Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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EDUCATION AND THE STATE. The legal right of any state to expend its revenues in the education of the children of its subjects or citizens must be governed by the terms of its constitution. In an absolute government it can have no limit. In a government, like that of Germany, which may be defined as that of absolutism, criticized and to some extent checked by a parliament, it must depend partly on the will of the ruler and to a less degree upon the purpose of the parliament. In a strictly parliamentary government, like that of Great Britain, and, with exceptions which need not here be noted, that of France, it is regulated by the majority in the legislature, or in the controlling house of the legislature. In a representative republican government, like that of the United States and of each state, it depends on the provisions of the constitution, and where these confer discretionary authority, as is the case in most of the state constitutions, upon the will of the legislature from time to time. The broader question of the proper limitations, arising from consideration of the greatest good to the greatest number, or from consideration of the nature of the trust imposed in governments, that should be observed in the establishment, regulation and scope of schools, can only arise in an imperative manner, under the more liberal governments, such as those of Great Britain, France and the United States, or the individual members of the American Union. As a matter of fact it is chiefly under these that the question of the function of the state as to education has been discussed with a direct view to practical results. The present article will be devoted mainly to the question as it presents itself in the United States. Upon that question, however, the principles and policy of foreign nations necessarily throw much light. The avowed purpose of the German system is to extend education up to a certain point, which would be a high one if taken upon any standard applied in the United States, compulsorily to the youth of both sexes, and beyond that point to offer opportunity at very small cost for the highest possible education to all who choose to seek it. All education is assumed to be a state affair, and is either directed by the officers of the state, or is immediately controlled by them. Entire singleness of purpose and practical uniformity of method are required. The state assumes at once the power and the obligation implied in this policy. Each of the smallest divisions—commune or parish—has its local board, above these is the regency, and above these the province; but over all is the central government with its extensive and minute system of inspection, its absolute veto over specific acts, and its strict enforcement of subordination. The necessary funds are provided from a very low rate of tuition from scholars able to pay, from civil appropriations, from endowments, or, in case of deficiency, from local taxation. Every child from seven to fourteen is obliged to attend school, and the neglect or refusal of parents to comply with this requirement is punished by an elaborate system of penalties, sustained by public opinion and sanctioned by long usage. Beyond the age of fourteen direct compulsion ceases, and powerful inducement takes its place. The learned professions are confined to the graduates of the universities; certain civil positions are limited in like manner; all teachers are required to have taken a university degree, and the university can only be reached through the intermediate schools. Up to the age of fourteen the instruction given may fairly be compared to that afforded in the "grammar" schools of the larger American cities. Beyond that the range is practically unlimited. The universities, which are the crowning stage of the general system, are kept within the vigilant general direction of the central government. Throughout the system the complete separation of the church from any authoritative share in education is now a fixed principle, though the comparatively recent date of its adoption—1870—and the conservative disposition of the government in dealing with so delicate a matter still leave considerable actual influence to the clergy.


—In France a principle, in effect the same as that of Germany, is adopted and is being gradually enforced: Compulsory primary education under entire control by the state, and the direct provision or the encouragement and subvention as well as general regulation of higher instruction. The theory of the secularization of education has been ardently advocated and widely favored, but is not completely adopted or applied as yet. Whether it will finally be established is a question too intimately involved in the changing phases of French politics to admit of positive determination. It is probable, however, that the curious tendency of French political leaders to follow almost literally the more striking features of the conduct of their conquerors in the memorable struggle of 1870-71, will be as marked in educational as it has been in military affairs. The temperament and mental qualities of the two nations will enforce some radical differences in methods and in results, but France is apparently moving steadily, and, for the time, very rapidly in the direction of universal, uniform, compulsory primary instruction, and of higher education more and more developed and maintained under the narrow supervision of the central government.


—One significant difference, however, is already to be remarked between the systems of the two nations and the manner in which they are being unfolded. The German system is modeled on that of Prussia, where it originated in the purpose of an enlightened and determined ruler to bring a relatively backward people, surrounded by powerful and jealous rivals, to a condition of general intelligence and practical efficiency that would enable them to take a higher rank both in peace and in war. This people, comparatively homogeneous, and holding, though unquestionably in a narrow and rather bigoted fashion, the doctrines of the Protestant religion, and submitted to its influence toward independent judgment and self-control, were not only permitted but encouraged to press their way in the world of thought, with marked freedom in whatever direction their leading minds should choose. The intervention of the clergy, though active and constant, was never peculiarly repressive, and intellectual enterprise, for its own sake, received a considerable degree of cordial recognition and encouragement. In France, the beginnings of intellectual and political freedom were made in open revolt against political and ecclesiastical despotism, and the revolution was followed by the restoration of both these reactionary forces. The progress that has been conquered since has been steadily and often violently opposed by the party of absolute monarchy and of the Roman Catholic church, and both have been constantly arrayed against the principle of general education. It thus happens that at this time the advocates of general education are forced to make secularization of the school system their objective point, and this necessity introduces elements of confusion, of difficulty and of passion into the problem which it would be very desirable to avoid, and which must retard and perhaps compromise the result. It will be several generations, with every possible success for the movement toward universal instruction, before the French people can furnish the intellectual material for a system as complete, vigorous, well organized and highly developed as the German system. In the meantime, the battle for education is, what it can never be in the United States, a battle with clericalism on the one hand, and with political reaction on the other.


