Semi-OT: Throwing babies (etc.) in the river

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Thu Jun 12 10:33:10 UTC 2008

Quoting Alex Steer <alex.steer at GMAIL.COM>:

> Dear all,
> This may be more a historical bibliography than a language question,
> but...
> I'm trying to locate an earliest-possible printed source for the parable,
> quite frequently retold in social science books, of the group of people
> standing by a river who start seeing babies (or, in some versions,
> people) floating past, and who all start rescuing them from the water
> until one of them goes upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in.
> (It's been seized upon as a lesson that preventative social work is
> often more effective than remedial intervention.)
> A bit of initial work on Google Books suggests it might go back to about
> 1925: two texts on GB contain the quot. 'We stand today in the situation
> of a man who is pulling victims out of a river while someone above is
> throwing them in.' One is Addresses and Proceedings of the National
> American Association of the United States, vol. 63, 1925, p.170; the other is
> School and Society, vol. 21, Jan-Jun 1925, p.250. It reappears in Julia Emily
> Johnsen, Selected Articles on a Federal Department of Education, 1927.
> This may be a long shot, but is anyone on this list familiar with the
> origins of this? Or, alternatively, if anyone can provide some of the
> surrounding text for this 1925 example I'd be very grateful.
> Thanks,
> Alex

"An Illiteracy Program" by Charles McKenny was read and published (with slight
variations) in National Education Assoc. of the US: Addresses and
Proceedings ,
62nd ann. mtg, Wash. DC v62nd p423-48 here p427 and again, with an added
illustration of a letter from a former illiterate adult in the same periodical
v63rd p166-171 esp. p. 170 as part of a report of a committee on illiteracy.
And read to the National Council of Education, Wash. 1924 and pub. in School
and Society v21 1925 247-52. And anthologized in Basic Education for the
Disadvantaged Adult... F. Lanning ...ed.1966 11-16 here 14 and, maybe, in
Selected Articles on a Federal Department of Education
ed. Julia Emily Johnsen, 1927.

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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