Page images


THERE is light ahead. The taxpayer is beginning to find out that the genuine science of education is not as frightfully technical a subject as professional terminology and spurious pedagogists have combined to make it appear. At any rate, the propositions with which the plain

citizen has to deal in the administration of the common schools can be reduced to statements simple enough to be within his rational grasp. This is an important conviction for the people to acquire. It is equivalent to a universal agreement to the effect that a community can determine whether the results obtained from its investment in public education are satisfactory or not. If the people are satisfied to employ charlatans, conscious or unconscious, the responsibility rests wholly upon them after reaching this conclusion. Heretofore the fault has been with the pedagogists, who have dominated educational discussion and jealously guarded education from the vulgar gaze by enveloping it in a fog of alpsychological lingo impenetrable to all but the initiate. The technical language of pedagogy is as wise an economy in teachers' circles as is that of medicine in the professional discussions of the medical fraternity. But the layman ought to be able to obtain as plain information concerning the efficiency of the instruction given to his children as he can get with regard to the laws of health, thanks to the revolutionary initiative of the heroic Paracelsus.

The movement which is levelling the way for the diffusion of an intelligent interest in the work of the elementary schools has its chief source of strength in an economic idea. The two questions representing its scope are: (1) What results can a community reasonably expect of its tax-supported schools? (2) How may these results be obtained with the least amount of waste? Stated somewhat differently, the object is to determine what constitutes an efficient education and for what share of it the common schools should be held responsible. The rigid application of these tests has revived the oft-buried utilitarian principle. This time it will not down so readily. It does not question the precedence or the intrinsic superiority of ethico-religious and psy

chological considerations, but it reserves the right to investigate their claims and the relation of the character of the returns to the energy expended in their pursuit. If the schools follow a certain programme because it is claimed to be especially efficient for the development of moral character or for the harmonious development of body, mind, and spirit, the utilitarian examiner assumes the privilege of inquiring whether the means employed may not, while serving these alleged ends, produce at the same time tangible practical results for the promotion of the welfare of the community and the state. If arithmetic is taught for the discipline of the mind, is it not possible to use examples which take cognizance of the needs of the workaday world? The mistake of the past has been to make a single aim of indefinite meaning the ruling principle for all education, to the neglect of every other consideration. The present movement is to give a hearing to every justifiable demand. "Education according to nature," "harmonious development of the child's powers," "practical usefulness," "formation of moral character," "training for citizenship," and all the other well-worn phrases have found a new meaning in the newer and more comprehensive ideal of training for social efficiency.

The working out of the new thought is influencing the various offices of the school in no uncertain manner. The organization, the personality of the teacher, the social communion of pupils, the programme of studies -each is made the warden of some things to be accomplished. In this way the course of study is gradually being rescued from under the thousand and one responsibilities which misunderstanding of the economics of education has heaped upon it. While in the service of higher purposes, of which the teacher must ever be conscious, it is now becoming a problem for itself alone. Analysis is slowly reducing it from a mere programme of subjects to a standard of definite minimum requirements. This is a tremendous change. It means nothing less than the breaking away from the tyranny of a long antiquated logic of studies and the elevating of the real needs of the children to the centre of control. Arithmetic will no longer be studied as a system, but from the field of arithmetic will be chosen the material found to be necessary for the children; and it will be so organized that each unit may be presented at the time when it is most readily and most effectually grasped. The justified material requirements of life are considered as far as they can be. They constitute the maximum of utilitarian demands. The acceptance of this working principle for the three R's alone would effect an appreciable saving of time in the economy of school programmes.

This is now established beyond dispute. It remains only to enforce the submission of teachers to the fact.

In New York City the ground is well prepared for the inauguration of an era of common sense in school programmes. Under Dr. Maxwell's superintendency, a complete transformation has taken place in the character of public elementary education. Unfortunately for the teachers, the former things have not passed away with the incoming of the new. The course of study in force at the present time, while a great advance, is still inelastic and arbitrary. It places an unreasonably heavy burden upon the teachers. New demands have been added to it instead of incorporated in it. But New York City has sinned no more in this respect than other places have done and are still doing. The outlook is that, under Dr. Maxwell's vigorous administration, the reform will be completed for the good of the whole country. The need of speedy solution is pressed upon him, aside from his educational ambitions, by Mayor McClellan's persistency in demanding a full day for every child of school age.

Owing to lack of schoolroom accommodations, many children in the crowded sections of New York City have been compelled for several years to get along with part-time instruction. When Mr. McClellan was nominated for the mayoralty, he promised, if elected, that every child in the system should have a full school day. He has abundantly proved the sincerity of his intentions by his efforts to increase the number of sittings and in other ways to secure adequate municipal school facilities. No one can honestly charge him with having regarded his preëlection promise as a platform in the sense of "something to get in on." Yet the actual showing is not at all satisfactory to the people. Neither is it to the Mayor, for that matter.