—If now we turn to the American Union we find conditions entirely different from those either in Germany or France, and much more nearly those existing in Great Britain, though differing from these also, and, in all regards, presenting a problem far more easily solved, and the solution of which promises more immediately valuable results. In the first place, the work of popular education in the United States is not now and is not likely ever to be either directly in the hands of the general government or under its close control. Were the popular sentiment of the country less definitely formed or less firmly established for the promotion of education, this fact might be regarded with regret. As it is, it is a hopeful element in the future. If American education may lack something of the symmetry and precision that might be obtained from the initiative of a central government, it will have qualities far outweighing these in value. It will be more free, more varied, in closer harmony with the intellectual needs of different sections and different classes, and will draw its vigor from surer and more enduring sources. The task of imposing general instruction upon the citizens of the country is one which is not required in the United States. By a happy combination of circumstances the necessity for such instruction was early recognized here, and not only has it never been ignored, but the appreciation of it has steadily grown. The early settlers of New England were profoundly impressed by it. They came to found here a state in which every citizen should bear his part, and should be fitted to bear it. The conditions of citizenship were narrow and rigid. No heterogeneous community was intended or expected. The state was to be intimately bound up with the church, and the members of the one were to be the members of the other; but the church as well as the state was substantially democratic, and authority rested largely on the conscience and reason of those over whom it was exercised, but who, also, delegated it. Both religious and civil duties required a certain free exchange of opinion and the instruction that is a condition of such exchange. Schools were provided for at the start, and were carefully and devotedly sustained. The two great colleges of the Union at the present time, widely separated as they now are in methods and purpose, had their common origin in the conviction of the enlightened founders of New England commonwealths that education was, if not a function, a proper object of care for the state. In other states the sentiment in support of public education was not so strong or so general and active, but it existed, in various degrees, and it steadily advanced. The self-government in which every colony largely engaged, and which became complete after the revolution, brought to public life the most keenly intelligent and best instructed men of the comparatively small and homogeneous communities, and these early perceived that the condition precedent of the successful maintenance of representative government was general instruction. Neither the then current ideas, nor the resources then available, were consistent with any elaborate system. The most that could be hoped for or had, and all that was sought, was the widest possible extension of elementary knowledge. This placed those who received it on no very high intellectual plane, but upon a common plane, on which all were fairly equal, and comparatively few were essentially ignorant. The absence of any strong central government and the necessity in each community of providing for its own needs, kept alive the interest of each community, and tended to create that ineradicable and universal belief in the common school which has become traditional in the United States. This tendency, already strong while the population of the Union remained, in substance, native, was intensified when the volume of immigration became large. It was then seen not only that general education was more than ever necessary to bring the mass of voters up to a tolerable standard of intelligence, but that free public schools were the only instrumentality which could be relied on to promote the assimilation of the enormous additions to the population. The immigrants were of diverse nationalities. The two most important bodies were the Irish and the Germans, but there were considerable contingents from other sources. Left to themselves, these people would naturally keep and transmit to their children the ideas, the prejudices, the mental and social habits of the races from which they sprung, and these would ever tend to become more narrow and obstinate in the isolation caused by a surrounding population different and, to some extent, unfriendly. The free public school was not only the best, but the only, means of bringing the children of these parents of various races together and of imbuing all with the general ideas and sentiments that would enable them to act together, in mature life, as one people. Had there been no other raison d'êtrefor the free public school this would have been amply sufficient. Whatever defects or errors may exist in the system in the United States, and they are certainly many, it is not too much to say that the Union as it is to-day, with its vast possibilities of development, its rich promise to the hundred or more millions who are to occupy and possess the continent under its rule, would have been impossible without it. To be convinced of this fact one has only to consider what were the conditions under which the armies of the Union were recruited in the war of the rebellion, and what was the origin of that general, steadfast, potent sentiment of fidelity to the institutions of free government which made vain the gallant and passionate struggle of the southern states; but beyond this must be considered what it is that has so far rendered possible the adjustment of that momentous dispute, the reestablishment of a peaceful and effective Union on the ruins of the southern confederacy, the enfranchisement of a servile race on an equality with their former masters, the beginning throughout the south, of a career of sound industrial and commercial activity and of a rational political existence. Bitter and violent as have been some of the experiences of the Union since the war, the condition of affairs finally arrived at is a marvel in the history of civil struggles, and the forces which have brought it about could never have been called into play but for the free public school throughout the north and its steady progress in the south.


