« PreviousContinue »
boasting, it is the public school system, for this is the greatest of American inventions" and the most successful social enterprise yet undertaken by any people. The United States maintains a Bureau of Education in this department, which, upon a small appropriation, collates as best it can the figures and facts which most inadequately tell the story of the growth and use of this most brilliantly conceived piece of governmental machinery.
The American people are not indifferent to their schools. Quite otherwise. They pay for their support almost as much as they do for the support of the entire Federal Government; in round numbers, three-quarters of a billion dollars a year, which keeps an army of 600,000 teachers at work. Education is indeed our foremost industry, from whatever point of view it may be regarded. Yet I am assured that it has made less progress than any of our other industries during the past 30 years. With all the marvelous record of what the mind of a quick people may produce to make life happier and nature more serviceable, how little can be shown as our contribution to the methods of improving the mind and skill of the young! We have gone to Europe—to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark chiefly—for the new methods with which we have experimented, and Japan has found a way to instruct through the eyes and hands that will make these very practical people still more distinguished.
Yet here and there under rare leadership may be found in this country the most striking proofs of what can be done to tie our schools to our life. The hope is eventually to make the school what it should be, and easily may be made to be, the very heart of the community-social club and cooperative center as well as school.
There would seem to be nothing visionary in such a hope. To effect this evolution there is needed primarily leadership, and this the Government must give if it is to realize its desire for a people who are both skilled and happy. The spirit of our people is against a paternal government. We do not take with kindness to an authority that is mandatory. There is a sound belief that a people who make their own way are in the end riper and of stronger fibre than those who accept what is not the result of common determination. But this spirit of intense individualism does not make us independent of or indifferent to useful methods and helpful standards. And it is these that we can reveal. It is these that we should find and place
in service, rather than force the disconnected schools of the land to feel their way out or “muddle through.” We may not command, but
“ show how." This is democracy's substitute for absolutism in the effort to secure efficiency. For such policy of helpfulness there is abundant precedent, not only in the action of Congress in making minor appropriations for the work of the Bureau of Education on precisely these lines, but in the activities of other departments. The country is dotted with experimental farms which prove soil values and the farmer of to-day is learning from the Government how great and all-embracing must be the knowledge necessary to the carrying on of his work, for he must know of chemistry, mechanics, markets and finance, transportation, and a world of things which his father or grandfather would have laughed at as the frills of a doctrinaire education, notwithstanding the early example of the wise and manysided farmer who was the third President of this country.
I have said in a previous report that the Bureau of Education should either be abolished or put to serious high purpose.
I believe the latter to be the wise, in fact the necessary, course. There is a real use for it. As in the Bureau of Mines we seek to save the lives of miners by educating them in the use of explosives and life-saving apparatus, and by instructing operators in safe methods of building their vast underground workshops, so I would erect the Bureau of Education into a Bureau of Educational Methods and Standards in which would be gathered the ripe fruit of all educational experiments upon which the schools of the country could draw. This is a wide country, and there is need for a national clearing house where can be centered and exchanged the results of the most remote experiments.
WHY NOT A RURAL SCHOOL CAMPAIGN
There is no disguising the fact that we have a most difficult problem in the United States and I can not believe it is ours alone in the rural community. A majority of our school children are in rural schools. The query arises, Are our rural schools doing their part in making life in the country desirable? An ambitious people will go where education can be had for their children. There is no sense in talking of the charms of country life and the independence and dignity of producing from the soil if the school at command is no more modern than a wooden plow. The old-fashioned one-roomed
schoolhouse which holds 40 or 50 ungraded pupils, having but a single teacher who knows nothing but books, is not a modern institution, though great men have issued from its door. It may be all that the county can afford where many schools are maintained, but it is not all that the county can afford if schools are grouped and grades instituted. The richest State in the Union has over 4,000 schools of this character, wherein the teachers are paid less than competent farm hands, and this brings to mind the correlative thought that one needed reform in the school system is in the elevation of teaching into a real profession, as in older countries. As it is now, a teacher is almost without status in our society. And this, in addition to the inadequacy of the pay, has drawn to the profession those who use it only as a makeshift, and those who, out of a spirit of self-sacrifice and love for the work, serve in the highest way the public good. Of the former class we need fewer, and to the latter should come increasing honor.
