Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/March 1880/Editor's Table
"LET WELL ENOUGH ALONE"
A GOOD illustration of the tendencies of officialism in education, as well as in politics, is afforded by the recent inaugural address of the new President of the New York Board of Education, Mr. Stephen C. Walker. He said he had formerly been opposed to the policy of taxing the people to sustain academic or high-class education. But no sooner does he find himself in the official saddle than all doubt is dissipated, and he becomes the eager apologist of things as they are. And this is the more remarkable, as he betrays a lurking consciousness that there is a good deal hereabout that will not bear examination, and of which the less is said the better. He admonishes some people that they had better have a care, and not push things much further, as there may come a day of reckoning. Therefore he urges quiet and acquiescence, and deplores all excitement and agitation. A certain questionable policy being consummated beyond what its promoters could have ever dreamed, he thinks the rule should be now, "Let well enough alone." Mr. Walker is reported as saying: "We not only have two colleges, whose expenses are met by general taxation, with curricula embracing every known subject of academic instruction, but, in the course of study of our grammar and primary schools, the subjects presented number fifteen or twenty, and, of course, embrace many which are neither essential nor elementary. Never having been able to give full assent to the arguments which are claimed to prove the propriety of making academic education a public charge, I am ready, and even eager, to accept the present situation of affairs, and to say to the champions of what is called higher education, and to the less eloquent and active advocates of elementary instruction, let well enough alone. I foresee dangers in agitation and disturbance. I see much good in things as they are. If those who sincerely believe that the Government should be so parental and munificent as to place within the reach of every aspiring lad the means of the most ample technical or professional education will only rest content with the large measure of success they have already gained, with the crowded seats of advanced learning endowed beyond all dreams of private munificence, by legislation, which subsidizes for their support the property, real, personal, and mixed, of the whole Commonwealth, they will not hazard the attainments already made. In pushing for more there is, in my judgment, a possibility of arousing a power in the community, of great weight by reason of its wealth, its clear judgment, its conservative and logical methods, which shall bring all the force of argument and capital against the existence, at public expense, of academic education in any form."
Having got two colleges, embracing every known subject of academic instruction, and grammar-schools devoted to fifteen or twenty subjects which are neither essential nor elementary, and endowed beyond all dreams of private munificence by legislation which subsidizes for their support the property, real, personal, and mixed, of the whole Commonwealth, for all of which he has never seen sufficient reason, Mr. Walker thinks we may now rest and be thankful. There have been demands that something should be done to make education more practical in the direction of applied science and industrial art. But Mr. Walker says: Be quiet; these things can only come in with a popular boom. This is his language: "It may be that, as a result of one or all these demands, we shall see the time when the turning-lathe and the sewing-machine shall be parts of general school supplies. The point I make is, that agitation and discussion of this subject are not incumbent upon us, who are called to administer the school system as we find it, not to revolutionize its fundamental principles or work experiments. When the time comes for such changes we shall all hear of it. It will be a voice as of the sound of many waters. The school system and its methods and subjects of instruction are surrounded by almost constitutional guarantees. The people created and cherish this system and these methods and the existing modifications thereof." Now, we respectfully suggest that, if President Walker proposes to keep things placid, he must be a little more circumspect in his statements, and not give occasion for indignant protest. It is not true of the school system under his jurisdiction that the people created it "and the existing modifications thereof." Those "modifications" were never called for or authorized by the people. The school system of New York has been revolutionized and perverted from its original purposes, and that not by popular initiation and approval, but by manoeuvring and indirection, by wire-pulling and huggermuggery. It has been prostituted to ends never contemplated by those who established it and have sustained it, and this has been done in express defiance of the known convictions and wishes of the people. President Walker probably knows this, and hence his apprehension of a popular explosion, and his exhortations to a cautious and gingerly treatment of fundamental questions. On the contrary, we think the subject can not be too often and too thoroughly ventilated.
The reader is referred to a previous article in this "Monthly," which shows that the New York school system was founded to supply elementary instruction to those unable to obtain it in preexisting schools. But, with the progress and diffusion of knowledge, and especially of practical scientific knowledge that bears upon the common avocations of life, there grew up a popular demand that our common-school system should do something to qualify boys for industrial pursuits. To give effect to this widely expressed desire, it was proposed to establish in connection with the public-school system a high school of technology and practical science, to help boys who were expected to learn trades and follow industrial occupations. It was submitted to a popular vote whether such an institution should be organized, and its distinctive and limited object was printed upon each ballot. The people pronounced by a large majority in its favor, and the "Free Academy" was the result.
But the object of this institution was never honestly carried out. Its faculty were ashamed of its vulgar "utilitarian" purpose; a "Free Academy" had no status among dignified institutions, and its officers did not cease their exertions till its object was abandoned, and the concern was transformed into a "regular college." The Free Academy was killed, and a new charter was obtained, instituting the "College of the City of New York."