—We have, then, in the United States, the public school firmly established, sustained by an intelligent and ardent public sentiment, destined to extend the field of its influence and to become a constantly more important element in the national life. It may be regarded as secure from even any serious discussion of its right to exist. It has no enemies worthy of attention. Religious prejudice, which alone can be suspected of opposing any barrier to it, is sure, in the future, only to strengthen the popular sense of its value and necessity. The most excessive factional feeling has never dared to assail it. The questions, therefore, which remain to be discussed, are: in what way can the school be made most useful? within what limits can it be properly maintained at the general cost? and at what point should it turn its pupils over to the agencies provided by private educational enterprise? These questions must necessarily engage more and more the attention of our publicists and of our educators. At present, and for some time to come, they must concern only the more populous cities and the more advanced states. For a very large part of the country they can hardly be said to exist, because a very large proportion of the public schools are, and for a considerable period must remain, very crude and imperfect, far within the lowest limit which they should observe, and, from the condition of the population, the available resources and the direction of public sentiment, obliged to fulfill only the lowest functions of which they are capable In districts, for instance, where for eight weeks in the year a scanty attendance is secured for a single school, taught by an inexperienced girl or boy at a pay of $12 to $16 a month, it is quite absurd to suggest the discussions to which reference has been made. But in cities like Chicago, New York, Boston and Philadelphia, the system has reached a point where these questions become imperative; in many others they are important, while the rapid advance of every part of the country in population and wealth constantly extends the area in which they will present themselves for consideration. The tendency of opinion with reference to them among those engaged in the public schools themselves is undoubtedly toward extending the scope of public gratuitous instruction, developing the "high school" and the "college," giving every applicant access to the highest available education. The evidence of this tendency is to be found in the journals devoted to education, in the discussions of public school teachers in their "institutes," in the reports of city, county and state superintendents, and especially in the papers and debates of the annual meetings of superintendents under the auspices of the bureau of education, in the department of the interior at Washington. The tendency is entirely natural. It is the effect of the desire which has given rise to the well-known maxim in law that every court will extend its own jurisdiction as far as it can. But the time has come when the question must be treated from the standpoint of the statesman rather than that of the teacher. The public school in the United States has passed beyond the comparatively narrow field which it once occupied; its maintenance involves the expenditure of a vast sum every year. Its influence upon the political as well as the social life of the people must be more carefully regarded, and its regulation and development should proceed on reasonably defined and comprehensive principles—In a representative republican government, such as that of the United States and those of the several states, there is one simple general rule in regard to the use of the money raised by taxation from the community. It is that it should be employed for those purposes only which are of general necessity or of supreme utility, and which can be attained by the state only, or by the state to a degree or in a way very far superior to those of private effort. Obviously this rule, simple in itself, is not always easily defined or clearly applied. It is, in that regard, like nearly all the general principles which guide the course of government, and which, nevertheless, are of great value. It is the business of the publicist to make such use of them as can be made in the circumstances by which he finds himself surrounded. He has no right to abandon them or to violate them because they can not be reduced to the precision of a mathematical formula, or be adjusted to legislation as readily as an engineer's drawing to a piece of masonry. Between a measure which plainly accords with such a principle and one which does not accord with it at all there are many stages, and from one to the other of these the advance may well be regarded as involving an excusable variation, but it is the duty of the statesman to draw the line firmly at that medium which, though arbitrarily fixed, nevertheless secures a practical compliance with the principle, a substantial gain of its read advantages, and the avoidance of any serious evils arising from its violation. The principle which has been stated clearly justifies the free public school in the several states of the Union, the expenditure of the public revenue for its maintenance, and, under existing circumstances, the appropriation of a reasonable sum from federal taxation for the encouragement and support of schools in those states which are either unable or, for the time, indisposed to maintain them. General public instruction is a recognized need of the republic. As has been pointed out, it has been, so far as it has been carried, fully approved by public opinion. The question now is, how far it can rightly be carried, and how, within the limits set for it, it can be made most fruitful of the greatest good to the greatest number. The radical objection to what is called higher education by the state in the United States is, that it is a direct violation of the principle which has been above laid down. The education afforded in the high schools and public colleges now in existence, and that proposed in the like schools which have from time to time been advocated, is certainly not a work of general necessity, and its utility is very far from being of so elevated and certain a character as to approach very closely to necessity. Just as certainly it is not a work which can not be done by private agencies, and done equally well or very much better. It is not a work of necessity, because it is not requisite for any of the ordinary and essential functions of the citizen's life, as is shown by the fact that the majority of citizens in states where it is conferred at public expense have never enjoyed its advantages, and political life in these states is, nevertheless, above the average in wholesome activity and intelligence. It is further incidentally shown by the fact that many of our most efficient public men who have done service of no mean value, have never had schooling of this character. That it is desirable, no one, probably, will seriously deny, but it is no more desirable than many other things which the state is not, and should not be, called upon to supply. Moreover, however desirable it may be, it is not unattainable without state aid. In this country, and in almost every section of it, any young man or young woman, who values higher education enough to be willing to seek it with energy, patience and self-denial, and who has capacity enough to make a good use of it when obtained, can get it. Again, it is easily seen by any one who will examine any of the free schools for higher education now in existence that a very large proportion, probably much more than one-half, of those who attend them are the children of parents who are entirely able to provide such education at their own proper cost; very many of these would undoubtedly do so if they were forced to. If, then, it be conceded that the state can, as a rule, furnish higher education of a kind as valuable and as perfectly suited to the needs of the scholars as would be obtained from private agencies—a concession which is open to much question—it still remains true that this is not a proper object for the expenditure of the common fund derived from taxation. It benefits too small a class of the citizens, and it benefits a class who least require public aid to secure it. It is argued that those whose children reap the advantages of this sort of public education pay taxes in proportion to their means, which is roughly true, but they do not pay in proportion to what they get, while the poorer class, who get nothing whatever, pay what to them is a very much higher and more burden-some tax. By the operation of the laws which govern the incidence of taxation, and which the intimate intercommunication of modern life makes very certain and remorseless, taxes upon real estate tend to fall more heavily on the poor than on those who are not poor; it even happens in no small number of cases that the taxes of the wealthier are thrown off upon the poorer. There is, then, an obvious injustice in maintaining at public expense schools which those can rarely or never use who are compelled to make the greatest sacrifices in maintaining them.


—If it be conceded that high schools, and those schools which are not accessible to the children of persons of moderate means, may properly be maintained in communities where the tax payers shall have clearly expressed their desire for such use of the school funds, it must still be required that before any such use of the fund be made, the primary schools shall be of the best possible kind, and give ample opportunity for instruction to all children of the age, say from six to fourteen, at which instruction may fairly be made obligatory. It is so closely logical as hardly to need more than statement, that what the state may properly require the parents to submit to their children receiving at a direct loss of time and services, that, at least, the state should provide (1) of the highest practicable character, and (2) in a form entirely available. It is notorious that in no part of the United States is the first of these conditions completely complied with, while in far the greater part of the Union neither of them is complied with. The primary instruction which is supplied in the public schools, even the best equipped and the most carefully arranged, is essentially defective, while even in those communities where the most care has been taken, and the most money has been expended, there is still a very noticeable and much to be regretted want of accommodation for the primary scholars. In the major portion of the country not only is the primary instruction very much below what is known now to be the best, but the schools are wanting as to their number, their sittings, the force of teachers and the needed school equipment. The first work, therefore, to which the state is bound to direct its attention and its energies is, not the creation of so-called "high" schools, but the increase of the number of primary schools and the improvement of the instruction which they afford.


