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Education - General Review

( Originally Published 1912 )



"It is a truth, now become axiomatic, that the great fact in education during the past thirty years has been the discovery of the individual. The courses of study in kindergarten or university are not for general but for special use. To turn a phrase, it may be said that no longer is the student prepared for the college but the college for the student." SNOW, " The College Curriculum,"

HAVING completed a general study of the structure of the school systems of the leading nations of the world, we are prepared to consider the second of the three subtopics into which we have divided the broad subject of school organization. Thus far we have contented ourselves with a passing view of the external form of the school structure. This structure is built in order that the national wealth in human individuals may be best utilized in promoting the nation's weal. The school is reared in order that the minds and souls of children, as raw material, may be converted into finished products of disciplined efficiency. We have now, turning our attention from the edifice to the process which goes on within it, to inspect the mechanism which deter-mines the product.

The three elements in the teaching act are, of course, the pupil, the teacher, and the thing taught. We speak highly of the " influence " of the teacher, and set a large value upon the teacher's "personality." At the same time, no school system is willing to permit the teacher to deal with his pupils solely in accordance with his own judgment as to their intellectual and moral needs. Nor is it satisfied to define the teaching process in terms only of personality and influence, important as these factors are. It imposes upon teacher and pupil a set form and amount of subject matter which must be acquired by the pupil under the guidance and instruction of the teacher. True, it is the hope of the school that this acquisition may be made in a wholesome atmosphere, purified and clarified by the teacher's personality. Nevertheless, the curriculum itself is prescribed in more or less detail, and it is this curriculum which merits our present attention.

The extent to which the State prescribes the curriculum naturally varies in the different countries. Great Britain and most of her colonial possessions prescribe courses for elementary schools only ; Belgium, Norway, and Nether-lands prescribe for secondary schools and a minimum for elementary schools ; most of the other European nations exercise control over the curriculum for elementary, secondary, and normal schools Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentine also come in this class. In a majority of the States of the United States, prescription does not extend beyond a minimum for elementary schools, while a large minority do not even go so far.

That there should be differences too in the subject matter of the curricula of the various countries is a matter of course. The history and traditions of the nation, its geographic location and political status, its natural resources and acquired wealth all shape the national purpose in reference to its schools. It is to be noted, however, that " without doubt, national differences must still be more influential in determining the teaching of the lower schools than that of the universities. In some degree this difference must be regarded as permanent. A strong nationalism and even a certain wholesome provincialism are to be cherished in those schools." 1

There are three or four main points of distinction around which differences in the curriculum center. These may gain clearness if put in the form of questions : (1) Shall the school cultivate the physical and moral as well as the mental ? (2) Shall the school educate for culture or train for vocation ? and as a corollary : In what proportion shall the classics and the sciences enter the curriculum ? (3) Shall the schools differentiate on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals ?

The first question is answered quite diver-gently, as we shall see later. The second question touches alike educational psychology and the social status. Are culture and vocational efficiency contradictory terms ? If so, the school must seek one or the other ; if not, it must mold its curriculum so as to secure efficiency through cultural subjects and culture through vocational subjects. In either case we are bound to recognize that certain subjects of study are more immediately available for utilitarian purposes and that certain others are chiefly of value as nourishing men's ideals and extending the range of their sympathies. One of the bitterest of the educational contests of the past century and one still raging was over the point of the relative values of subjects, particularly as between the humanities and the sciences. The psychologists have appeared in this contest with their dispute as to mental discipline 1 and the consequent question as to whether grilling study in classical grammar will also make one a good scientist, or whether scientific training alone can possibly entitle one to be called " cultured." In its social aspects, the contest has been no less keen. The defenders of the status quo have endeavored to identify culture with the socially "elect " and limit its acquisition to those predestined to enjoy it. Meantime the Philistines have been waging war on the strongholds of the self-chosen and securing reluctant recognition. So important has been this contest that it has affected not only the internal curriculum but the very structure of the schools, as we have seen, for instance, in the three-sided secondary organization of Germany, in the four faculties in France, and in the vocational high schools in America.

The third question that as to the differentiation of courses has a close relation to this second. Is there one continuous curriculum through which all children should be carried from the infant school to the university? It is clear that this question must promptly be answered in the negative. What, then, are to be the bases upon which we shall say : These children must have this curriculum those children must have that curriculum ? In the spirit of aristocracy and autocracy, these children are to be given every educational advantage that shall help them maintain their present social preiminence ; those children, being of a lower social class, are to be given an elementary education broad enough to train them so that they shall not become a charge upon the upper class, and narrow enough to prevent their breaking into the ranks of the cultured. In the spirit of the new democracy, these, the naturally favored, are to be given opportunity to develop natural ability for the sake of the commonwealth ; and those, less favored by social circumstance, are also to be given opportunity to express themselves in terms of culture, if the latent possibility is in any measure present. Hence we see conservative monarchies standing for rather inflexible courses of study, and experimenting democracies tending to a large freedom of election of studies. Just at what stage of the pupil's school life he is to be allowed optional studies is one of the points which will receive our attention as we proceed. We shall see that the inflexibility of the German elementary and secondary curricula is succeeded in the university by an almost unlimited liberty of choice of subjects. By contrast, we shall see that in America, the idea of free election extends down-ward well into and through the collegiate and secondary curriculum. Recent years have produced spirited argument over the question of elective courses in the colleges. On the one side, we have the testimony of Dr. Eliot : " Now, the experience of forty years in a great variety of American institutions has proved that election by the individual works well, wherever the administrative methods which should accompany such an elective system have been well devised and well executed. Hence, the system is not only inevitable, but in the highest degree expedient and profitable."' Against this, we have to oppose the sentiment of Professor Ladd : ".. . my objection to making the entire college curriculum elective is the necessary sequence of the facts. The freshman in the best American college, irrespective of his age and his wisdom, whether in his own eyes or in the eyes of others, has not had (except in rare instances) a secondary education of sufficient extent or thoroughness to fit him to enjoy the privileges of the university idea."

In all directions of human endeavor the progress of thought results in instability of organization. The school curriculum in every country is more or less in a state of flux. Hence it is possible to class, as does Superintendent Chancellor, "all of the studies of the so-called public school curriculum, from the kindergarten to the high school, under three heads, viz.: I. The outgoing studies; II. The modern studies ; and III. The incoming studies." We shall keep this in mind as we proceed to our detailed consideration of the course of study in the succeeding steps of the educational ladder, yet the compass of our work will necessitate relegating history and prophecy to the background and studying, in the main, the conditions of today. We shall profit, however, if, at this point, we borrow from Dean Talbot her statement of the trend. " The special aims of public school education as they are be-ginning to manifest themselves follow a few general lines :

" 1. A development of the sense of citizenship.

" 2. A knowledge of the conditions which prevail in modern life and power to share in them.

" 3. Provision for the welfare of individual boys and girls, rather than inviolability of the curriculum.

" 4. Recognition of the fact that domestic duties or industrial activities await a large majority of the girls.

" 5. The imperative necessity of reaching the children whose wants the older curriculum did not satisfy.

"6. Appreciation of the value of interest as paramount to that of subject matter in deter-mining the importance of a subject.

"7. The promotion of normal physical development."



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