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THE TEACHING SERVICE.
If the American school system is to successfully cope with the circumstances which confront it, and the still more trying circumstances which will confront it, it must be equipped with a more substantial teaching service. Perhaps one teacher in five or one in four is a professional. The force is too largely constituted of young girls or persons who are unable to prosecute any other employment successfully. Changes are frequent and constant. Two-thirds of the number who are now teaching will have ceased to teach in five years. Fourfifths of the newcomers are immature, physically and mentally, and are inadequately prepared for such a trust.
You may tell me that the law regulates this thing; that it determines who may teach in the schools. It assumes to, but it does not. A law is good for nothing that does not operate effectually. What does the law do? Ordinarily it confers upon city boards of education and county or district commissioners power to certify teachers. The members of the city board are not professional school men. How are they to intelligently determine who are qualified to teach school? But that is not all, nor is it the worst of it, for if it was they could employ a competent person to determine for them. They have the authority to employ teachers. They have aunts and cousins and daughters and nieces who want employment. And they also have personal and political friends with retinues of relatives, friends and acquaintances. They are human. They like to please. Only the strongest of them dare confront the misunderstandings and enmities in which a refusal to aid their friends will involve them. The greater number will use their opportunities to help those about them, even at the expense of the school system. And how much of a breakwater is the county commissioner against immaturity and incompetency in the schools? He is nominated at a political convention and chosen at the general election. He is under political obligations. If he does not pay them on demand, he is considered mean. The more honest and efficient he is, the more people there will be to engage in the enterprise of taking off his official head. He, too, is human, and he will ordinarily and almost necessarily be influenced by these considerations. But that is not all in his case. What reason is there to suppose that the county commissioner is competent to examine and determine who may properly teach in the schools? He may be, but there is nothing to assure it. Everybody is eligible to the office. The qualifications which secure it are the ability to compass a nomination and gather in enough votes at the polls. These are not the qualifications requisite to the efficient administration of the commissioner's office. It would be as sensible to elect a man at a general election to manage a railway or construct a cantilever bridge.
There are no effectual statutory limitations upon the action of this commissioner. Possibly he may be required to certify teachers only upon examination. But what sort of an examination? Except through the constant and strenuous exercise of the legal authority of the state superintendent, it may be only a form; it may be conducted in the roadway. The world has no statutory guaranty of its substantial character and good faith. If experience in this connection has proved anything, it is that before an examination can be credited with any value it must be held at a stated time, in a public place, upon papers which are preserved, and by competent authority.
Indiscriminate licensing must cease. The age at which a person may begin teaching must be advanced. Professional training must be insisted upon whenever practicable, and where not, then at least a minimum standard of intellectual qualifications must be attained at a stated public examination. Examinations must be in competent professional hands. The authority to certify and the power to employ must never be lodged in the same persons. The certificate must be gained before employment is legal. Teachers must be treated better and their rights must be more thoroughly protected. They must be paid as well as equally qualified persons in other employments. Their tenure of position must be more secure. More men must be kept in the work. In short, a policy must be pursued, a plan must be devised, which will cause the teaching service to become broader, more substantial, mo:e self-respecting, and equal to all the demands which may be made upon it no matter how exacting those demands may be.
THE WORK OF THE SCHOOLS SHOULD BE DEFINED.
Again, it seems to me, it is important that there should be an authoritative determination of what the common schools should do. The statutes are nearly silent in this connection. This matter is also left almost entirely to local author
ties. We are living in times of marked activity, if not of feverish unrest. Experimentation seems to be the order of the day, and everybody has something new to propose. The schools do not escape these influences. Indeed, they reflect any popular disposition or caprice more quickly than any other of our public institutions. The result is indefiniteness and confusion in the public mind. This must be corrected or the end will be uncertainty and distrust.
The authority to levy and collect taxes is a high governmental power. It can not be exercised capriciously. The purpose for which it is exercised must be clearly understood and the object to be attained must be of such transcendent importance to all the people as to unmistakably justify the proceeding. One may properly gratify his fancy, he may speculate and experiment to his heart's delight, with his own money. But he has no right to do so with the money of the people. That must be put only to uses which benefit all, and then it must be used in sufficient quantity, and in such a way as to accomplish the object in view. These trite propositions relate to public educational work as to any other public undertaking.
I apprehend there are certain things which the schools must do to justify their existence, that there are other things which they need not do and yet may do with propriety, and that there are still other things which they ought not be permitted to undertake.
