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The Problem of Public Education




X-PRESIDENT ELIOT of Harvard says: "The fundamental object of democratic education is to lift the whole population to a higher plane of intelligence, conduct and happiness." One of our state constitutions declares that "education is necessary for the preservation of free government;" and a foremost teacher gives as the object of education "to make the most of every child in the community." What, then, in the light of the foregoing quotations, is the purpose of public education?

It is to make the most of the possibilities of every child in the community; to make him intellectually, socially, morally, and industrially efficient. To do this, we must place education on a business basis, and maintain it on a business basis. We must run it on sound business principles just as we would any other business enterprise. The public has put its money in this business, elected a board, and they, in turn, have chosen a superintendent or business manager to carry on the business. He has employed teachers to assist him. The teacher's work is to turn out educated boys and girls, and his success will be judged by the result produced, the educated product he gives to the people. He must abide by the definite purpose to make the most of every child of the community, according to individual capacity; and he must judge all his work by the standard of efficiency. If the business yields a product which is the best that can be made from the given material, it is a successful business; otherwise, it is not.


The educational problem is never solved, not even in our own locality. As we advance in its solution, new and perplexing questions arise whose working out require time and thought. The problem that confronts us is how to make the most of the possi

bilities of every child that comes under our instruction and guidance. Let us see where we are in this matter. In a monograph entitled "The Elimination of Pupils from School," Prof. Edward L. Thorndike of Columbia University concludes, after a very thorough and careful study, that of all the pupils entering the first grade of the elementary schools only 40 per cent. or two-fifths of them stay until the last grammar grade, and only eight per cent ever graduate from a secondary school. In pondering these facts, one is led to ask: What does this mean and how can we prevent it? Aside from the lack of properly ventilated and well-equipped buildings, highly trained teachers and spacious play-grounds, there are two reasons that seem to me to contribute largely to pupils leaving school. First, the lack of individual work. I realise that, with thirty or forty pupils to a teacher, it is not an easy task to reach the individual; but only as the individual is taught do we educate the class. Owing to the salaries we are now paying most of the teachers are young and inexperienced. To assign to one teacher thirty or forty pupils is unfortunate. It inevitably results in class or mass teaching, the ability and attainment of each pupil being unconsidered and the brighter pupils doing the most of the work. This may make the work easier for the teacher; but it is discouraging and disheartening to those pupils who need individual help, and it deprives them of the opportunity to do things for themselves, to make individual exertions.

Again, when the system or class, and not the child, is paramount, many pupils are kept in an atmosphere of failure. A pupil fails a few times, then the teacher takes it for granted that he will fail all the time. If he hesitates, or is a little slow in his answers, she calls on one of the quick ones. When the superintendent or visitors come in, the backward pupil is never called on. He is continually warned that he must get a certain per cent. or cover so much work in order to pass. If he is of a timid nature, he is in constant fear of failure. He may work hard and go to the class well prepared, but he has lost confidence in himself, so does not dare to express what he really knows.

In mass teaching, the interests and needs of the individual child are neglected. We reach only the mediocre class of pupils. The abnormal, or quick pupil is compelled to mark time because of the inability of his fellows to keep pace with him, and the

subnormal or slow pupil is urged, coaxed, threatened, pushed and pulled forward by his teacher to keep him up to grade. She works with him, or rather for him, loading his mind with what he does not understand and can not use, in the hopes of fitting him for promotion. The atmosphere of failure is ever with him and his teacher. The number of pupils who are forced to leave school in this way is shamefully large.

The only way of escape from this deplorable state is to abandon mass work and adjust means and methods to the capacity and ability of each pupil; to reach the individual pupil through individual work. Divide the pupils of each room into sections according to ability and attainment. Let each one strike his own pace and advance as rapidly as he can, promoting him from group to group as individual circumstances may require. Each pupil will be enabled to complete the work of the course in a time proportionate to his ability and effort. Combine this plan with individual instruction according to the Batavia system, and many will be saved from becoming discouraged and leaving school. Education will not mean a "survival of the fittest," but suitable instruction will be given to each pupil. The slow pupil will not be eliminated; for the ministration of the teacher will be as much to him as to any other pupil. He will receive the sympathy, encouragement and help he so much needs. He will find that he can advance as fast again as he could in the old way. He will be set on his feet, given confidence and strength, and a chance to do what he is capable of doing. The bright pupil will be given a chance to do extensive work to keep him ever busy, and his education will be the product of industry, intelligence and integrity. Under this plan, bad habits of study will be corrected, self-reliance will be taught, and the pupil will learn that no one can do as much for him as he can do for himself.

