Seventy-two years ago, when I was a little boy in Dunkirk, New York, I was six years old and in the second grade of Public School No. 5. I had what was perhaps a bad habit of sucking the sleeve of my shirt near the elbow. My older brother laughed at me and teased me and ridiculed me for doing this, and my aunts and uncles did too. A year before, the first grade teacher had commanded me on several occasions to stop doing it.
Now I was in the second grade and had a new teacher, Miss Carothers. Whenever I was free for a few minutes I started in on my shirt. My mother was aware that I especially liked to do it when the shirt was just freshly laundered. And so when I went home for lunch she would see to it that I had a clean, freshly laundered shirt to wear to school for the afternoon. Miss Carothers probably noticed this, and she used to walk up and down the aisles once in a while talking with individual children. She came to my desk one day and, leaning over close to me, she said, "This is your favorite position, isn't it, Louis?" Some time during the next week or two I stopped doing it, and my mother announced to the family that I no longer sucked my sleeve. I very clearly remember Miss Carothers saying that to me, and I believe that I can remember thinking about it afterwards. I probably thought about it after school and at home and in school, too. I probably thought that I had not chosen it from many positions, and perhaps I could not understand why she called it my favorite position. Miss Carothers' nonjudgmental comment stimulated me, I believe, to examine my practice. And I myself rejected it. I had overcome a habit that teasing and ridiculing and authoritarianism had not conquered.
The point I am making is very important; it is one that I believe teachers overlook all too frequently. A great deal of learning takes place when we silently think about our lives and what we did and what we are doing. A question asked in school may be thought about most seriously after school or at night. A value-type question asked in school may be discussed with friends, or talked over with brothers and sisters, or raised as a question at mealtime for the whole family to pitch in, or saved for those precious few minutes when a child is alone with a parent just before falling asleep.
It is more than eleven years now since the first edition of this book was published. We had been in the longest war that our country ever had in Viet Nam--a war characterized by misinformation communicated to the people by the highest military and government officers. The war divided the nation: there were violent demonstrations; there was much corruption. TV and radio, newspapers, and magazines brought a great deal of this conflict into our living rooms. All of those experiences are a part of us and are going to be passed on to those who come after us.
At the same time, the country went through many demonstrations dealing with the problems of minority groups, especially blacks. Here again there was violence . . .