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Schools And Education
Child Development
Child's Education
Education And Life
The Common School
Physical Education
Citizenship And Schools
Education In Democratic Society
Ethics In Schools
Efficiency Of Our Schools
Creative Education
Drama And Education

Efficiency Of Our Schools

( Originally Published 1913 )

Of the effectiveness of the public schools in the several states, the universities of each state respectively may judge. From Harvard, Yale and Princeton to California and Stan ford the judgment is a groan. Is the fault with the schools? or is the standard of requirement too high? or is the basis of conclusion in each case too narrow? The reply may best be given by one who examines pupils of all states. "Probably nowhere else," writes Colonel Larned, of the United States Military Academy, in the North American Review of September, 1908, "probably nowhere else can the general effectiveness of our public schools be so well gauged as at the academies at West Point and Annapolis. Their candidates are drawn from every Congressional District of every state and territory of the Union, and largely from the class of our citizens who send their children to the primary and high schools supported by the states." The subjects of examination are elementary: algebra, geometry, grammar, composition and literature, geography and history. "The examinations are written, and abundant time is given for their completion, even by those of inferior capacity and preparation. The papers are marked on a scale of one hundred as a maximum; sixtysix being the normal minimum standard of proficiency." Generally speaking, deficiency in one subject constitutes deficiency in the whole examination. Out of 314 candidates who attempted the entrance papers in March, 1908, 265 failed: 56 in one subject, 209 in two or more subjects. Of the failures there were 44 per cent. in algebra; 67 per cent. in geometry; 37 per cent. in grammar; 40 per cent. in composition and literature. "Out of the 314 examined mentally it appears that 295, or 9o per cent., had been educated in public schools, and that the average number of years of attendance in these schools was nine years, eleven months. Separating this into primary and secondary attendance, we find that the average attendance in High Schools was three years, three months; and in Grammar Schools, six years, eight months. One hundred and three candidates had private schooling wholly or in part, 135 had college education of one year or more; 189 studied the classics. Of the 135 who had gone so far as a college education of one year or more, 82 failed to enter.

"Altogether," comments the writer, "it is a sorry showing from whatever standpoint it is viewed... -Many of these young men secured their nomination's through compet itive examinations; and few, if any, could have been taken haphazard,, with no regard to qualifications and antecedents; while all could have been employed some nine months in private preparation. That 314 youths, nearly all trained in our costly public schools, with an average of almost ten years' attendance (supplemented in the case of one-third of their number by private schooling, and in the case of 43 per cent. by college training), should show 84 per cent. of failure and the various deficiencies analyzed above, is surely a state of affairs that should make the judicious grieve and our educators sit up and take notice."

"If," continues the compiler of this unanswerable arraignment, "if education is concerned with mental development alone, it is fair to ask: If 16,596,503 boys and girls, taught in our public schools at a cost of $376,996,472, average no better in intellectual attainments than is evidenced by the foregoing, does the result justify the outlay and the ten or more years' apprenticeship of youth it demands?"

The boy enters our colleges "a badly damaged article." One-sidedly prepared, or not prepared at all, he goes through college accumulating courses, but not education; desperately selecting studies least foreign to his slender capability for assimilation, or most easy to slur, or most likely to turn to superficial ends. He is by no means always lazy, nor oblivious that now is the chance of his life; but he has no core of knowledge to which the facts he fumbles may cling, no keenedged linguistic or scientific tools with which to cut to the heart of the matter; no memory trained and enriched, no taste, no imagination, no judgment balanced by frequent trial, no habits of remorseless application. He has bluff, but not confidence; he has promise, but not power. The subjects of his study have not been correlated. The goal has been neither discipline nor intrinsic worth. He has probably never studied one thing thoroughly. He has not been guided; he has not been taught; he has not conquered work. He has been distracted; he has been amused. In college he is thrown with comrades of like equipment. None probably has had all the fundamentals requisite to any one study...

We turn out from our American departments of the liberal arts, many clean and manly men, noble and earnest women. But how many even of these know the rudiments of one subject thoroughly, can think clearly, reason accurately, express a thought lucidly, effectively, correctly? How many can spell, how many write a letter not illiterate, how many use a diction simple, pure and idiomatic, clearly enounced, justly pronounced? How many know the difference between Sennacherib and a floating rib, the Maid of Orleans and the Maid of Athens, the Witch of Endor and the Widow of Nain, Dionysius and Dionysus, the Jewels of Cornelia and the diamond necklace, the Lion of Judah and the Lion of the North? Or, if some have some vague impression of some of these things, for how many do they possess an historical or literary flavor?

With what real command of any foreign language do our students go forth? It is well for us that the peoples of Europe are the most courteous of men. Long ago they learned from Aristotle that it was inartistic to laugh at painful impotence or deformity...

Our graduates are characterized by lack of information, lack of grasp, lack of culture. This is no prejudiced account of the case. It is attested by the verdict of our leaders at the bar, on the bench, in the pulpit and in the hospital, and by our captains of industry. Also by educated foreigners. Our Rhodes scholars should certainly represent the flower of our scholarship. But even kindly critics in Oxford, while admiring the sociability, good sense, good humor, broad outlook of the American student, will tell you: "The American student is, with few exceptions, deficient in his own language, spoken or written; and has but the smattering of any other. He is more often superficial than ours, and is more easily satisfied. He does not seem to understand what it is independently to master a subject, to grasp it in all its ramifications, and retain it in his memory as a whole." This criticism, be it noted, applies more particularly to our students of the humanities. In the pursuit of natural science and in the special discipline of the law our Rhodes scholars have made a better showing. But in general, their cultural, especially linguistic, limitations, are a raising of the eyebrow for don and student of English training. -Gayley

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