« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
WHAT SHALL THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS TEACH?
PUBLIC schools are an invention of the state, to be operated only in the interest of the state. The state has no proper con. cern for individuals except in so far as it judges their good to affect its own interests. Personal weal it is bound to respect only to the degree in which it can make personal weal contribute to the common weal. Its duties and relations to individ. uals are proprietary, not paternal. If a man cannot succeed when the state has done all for him that it is for its own interest to do, then he must either go to the wall or look to the church. The acceptance of these principles clears from the way some obstructions, and makes it easier to discuss the
question as to the kind and degree of instruction which the state ought, through the agency of its schools, to impart.
When we understand what an adult needs to be, in order to prove least of a nuisance to the state and most of a benefit, it is easy to state in general terms what sphere public schools ought to occupy, and within what lines their operation ought to be confined. As William von Humboldt stated the case, “whatever we wish to see introduced into the life of a nation must be first introduced into its schools." Public schools we shall, then, want to treat as the digestive machinery, the stomach of the body-politic.
In order to the common weal there are, in general, four things that an adult, man or woman, ought to know ; four things, therefore, that the state ought to see that its children have a fair opportunity to learn, viz.; to think, to work, to behave, and to love their country. What we have to say to the question submitted to us in this paper will fall conveniently under these four heads.
First. Public schools ought to teach children to think. Whether in a mill-pond or in the swim of life, it is a man's head that must be kept above water if his whole body will be saved from drowning. Brain has the ascendant. Wits will win. Ideas, practical ideas, are the best "state aid."
Notwithstanding the golden rule, existence has to be struggled for and won by a square fight. As much as that is taught us by our Bibles and pulpits in reference to the world to come; observation and experience teach us the same thing in relation to the life here. Calvinism is Darwinism on its celestial side and forward end. A teacher is not in condition to appreciate his own office till he understands that the chances of success are against the great majority of the pupils, that a difference of one distinct practical idea may turn the scale between rise and ruin, and that ignorant people will be the meat on which intelligent people will feed, the puppets which they will work and make jump to their pull.
We are dealing here with practical facts and prosaic conditions, and are in no mood for idealizing. Till we have gained far more than our present approach to the millennium, keenness will get to the top. Brightness is at a premium, goodness at a discount. People have to pay for being stupid. If the oil is out of their lamps, they simply cannot make them burn. Unenlightened goodness can make no show in this world, whatever may be its prospects for the next. Mere brute force makes candidacy for nothing better than a menagerie, and sagacity will carry the keys to the cages and dole out bones and provender with methodical frugality. Knowledge is power. Sense and discernment are the main avenue to preferment. Money cannot make brains, but brains can make money.
All of this is intensely carnal and material, but this world of ours is first of all a carnal and material world; and, however beautiful wings may be, fins are more practical for a fish so long as it is obliged to live in water. The prime office of schools is to help the poor majority solve the bread-and-butter problem. Mortality diminishes with the increase of intelligence. History shows that. People would live longer if they knew more and had been better stocked with sensible and sery. iceable ideas when they went to school. How can I furnish my pupils with life-preservers, so that when they tumble into deep water they will be able to float?
This method of coming to the question is not exhilarating, but big fish feed on little fish. Ninety per cent of those that are in our public schools will need to be spry to keep out of the clutches of the other ten per cent., and it is to that fact that school administration must address itself. What can be told and taught to a poor boy and a poor girl that will better their chances of getting through life without having to be put in the stocks or fed from the public crib? Schools must be graded to the average necessities of their pupils. It is not a matter of singling out an exemplary few and fitting them to be presidents and pbilosophers, but taking them as they run, and hitting the average; and averages are discouraging and “logy."
Public teaching has little or nothing to do, then, except to deal with what is level with average condition. Exceptional talent, and the exceptional treatment due to it, belong to indi. vidual enterprise and to philanthropy. The state is not in the philanthropic business; it is no parent, has no personal regards, no affections. Its duties are horizontal, not vertical. Highschools, colleges, and universities are an advantage to the minority; but the state goes out of its province in maintaining them, unless it can show that by such maintenance it advantages the majority, which it might not be easy to do.
