Popular Science Monthly/Volume 63/October 1903/Educational Endowments at the South

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


WITHIN the past five years alone the benefactions to institutions of higher learning in the United States have amounted to a little more than sixty-one millions. That is to say, during that time money from private sources has been devoted to liberal education at the rate of a little more than a million dollars a month. In many cases, it must be admitted, the claim of the institutions thus favored to the rank of college or university is not very substantial, but the gifts themselves represent the loyalty of the donors to a certain ideal of education, however imperfectly that ideal may have expressed itself.

At first it would seem that this flood of gold, the high tide of a stream that began to flow about thirty years ago, could have left no need of the higher education unprovided for; but as usual a closer survey of the field shows not only many a nook not yet irrigated, but whole fields still arid and uncared for. Educational endowments have this in common with other investments, that they follow usually the line of greatest immediate efficiency; they are also controlled in a high degree by sentiment, and the two have so reinforced each other here in America as to turn great streams of wealth in certain directions, while but scanty dribbles have flowed in others. The habit of giving began to establish itself soon after the civil war, and the greatest beneficiaries during these intervening years have been the young men of the New England and north central states. The next most favored class have been the young men and women of the middle states and the west; least of all has the white population of the south profited by this generosity. And by the white population we do not mean the 'poor whites,' nor the mountaineers, nor the 'crackers,' nor any other class traditionally aloof from educational influences, but the white race in toto. 'The south,' also, should be defined. For our purpose here it means the ten cis-Mississippi slave states and Louisiana, since the slave states further west have been subjected to influences which have left the first group untouched.

Looking through the list of institutions of the higher learning issued by the Bureau of Education at Washington—a list which is comprehensive rather than critical—we find the advantage in every respect but one with the north. That advantage, to speak politely, is in the number of universities and colleges of liberal arts themselves. Massachusetts reports nine and so does Alabama; Rhode Island has one and Connecticut three, but North Carolina has fifteen, Georgia and Virginia each eleven and Tennessee twenty-four. Yet out of a total of 157 millions of productive funds held by American colleges, the south has but fifteen; of eight and a half million books in college libraries, the south holds but one and a quarter millions; the value of her scientific apparatus is a little over a million against a total valuation of seventeen millions, and of grounds and buildings eight and a half millions in a total of 146 millions. The total annual income available for the higher education in Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky is nineteen thousand dollars less than the yearly income of Harvard University, The efficiency of this income is still further reduced by being divided among a multitude of institutions. Ten feeble colleges are a poor substitute for one strong one. Out of forty institutions in the United States with productive funds amounting to a million and over, but five are in the south; of twenty-one with productive funds of between half a million and a million, but one. As to colleges for women, in 1890 sixty-eight per cent, of all such institutions—classing as colleges institutions empowered to give degrees—were in the south, while seventy-eight per cent, of the endowment of that group of institutions was held by twelve colleges in the North Atlantic states. The increase of endowment for women's colleges since that date has been preponderantly in institutions at the north.

So far as can be gleaned from public records, there are three southern state universities which in thirty years have received no 'benefaction ' whatsoever. It is true that in 1878 one of them reported hopefully that it had received some samples of cotton in different stages of growth, and some silk cocoons, but the visions of prosperity thus evoked were not fulfilled. Another term of barren years set in, and though as an emblematic gift—the substance of things hoped for—the cocoons were most happy, as an educational endowment they left much to be desired. Occasionally the southern college not otherwise favored has reported a gift of books, but there has been an ominously large proportion of 'public documents' in these lists, and libraries of country clergymen—hardly treasuries of modern thought, it is to be feared. These facts show another difference, in addition to the quantitative one, between the educational opportunities which have been open to the young men and women of the north and south.

The usual way of meeting an array of facts such as these is to refer to Mark Hopkins on his log as the true measure of the quality of a college, but unfortunately in no way does a scanty endowment tell so against an institution as in securing able teachers. The greatest scholarship, the exceptional ability in teaching, the strong and winning personality gravitate through urgency of demand to the great centers. Moreover, the abnormal conservatism of the south, both political and religious, creates an atmosphere antagonistic to the finer interests of scholars.

