« AnteriorContinuar »
and tonight in the minds of some I stand as a victim, decapitated by that machinery, because we are only in the learning stage. That plan was developed in times of prosperity, and the methods of operating in times of adversity have not yet been worked out. It is only history repeating itself. We learn very slowly this lesson of self-government, but it must be learned in no other way than through these natural groupings of those whose common interests lead them to common action. The most successful efforts we have to report have recognized this principle. The National Child Labor Committee has been as successful as it has because it has affiliated with natural groups, those of labor organizations as well as those of public-spirited employers and citizens who see that child labor must be abolished, but not primarily along geographical lines. In the same way the American Association for Labor Legislation is winning success today because it affiliates and co-operates, not by trying to hold meetings in a given ward or other local community, but by seeking groups that have their own aims, and interesting them in its purposes.
And so, fellow social workers, there is no ground for discouragement. Democracy will be revived. It is for us to be wise enough and far-sighted enough to realize that it needs transformation, that it needs a new development. If we can see that the old geographical lines coincided with the interests of men, and that the new groupings will be along lines of intercommunication and co-operation for a common end we may perhaps have found the clue to the new democracy of the twentieth century.
PUBLIC AGENCIES AS PUBLIC CARRIERS OF IDEAS
Mrs. Ada E. Sheffield, Member, State Advisory Board of Public Welfare, Boston
The policies of a public philanthropic agency naturally begin as half-defined habits of action. A public official will say with all sincerity that he treats each case that comes before him on its unique merits; yet if he takes time to look back over a period of years upon the relief or service that his agency has given, say, to ambitious mothers, he will probably find that he has tended to deal with family situations roughly similar as to the factor of maternal ambition in an increasingly similar way. In other words, he has formed a habit of action without realizing it. This habit, because he has thought of his clients as detached instances appearing one by one, has remained but vaguely realized. Once he thinks of the ambitious mothers he has treated as a class, wherein a characteristic feature is recurrent, he grows aware of a drift in his habitual treatment. He can recognize such a drift as having a cumulative influence, and he is in a position to inquire whither that influence is tending—what is the feeling, the prejudice perhaps, the idea which has become embodied in it, and what may be the direct and indirect consequences of this idea as carried to the minds of the people helped and of their neighbors. In short, he finds himself responsible for a policy.
A philanthropic policy, then, begins as a vague habit of action and ends as a carrier of a socially formative idea. Take, for example, the policy by which any state agent boards out dependent children in families of their own religion. Back of this policy is the idea that church and state should be fields of interest mutually independent, that the state agency should not identify itself with the establishment of any one religion. Again, the policy that a foreign-born child must be given opportunity to learn English applies the idea that the unifying of a people-"Americanizing" as it is called here—
requires a common language. So again, a habit of giving public relief grudgingly, though it doubtless springs from the need of guarding the public purse, yet it grows articulate as an appeal to the recipient's self-respect, and the public agent becomes a virtual spokesman for the idea that self-support means social standing and that dependency carries a social stigma.
This means that in applying policies our welfare commissions, relief officers, agents of mothers' pensions, take their place among the public educators. That we do not ordinarily so regard them is because we find their habits of action only half-articulately set out as explicit policies, and because it is only when a policy has emerged into explicitness that we can identify its kernel-idea and trace its influence. At present a relief officer is apt to think of a policy as something merely negative in its function. It is something to avert trouble: a rule to fall back upon when politicians become importunate, a maxim that affords safe talking-points when hostile criticism impends. But as something with educational influence its function is positive, and the officer who brings his policies into the open, who invites scrutiny and appraisal of their ramifying consequences, becomes an agent for social thinking.
Our modern community has become so complex and manifold that the ideas which are to form and animate it must demand our increasing concern. The things that a man prizes and strives for are increasingly marked for him by the fact that men in neighborhoods, in organized groups, in social classes, are striving for them. The values thus collectively appreciated, and motivating all this striving, become social forces, collective habits of feeling and behaving, traditions. Consciously identified as ideas, they become a formative social heritage for each oncoming generation; and since for better or for worse this heritage is subject to continual change, it becomes momentous for the community what values are to be collectively indorsed, how they are to be made socially contagious and operative. In a simpler social order all this might be intrusted to certain agencies of direct concern with ideas: to schools, to churches, to organizations for propaganda. By these agencies our cultural standards could be identified, evaluated, promulgated, and then simply left to embody themselves in men's lives and actions. But in our complex order the lives and actions of individual men are cut across by various group-interests and institutions which water-mark their minds in ways which affect the further fortunes of ideas. Besides the agencies of direct concern with ideas we must recognize the educational rôle of certain agencies of indirect concern, notably our courts and our philanthropic agencies which in their dealings with case after case are really applying current ideas and reinforcing current feeling.