The second reason why pupils do not finish their education is because the schools are not adapted to actual needs of the child. We have tried to fit the child to the school, instead of making the school meet the needs of the child, so that he may be "worthy of the vocation wherein he is called." We must cease catering to the demands of the colleges, and give him such training as will best fit him for service in life. Because we have not kept ever before us the fact that the school exists for the child and not for

the teachers, principal and superintendent, we find little organic connection between elementary and secondary education; and, between school life and the social, industrial, and commercial pursuits of today, there is a great gulf. The problems that confront us are these: How shall we make the whole school work one harmonious process, each part a direct outcome of what precedes, and vitally and organically connected with that which follows? How shall we make the life and experience of the school lead just as vitally and organically to the life in which the pupil is soon to enter?

The reason for the break between the grammar school and the high school may be seen if we recall the historic origin of the two schools. The people who influenced most the character of the school system in the United States were the English and the Dutch. The English established college preparatory schools, where the young men of noble birth might prepare, not for life, but for college. Their aim was to educate their children for places under the government and in the government church. These schools were as they are today, dominated more or less by the colleges. College graduates were employed as instructors and the pupils were to meet the requirements for college entrance. On the other hand, the elementary schools were the outcome of the private or dame schools and the Dutch common schools, which had for their object a general education for the masses. When the great national ideal of free education for all was realized, and the Latin grammar school, later replaced by the high school, and the elementary schools were both made public institutions of learning, the gap was not bridged, and the feeling still remained that one was for the better class, while the other was for the poor.

So, today, we see the studies and methods of the primary school carried to the upper grades of the grammar school, and in the high school the subjects and means of instruction used in the colleges are found; so that neither the work nor the methods of the two schools articulate. The high school is isolated from the rest of the school system. This gap can not be bridged, it must be filled. The principal and teachers of the high school must become personally and professionally acquainted with the principals and teachers of the grammar schools, through general meetings, through department meetings of the teachers of the upper grammar grades

and the first-year teachers in the high school, through meetings of the principals of the two schools, and through visiting each other. They should work together kindly and sympathetically to adapt the work and methods of the two schools to meet the needs of the pupil, and to develop independence and responsibility on the part of the pupil.

Many pupils who do good work in the upper grammar grades, fail completely when they reach the high school. Prior to entering the high school, they have done their studying under the direction of a classroom teacher, who has been teaching them every period of the session, for a term or a year, and knows them thoroughly. When they enter the high school, they must do their studying out of school, and recite to different teachers. Not having formed fixed habits of study, they are left to their own capricious inclinations; therefore, they do not study at all, or put their time on one or two lessons. This can be remedied, in a large degree, if the pupils are taught to depend more on themselves, and if the parents will see that the home work is well prepared, insisting on the observance of regular study hours at home, while the pupils are connected with the grammar school.

In order more fully to correct these differences, we must eliminate the useless work that is being done in our grammar schools in arithmetic, grammar and geography, so as to have time for a course in history, science, mathematics, manual training, et cetera, which will unify the course of study in the two schools. We must introduce in the earlier high school years, a method that will place the incoming pupils under the sympathetic and helpful guidance or one or two teachers, who will have human interest in each pupil, somewhat as they have been in the grammar grades, but all the time leading them gradually into the hands of specialists. A change in the interests and activities of the pupils is going on at this time as they approach and enter the period of adolescence, and they need the compassion of teachers and parents. By doing these things, we may avoid the very many cases of complete discouragement and the pupils failing or voluntarily leaving the high school.

Having proposed a plan for a closer relation between the high and the elementary schools, we must now take steps to make the public schools meet the needs of society. The early colonists

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