The schools must be within reach of every home, and they must provide at least the fundamentals of an education to every child. They must put every child in possession of enough learning to enable him to act intelligently and understandingly in his social relations and as an American citizen. They must train his mind to act for itself, and they must, at least, go far enough with the work to enable that mind to stand alone and begin to walk on its own account.
I entertain no doubt of the right and propriety of the support of high schools at common cost at the option of the qualified electors of each municipality. But there are evils resulting from the introduction of public secondary schools which need attention and which it will take time to correct. They attract public attention. They gratify local pride. They absorb the best teachers. Service in them is more remunerative and decmed to be more honorable than in the elementary schools. Their buildings are more magnificent, their equipment is more complete. Their curriculum rivals that of the best colleges thirty years ago, and what they do not feel justified in undertaking is not mentioned in even the Sunday newspapers. In the minds of educators, in the public esteem, they too frequently overshadow and dwarf the necessary and essential schools of the realm. The educational pyramid had better stand upon its base and not undertake to poise upon its apex. The best building and equipment, the best teacher, the best methods, should be provided for the beginners. The most generous support and the most alert attention should be given to starting the multitude rather than to decking out and polishing off the individual. The relationship should be more evenly and nicely adjusted by law, and the great mass of pupils who never get beyond the grammar grades should have most serious consideration of the law makers and of all interested in the well-being of the masses.
There are some things which have no legitimate place in our educational work yet which wedge their way into it. The educational theorist outruns all other theorists. The educational philosopher reaches after the unattainable and dives into the unfathomable even more than other philosophers. Speculation is without limits. There is no breakwater. He will suffer no layman to dispute him. He will speculate with other doctrinaires, and each will, in his own estimation, get the advantage in the contest. Then he will insist on his distillations being condensed at public expense. Commonly they refuse to materialize at all. All changes and innovations crowd along together in the name of progress and reform. The result is confusion and sometimes chaos.
The waste of educational energy and effort in consequence of the speculative mania and because of the clashing of different interests is great. The cost is greater than necessary, if not unreasonably abnormal. At least there is no reason why better and more telling work should not be performed with the money at the disposal of the system.
In my opinion this subject is one of pre minent importance. The school sys tem must settle down and become a system in fact as well as in name. When it does it will the more effectually perform the work expected of it, and it will disarm the critics or be the better able to withstand the assaults which will be made upon it. It never will until competent general authority intervenes to define and limit the scope of its operations, to say what it must do in all places, what it may do in some places, and what it shall not undertake anywhere.
I offer one more suggestion in support of my general proposition. After providing the means to do with, after securing a competent teaching service, after defining the work which the schools shall do in order to justify their existence at general cost, it is imperatively necessary to exact the attendance of the children for a sufficient time to accomplish the object in view.
Of course, if any parent prefers to educate his child at home or in a private school, no one can object, if this is not a mere pretext and a sham, and if the education so provided is at least equivalent to what the public requires. But the public has the right to know that it is equivalent and to exact information which will justify a public acceptance of its work. No responsible institution can have the least difficulty in establishing this fact. There is no other way of insuring general results.
We have legislated upon this subject, it is true; but we have legislated in a dilettante, milk and water fashion, which has been practically barren of results. There is almost an entire failure to appreciate the importance of the subject,or how to meet it. Legislators fear that they may offend some one who has a vote. America is not to be the refuge and stamping ground of socialists and communists and anarchists. It may be well to hang bomb-throwers and murderers, but is is better to prevent boys from growing up into thugs and outcasts.
Troublesome social disorders can be best met by early and alert legal regulations, and by none more effectually than by such as will bring all children under the instruction and discipline of the schools. The children of the depraved and indifferent are the very ones whom it is most important we should reach, it we expect to accomplish the end we aim at, and justify the theory upon which we are proceeding. It can be done, but only through practical and stringent legislation. We have had enough compulsory attendance laws with no one to execute them, and which no one could execute; let us have some which will compel, and will provide that some one shall compel.
Now, these four matters which I have mentioned, viz, suitable buildings and appliances, a professional teaching service, a defined course of study, and compulsory attendance upon the public schools, or upon other instruction of equivalent value for a fixed time, are vital to the success of our educational plan, and the safety of a social compact based upon the principle of universal suffrage.
