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any cause fails to keep up to the standard, she should at once be dropped and another teacher put in her place. And it should be the rule that, so long as the teacher maintains that high standard which should be required of her to gain appointment in the department, just so long should she be secure of her position, and no longer; and hence, having no tenure in office but that of satisfactory service, the teacher will be ever alive to the necessity of having her work up to the highest standard.
QUO VADIS, SCHOOL BOARD?
BY WILLIAM GEORGE BRUCE, EDITOR “AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL,"
MILWAUKEE, WIS. The general progress which has manifested itself in all lines of human activity has touched the management of our educational affairs with equal force. While it may be said that all advancement must have its impetus in knowledge, and knowledge its source in education, we differentiate here education in the abstract from a system or machinery for its application or distribution. This system has kept fully abreast with the educational progress of the day, and the machinery which was once crude and clumsy has grown into an intricate piece of mechanism. The principles which serve as its motive power have always been the same.
The school board of the present day is, however, a different affair from the school board of even a quarter of a century ago. The simple course of study, the limited list of books, and the meager school supplies left little for the old-time school board to look after. The amplification of studies, the increased size and number of school buildings, together with the requirements of a modern schoolhouse, make greater demands upon a school board.
These demands are met by men who are equal to the task. The rough and unlettered citizens who served upon the old school board have gradually been displaced by the business and professional men in every community. The farmer as well as the mechanic who may hold a membership in a school board is fully equipped to meet the obligation of a new condition. For all that has been accomplished we should feel truly grateful. The thousands who have served on boards of education have contributed their share toward the great progress made. Without them little could have been accomplished.
The establishment of our public school system brought into life the first school board. The latter was necessary for the life of the former.
The very nature of our form of government called for a system of school government which brought the schools as near the people as possible. The foundation of the republic rested then, as it does now, upon the public school system. It involved, not merely the education of the
people, but an inculcation of the spirit of democracy. This spirit found its profoundest expression in its school system, and was typified in the real conservator of the schools, the school board, a body created of the people for the government of the school system by the people and for the people. The very fact that the people had the management under their own control served as an impetus toward enlightenment and freedom. A centralized or paternal form of school management would have been fatal to the cause. A radical change would have come over the spirit of our institutions. Plutocracy rather than democracy would have been the result. But the school board proved to be the real hand that rocked the cradle of democracy. It watched unceasingly the interests of the public school system which has proven itself the bulwark of a republic. So much for the introduction, at least, of my discussion.
I have thus far merely aimed to lend the subject a background which shall show the spirit which its founders breathed into our school system, the fundamental principles which have so successfully governed them.
I mean now to contrast some of the modern tendencies in school government with the well-established doctrines which have stood the test of time so well — tendencies which not only weaken and divert, but antagonize its very existence. That these tendencies should creep into the management of our educational affairs, that centralization and paternalism should even find recognition at the hands of progressive members of boards of education, may be difficult to understand.
In this age of feverish haste it may not be surprising that we should move, temporarily at least, in wrong directions, that we leap into new departures before we have foreseen their ultimate effect.
But the pater nalist, the autocrat, is abroad in school affairs as well as elsewhere. He seeks centralization of power, of monopoly in the management of our educational affairs, with the same avidity with which he combines commercial interests. A one-man power is his ultimate aim.
One form of this modern tendency finds expression in the disposition of educators to question the right of school boards to have any jurisdiction over the education of the child. Superintendent Jones, of Cleveland, recently voiced the sentiment of educators when he challenged the right of anyone, not a specially trained teacher of the highest attainments, to plan or criticise a course for our public schools. Not even the school board is to have a voice in the matter.
The answer to this proposition is well put by Mr. Backus, a member of the Cleveland school board. He said:
I take issue with the superintendent; I believe that the men and women in active business and professional life, the people who come into daily contact with the different phases of our business and social and political existence, are specially fitted to judge and determine what should be taught in our schools, to meet the modern requirements of citizenship. This most certainly was the thought of the legislature of the state when it
enacted the law directing the members of the board of education - who are the direct representatives of the people — to determine by the majority vote of all members elected the studies to be pursued, and what text-books shall be used in the schools under their control. It is within the province of the superintendent to determine how a subject is to be taught, but it should, and must, remain the duty of the school board to say what shall be taught.
Another proposition that reveals a modern tendency emanates from Superintendent Andrews, of Chicago, who arrogates to himself the sole right to select and appoint teachers. Here, too, school boards are to have no voice in the matter. Let me give you the answer to this form of centralized power in the language of Mrs. Wiles, who spoke before the National Convention of School Boards in 1897. She said :
If boards cannot judge of the qualifications of teachers, how are they to judge whether the superintendent appoints, promotes, and dismisses on merit alone, and whether he is himself a capable and inspiring leader of teachers ? If boards know nothing of text-books and courses of study, how are they to judge whether the superintendent chooses wisely? The fact is, the board (or at least some members) must know something of all these things, or fail in its duty. Otherwise it is at the mercy of a superintendent who may work simply to please parents and teachers, and, succeeding in that, may draw his salary year after year, and the schools grow poorer and poorer, with no one to say “nay."
