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Making Of Our Middle Schools

( Originally Published 1907 )



AMERICAN institutions are an expression of American character. The making of that character and the making of those institutions can hardly be thought of as distinct processes. They are different aspects of one process, and neither of them can be understood apart from the other. We are to look into this twofold development as it appears in the records of American education.

The schools, in general, have occupied an intermediate position between church and state, responding always to influences from both sides, but affected chiefly in earlier times by ecclesiastical considerations and in later times chiefly by considerations of a political character ; and at all times they have been open to influences of a more diffusive sort, economic, literary, and, broadly speaking, social. Of the schools, too, the secondary schools occupy an intermediate position : they have been influenced by educational institutions and educational processes both above them and below. This fact adds much to the difficulty of the present inquiry, but in adding to its difficulty adds also to its interest.

It is, perhaps, sufficient for our purpose to define secondary education roughly as education of a higher stage than that of the elementary school and lower than that of institutions authorized to give academic degrees. This definition gives no clean-cut boundaries ; but historically the limits of secondary education are shadowy and variable. We find occasionally secondary schools which take young pupils through the first steps of reading, writing, and arithmetic. On the other hand, we have seen institutions authorized to give degrees, and actually giving degrees, when their courses of instruction were hardly sufficient to fit their graduates for admission to the best degree-giving institutions. All such instances as these must be regarded as variations from the type and not as themselves determining the type. The definition proposed is inexact for another reason. The standards of one generation differ from those of earlier and later generations. There are doubtless high schools of the present day which offer a more generous course of instruction than did the leading colleges of a century ago. On the other hand, there has been a marked tendency within the past century to extend the scope of elementary instruction. It happens that in one school the studies commonly pursued in secondary schools are begun two or three years earlier than in some neighboring institution where the pupils' progress in the work assigned them is equally rapid.

In the course of its development, the American secondary school has got wedged in between the elementary school and the college, each of which has developed independently, without any such check or bar. So the education that we commonly call secondary covers a shorter period in this country than in other leading culture lands. The prevailing usage nowadays in the United States assigns eight years to the elementary school, followed by four years in the secondary school ; and that in turn followed by four years in the college, with the bachelor's degree at the end of the course : this with many occasional and local variations. The pupil is supposed to begin his secondary schooling at about the age of fourteen. In colonial times the length of the secondary school course was about the same as now, though more variable, but pupils often entered the secondary school much earlier than is now customary. It should be added that where the normal age for the beginning of secondary school studies is fourteen, the average age of the actual beginners is considerably higher.

The method of definition of secondary education followed by Dr. Harris in the United States Bureau of Education is based upon the studies pursued. The classic languages, algebra, geometry, the natural sciences, the history of other countries than our own, and certain other subjects, are treated as of secondary grade ; and students who are pursuing three such subjects are counted as secondary-school students. This is a simple and workable method of classification, based upon the common practice of our schools.

Back of these definitions, however, lie theoretical considerations. There is a stage in mental development, above the empirical stage and below the philosophical, which may be called the scientific. The grade of education corresponding to this intermediate stage may, quite naturally, be called secondary, that below it being called primary, and that above it, higher. The primary or elementary division deals mainly with things in their unessential relationships, their resemblances and differences, their collocation in space, and their orderly arrangement in temporal series. It rises, to be sure, to general ideas, but hardly arrives at logical definition of its ideas. The secondary division deals with ideas more clearly defined ; and it comes to an understanding of things as organized into coherent systems through the operation of such principles as those of mechanical causation and human imitation. These principles have already become familiar, to be sure, in the earlier stage, but not in their larger significance. Higher education seeks, finally, in the study of philosophy, to attain to a complete comprehension of the world, viewing it in the light of ultimate principles.

Secondary education accordingly deals with language not merely by way of employing it as a means of communication ; but looks into its grammatical structure and comes to an understanding of the functions and interrelations of its several parts. The student is set free from the distortions of life-long familiarity by a comparison of the forms of his mother tongue with those of another language or other languages. His practice of composition is organized through the regulative principles of rhetoric. His knowledge of literature is not only broadened by new readings in the best works of two or three languages, but is organized by a study of the elements of literary construction and also of the historical development of the several languages and their literatures. His knowledge of the facts of general history is likewise extended, and the comparison of the histories of different peoples helps him to some understanding of the connection of events one with another through the working of social influences. His knowledge of arithmetic and mensuration is universalized in algebra and geometry; and his fragments of information concerning natural phenomena are run together and worked over into some semblance of a rounded science. It is, in other words, the business of secondary education to raise all subjects which it touches to the plane of science, by bringing all into the point of view of organizing principles.

