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differentiating subjects. Under these conditions a principal, knowing from experience the probable number that will select the various courses, can arrange the teaching force at his disposal (which, by the way, Mr. Thurber never seems to regard as a limited force), in the manner to secure the best possible results. Nor does this system involve any such procrustean method as our opponents would have us suppose. I know of no high schools that prohibit pupils from entering upon any single study in which classes are already formed for those in course, provided they are qualified and can show any good reason for so doing, whether of poor health or other necessity. On the other hand, we are all glad to have a student in one course take an additional subject belonging to another, provided he has the mental and physical ability; and, while we more frequently advise students to lengthen than to shorten the time assigned, we never object to their taking all the Latin or mathematics assigned for two years (or even more) in a single year, provided they are able. Liberal substitutions are also allowed in most schools, along kindred lines, so that there is under the course system great opportunity for selection if not for election,
- What the schools do say, what they have a right to say, is in substance this: “We require such and such minimum attainments in mathematics, in literature, in science, etc., before we give you our diploma. If you double the amount of literature and omit the mathematics, or increase the mathematics and omit the prescribed science, we will not put the stamp of our approval upon it in the form of a diploma." Consequently all the talk about pupils being obliged to forego the privileges of education, or take to the completion certain definite courses of study in certain periods of time, is mere buncombe. But I believe every principal who has watched the progress of pupils who have been allowed to elect this and that from various courses will agree with the statement, that, notwithstanding a few exceptions, these efforts have for the most part resulted in miserable failures. In fact, when a high school pupil begins to have an itching for "electives" or a “partial course," unless on account of ill-health or unavoidable necessity, it generally marks the first stages of the disease known as "going all to pieces."
Now, what is choosing studies by electives? As I understand the plan, it is as follows: The school authorities shall simply prescribe in advance the list of subjects that may be pursued (and some would delegate even this to the choice of the pupils), leaving order, sequence, and time to be decided by the children. If, for instance, your school consists of 500 pupils, by the elective system 475 might choose French, physics, and botany and the remaining twenty-five might be distributed variously among the other studies allowed, with from three to five in each trio of subjects. Now, suppose you get your teaching force adjusted to this unique arrangement, and at the close of the semester the popular sentiment of the school has changed (as it is almost sure to do), and 475 wish to take literature, astronomy, and German, and the remaining twenty-five distribute themselves among a new set of trios. What glorious headway we should make!-aiming at nothing, and sure to hit it; traveling to riowhere, and bound to get there. But you may say this is not a fair statement but only an absurd caricature of the elective system. Very well, we will take the evidence of the great exponent of this system, and let him state his own case. From an article by Dr. Thurber, in the “Journal of Education” of Feb. 14, 1895, I take the following extracts:
The very idea of a course of study-apart from any contemplated plan of re wards in honors and degrees, which have no essential relation to the philosophy of the matter-is nothing less than absurd. To assume that certain studies, in certain proportions, naturally articulate together so as to form something like an organic unity, is a piece of pedantry hardly to be paralleled outside the province of pedagogy.
The high school should cease to constrain minds to mingle subjects together regardless of the effects of the mingling on the minds themselves. This comes pretty near to saying that high schools should have no courses of study; and this is precisely what I wish to say.
A prescribed grouping of studies is just as necessary for a high school as it is for Harvard College; that is, it is not necessary at all.
The ideal high school will have a large and pleasant room for study, where there shall be a sufficient library and teachers ever on duty to preside over discipline and to give aid and guidance in the use of books. The pupils in this room will have freedom of movement and of conversation, so far as these freedoms are natural and inevitable in associated work. Of carrying home of books, except for voluntary reading, there shall be none at all. The first step towards the realization of this ideal is the abolition of the course of study. This does not mean at all that any study will necessarily be erased from the program.
Talk about caricature! You can no more caricature such a scheme than you can caricature Coxey's army. Such an “ideal” high school would seem absurd enough if composed of 100 pupils and four or five teachers; but suppose it to be a mixed high school of 800 or 1,000 pupils and twenty-five or thirty teachers; enlarge your room and increase your books proportionately, and then say to these girls and boys: “This is a purely local option school; choose your own subjects, exercise all necessary freedom in conversation and movement, and call upon your teachers for assistance when you need it." I think if we failed of an ideal school under these condi. tions we might feel sure of an ideal bedlam.
Having discussed at considerable length the method of procedure in these two systems, let us see what is claimed for the reform, or elective, system. However numerous the reformers may be, Dr. Thurber appears, up to date, to be the only outspoken champion, and surely his colleagues could not desire one more courageous nor expect to find an abler. In addition to the brief article in the “Journal of Education" for February 14th, from which we have just quoted, I find in the same periodical of May 2d an abstract of a paper on the same subject, read before the Massachusetts Association of Classical and High School Teachers; also, an article in the "School Review" for April, on "Rigid Courses versus Optional Studies;" and, lastly, a very able paper in the "Journal of Pedagogy" for June, on "Courses of Study in Secondary Schools.” We have in these papers a severe arraignment of "philosophers" and "decemviri," who attempt to make courses of study and persuade others to adopt them, and much wholesome criticism of over-crowded courses and under-disciplined high school graduates, always coupled with the assumption that all these evils would disappear if we would abolish courses of study.
