And the second vow that I should urge these graduates to take is the vow of fidelity to the spirit of their calling. We have heard a great deal in recent years about making education a profession. I do not like that term myself. Education is not a profession in the sense that medicine and law are professions. It is rather a craft, for its duty is to produce, to mold, to fashion, to transform a certain raw material into a useful product. And, like all crafts, education must possess the craft spirit. It must have a certain code of craft ethics; it must have certain standards of craft excellence and efficiency. And in these the normal school must instruct its students, and to these it should secure their pledge of loyalty and fidelity and devotion.
A true conception of this craft spirit in education is one of the most priceless possessions of the young teacher, for it will fortify him against every criticism to which his calling is subjected. It is revealing no secret to tell you that the teacher’s work is not held in the highest regard by the vast majority of men and women in other walks of life. I shall not stop to inquire why this is so, but the fact cannot be doubted, and every now and again some incident of life, trifling perhaps in itself, will bring it to your notice; but most of all, perhaps you will be vexed and incensed by the very thing that is meant to put you at your ease—the patronizing attitude which your friends in other walks of life will assume toward you and toward your work.
When will the good public cease to insult the teacher’s calling with empty flattery? When will men who would never for a moment encourage their own sons to enter the work of the public schools, cease to tell us that education is the greatest and noblest of all human callings? Education does not need these compliments. The teacher does not need them. If he is a master of his craft, he knows what education means,—he knows this far better than any layman can tell him. And what boots it to him, if, with all this cant and hypocrisy about the dignity and worth of his calling, he can sometimes hold his position only at the sacrifice of his self-respect?
But what is the relation of the craft spirit to these facts? Simply this: the true craftsman, by the very fact that he is a true craftsman, is immune to these influences. What does the true artist care for the plaudits or the sneers of the crowd? True, he seeks commendation and welcomes applause, for your real artist is usually extremely human; but he seeks this commendation from another source—from a source that metes it out less lavishly and yet with unconditioned candor. He seeks the commendation of his fellow-workmen, the applause of “those who know, and always will know, and always will understand.” He plays to the pit and not to the gallery, for he knows that when the pit really approves the gallery will often echo and reecho the applause, albeit it has not the slightest conception of what the whole thing is about.