The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education, Courses of Study in

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Edition of 1920. See also Curriculum on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

EDUCATION, Courses of Study in. The course of study which forms the outline of work in the best schools of to-day is a broad, socialized program, having little resemblance to the brief course in the schools of 50 years ago. Reading, writing and arithmetic were then the subjects of instruction covered in the elementary schools. In the “academies” Latin and Greek were the principal subjects with some mathematics, as the purpose of the instruction was preparation for college. In many States there are now certain statutory requirements relative to the course of study such as the teaching of physiology and hygiene and instruction in reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography and history. The emphasis to be given to these different subjects, the assignment of time allotments, and the teaching of other subjects such as music, drawing or science are fixed largely by local superintendents and boards of education.

During recent years courses of study have been “enriched” and “vitalized” by the introduction of many new subjects. Some have held that too much new matter has been added with the result that thorough work is no longer possible. On the other hand, the vast changes in the social and economic life of the day demand a closer relation between the program of studies and the immediate daily life of the child. The scientific study of the progress of pupils has established the fact that there has been considerable waste in useless repetition in the elementary grades. The activities which have been introduced through play and games, story-telling, dramatization, handwork, weaving, sewing, cooking, wood-working, modeling, gardening and other means have been added largely because of their interest. They were considered helpful devices in the monotony of the daily routine. Only recently has their social value been appreciated. The recognition of the importance of these activities in the growth and development of the child has given them a definite place in the course of study. The evidence of waste in effort and of undue time allotments for the fundamental subjects makes the articulation of the new work more easily accomplished. The schools are an important part of the social life of the community, not apart from it. In the process of education the course of study must present in rational sequence type forms of life experiences. The vast changes in our social conditions have reacted on the whole theory and practice of education. Courses of study are, therefore, not definite and final, but subject to constant modification. Health education was not thought of yesterday, but is all-important to-day. Physical training, supervised playgrounds and recreational centres are provided in the educational program of every progressive community. The school day is being lengthened, and the time is not far distant when the course of instruction will be continuous throughout the year

Too often this enrichment has resulted in mere multiplicity of subjects and congestion of the program. It should not mean this if the entire course is unified and the common aims of the instruction determined. The study of the relative values of the different subjects of instruction and the elimination of useless material has resulted in the consensus of educational leaders that six years is ample time in the elementary grades to be given to the study of the so-called common branches. At least it is thought that the problem in the first six years has been too much a mere pouring in process to give the child a vast accumulation of facts; that he should master the fundamental processes of reading, writing and arithmetic, and form a proper mental attitude toward his social environment.

The thought has been held for several years that many of the so-called secondary subjects should be begun before the ninth year. The several reports on this subject which appeared around 1900 emphasized the unreasonable rigidity of the system which fixed eight years for the elementary course and four years for the secondary course. These discussions lately centred on the necessity of economy of time and a more thorough instruction in subject matter. The epoch-making treatment of the subject of adolescence by Hall was a new and compelling factor in the consideration of the reorganization of the course of study. It became clear that the psychological break came too late; that the eight and four plan for the elementary and secondary school work was illogical as well as uneconomical; that the development of the youth, physically as well as psychologically, demanded the reorganization of the school work on the six and six or the six-three-three plan, by which some differentiation in the course of study and methods of instruction might be made after the sixth school year. The great elimination of pupils in the seventh and eighth grades and the failure of the course of study to function compelled remedial action. Hall's complete discussion of adolescence and Dewey's emphasis on the relation between the course of study and the social environment have resulted indirectly, if not directly, in the development of the intermediate school, covering the seventh, eighth and ninth years. In the six-three-three plan the elementary work is followed by a three-years' intermediate course, and that in turn by the secondary course of three years. The course of study in the intermediate school, or junior high school as it is sometimes called, is to assist the boys and girls to find themselves; the work is slightly differentiated into groups to meet individual needs and to give an acquaintance with the first principles of a few fundamental occupations. The work is departmental and promotions are made by subjects. The courses are in a sense prevocational in that the pupil has the opportunity to test his inclinations and capacity through the socialized grouping and co-ordination of subjects. He is given more freedom than in the elementary school but is not left on his own resources as in the secondary schools. The organization of the intermediate school with the development of the course of study best suited to the peculiar needs of the pupil in his relation to his social environment is only a step in the solution of a large educational problem; it is far from being solved.

In the secondary field courses of study are still largely dominated by the college idea. The college preparatory aim persists not only in the course of study but in the treatment of separate subjects of instruction. In very few of the courses of study in the secondary schools has there been any complete correlation of work or definite aim. The subjects are too often unrelated to each other and bear little relation to the social environment. The mortality in the secondary schools is very high, as only 20 to 25 per cent of first year pupils complete the course. While no one factor is responsible for this condition, the failure of the course of study to function has been a determining element.

School courses have been planned for the graduate, not for the pupil who goes part way through, notwithstanding the fact that the great majority do not complete the course. The aim of the eight-year elementary course has been the completion of the requirement for “admission to high school.” The aim of the high school course has been the “college” or professional school requirement. The needs of scarcely 5 per cent of secondary pupils have determined the course of study for the other 95 per cent. The relation of the school work to the social environment has been almost entirely overlooked in both the general outlines of courses of study and in the method of treatment of the subjects of instruction.

The solution seems to be in the shortening of the elementary course and in the modification of the work in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades, or intermediate school, so that a slight differentiation in work may begin before the adolescent period, and that the secondary course of three years furnish opportunities for the development of the different types of individual pupils. Each course should be based on definite needs and have a definite and specific aim. It should furnish the pupil the opportunity to carry forward the particular work in which he showed or developed interest in the intermediate school.

The more logical break which comes at the end of the three-year period at the close of the intermediate courses does not leave the pupil wandering aimlessly. He has been given an opportunity to find his bent. The diversified course of study in the intermediate school holds the pupil much better, and even if he should leave school at the end of this period, he has had the advantage of an additional year beyond the eight grades, with a course of instruction planned to meet his needs.

A reconstruction of the secondary course is under way. In part the needs of pupils are being met through the organization of technical high schools, commercial high schools, vocational and continuation schools, and in some high schools special courses in technical, commercial or vocational subjects are offered along with the so-called academic work. There are two schools of thought with regard to the vocational courses; one, that there should be set up an independent educational organization for this vocational work, and the other that such a program is undemocratic, that the courses in vocational, technical and academic subjects should be carried along side by side with no separate educational administrative organization.

This adjustment with the environment is being worked out and courses are being evolved with definite social aims. There will be no fixed courses of study, as they will always be subject to modification as the needs change. There will be no final differentiation between academic and vocational, as technical or cultural training will depend upon the needs of the pupil rather than on any mere arbitrary classification of studies. Courses of study must be adjusted with the whole environment in terms of individual and community needs.

Bibliography. — Bagley, William C., ‘The Educative Process’; Dewey, John, ‘Democracy and Education’; Dewey, John, ‘The Child and the Curriculum’; Hall, G. Stanley, ‘Youth: Its Education, Regimen and Hygiene’; Hanus, Paul H., ‘Educational Aims and Values’ O'Shea, M. V., ‘Education as Adjustment’; National Society for the Study of Education, Fourteenth Year-book, Part I; Fifteenth Year-book, Part III.

George M. Wiley,
Director, Division of Examinations and Inspections, State Education Department, Albany, N. Y.