« AnteriorContinuar »
Graft in the public service is due simply to a lack of loyalty to the common good. The public school with its constant teaching of patriotism, is the greatest institution that we have for the development of that
loyalty. The problem is to find a means by which The School as the loyalty for which the school stands may be carried Civic Centers into the public service. The use of the public school
buildings in the evenings by the adults of the communities, especially by men, as meeting places for the development of intelligent public spirit through the open presentation and free discussion of public questions, -as places where public servants may come to learn the will of the people and to give account of their stewardship, seems to furnish such a means.
The principle upon which this idea must be worked out if it is to be effective must be that of the union of all sorts of people upon a common ground. Not only must there be no religious, political or social clea in this use of the school buildings, but there must be no division between “good” and “bad” people, and even the grafter must be taken as a man.
Lincoln Steffens says that the best thing that he knows about graft is that the grafter is human, and my experience justifies the position that the grafter may be approached with more hope of converting him and making him a good and useful citizen if he is met with an open friendly hand than if he is met with a fist.
If organizations of all sorts of people, just as people, are formed in every community to meet on common ground to discuss common problems, the pessimistic statement which Mr. Weil made that the old town-meeting idea can no longer be realized will be found untrue.
Such organizations are feasible. In the city of Rochester two years ago one of the public school buildings was opened as a social center.
Within a month, in addition to the clubs of young Rochester's men, and women, and girls, a Men's Civic Club was Experience formed. Its object was the development of intelli
gent public spirit and its method, free discussion. The first officers of the club included a well-to-do professional man, a labor leader, a millionaire banker and a printer. There were in the club men of every party and faith and point of view, but all came to be united in the common bond of interest in the public welfare. Before the end of the season, in two other districts in the city the men of the neighborhoods came together and organized open, non-partisan clubs to meet in their school buildings with a similar aim. Within a year twelve of these adult organizations had been formed and to-day in every part of the city public school buildings are being used in the evenings as places for gatherings exactly in the spirit of the old town-meeting.
What is the result? At one of the first meetings of the first civic club organized, the alderman of the ward, a Republican, addressed the club on “The Duties of an Alderman.” At the close of the discussion
which followed the address, he was given a vote of thanks. He re
sponded in these words: “You have given me a vote Civic Clubs of thanks. I feel that I want to give you a vote of
thanks for the privilege of speaking to you and hearing your frank discussion of my words. If you have been benefited by my coming here, I have been benefited more. If every member of the Common Council and every other public servant had, frequently, such opportunities as this to discuss public matters with those to whom he owes his appointment it would mean that we would have much better, more intelligent representation of the people's interests and a cleaner government."
At the organization meeting of one of the last civic clubs to be formed, in a distant part of town, the alderman of that ward, a Democrat, said: “The value of a civic club from the point of view of a private citizen has been stated. I want to say a word in regard to its value from the point of view of the public servant. An alderman is elected to represent the people; a good alderman wants to represent the people, but how in the world can he represent the people unless he knows what the people want? And how shall he know what the people want unless they tell him. I welcome the civic club because it will give me a chance to learn the will of the people in this neighborhood."
Although the movement is only at its beginning, and in spite of discouragements that come in every movement, the hope expressed in the words of these men has been justified.
It is difficult to measure the development of public spirit, but there is a world of significance crowded into the words of a ward politician: “ It is more fun to work with people than underneath them.” He made this discovery through his experience in one of these neighborhood men's organizations which uses the public school building as its meeting place.
This use of the school buildings as civic forums by adults has the effect of rousing interest in civic problems among the children in the schools and it will tend to increase the effectiveness of such studies of civics in the schools as have been considered here to-day.
Let me repeat: The reason that public servants graft is not that they are essentially bad. They simply lack loyalty to the common welfare. We cannot expect more of this quality in these men than the rest of us have. The only way in which we can expect to develop loyalty among any of us is by developing loyalty among all of us, and a meeting place where this intelligent public spirit, this loyalty, may be developed, is standing unused during the evening in nearly every community in this country.
For those who dare to know of the history in detail of the beginning of this movement in Rochester, it may be well to say that The League of Civic Clubs of that city has published “The Story of the First Two Years," a booklet which may be secured from the secretary of that body.
Pres. BONAPARTE: Possibly Mr. Weil may want to say something in reply to the sentiments expressed by Mr. Ward as to the advantages of approaching the grafter “with an open hand”!
MR. Weil: Unfortunately the grafter has been approached too often with an open hand—and something in it. There is one suggestion and one only that has occurred to me with reference to this discussion. We heard in the first place some words upon the subject of the punishment of graft, its detection and repression when found. We then heard from our professors and teachers a calmly considered scientific discussion of the methods by which civics can be taught 10 those in the public schools, and how they can be instructed in their municipal duties. We also heard some suggestions that notwithstanding that instruction, notwithstanding the imparting to the young in the schools information with reference to the operation of our government and the manner in which they become interested therein, that it was not always effective; because a considerable number, notwithstanding that information and instruction, were found on the wrong side at the critical time. We then heard, following the usual course, the somewhat hysterical sentiment of the social workers who propose to cure all the ills of citizenship by that spirit of equality
which will make one man the equal of another; and Antagonism of yet notwithstanding this entire discussion we are met Standards with a situation—a condition; and that condition is,
that the youth who is instructed as to civics and civic ideals is met in the home and in the city with another ideal and another situation which is counter to, antagonistic to, and in opposition to the very things that he has been taught in the schools. He has been instructed as to righteousness on the one hand and on the other hand the dishonesty of the methods pursued in our municipal governments; and notwithstanding the fact that he has been taught these things by the teachers whom he respects, he finds in the community the men who are doing these things, the men who are doing the very things openly as was declared, from morning to night, he finds these men the leaders in the community, these very men respected in the community, if you please—these very men held up as the respectable men of the neighborhood. In the face of that can you teach the child that those things are wrong, when his parents and the associates of his parents, and the community generally, give the lie to that teaching ?
