The National Bureau of Education has come to be a very important instrumentality for the promotion of the educational interests of the country, and yet there is reason to believe that its objects and the results of its operations are not so generally known as they should be. Enterprising educators are of course well acquainted with its organization and doings; but for the benefit of non-educational readers it may not be superfluous to state that this
central educational agency is an office in the Department of the Interior, under the direction of a commissioner appointed by the president, and that it was established seven or eight years ago, by an act of Congress, “ for the purpose of collecting such statistics and facts as shall show the condition and progress of education in the several States and Territories, and of diffusing such information respecting the organization and management of school systerns and methods of teaching as shall aid the people of the United States in the establishment and maintenance of efficient school systems, and otherwise promote the cause of education.” The bureau is invested with no authority whatever over the school systems of the States; it is simply a contrivance for collecting and diflusing useful information on the subject of education, and especially such information as is best calculated to aid the people in promoting educational progress. It is made the duty of the commissioner to present annually to Congress a report embodying the results of his investigations and labors, together with a statement of such facts and recommendations as will, in his judgment, subserve the purpose for which the bureau was established.
The last report of the commissioner, — General John Eaton, — which was issued several mouths ago, is a book of more thau a thousand pages, comprising by far the most complete survey of American education that has ever appeared in any one publication. The three preceding reports by the same commissioner are highly valuable documeuts, which no educator can well afford to dispense with ; this is not only better than its predecessors, but it quite throws into the shade the famous reports of Bishop Eraser and M. Hippeau, which have heretofore been considered as containing the best accounts of American educational systems and institutions.
It is properly a leading object with local and State superintendents of education, to make known, through their reports and other means, the excellences and defects of the systems and schools under their supervision, that the latter may be remedied and the former imitated; and what these officials aim to do in this respect, in their more limited spheres of activity, the national commissioner undertakes to accomplish for the whole country. No doubt this is the most useful work that could be accomplished for the general advancement of the cause of education. No State or municipality knows how to rate itself educationally except by comparison. We can take our own measure only by comparison with others.
But it is obvious that a worthy execution of this useful task demands great labor, guided by sound judgment. The field of exploration embraces thirty-seven States and eleven Territories. The thoroughness with which this vast field has been examined, in preparing the report before us, is indicated in the following summary of the variety and range of the work ol the bureau, quoted from a pamphlet recently issued under the direction of the commissioner : “ The bureau must examiue every school law, and mark whatever change or amendment may be made, including the charters of city boards of education, with their rules and ordinances. It must sift, for things deserving general attention, the reports of every State, county, and city superintendent of the public schools that may be sent to it. It must get at the work not only of the public high schools, but also of the private academies and special preparatory schools. It must look through the annual catalogues and calendars of a long list of colleges and universities; schools of divinity, law, medicine, and science; reformatories, and institutions for the training of the deaf aud dumb, the blind, and the feeble-minded, — selecting from each what is worthy to be noted in the way of either improvement or defect. And besides all this, it must keep its eyes wide open to observe the growth of libraries, museums, schools of art and industry, and other aids to the proper training of the people; must see what the educational journals say as to school matters in their several States; must note what may be worth preserving in the utterances at teachers’ associations and gatherings of scientific men; and must keep up, with refereuce to all these things, an incessant correspondence with every portion of the country. . . . The list of institutions in correspondence with the bureau is over four thousand, while that of individual correspondents is over eight thousand. The returns thus made to it, of perfectly free will, on education, exceed considerably what were gathered for the census of 1870 by an army of house-visitant officials, armed with authority for requiring answers to their questions.” Such is the scope of the operations of the bureau, in gathering and winnowing the materials for making its exhibit of the condition and progress of education throughout the country.
But its inquiries are not limited to our own country. As it is required to diffuse “ such information as shall aid the people ” in promoting education, its research is properly extended to foreign countries. It studies the school systems prevalent elsewhere, examines the reports of the ministries of instruction in the several European states, gathers up useful suggestions from foreign educational journals, and inquires into the systems of training in the universities, gymnasia, real-schools, schools of technology, and the various institutions and provisions for elementary education in every civilized community or state, in order to collect facts as to the peculiar merits of each, for the use of our educators in their work.
The report under consideration shows to what purpose these varied and extensive inquiries at home and abroad have been pursued. It would he surprising if an expert could not discover errors and imperfections among its vast mass of statistics, facts, and opinions. The clerical force in the bureau has been insufficient for the complete realization of the wise and comprehensive plans of the commissioner, and it is to he hoped that Congress will supply this deficiency, now that the great practical utility of the bureau has been made so evident. But it would be a doubtful service to the cause of education to try to point out, at the present time, errors and shortcomings in the work of the bureau. On the contrary, what is especially necessary is that the invaluable results of its labors should be spread before the people in every section of the country. It requires no extraordinary penetration to see that the future of nations depends on the education they receive. The facts presented in this document, while encouraging in view of the comparatively satisfactory provisions for training the people which have been made in large portions of the country, show that as a nation we are far from having conquered illiteracy, and that as yet there is a lamentably insufficient number of youth in the secondary, superior, and special grades of instruction.
