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TOPIC: THE PRESENT STATUS OF EDUCATION IN AMERICA
A. IN THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS
ELLA FLAGG YOUNG, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS, CHICAGO, ILL.
(Stenographic Report] The subject before us may be viewed from several different standpoints, at several different angles. Upon first thought, in considering the present status of elementary education, one would look to the statistical side, seeking for the advance in the number of those who are being educated in the elementary schools today, in comparison with the number ten years ago. The figures for 1910 are not ready, and when they are presented in the admirable report which our Commissioner of Education sends out to us, it will be much more satisfactory to study statistics from the printed page than to attempt to take them in rapidly thru the ear.
One might also consider this question from the financial side, and it would be interesting to note the increase in the amount of money poured out by the people of this country today for the education of the children in the elementary stage over that of ten years ago.
There is another side, however, which appeals to me more than the statistical side of the number attending or of the finances, and that is the side which deals with the change in the interpretation of the meaning of elementary education, as understood today and as understood ten years ago.
It is true that ten years ago leaders in the theory and principles of education in this country were forging ahead, discussing points which we workers in the field had scarcely touched upon; but with all their discussion, the ideas which they had grasped were not generally accepted in the elementary schools. There is nothing more wonderful in the history of this country than the remarkable strides made in the last decade by those who are in the field-superintendents, principals, and teachers in their understanding of what is meant by elementary education.
It has long been customary to say that education deals with the physical, the mental, and the moral development; but let the men and women in this room think back ten years and compare the practice of physical education in the elementary schools then with that of physical education today, and they will say that it was merely a matter of lip service that we had so short a time ago, compared with what we are doing today on the physical side for the development of children.
It is true that thirty years ago in France they had reached the point where the school medical inspector, in Paris at least, visited the school each morning to inquire whether the children were in condition to be in school and at work during the day, deciding whether this child or that child might in some way infect with disease other children in the room.
But we had not reached that point ten years ago; and yet today all over this country, in the large cities and towns, special effort is made to get at the physical condition of the children and see that they neither injure each other nor are injured by the surroundings of the school. The school patrons who form a department in the National Education Association are making tremendous efforts toward carrying this idea of the physical well-being of the children into every school in the land, and they will succeed, because those women are in earnest.
Think of the exercises that we had for the children ten years ago that we called physical exercises, when the little things stood and put out their arms as if they were trying to draw them out of their sockets; then think of the games, the gymnastics for these children today, suited for their age, and suited for their stage of development.
There is a third phase on the physical side. We call it industrial or vocational training. We are still somewhat timorous about it, and yet we are beginning to realize that there are many boys and many girls in the schools who will not long continue to be interested in the purely academic or book work, whose whole being leans toward material constructiontoward the doing of things with the hand; and there are many who thru economic conditions will be obliged to turn into industrial lines. In the elementary schools today we are studying to know what we can do to enable our schools to do their duty toward those children.
On the mental side there is a marked change. We certainly are much nearer to psychologic method than we were ten years ago. All method has not been advance, however. I know it is a dangerous thing, Mr. Chairman, to say here, but many of the subjects which we have introduced into the schools, manual training and household arts and science, are taught in most places as formally as arithmetic, spelling, reading, and writing are still taught. With the new studies there has not always come psychologic method. But if we chance into a school in which old methods obtain in full force, we realize that in advanced methods altho we have not learned to open always the way so that the minds of the children shall play naturally in approaching and exploring the subject, yet there is something of Horace Mann's idea that the minds of the early learners should play about the subject as the waters lap the shores of an island.
On the moral side we are working on perplexing problems. It is easier to advance physical education than mental; mental than moral. This whole question of instruction in morals has become most complicated for us with the great influx of peoples from all nations, with varying standards of morals and ethics. This whole question, as I say, has come upon us in such a way that it is most difficult for us to know just what to do. Here we have one side, indicated in an address made by Judge Lindsey a week ago, to the effect that it is not the child that has all the little school virtues who is always the good child. Then we have the other side, open
ing up into that tremendous question, which does not originate in any weakness and which does not originate in any fault in the school, but which the school at last sees that it, for the sake of the nation, must take up and handle. I refer to the question of social hygiene but shall not be able to
. consider it in the time allotted to me. With that first question we are troubled, because it necessitates a change in ourselves. With the strong men and strong women who have taught in the elementary schools and who have laid the foundations for sterling manhood and womanhood in the boys and girls, it is true that to a large extent the measure of goodness of a child has lain in his conformity to the ideal that the teacher has as to what a boy or girl should be as his or her pupil. I remember the first shock I had with regard to that question after I had taught school four or five years. A boy who had been a model boy, who had always locked the wardrobe door and unlocked it, who had gathered up everything at night and seen to it that the room was in excellent condition, who knew all the bad boys and what they were doing, and told me that such a boy was not so good as he ought to be, had left school and been free out in the world. Alas! I soon learned, in hearing of his career, that he had simply the virtues, the methods, the customs that suited me in my school; that he had not been strengthened to go out and meet the temptations of life that appealed to him. It was then that I began to study the question as to whether virtues that are simply school virtues have lasting value. Do I mean that the children who are rebellious are the good children? No. But there is something which we must yet learn, an ideal which must be. developed in our minds as to what is strength of character, and how strength of character is developed.