With this "modification thereof" the people had nothing to do. They were never offered a chance of expressing their opinion of the repudiation of the plan they had formally ratified. It was diverted from its objects, without consulting them, by ring-management; and, as the city had got a college for boys, the cry was raised that there must be another for girls also; and the Normal College was the result.
There was no mistaking the character and object of this covertly managed revolution in the policy of popular education in this city. When the thing was done, all disguise was thrown out. As we have stated before in these pages, but which may now be pertinently recalled. Judge Larrimore, President of the Board of Education, gave an address explanatory of the new situation. The school called for by the people was contemptuously repudiated in its theory and object. The new institution was proclaimed as of the old order of colleges. The speaker went back to the middle ages to get his ideal of a college, and defended classical studies, as entitled to the leading place, in opposition to the claims of science and modern studies. How far he appreciated the idea which the people had tried to embody in the Free Academy was shown by the fact that, when an influential work on education, that has been translated into all civilized languages, was quoted, he sneeringly retorted that it was written by an engineer.
Had the design of the Free Academy been carried out in good faith, its benign results to education in this city and this country would have been great. A generation has passed since the people pronounced for an advance in industrial education; and if the plan had not miscarried—if they had not been cheated out of it—the salutary influence upon the lower schools, and the consequent benefits to the community, would have been incalculable. Bat this retrogressive step has been fatal to our educational progress. The classical college at the head of our system has reacted to obstruct reform in the primary schools. Of the way this influence is exerted we have a fresh illustration. The new President, notwithstanding his solicitude to let things alone, can not refrain from meddling. He was made chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City College, and in his address he said that "the college entrance examinations were not exacting enough." That is, the screws must be put on to the lower schools to force more vigorous exertion on the part of boys with reference to the system of instruction pursued in the classical institution.
CONANT ON INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT.
It is surprising how English ardor on international copyright cools as Americans begin to draw the distinction between the rights of British authors and the claims of British publishers. As long as these were mixed up, the case against us was strong, and we were very frequently reminded of the turpitude of our piratical practices. But when it began to be said here, seriously, We will yield the English author his just demand, and pay him for his literary property, but his foreign publisher we will not pay because he has no just claims upon us, then we hear a good deal less of foreign denunciation, and international copyright ceases to be urged, or much discussed.
Mr. S. S. Conant, of New York, was asked to write a paper for "Macmillan's Magazine," giving the American view of the subject. He complied, and furnished an able article, moderate but decided, and discussing the question with a view to its practical settlement. He recognized the urgency of the question, and took the ground that the full rights of English authors should be accorded and secured by law, but that we in this country must be permitted to manufacture their books. He showed that the foreign book-maker has no rights that such an arrangement would violate, and that equity would be completely gained if the foreign author was required to make his bargain with some American publisher. There are American reasons for this policy, the force and validity of which Americans must be left to judge of; but justice will be satisfied when the foreign author is put upon the same basis as the American author.
A reply or at least a rejoinder to this article, by an English lawyer, followed it in the same number of the Magazine. Mr. Conant had said that the need of some adequate copyright arrangement between the two countries was pressing; his critic undertook to be very sarcastic at this, declaring that leading American publishers were now beginning to suffer from the carrying out of their own vicious system, and had suddenly discovered that the case is pressing. He said that he saw no particular symptoms of urgency in England, and doubted if the Americans were very eager about it, so that on the whole the matter might as well be at present let alone.
Mr. Conant returned a crushing reply to his critic, but "Macmillan" declined to print it. It, however, appeared in the London "Academy." He showed that the quibble over the word "pressing" was aside from the argument, and that that term simply indicated the actual status of the question in both countries. If business had become more demoralized here, under a bad system, than before, it only furnished a more potent reason for remedial action. No change certainly had taken place on this side of the water which could lessen the interest of the British author in international copyright. On the contrary, the system in this country was working out results more and more damaging to foreign authors. As to the state of feeling in England, Mr. Conant showed that her authors at any rate did not share the assumed indifference of "Macmillan's" critic. He showed that the recent Royal Commission relating to home, colonial, and international copyright, gave prominent and earnest attention to the relations of England and the United States with regard to authors and reprints, and that their report bristled with evidences of the interest felt in that country over this question. And, finally, he clinched the case by putting in the recent statement of fifty eminent English authors, not only recognizing the importance of the question, but accepting the American view of it, and expressing their readiness to acquiesce in it as an entirely fair and just arrangement.
So the tables are now turned, and the English publishers, who oppose a measure satisfactory to the parties rightly interested there, and which is the only practical measure that can possibly be carried out here, are now in the position of obstructives, and enemies of copyright. Mr. Conant's pamphlet puts the thing in a nutshell, and those concerned with the progress of the discussion can obtain it by application to Harper & Brothers, New York.