Speaking of the importance of exact statistical information respecting education, Commissioner Eaton very justly says : “ The day is rapidly passing away when mere statement of opinion will suffice, however eminent the author. Generally, in the past, even since the revival of education in the generation now passing away, the declaration of an eminent educator would pass unchallenged as an argument. Now its weight is determined by the array of facts with which it can be found to tally.” Accordingly, he has himself nowhere indulged in sweeping general assertions unsupported by facts. His example in this respect not a few writers on education would do well to note and imitate. Referring to the facts at present ready for use in the bureau, as respects amount, definiteness, and freshness, in contrast with the condition of educational information when his labors commenced, he says: “ At present, however, these facts cannot he fully, accurately, and promptly collated; yet any report of them must carry with it a certain useful impression, as it reveals the extent of ignorance that prevails in quarters and the evils that flow from it to individuals, society, and the state. It is of interest to the sailor to know whether his chart and his observations enable him to compute accurately his position and bearings. It is of no less consequence to the patriot to know whether his country is responding to the necessary conditions of growth and prosperity. This he can never know if he leaves out of view what is transpiring with the rising generatiou. He may compare the facts relating to the material condition of his country with those respecting other nationalities, and may find them flattering to his pride; and yet, if he has not taken iuto consideration the educational factors — the efforts for the culture of the young — and their effects, and the other facts which may be definitely known, showing whether ignorance or intelligence, vice or virtue, crime or justice, honesty or dishonesty, are on the increase, he has left out the one element most essential to a correct conclusion. Commerce, industry, legislation, and administration would go hack towards barbarism, if the care of the young were neglected for a single generation. The lack of these data for our whole country has for a long period been a standing complaint among students of American civilization. No officer could make satisfactory replies to foreign inquiries. No statesman could find facts for the formation of his opinions or the guidance of his conduct. There was much pompous boasting of American intelligence, but nobody could exactly describe it.” Thanks to the labors of the bureau, it is now possible to deal with our educational problems intelligently from a national standpoint.
The limits of our space will not permit us to present an analysis of the facts of this extraordinary document, and we must content ourselves, at present, with making known its existence, and calling attention to its great value as the result of the most complete educational survey of the country yet achieved. Some idea, however, of its contents may be afforded by the following list of the heads, under which the commissioner sums up the results of his investigations in the report proper, which precedes the mass of detailed information comprising the bulk of the volume : General introduction, sources of material, State systems of public instruction, summary of the educational condition in the different sections of the country for 1873, confirmation of public high schools, school statistics of the cities, statistics of the fifty principal cities compared, normal schools, teachers required, normal instruction in academies, business colleges, secondary instruction, preparatory schools, relations of secondary schools to colleges and schools of science, superior instruction of women, universities and colleges, schools of science, schools of theology, schools of law, schools of medicine, degrees conferred in 1873, military and naval academies, libraries, museums of natural history, the relation of art to education, schools for the deaf and dumb and blind, orphan asylums, reform schools, schools for the feeble-minded, educational benefactions, kindergartens, improvement of school furniture, school superintendence, ventilation of schoolhouses, women as school officers, the education of women, the higher education of women in other countries, special instruction for females, education of women in Würtemberg, the Vienna Exposition, European tour, latest statistics of education in foreign countries, recommendations, conclusion.
Such is the large range of the subjects on which information is presented in this body of facts, opinions, and statistics in details and summaries. We find here, to our surprise, a better general view of the condition and progress of education in the individual States, than is contained in the reports of those States, so far as they have come under our observation. Here is exhibited the record of the number of children to be educated, and the means provided for the accomplishment of this object. The mirror of truth is held up to each commonwealth, with inexorable impartiality, reflecting with equal distinctness its merits and its short-comings. Moreover, here we find collected, collated, and condensed, statements and opinions from the best authorities respecting improvements and defects in the organization and management of systems and institutions, the success and failure of experiments, with suggestions on the proper objects and aims of instruction and the best means of accomplishing them. In the language of Horace Mann respecting the State reports of Massachusetts, “ The light emanating from each source is thus concentrated in a focus, from which its whole radiance is reflected back to every point whence any beam of it was originally rayed forth.”Or, rather, it should be said, this is what ought to be. This needed light, unfortunately, is kept hid under a bushel, about as far as possible, by the parsimony of Congress. The number of copies of this document printed is ridiculously small, for want of means furnished the bureau. The meagre supply was at once exhausted; and if an educator, a student of social science, a legislator, an editor, sends to the bureau for a copy, he will he answered that there are no more copies for distribution. And yet the copies could he multiplied at the rate of about a dollar each.