—In this connection the term "primary instruction" is applied, as above indicated, to that which may conveniently be given to the children of the age at which instruction may be made compulsory. What that age should be is an open question, but it may roughly be indicated as from six to fourteen years. These limits might, with profit, be changed in certain cases according to the circumstances of the various communities. Instruction might be begun at an age earlier than six, and it might be desirable to release the child from school at an age earlier than fourteen. It would be quite practicable to commence with the age of four, under a completely organized system, and to teach as much by the age of twelve as the child under the ordinary methods has learned at fifteen, and very much more and of more worth. These are details which would settle themselves, if the correct and fruitful principle were adopted; the important thing to observe is, that the duty of the state is to do all that can be done for the child at as early an age as possible, and that when this has been done, the child may and ought to be turned over to private agencies, which can do the work of further education fully as well, and even better than those that the state can provide. Nor is it a question simply of what preference shall be given to one of two kinds of instruction for either of which the means are easily provided. It is rather a question of what shall be done with a sharply limited sum. There are certain bounds beyond which the public can not be taxed, even for the support of free schools, highly as these are valued and cheerfully as they are usually supplied. The load of taxation is already very heavy in all the older parts of the United States, and its tendency is to grow heavier rather than lighter. We have no such struggle for existence as many of the older parts of Europe experience, but the difficulty of keeping up the standard of comfort to which the great mass of Americans have become habituated is getting to be greater and greater in all of our larger cities, and in very many of our towns and villages. The almost unbroken rise in rents and in the cost of many of the necessaries of daily life, together with the unfortunate but apparently inevitable tendency to extravagance, especially among persons of only moderate income, make the larger average annual earnings or profits of the American worker or American tradesman, go less far in the provision of essentials than a much more modest sum in older countries. In this curtailing of the real resources of the citizen, taxation necessarily bears a very large part. With our present very defective methods of getting public business done, with the lack of accountability and stability, of consistency and permanence, in the local public service, there is but little hope that the burden of taxation will be materially lightened, and the share of the revenue which can be counted on for the public schools is by no means indefinite. It is, therefore, absolutely required that it should be husbanded with great care, that it should be made to yield the greatest practicable results, and that these results should be, as far as possible, to the advantage of the greatest number. Already in some of the most advanced states, and in some of the largest and most liberal cities, there is a notable demand for economy in this direction, which is sure to grow stronger and more imperative. The answer to that demand certainly should not he a decrease in the salaries of teachers, or a general reduction in the cost of the schools, but a concentration of expenditure upon the more essential kind of instruction and the greatest possible development of that.


—The argument for this policy is very far from being a negative one. It is not merely that the state ought not to devote the funds derived from common taxation to a class of schools which are of necessity useful only to a minority of the tax payers; it is that the field of primary education is quite worthy of the utmost that the state can do. It is a common error, that the teaching of children under the age of twelve or fourteen is something which can be safely left to unskilled persons; that it is a comparatively simple work, that it is necessary mainly to enable the pupil to take that which is afterward offered, but that in itself it is drudgery at once to the teacher and to the taught, which may be got through with as best may be. This error is, happily, no longer current among those who have given any considerable study to the subject, or who are entitled to be heard in regard to it; but it exists to an extent which few writers on education know, among those who have the determination of the character of our schools, of the studies that shall be followed in them, and of the manner in which they shall be taught. A close acquaintance with the school officers, and even with the school teachers, of the various states, a direct study of the schools themselves, a knowledge, though but partial, of the views of the average local legislator and the tax payers, would reveal a prevalence of this gravely mistaken notion which is of the utmost consequence in forecasting the future of our public school system.