This matter must be adjusted on a basis of wholesome utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is, in the healthiest sense of the terın, relevancy of means to ends. It need involve nothing meager or sordid. It is evinced by no one on so large a scale as by the Creator. The average child, then, having so few years in which to get its mental powers sharpened for use, the whetstones most economical for the purpose are the every-day elements of knowledge that he will need to employ, and the every-day matters of life that he will need to employ them upon.
The first, and pretty nearly the last, thing, then, that the public school ought to do for him is to teach him to read, speak, and write the English language intelligently. This will afford him no end of mental discipline, and will, at the same time, put in his hand the key to every door that he may need to swing farther on. In order that the most practical results might be reached, it is to be wished that there were a law prohibiting the use of spelling-books and grammars. A boy needs to learn to spell the words he himself uses, and not those that others use; and as for grammar, the way for him to learn to talk correctly is to talk, subject to correction, not to apply himself to linguistic anatomy, surgery, and dissection. I studied grammar in the ordinary way about three weeks, just long enough to find out what a genius some people can show in putting asunder what God hath joined together. It is a splendid device for using up a boy's time and souring his disposition; but it will not keep him out of the grave, nor help him pay rent and butcher's bills.
The school ought also to give the average pupil a little arithmetic and a little geography. As for geography, it might almost be said the less the better. It is convenient and necessary to know something about one's own country; also to know that the earth is round, and to bave some general idea of countries abroad. As for geographical details, it is sheer waste of time to learn them. If one-quarter of the time that is spent in learning minutiæ about inaccessible regions and outlandish towns were employed judiciously, the child would have just as practical a knowledge of the world, and would have three-quarters of his time left to put to more profitable uses. The criticism to be passed on arithmetic is, that while it disciplines the pupil's miod, it is usually taught in such a way that it has to be all learned over again before it is available for practical uses. A boy will know how to “do sums" in his book, but that is no indication that he could take the first step or make the first figure toward solving the same problem in a store or an office. The instruction he has received bas lacked the coupling-pin that binds the school-room and practical life into one train.
These are only samples of what we would say if we had time to say more. The above is not to be taken as a plea against detailed knowledge. We are only considering the probable future of nine-tenths of the pupils that are in our public schools, and the state's duty to itself to make the few years of schooling that the children enjoy so practically telling that it will not bave itself to blame if it is obliged to feed, imprison, or hang them when they are grown up.
Secondly. Public schools ought to teach children to work.
The transition from the first head to the second is easy. Our thoughts here will be dominated by the same idea of practical adaptation. We have to deal now with the matter of industrial education. The thoughts of practical educators at home and abroad are being strongly turned in this channel. In our own country a pronounced sentiment in its behalf is beginning to appear. This can be accounted for on two grounds. Education of the hand is one of the readiest means of mental discipline. Act induces mental energization and concentration; it operates upon scattered and straggling thoughts something as a drum-beat does at the head of a regiment-gathers them and gives them nerve. A boy who is working with his mind and hand both, will think twice as fast and twice as hard as when he is working with his bead alone. If I may be excused the personal allusion, I hardly expect my own brain will move till I get a pen between my fingers and a drop of ink on the end of it. It operates in the same way as a master whistling to his dog. Habit has something to do with it, but there is in it an element beside habit. Thoughts like some kind of thread to string themselves upon. A boy would rather do something than think something. If, therefore, his hand can be got to work, it will coax bis mind along after it, and presently the two will be found pulling on the opposite sides of the same pole.
Add to this the fact that thoughts will flow easily when feeling and interest have first cut a channel. A boy will draw a tolerable likeness of the schoolmaster long before he will think of being able to write his name. A certain amount of feeling is necessary in order to thaw out a person's wits. Below a certain temperature ideas as well as blood coagulate. That a child wants perpetually to be doing something, ought to suggest that action is providentially designed as a means of tuition. The arts of drawing, modeling, working in wood and iron, exactly match a child's tastes, and when his hand is at work his mind is at work. Ingenuity begins to develop as soon as means are seen to be relevant to ends. A boy will be shrewd in adjusting a bent pin. There is something wonderfully fascinating about the adroitness with which street urchins will capture empty barrels for election bonfires. Perhaps professional educators would