If a school board is incapable of ratifying the appointment of a thirdgrade teacher, how, in the name of common sense, can it ever be intrusted with the appointment of a superintendent ?
It is by no means argued that the superintendent is not to have a voice in all matters touching upon the professional side of school work, or even the greater power in this direction, as I shall demonstrate.
The progress in school government includes, no doubt, a clearer understanding between the board and its superintendent, a more definite division of duties and responsibilities, as well as a more clearly defined relationship.
The causes which bring into life these small reform school boards may in every instance be traced to the misdeeds of a larger predecessor. The good public and the press, at the sound of an internal school-board rupture, determine that the size, rather than the mode and manner of a board's operation, is at the bottom of its weaknesses. The capacity of the individual members and the representative character of the organization become less of a factor in a reform movement than the numerical proportion. A smaller body is legislated into life, the representative feature is overlooked, and an aristocratic school board is intrusted with the care of the schools. The elimination of the representative feature is presumably made up in the character of the newly appointed.
Men who stand highest in commercial and professional circles ought to make the best material for a school board. The proposition naturally appeals to one's reason, but the selection of any one distinctive class offers some serious objection. True, a school board should be made up of men who have a good standing in the community, but also of men who possess in a high degree that interest which will prompt them to give their best service. A great lawyer or a wealthy banker may be a failure as a school-board member. A lack of time and inclination to the work may unfit him. The indolent or indifferent man is certainly undesirable, but equally so is the man who is too busy — the man who cannot or will not give the requisite time. In fact, men of this class have oftentimes undervalued the dignity, the importance, or the duties of their position. They had to be urged in the first place to accept, and felt somewhat above the place while serving. While you may hold this to be the exception, I have found it, in the larger cities at least, to be more than a mere exception.
Furthermore, these men do not, as a rule, give the requisite time to do justice to their position. It is oftentimes said that it takes a busy man to find time for school-board duties. I grant this. But many of our professional and business-men who accept school-board honors do not — because they are too busy — give the time and attention necessary. They are unable, altho in attendance at regular board meetings, to give that thought, that deep interest, which makes a draft upon time by attending committee meetings, and which is so essential to the successful administration of school affairs. This sort of school member necessarily becomes an exclusive personage. The great pressure upon his time, the multiplicity of affairs with which he deals and in which school-board matters, from his standpoint, are classed as insignificant trifles, render him at once an autocrat as far as his relations with the school system and the public are concerned.
I have in mind here a city school board made up of the cream of commercial and professional men. Its leading members cannot be seen upon school matters except at committee meetings. A visit to the office of the president in a high office building will find you confronted with a polite clerk who will deliver your card to the great man who is hid in the inner recesses of his private sanctum. You wait at the outer portals of this temple until the clerk returns to tell you that school matters cannot be discussed by his chief. . The very nature of your business will exclude you from the great man's presence.
Here I hold that the man who holds membership in a school board owes a certain amount of time to those who have legitimate business with the school system. A parent, a pupil, a teacher, even a stranger, may have a claim with the school-board member which he is in duty bound to respect.
He is the mediary between the school system and the public, and should be the friend of the pupil and the teacher. Holding, as he does, confidential relations to the school system, he must be willing to give a hearing to his constituency, in order to determine whether their case should be brought before a committee. An experienced member knows that many of the ordinary affairs must be adjusted without being brought before a committee, and, again, that the average teacher, pupil, or citizen may be extremely embarrassed at being obliged to go before a committee meeting In this connection let me say that even the bookman, or supply agent, is entitled to a hearing if the board is in the market for his goods. A personal interview will sometimes bring out information regarding the goods in question which cannot be elicited in the five- and ten-minute speeches before committees. An agent will always discourse freely the shortcomings of his competitor's wares - shortcomings which could not be brought to light so readily in any other way. A great deal of information on a given subject can be obtained from these salesmen who give it gratis.
The president of the school board should be at the helm. His duties and responsibilities are greater than those of the ordinary member. His guardianship over the school system not only implies wise leadership in school-board transactions; it makes him the counselor and the friend of the parent, teacher, and pupil. To him must be confided the many things which, if given publicity, would cause a calamity. He must relieve the strain and friction which are so common in school management, but which only a wise and considerate man of affairs can adjust. We have seen excellent school systems where the school board was made up of earnest men of good character, but with no claims to distinction or exceptional local prominence, while we know of school systems which are below the usual standard, whose school board consists of the highly stationed element.
Thus some of the leading cities in the United States are afflicted with aristocratic school boards. Usually the largest cities have intensified the aristocratic feature most. New York city a year ago prided itself on its reform school board, which was only about one-half the size of the former organization. Small boards and high-class men was the cry. Today the most thoughtful people in New York city pronounce their reform school board a failure.
In a recent interview Mayor Van Wyck made this statement:
I am going to advertise for first-class men who can and will give all their time as commissioners of education. The great trouble at the present time is that the school commissioners cannot give enough time to their duties, and the result is they know little or nothing about the detailed work of their important department.
A similar wail comes from other cities. What is the next logical step in cities where the idea of concentrated power has gained ground ? The appointment of a salaried commission of three men who shall govern the school system. This suggestion has already been made, and if the paternalists are true to their creed, such a commission will be the ultimate