The distinction between elementary and secondary education seems to carry with it some such logical implications as have been indicated. There are objective facts of human development upon which a similar distinction may be based. Secondary education has been described as the education of adolescents. The comparatively brief period assigned to schools of this grade in America covers only an earlier stage of adolescence, but that is a stage in which some of the most decisive changes, physical and temperamental, may be expected to take place. Those foreign systems which place the pupil in a secondary school at the age of nine or ten, bring together children and adolescents in the same educational institution.

Secondary education, regarded as the education of adolescents, is that stage in which the brain of the student, after twelve or fourteen years of slow development, is for the first time prepared to do its part in the full range of human activity — in which the student may be said to be for the first time in full possession of his proper complement of human capacities, instincts, and modes of thought. Beginning with this equipment, secondary education carries the student forward through the period in which he is making the mastery over his new-found self, and helps him to adjustment with his new-found world.

The interpretations of the rational and the physiological psychologist show what was dimly apprehended in the slow working out of our systems of secondary education, and propose principles for guidance in future reforms. Another view, which has more or less consciously influenced our division of schools, is that which regards education in its relation to the organization of society. Primary education, from this standpoint, is the education needed for all ; which, for the sake of the general good, no citizen can be permitted to do without. Beyond this is the region of difference, of divergence, and it may be added, of very great uncertainty and dispute. Occasionally one hears the prophecy that what we call secondary education will eventually be an education for all. It is now the lower stage of the education that cannot be for all, and the stage in which differentiation according to the individual's prospective service to society, or according to the individual's peculiar tastes and capacities, or according to both of these together, finds its beginning. Secondary education is differentiated education in its earlier processes. It makes the preliminary survey of the student's special aptitudes and capacities, with a view to discovering, to himself and to those interested in his future, what there is in him that may be made of most worth to society, and so most serviceable to his own self-realization.

If we were to extend our historical inquiry so as to cover everything that belongs theoretically to the secondary stage of education, we should find ourselves overlapping at one time the higher grades of our elementary schools and at another time the lower classes of the colleges. Secondary education would claim, from different points of view, varying amounts of the adjacent territory. There is a disposition at present to increase its range by half, or even double it, by annexing to it two years or thereabouts from the course of the elementary school and a like amount from that of the college. This change, for the most part, has been made in theory only, though the theory has found some partial embodiment in actual school organization. If we were to carry such theoretical reconstruction back into the history of our schools, this account of the development of secondary education would take in the greater part of our college history and make some inroads upon the history of our elementary schools as well. The boundaries of the subject are vague enough at best, and we shall avoid further confusion by limiting ourselves to the schools as organized. Only it will be remembered that this procedure excludes much that might fairly be brought under the term " secondary."

The history of secondary education in America may be roughly blocked off in three divisions. The first of these, covering our colonial period, more or less, had for its characteristic type the old Latin grammar school. The latter portion of this period, from the time of the "Great Awakening " on, showed signs of transition to that which was to follow. The second period may be taken as extending from the Revolution to the Civil War, with strong indications of coming change from the days of the " Educational Revival." The characteristic secondary school of this period was the academy. The third period, down to our own time, is in an especial sense the age of the public high school.

In the American colonies, and later in the young American states, so long as their literature, science, and art continued to be dependent on that of Europe, two opposing influences may be clearly seen, shaping the higher life of the people. The first is the spirit of protest against European institutions, which many of the colonists brought with them from their old home; the second is the ever-present instinct of imitation. The protest was as much a mark of provinciality as was the imitation. Real American institutions might be expected to develop with the development of real American nationality. In the beginning there could be only such institutions as might arise under the mingled influence of a desire to be like the mother country and a desire to be different.

It will be worth while to trace as many of the connections between our American schools and their European forerunners as we may be able to make out. These give us the lines along which institutional imitation has been at work. They bring us to a better understanding of our own schools, by showing them to us as members of a great world-family of schools.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Latin school, of one sort or another, was the common institution of secondary education in the leading countries of Europe. This school was the direct descendant of the monastic and cathedral schools of the middle ages, but had been enriched by the literary influences of the renaissance. In England, the type was represented by the old "grammar schools."

It seems hardly necessary to defend a reference to the grammar schools of Old England as the immediate prototypes of our colonial grammar schools. The claim, repeatedly urged, that Holland and not England is the true mother of early American education, has related especially to education of an elementary grade. So far as secondary schools are concerned, the evidence which has been brought to light respecting the wide extension of grammar school education in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, together with the well-known fact that many of our leading colonists were personally acquainted, as pupils or teachers or otherwise, with those English schools, seems sufficient to cover the case.