—The notion is not only mistaken but it is exceedingly mischievous. It tends directly to the neglect of the child at a period when, of all others, he can be most readily, most profitably and most completely taught, and this neglect can never be wholly made up to him. The condition of all valuable instruction is curiosity on the part of the learner, and curiosity is a natural, universal, persistent quality of the mind of the young child. The process of sane and useful education consists in very large part of the direction and satisfaction of this inherent curiosity, which, like every other quality, is developed and strengthened and rendered more active and efficient by legitimate exercise. If, at the age when this quality is strong in every healthy child, the work of learning is made hard or tedious, if the labor of acquisition is made too great for the obvious and appreciated results acquired, the faculty of curiosity is weakened, the instrument with which all future work must be done is blunted. The pupil may afterward reacquire it: his curiosity may be tardily awakened; he may be incited by other motives, such as fear, or emulation, to do the necessary labor of learning, but he will have lost much that he can never regain: his nature will have been crippled or stunted; he will never be so useful to himself or society as he might have been; he will do what he is capable of doing at a disadvantage, with greater effort and with less and less available result. Most of our primary schools ignore to a greater or less degree this most important fact. Children under ten or twelve years are crowded together, in the charge of teachers of immature age, little or no training, defective general education and undeveloped character. To each of these is given a number of scholars greater than the most skillful, alert and experienced teacher could deal with in a manner at all satisfactory. Much is done to benumb, almost nothing is done to awaken, direct or feed the desire of the child for learning. Arbitrary and conventional tasks are imposed. In the larger schools the necessities of the system adopted require rigid and minute uniformity of management. Each class is a part of a closely regulated and interconnected machinery. Individuality is repressed. The incitements of direct and intimate personal intercourse with the more highly developed mind of the teacher is nearly impossible. Classes follow each other in rapid succession; a series of hurried examinations or recitations leaves neither time nor chance for anything but the most monotonous and mechanical action of the pupil's faculties. The progress, such as it is, of each division, is measured by a standard based on that capacity for receiving instruction, thus faultily given, which exists not among the brightest, but among nearly the dullest of the members of the division. The more intelligent are held back; the weakest are driven forward; the progress of all is halting, unnatural and misdirected. That which is taught is necessarily confined to what can be taught under these conditions. The system imposes itself upon those who have the administration of it, whether they will or no. It is idle to think of teaching much that requires adaptation of means and methods by the teacher to the wants, the desires, the suggestions of the pupils' varying minds. The school is a mill which goes on day after day, grinding out as nearly a uniform grist as it can, with very little reference to the grain that is provided for it, or the uses to which its products may be devoted, or of which they may be capable. This is the condition of things in many of the larger schools in the larger cities. In the smaller towns or villages and rural districts, a like result is got by different means. Here the number of pupils is smaller, but the capacity of the teachers is even less. The supervision, which, to some extent, prevents the worst consequences of the bad methods in the larger schools, is generally wanting. The teachers, with little or no conception of the possibilities or requirements of their calling, imitate, as best they can, the model set up for them in the larger schools. The machine is smaller, but it is-still a machine, constructed on the same principle, run for the same ends, and accomplishing its limited purposes with a like hard, mechanical, but more defective regularity. The things taught are of substantially the same nature, but less in number, and usually even less adapted to what should be the object of the primary school. That the result is of considerable worth, and even of great worth, no one who knows the effect of the worst primary schools on the population to which they are directed will deny; what is obvious is, that the result is not nearly as great or as good as it might be, at the same cost of time, money and energy. This proposition is not easily proven by statistics, in the first place, because it is not easily susceptible of mathematical proof; in the next place because such statistics as would throw light upon it are not collected in this country. But it is quite susceptible of demonstration that our public schools turn out pupils very much less fitted for the common duties of life than they might, even after they have passed them through what are, with very doubtful accuracy, called the "upper" grades. Thus every school is supposed to be able to teach the "three R's," that is to say, to enable its pupils to read intelligibly, and to understand ordinary matter, to write legibly and correctly, and to go through with the elementary processes of dealing with numbers. During the last three years there have been competitive examinations for appointment in the New York custom house, based in part on questions in copying from dictation, in numeration and annotation, in addition, in fractions, in grammar, in letter writing and in penmanship. An official report of these examinations up to Feb. 21, 1881, gives the education of 731 competitors, and that of 471, or 64 per cent., is described as "common school." The mean standing of all the competitors; in the subjects named, fairly reflects the standing of these 471. It was, in copying, 74 02 (on a standard of 100); in numeration and notation, only 76.24; in addition, correctness only and not rapidity being regarded, it was but 72.03; in fractions, the problems being of the simplest character, it fell to 37.33; in grammar, it was 69.16; in letter writing, it was 65 66, and was decently high only in penmanship, where it was 80.91. Of the 731 competitors, 123 were appointed, with an average standing of 88.54. Of these, those having "common school education," were only 51 per cent., though they were 64 per cent. of the applicants, and the average age of the appointees was thirty-five years, which indicates that the more recent graduates of the common schools were at a marked disadvantage. These figures give a general idea unfavorable to the proficiency of the pupils in the public schools in the simpler and most valuable branches. A careful inspection of a large part of the papers with special reference to this question very strongly confirms that impression. It reveals, among those definitely traced to the schools, a variety of ignorance, a degree of failure on the part of the schools to fit them for the most common and necessary use of the knowledge pretended to have been imparted, which would be ludicrous if it were not disheartening. As has already been said, this evidence does not prove that the public schools, just as they are, do not do a great deal of good, or are not a great deal better than none, it does not prove that they are not a proper agency for the state to employ to secure the degree of instruction which is absolutely needed by its citizens; but it does prove, and conclusively, that they do not do the work for which they are specially intended, and for which they are specially fitted, as that work ought to be done. The causes for this relative failure are not far to seek. They may be fairly included in the statement that the schools seek to do too much, and do not seek to do that thoroughly which is the most important. And the remedy is plainly to confine their work within narrower limits, and to improve them, with reference to that work, to the greatest possible extent. This involves the surrender of the higher and more costly schools, the increase in number of the schools devoted to elementary instruction, the provision of a larger body of teachers, their better training and adequate supervision. Of these requirements the first is essential to the fulfillment of the others. The development of a complete system of elementary instruction is practically impossible while the present miscalled "higher" schools are maintained. These latter not only absorb a very large share of the money that is needed for the more essential schools, but they create a false standard; they turn the efforts of the teaching force in a wrong direction; they stimulate the desire both of teachers and pupils, not to the mastery of the substantial branches, but to "promotion" along the arbitrary line leading to these "upper" grades or schools. The whole energy of the system should be confined to complete and effective education in the branches really necessary, and progress should be made, not in quantity but in quality. It is true that abolition of the upper schools is called for now only in the system of the larger cities and more advanced towns, but it is the more imperatively called for there, because this system is the model to which the schools in the smaller towns and less important districts are now adapted as much as possible. It is in the larger cities that the more serious evils of the present system are most clearly shown and tend most strongly to increase, and it is from these that the mischievous influence proceeds which constantly tends to produce these evils throughout the country and to prevent a needed and fruitful reform. It is from these that a contrary influence can be extended throughout the rest of the land, and the general system be brought nearer to that which must be created, if we are to get from our schools the full measure of utility that we are entitled to expect. If the reform can be begun in the larger cities and towns by gradually limiting instruction to that of an elementary character, that measure of itself will tend to improve the quality of the instruction given. The false and mistaken goal being removed, the natural effect will be to push toward the goal which is set up with greater zeal and intelligence. The intellectual and moral force of the teaching class, great as it unquestionably is, will cease to be wasted in the vain pursuit of vague or arbitrary objects, and be turned with certain gain in efficiency toward the objects at once more valuable and more attainable lying much nearer. The already considerable number of educators who are weary of the unprofitable pursuit of the multiplied and multiform purposes that they are now required to keep in view, will be encouraged to devote themselves to the simpler, worthier and more practical task presented to them, and they will be steadily re-enforced by others who would gladly adopt a reformed system, but have not the courage or the independence to propose it.


