Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/June 1892/Editor's Table
STATE Superintendent of Education Andrew S. Draper lately delivered an address on education before certain teachers' associations. He also lately made a report on the same subject to the Legislature of New York. In the address he spoke of the "stern logic of the American experiment" having forced free schools upon the countries of Europe. What the stern logic of the American experiment teaches we are ourselves not prepared to say; but we notice that, in his annual report, Superintendent Draper tells us that one result of the American experiment is that since 1851 there has been a steady decrease in the percentage of attendance at the public schools. These are his words:
"The reports show that in 1851 the 'total attendance' comprised 75·6 per cent of the school population. This percentage has constantly fallen off with surprising regularity during the intervening forty years. In 1861 it was 65·6 per cent, in 1871 it was 68·4 per cent, in 1881 it was 61·4 per cent, and in 1891 it was 57·8 per cent. This is a showing which must engage the attention of all thoughtful persons. There should be some explanation of it, or there should be vigorous measures to remedy the growing evil of non-attendance upon the schools. Is there any explanation? Are the circumstances as unfortunate as the figures indicate? It should be said, in the first place, that the 'school population,' being all between five and twenty-one years, includes many children whose parents deem them too young to go to school, and a great many more who have gone through the schools and commenced work. In other words, the statutory school age is both younger and older than the actual school age is, or ever can be, in the greater number of cases, and is therefore misleading. This will indicate why the percentage is small, but not why it continually grows smaller."
The fact is that, since the establishment of kindergartens, children are going to school at a younger age now than they did a generation ago; and it is also the case that boys and girls stay longer at school nowadays than they used to do; so that, in the absence Of other influences, the percentage of attendance ought to be higher considerably than it was in 1851. Perhaps it was that forty years ago people had not yet learned to undervalue education on account of its very cheapness. Whatever the explanation, it seems to us that "the logic of the American experiment" requires to be further explored.
Mr. Frederic Harrison and Mrs. Fawcett have been having a little controversy of their own on the subject of "the emancipation of women." Mr. Harrison is desirous that women should have all possible educational advantages, and he says many fine things about their intellectual and moral powers; but he still holds that their place is in the home, not in the factory, the counting-house, the Government office, or the political meeting. Mrs. Fawcett points out the impossibility of confining women to the home in these days when 60 many of them have no home, or none that can give them a living; and, apart from that, she resents the idea that women are not adapted to extra-domestic tasks and duties. The controversy is in able hands, and we have no wish to intervene at present. One remark that Mrs. Fawcett makes, however, seems to call for a word. She speaks of "people who are in rebellion against all order in society; who think marriages should be dissolvable at will; that parents ought to have no control over their children," and so on through quite a list of absurdities, the last being the opinion that "any quack or impostor who chooses to put a brass plate on his door calling himself a physician, a lawyer, or what not, should occupy exactly the same position as those who have entered the various professions after complying with the constituted educational test of fitness." Now, we are not acquainted with any persons, nor have we heard of any, who hold this opinion; but we do know of some who consider that if there is anything that tends to bring the capable man and the ignoramus down to a common level, it is the brass door-plate under existing conditions. The public understand now that they have a guarantee that the M. D. on a door-plate or diploma means something definite; whereas the fact is that it may cover the widest possible diversity of attainments and abilities. The present system casts a kind of mysterious sanctity round the very blunders of the authorized physician, so that good wives may be heard talking of them with bated breath almost as if they were treading on holy ground. The doctor in fact is treated in general with far more consideration and even reverence than the minister, and, so far as we can see, his science only suffers through the distinction made in his favor. Whatever Mrs. Fawcett may think of it, we are strongly of opinion that medical science will never make the progress it is capable of till it is wholly set free from state control. Instead of such freedom placing the impostor and the competent practitioner on a level, it is the very thing, we are persuaded, that would do most to drive impostors, certified and non-certified, out of the "profession."