The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education, Compulsory

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EDUCATION, Compulsory. The doctrine of the democracy of Calvinism from the beginning of its teachings contained the fundamental principle that each person should be able to read. Under that doctrine religious matters were held to be of vital concern to every person as well as to the nation and each individual was held to be personally accountable for his own conduct. The Bible contained the rules of conduct which should regulate the lives of all people. Each person was, therefore, expected to be able to read that book and not to be dependent upon others for a knowledge of its teachings and of the personal obligations which such teachings imposed. In the countries, therefore, which were under the control of the Calvinists, the basic principles of compulsory education laws, so general in all the progressive countries of the world at the present time, were first established. The general feeling of the people in the Netherlands in relation to education was such that for more than 150 years before the Dutch began to make settlements in America public schools had been maintained in that country. The education of the masses through these schools which were public schools had been the bulwark of the liberties of the people and the national freedom of the country. The country was prosperous and happiness prevailed among its people. When the Calvinists settled in America they brought with them the spirit and life of the social institutions of their native country and wherever the Dutch settled in America they established schools which were of the type of the schools in the fatherland. These schools were administered on the same general plan on which the schools of Holland had been operated. All children were required to receive instruction. This instruction was provided by members of the family at the home in many cases, often at private schools but generally in the schools established by the authorities of the company who were responsible for the regulation of the affairs of the settlement. The West India Company which made settlements at Manhattan and at Albany adopted an ordinance in 1629 providing that all colonists “shall endeavor to find out ways and means whereby they may supply a minister and a schoolmaster.” Under this ordinance, schools were maintained and children were required to attend them. The Dutch, therefore, during their period of control in the colonies planted the germ of the foundation on which compulsory attendance laws are based.

The General Court of the Massachusetts colony issued a decree in 1642 which has also exercised an important bearing upon the development of compulsory attendance statutes. The decree of the Massachusetts court and the preamble upon which it is predicated were as follows:

“Forasmuch as the good Education of Children is of Singular behoofe and benefit to any Commonwealth, and whereas many Parents and Masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kind;

“It is Ordered, that the Select men of every Town, in the several Precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbours, to see, First that none of them shall suffer so much Barbarism in any of their families, as not to endeavor to teach, by themselves or others, their Children and Apprentices, so much learning, as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, and knowledge of the Capital Lawes; upon penalty of twenty shillings for each neglect therein.”

This law did not specify where the children were to be instructed and such law was amended in 1647 by specifically providing that in each township containing 50 families an instructor should be employed to teach all children to read and to write, and the law further provided that in a township containing 100 families, a grammar school should be maintained and masters employed who were able to fit young people for entrance to a university.

Thus, there were in the very beginning of the establishment of organized society in this country two great forces, one Dutch, and the other, English, in different sections of the country, which enacted decrees or statutes which are the basis upon which compulsory education laws of the several States have been established

When the Republic was founded, no provision was made for a national system of education. Education, therefore, became a subject which was controlled and administered by the several States. It took a long period of time for the development of public opinion which required the establishment and maintenance of public schools. When school systems were established in a State under general laws, and when independent schools were organized under special acts in various communities, provisions were not generally incorporated in such laws or acts which made attendance upon school compulsory. The parent of a child generally assumed that the education of such child was a matter entirely personal with such parent. During the early years of the nation there was a common feeling which was repugnant to all mandatory statutes. The opposition to the enactment of such laws must not he regarded as a lack of interest in public education. The leaders of the nation had an appreciation of the value of education and the national necessity for its promotion and development.

The economic and industrial conditions of the country were passing through a stage of development which influenced the whole social organization of the state. The cities were increasing in population. The number of cities and large villages were also increasing. The industrial and commercial affairs of the country were expanding and developing. Children were being employed in the industries. The increase in immigration was bringing large numbers of foreigners into the country. Young children under the apprentice system were bound out to labor which deprived them of school privileges. These conditions prevailed quite generally in the New England and Middle States. Great evils grew out of these conditions. Hardships were imposed upon children of tender ages. These conditions could be remedied through legislation only. The first effort along this line appears to have been in Connecticut in 1813 when a law was enacted providing that all children employed in factories should be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. In 1836 Massachusetts enacted a law prohibiting the employment of children under the age of 15 in manufacturing establishments unless they should have attended a public or private school for at least three of the 12 months during the year preceding such employment. The law did not place adequate responsibility upon parents, the period of instruction was too short and the penalty of a fine of $50 imposed upon owners, agents or superintendents of factories was ineffective, as no provision was incorporated in the statute defining who should prosecute violations of the law.