—With the provision of a larger number of elementary schools, must necessarily come an increase in the number and a decided improvement in the character of the teachers employed in them. The schools being more numerous, the classes should be very much smaller, and a teacher should be required to take charge of only so many children as could be brought directly, easily and with benefit under his or her personal direction and influence. This involves an immediate, and, ultimately, a very large increase in the means for training teachers, and the provision of such means is one of the most obvious and proper functions of the state. If it can not be maintained that the state should provide what is now regarded as higher education for all applicants, gratuitously, it can not be denied that it should do all in its power to furnish an adequate supply of carefully chosen, highly trained teachers for the schools which it may establish and sustain. This is not only a legitimate but a necessary function of the state, in which any well-directed expenditure of care and money will be entirely justifiable. This principle has been rather vaguely but very generally recognized throughout the United States and is constantly gaining. Normal schools are already in existence in all but two or three of the states, and in some of them they are generously maintained and of high character. During the decade 1870-79 they increased in number and in attendance fully fourfold, and the tendency is fortunately still strong in the same direction. But there yet remain only too many sections of the country to which the quaint comment of Roger Ascham applies: "It is a pity, that commonly more care is had, yea and that among very wise men, to find out rather a cunning man for their Horse, than a cunning man for their Children. They say nay in word, but they do so in deed: For to the one they will gladly give a Stipetal of two hundred Crowns by the year, and loth to offer to the other two hundred Shillings. God that sitteth in Heaven laugheth their Choice to scorn, and rewardeth their Liberality as it should: For he suffereth them to have tame and well ordered Horse, but wild and unfortunate Children, and therefore in the end they find more. Pleasure in their horse, than Comfort in their children."


—The value of the normal schools varies greatly in the cities and states in which they are now established. The best of them, however, are inadequate to the end which should be kept in view. The average term of instruction is but one year. This, with the necessary allowance for vacations, is but little more than two-thirds of a year, or eight months of direct study. It must be conceded that even in this time much is accomplished, and the graduates of these schools are among the most useful of the teachers now engaged in active work. It must be added, also, that it is in these schools that the better notions of pedagogics have taken root most readily and most firmly, and it is among their pupils that we find the most effective and intelligent application of such notions. It is from these that many of the more thorough and ingenious of the primary teachers have sprung, who have at many widely separated points, established the nucleiof correct and profitable instruction. But no one familiar with the extent and delicacy and difficulty of the art of really good primary teaching, can for a moment suppose that any complete training, or even any satisfactory beginning of such training, can be had in the few months allowed to the ordinary normal school course. If we assume, what is very far from being the case, that the students admitted to the normal school are already fairly grounded in the elements of the studies which they are afterward to teach, the time is still very much too short. As a matter of fact the students are in great part very poorly prepared. At best they generally have only such preparation as can be got in what are called the grammar school grades, and can pass only routine examinations confined to the well defined limits within which they have been drilled. If they could be subjected to searching examinations to test their facile and familiar use of what they are supposed to have learned in the "three R's," it is probable that they would, in the words of Mr. Charles Francis Adams, Jun., to the Quincy scholars under like circumstances, "go to pieces." And it is the testimony of the managers of normal schools that it is often found necessary, not only to review, but to recommence the grammar school course. The material on which the normal schools have to work, though very ill-prepared, is in many respects otherwise exceedingly good. The spirit of the students is generally earnest; they are disposed and accustomed to patient industry, to self-denial, to discipline, and to the practical use of their opportunities. Though often too young, they are intent upon the end they have in view, and have, what is much more precious than mere mental brightness, the capacity for work. With proper means of instruction, sufficient time, the freedom from poverty which is their greatest drawback, and the incentive of a reasonable start in the profession that they have chosen, they are capable of becoming useful and admirable teachers.