Superficially speaking, liberal training is an unimportant factor in the problem of general education; it is the elementary school that counts. But here again we find a deplorable contrast between the south and other parts of the country. In 1900 the average length of the school year in the southern states was but 109 days, the average expenditure per pupil $9.72. In the north central states—new states, many of them—the average expenditure per pupil was $20.85. We must remember, too, in connection with these statistics, that the border states, such as Maryland and Tennessee, bring up the average enormously. In North Carolina 'school kept' but a fraction over seventy days, and the expenditure per pupil was $4.34. In Alabama, though the school year was eight days longer, the expenditure per pupil was but $3.10, and so small is the enrolment through the southern states, that at the Conference for Education in the South held in 1901, the average number of school days per child was given as three a year. Be it remembered, too, that these children, the men and women of to-morrow, thus on starvation rations scholastically, are without other means to relieve their necessities. There are no 'vacation schools,' no lectures, no libraries, one might almost say no books passing from hand to hand. They are without the stimulus of contact either with active life or with a considerable number of well-educated people; and as they grow to maturity they are too often without occupation, except of the most restricted and uneducative kind. According to Mr. Walter H. Page, the proportion of illiterate white voters in the ten cis-Mississippi southern states is to-day as large as it was in 1850. That is to say, in all these years of marvelous educational development in other parts of the country, and in which even the black, just out of slavery, has so progressed, the southern white has not gained; indeed, he has lost, since he staggers to-day under the incubus of half a century of apathy. We are accustomed to take the 27 per cent, of the census as representing the illiteracy of the old slave states, but that is a very incomplete measure. At least an additional 25 per cent, can do no more than read and write, and the upper level of intellectual equipment and efficiency is below that of the corresponding classes in other parts of the country. Yet upon these men and women devolves the most critical and complicated social problem ever given to a community to solve, one demanding above all else that it be seen clearly and seen whole, and requiring for its solution nothing less than statesmanlike methods, a wide social philosophy and the finest ethical feeling translated into terms of democracy.

What are the reasons for these lamentable and even tragic conditions? First, certainly, are those so often noted—poverty and a scanty population. The proportions of area and school population might be placed at forty children per square mile in Rhode Island and forty square miles per child in Florida—a condition which gives the former commonwealth an advantage in developing a system of public schools. But back of this and back of the terrible losses of the civil war lies another which has made the first two effective for harm—heretofore the south has not desired any general development of education within her borders. At the time that John Eliot in Massachusetts was praying, 'Lord, for schools everywhere among us,' Governor Berkeley of Virginia, in answer to an inquiry from England, was writing, 'I thank God there are no free schools nor printing presses; God keep us from both.'

William and Mary made a promising beginning. It was established as a school for the Virginia people and the Indians, with an endowment munificent when compared with that of Harvard and Yale at that time. "But," to quote a southern educator, "the idea that education was not for the masses did not die an easy death in Virginia; and William and Mary was never a people's school in the sense that Harvard and Yale were. * * * The years following the Revolution saw the defeat of every plan for universal education. Most of the provisions were merely permissive, and the whole atmosphere was antagonistic. The noble plan of Jefferson was too liberal to be even proposed in its entirety, and the part which was made public was so mutilated in the process of adoption that it became an object of contempt."

At the outbreak of the civil war the provision for education below the grade of college was sporadic and infrequent, nor, with the possible exception of the University of Virginia, was there a single college in the south to compare with those of the north. It is necessary to keep these things in mind—the habit of neglect, the established indifference, the educational poverty, both of thought and endowment—if we are to understand the conditions to-day. To those must be added that self-satisfied habit of mind which has always been one of the south 's heaviest handicaps. It was with such a history as this that the south had to meet the terrible conditions at the close of the civil war, and it is these traditions which are largely responsible for the tragic mistakes of these later years.