Now, we maintain that the evils against which he declaims can be better remedied under the course system than they could possibly be under the elective system. If observation teaches anything in this line, it is, that the inexperienced pupil, if allowed to choose his subjects, rarely chooses wisely either in number or kind. To abolish courses of study because there are evils connected with them is to adopt the plan of the anarchist, who, because there are defects in organized society, would have organized society abolished. But again, we affirm that the course system as such is in no way responsible for the evils which we are all interested to remedy. It is no more necessary that this system should demand more than three subjects to be carried on continuously than that an elective system should, and this procrustean, cast-iron process against which these pointed shafts are aimed is but a figment of the imagination-an ideal realm of the hero who sighs for a new world to conquer. We do not deny the existence of many errors in our present arrangement -God save us from the day when we shall say, “We have reached perfection!”—but we deny the efficacy of the remedy proposed. In all the articles above referred to, the author, when enumerating desects, seems to be dealing with conditions as they are; but when he proposes his panacea for these defects, and prophesies the results, he enters an ideal realm, or at least one unknown to the ordinary high school teacher. Nothing short of ideal pupils, ideal teachers, ideal boards of education, and ideal equipments would harmonize with his proposed scheme, and these we do not look for in real lifeespecially the life of the teacher.
It is all very well to plead Harvard College as an example, but the ordinary village and city high schools are very different institutions from Harvard College. Call to mind the high school pupils as you and I have known them. They enter at ages varying from thirteen to fifteen. All of them come from homes of respectability, but few from homes of wealth, and fewer still from homes of culture. Their stock of ideas is yet too limited to enable them to decide what studies are best for them, or even what subjects they are likely to pursue with most interest. Their ideas of education, if indeed they can be said to have such ideas, are exceedingly crude. To talk of such children choosing the branches of study which will be best for them, following their own tastes, etc., is worse than pedantry. They have no reliable data on which to found a choice; and, as for taste, their only conception of the word has reference to the palate. These children are the raw material-very raw, generally-out of which, with proper training, will come men and women, the glory and pride of our schools, but who are at present as incapable of selecting the subjects or order of their studies as I should be of deciding upon an agricultural system for the inhabitants of Mars, and for the same reason-lack of proper experience or knowledge. Nor, in most cases, are the parents any better fitted to make this selection than are the children, while it is a well-known fact that the most intelligent and best educated as a rule select for their children the most rigid courses of study. We maintain, then, that to throw away our courses of study would be to go back from organization to chaos. There is ample opportunity for those who wish to do so to try the experiment. If it succeeds, as they claim that it will, the rest will quickly enough follow. On the side of electives there is, as we have shown, nothing but argument and prophecy. On the side of the fixed courses we have the experience of all our past history, and, while faults still inhere, they are easily eradicable; we point to results which we believe could have been attained in no other way. We may wish for a hetter guide than experience, but there is none. Results may seem meager when compared with prophecy, but they are sure; and certainty is a great deal in this life. Our fixed courses already afford large scope for electives, while they give to the un. cultured youth who pursue them a preparation for collegiate, technical, professional, or independent study which no one, in the light of present experience, would claim could be secured, under our necessary limitations, by any other system.
ISAAC T. Johnson, Friends' School, Wilmington, Del.–A system of electives in high school courses seems to be a necessary part of the high school work. For after a boy has mastered the elements of an English education and begins to do higher work his inclinations or his own or his parents' hopes for the future require that he specialize more or less, or that from several possible courses or subjects of study he choose only such as will fit his needs.
Farther than this, the tendency now is to begin to elect earlier than the high school and to exclude such elementary work in the grammar school as may be brought in with the high school course or may be undertaken to better advantage later. The colleges claim, and with some degree of justice, that the boy should be prepared at an earlier age than eighteen or nineteen for admission, or else be more thoroughly equipped for advanced work at the age he now enters.
On the other hand, the community demands in its turn, that, in the ten or twelve years during which the school has the boy, he should be trained and prepared in the best possible manner for the duties of life. But just what is the best preparation for the duties of life is where there is some difference of opinion; as one will claim that the best preparation lies in the course which gives the best discipline of the mind and control of the faculties irrespective of the dollar-earning value of the course, while another claims that the dollar-earning value of the study as well as the disciplinary may be found also in the subjects studied. In a very few large cities and wealthy communities both ideas are met by the regularly organized English high school, Latin school, and manual training school. But these are so few that they cannot be considered as types. We must take rather the high school of our smaller cities and larger towns where separate schools cannot be organized.
The same public sentiment which is found in the larger one must be considered in the smaller community.
There is the boy who is preparing for one of the many courses offered by the college or university; the boy of mechanical turn, who will serve his apprenticeship at a trade; and a third, who will enter upon a business career or the work of the farm.
For the first (who is in a decided minority) provision must be made, and with the idea constantly in view that success in preparing the college boy will raise the tone of the work in all other courses. For the second, some variation from the course of the first must be made, that he may attempt only the work which will either be complete in itself or be so well started that it may be completed by the pupil by his own unaided efforts after he has left school. As far as possible, also, it should be of value to him in his trade.
For the other and far larger class, the community seems to demand that the special college and technical work be excluded, and that such work be given as will give both the best discipline of mind and such general knowledge as will be of value to the citizen.
The question before us asks whether all these demands can be best met by giving electives in subjects or in courses.
If we analyze carefully the work required of the high school we shall agree, that we must have such work done as will secure for all the best discipline of mind and development of character; that, to secure this, the work done by each child must have a system in its arrangement and such a relationship in the succession of studies that it will secure the desired training as well as secure the