The statutes of Connecticut and Massachusetts were undoubtedly modeled somewhat after the English factory laws. Laws regulating the employing of children in factories and providing for the education of children thus employed were enacted in England in 1802 and in 1833. Under the first act all apprentices in the cotton and woollen mills were required to be taught reading, writing and arithmetic “or either of them” during the first four years of their apprenticeship upon every working day and during the hours of work. The employer was required to provide the teacher. In the provision of this act is the germ of the modern continuation school. The act of 1833 greatly strengthened this law. It provided for factory inspectors to enforce the provisions of the act. The employment of children under nine years of age was prohibited. Children between 9 and 13 years of age were required to attend school two hours each day for six days each week. The parent possessed the right to select the school. If the parent failed to make such selection the factory inspector made it. Parents who violated the law were subject to a fine of 20 shillings. Employers who violated such law were subject to a fine as high as £20. In this legislation of Connecticut and Massachusetts the right of the State to require a child to attend school, to compel the employer of a child to provide educational facilities for such child and to penalize a parent or the employer of a child for failing to provide a child with educational facilities is first asserted in this country. These laws were not general compulsory education statutes but they were a step in that direction.

The next important legislation in this country bearing upon compulsory education were the truancy laws of Massachusetts enacted in 1850 and 1852 and of New York in 1853. The Massachusetts Act of 1850 conferred power upon the cities and towns of the State to prescribe ordinances to provide for the education of children who were habitual truants or who were not attending school and who were not employed in regular or lawful occupation. The law applied to children between the ages of 6 and 15. The statute was indefinite and cumbersome. The general purpose was to compel children who were not receiving instruction and who were not employed in accordance with the provisions of the factory laws to attend school. The ineffectiveness of the law was recognized and in 1852 a broader and more effective law was enacted. Under the provision of the act of 1852 certain definite provisions were made mandatory. Parents were made responsible for the education of their children. All children between the ages of 8 and 14 were required to attend some public school in the town for at least 12 weeks and 6 of these must be consecutive. A penalty of $20 was prescribed for violation of the law. The statute, however, contained one clause which expressed conditions under which a person who had not complied with the law should not be regarded as having violated it. Children who were “otherwise furnished with the means of education for a like period of time” were regarded as having complied with the terms of the law. Attendance upon private or parochial schools for the required period of time was held to be a compliance with the law. It was not required that the instruction should be the equivalent and as thorough as that given in the public schools. The burden of enforcing the penalty for violating the law was placed upon town treasurers, and these officers generally refrained from making prosecutions. The New York Act of 1853 followed somewhat the lines of the Massachusetts law. It provided that “if any child between the ages of 5 and 14 years, having sufficient bodily health and mental capacity to attend a public school, shall be found wandering in the streets or lanes of any city or incorporated village, idle and truant, without any lawful occupation,” such child and its parents were required to be brought before a magistrate for examination. The court possessed the power to put a parent under written obligation to cause such child to be sent to school for four months. Provision was also made in the Massachusetts and the New York law for the commitment of truants in suitable institutions. These laws were written upon the theory that children who were not truants did attend school and that it was necessary to enact laws relating to the attendance of those children only who were truants. The experience of the States which first enacted truancy laws was that it was difficult to enforce such statutes because of defective machinery provided for their administration. These defects were gradually remedied and the laws gradually strengthened. The experience of the country also showed that laws aimed solely at truancy could not be effectively enforced. This experience further showed that a statute on this subject to be made effective must be a clean-cut law requiring every child within certain ages to attend upon instruction for a definite period of time.

The only American States which enacted a compulsory education law previous to the Civil War were Massachusetts and New York. In 1874 New York substituted an entirely new act for the act of 1853. This law was not denominated a law relating to school attendance or to truancy but it was given the following significant title, “An act to secure to children the benefits of elementary education.” It was mandatory in its terms. It required every parent and every guardian of a child between 8 and 14 years of age to require such child to attend school or receive instruction at home for 14 weeks each year and 8 weeks of this attendance must be consecutive. The law specified spelling, reading, writing, English grammar, geography and arithmetic as the subjects in which the children should receive instruction. Children were exempt from the provisions of the law for physical or mental unfitness. The law contained the required restrictions with penalties to prevent the employment of children in labor who had not received the instruction required thereunder. The act contained all the necessary provisions to make it effective except one and this one defective feature resulted in the act not being enforced; That one defect was the conferment of duties in the collection of fines for the enforcement of the law upon city treasurers and supervisors of towns. These officers were elected annually by the people and they were unwilling to incur the displeasure of their constituents and neighbors by the performance of a disagreeable duty in no way logically associated with the functions of the offices to which they had been elected.

The general trend of the development of public education in the United States, the settled policy in America that public education is a State function and that public policy requires the maintenance of public schools, the extension of public school work so as to include modern high school courses, and the further action of the several States in making these educational facilities free to every child in the land, inevitably meant that the authority of the State would be exercised to compel all children to attend school. If the welfare of society and the State depends upon an educated citizenship and if the State possesses the legal authority to tax the properly of all its citizens for the accomplishment of this result, then the State must also possess and must exercise the authority to compel the children who are to become its future citizens and upon whom its welfare in the future depends to attend upon the instruction provided for them.

