authority, and that if Judge Lindsey or anybody else attempted to be lenient when he had no power to be otherwise than lenient, his “bluff” would be called in short order. If you will give to teachers and principals the same power that you give to the police judge, you may well expect them to be lenient. The great trouble in the school is simply this: that just in the proportion that leniency is demanded, authority is taken away from the teacher.
And I should perhaps say a qualifying word with regard to my attitude toward educational theory. I have every feeling of affection for the science of psychology. I have every faith in the value of psychological principles in the interpretation of educational phenomena. But I also recognize that the science of psychology is a very young science, and that its data are not yet so well organized that it is safe to draw from them anything more than tentative hypotheses which must meet their final test in the crucible of practice.