In the John Knott political cartoon, “Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go,” which accompanies the editorial “Traffic Schooling” in the Dallas Morning News, the implementation of driver’s education in schools is depicted. There are two prominent figures in the cartoon: one is a woman labelled “School authorities” sitting in a chair and holding a book titled “The Safe Way” while pointing. The other figure is a small boy around elementary school age that the woman is talking to. In the background are two informative posters, one reading “Traffic Rules” with a block of implied text and the other visually showing instructions on how to turn. Knott uses his cartoon to take a critical stance on the implementation of driver’s education, portraying it as excessive or overzealous.
This cartoon depicts the implementation of driver’s education in schools. When automobiles first rose to popularity from 1900 to the 1930s, there was very little regulation due to the novelty of the technology. At first, there were no “stop signs, warning signs, traffic lights, traffic cops, driver’s education, lane lines, street lighting, brake lights, driver’s licenses or posted speed limits” (Loomis), and due to that there were innumerable car accidents. By 1923 alone, there were 100,000 traffic-related deaths and car accidents were the fifth leading cause of death in 1926 (McShane). Over time, safety precautions were added, but up until the 1930s, the death toll was still too high due to the lack of education about driving.
The general public began to pressure lawmakers and school officials into implementing a driving education program for students approaching driving age. Herbert J. Stack, director of the New York University Safety Center, spoke about the need to add driver’s education to the New York State Congress of Parents and Teachers. (School Aid Urged). School officials eventually succumbed to the public pressure, and by the time the Knott cartoon and its accompanying editorial were posted in 1937, there were already 3,000 schools across the nation that had some sort of driver’s education program.
The accompanying editorial itself covers the importance of formal education when teaching adolescents how to drive and proposes ways to incorporate driving classes into high school curriculums, particularly in Texas. The author restates and supports a recommendation by the State Board of Education to provide all students with a textbook outlining the rules of the road and safe driving practices. At the time, driving in Texas was very accessible; the Texas Department of Public safety began to issue free licenses in 1935 (Automobile), so cost was not an issue for anyone seeking to obtain a license. Due to this easy access, it is understandable that citizens would also want new drivers to have easy access to education.
The main indicator of Knott’s critical stance in the cartoon is the age of the child being taught. The boy is obviously not of driving age, not even the range of 14 and 15 where children started driving in rural communities. The reaction intended is to think that it is unnecessary to start teaching children about driving so early. The driver’s education programs did not actually start teaching that early, so the portrayal is a criticism of the programs being excessive. Another indicator of Knott’s criticism is the word choice of the title. “Train” often has a negative connotation as opposed to teach. “Child” is used instead of a more accurate descriptor such as teen or adolescent, which further emphasizes the point about the young age of the child depicted. While Knott’s criticisms may seem unfounded now, it is important to take into consideration what the people of that time period were accustomed to as far as driving regulations went. To suddenly have an onslaught of new rules added where there were none before would be jarring.
The teacher figure in the cartoon is used to represent school authorities, as the label on her jacket tells us. It is notable that Knott felt it necessary to make the distinction between school authority and regular teacher. This was done because it was the school authorities in particular who were pressured to add driver’s education courses by various advocacy groups and societal clubs (Tebeau). The woman appears stern and serious, sitting in a chair while the student is standing and pointing a finger. Her instruction of the boy looks similar to scolding, which is perhaps Knott’s way of scolding those who made driver’s education courses necessary by practicing unsafe driving. The book she is holding is entitled “the Safe Way,” which further emphasises the way that people had been driving up until that point, implied to be the ‘unsafe way’.
The place in the comic where the most similarity can be found with modern driver’s education are the posters in the background. The “Traffic Rules” poster is shown to have a large block of text accompanying it. To the modern viewer, the norm when learning to drive is learning the various traffic that accompany driving. When driver’s education was first being introduced however, the jump from not having to learn any sort of traffic rule to having to learn a huge block of them would have seemed excessive. The things that were taught in driver’s education when it was first introduced were “recognize the pedestrian’s right of way when walking at a cross-walk or at a green light: and all other traffic rules,” (Wentworth) which seems a very obvious and second nature to the modern driver. The use of the word ‘rules’ instead of the modern ‘laws’ shows how much more regulated and enforced modern driving has become.
The diagram next to the “Traffic Rules” poster shows a seemingly simple instruction on how to properly turn. The simplicity suggests that the drivers of that time were so incompetent that they didn’t know how to turn onto another street correctly and needed detailed instructions to accomplish this. It is likely that this is a subtle criticism by Knott about the incompetence of the drivers of the time.
The unsafe driving practices of the early 20th century culminated with societal pressures to the addition of driver’s education courses in schools. The buildup and public outraged shown is similar to the phenomenon of texting and driving in modern times. The amount of accidents and public pressure has built up to where states are now passing legislature with very strict stances on texting and driving.
McShane, Clay. “1899 Automobile Fatalities.” Disasters, Accidents, and Crises in American History: A Reference Guide to the Nation’s Most Catastrophic Events, by Ballard C. Campbell, Facts on File, 2008, pp. 180-182. Facts on File Library of American History. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX4085100098&asid=16e2c60dac4d7f6141d76c9dfcc03ec5. Accessed 19 Oct. 2017.
Tebeau, Mark. “Accidents.” Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society, edited by Paula S. Fass, vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 12-14. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3402800018&asid=e56694d5a48fa15aa193ecd1e2e3d77e. Accessed 19 Oct. 2017.
Loomis, Bill. “1900-1930: The years of driving dangerously.” Detroit News, 26 Apr. 2015, www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan-history/2015/04/26/auto-traffic-history-detroit/26312107/.
By E T STRONG, General Sales Manager, Buick Motor,Company. “Efficient Driving Developed as Art Requiring Expertness.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), May 27, 1923, pp. 68, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/149348020?accountid=7118.
“SCHOOL AID URGED IN TRAFFIC SAFETY.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Oct 04, 1939, pp. 34, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/103073062?accountid=7118.
By Howard F Wentworth (Winner of first prize in the Nation-wide CIT Safety Contest with his 1936 series appearing in,The Post. “Traffic Experts Begin Classes in Motor Safety at G.W.U.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), Mar 10, 1937, pp. 1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/150958398?accountid=7118.
“Fast Facts: The 113-Year History of the Driver’s License.” Automobile, Feb. 20, 2012 http://www.automobilemag.com/news/fast-facts-the-113-year-history-of-the-drivers-license-110875/
Knott, John. “Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go.” Dallas Morning News, 28 Feb. 1937.
“Traffic Schooling” Dallas Morning News, 28 Feb. 1937. Dallas Morning News Newspaper Archive, http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive?p_theme=ahnp&p_product=EANX&p_nbid=S66F5DGRMTUxMTIyMjg5Ny4yNDU5MTM6MToxMzoxMjguNjIuMzguMTk2&p_action=keyword&f_pubBrowse=0F99DDB671832188