Will someone suggest a means or method by which instruction can be given not to the child only, but instruction, and punishment as well, to the man who has offended. Both are necessary. If that instruction could be given to the community generally, and the community generally accepted it, it would remove the necessity for this opposition and this fight which is being continually waged because of the variance between the instruction of the schools and the action of the people.
Let me ask a simple question of those who are present, and let them ask it of any other gentleman who may be assembled at any time in their respective communities: How many of them know who the officials are of their respective districts? How many of us here can sit down and write out the names of the school directors in their district, or the names of the aldermen, or the names of their councilmen, the names of the officers for whom they voted and with whom they come in contact every day? How many of us can do it? Does not that show neglect of our citizenship? What then are we to expect of our children when we show to them such an example of neglect? Do you expect the child to be a good citizen, can he be a good citizen, when the example of the father is to the contrary?
We have been accustomed, if you please, to regard our citizenship as something separate and apart from our daily life. We have been ac
customed to treat our right to vote, our right to Citizenship franchise, as something that we might exercise occaSomething sionally and of which we need not think in the meanApart
time. We have been accustomed to treat the whole
question as one relegated to a body of politicians, as a duty that somebody else performs for the community; and then we are astonished and outraged when we find that through our own neglect corruption exists in the community, that a civic standard has been established of which every one of us ought to be ashamed.
You may teach the children, you may establish a club house in your public schools, but we have got to reform ourselves, we have got to come down to the individual after all, if we are going to have the general results for which all of us are praying and hoping.
One of the things necessary, I maintain now, as I said before—one of the most important things to this end is for each community to teach that community, and thereby every member of the community, children as well as adults, that the man who offends against honesty in the administration of public office is a criminal and an outcast, not a man to be held up for public approbation, or re-elected to office. (Applause.)
We cannot teach our children civics, we cannot teach them civic honesty, we cannot make of them good citizens, when we make of the rascals in the communities the officials that are to govern us. (Applause.)
PRES. BONAPARTE: The Chair will be happy to recognize any one who desires to speak further on this very interesting subject.
MR. FRED TUKE, Secretary Taxpayers' Association, Cincinnati: I merely want to say a few words of indorsement of what Mr. Ward said about town meetings. I believe that they will bring about the very thing that Mr. Weil suggests we ought to have. Publicity is the very strongest weapon against graft. By holding these town meetings or ward meetings,
or district meetings, many of the things which are not known will be exposed. By coming together at the school houses and talking matters over, the citizens would know something about what is going on. They would know who the district officers were.
The idea was spoken of in Cincinnati some six months ago, and the school board has to some extent granted permission for meetings of that kind. I think it is a step in the right direction. Whose rooms are they? Why should the people be prevented from holding public meetings in school rooms? Officials might complain that they would begin to talk about the selection of school board members; but there is no reason in the world why they should not talk about it right there. We must increase the exchange of opinion. I hope that that idea still will prevail. (Applause.)
MR. WARD: I would like to speak in line with what has just been said. I was asked by the editor of Collier's Weekly to make inquiry here if
it was the universal custom, or was universally legal Use of School for politics and every other question to be permitted Buildings to be discussed in the school buildings. I wrote back
and told him so far as I knew it was not allowed in any other city. After the idea had been established in our city we found that there was not only no danger of any abuse of it, but that there was an immense benefit in the acquaintance fostered by it and in the development of fraternity and community spirit. We found, however, every time that we held political discussions, or free discussions, in the public school buildings in which the matter of civics was introduced that we were breaking a state law according to the interpretation of the State Superintendent of Education. I went immediately to the corporation council of the city of Rochester, and I said, “How is this? I did not know there was a state law against this. These men have been getting together to discuss matters in the school buildings, and the movement has grown until there are half a dozen of them in the town, and the idea has been firmly established that anything can be talked about in the school buildings. Now when they attempt to do the same thing in other towns it appears that the Superintendent of Education has found that it is against the law. What shall we do?” The corporation council said, “It will make a very interesting case; you go right ahead, and if the State of New York wants to sue the city of Rochester for permitting discussions in its public school buildings, I will take up the fight.”
So far as I know, and I have inquired of men of wide observation and learning, the limitation of discussion is not upon politics in general, but in Buffalo, New York, there is a limitation upon the discussion of the acts of the common council. I understand that there is some such limitation as that, which of course, spoils the whole thing, because unless there is a full and free discussion, unless all men can be placed on a level, I do