Two years ago I went to one of the large cities in this country, called upon by the newspaper reporters. It seemed as if they had got together before I arrived and planned to ask me one question. This was the question: How do you explain the fact that all the aldermen and congressmen that have gone astray are graduates of the public schools? Of course, I did not attempt to explain it. I told them that they must first show me the statistics upon which they based their question. We know that somehow we have not thus far succeeded in laying those foundations which make for a great nation, which make strong men and strong women. We are doing a great deal, but there is more for us to do.
Last October the Mayor of Chicago asked me to be one of the delegates from Chicago to the International Prison Congress. At first blush I thought it a little odd for me to go to a prison congress. On second thought I believed I should go there to find out how it happened that any of our boys and girls go to prison. What an experience I had in that congress! Those men and women in that congress were bent on studying, not how to punish, not how to reprove, but how to get nearer the good which lurked yet in this boy or that girl and to give it play. It was a wonderful lesson.
With all our ardor for developing goodness, we have much to learn about that art. The superintendents in the elementary schools of America into which the streams are pouring from countless nations are far from an understanding of moral education as a means of strengthening and purifying the stream of civilization—we need another decade before the status of this work can be presented.
B. IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOLS
ELLIS U. GRAFF, PRINCIPAL OF HIGH SCHOOL, OMAHA, NEBR. The public high school occupies a place of peculiar importance in our system of American education. Not only does it bridge the gap between the elementary school and the college, but it also bridges the gap between the elementary school and the active duties of life. The resulting multiplicity of demands gives rise to a conflict of aims difficult to reconcile. On the one hand, those who believe in practical training and the social serviceableness of the high school have felt that college preparation has had too large a part in the plans and purposes of the school; they have raised the cry of “college domination," which has been so often heard of late, and have pictured the college as a huge giant with a big stick labeled “entrance requirements” clubbing the high schools into submission. On the other hand, the colleges have felt that the schools have unduly broadened their courses under the pressure of local needs and included subjects which are not worthy of recognition for college entrance; that the interest of the school is not primarily in thoro and accurate scholarship, and that a great deal of superficial and inferior work is being offered as preparation for college.
Both of these views contain some truth, but the solution of the difficulty lies in a compromise between them. The high school needs the steadying influence of the higher institution with its scholastic ideals; the college needs the socializing effect which comes from relationship with an institution in contact with the people. Recent signs indicate that this problem is being considered in a spirit of co-operation and that a better understanding is being arrived at. The high school with all its demands for autonomy is preparing more pupils for college than ever before. The college is showing an increased liberality in regard to entrance requirements and entrance examinations. A significant example of this tendency is the recent proposal of the Harvard faculty to admit pupils on certificate and an examination in four subjects, instead of an examination in all subjects, as heretofore. This indicates an increasing willingness to accept the work of the schools.
In the midst of this stress and strain of conflicting demands, what has been the effect upon the development of the secondary school ? The most significant fact in the current history of secondary education has been the remarkable growth and progress in all its departments, especially during the past two decades. The last report of the United States Commissioner of Education (1909) shows that the total number of secondary students of high-school grade for the year ending June, 1909, was 1,034,827. This is the first time the number has reached the million mark. The number in public schools was 841,273. This represents an increase, in twenty years, from 202,963, or over 400 per cent. Not only is the number larger than ever before, but the rate of increase from year to year is greater than the rate of increase in population.
An additional evidence of growth is found in the increase in the number of schools from 2,526 in 1889 to 9,317 in 1909; and in the number of teachers from 9,120 to 37,491.
These figures are significant. They indicate a remarkable growth, and show that in spite of criticisms which are often made and difficulties which are admitted to exist, the high school, as a whole, is fulfilling an indispensable function in our national life.
In addition to these figures, growth is further shown by the increased expenditures for buildings and equipment. While no exact figures are available for this item, yet it is apparent that many fine buildings are being erected in various parts of the country and the equipment is being elaborated to a point of greater efficiency. It is true that in some cases money is spent for outer ornamentation and other features of mere show rather than in the direction of fireproof construction, good light, fresh air, well distributed heat, freedom from dust, etc.; but as a whole the movement for better material equipment has been in a forward direction.
Yet the condition of an institution cannot be measured by numbers alone nor in terms of material welfare. Dr. John H. Holmes has well said, “The real test of the vitality of an institution is not that of number but of the influence which it exerts upon the controlling forces of human life.” What can be said of the influences of the high school ? There are many signs of unrest even in the midst of the present growth and prosperity. A careful study of our school population shows that a large part of our youth after the age of fourteen is out of school. A study of this subject by Mr. Arthur J. Jones' presents figures to the effect that the probable maximum enrollment by age in all educational institutions of our country is as follows: 14 years, 83.87 per cent; 15 years, 57.65 per cent; 16 years, 39.64 per cent; 17 years, 23.84 per cent; 18 years, 14.74 per cent; 19 years, 9.99 per cent; 20 years, 6.93 per cent. If these figures are even approximately correct, it indicates that over half of the young people between fifteen and twenty years of age are not in any educational institution. The dissatisfaction which results from a contemplation of these figures does not arise so much from the feeling that the school is responsible for the dropping-out, nor that it should make greater efforts to retain its pupils, since much of the droppingout is necessary; it is rather caused by a feeling that the school should do
* Bulletin No. 1, 1907, U.S. Department of Education.