Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/June 1896/Co-Ordination of our Educational Institutions

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1232727Popular Science Monthly Volume 49 June 1896 — Co-Ordination of our Educational Institutions1896Edward H. Magill




THE common consensus of thoughtful minds in these latter days has been gradually tending more and more toward the proper co-ordination and correlation of our educational institutions. In a comparatively new country like ours it may naturally be supposed that, as the need for various grades of these institutions has arisen, the want has not always been supplied with a sufficiently careful consideration of the needs of those of other grades, and that, as a result, the general educational interests of the country require some readjustment and reorganization. It should be observed in the beginning that no censure is intended to be applied to any institution or class of institutions for their present status, as this has resulted from the progressive stages of their growth and development, and no sudden or violent change is contemplated or desired. The general outline here to be presented is rather an ideal system for future realization, toward which all may gradually work as their surroundings and circumstances may permit.

Within the past few years a new class of educational institutions has been introduced from abroad, which have received, in their name, the impress of their foreign origin. Of course, we allude to the kindergarten schools, which may now be regarded as the foundation of our present educational system, the culminating point of which is the university. The value of this new importation is no longer seriously questioned by educators, and we cordially accept it here as supplying a need which may be satisfactorily filled, by the devotion to it of about three years of the life of a child. In these three years, from the age of three to six, with competent trained teachers, the little ones receive a training of the hand, the eye, the ear, the voice, and the mind that tells powerfully upon all the subsequent years of their school and college life; and the social, moral, and unsectarian religious element of their natures receives in these early years a most profound and lasting impression. With this foundation, entering upon the primary grade at six, this can well be completed in three years, from six to nine, and after these six years of school life the intermediate grade can be well covered in three years more, from the age of nine to twelve. This outline presupposes also the saving of much valuable time by omitting studies which belong to a more mature stage of mental development, and especially much of the time devoted to the foundation of mathematical studies, which should come chiefly later in the course, language studies taking their just place in the earlier years. We next come to the grammar-school grade, so called, and educators are now beginning to see that this grade, occupying four years, from the age of twelve to sixteen, after the admirable preparation received in the lower grades, should prepare students to enter upon a college course. To this end, too, the requirements for admission to college should be materially lowered instead of being as now too often advanced. This was distinctly announced by Prof. Remsen at Johns Hopkins University in his address before the College Association of the Middle States and Maryland last year, when he made it perfectly evident to all that the best educational interests would be advanced by calling a halt to the colleges which are raising their requirements for admission, thus admitting students younger and graduating them earlier to continue their work in the universities or enter upon the duties of active life. From the age of sixteen to twenty should be devoted to the college course, beginning with few electives in the Freshman year and gradually increasing their number as the course approaches completion. On graduating from college the students should receive their first degrees from these institutions, and all subsequent post-graduate degrees should be earned in and conferred by the universities, in which all college graduates who can devote the additional time and means required should be encouraged to pursue their studies for three or perhaps four years more. As the university course would include the professional courses, students would thus come out at twenty-three or twenty-four years of age equipped thoroughly, so far as our educational institutions can equip them, to cope successfully with the important problems and duties of active life.

It will be seen that for the thorough application of such an outline of study, each institution, of whatever grade, should aim to do its own work most thoroughly and well, and attempt no part of that of an institution of a higher or lower grade. Thus the student should pass from the kindergarten to the primary, from the primary to the intermediate, from the intermediate to the grammar school, from the grammar school to the college, and from the college to the university, entering each institution, as the rule (remarkable exceptions will occur, but they should not change the rule), in the lowest class of that institution, and passing through its entire curriculum in the department selected. No other course than this can assure the successful working of any regularly organized system of instruction.

It is very true that most of our colleges had connected with them in their origin preparatory departments as a necessity of their existence. This necessity has existed, and in some cases still continues to exist, and it is no part of this paper to condemn such union while circumstances require it. Our universities are of later growth, and are with scarcely an exception in this transition period, with large undergraduate classes. With these, as with the colleges, we have no controversy, for they are doing excellent work, and their circumstances in these earlier stages seem to require this union, which, under other circumstances, we should earnestly deprecate.

We say they are doing excellent work, but this is because of the completeness of their organization in other respects and the able faculties which they employ. But surely they could do worthier work were these faculties free to give their time and attention to graduate students, and no longer hampered and hindered by the instruction of large classes of undergraduates. And the present condition of things is equally a disadvantage to our colleges, whose students, to rival those of universities, aspire to what is quite beyond undergraduate work, and thus wholly overlook the plain line of distinction between a college and a university, consisting as it does so largely of the separating line between acquisition of the known and investigation of the unknown. And hence it is, too, that a number of colleges, even those of low grade, and especially those of low grade, aspire to be called universities. The changes proposed will do away with all this, and colleges and universities will each do better work in their respective fields.

We shall then hail with joy, as advancing the best interests of education in this country, the time when all our universities shall have reached the stage of admitting to their courses no undergraduate students.

It will be seen that to adopt the outline here presented to our educational system it will be needful, in the four grammar-school years (high schools and academies being left out of the scheme), to prepare students properly for entering upon one of the courses in college, the ancient or the modern letters course, or the science course, the requirements for the admission to each being now rapidly equalized by our best colleges. With the nine years of most thorough training in the three earlier grades, from the age of three to twelve, and under teachers who are themselves no mere experimenters, but thoroughly trained to their work, this will be found quite possible, and the preparation will be even better made than under our present system. Of course, the plan involves a complete training in all the grades, including a professional training for teaching in the university before entering upon the responsible position of teacher of the young in any one of the grades, even of the lowest. When this time arrives, teaching as a means of eking out a scanty subsistence, or as a stepping-stone to something higher, with wholly inadequate professional preparation, will be done away. It is, indeed, an expensive method of