Where is the authority which is competent to regulate such matters and insure decisive and necessary action? It is not in the Federal Government. Our governmental plan does not cede the control of educational interests to the national organization. It is not in county, or town, or district authorities. It is wisely and fortunately so, for many and obvious considerations. They are mere creatures of statutory law without original legislative or executive powers. The only authority which can act for this people is the imperial Commonwealth of New York, through the law making power which sits at Albany.
Functions of the State in relation to education.-President Seth Low, of Columbia University: It is every way becoming that the State, not the locality, should make the standard and should see that the standard which it makes is everywhere upheld. The question becomes, in substance, the practical question, what part of the work can the State do best, and what part the locality? It would seem to be clear that the minimum standard should be fixed by the State. If any locality cares to carry its work beyond this general standard, that privilege may cheerfully be conceded. But the general standard certainly should be fixed by the State; first, because the State is likely to fix it most intelligently; second, because only in this way can there be any uniformity of result, and third, because when education is shaped with reference to the work which is to follow, a result which the State alone can secure, the best results are reached.
The scholar is threatened at every stage of his school life with an uneconomic use of his time, unless the steps of his progress be timed as well as directed by the best wisdom of the Commonwealth. There is always danger that the effort will be made to teach too much, to teach a smattering of too many things, instead of laying solid foundations broad and deep, and instead, above all, of teaching the pupil himself to observe and to think. I plead for an active oversight, at least, on the part of the regents, of the curriculum of every school in the public-school system of the State, I would have it a part of their duty to maintain such an oversight of the system in every locality that the results obtained in all places should measure up to the ideal, at least as well as the results in any other State; or rather, as a citizen of New York, I prefer to say, such an over
sight that the results obtained in this great Commonwealth should be the recognized standard in all our sister States. It is not an idle dream, this ideal that there should be practical uniformity of results in all the schools of the State of similar grade. Germany accomplishes it through the benign infiuence in that particular of the central government. The only question with us is, whether we will let the State, which is ourselves, do a similar work for us with similar efficiency.
There is another element in the problem besides the shaping of the curriculum and the oversight of the work, in which the voice of the State must be clear and decisive. It must define, and define adequately, the qualifications of the teachers in the various grades, and, if necessary, test these qualifications. I do not mean that the State should in any way interfere in the actual selection of teachers. That by all means belongs to the localities who are to employ them. But the State should define the training and equipment which the teacher must have before he is eligible to enter any one of the public schools. Similarly the State might well fix the minimum educational requirements for the different positions of responsibility throughout the schools.
The General Government may stimulate public education.-W. T. Harris: It is clear that education is of vital interest to our form of government. The inhabitants of Mississippi have an interest in the education of the people of Pennsylvania because the voters of the latter State help to make laws which affect Mississippi. So Pennsylvania is vitally interested in the education furnished in Mississippi for the reason that Pennsylvania's national interests are partly controlled by the votes of Mississippi cast for President and for Congressmen.
Here is a text for a sermon on national aid to education and for national compulsory educational laws. But I trust that no person will draw the conclusion that we ought to adopt the centralized educational system of France, no matter how strongly he believes in the duty of the nation to look after education. Our doctrine of local self-government tends to increase the directive power in all places outside the centers. But this does not necessitate a "let-alone" policy. For the General Government may stimulate local action by subsidizing it, or it may pass laws compelling a minimum provision for schools.
The limit of the function of the State.-Jas. P. Monroe, in the Educational Review: Once having established the machinery of free schools, once having placed proper safeguards for its maintenance and protection, the State should determine the least that it must do to preserve its integrity and provide for its healthy growth. It should then rightly exclude from the school all that belongs to the parent as well as all that, being nonessential to the life of the State, ought to be left to individual effort.
Mischierous interference with the schools.-Educational News: Unfortunately for the poor teacher, nearly everybody, from the chief officer of a city or other school district, down to the man who drives a garbage cart, believes that he knows better how to manage the children and conduct a school than do those who have made it a life work, and for this reason both individuals and organizations offer their uncalled-for criticisms and push their mischievous interference.
Oh, for something for idle hands to do! The idle child is the mischievous child in school; he is also the mischievous child at home. Keep him busy and you are safe. But what shall we do with the idle man? It is he who concocta the mischief of the neighborhood. It is he who says "they say" and destroys men's reputations. It is he who too often is the critic of our educational work, and while he lounges on the store boxes of the village can tell just how the school ought to be kept and where its greatest weakness is to be found. Is there no plan by which this man can put the energies to work in profitable channels? How much better our schools would succeed; how much better off the whole community would be if we could only keep the idler busy!
