« PreviousContinue »
INDIVIDUALISM IN MASS EDUCATION.
BY P. W. SEARCH, CITY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS, LOS ANGELES, CAL.
THE GRADED SCHOOL SYSTEM-ITS DEFECTS.
The so-called graded school system originated as a wise movement for the improvement of educational opportunity. Doubtless there is an advantage in grouping into certain rooms pupils of fairly equal working ability. Tbere has also been a value in the definite course of study, because of need of continuity in plan, the correlation of elements, economy of time, and utilization of experience and supe. rior mind in enrichment of opportunity. So far the graded school had its perfect justification; but when it proceeded, as is the case in general, through evolution, to become a thing of mechanical excellence, it brought upon itself the merited criticism that should lead to a reform in the interests of every principle of economy.
What are the weaknesses of the graded school system?
1. It brings to the door of every child, irrespective of all individuality, that curse of all endeavor–uniformity. The fact that minds of children differ more than do the leaves of the forest; that in working ability one possesses strength two or three times that of others; that, in the nature of circumstances, time possesses a different value to different children—these and other incontrovertible factors count but little in the making up of school plans. The bright boy, full of ambition and progressive zeal, must be held back because of mass or relative demands. No difference how faithfully he has worked, he must go from his recitation to his seat discouraged and ardorless because the lesson must be repeated from fault not his own; or, he must pass weeks in lifeless reviews in order that somebody else may be benefited. Some one has said, “The public schools are places where pebbles are polished but diamonds are dimmed." The latter part of this criticism is true. No man has a right to demand of a bright pupil twelve years of an ambitious life in order to cover the ordinary course of study. On the other hand, what shall be said of the boy at the lower end of the class? Because tbe assignment of lessons and rate of progress must be regulated by the average ability of the class, he is plunged prematurely into difficulties he does not understand, to drag helpless, indifferent-a so-called dullard and dunce—at the foot of his class, buried beneath a mountain of difficulties that consign him eternally and irrevocably to an educational grave.
This is monstrously unjust; but it is not all. These same pupils, promoted perchance at the end of the year because of the average of results, carry with them a rotten substructure upon which nothing substantial can be built. A few days at the beginning of the year suffice to cause them to lose confidence in themselves. Discouraged and misunderstood, they rapidly develop into ambitionless, bad boys, and soon drop by the wayside and disappear from school life; and the name of this boy is Legion. Ordinarily we count the success of the school by the achievements of those who remain to do work; but, in the name of all justice and economy, I ask, What of the lost boys? What of the lost girls? And these are lost when they are crowded from educational life by the relentless press of a mechanical gradation. The illustration cited concerning the polishing of pebbles is defective in this, that it loses šight of the many who are buried beneath the mud and mirk of the process and never come in contact with the polish that touches the average of the class. These rough, unpolished breccia are never counted as the product of the school; but, nevertheless, they belong to its losses.
But suppose a graded scheme can be prepared that will adequately provide for the bright pupil by promotion at the end of the year, and that will just as adequately hang a millstone of discouragement around the neck of the other pupil, by consigning him to identical repetition of grades; what shall be said of the treatment of the pupil who is just upon the line of a grade requirement? Suppose the usual per cent plan of marking values is in use (and there must be some mechanical standard in mind in determining a mechanical gradation). Now, I can see how it is that a pupil bearing sixtysix and two-thirds per cent and over should go on to higher grade, and how a pupil under thirty-three and one-third per cent should repeat the grade; that is, I say I do for the sake of argument. But how about those of the middle third? Or, suppose the passing grade is sixty. The pupil barely attaining sixty goes forward, while the one who has only fifty-nine and nine-tenths takes an extra year. Now, what principle of equity will justify the magnifying of a line without breadth into so great an expansion that it constitutes a year, or, at least, a semester, of difference between these two pupils? The per cent may not be used, but the principle is the same for the basis of a gradation. There is some dividing line, flexible or arbitrary, between these two pupils.
2. The criticism is made that the public schools are full of pressure and over-tension; that the bright pupil of high-strung, nervous temperament is the one who is spurred and goaded on by the teacher's endeavor to bring up the laggards; that the incentives used tend to abnormal rivalry; and, in consequence of these conditions and others,
there is frequently fearfu! sacrifice in the pursuit of an education. We may not realize the truth of this criticism, excepting as our minds are specially directed thereto. But, fellow-workers, think back over your experience of years, and recall the graduate who was necessarily excused from reading her essay; the pale-faced student who could not go on; the girl of thirteen who dropped by the way. side. Experience in the schoolroom need not be long to produce abundant illustration from personal consideration.
3. Do the public schools contribute to the good health of the children? They should. There is no reason why intellectual endeavor should not be conducive to physical health. Every school plan should be built fundamentally upon adequate provision for the grace and glory of robust, vigorous health; and the intelligent constituency of all America should cry aloud until this demand is perfectly met. Architectural precaution and schoolroom device are ail important, but there is a weakness peculiar to class instruction that should give way. The presentation of subjects by class appeal is so enormously expensive that the study of lessons has been driven to outside hours, all because the teacher, with her everlasting class method and consumption of time, has appropriated the entire day, and thus driven the pupil's work to evening hours. If you think this is an extreme statement, examine the working programs of your various schools when you return home. You will find the entire day filled with recitations, with the teacher still calling for "more time." If there is no other result of individual effort, it has its perfect justification in this finding, that the work of the public schools can be done in normal school hour's.
