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Education, elementary.

William Torrey Harris (q. v.)the U. S. Commissioner of Education since 1889, one of the highest authorities on the subject of education, writes as follows:

At the meeting in 1892 the National Educational Association appointed a committee of ten persons to consider and report upon the subjects of study and the methods of instruction in secondary schools, including public high schools, private academies, and schools preparing students for college. President Eliot, of Harvard, was appointed chairman, with nine associates, four of whom were presidents of colleges, one a professor in a college, two principals of public high schools, and one head master of a preparatory school. This committee of ten, as it is generally called, had authority to select the members of special conferences and to arrange meetings for the discussion of the principal subjects taught in preparatory schools. The subjects represented were Latin, Greek, English, other modern languages, mathematics, natural philosophy (including physics, astronomy, and chemistry), natural history (and biology, including botany, zoology, and physiology), history (including also civil government and political economy), geography (including physical geography, geology, and meteorology). The National Educational Association appropriated the sum of $2,500 towards defraying the expenses of the conferences.

The report was completed and published in the spring of 1894. Thirty thousand copies were distributed by the national bureau of education, and since then edition after edition has been printed and sold by the National Educational Association through an agent.

No educational document before published in this country has been more widely read or has excited more helpful discussion. The secondary instruction of the country has been considered to be the weakest part of the entire system, although it is conceded on all hands that the teachers in secondary schools are, on the average, much superior in professional and general culture to the teachers in elementary schools, if not to those in colleges. The reason for this defect in secondary schools has been found in the course of study. A majority of the public high schools and a larger majority of the private academies dilute their secondary course of study by continuing elementary studies beyond their proper limit. Arithmetic, descriptive geography, grammar, history of one's native country, literature written in the colloquial vocabulary, are each and all very nourishing to the mind when first begun, but their educative value is soon exhausted. The mind needs for its continuous development more advanced branches, such as algebra and geometry, physical geography, a foreign language, general history. But for these the secondary school often substitutes other branches that involve no new methods nor more complex ideas, and the pupil stops in the elementary stage of growth.

The influence of the report of the committee of ten has been to impel secondary schools towards the choice of well-balanced courses — of study containing subjects which belong essentially to secondary education, like algebra, Latin, or physics; and at the same time either to discontinue elementary branches, or to apply to the study of these a superior method, by which their principles are traced into higher branches and explained.

The success of the report of the committee of ten has been such as to arouse eager interest in a similar inquiry into the work of the elementary schools. Already, in February, 1893, a committee had been appointed by the department of superintendence in the National Educational Association. It was made to consist of fifteen members instead of ten, and has been known as the committee of fifteen.

The report of this committee of fifteen was submitted to the department of superintendents at the meeting in 1895. It is the object of this paper to indicate briefly the points that give it importance. [184]

If one were to summarize concisely the history of educational progress in the United States for the nineteenth century as regards the elementary schools, he would say that there has been a change from the ungraded school in the sparsely settled district to the graded school of the city and large village. The ungraded school held a short session of three or four months, was taught by a makeshift teacher, had mostly individual instruction, with thirty or forty recitations to be heard and five minutes or less of the teacher's time per day for each.

The graded school has classified its pupils according to the degree of advancement and assigns two classes to a teacher. Instead of five minutes for a recitation, there are twenty or thirty minutes, and the teacher has an opportunity to go behind the words of the book and by discussion and questioning probe the lesson, find what the pupil really understands and can explain in his own words. Each member of the class learns more from the answers of his fellow-pupils and from the cross-questioning of the teacher than he could learn from a lesson of equal length with a tutor entirely devoted to himself.

The graded school continues for ten months instead of three, and employs or may employ a professional educated teacher. This is the most important item of progress to be mentioned in the history of our education. Normal schools, 200 in number, have been created in the various States, and it is estimated that the cities, large and small, have an average of 50 per cent. of professionally trained teachers, while the ungraded schools in the rural districts are taught by persons who leave their regular vocations and resort to teaching for a small portion of the year.

The urban and suburban population, counting in the large villages, is at present about 50 per cent. of the population of the whole country.

One improvement leads to another, and where the graded school has been established with its professionally trained teachers it has been followed by the appointment of experts as superintendents, until over 800 cities and towns in the nation have such supervision. The fifty States have each a State superintendent, who, in most cases, controls the licensing of teachers in rural districts.

With the advent of the professional teacher and the expert supervisor, there has arrived an era of experiment and agitation for reforms.