Whether he wishes it or not, therefore, the modern official of a public philanthropy is an agent of public opinion. And the great question for a democratic community is the question from what level of public opinion are its agencies to take the quality of their ideas. The tradition is that these agencies should reflect the average standards. Public officials, for example, have within the last decade reflected a popular change in attitude toward the recipients of relief, a qualifying of the pauper stigma. That both the older attitude and the newer represent average thinking is apparent from the objective, simple, patent character of their causes. Our colonial forebears had harsh conditions of living. There was little surplus wealth, and the mother-country often shifted its ne'er-do-weels upon the young community. Public relief made itself felt in the average citizen's purse with no light touch. It was no wonder that they denied social standing to one who had "come upon the town." Today, however, the economic
situation fosters a very different average sentiment. The country is rich; the community is so large that no average person feels the burden of relief as such. Moreover during periods of business depression or of industrial conflict numerous families ordinarily self-supporting find themselves depending on benefits and relief. It becomes easy to think of dependents as casualties of an unsettled industrial order, and the average opinion makes little of any stigma in their plight.
Another policy expressive of average opinion appears among those printed by the Mothers' Aid Department of Massachusetts. It reads: "The former standard of living of a family, as well as the standards of self-supporting families in its neighborhood, should be considered in determining the amount of aid necessary."
What we have here is a recognition of the claim of status. The family will not be considered adequately relieved if its social standing is felt to be unsustained. And the criteria of social standing, as they exist for the average opinion, are not hard for the relief department to ascertain and deal with: they lie chiefly in such matters as food, dress, and living quarters.
Now if our relief officers and other public agents, when they develop policies that touch such motivating ideas as this idea of status, are to reflect merely average opinion, let us note how crude, how objective, and how barren is the social thinking that they will unwittingly confirm. Popular thinking about status, if it can be said to analyze the idea, does little more than divide it into factors thought of as genuine and important and factors thought of as superficial and trivial. Such factors as occupational success, education, respect for business and family morality, it treats as genuine and important. The values they represent obviously coincide with a man's social usefulness. Such factors as dress, manners, speech-habits, it regards as superficial and trivial. Dress seems little more than the uniform of prosperity. Manners, being in Emerson's phrase "the happy way of doing things," seem but the ornament of aristocracy—the graces bred of leisure and the drawing-room. In a democracy their use has been described by Professor E. A. Ross as that of a lubricant, the function of politeness being "not to sweeten the relations of kinsfolk, friends, or lodge brothers, but to lessen the chafing between strangers, colleagues, or rivals." Speech-habits seem but symbols of one's habitual nearness to or remoteness from book-culture.
The average opinion about these matters, then, makes them seem of too little consequence to draw any serious concern from the social worker. The public social agency may touch them to enhance, to deflect, or to inhibit, without drawing upon itself any public notice, whether for praise or for blame. But are these matters rated as of so little import by opinion at the professional level? Do specialists in social psychology and social ethics treat them as mere external graces and empty symbols, or as matters that display varying drifts toward standards socially momentous? If the latter be true, does the official worker rise to the full measure of his opportunity for public service when he forms and administers policies that merely jog along with our general obtuseness to the more delicate integrations of social impulse?
Be it noted that, however slighting may be the average articulate opinion about status, the average practice is by no means indifferent to it. Thousands of men and women in this land of fluid caste-lines are taking as much pains to establish themselves in appropriate dress, polite manners, and accepted speech-usages as to achieve business When they fall into difficulties that make them the clients of public philanthropy, the public official, if he has eyes to see, will see status-motivated situations at
every turn in their careers. The higher possibilities in what he is to do for them depend on the expertness, the liberal enlightenment of his dealings with these social symbols. Dress he will recognize not only as a symbol of prosperity and a medium of sexual and aesthetic enhancement but as an aid to social presentability and an opener of social opportunity. Manners he will deal with as the expression between people of a mutual recognition of each other's feelings and claims. They are conduct in minor matters, filling the spaces between more considered acts and often more character-revealing than the latter; for since the occasions of this minor conduct occur and pass in a moment, the delicacy and quickness of a client's behavior are signs of his social sensitiveness. Even speech-habits will not escape attention. It may seem but a petty snobbery to notice when a client says, "I'm glad to meet you" instead of "Pleased to meet you," "This is Mr. Jones" instead of "I want to make you acquainted with Mr. Jones." But the social worker trained to note the speech-characteristics of different social groups-the differences of social tone conveyed by enunciation and voice-inflections, by formulas of greeting, of approval and disapproval, etc., by the familiarities and reticences to be taken for granted-will have clues both for interpretation and for treatment of a client's case. What sympathy, what social prevision the agency can bring to bear depends on the worker's qualification to discern the remoter implications and consequences that are latent in these seemingly small matters. If he makes himself responsible to socially expert opinion, he will watch how his policies affect the various factors in an idea so dynamic as this of status. He will make himself responsible for the future fortunes of ideals, and this means that in dealing with a client in this and that relationship he will reckon with the kinds of approval and disapproval which different groups confer, the factors in conduct which these approvals stress, the quality of the social forces thus set afoot.