4. The conduct of the work of many pupils by graded effort is expensive in that it fills the individual pupil's working hours with so much dead time. Not only must he travel at some one else's speed and repeat lessons without fault his own, but he must sit passive during a good part up the day while waiting his turn. Suppose the recitation is in Latin, and that there are thirty in the class. The pupil who is on his feet in the act of reciting is probably essentially active; two or three others, or more, are perhaps getting a fair degree of value from the exercise; but the majority of the class are in a passive or comatose condition, and are much like men in a barber shop, each waiting his turn. Encouraged to listlessness and inattention, these pupils soon learn to calculate their turn and consequently qualify on parts, instead of wholes, and take chances in be. ing called upon. There may be a value in this form of work. I do not doubt it; but, compared with the intense earnestness and activ. ity of the individual method, it is a wonder that it has any advocates at all. Again, I say, the class recitation method is enormously expensive, and must give way to something that will utilize every minute of the pupil's time. “Oh,” says my fellow educator, “this is an extreme statement of class practice.” My friend, have you forgotton the long hours you squandered in some good school or college when you sat listlessly waiting for the end of the period that was to bring far-off relief and the softening of the board upon which you sat? When will schoolmen learn that there is no growth by means of passive exercise and that activity is the essential principle of life?
5. Class methods are also unfortunate in that there is every encouragement to dependency. The work of the class is in reality done by a few pupils, and these few get the major part of the teacher's time. Leaning on these better pupils and watchful of every opportunity to gain help without work, is the greater part of the school, thereby failing to get value from personal accomplishment. There is also the inculcation of questionable motive, and the trend of practice is to a certain kind of mechanical results.
THE SCHOOL OF INDIVIDUALISM-ITS SUPERIORITY.
Contrasted with the graded school is the superiority of the school of individualism.
1. The individual school does not discard gradation, but holds to it primarily for a purpose higher than the mechanical assignment of pupils. A school must be both ungraded and graded; ungraded, in so far as the ready, flexible accommodation of pupils is concerned; graded, for the purpose of plan in work, continuity in execution, correlation of studies, and the utilization of superior experience and direction. There may be the flexible grouping of pupils for certain general purposes, but no gradation should tie a pupil to a definite anchorage.
2. The individual school has to do with numbers. It realizes in practical results far more than the graded school, because it receives all kinds of pupils, meets them at the door of personal needs, and holds to school-life that great number who are otherwise lost over the ragged edges of a gradation. There is perfect adaptation to the working ability of each individual. Somewhere along the line every pupil finds his convenient working place. It is not a question of a pupil for the school, but the school for the pupil. If a boy comes from the schools of another city, there is no transition loss. If he is forced to enter a inopth or so late, he begins where he belongs, without loss because he does not fit a class. If by sickness he loses several weeks, he is not abnormally pressed during his days of convalescence by the double necessity of keeping up with the class and of making up work he has lost. His working place is his own, determined by what is scientifically best for himself, and in that place he works to get the greatest personal good, irrespective of the ordinary class limitation. To him assignment to a given room means nothing but personal opportunity. There is no non-promotion difficulty, because every day brings its conscious daily advancement. There is no class discouragement, for there has been no specific class assignment. There is no class interval with its unhappy transition, for there is no specific class. Everywhere there is life, vigor, growth, enthusiasm, because every moment brings its perfect opportunity for progress and enrichment.
3. The individual method is happy in its contribution to better health. The removal of dead time and passive exercise, the substitution of live direction of endeavor for the ordinary instruction cram, and the consequent possibility of limiting school work to school hours, bring to the pupil the realization that school work may be fundamentally conducive to vigorous health. Unwearied by a previous night of late study, the worker comes to the laboratory fresh and vig. orous for the work of the day. To him there has been no hurried meal because of the encroachments of school work. There is no headache because of exhausted vitality, nor spectacles from working by an inferior light. Fresh, vigorous, and full of dynamic force, he is prepared for a successful day of work. The day is divided into its working periods of longer duration. All his working equipment remains in its respective laboratory. There is no divided energy in endeavor to anticipate the coming exercise; no anxious worry because of unprepared lessons. In each working period he works to individual accomplishment. When the session closes he leaves his technical work in the schoolroom and goes forth to gain recreation, complete rest, and renewed vigor before commencing the work of another day. The individual school builds fundamentally upon a basis of good health, claiming that there is more educative value in one hour of live, vigorous exercise, done under proper conditions, than in a whole day of passive, incompetent exercise.
4. Not only is there better physical health, but a health intellectual as well. The pupil does all his work under direction. There is no passive exercise; there is no desultory study. Every moment is full of live, vigorous accomplishment. This tends to make him a trained thinker. He becomes independent and self-reliant in action. Study takes on interest because every bit of the work is his own. There is no rottenne:s in bis foundation work because he has skipped or prematurely passed certain elementary principles. His work is thorough; each step is basic. All his work is done under circumstances favorable to vigorous thought. When will the teacher learn there is no educative value in an exercise carried beyond a certain