Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/August 1905/Education for Efficiency

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EDUCATION FOR EFFICIENCY.[1]
By Dr. W. H. MAXWELL,

SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK.

THE National Educational Association meets in its forty-fourth annual convention at the moment when Japan has given the world another great object lesson in the value of education. Ever since Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, the world has stood in awe of that massive and mysterious power which we call Russia. In that fateful campaign it was not the skill of the Russian commanders or the bravery of the Russian soldiers that wrought the catastrophe; it was the snowflakes—the arrows from the quiver of God—that overwhelmed the might of the invader. Ever since, Russia has gloried in a victory that was not of her own achieving. The world accepted her at her own valuation, and stood in awe. Wrapt in the glamor of an unearned renown, Russia pursued her aggressions practically unopposed, until her empire stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. There her career of conquest has ended. There, once again, has broken out the irrepressible conflict between ignorance and enlightenment. On the one side stand a people, almost countless in number and rich beyond knowledge in all natural wealth, but ignorant, devoid of initiative, and alienated from their rulers by despotism and cruelty. On the other side stand the Japanese, a people limited in numbers and confined in territory, but born again through the diffusion of knowledge and through the universal training for efficiency which has made their inherited patriotism invincible.

Japan has but repeated at Port Arthur and at Mukden and on the Yellow Sea the lesson of history—the lesson of Marathon, of Zama, of the Invincible Armada, of the Heights of Abraham, of Waterloo, and of Sedan—the lesson that the race which gives its children the most effective training for life, sooner or later becomes a dominant race. Borrowing eagerly from western civilizations, Japan has adopted for her own whatever school exercise or method of teaching gives promise of training for efficiency. Nobly has she repaid her debt to Europe and America. She has demonstrated to the world that the training of the young to skill of hand, to accuracy of vision, to high physical development, to scientific knowledge, to accurate reasoning and to practical patriotism—for these are the staples of Japanese education—is the best and cheapest defense of nations.

Such are the lessons of war. The history of peaceful industrial effort tells the same story. No nation is truly prosperous until every man has become not merely a consumer but a producer. As Emerson most truly said: A man fails to make his place good in the world, unless he not only pays his debt, but also adds something to the common wealth. Efficient universal education that makes men producers as well as consumers is the surest guarantee of progress in the arts of peace—is the mother of national prosperity.

'But' exclaims an objector. 'this is gross materialism.' Not so. The history of the world shows that a nation improves morally and intellectually only as its physical condition is strengthened. The futility of religious missionary effort, when unaccompanied by physical betterment, is of itself sufficient to prove the thesis. Better shelter, better food, better clothing, are the necessary antecedents and accompaniments of higher thinking, greater self-respect and more resolute independence.

True, material prosperity too often brings with it a train of evils all its own; sensual indulgence or slothful ease, it may be; or the grasping at monopoly and 'man's inhumanity to man'; or a feverish pursuit of material things to the neglect of the. spiritual. True, enormous wealth is often accompanied, particularly in crowded centers of population, by extreme poverty. These, however, are but temporary reversions to barbarism—the price we must pay for progress. The best correctives of the evils generated by the accumulation of wealth are not anti-trust laws or other repressive legislation, but a system of schools which provides a training for all that is equal to the best which money can buy; which discovers and reveals genius born in low estate and enables it to fructify for the common good; and which guarantees to every child the full development of all his powers. The trained man will demand and will, in the long run, receive his due share. Education is a chief cause of wealth and the most certain corrective of its abuse. In a community in which every man was trained to his highest efficiency, monopoly and poverty would be alike impossible.

In the light of these historic truths you will permit me, as a prelude to the addresses that are to be delivered before the meetings, general and departmental, of this convention, to state very briefly—I do not venture to say, discuss—a few of the burning educational questions of the day.

The first of these questions is: What does education for efficiency mean? It does not mean that every man should be trained to be a soldier. True, the man who is well trained for the duties of peace is, in these days of scientific instruments of destruction, well prepared for war; but military prowess can never become the ideal of education among a great industrial people. It does not mean merely that each citizen should be able to read the newspapers and magazines so that he may be familiar with political discussions and able to make an intelligent choice between candidates and policies. The imparting of such knowledge to each individual is essential in a democratic nation, but it falls far short of the education needed to secure the highest efficiency of each unit of society. Still less does it mean that wretched travesty of education which would confine the work of the public schools to those exercises in reading, writing and ciphering which will enable a boy or a girl at the age of fourteen or earlier, to earn starvation wages in a store or factory. Education for efficiency means all of these things, but it means much more. It means the development of each citizen first as an individual and second as a member of society. It means bodies kept fit for service by appropriate exercise. It means that each student shall be taught to use his hands deftly, to observe accurately, to reason justly, to express himself clearly. It means that he shall learn 'to live cleanly, happily and helpfully, Math those around him'; that he shall learn to cooperate with his fellows for far-reaching and far-distant ends; that he shall learn the everlasting truth of the words uttered nearly two thousand years ago: 'No man liveth to himself' and e Bear ye one another's burdens.' Such, I take it, is the goal of American education.