'Why should the children go to school?' asked a South Carolina mother. 'Every one in the county knows who we are.' So the children did not, and to-day are lounging through life in frayed and listless poverty. Even in towns where there was a less open avowal of the doctrine that to be known by your neighbors is a liberal education, the attempts at schooling in the later sixties and early seventies presented many picturesque variations from the usual type. The early morning hours would see sedate horses bestridden by from three to five children each making their way into town to deposit their load at a dame school, sometimes a dame school of delicate and antiquated refinement, and sometimes one of a rather hot-handed domesticity, where the boys were cuffed through geography and fractions. These schools sprang usually from the teacher's need instead of from her ability; almost invariably was she without professional training and without educational standards, and too often even without any but the most meager schooling. Such institutions quite deserved the practical disregard in which they were held. Their potent influence—for they exercised one—was not upon the reluctant children within their walls, but upon the community without, for whom they alone represented learning, knowledge, the great society of scholars. It was with such educational standards, perhaps we should say also such educational habits, as these that the generation born just after the war grew up; they knew such schools or none at all; and it was not the child of the poor white alone who depended upon them, but the children of all classes, outside of the chief cities. For many a year after the close of the civil war the shrunken and disheveled libraries lay neglected in the dignified old houses; other cares than those of literature absorbed their owners and their owners' sons and daughters. The res angustae domi were studied at first hand, instead of through the medium of Latin authors, and it was full twenty years after, in many cases, before the ruling group of people, even in many of the most favored parts of the south, sent a son to a college of exacting standard and liberal equipment. Their daughters they are hardly sending even now. It is the men and women of that bereft generation, shorn of the family distinction of the past, lacking the discipline of the civil war itself, so royally met by so many southern men and women, and growing up with little or no education who are now in the saddle. Is not this the key to many of the lamentable social conditions in the south to-day? Is the persistent medievalism of thought any but a logical outcome?

In so comprehensive a range of needs it would seem difficult to single out any as specially vital, and it is true that educational endowment for the south can hardly go amiss. But there are certain strategic points which it is especially desirable to gain. The first of these is the development of industrial training. For many a year to come, if not for many a generation, the south must be essentially a rural population, and if the dormant mind is to be reached, it must be through the things with which it is in daily contact. One of the ways to dignify labor is to make it interesting, and probably no one thing would do more to efface the lingering class distinctions of the south than a well developed and widespread system of industrial education. The man or woman who has skill in your own handicraft commands your respect, no matter who his forebears may have been, and the guild, even though it be unorganized, founded on some form of mental comradeship, is an efficient corrective for many unwholesome class distinctions. Industrial training is also preeminently valuable to the south because it is based on science. To acquire it is to acquire inevitably to some degree the scientific habit of thought, that is to say, the habit of thought which not only demands facts but respects them, and to which law means not the whim of man, but the unrelenting edict of nature with all its inevitable penalties. To displace even an à priori theory of how to make hens lay by one based upon an open-minded study of facts, is to make an advance in methods of thinking which must ultimately react upon other things than hens. The calm and impersonal methods of science, once given a foothold, even in the dairy or the poultry yard, must in the end dislodge that impassioned à 'priori reasoning which has been the bane and weakness of the south for so many generations. But the teaching of science is expensive; it means laboratories and experiment stations and provisions for individual work. It means, in short, those endowments in which the south is deficient.

The second strategic need is for the best possible normal training. The lamp of learning, if learning it can be called, has been passed on in one southern hamlet and another from gentlewoman to gentlewoman, who has brought to her work the traditions of culture, the refinement and the care-taking habit which were her birthright. Thirty years ago she was not greatly behind teachers in other parts of the country in professional training—since practically no one had any—but each year since then has put her at a greater comparative disadvantage. Nothing in the history of the south is more promising than the eager desire for professional education which many of its teachers are now showing, and, in so far as they come from the old ruling class, they have the power to confer upon their public a double benefit. A certain condescension towards teachers is apt to linger in the minds of a commercial community, in spite of fervent lip-service. But when the teachers come largely, as they are apt to do in the south, from the class which represents the most deeply rooted traditions of a community, that phase of crudity may be short lived, if not altogether avoided.

