THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
|THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SCHOOL|
By JAMES P. MUNROE
HORACE MANN, speaking in 1841, said: "A practical unbelief in the power of education—the power of physical, intellectual and moral training—exists among us, as a people." Two generations later are we still, as a people, unbelievers? We extol with fervor, with acclamation, with volubility, free schools; we pay our taxes not too unwillingly, spend an occasional session in our children's schools, help John and Mary, spasmodically and ineffectively, with their harder lessons, send them at some sacrifice to a high school or perhaps to college, and then thank God for the priceless blessing of a liberal education!
Having thus, with characteristic amiability and liberality done his duty according to the custom of his neighbors, the average American proceeds to exalt the "self-made" man, to deride the college and even the high school graduate, and to wonder why, with free schools and compulsory schooling, crime, folly and corruption flourish so amazingly. As in 1841, there is a "practical unbelief," not in education itself, but in the thing called education which most schools and colleges give.
We Americans pride ourselves upon being a practical people, yet fail to treat education as a practical question. Therefore, as a rule, our public schools are neither practically governed nor fitted in a practical way for the ends which they should serve. Blinded by time-honored fictions, we ignore the plainest facts. Paying vast taxes for the support of schools, we act as though the spending of that money would be guided by Divine inspiration. Making this upon education one of our largest outlays, we are content that such an enormous expenditure should be in the hands of changing and irresponsible boards, to most of whom the problems of education are as remote as the wisdom of Confucius. Setting in motion the machinery upon which we depend for the quality of future citizenship and therefore for the very existence of the republic, we are, as a rule, quite heedless whether that machinery turns out youth well fitted or totally unfit for the duties of men and women. The public schools are a business investment which stern necessity taught the founders of the nation the wisdom of making; yet the hardest thing to impress upon this nation of business men is that simple and fundamental fact.