The general trend of school reforms may be characterized as in the direction of securing the interest of the pupil. All the new devices have in view the awakening of the pupil's inner spring of action. He is to be interested and made to act along lines of rational culture through his own impulse. The older methods looked less to interesting the pupil than to disciplining the will in rational forms. “Make the pupil familiar with self-sacrifice, make it a second nature to follow the behest of duty and heroically stifle selfish desires” —this was their motto, expressed or implied. It was an education addressed primarily to the will. The new education is addressed to the feelings and desires. Its motto is: “Develop the pupil through his desires and interests.” Goethe preached this doctrine in his Wilhelm Meister. Froebel founded the kindergarten system on it. Colonel Parker's Quincy school experiment was, and his Cook County Normal School is, a centre for the promulgation of this idea. Those who advocate an extension of the system of elective studies in the colleges and its introduction even into secondary and elementary schools justify it by the principle of interest.

It is noteworthy that this word “interest” is the watchword of the disciples of the Herbartian system of pedagogy. Herbart, in his psychology, substituted desire for will. He recognizes intellect and feeling and desire (Begierde). Desire is, of course, a species of feeling— for feeling includes sensations and desires, the former allied to the intellect and the latter to the will. But sensation is not yet intellect, nor is desire will; both are only feeling.

I have described and illustrated this general trend of school reform in order to show its strength and its weakness, and to indicate the province marked out for a report that should treat of the branches of study and the methods of instruction in the elementary school and suggest improvement. [185]

While the old education in its exclusive devotion to will-training has slighted the intellect and the heart (or feelings), the new education moves likewise towards an extreme as bad, or worse. It slights direct will-culture and tends to exaggerate impulse and inclination or interest. An educational psychology that degrades will to desire must perforce construct an elaborate system for the purpose of developing moral interests and desires. This, however, does not quite succeed until the old doctrine of self-sacrifice for the sake of the good is reached.

Our wills are ours, to make them thine.

The philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita holds that the goal of culture is to annihilate all interest and attain absolute indifference—this is adopted by Buddhism in the doctrine of Nirvana. Indian renunciation reaches the denial of selfhood, while the Christian doctrine of renunciation reaches only to the denial of selfishness and the adoption of altruistic interests.

However this may be, the pedagogic impulse to create devices for awakening the interest of the pupil becomes sometimes a craze for novelty. Change at any price and change of any kind is clamored for. It is a trite saying that change is not progress. It is more apt to be movement in a circle or even retrogression. An amusing example was lately furnished in educational circles. A superintendent of rural schools defended their want of classification as an advantage. It was “individual instruction,” and, as such, an improvement over that of the graded school of the cities. His reactionary movement received the support of some of the advocates of educational reform on the ground that it was a new departure. This happened at a time when one-half of the school children in the United States are still taught, or rather allowed to memorize their text-books, by this method.

The sub-committees on training of teachers and on organization of city school systems have brought forward, in their respective reports, the latest devised measures for the perfection of normal schools and the procurement of expert supervisors for city school systems. The importance of the recommendations regarding schools for the training of teachers is seen when one recalls to mind the fact that the entire upward movement of the elementary schools has been initiated and sustained by the employment of professionally trained teachers, and that the increase of urban population has made it possible. In the normal school the candidate is taught the history of education, the approved methods of instruction, and the grounds of each branch of study as they are to be found in the sciences that it presupposes.

The method of eliminating politics from the control of a city school system is discussed in Judge Draper's frank and persuasive style, and a plan in essential particulars similar to that adopted in the city of Cleveland is recommended for trial in all large cities. A small schoolboard of five or ten members is appointed by the mayor, which, in turn, elects a school-director (but this officer may also be appointed by the mayor), who takes charge of the business side of the management of schools. For the professional side of the work a superintendent is appointed by the school-director, with the approval of two-thirds or three-fourths of the school-board. The terms of office suggested are, respectively, for the members of the school-board appointed by the mayor, five years; for the school-director, five years; for the superintendent, five to ten years. The superintendent appoints all teachers from an eligible list of candidates whose qualifications are defined by the school-board.

This plan of government is based on the idea of the importance of personal responsibility at all points in the administration. Only an actual trial can determine its strength or weakness. All plans, as Judge Draper well says, presuppose a public spirit and a moral sense on the part of the people; they presuppose a sincere desire for good schools and a fair knowledge of what good schools are and of the best means of creating them. Where the whole people possesses political power, the intelligent and virtuous citizens must exert a continual influence or else the demagogues will come into office. For the natural representative of the weakling classes is the demagogue. Whether the citizen is weak in intellect, or thrift, or [186] morals, it is all the same; he will vote for the demagogue as ruler.