The third need of the south is a cordon of secondary schools, financially independent of their patrons. They may be independent as the public school is independent or they may be made so by endowment, but independent they must be, if they are to do their best work. This is an inviting field for endowment, as $100,000 will do for a school what a million will hardly do for a college. The host solution of the problem of the secondary schools in the south is the concentration of the strength of a community upon its public schools, since to keep them at a creditable level is to help to the solution of more questions than can be reached in any other way. The endowed private school, on the other hand, has the great advantage of being out of politics and having a freer hand in working out its development than is possible to a public school in a community of lax or unformed educational standards. In either case, the point is to secure to the school freedom to select its teachers without political or denominational dictation, and to make it strong enough to impose its standards upon a reluctant community.

Finally, the interdependence of school and college is such that neither can do its best work alone. The college rests upon the school as the house on its foundations, and without the college standards by which to test its work the school loses a powerful stimulus. With the utmost generosity on the part of our philanthropists which can be looked for, even in these lavish days, the southern colleges must remain for many years inferior to those of the north in equipment and as a whole in teaching force. Yet they represent for the great mass of the young men and women in their respective communities the best that is open to them, and, too often, all that can be desired. Probably as valuable a gift as could be made to the south just now, and one requiring a comparatively small fund, would be the establishment of a group of scholarships especially for young southern men and women, available in different institutions in the north. Let us imagine the competitive examinations for such scholarships held at Raleigh for the young men and women of the Old North State, at Columbia, South Carolina, for the students of that state, at Augusta, Jacksonville, Mobile. Not only would every ambitious boy and girl in the state be aroused, but the spur of opportunity would be felt in every school with a spark of life in its management, and there would be the impact upon the very centers of growth of new habits of thought.

'The south has no reason to be ashamed of its traditions,' said a dignified and able southern woman who had done good service for education, when such a plan was broached in her hearing. But by the time that one of her sons had graduated at Harvard and another at Cornell, and her daughter was hard at work at Vassar and her niece at Pratt, she would see that no question of traditions, in the sense in which she felt them threatened, was involved. On the contrary, what is best in the distinctive characteristics of the south can not be preserved by men and women of belated minds, and one of the services which we ask of that part of the country is that those finer elements shall be preserved and made a part of our national life. The present demand for industrial education in the south, too, which is making itself heard so clearly from so many directions, makes the need of some provision for the best liberal training the more necessary; for unless industrial education is informed and guided by such a spirit, the abyss of a dull utilitarianism awaits it.

The Spanish-American war revealed the south of these later days to itself. It gave—happy gift!—a new point from which to reckon time, and showed how far, unknown to themselves, the old slave states had moved since Appomattox. A tide of vigor swept through villages and hamlets, bringing them, for the first time in a generation, in contact with the life of the world. It is not fanciful to attribute the educational awakening of the south to-day in part, at least, to that contact with outside affairs—to the sense of oneness with a great nation. But whatever the cause, the fact is here to reckon with—a desire for education throughout the south such as it has never known, and it is being sought in many cases in the face of great difficulties and at the cost of noble sacrifice. Many a southern man and woman, to-day buried in obscure villages, have fairly earned a brevet for gallantry in action in the struggle with stifling social conditions. There is no more present duty for the American people than to uphold their hands. When a community's poverty, born of its ignorance, is such that the tax levy yields but $18 a year for schools, the vicious circle must be broken from outside. The state must care for those hamlets which can not care for themselves, and by a parity of reasoning, the needs of the south are a charge upon public-spirited men and women everywhere. The response should be prompt and abundant. With the new-born desire for education, the line of greatest efficiency for educational endowments is shifted to the south; the need there is great and basal—and they are next of kin.