Following the Civil War, which had exercised a liberal influence upon the country, there was a general development of educational systems in the several States on the principles above outlined. In this same period there was a great increase in the immigration of foreigners and there was a large development in manufacturing and industrial affairs. The use of the unskilled labor of children had grown to an alarming extent. These conditions created social and economic problems of vital importance. There was a general demand for more stringent laws regulating the employment of children and providing for their education. Labor unions which were honestly endeavoring to improve social conditions and to give to labor the protection and dignity to which it is entitled gave cordial support to measures intended to correct the evils growing out of these conditions. State and National conferences under the direction of labor commissioners and factory inspectors dealt courageously and effectively with the problem. The enforcement of child labor laws and truancy acts in certain States had the effect of driving families from these States to the States where such laws had not been enacted. The social and economic living standards were being lowered and this condition gradually became understood by the public generally. This fact became an effective agency which enabled society to cope with the ignorant and unscrupulous parent willing to impose improper burdens and even hardships upon his children for financial profit and with the greedy employer who was anxious to avail himself of the cheap labor obtainable through the employment of children. Thus we find that immigration, labor and the industries have been important factors in procuring the enactment of compulsory education laws.

The ordinance of the West India Company in New York in 1629, the decree of the General Court of Massachusetts in 1642, the enactment of the truancy laws of Massachusetts in 1850 and 1852 and the enactment of a similar law in New York in 1853, the amendments to the Massachusetts law in 1867 and 1873 and the new act in New York in 1874 show that these two States assumed the leadership in the attempt to enforce school attendance in America. The statutes of these States have been the models upon which attendance laws in the other States of the Union have been constructed.

There is now an effective compulsory attendance law upon the statute books of every State in the Union except Mississippi, and in Mississippi a compulsory attendance law, permissive in character, was enacted in 1918. The law confers upon the school authorities of any county in that State power to enforce compulsory attendance. The large number of illiterates in the country and the social and economic conditions existing because of the lack of these laws and of proper child labor laws aroused the public conscience and enabled the leaders of the nation who espoused social reforms to obtain the enactment of these laws. It was not, however, until within the last quarter of a century that these laws were made effective or were properly enforced. The official action of Governor Pattison of Pennsylvania in 1891 and in 1893 illustrates to some extent the public feeling toward laws of this type. In those years he vetoed compulsory attendance measures upon the ground that they were un-American in principle and interfered with the personal liberties of the parent. The effect of the enactment of compulsory education laws in the American States has been to reduce rapidly and materially the number of illiterates in these States.

Compulsory attendance laws have generally been enacted in most of the Latin states of North America and in Central America but they have not been enforced. Such laws are practically dead letters in those countries.

England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands have effective compulsory attendance laws, and they are generally well enforced in these countries. The compulsory ages are from five or six years of age to 13 or 14 years of age. Japan is the only country in Asia which has a compulsory education statute and such law applies to children between the ages of 6 and 12. While Italy has a compulsory education law its provisions are not enforced. This is also true of Turkey.

The Balkan states have each declared elementary education compulsory and some progress had been made previous to the outbreak of the War in their enforcement.

The number of illiterates in a country indicates to some degree the effectiveness of its compulsory education laws. In the countries having a military system requiring service from all men there will be found few illiterates. In these countries, however, an illiterate is given special instruction before he enters upon his military service. The mandatory features of the military training laws therefore are in effect compulsory education provisions.

The latest available statistics of certain European countries enforcing compulsory school attendance show the percentage of illiterates in the population of these countries to be as follows: German Empire, .03; Denmark, .2; Sweden, .3; Switzerland, .5; Netherlands, 1.4; Great Britain, 1.5; France, 2.97. On the other hand, the latest statistics available also show that in those countries not enforcing compulsory school attendance there are large percentages of the population who are illiterate. The percentage of illiterates of the whole population in such countries is as follows: Russia, 70; Spain, 59; Italy, 48; Hungary, 40; Austria, 26. The percentage of the population of certain European countries which are enrolled in the elementary schools is as follows: Russia, 2.5; France, 14.24; Great Britain, 16; Germany, 16.87. The general result in the European countries and in the American States has been that the adoption of an effective compulsory education law has greatly increased school attendance and rapidly reduced the number of illiterates.

