Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/305

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301
THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SCHOOL

Without public education genuine democracy is impossible; therefore the democratic state must make provision for free common schools. From every point of view, however, especially from that of the pupil's own good, those common schools should be regarded as investments from which the state, if it would prosper, must get the best possible returns. All measures in education, be they of the kindergarten or of the college, should be judged mainly from the standpoint of an enlightened political economy, from the standpoint, that is, of securing the greatest good for the greatest number by the least expenditure of social force.

Quite as much for our sakes as for theirs we require all children of certain ages to attend school and, directly or indirectly, tax ourselves to pay for this free teaching. But in paying taxes and in voting for a school board—supposing even that we do the first cheerfully and the second with some shadow of knowledge of the candidates—we are fulfilling but a small part of our duty to youth and to ourselves. There are at least two other obligations. The first of these—since we compel the child to go—is to make sure that his schooling is the best obtainable; the second—since we contribute so much to the cause of education—is to make certain that we secure the equivalent of this money, in the quality of citizenship which the schools produce. If we acknowledge the wisdom of educating every child; if, not simply recognizing it, we actually compel it and set up a system against which private enterprise is powerless to compete, it would seem but plain duty to make this compulsory education humanly perfect. Even failing, however, to recognize this moral obligation, it still remains extraordinary that a nation so shrewd as ours, lavishing millions upon free education, should not look more closely to it that industrial capacity, mental and physical strength, and effective citizenship result.

Being, so to speak, a protected monopoly, the public school, to Justify its favored position, should do as much for every child as any other means of education, were it free to maintain itself, could accomplish. As long as the claim can anywhere truthfully be made that parents must send their children to private schools in order to their best education, just so long the public schools are falling short of their full and essential service, a service that involves the giving, not of mere instruction, but of real education. To prepare youth for civic duty and for industrial, business or professional life, the free schools must furnish those means of intercourse, those fundamentals of a civilized society, which the casting of a ballot and the pursuit of a business or a trade demand; but, in addition and far more importantly, they must lay such foundations that every youth, broadly speaking, may become the best workman, the most successful man of affairs, the completest citizen that it is possible for him to be.