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HOW MANY GRADES SHOULD THERE BE IN THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL?
BROTHER JOHN WALDRON, S. M., CHAMINADE COLLEGE,
During recent years a conviction has been growing among American educators that our present school system no longer meets all the requirements demanded of it by the necessities of the nation, and that consequently a more or less complete reorganization is becoming imperative. It is admitted that the education we give the child must fit him to meet his moral and physical, his cultural and avocational needs. Now not all groups of children are alike in the measure of these needs. The large manufacturing city, the small residential town and the country hamlet, each calls for a variation in the quality and to a certain. extent in the quantity of education given to its children. The home and social environment, the conditions of industrial and commercial activities, the ways of living and of making a living, the changing features of our political economy, new wants and new ambitions, all make it desirable that a change be effected in a curriculum that was based on the conditions and demands of other days, but which is now congested and deformed by constant accretions of necessary and in many cases of unnecessary matter. Then, too, great progress has been made in every department of pedagogy. The workings of the child's mind as well as the physical needs of the body in the course of its development towards maturity, have been subjected to close observation and study. Expert teachers have given their best efforts to the improvement of methods, until methodology has been transferred from the field of experiment to that of definite laws and logical rules of procedure. With all these educational factors in ferment it was to be expected that sooner or later a movement would be started to subject the present system to a revision that would enable our schools to meet the newer demands which are being made upon them.
At the most recent conventions of the N. E. A., the necessity of such a revision has been insisted upon by the leading minds of that Association. Forcible articles in various, magazines and carefully prepared papers read at university convocations, at superintendents' meetings and at principals' round tables have given impetus to the movement. In educational centers like New York, Massachusetts, Ohio and Illinois, this movement for revision and reorganization has advanced to the stage of actual experiment. Thus in the matter of elementary studies, we find New York and Cleveland resolved to make an initial attempt at revision along the lines of these recent demands.
This desire for revision is not limited to the secular schools. Under certain aspects it is almost more pronounced among our Catholic educators. The marvelous growth of the Catholic Church in the United States and the multiplying needs and opportunities of her children are opening vistas of duties and possibilities that are inspiring the apostles of Catholic education with the resolve to make Catholic teaching equal to all the demands of the situation. Their motto is: In education the very best is only good enough for our children. We find, therefore, that this Association which so thoroughly represents all departments of Catholic education has been consistently and intelligently occupied with various phases of such a revision. Thus at Cleveland the organization of a Catholic high school system was most ably discussed. At Milwaukee the possibilities of cooperation between diocesan superintendent and community inspector in problems similar to the one under discussion were pointed out. At Cincinnati, Father Poland read a forcible paper on the curriculum of studies, and last year at Boston one of the general sessions was devoted to a discussion of secondary educational problems. This year in another meeting of this department the place of manual training in our parochial schools will be studied, while to this session has been assigned the discussion of a revision as far as it may affect the elementary studies of our schools. In view of the literature bearing on this subject which is already at your disposal there would be no need of going into all the phases of our subject even if the title of this paper, how many classes
should there be in an elementary school, did not fix limitations beyond which we may not go.
Without a possibility of doubt the battle of religion will be fought on the field of education, and to the victor will be the harvest of souls. This will explain why the Church is so anxious to retain the child in her schools during the plastic years of adolescence, long after the early years of childhood. As long as the child or youth shall be subject to any educational influence it must be in Catholic schools that he shall receive these influences. Our duty is to augment the beneficial results of Catholic teaching, not to minimize it. Therefore it will not be admitted at any stage of this discussion that the revision we may advocate should involve reduction in the number of years our children shall spend with us. The law generally obliges the child to begin school at six or seven years of age and to continue until he is fourteen or fifteen years old. The law therefore imposes a minimum of eight years' schooling for a normal course of progress through the grades. We are asked to determine how many of these eight years are to be devoted to elementary work.