If this ideal of developing the highest individual and social efficiency of each citizen is the goal of American education, obviously the curriculum of our schools becomes an object of extreme solicitude. Particularly is this the case with the elementary schools, for these contain over ninety per cent, of the children under instruction. During the last quarter of a century a great movement for the reform of the elementary curriculum has been gathering strength. The most prominent characteristics of this movement would seem to be the development of the imagination and the higher emotions through literature, and art, and music; the training of the body and the executive powers of the mind through physical training, play and manual training; and the introduction of the child to the sources of material wealth, through the direct study of nature and of processes of manufacture. At first the movement seems to have been founded on a psychological basis. To-day the tendency is to seek a sociological foundation—to adjust the child to his environment of man and of nature.

At various times during the past ten or fifteen years, and particularly during the past year, reactionary voices have been loudly raised against the new education, and in favor of the old. Such was to be expected. Reactions follow inevitably in the wake of every reform, political and social. Analysis will show that the reactionary tendencies in education arise from three chief sources:

1. The demagogic contentions of selfish politicians who see that it costs more money to teach the new subjects of the curriculum than the old, and that thus a large proportion of the public revenue is diverted from the field of political spoils. These are the men who have invented the term 'fads and frills' to designate art, manual training, music and nature study. It must be theirs to learn that it will require something more than a stupid alliteration to stem the tide of those irresistible forces that are making the modern school the faithful counterpart of the modern world and an adequate preparation for its activities. The saving common-sense of the common people, when deliberately appealed to, will always come to the rescue of the schools.

2. The reactionary tendency is due in part to an extremely conservative element that still exists among the teaching force. For the most part, teachers who are extremely conservative were themselves brought up chiefly on the dry husks of a formal curriculum. They find it difficult to learn and to teach the new subjects. They dislike to be bothered by the assistance of special teachers. Accustomed to mass work both in learning and in teaching, they regret the introduction into the school-room of arts which demand attention to individual pupils.

3. The reactionary tendency has its roots even among the more progressive teachers in a vague feeling of disappointment and regret that manual training, correlation and nature study have probably not accomplished all that their enthusiastic advocates promised ten to twenty years ago.

The feeling of disappointment, we might say even of discontent, among the more thoughtful and progressive teachers, is what might have been anticipated. In the first place, public education has become a much more difficult thing than it was half a century ago. It has become more difficult for two reasons:

1. Because of the constantly increasing migration of population from the country to the cities. Children removed from rustic to urban life lose that most valuable education which comes from the work and the associations of the farm-yard and the fields.

2. Because of the enormous increase in immigration from abroad, and particularly because the character of the immigration has changed. Up to the middle of the last century the majority of our immigrants were of kindred blood with the American people and a large proportion spoke our language. Gradually, however, the tide of immigration, while swelling until it has now reached the enormous total of one million a year, has shifted its chief sources from the shores of the North and the Baltic Seas to the shores of the Mediterranean. The peoples of southern Europe, illiterate, accustomed to tyranny, without individual initiative, and habituated to a low standard of living, huddle themselves together in our large cities and factory towns under conditions inimical alike to morals, to physical well-being and to intellectual advancement. Teachers have a good right to complain that municipal authorities in permitting the over-crowding of immigrants in unsanitary quarters have aided the establishment of the most serious obstacle yet discovered to the upward progress of public education.

In the second place, the feeling of disappointment with the results of the newer studies arises from the fact that these studies were introduced before the teachers were prepared to teach them; that for too long they were concerned chiefly with uninteresting formal processes rather than with interesting results; that they were not related to real needs of school and home; and were not properly coordinated with other phases of the curriculum. Much yet remains to be done to assimilate the environment of the school to the environment of the world.

And yet, while we may feel discontented with the situation, and regret the increased difficulties of our work, there is no reason for discouragement. I have no hesitation in saying that in general intelligence, in all-round efficiency, in power of initiative, the pupils whom I see are superior to those of a quarter of a century ago. If the obstacles before us are more. formidable, if the problems are more complicated than those presented to our predecessors, the teachers of America are better organized and better equipped to overcome the obstacles and to solve the problems. He who has sailed in a modern steamship through an ocean storm has seen the mighty vessel cleave the billows and scarcely slacken her speed in the teeth of the hurricane. Down in the depths of the ship men are piling coal on the furnaces and releasing a force—the imprisoned sun-power of uncounted ages—that baffles the waves and defies the whirlwind. And so it is with our ship of state. Come what storms of ignorance or wickedness there may, teachers are supplying the fuel of knowledge and releasing the force of intelligence that will hold our nation in the straight course of progress.

