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Elementary Education

( Originally Published 1912 )

" It is an axiom in my mind, that our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves, and that, too, of the people with a certain degree of instruction. This it is the business of the State to effect, and on a general plan." — JEFFERSON : in a letter to Washington, January 4, 1786.


IN the United States, just as there is no central control of education, so there is no standardized course of study for elementary schools —nor for the schools of any grade. A few of the States have prescribed minimum courses or offered suggestive courses. New York, for instance, has prepared a syllabus, which is introduced by the following explanatory statement : —

" In determining the work of the elementary schools, a six-year course has been prepared. This course is general in character and adapted to all children until that period of their development when they manifest different interests, mental powers, and tastes, which is usually at the age of twelve.

" This six-year course is followed by an intermediate course of two years, covering the usual seventh and eighth grades and rounding out the elementary course. In this two-year course the work begins to differentiate. Work is planned which leads to the long-established high school courses, to commercial courses, and to industrial courses. Certain work previously done in the high school course has been brought down in this two-year course to economize the pupils' time, to reduce the pressure and strain under which high school students have labored during their first years in high school, and to interest pupils in work which will induce them to remain in school for a greater number of years.

" There are therefore the following courses : —

I. Six-year elementary course.

II. Intermediate course — seventh and eighth years."

Most of the States, however, content them-selves with legislating only as to certain features of the curriculum. For example, all of the States prescribe the study of physiology and hygiene, with special reference to the effects of alcohol and narcotics,' California prescribes " morals and manners," Illinois and New Hampshire " moral and humane education," Arkansas and others elementary agriculture, and so on.

In the urban schools each city usually is a law unto itself. Each prescribes for its own needs, usually in minute detail by means of syllabuses explanatory of its course of study. The time allotments for a few of the leading cities are here given : —



Manual Training. — Drawing, constructive work, cord and raffia work are prescribed for boys and girls ; shop work for boys alone ; sewing and cooking for girls alone. In the third year the boys take cord and raffia work for 6o minutes each week. In the 3A grade the girls take cord and raffia work for 30 minutes, but in the 3 B grade they omit work in this line, devoting 6o minutes to sewing. During the fourth, fifth, and sixth years, the time allowed to sewing for girls is used by boys in constructive work. In the seventh and eighth years advanced sewing is taken by girls in schools not provided with kitchens, but the time in this case may be one hour instead of 80 minutes.

Study Periods. — At least 30 minutes per day from the fourth to the eighth year, inclusive, should be devoted to study. Principals should see that the time specifically given to subjects that require preparation should not be used exclusively for recitation purposes, but that it should be used also, as occasion may require, for purposes of study.

Electives. — The study to be pursued in any one school shall be determined by the Board of Superintendents. Any regular subject in the curriculum may be substituted for any elective at the discretion of the Board of Superintendents.

For the First Grade the subjects Reading and Language are to be taken as one.

For the first four years the Language Work is to include the four topics immediately following Language. After the fourth year the time allotment is given to each subject. The topic " Conduct and Morals " is to be included in the time allotment for the Constructive Work and Composition.

More time to be given to Industrial Work than Drawing in the first four grades.

The programs given are sufficient in number to show that different cities place the emphasis upon different subjects. This is more clearly brought out by grouping the figures for the chief subjects in the six cities.

The 1910-1911 schedule for the city of. Cleveland (p. 203) is of particular interest in consequence of the fact that it " is based upon the average time given to each study in each grade of the schools of the following cities : Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Rochester, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and San Francisco."


In England, the school is the unit, and the only influence exercised by central authority upon the curriculum of the individual school is that which comes by awarding financial aid to those schools which maintain a certain standard of efficiency. Again we are indebted to Dr. Payne for a composite table of ten English cities.


In studying comparatively these national tables, perhaps the most striking difference to be noted is the heavy demands made upon the pupils in the French schools. The large total of 1800 minutes per week, exclusive of study periods, is carried down to the very lowest grade. The English table also shows an approximate equality of time allotment throughout all grades. This too is the American custom, the total weekly time spent in school being generally 1500 minutes. In Germany alone of these four systems do we find a marked difference between the time required of pupils of the lowest and of the highest grade.

Considering the work of the schools along the large divisions of physical, mental, and moral training, we may make two broad generalizations: (1) Physical training receives the largest degree of attention in England,' with America far be-hind the two continental countries. (2) Moral instruction finds practically no place in the American curriculum, unless we consider as such the comparatively insignificant effect of certain general appeals for ethical training in the syllabuses of some cities and the quite general provision for the reading of the Bible in the schools, usually " without note or comment." Quite to the contrary, the subject receives much attention in the programs of the other countries — in England and Germany in the form of dogmatic religious teaching in accord with the faith elected by the parents of the individual children, and in France in the form of prescribed instruction in ethics and civics along strictly nonsectarian lines.

We may make a still further grouping of subjects by separating from the others the distinctive " arts and crafts." Placing in this group drawing, music, and the various forms of manual training, we see England again in the lead. Germany seems preeminent in music and France in manual work, which it provides in equal measure for both sexes.

Of course the mere statement of the time de-voted to the various subjects by no means indicates the character and extent of the teaching of those subjects. To get any thorough basis for comparison of countries in this respect, it would be necessary to investigate the many syllabuses which prescribe the details. Such a task is beyond the scope of this study, and so we must content ourselves with the very general comparisons which the time schedules furnish. So, too, are we limited as to the number of countries which may be considered. Beyond the four referred to, however, one is of peculiar interest — we may profitably give space to the program of Japan.

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