It will be well to have a clear conception of what is meant by elementary education. We believe that much of the misapprehension which now prevails is due to a confusion of ideas regarding the meaning and limitations of such terms as primary grades, elementary schools, grammar classes, terms used by some to convey almost the same idea, and by others to establish a distinction. In this paper and discussion, elementary studies will mean the branches which should be taken by all children as a basis of their education before any attempt is made at differentiation in studies which are to serve as preparation for professional or avocational work. Secondary studies will mean those which are to be pursued as an immediate preparation for collegiate and professional studies or for technical schools, trade schools, lifework, etc., etc.
For a complete Catholic education the ideal system would be the one which would allow the student to pass from the Catholic elementary school to the Catholic high school; thence through the Catholic college to a course of professional studies in a Catholic university. In the absence of the ideal that system will be the
most desirable which will provide the greatest number of pupils with the education best suited to their wants. But the greatest number of pupils is not found in college, and not even in high school, because only a very small percentage of those who pass through the elementary grades ever reach college.
From Mr. Thorndyke's valuable paper on "The Elimination of Pupils from School," issued from the Bureau of Education, we learn that "in a class of one hundred white children entering the first grade, twenty-five stay only long enough to learn simple English, to write the words they commonly use and to perform the four operations of integers without serious error." Only eighty-one reach the fifth grade, sixty-eight the sixth, fifty-four the seventh and forty the eighth. Then the numbers fall rapidly for the successive high school years from 27 to 17, to 12, to 8. From information at hand I am inclined to believe that we cannot claim a higher percentage for our Catholic schools. The consideration of the process of elimination indicated by these figures is essential to the solution of the problem before us. Let us bear in mind, therefore, that only sixty-eight reach the seventh grade, forty the eighth and eight finish high school.
Here we have sharply outlined two categories of pupils. In the first category are the pupils who go through high school and college, as a preparation for either the priesthood or one of the learned professions. Because of the future needs of the first class it is desirable that our elementary work should be articulated with that of the high school, and this in turn with that of the college. The work of all should be so coordinated that the results be a harmonious whole, symmetrical in its proportions, the one serving the needs of the other in its development towards the still higher. In our elementary schools we cannot therefore ignore the needs of the college. Around and in it are grouped the factors that go to the making of the men who are to be our leaders among the clergy and the laity. To sacrifice our colleges would mean to sacrifice our leaders. The parochial school must ever remain the feeder of the college, of the seminary, of the religious novitiate. In fact I consider one of the important duties of the Catholic school teacher to be a deep solicitude and zeal for the recruitment of the Catholic high school and college. It
would be a very narrow-minded and selfish policy that would prompt a teacher to hold back a boy from college until he has gone through the so-called high classes of the parochial schools. When the opportunity for a complete Catholic education lies before a child, then for that particular child the teacher must say: "The college shall increase and my class shall decrease.' And yet our system must not be organized for only the chosen few. If only a scant 40 per cent. of our children reach the eighth grade it is evident that for this 40 per cent., many features of a program outlined for a future college boy or girl would be useless. For them the needs of life will soon demand special knowledge, with a special equipment for bread-winning as also for the dangers and temptations of life which will surround them in the critical years of their adolescence, whilst their more favored companion will be surrounded with all the strong influences of zealous teachers within the protecting walls of a Catholic college. With these two categories of pupils the future of the Church is inextricably entwined. For the fierce battles to be fought under the banner of the Cross, one will furnish the officers, the other, the rank and file of a valiant army of Christian soldiers. Even among the rank and file there will be a wide variation of groups for the opportunities of advancement offered by technical schools are developing new interests and new factors in the problem of education. Whilst the needs of these various categories of pupils call for differentiation in the program of studies at a period that will best serve the life needs of each group, there are certain fundamental parts of the curriculum which every pupil must acquire irrespective of the direction that may be given to his later studies. These are the branches that belong logically to the elementary department. All other branches belong to the secondary department, and should be taken up only after the pupil has reached the differentiation stage.
So far in our discussion the advocates of revision are pretty well agreed. They begin to differ when an effort is made to fix a differential year and especially when confronted with the problem of separating the elementary from the secondary. In the Cleveland public schools, for instance, the new program of studies to be inaugurated next September calls for differentia