So important for the future influence of social work is this distinguishing of quality in the formative ideas that it touches that I venture to dwell a little further on the idea of status as it became concretely involved in the cases of three girls, each of whom lost standing by the plight of unmarried motherhood.
The first girl, Rachel, was Jewish. She was an immigrant who came to this country in her latter teens with her father, brothers, and sisters, the mother having died. Her father was a scholar of standing among his people, saturated in Talmudic learning, and orthodox in all his conceptions, and the family settling among neighbors of their own race this old man was held in high respect. The girl was unusually endowed both in intelligence and refinement. She became deeply in love with and expected to marry a young man of Americanized ways, whose success in getting an American education she and her family identified with superiority of character. They all considered that Rachel was doing well. When in the course of time it became known to them that she had two children born out of wedlock to this man, the shock and grief of the old father were beyond description. Suffering and moral indignation united to make him unrelenting. The children, of course, he would not even see. Rachel he kept at home, meeting her with reproaches at every turn and holding her sin up to her on every occasion. If she went to see her children, which she had to do by stealth, he would ask on her return whether she had been earning money on the street. Her brother would not even remain in the same room with her, and her brothers-in-law felt much the same way. Respectable families in the neighborhood forbade their daughters to associate with her. Being too refined to enjoy the companionship of the only sort of girl willing to be seen
with her, Rachel was left entirely without companionship. No more extreme punishment can be conceived. The story is racially typical, although it is an exaggeration of the typical at certain points.
The second girl, Molly, was a New England Methodist living in a little farming village. The scattered population was mainly Yankee, respectable people who attend the one church in the place. Their group-consciousness, therefore, was a matter partly of common nationality, partly of church affiliation, but may be assumed to have been less intense than that of a Jewish neighborhood. Molly and her family were distinctly less endowed than the Jewish family, their education being slight, and the girl's intelligence mediocre. She was, however, an obedient, loving daughter, a girl whose nature it apparently was to conform to the standards about her, and who was generally liked and respected. The father of her child was a married man, rather forceful in appearance, for whom she felt affection. In this instance it was an old mother on whom fell the shock and sorrow, a self-denying devoted parent. For months after learning Molly's condition this mother was distracted. At first her dread was lest the neighbors learn the disgrace, because, as she said, no such terrible thing had ever happened in that village before. Her dread proved justified. After the neighbors had learned the situation and during the daughter's period of confinement, this woman for two or three months was visited by none of them, and week after week saw no living creature except the grocer and postman once a week, a pet cat and a friendly dog. Later the clergyman showed sympathy and understanding; so sure was he, however, that the village people would ostracize the family that he urged their leaving their home and moving to another city. He described his parishioners as kind-hearted and friendly but as feeling strongly about wrong-doing. Against his advice the old mother clung to her home and received into it her daughter and baby. What humiliation may have been borne by these two women we do not know. We do know that Molly, who is of a mild and pleasing disposition, has won her way back into the good opinion of her neighbors, and that she and her child are now both received into the church.
The third girl, Janice, was an American of good ability who grew up in a moderatesized city in what is called an American neighborhood, that is, among English-speaking people whose racial extraction may or may not have been the same. The neighborhood as such had no group life. The people were split up among different churches; certain of them found a tie with their fellows through the Grange. Otherwise families living near each other had merely chance friends here and there. Since the family of the girl in question were self-centered people whose church connection was nominal and who were not members of the Grange, they were quite detached from any socialized life. Yet apparently they had a regard for outward respectability which suggests that they sensed collective requirements for status either in their neighborhood or in a vaguely felt public outside. Their house, which was on a street with stable working people, was always kept painted and in better repair than those about. The family were clean and made a good appearance personally and in their conversation. This is noteworthy because their history behind scenes shows them to have been people whose conception of the sex relation was matter-of-fact and thoroughly coarse. The daughter's misconduct in so far as it was unnoticeable by others did not appear to affect them as a very serious departure from standards. Janice herself had a checkered youth. As to the paternity of her child she was uncertain between two men for neither of whom she had any sentiment other than a friendly liking. Yet she, like her family, had a regard for