Compulsory attendance laws have been in operation in Prussia for more than two centuries. Such laws and child labor laws have been more effectively enforced in all parts of the German Empire than in any other country in the world. Frederick the Great's general law of 1763 clearly asserts the principle of compulsory education. The law of 1794 reduces the terms of such statute to two very simple provisions: First, “Every inhabitant who cannot or who will not provide the necessary instruction for his children in his own household is required to send them to school after completion of the fifth year.” Second, “The school instruction must be continued until a child in the discretion of his spiritual guide, has obtained the knowledge necessary for an intelligent person of his station in life.” The authority to determine the amount of instruction which a child shall receive was transferred in 1872 from the “spiritual guide” to the “school inspector.” In some of the German states the attendance of children upon school is controlled by regulation and not statute enactment. The Prussian Act of 1891 and the acts and regulations of the other German states, in relation to compulsory education and to child labor, are stringent measures and are rigidly enforced. There are practically no illiterates in Germany, and in many of the leading cities of that country the number of persons who do not complete the eight-year-elementary course of instruction is less than one-half of 1 per cent. The largest percentage of the population of the people in any country in the world which is in attendance upon school is in Germany.

There are two modern movements in connection with compulsory education statutes. These are for enforced attendance upon continuation schools and enforced attendance of adult illiterates upon evening or other schools. The forces most active in support of these schools are the mercantile and factory associations and organised labor. In many cases the large industrial and mercantile establishments have maintained continuation schools at their own expense for the education of their employees. In many of the German states and of the cantons of Switzerland, attendance upon continuation schools is compulsory for boys between the ages of 14 and 18, and for girls between the ages of 14 and 15.

The English education bill before Parliament seeks to establish compulsory attendance for all young persons under the age of 18. It provides for an increase in the number of secondary schools and for the establishment of part-time secondary schools. It provides that children between the ages of 14 and 18 shall not be employed in the industries unless they have attended a full-time secondary school until they become 17 years of age, or unless they attend a part-time secondary school for not less than nine hours per week.

There has been such a large increase in the number of adult illiterates in this country and the total number of such illiterates has assumed such proportions that there has been much public agitation for the enactment of a compulsory education law which will apply to these illiterates. There are more than 3,000,000 adult white illiterates in the country. Of course, the Congressional act of 1917 which prohibits illiterate immigrants from coming to this country has modified this proposition somewhat. The problem now is to educate the 3,000,000 adult illiterates which are in the country. Massachusetts has a law which compels all illiterate minors to attend upon instruction if they have not a knowledge of English sufficient to admit them to the fifth grade of a public school. New Jersey also has taken advanced action on this subject. The most recent action, however, is the mandatory statutes enacted by the legislature of New York in 1918. Under this law, all illiterate minors are compelled to attend upon instruction. Penalties run against minors' parents and employers who do not conform to the provisions of the law.

The experience of America as well as the experience of the European countries shows that a compulsory attendance law to be effective and accomplish the results sought must contain the following provisions:

1. The law must be supervised by the State educational authorities. These authorities must be given broad powers in the disciplining of local officers who fail to perform their duties.

2. Each local administrative school unit must be charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law and with the authority to appoint and remove attendance officers. The local administration must be under the general direction of the school authorities and not the municipal authorities.

3. There must be a registration of all children above four years of age. The addresses of these children must also be recorded. School authorities must know the number of children becoming of school age each year, so as to make provision for their entrance in school. This registration must be constantly revised so that there shall be at all times an accurate record of the names, ages, addresses and parents of children within compulsory ages.

4. The attendance of children within the prescribed ages must be rigidly insisted upon. A child must be compelled to account for a single day's absence. Physical disability or some other reason equally satisfactory should be the only excuse for an absent pupil.

5. Attendance should be required from the time the child becomes of school age until the child has completed in a satisfactory manner the prescribed elementary school course.

6. Provision should be made for attendance upon co-operative continuation schools for a period of at least two years beyond the completion of the elementary course.

7. Provision should be made for the imposition of fines upon parents or guardians who fail to respect the law.

8. A city, town or school district which fails to enforce the law satisfactorily should be refused grants of State funds until said law is properly enforced.

9. Attendance laws should be operative during the entire period in which a public school is in session in a city or other local administrative unit.

10. These laws must contain restrictive provisions in relation to employment of children within compulsory ages in mercantile, manufacturing and other occupations.

11. In America, instruction in English in the entire curriculum for the compulsory attendance period should be mandatory, and the subjects in which instruction is required should be specified.

12. When instruction is given a child within compulsory ages at home or in a private or parochial school, such instruction must be substantially the equivalent of that given in the public school and by qualified teachers.

13. Attendance officers and other representatives of the school authorities must be given the right to enter shops, factories and other industrial and commercial places, to ascertain full information in relation to the employment of children, to determine whether or not employers violate the attendance and labor laws.

14. Provision should also be incorporated in such laws requiring all adults who are unable to speak and write the English language to attend evening or other schools until they have acquired such attainments.

Thomas E. Finegan,
Deputy Commissioner of Education and Assistant Commissioner in Charge of Elementary Education, State of New York.