In the Catholic portions of Europe, the educational institutions of the Jesuits were at the height of their prosperity in the seventeenth century. In addition to colleges and universities, the Society of Jesus conducted by all odds the most thoroughly organized system of Latin schools to be found anywhere. Political and ecclesiastical forces pre-vented any open establishment of the Society in England and the English colonies. Accordingly we find but few traces of Jesuit schools in our colonial period. Yet it can-not be doubted that the Jesuits were setting new standards for the Latin schools of continental Europe, and those standards in all likelihood exercised some sort of indirect influence on English and colonial institutions. It would take us too far afield to attempt an estimate of the extent of this influence at the time we have under consideration. Still further afield is the question how far the great Protestant preceptors of the sixteenth century, Melanchthon and Sturm, may have influenced both the Jesuit schools and the English schools of the seventeenth century. These problems are well worthy of independent consideration.

In opposition to the view that our New England colonists imitated Holland rather than England in the setting-up of their first school system, Mr. Fiske has suggested that the prompting to such educational activity came not from Holland but from Calvinism. Something like a common movement in behalf of public education may be observed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, throughout the Calvinistic portions of Europe—in Scotland, in the Netherlands, and in the Protestant portions of France and Switzerland. " Obviously, then, it might be held that free schools in New England were a natural development of Calvinism, and do not necessarily imply any especially close relation with Holland."' Mr. Eggleston has put forth a similar view and has worked out some of the details which it suggests. " New England," he says, " was quite as likely to fetch a precedent from some Presbyterian country as to follow the tradition of England. She did not need to go farther than Scotland." 2

It is clear that Calvinistic ideas backed by Calvinistic examples were at work. While the early schools were like the grammar schools of England, the relation of such schools to the public that they served, in the Calvinistic colonies of New England, was something very different. Here we have the interworking of the protest with the imitation. For in Calvinism was a Protestantism endlessly protesting. This attitude not only committed those who maintained it to unremitting efforts toward improvement on the civil and religious conditions of Old England; but in particular it made education necessary for its own continuance — and more and more education. The American colonists brought other protests in plenty with them from over seas, but none that had in it larger educational implications than this standing protest of Calvinism.

We must not suppose, however, that even yet we have reached any ultimate explanation. Calvinism, like everything else, had antecedents. The man who inaugurates a new movement in human history is one who gives expression to what many have been thinking more or less clearly. He rallies about his doctrine those who, perhaps unconsciously, have been waiting for the word that he has spoken.

Thus many wandering aspirations that did not know one another become an army and go forward keeping step. This is what John Calvin did, as others had done before and as others have done since. We might trace some of the most vital of his doctrines back into the middle ages, back to Augustine, and farther yet. And the educational aspirations which Calvinism so greatly quickened, we might find here and there, not wholly dormant, far back in the ages we call dark and barbarous. Such an inquiry would take away none of the true glory of Calvin and Calvinism. The re-former of Geneva did not claim that his doctrine was new. But we cannot undertake to trace its genealogy here. An-other arbitrary limit must be set to our search for origins. That is what must be done in every historical inquiry, else the work undertaken would become unmanageable.

The imitations and protests of the colonists were worked out in a new field, with its new conditions and new problems. Those early Americans became less conscious after a time of their attitude toward Europe. Of more importance than their agreement or disagreement with European precedents was the efficient discharge of their own immediate responsibilities. So, little by little, an American character came into being. The Revolution greatly promoted this development, perhaps quite as much by drawing the colonies together in a new sense of responsibility at home, as by cutting them loose from outward dependence upon Europe. It is hardly necessary to add that provincialism of many sorts long survived their achievement of independence.

No one of the movements that have entered into this slow development is more interesting than the making of our modern democracy. In this movement, too, Calvinism has played no little part—a part which need not be exaggerated but cannot be ignored. In the later development of our American education, democracy has been as great a force as was Calvinism at an earlier day.

In fact, the broad, general movement of American civilization is pretty well- exhibited in our successive types of secondary school. Our Latin grammar schools were largely imitations of Europe, though even in them we find some modification made to adapt the old institution to the new environment. The academies, on the other hand, showed much less of the influence of their English prototypes, and early assumed a distinct American character. The high schools have been from the early days of their career about as thoroughly American as any institution we have yet developed.

It is imitation with which we have to do first of all, and this takes us into the story of the grammar schools of England. To make the story short, we begin in the middle, at the time of the renaissance, and touch only here and there, on things that seem worthy to be called representative.



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