Also this from across the water, same subject.-Revue Pédagogique Belge: For ages, the progress of school education was retarded by general indifference; today, on the contrary, the most formidable obstruction it encounters is the itch, or the passion, for innovations. In all countries, monarchic and democratic, everybody, from emperor to pastry cook, has upon the subject of education ideas which in his view will regenerate humanity. Naturally, the ministers of public instruction have their ideas too, and endeavor to put them into practice. Almost every one wishes to break away from what he is pleased to call the old usages, that is to say, from the experience of centuries, and to build up the course of study on a new basis. The lack of practical experience causes people to get
astride of some of the strangest hobbies. One is wholly engrossed with gymnastics, another with chemistry; this one is inflexibly bent upon teaching anatomy and physiology to future seamstresses, that one is of the opinion that the youthful residents of the Rue du Temple will not be able to get along without some well-grounded knowledge of farming.
With the best intentions in the world, they would (in Paris) have turned the courses of study topsy turvy a score of times, and have completely ruined the public school instruction, if they had not had to moderate and guide them the learned and unpretentious Académie of Paris, with its inspectors and its active and energetic rector, M. Octave Gréard.
So, while no really useful innovations in the course of study, the methods, or the text-books, have been rejected, the literary basis upon which elementary instruction was founded, has been wisely retained.
The school of the future will not usurp the functions of the parent.-Superintendent A. P. Marble, Worcester, Mass. The school, having undertaken to train the intellect of boys and girls, is now quite generally expected to take entire charge of their education, intellectual, physical, and moral. This is beyond the original contract, and if so broad and general an end is to be attempted, then time must be given to enlarge the plant, to reorganize the system, and adapt it to such an aim.
If the school of the future is to take of the parent, and attend to the entire training of children-to be responsible for bodily health, intellectual training, and moral culture, if the duty of parents is to cease when once the child is old enough to enter the kindergarten, and the school is to turn him out fully equipped for the battle of life, and for entrance into a blissful hereafter, then we must have a good deal more time and more funds. It would seem as if so broad an aim would need to include dormitories, clothing, stores, and refectories. Such was the Spartan scheme of education. It is not likely to be repeated. It is not desirable. Nothing of a public and institutional nature can supply the place of parents. They were ordained of God; and no incubator of modern science or education should ever supplant them. The duty of rearing and disciplining their children ought to be thrown back upon them to the largest possible extent; any institution or any school which tends to beget in the parental mind a feeling of irresponsibility is evil and only evil, and that continually. The school of the future will not usurp the functions of the parent.
The aim of the school.-Principal George M. Grant, Queen's College (Ontario): We must remember that the object of the common school is not industrial. It should not regard children as the raw material of craftsmen, and aim at making infant mechanics. Children are organisms in the flower of life, and the best fruit will be had if you give the flower free play and do not expect it to be fruit. The fruit will come in due time, if you do not handle or test the flower too often. The aim of the school is to make children happy, healthy, and natural; to give them a love for their country and for one another; to open their eyes to the beauty of nature and the meaning of life; to give them a love for reading, and a taste that will enable them in some degree to discern good reading from bad; and to form in them habits that will make the end of their school days to be but the beginning of their education. It may be said that all this and more too is being done now. Possibly it is in some places. Improvement, too, there has been of late years, in the general diffusion of education and educational appliances, and, above all, in the increase of popular interest in the common school. But no one will say that the influence of teachers or society, or the influence of school on the formation of character, is what was at one time hoped for; and how, then, can we profess to be satisfied? Unless the people are becoming more intelligent and more moral, the school has failed. Unless there is a higher political life the state can not be satisfied. So great are the possibilities of the public school, however, that despair must not be thought of.
What socialism in education tends toward.-James P. Munroe, in the Educational Review: If the State, that nonentity for which each one of us and therefore none of us is responsible, is to bring up my children for me; if morality, good manners, and the domestic virtues are to be taught by some one else while I am but to provide the material things of life; then, forsooth, I will lay aside such sums as inay meet these temporal wants and with the balance, large or small, will eat, drink, and be merry; for surely I have no better use in the world. The fact that in a few generations the State will fall to pieces is not for me to consider, since I am credibly informed that the sacred duty of maintaining it is taught in the schools. This wicked and absurd result of socialism is, of course, extreme.