The report on the correlation of studies is an attempt to reconcile the old and the new in education by discovering what in the course of study is or should be permanent and what in the nature of things is transient. It admits the claims of the new education, as to making the appeal to the child's interest paramount, so far as this relates to the methods of instruction, but it finds a limit to this in the matters to be taught. It discusses the educational value of the five principal factors of the course of study in order to determine clearly where the proposed new branches of study belong and what they add to the old curriculum. These five components of a course of study are: (1) Grammar, as a study of the structure of language; (2) Literature, as a study of the art form of Language—literature as furnishing a revelation of human nature in all its types; (3) Mathematics, as furnishing the laws of matter in movement and rest—the laws grounded in the nature of space and time; (4) Geography, as a compend of natural and social science-unfolding later, in secondary and higher education, into geology, botany, zoology, meteorology on the one hand, and into anthropology and sociology, economics and politics on the other; (5) History, as showing the origin and growth of institutions, especially of the state. It appears that these five branches cover the two worlds of man and nature, and that all theoretical studies fall within these lines. This is the correlation of study. Each essential branch has some educational value that another does not possess. Each branch also serves the function of correlating the child to his environment—namely, to the two worlds of nature and human society.

Hitherto, we are told in this report, the course of study has been justified on psychological grounds— “literature cultivates the memory and the imagination” ; “arithmetic the reason,” etc. But each branch has in some measure a claim on all the faculties. Arithmetic cultivates the memory of quantity, the imagination of successions, and the reason in a peculiar figure of the syllogism different from the three figures used in qualitative reasoning.

The report, however, makes frequent appeal to experimental psychology in dealing with the question of the time devoted to the several branches. For example, it often discusses the danger of too much thoroughness of drill in teaching and the use of processes that become mechanical after some time. The rapid addition of numbers, the study of the geometrical solids, the identification of the colors of the spectrum, the reading of insipid pieces written in the colloquial vocabulary, the memorizing of localities and dates; all these things may be continued so long under the plea of “thoroughness” as to paralyze the mind, or fix it in some stage of arrested growth.

The committee have been at much pains to point out the importance of leaving a branch of study when it has been studied long enough to exhaust its educational value. It is shown in the case of arithmetic that it ought to be replaced by algebra two years earlier than is the custom in the public schools at present. The arithmetical method should not be used to solve the class of problems that are more easily solved by algebra. So, too, it is contended that English grammar should be discontinued at the close of the seventh year, and French, German, or Latin—preferably the last—substituted for it. The educative value of a study on its psychological side is greatest at the beginning. The first six months in the study of algebra or Latin—it is claimed that even the first four weeks—are more valuable than the same length of time later on. For the first lessons make one acquainted with a new method of viewing things.

In recommending the introduction of Latin and algebra into the seventh and eighth years of the elementary school course, the committee are in accord with the committee of ten, who urged the earlier commencement of the secondary course of study.

The committee urge strongly the subordination of elocution and grammar in the reading exercises to the study of the contents of the literary work of art, holding that the best lesson learned at school is the mastery of a poetic gem or a selection from a great prose writer. It is contended that the selections found in the school readers often possess more literary unity than the whole works from which they [187] were taken, as in the case of Byron's Battle of Waterloo from Childe Harold. The importance of studying the unity of a work of art is dwelt upon in different parts of the report, and the old method of parsing works of art censured.

An example of the Herbartian correlation is found in the method recommended for teaching geography—namely, that the industrial and commercial idea should be the centre from which the pupil moves out in two directions—from the supply of his needs for food, clothing, shelter, and culture he moves out on the side of nature to the “elements of difference,” that is to say, to the differences of climate, soil, productions, and races of men, explaining finally by geology, astronomy, and meteorology how these differences arose. On the other hand, he moves towards the study of man, in his sociology, history, and economics, discovering what means the race has invented to overcome those “elements of difference” and supply the manifold wants of man wherever he lives by making him participant in the productions of all climes through the world commerce.

Likewise in the study of general history the committee suggest that the old method of beginning with the earliest ages be discontinued and that a regressive method be adopted, proceeding from United States history back to English history, and thence to Rome, Greece, and Judea, and the other sources of our civilization.

In contrast to this genuine correlation the report describes an example of what it calls “artificial correlation” —where Robinson Crusoe or some literary work of art is made the centre of study for a considerable period of time, and geography, arithmetic, and other branches taught incidentally in connection with it.

Perhaps the most important portion of this report is its attempt to draw a line between secondary and elementary studies. The recommendation to shorten the time devoted to the strictly elementary work, and to take up the two chief secondary studies in the seventh and eighth years will, when generally adopted, largely increase the number of pupils who continue their school life into secondary and higher education. This, with the subordination of grammar to literary art and the shortening of the course in arithmetic, leaving what General Walker calls the “conundrums” for algebraic treatment, makes a series of radical departures which ought to please the warm advocates of progressive measures, notwithstanding the fact that strongly conservative position is taken regarding the educational value of the staple branches hitherto taught.

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