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Secondary Education

( Originally Published 1912 )

" The striking thing about the Roman secondary school is that the culture, which conditioned its existence, was foreign ; and this has remained true of the secondary schools of all nations which have appeared in the subsequent history of Western civilization." ANDERSON, " History of Common School Education," p. 47.

" European and American secondary schools are somewhat alike in their curricula, in that studies contributing to general culture play the main role, and in the fact that the content as well as the method of teaching is largely determined in response to the demands of the superior institutions." DUTON-SNEDDEN," Administration of Public Education in the United States," P. 356.

THE conflict between the classical and the scientific spirit has raged most fiercely about the secondary school and its curriculum. We have seen how, in all countries, the proponents of the theory that only the study of the classics is culturally worth while have had to yield before the assaults of modernism. While there yet lingers among the elect the feeling that one who has not mastered the ancient languages and literatures can never know the true meaning of education, the fact is that everywhere men and women are training themselves in the modern languages and the sciences, with no conscious thought that their consequent neglect of the classics has put them outside the pale. Officially, the equality of the two contrasted phases of education has been almost universally proclaimed. This condition has been brought about so very recently that perhaps we are not yet in a position properly to evaluate the trend or to estimate the future status of secondary education.

Says Chancellor Brown : " The consideration of tendencies in secondary education just now brings us near to the very heart of our civilization. For the past ten or twelve years we have seen middle-school problems occupying a central place in the thought of the great culture nations. We have had a decade or more of middle-school reforms." He cites among the significant events: the Berlin Conference, 1890; the Committee of Ten, 1893 ; the English Parliamentary Commission on Secondary Education, 1895 ; the establishment of the English Board of Education ; the Commission appointed by the French Chamber of Deputies, 1899 ; the Brunswick Declaration and Kiel Decree, 1900. " It is a most remarkable record, and warrants the belief that we have just been passing through one of the greatest formative epochs in the history of secondary schools."

It will be wise only to note the fact that at the present day the secondary curriculum is marked by diversity of courses and that this diversity is greatest in the American schools. In the United States the pupil is allowed great latitude in selection, many courses in many subjects being offered him, even within a single high school. On the continent, the pupil's option is rather between schools than between courses within a school ; a school once selected, he finds little opportunity to choose from among the subjects presented. Moreover, in Germany for example, if he happens to live in a community which supports only one of the three kinds of schools, he has really no choice.


The secondary schools of the United States have made an advance within the last generation, far beyond anything experienced by those of continental Europe. This is so, in a measure, because there was greater room for improvement. " In quality as well as in quantity of information imparted, our public high school courses quite equal and in many ways surpass our former college courses, except in subjects which are no longer compulsory therein."

Even more than in the case of the elementary schools, the curriculum of the high schools is left unprescribed by the State departments, although some States, as for instance New Jersey, issue suggestive syllabuses. Each city or district board of education exercises its discretion, with the result that the courses offered in various cities differ considerably in details. Nevertheless there are certain characteristics common to all, so that we may readily describe the typical, or composite, American high school curriculum. Exclusive of those avowedly vocational, which will be considered in a later chapter, three courses are offered. These go under various names, but are usually known as classical, scientific, and general. The first two of these prepare for the colleges, and the third gives a general education for those pupils whose formal schooling must end with the completion of the secondary stage. The typical studies of the classical course are : English and Latin, throughout the four years ; French or German, from two to four years ; Greek, the last two or three years; mathematics (algebra and geometry) two or three years ; together with varying required or optional amounts of history (ancient and modern), science (physiology, botany, zoology, physics, chemistry), and drawing. The scientific course retains the English but modifies the Latin requirement, extends the mathematics, makes more of the science obligatory, offers a greater amount of modern language, and adds certain technical subjects manual training, applied arts, etc. The general course offers a wider choice of modern languages from the beginning (two may be taken in the first year), and several broad options in history and science.

The above, of course, is only a very general statement. Also in general, it may be said that a pupil must take a minimum of four hours of recitations daily, and that this time will be occupied with four or five, rarely more than six, different subjects. As a specific instance, the three academic courses of the Jersey City High School may serve as a type.

Certain variations may be noted. Washington, D.C., for instance, in addition to the classical and scientific courses, offers a modern language and a history course.

Minneapolis, Minn., designates its three academic courses: English, Latin, Literary. The adjustment of the curriculum to local conditions is seen in the appearance of Swedish and Norwegian as optional languages in the last three years of the Literary course.

St. Louis, Mo., combines its subjects into six courses, thus :

Art : Requiring drawing and history of art ; no foreign language until third year.


'Giving choice between Latin and modern languages. Scientific

Classical j Requiring Latin, Greek, and a modern lan-

College Classical guage.

College Scientific : Requiring Latin and a modern language.

Los Angeles, Cal. in its Hollywood High School offers eight academic courses, and in the Los Angeles High School schedules no less than twelve distinct courses.

So liberal has become the degree of choice offered to pupils, that many of the high schools think of their courses in terms of options rather than of requirements. Formerly they said to the student : This is the course, except that at certain points you may, if you wish, substitute certain subjects for those required. Now they say : These are the subjects; take what you wish of them, except that at certain points you must take what we prescribe. The flexibility of the present-day curriculum is such that the requirements for a diploma of graduation are usually stated in a total number of weekly hours or in a total number of " points " based upon hours. The general scope of the typical high school course may be better presented by the following concise summary of the Chicago course.

Almost universally the American high school course extends over four years. In a few in-stances a preparatory year or two is offered, as by Providence, R.I., in its Hope Street High School. This school offers all courses found in the Classical and English high schools. It also gives opportunity for pupils who have completed six years of elementary school work, with extra credit, to take a two years' junior course before the regular high school work begins.

On the other hand, some high schools make a point of preparing for college in three or three and a half years. In New York, Townsend Harris Hall, connected with the College of the City of New York, a municipal institution, prepares for the college in three years.


By sharp contrast with the flexibility of the American curriculum, the German courses are extremely rigid. Those prescribed for the three kinds of secondary school follow. It will be seen that, within each schedule, there are practically no options. The figures given represent number of hours per week, but in actual practice the school hour may be but little more than forty minutes.

One particularly commendable feature of the German secondary school is that no student may be graduated who is deficient in the mother tongue.

That the inflexibility of their curriculum is recognized by Germans as a disadvantage is shown by the efforts being made to reform the condition. One instance is the experiment at Frankfort, where the gymnasial program in the so-termed Reform School.

" The chief practical advantage expected from placing French first and postponing Latin for three years is that parents may delay their decision as to the type of secondary education their children shall have. The reform plan also makes it easier for pupils to enter the Gymnasium from the elementary schools."

The work of the girls' secondary schools ex-tends over ten years,' and the character of the course may be understood from the following summary of the total number of hours per week for the entire ten years.

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