The New Student's Reference Work/Schools, Elementary
Schools, El′emen′tary. The conception of elementary education most agreed upon may be said to be that of training in literacy. Such a view refers, of course, to education given in the school as distinguished from that training in manners, morals and skill which is given in the home or by general social intercourse through imitation, apprenticeship etc. It covers the common element involved in those systems where elementary is simply preparatory to secondary education and those in which it is synonymous with popular education or such as is given to the masses. These two types have been differentiated and again united in history in such a manner that a sketch of the rise of popular education is almost indispensable to a comprehension of the problem of elementary education to-day. In the middle ages literary education was confined largely to the clergy and the professional classes. With them it was such training in Latin as would prepare them to understand the church services, legal or medical terms or to read the literature of theology, philosophy, medicine or law. Such training was not supposed to be necessary or even desirable for the mass of the people. The Reformation brought the idea that the Scriptures should be read by all, and also such translations as made it necessary to learn only the modern tongues in order to accomplish this purpose. Popular systems of education began to make their appearance. The Duke of Württemberg adopted a plan for vernacular schools in every village in 1559. This step was imitated by other German states, and in 1619 Weimar decreed that attendance on such schools should be compulsory for the common people. In Holland the Synod of Dort in 1618-9 decreed that elementary schools should be established in every parish. In Scotland an effective system of parish schools was inaugurated in 1696. Massachusetts passed a law in 1647 providing that every town of 50 families should have an elementary school. In France a Catholic order, the Brethren of the Christian Schools, established in 1684 by Jean Baptiste de La Salle, emulated the activities of the Protestants in popular education. This order became widely influential, and is notable especially for its system of teaching children in graded classes rather than as individuals. In England it was not until early in the 19th century that two societies, the British and Foreign School Society and the National Society, began the work out of which the English elementary system of to-day has been constructed through the coöperation and, later, the supervision and control of the state.
In its beginning this popular education aimed at religious ends. It in general was very meager, being confined largely to religious instruction and some little training in reading and writing. The great revolutionary social and political movements of the 18th century may be said to have yielded their richest fruit in the reconstruction of these schools. Popular education is essentially the achievement of the 19th century. It rests on the notion that education should be universal, that its aim is not merely religious, but rather to prepare for intelligent political activity, a purpose especially emphasized in the United States by Horace Mann, and that the emancipation of the mass of mankind demands not merely power to read and write and some knowledge of politics, but such training as shall insure to each the power to make a respectable if not comfortable living. The last idea may be said to be the special contribution of Pestalozzi, the Swiss reformer, to modern educational doctrine. He perhaps was the most influential man in determining the aims and methods that prevailed in the reconstruction of the system of education in Prussia and other German states in the early part of the 19th century. This movement involved the expansion of the curriculum to include arithmetic, geometry, geography, nature-study, literature, history, drawing, music and, especially, such manual and technical training as seems best adapted to prepare for the vocations of the people of the neighborhood. The eight or nine years' course in the German folk-school may now be supplemented by a course in the continuation-schools, held usually in the evenings or on Sundays and especially offering vocational instruction, or in technical or trade-schools which everywhere abound. Elementary teachers are usually well-trained in the normal schools. All schools have now become state institutions. No one can open a school without official sanction. Practically all elementary instruction is still supported and controlled by public authorities. Careful supervision and inspection exist. Teachers are pensioned on retirement from active service. Compulsory-attendance laws are strictly enforced. Illiteracy has practically disappeared, and efficiency in the various vocations has enormously increased through this system. In France the foundations of the present system were laid by the law of 1833, but it was not until after the Franco-Prussian War that it became highly efficient. The same features exist as in Germany, except that control and support are more highly centralized. The administration at Paris through its officials appoints the elementary teachers, provides their salaries as well as liberal contributions for buildings etc., and inspects the schools. During the last decade nearly all the schools maintained by Roman Catholic teaching-orders have been suppressed, so that elementary education, as in Germany, is practically in the hands of the state. At the same time the French schools, unlike the German ones, pay little attention to religion. In England, also, elementary education has become free and compulsory, supported largely by public funds, inspected and to a great extent controlled by state officials. The religious societies still control the training schools for teachers and many of the elementary schools. The dominance of the Anglican church in elementary education is a source of bitter contention to-day in British politics. As in other European schools, vocational efficiency has come to be a leading object in English popular education.
In the United States the free schools, at the time when Horace Mann undertook their reform (about 1835) were poorly supported and taught and not patronized by those who could afford to pay tuition. As a result of the agitation that he began, the public elementary schools of Massachusetts, hitherto supported solely by the localities, received state aid normal schools (q. v.) were established for training teachers, better inspection was provided, the school-year lengthened, the curriculum enriched, and in general the aim that the public school should be made so good that no one would resort to private instruction on account of their inefficiency was realized. Other states quickly followed Massachusetts, and to-day the opportunity to receive an elementary education is practically universal throughout the nation. In general it may be said that about 18 per cent. of the fund for the support of schools comes from the states, while about 68 per cent. comes from local taxes. The state-fund is especially important in sparsely inhabited regions. In New England the unit for the organization and control of schools is the township. In the south it is the county. Elsewhere in the nation the district as a rule is the unit, but a combination of district, county and state control and support exists.
In comparing elementary education in the United States with that in Europe, we notice that it is inferior in completeness of organization, in carefulness of inspection, in compelling attendance, in pensioning teachers and especially in offering technical and trade education. On the other hand American education offers more opportunity for originality and independence both in teachers and in pupils. The elementary school in the United States is not for one class in society but for all. It is not differentiated from the secondary school, but prepares for it as well as for life. Herein is to be found doubtless the reason for the slowness with which elementary technical education has developed. Such training prepares for a special vocation; but our system tends to hand that over to the secondary school, reserving for the elementary school only that preparatory and liberal training that enables one to get some appreciation of the various lines of human culture before entering upon a course calculated to prepare for a trade, business or a profession. See Education, History of; Education, Modern; Normal Schools; Schools, Rural and Schools, Secondary.