—In this connection there is an ample and inviting field for the intervention of the government, and particularly of the federal government. The latter has already, in the military school at West Point and the naval school at Annapolis, given examples of the peculiar excellence of the instruction for special purposes which it can command when it seeks it. There is no reason why it should not undertake the establishment of some like system for the training of teachers. The military and naval schools take their pupils after careful examination; the pupils after supported during the time they are engaged in their studies, and they are at once required to give to the government a fixed time of practical service in the branches for which they have been trained, and are secured a position for life, if they choose to retain it. The justification for this system on the part of the government is that it is the best available for providing officers for the army and navy, which may at any time become absolutely indispensable to the maintenance of the republic. It is not too much to say that the defense and support afforded to the government by an efficient and universal system of public schools are as valuable and even as indispensable as those derived from the army and navy. The utility of the latter is indeed only exceptional and contingent, though entirely established; but the utility of the former is certain, constant, absolute, and will necessarily increase with the growth of the country. The constitutional power of the federal government to establish normal schools can be easily and amply maintained. It is but a specific branch of the power already used in the appropriation of public lands for the maintenance of technical schools, such as agricultural colleges, and for general purposes of education. The federal government would be entirely within its clearly established sphere in either establishing normal schools, or in encouraging their establishment by the states. It could properly and effectively work in both directions. It is hardly desirable, in the present condition of the civil service of the federal government, that it should undertake the direct management of the educational system in any of the states, even though this could be done with the consent of the latter. Nor is it desirable that it should assume at once the task of furnishing trained teachers for all state schools. But it is exceedingly desirable that a definite system should be begun, which should be capable of expansion. This system might with advantage be based on the general principles that govern the military academy. The federal government might undertake the training of a number of pupils, moderate at first, in the art of primary teaching. To render practicable the selection of the most capable and promising, without reference to previous circumstances in life, these students should be supported during the term of study, which should be sufficiently long to admit of the most thorough instruction. They should, of course, be admitted from any part of the Union, and considering the peculiar needs of the southern states, ample provision should be made for colored pupils. They should be held to the most careful and complete compliance with all the conditions of successful study, and should be promptly dismissed if they failed in this compliance or showed incapacity for a fixed degree of excellence in their profession. Upon graduation, they should be assured of employment at a fair salary for a determined period. As the federal government has no schools of its own in which to employ them, an arrangement would have to be made with the states for this purpose; but this would offer no practical difficulty. The best aid that the federal government could afford to education in the states would be in the shape of trained teachers, whose salaries should be paid either by the national, the state or the local governments according to conditions, which could be readily defined. In those states where application, based on the illiteracy of the population, should be made for assistance, the teachers might very wisely be paid wholly by the national government, and this would, of itself, be a field quite sufficient to furnish employment to all the federal teachers that could at first be supplied. When the system had once been fairly established, there would be no lack of demand for the graduates of the federal normal schools. It is now hardly doubtful, that before many years the federal government will take some definite and comprehensive action for the aid of public education in the states. This purpose has already been shown in the propositions submitted in congress, to devote a considerable portion of the revenue from public lands to the support of state schools. These propositions have received the support of leading representatives from all sections of the country, and of all shades of political opinion. They have been brought forward by the representatives of New England states, which would not at all share in their benefits, and which have shown entire willingness and capacity to maintain free public schools of the highest existing order at their own expense. They have been supported ardently by the representatives of southern states, which have been as completely revolutionized by the war for the Union in their ideas and purposes regarding education as in their political and social organization. And to these propositions have been added others, for the appropriation to the support of free schools of considerable amounts from the direct revenues of the treasury, and particularly from those derived from the tax on brewed and distilled liquors. While these measures are in themselves well-intended, and would, in a general way, further the advancement of education where it is most needed, they could not have as wide, as good or as permanent an influence as the system of federal normal schools above suggested. This latter might at least with great benefit be added to the others should they be adopted. The supply of teachers by the national government would relieve the states of an expense far greater than that incurred in training and paying the teachers, since a like number of equally good teachers could not be obtained by the individual action of the state or local authorities at even a much greater cost. On the other hand, the normal schools would enable the federal government to raise the character of the state schools, and to exercise a very desirable influence over them without the slightest direct or improper interference with them. The system would involve no departure from that wholesome principle of entire freedom on the part of the states which it is very important to preserve. For while the graduates of these schools would be trained under a generally uniform system, that system could and should be one which would rather develop their capacity than closely and narrowly direct their specific methods. They would retain the same liberty of personal activity which obtains among the graduates of West Point or Annapolis, who are indeed taught how battles may be fought and armies and ships managed, but who are also especially trained to the apt and ingenious application of all available resources to the various requirements of the situations in which they may be called upon to act. A peculiar advantage which would accrue from this system would be that it would enable the federal government to supply a sufficient body of highly educated and carefully trained persons specially fitted for the work of superintendence of schools, and it is precisely these for which there is now the greatest need throughout the Union. The great body of schools, in fact, are at present practically without skilled supervision, and much of the teaching force which they employ is nearly wholly wasted on this account. A careful, well-equipped and energetic superintendent can multiply the efficiency of even ordinary teachers many times, and his influence may readily make exceedingly valuable what without it would be nearly worthless. Such superintendents are not only rarely employed, but they are very rarely to be found, and when found the chances for their engagement under conditions that would give them all their usefulness is almost impracticable. But if such officers could be furnished by the federal government with little or no cost to the state or local authorities, and if their engagement were made the condition of the aid furnished by the federal government, it can readily be seem that they would soon become a force of great and increasing efficiency.


—In this connection, however, it would be important that the principle already defined regarding the legitimate limit of free public instruction should be carefully observed. The normal schools of the federal government should be devoted to the highest possible training of teachers of the elementary branches, and they should be confined to such training. The federal government, of all others, should faithfully observe and firmly enforce the rule that free public schools should give the best instruction, in those things which are essential to all future citizens, which are accessible to all, and that there they should stop. It can not only be no part of the duty of the central government to furnish "higher education" to a comparatively small proportion of its citizens at the expense of all, but it is clearly its duty to refrain from so doing and to exert all its influence to discouraging such a tendency on the part of the individual governments. Within the field thus limited it would find ample scope for its utmost energies, and it would be one of its most honor able functions to occupy that field worthily. If its influence were steadily and actively directed to providing complete instruction in the elements of education in those common, useful and necessary forms of knowledge and of mental activity for which children within the age, say, of fourteen are fitted, it would do as extensive work in shaping the future character of its people, and one most sorely needed. It can not be too often repeated or too clearly held, that within that age the child has at once the strongest claim upon the aid and guidance of the government, and the greatest aptitude in using them, and that beyond that, if the elementary work be even fairly done, all possible advancement lies within the reach of the great body of young Americans.


