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[243]

XLVIII. the German standard.

At a private discussion lately held among persons interested in collegiate and other education it seemed to me that there was too general a deference to German standards. It was assumed, in particular, that schools for young children must necessarily be far better if taught by university-bred men, as in Germany, than if taught t by young women, as in this country. To all this I should demur. No man in America ever studied the German systems of common-school instruction more faithfully than Horace Mann; and it was chiefly to him that we owe, as a result, the general substitution of women for men as teachers. Tie greater economy of employing women has no doubt assisted the change; it would have been simply impossible, in fact, with the greater expensiveness of living in this country, to obtain the services of a sufficient number of men to give to our public-school system anything like the vast spread it has now obtained. Yet Horace Mann urged the change, not on the ground of economy alone, but because he regarded women as the natural [244] teachers of all children. His views have prevailed. When he began his career, just half a century ago, two-fifths of the teachers in his own State were men, whereas we are told in the Fiftieth Report of the Massachusetts Board of Education, just issued, that there are now 8610 women to 1060 men-more than eight to one.

The objections usually made against these young women lie, first, as to their sex, which is, however, if Horace Mann's theory be correct, rather an advantage than a disadvantage. Then it is objected that they only teach temporarily, on their way to something else, while men would teach for life. This claim has been refuted over and over again by statistics taken in particular towns, and showing that women teachers are apt to remain actually longer than men who teach in the same grade of school; because men are more often won away by some more lucrative pursuit than are women by matrimony. Of course, if you give all the higher positions and all the higher salaries, as is still done, to men, you give to those holding these more advantageous posts greater inducements to remain permanently; but as between teachers of the same grade, which is the only fair comparison, these statistics hold. As a rule, women find no vocation more profitable than teaching; while men are more fortunate, and have many better openings. Women are therefore kept [245] in the profession unless they quit it for matrimony, while men are easily withdrawn from it. Most of the able public-school teachers whom I have known in years past, of the male sex, are now clergymen or lawyers, while many of the ablest women are still teaching.

There remains the assumption that women, as women, are ordinarily less well trained for teaching than men would be-certainly than German men. This disadvantage as to training did undoubtedly exist in times past, and it is still found in small country hamlets, where the teachers are often young women trained only in the schools of the village. But the disproportion of educational facilities is diminishing every day. With the Normal Schools on the one side, and the colleges admitting women on the other, there is a rapid equalization going on. In many of our Normal Schools there is now a four years course; the books, apparatus, and teaching are all of the best: if Germany is the standard, the teachers have often been trained in Germany; and with the women's colleges it is much the same. The grade is steadily rising as to the higher education of women. In Massachusetts about one-fourth of the public-school teachers are graduates of Normal Schools, and nearly one-third have attended such schools — while of the number who are college graduates no statistics are given. Should men again replace [246] women in these schools there is no reason to suppose that they would surpass the present teachers in respect to education. It is certain that the average male teacher of forty years ago was inferior in this respect to the average woman teacher of to-day.

Tried, therefore, even by the German standard, there is no reason to suppose that the present arrangements as to teaching force in our schools could be materially bettered, with the materials now at command. But I am not afraid to go one step further and raise the question whether the German standard is absolute and final. I travelled once on the Rhine with a highly educated German, long resident in England, who used to say, when we saw the groups of demure little boys and girls going to school at eight in the morning, with their knapsacks of books on their shoulders, “That is what is stupefying the German nation; they are being drilled to death; they have no games, no lively sports, no vivacity; one wide-awake English school-boy is worth the whole of them.” He had never been in America; but we, who find the English children dull and slow to mature, compared with Americans, can make the needful addition to his statement. No one can deny the sure tendency of the German training to produce thorough investigators and admirable analysts; but, after all, our system, with all its faults, produces mental alertness, and theirs does not. [247] Compare an American boy at eighteen with a German or even an English boy of the same age; which is it that has originality, impulse, initiative? That quality which makes us develop early and assume leadership while others are under tutelage seems ingrain in the transplanted race.

In writing on the history of the old Salem (Massachusetts) sea-captains the other day, I was amazed to discover the youthfulness of the men whose daring adventure created that vast East India trade which for a few years astonished the world. These men penetrated into unknown and chartless seas, opened new channels of commerce, defied treacherous natives and ruthless pirates, baffled England and France during the wars of Napoleon; yet they were almost always under twenty-five, often under twenty-one. Captain Richard J. Cleveland sailed on a dangerous voyage when neither he nor his first nor second mate was of voting age. An American system of education has to adapt itself to this precocity of type. Moreover, it has to train to action as well as to learning; and, for something midway between learning and action, it has to train to the power of expression. Here is where the German system stops short; the German scholar obtains vast knowledge, but he ordinarily does it as a hewer of wood and drawer of water, until the cultivated French or English or American mind has applied to it the art of [248] expression. For the philological study of the Greek and Latin classics, for instance, one must go to Germany; but you may explore a whole alcove of German editions and not gain so much of the peculiar aroma of Greek literature as you can obtain from Ampere's Grece, Rome, et Dante, or from Matthew Arnold's “Essay on Translating Homer,” or from our own Professor Palmer's extraordinary version of the “Odyssey” in rhythmic prose. For one, I do not ask for a mere reproduction of German methods until Germany itself is broadened and revivified.

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