And yet, the teachers of America are still far from satisfied with their achievements. They are dissatisfied with the elementary curriculum, because it seems crowded by the new studies that have been added without diminishing the number of the old. They are dissatisfied with the high school curriculum because the old-style language, mathematics and science course, however suitable it may be for admission to college, does not precisely meet the needs of boys and girls who are going directly into life. They are dissatisfied with the specialized high school, because it seems lacking in some of those attributes of culture in which the old time school was strong. And they are dissatisfied with the college course, because the elective system which has taken the place of the old, prescribed course does not seem to give a strong, intellectual fiber to the weaker students who, too often, follow the path of least resistance. And they are dissatisfied because there is less intelligence, less efficiency and less helpfulness in the world than the world needs. So far from feeling concerned at this widespread discontent, we should rejoice that it exists. There is nothing so blighting to educational enthusiasm as smug satisfaction with what is or what has been; there is nothing so stimulating to educational effort as a realizing sense of present imperfections and of higher possibilities.

As to the curriculum of the higher schools and colleges, the problem is really not what studies shall be inserted and what omitted, but how shall we make it possible for the student to get that culture, efficiency and power out of his studies which his development requires. This is really a question for psychology to answer. Well may we ask of our universities with their psychological laboratories and their sensitive apparatus for measuring mental reactions: Will psychology ever accomplish what phrenology once promised but has never performed—the determination of a young student's capabilities and of the line of work he ought to pursue?

As to the elementary curriculum, surely we shall not go far wrong if we apply to each study and even to each detail of each study these four questions:

1. Is this study or this exercise well within the comprehension of the child?

2. Does it help to adjust him to the material and the spiritual environment of the age and the community in which he lives?

3. Does it combine with the other studies of the curriculum to render him more efficient in conquering nature and in getting along with his fellows, and thus to realize ideals that transcend environment?

4. Does it accomplish these objects better than any other study that might be selected for these purposes?

If these questions are answered in the affirmative, we may reasonably conclude that the study or the exercise in question is an important element in education for efficiency. Examined from the view point established by these questions, every study will assume an aspect very different from that which it bears when taught without a well defined object. Take drawing, for example. Drawing may be so taught as not only to lay bare to seeing eyes new worlds of beauty, but to lead to that reverent appreciation of nature and the reapplication of her lessons to daily industrial art which is the way, as Ruskin has said, in which the soul can most truly and wholesomely develop essential religion.

Again, take the teaching of agriculture. While our soil seemed inexhaustible in fertility as in extent, the need of such teaching was not felt. Now, however, we are obliged to have recourse to lands that produce only under irrigation. The rural schools have added to our difficulties by teaching their pupils only what seemed most necessary for success when they should move to the city. The farms of New England are, in large measure, deserted or are passing into alien hands. To retain the country boy on the land and to keep our soil from exhaustion, it is high.time that all our rural schools turned their attention, as some of them have done, to scientific agriculture. There is no study of greater importance. There is none more entertaining. If every country boy could become, according to his ability, a Burbank, increasing the yield of the fruit tree, the grain field and the cotton plantation, producing food and clothing where before there was only waste, what riches would be added to our country, what happiness would be infused into life! To obtain one plant that will metamorphose the field or the garden, ten thousand plants must be grown and destroyed. To find one Burbank, ten thousand boys must be trained, but unlike the plants, all the boys will have been benefited. The gain to the nation would be incalculable. Scientific Agriculture, practically taught, is as necessary for the rural school, as is manual training for the city school.

Xor are our people going to rest satisfied with mere manual training. The Mosely commissioners pointed out that the great defect in American education is the absence of trade schools. Trade schools will inevitably come. The sooner the better. They are demanded for individual and social efficiency.

It is not in secondary schools alone, however, that efficiency demands highly differentiated types of schools. It is absurd to place the boy or girl, ten or twelve years of age, just landed from Italy, who can not read a word in his own language or speak a word of English, in the same class with American boys and girls five or six years old. For a time at least the foreigners should be segregated and should receive special treatment. Again, the studies that appeal to the normal boy only disgust the confirmed truant or the embryo criminal. Yet again, the mentally defective, the crippled and the physically weak children require special treatment. Unless all indications fail, the demand for education for efficiency will lead in all our large cities to the organization of many widely differentiated types of elementary school.