—Obviously the acceptance of this proposition bars the way to the entrance of the federal government upon the schemes so freely proposed for the foundation of a national university or for the establishment of a series of colleges throughout the Union. The arguments by which these schemes are supported rest upon a radically mistaken conception of the functions and constitutional powers as well as of the practical capacity of the federal government. Such institutions could not themselves carry out any of the defined purposes for which the constitution clothes the national government with authority, nor are they in any strict sense means necessary or proper to the exercise of the powers conferred. They differ radically and widely from schools intended and conducted to promote the common education needed by all, and they can only give that form of instruction which, on the one hand, the citizen has no right to claim at public expense, and which, on the other hand, the government neither has the right to give nor the means of giving in its best form. All the considerations that have been urged against the misdirection of public funds by states or municipalities in the support of high schools and colleges, apply with even greater force to the undertaking of still more advanced instruction by the federal government. In addition to these are others springing from the organization of the federal government. That organization aims neither at centralization nor permanence, and is opposed to both. The executive is submitted to popular election every four years. The more numerous and powerful branch of the congress is so submitted every two years, and at like periods one-third of the senate is passed upon by the state legislatures, under influences which are well known to be incompatible with consistency, much more with unity in the character of the senate. Under these circumstances, the difficulty of securing in the first instance an adequate plan for a national university would be very great, from the obvious lack of any considerable number of men engaged in the government capable of even understanding the requirements of such a plan, and from the fact that those who may at any one time happen to be so engaged are not secure of remaining long enough to enact the plan, or of exercising a controlling influence upon its character. Any university which can be regarded as possible would from the start be crude, empirical and defective in its character, and would tend gradually or perhaps rapidly to degenerate. Moreover a university is in its nature rather an organism than an organization. It is a thing of complicated purposes, of delicate instrumentalities, of constantly varying and developing needs. Its vital force must be within itself, and it depends for its efficiency, its adaptation to its work, upon the character of those who devote the energies of their life to its service. Such force could not be supplied by act of congress, and if in some measure it should chance to be provided at the outset, it would surely die out under the conditions that would attach to the administration of a government institution. It would be as difficult for congress to set up even the beginnings of a Harvard as for a chemist by uniting the elements disclosed to his analysis to reproduce the germ of a having plant. And in considering this fact, it must be borne in mind that Harvard is but an incomplete growth, the greatest value of which, even now, lies not so much in what it is as in what it has the power to be. Either as an instrumentality of higher education or as a means of promoting original investigation, on both of which grounds the plan has been advocated, a national university would be a singularly faulty contrivance, and destined rather to decay or perversion than to development and increase of usefulness. Similar institutions abroad are hardly models for the United States, since they exist under very different conditions. Those in Germany, which are most often cited, are maintained by a government which, on the one hand, is very nearly despotic and practically permanent, and which, on the other, accords to the universities, within certain broad lines, the greatest freedom. In other words, the government provides secure and uninterrupted means for the universities, to be used largely at the discretion of a permanent force of learned men, whose whole lives are given to the task. Such a scheme in the United States is almost "unthinkable." In France, where there has been far greater permanence and independence in its university than might have been expected from its frequently changing forms of government, the work of the university falls far short of that accomplished in Germany, while the most valuable and distinguished achievements of scholars and students have been due to men wholly unsupported and unaided by the government. In this connection may profitably be considered the history of England, which affords brilliant examples of the vigor and success with which the highest labors of science and scholarship have been pursued with little other encouragement than that supplied by the needs and aspirations of an intelligent people—It may be objected, and with some plausibility, that the obstacles to the successful foundation and maintenance of a national university in the United States arising from the organization of the government, would equally oppose themselves to the successful establishment of adequate normal schools. It is not to be hoped that the elements of instability and of demoralization which inhere in the constitution and in our present political methods could be kept entirely from influencing such schools. But two facts are to be borne in mind in this connection; one is, that the establishment of good normal schools is by far a less difficult task than the foundation of a university; the other is, that it is a task clearly within the constitutional authority and the field of duty of the federal government, and therefore to be undertaken with the best means that can be commanded. It is reasonable to suppose that the project of the supply by the federal government of teachers, thoroughly trained in the art of elementary instruction, would, if properly presented, commend itself strongly to the majority of those in congress who are now disposed to extend federal aid to the public schools of the states Once fairly started, the system would constantly strengthen itself in public opinion, because it would constantly respond to that universal demand for free and universal primary instruction, and it would not offend the principles of justice and of constitutional law as would a national university.


—By the brief outline, which the limits of this article permitted, of the systems of education existing in Germany and in France, it will be seen that the problem presented by the relations of the state to education in the United States is very different from that presented in the nations of which these may be taken as examples. The fact might be further illustrated by reference to the systems of the Scandinavian states, of Belgium and Holland, and of Italy, but this is neither convenient nor necessary. The specific question offered for study here, is how the children of the republic may be given, in the best manner and at the least cost either of the public revenue or of the time and energy of the pupils, the instruction which is needed by all as a condition to the reasonable performance of their duties as citizens. This is the problem, the solution of which has been undertaken by the states, by the municipalities, and by the lesser political bodies, in a more or less earnest manner, by various means, and with widely differing degrees of success. In the prosecution of this effort, the schools in most of the larger communities have extended, under complex influences and without consistent guidance, in directions quite wide of the mark to which they should have been contined. The needs and rights of the majority have been neglected and much money and force have been expended in an attempt to provide advantages by which only a minority, often very small, can profit. The result has been the general adoption of a false standard, the vicious multiplication of studies, the enforcement of arbitrary, conventional and barren methods of instruction, and a lamentable failure to turn out pupils fitted for those very duties which the schools are founded to aid the pupil in discharging. It has been shown that the proper and adequate performance of the function of the schools requires the abandonment of the elaborate, expensive and comparatively useless "upper grades" and "high schools," and the concentration of energy and expenditure upon ample provision for the very best form of elementary instruction, with direct and close attention to imparting practically useful knowledge, and to the training of the child's capacity for the intelligent employment and extension of such knowledge. It has been urged, that to this end the duty of the state—including in that term all the civil authorities having control of the common schools—is to provide a sufficient force of carefully trained teachers. In this important work the federal government is warranted by its constitution and bound by its general obligation as to the maintenance of free institutions, to engage, and it may with advantage establish normal schools for the free training of primary teachers, to be supported while under instruction, and to be employed by the federal government at fair salaries, for a fixed term. It has been suggested that in no other manner can the federal government do such great and valuable service in aid of general education in the states, or exercise so powerful and salutary an influence over the state schools, without in any degree interfering with that perfect freedom of action in the states which is at once demanded by the theory of the Union and required for the best development of education throughout the various states. It has been sought in this way to point out a line of development for the free public schools of the country which will, if steadily pursued, enable them to fulfill the high purpose for which they are meant, and by their success in attaining which they will ultimately be judged. What are believed to be the errors and defects in the system now in vogue have been pointed out in no spirit of depreciation, much less of hostility to the schools, but with a strong desire to aid, as far as may be, in giving them their greatest usefulness, and by directing them to what is thought the satisfaction of the most imperative and permanent needs of the people to secure for them a lasting and constantly strengthening affection and respect. The faults of the present are those of abounding energy misdirected and in danger of provoking unfortunate reaction. But a reform quite simple in its nature is capable of turning this energy into the most fruitful fields, where the harvest will be secure, of the richest, and continually increasing.


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