Various plans have been submitted to solve the difficulty. Mr. McClellan is especially impressed with the proposition by Dr. Ettinger, a prominent Manhattan school principal. In substance it provides for the division of a school into two groups, one attending from 8:30 to 11:15 in the morning, and from 12:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon; the other from 10:30 to 12:30 in the morning, and from 1:45 to 4:30 in the afternoon. Each group is to have two hours of instruction in the classroom and forty-five minutes on the playground, both morning and afternoon. The playgrounds are under cover and are airy and well-lighted. Here portable desks are to be supplied, at which the pupils may study.

While excellent for certain localities, Dr. Ettinger's plan does not

appear to meet adequately the whole difficulty. So the Board of Education has tried its hand at grappling with the problem. Its intention is to cut from the course of study enough subjects to reduce the time of a school day in the first two primary school years to three and a half hours a day. With these hours officially proclaimed as a full day, there could then be two shifts, one beginning at 8:30, the other at 12 or 12:30. Behold the Mayor's promise redeemed for him by his good friends in the board. But what will the people say? This is the argument the board submits in its own behalf:

Resolved, that it be referred to a joint committee of five members of this board and the board of superintendents, to consider the advisability of changing the course of study now prevailing in the first two years of the elementary schools, to the effect that the course be reduced to three and a half hours; that such change be made by eliminating from the present course either wholly or in part the subjects of sewing, drawing, and constructive work; that there be morning and afternoon sessions held alternately, and that three teachers be assigned to teach four sections.

In other words, the plan is to remove from the primary course some of the essential things in order to be able to say that the children of New York City are all receiving full-time instruction. An ingenious gentleman once travelled over the country on the claim that he would teach classes to understand and speak any modern language in twelve lessons. After giving the specified number of lessons before large classes, he issued to every one who had paid his fee a certificate setting forth that the holder could understand and speak German, French, Italian, or whatever else he might have invested in. The professor's signature and seal testified that the goods had been delivered and full value received. New York City parents are not likely to respond very blithely to an application of this plan to public education.

There is a way of arriving at a shortened school day without fomenting trouble. Besides helping out Mayor McClellan, it is really something much to be desired for the sake of the children. There is no longer any doubt that the school day is too long at present, especially for the first four primary years. Thoughtful physicians have said this, again and again. To be sure, the idea does not appeal very deeply to parents who want to be relieved as much as possible of the responsibility for their children. School officers, too, as a rule, do not take kindly to it, because they fear that the work mapped out for those years cannot be satisfactorily done in less time, especially where present results are not comforting. Despite these objections, a shorter school day is worth laboring for. Educational research has established that an astonishing percentage of time is wasted by uneconomic instruction. Hygienic tests

and fatigue measurements have supplied a plenitude of collateral argument for reducing the time consumed by formal instruction. Moreover, the practice of some excellent schools has proved that three hours a day is amply sufficient in the first two school years. The reduction, however, is not accomplished by lopping off subjects, as the New York City board proposes, but by careful reorganization of the course of study, a reorganization that concerns itself wholly with the capacities and needs of the children and is regulated by the findings of educational research. The people will understand the difference. They will see that the saving is accomplished by the application of efficient methods, and not by cheating their children out of things they ought to have.

No doubt, sewing ought to be removed from the early part of the school course. It is not suited for the muscles and nerves of the little ones, and there are still other objections. But constructive work and drawing are the very life of the primary course. The children who cannot yet read and write must have plenty to do with their fingers. The drawing and constructive work, if properly organized, become means by which the children may express themselves. Composition writing is not the only way in which a story can be told. The picture drawn by busy fingers is quite as important, and most decidedly so at the beginning. The New York City school exhibit at St. Louis was especially prized by the visiting educators for the care with which the constructive course had been elaborated. The board would make a serious mistake if it should go on record as having eliminated this work from the first school years.

Reorganization of the course of study for the first two or three school years, with constructive work as a recognized centre, could bring the school day within the limits of three and a half hours without omitting one iota of importance as regards the traditional three R's. After this is accomplished, the children may be divided into two groups, attending school alternately in the morning and in the afternoon. Taking account of the wishes of parents who would like their children properly looked after for a greater part of the day, and in order that the children may not be left to the obnoxious influences of the street, the city might then employ supervisors some of the present corps might well be saved for that purpose to have a general oversight over the public playgrounds in and out of doors, where the little ones may play or be otherwise usefully and healthfully occupied.

There are many exercises for which no regular classroom with special sittings is required. These suggest ways of gathering children to

« PreviousContinue »