The problem of the curriculum, important as it is, is less important than the problem of the teacher. The born teacher, that is, the man or woman who has a genius for teaching, will teach well, in spite of any curriculum, however bad. Unfortunately, genius is as rare in the profession of teaching as it is in law, or medicine, or any other profession. The great majority of us, as it needs must be, are very common-place persons, who are seeking for light and doing the best we can. Hence the supreme importance of training. And yet there is no part of our work to which so little thought and investigation have been given. Normal schools in this country are still very young—only a little over half a century old. The first normal schools were high schools with a little pedagogy thrown in. The majority of them remain the same to this day. There is a strong movement, however, toward purely professional schools to which no student who has not had a reasonably liberal education is admitted, and in which he shall devote his entire time to learning how to teach—how to observe, understand and exercise children both mentally and physically. Welcome and necessary as this movement is, if all teachers are to train for efficiency, we are still far from precise scientific notions as to the best methods of training teachers. I commend this subject to the National Council as one of the next investigations it should undertake.

To secure training for efficiency, the conditions of teaching must be such that each teacher shall be able to do his best work. By common consent one of these conditions is that teachers shall not be subjected to the ignominy of seeking political or other influence, or cringing for the favor of any man, in order to secure appointment or promotion. During the past year, two events have occurred which seem to be full of promise for the establishment of this condition. The public school teachers of Philadelphia have been freed from the bondage to ward politicians in which they were held for well nigh a century; and the one-man power, beneficent as such a system proved under a Draper and a Jones in Cleveland, has been supplanted by a seemingly more rational system. Independence of thought and freedom of initiative are necessary to the teachers of a nation whose stability and welfare as a republic depend upon the independence, the intelligence and the free initiative of its citizens. Independence of thought and freedom of initiative may be throttled by bad laws, but under the best of laws they will be maintained only by the teachers themselves. By making it unprofessional to seek appointment or promotion through social, religious or political influence, the teachers of this country have it in their power to establish one of the most essential conditions of education for efficiency.

Under the conditions that confront us, particularly in the large cities, with the rapid increase and constant migration of our home population, with the influx of vast hordes of people from abroad, alien in language, alien in modes of thought, and alien in tradition, the character of our elementary work is undergoing a profound transformation. We are beginning to see that every school should be a model of good housekeeping and a model of good government through cooperative management. What more may the schools do? They can provide knowledge and intellectual entertainment for adults as well as for children. They can keep their doors open summer as well as winter, evening as well as morning. They can make all welcome for reading, for instruction, for social intercourse, and for recreation. But I for one believe they may do still more. When I look upon the anemic faces and undeveloped bodies that mark so many of the children of the tenements, when I read of the terrible ravages of tuberculosis in the same quarters, I can not but think that the city should provide wholesome food at the lowest possible cost in public school kitchens. To lay the legal burden of learning upon children whose blood is impoverished and whose digestion is impaired by insufficient or unwholesome feeding is not in accord with the boasted altruism of an advanced civilization or with the Divine command: Feed the hungry. Is this not also a subject for investigation by our National Council? And should it some day come to pass that men will look upon corruption in public and corporate life, such as of late we have seen exposed in New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis, with the same loathing with which they regard crime in private life, it will be when the schools are in earnest about teaching our young people the fundamental laws of ethics, that

The ten commandments will not budge,
And stealing still continues stealing.

But economic perils and racial differences are the teacher's opportunity. Here in this country are gathered the sons and daughters of all nations. Ours is the task not merely of teaching them our language and respect for our laws, but of imbuing them with the spirit of self-direction, our precious inheritance from the Puritans; the spirit of initiative which comes to its from the pioneers who subdued a continent to the uses of mankind;[2] and the spirit of cooperation which is symbolized by and embodied in the everlasting union of sovereign states to promote the common weal. And as, in my own city, I see the eagerness of foreigners to learn, and the skill and devotion of our teachers, I can not but think that we are overcoming our almost insurmountable difficulties.

There is perhaps no more striking moment in all history than that at which the Apostle Paul, standing on Mars Hill and pointing to the blue Ægean, the center of the then known world, proclaimed the new but eternal doctrine: God hath made of one every nation of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth. Standing here as we do, on the border of the Atlantic Ocean, and beholding on the one side the dove of peace alighting from the hand of our President on the fields of carnage in the far east and on the other side the homes of peoples of all nationalities stretching from the Atlantic to the isles of the Pacific, under the protection of the American flag, may we not realize that we, as teachers, have a great part to perform in bringing a vast company to an understanding of the sublime truth that God has made all men one to dwell on the face of the earth—that their mission is not to defraud and to slay, but each to do his best for himself and to help his fellows.

  1. Address of the President of the National Educational Association, Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, July 3, 1905.
  2. Münsterberg, The Americans, Chapter I. and XI.