Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/178

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By Professor J. B. SEARS


WHAT is the real problem now before the rural school? This is a question that is being asked on all sides, and by an increasing number of people. Professional and laymen alike are trying to find out, not only why it is that the rural school has been so much neglected, but in what specific ways it has been neglected; and, what is even more important, what the rural school is really obligated to do.

It is true that the praise of the district school has been sung almost from the dawn of its existence; that the poet, the essayist and the orator have all referred in endearing terms to the little red schoolhouse on the hill; to the district school, the pride of our land and the embodiment of the best principles of American democracy, etc.; and we have continued to believe things about the country school in general which we knew did not apply to any particular case in point. Thus the real and the ideal have managed to avoid a conflict till the issue has become very pronounced, not because the school is any different from what it was a half-century ago, but because the demands upon it have increased in complexity, and so intensified its problem, which it has never solved any too well. And it is because the facts of its inefficiency have been accumulating so rapidly that during the past decade a wealth of literature, technical and otherwise, has been finding a ready consumption. Just what these facts are we ought to know. No policy can be laid down which is in any sense comprehensive if it is not made in the clear light of the real nature and extent of those problems which it is the function of the rural school to solve or help to solve.

It is well to remind ourselves from time to time that in the minds of the founders of our nation, as well as in our own thinking, education is conceived to be essential to our form of government. Yet, if we examine more closely to see just how the school has been handled by the state, we may quickly find that it has never been a definite part of a constructive national or state policy in the broad and comprehensive sense commonly accepted. For while in theory the school has been instituted and espoused as an instrument to be used in the development of political and social permanency, yet in very fact we discover that when this principle or ideal, which is referred to in almost every state constitution, becomes a reality, it is a state concern too much in name only, with such vital matters as support left, in the final analysis, to the locality