How can the schools of a county be so coordinated and combined as to make them efficient tools? What should be the standard for a teacher's qualifications? How may children be brought to and taken from the school to distant homes at the least expense ? To what extent should the teaching be out of doors and the “examples” those of real life? How can the boy learn that there is adventure in farm life as well as in the city!—for adventure he will have. To what uses may the school building be put as a community center for the neighborhood dance, lecture, or moving-picture show, or, perhaps, as the home of a cooperative buying or marketing organization ? These are but a few of the questions which many men have tried to answer, and there have been some successful experiments made and right answers given.
But it is as hopeless a task for a local school board to find these answers as for a lawyer to know the decisions of all the courts. The teachers, the superintendents, and the school boards need leadership; they need an authoritative statement of conclusions by the wisest and most practical men in the land; they need to be shown the better way. And with even as little as a hundred thousand dollars a year for two or three years we could, I believe, conduct a campaign for a new kind of rural school that would work little less than a revolution in rural life. Our aim would be to identify the school with the farm and the
village, and develop a new respect in fathers and mothers for the school as a practical and not a mere scholastic institution. The problem is only one of popularization. The experimental work has been done. We know where the best seed is. Here is call for the cooperative leadership of the Government in a work of supreme value to the State. The man to direct this work should be one whose word the Nation would heed. That such a man can be secured there is no doubt, for experience justifies the statement that there are no men of large capacity whose services the country can not command at a material sacrifice.
If asked how this work could be done I should say that it could best be done by showing to the picked teachers of the country the model schools. The quickest and the surest way to set this country aflame with zeal for a better type of country school would be to show the teachers such schools, make them live in them, and learn from them by seeing them in action.
There is no such lesson as the one that is taught by experience. Lectures, moving pictures, and books may aid. But to see and be part of a movement or life is to make it one's own. If ten live men or women were taken from each State to some one of the two or three most modern rural schools and there for a month were initiated into the art of teaching out of life, by doing things and not reading about things being done, and if each of these ten went home a missionary for the new idea, how long would it be before the States were converted and old methods abandoned? And once the right kind of school were started in any State how long would it take others to follow? This thing can be done and by methods that are so simple and direct that they will be startling. The need is immediate, and surely it would be a shame to let a generation waste itself while the idea slowly creeps on all-fours through a country that has invented wireless telephony.
In this work the newspapers of the country could, and I feel assured would, give invaluable assistance. Not merely by the publicity given to the movement, but more definitely by helping in the selection of the candidates for this opportunity, in sending them to these selected schools, and carrying on the campaign for putting what they have found into reality.
THE TEST OF A DEMOCRACY.
There is an evolution in a new nation's life quite as interesting as that in the life of a man. We pass through stages of development from the simple and earlier period when food is the one thing desired into the more elaborated and complex stages where first we begin to deal with the easily handled things and later reach the point where mind has a controlling part in all that is done. The pioneer builds his cabin and turns his cattle to graze upon the unfenced wilderness. He takes his water from the stream and makes his gun serve him with food and give him protection. It is not many years, however, before he has passed from herdsman to farmer, when soil must be plowed and seed sown. At first the one-horse plow will do, and any seed. But life grows more intense—society has gathered around, new demands are created—machinery must be used, seed must be selected, soil fertilized, credit obtained, markets sought, and the life of the simple herdsman has become complicated and broad. The gay recklessness of other days gives way to constant thought. So has it been with this country. For a long time we lived off the country's obvious supplies. Later we were producers of raw materials-grains and minerals, lumber and cotton. When manufacturing began it was of the larger, coarser things, which perhaps in their turn went abroad for higher fabricating. Now, however, we have come into the full tide of modern life when we seek for greater and more varied industries, wider markets, more economical methods of production and exchange. And in such a new time direction is needed, mutual and coordinated effort must be set up and the more elaborate machinery of organization put into service. Thought becomes the basis of the new life-hard, close, insistent, constructive thought, illuminated by knowledge and made practical by imagination.
I have reviewed some of the activities of this department that they may suggest how adequate to the task of efficient national development a democracy, even one so young, may be made to be. It has a foundation in the spirit and self-confidence of its people which no other government can have. There is needed but the crystalliz