chapter  II
25 Pages

In the Schools, 1910-1915

In early October 1911, truant officer W. P. Ray happily reported to Superintendent Wirt that he had found perfect attendance among the twenty-three "very nice children" in the one-room school on Gary's far west side. As the children flocked about him, the girls politely requested that he "ask Mr. Wirt to put us up a swing and the boys supplemented this petition with [a) request for 2 balls." Looking around, he "noticed two girls trying to see saw on a rough 2X4 over a saw horse." Ray could have been describing conditions at any one of the hundreds of poor, rural schools still scattered around Indiana and throughout the Midwest. Instead, he had just visited one of the schools in what was fast becoming the country's most celebrated educational system noted for its efficient management, elaborate facilities, and lucky children. Gary's schools were becoming justly famous, yet all of the city's children were not necessarily benefiting from Wirt's accomplishments. The system was more complex than most were willing to acknowledge. It continued to mature during the decade, however, adding curricular and extracurricular programs and generating considerable national controversy, and most in the city seemed content. They were proud of their celebrated superintendent and showpiece schools. 1

During the summer of 1910, Wirt announced two significant innovations for the coming year-vivid reflections of the superintendent's persistent and growing commitment to the progressive ideal of an expanded, quasi-academic school environment catering to the perceived needs and interests of the rapidly swelling urban population. First, the Emerson and Jefferso1,1 schools and the recently annexed Beveridge school in the Tolleston neighborhood were being converted to the platoon system. While half the children would be working in the academic rooms, the other half would be on the playground under the supervision of special teachers. Wirt explained what this would entail at the Emerson school: "Each child will have a stecllocker for his wraps, books and equipment. . . . With this plan no school desk belongs exclusively to any child, but may be used by other children during the day school period, and the school plant can be made to accommodate practically double the customary number of children." He expected eventually from eighteen hundred to two thousand children at the day school, with fifteen hundred adults attending at night and using the same desks and


facilities.ThenightprogramwouldbemodeledontheYMCAandthe Germancontinuationschools.Second,themanual-trainingdepartmentfor boyswouldbeexpandedandaprintingpressaddedtotheEmersonschool; girlswouldreceiveadditionalcommercialcourses-bookkeeping,shorthand,andtyping."Alltheschoolsstartintheirfourthyearunderthebest outlookforeffectivework,"theGaryDailyTribuneannounced,thengaveits ownemphasistothispoint:"Theyaremeetingthepeculiardemandsofacity withalargeforeignpopulationinaconsistentandbroadmanner.Inthe Americanizationoftheforeign-born,theschoolsaredoingtheworkwhich widestatesmanshipdemands."Americanizationdidnotmeananarrow indoctrination,butabroadeducationalexperience,includinganemphasison goodhealth.2