— The addition of another volume (Milton’s Areopagitica,1 edited by J. W. Hales) to the excellent Clarendon Press Series of English Classics gives us an opportunity to ask why a similar series may not be prepared for use in American schools. The series just mentioned was designed to meet the wants of ladies’ schools and middle-class schools in England; it numbers in its list of books Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, with two of the Tales, the Eirst Book of Spenser’s Faery Quene, Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity (Book I.), Bacon’s Advancement of Learning, selections from Dryden, Pope, Milton, Bunyan, Burke, Dr. Johnson, Cowper, some of Shakespeare’s plays, and other works, while the list is constantly growing. The books are compact and handy, seldom exceeding a hundred and fifty pages each, and are furnished with prefaces, introductions, notes, glossaries, and the like. Such scholars as Morris, Clark, Church, Wright, Pattison, Shairp, Goldwin Smith, and others have edited the several volumes, and the series attracts at once the eye and the mind of the young scholar.
Nevertheless, a series made for the special use of young students in England is not altogether fitted to the needs of American boys and girls. The omission thus far of American authors is in itself a disadvantage ; the selection made, while in the main excellent, does not put forward certain English writers who would naturally claim our attention, and in general terms it may be said that the editing of the series is more scholastic than our students could fairly require. There is something in the style of presentation which would rather dismay the ordinary school-teacher and scholar; it is for these that we would bespeak a series of similar character, prepared in this country and bearing in view the character of our schools and the degree of attention that is given to the study of English literature. That the interest in this subject has steadily increased is very evident, and the multiplication of text-books and books of selections ought not only to encourage us, as evidences of the new enthusiasm, but to remind us that there is danger of our losing the real thing after all. No one can be called acquainted with English literature who has simply possessed himself of the opinions of others respecting that literature, and the comparative ease of this method is very likely to lead teachers to confine their work to the use of a text-book which outlines the several periods, characterizes the writers, and perhaps gives a few pages of specimens from each. The books, again, which are mainly specimens with brief sketches of the writers, are open to the objection that they attempt too much in undertaking to convey a notion respecting any writer by means of some fragmentary passage, and an impression concerning the coarse of English literature by a succession of such fragments. They bring the young student face to face with a bit from this writer and a bit from that, and give him the faintest possible aid toward becoming really en rapport with the author himself.
It seems almost an impertinence to suggest the value of the study of English literature in our schools, yet it is evident that much inertia must be overcome before this study becomes common and is conducted upon a judicious plan. The value of literature is practically ignored, though the means for possessing it are regarded as essential. A child in one of our public schools is taught letters and figures and a few facts, and almost the only use to which he is likely to put them is that which grows out of his ordinary life afterward — the reading of his newspaper, the keeping of accounts, the writing of a business or friendly letter. Toward this restricted use the whole course of educatiou gravitates, and the application of letters to the higher uses of the child’s nature is left mainly to chance ; our publicschool system puts it in the power of all the children in the country to read, and has little or nothing to do with teaching them what to read. Yet there is no other time of life than that embraced by the commonschool course so fit for the child’s introduction to the highest, finest literature of the world. Perhaps we must be content with aiming at a more thorough course of English literature in our high schools and academies, but the true use of literature wall not be found until it penetrates the common schools ; then it will furnish a powerful safeguard against the insidious entrance ’’ to youthful life of mean, ignoble books. Whatever divisions may arise respecting the province of religion in state education, we conceive that the presence of pure literature as a positive element in education will do more to conserve a religions spirit than the most violent partisanship could effect.
In attaining this end, the existence of masterpieces of English literature in convenient and inexpensive form would play an important part. We would have such a series always interesting in itself, and connected, as far as possible, with the historic studies of the young student. There could easily he found books, or portions of books, suited to every degree of intelligence and culture : simple ballads for children, dewy with the morning of English literature, stirring narrative for the adventurous, and suggestive historic or philosophic essays for the elder ones. It would not be hard to find American books of each period not only interesting in themselves, but possessing a radiating power which would do much toward familiarizing the young reader with the history of the period thus illustrated, There might be practical difficulties with American copyright books, but none, we think, that could not be overcome. The books should be first literary, that is, should appeal simply and directly to the human imagination: we do not see why the list might not thus include good translations of ancient classics: then whatever historical or philological or scientific facts they may serve to illustrate can hold a subordinate but not unimportant place. The text itself should be free from references, but every book ought to he furnished with such apparatus as may he required to elucidate it and give it a certain completeness: an introduction, placing it in its relation to other books and to history; notes, explanatory and suggestive; lists of words; bibliographic and chartographic helps. All this apparatus would be especially valuable to the teacher, who could avail himself of the hints in expanding orally for the scholar. We think the time has come when our schools, private and public, need to consider again certain first principles of education. We have gone quite far enough in our systemdzation ; suppose we make an effort to let in the breath of life from pure literature, and see what it will effect. We regard the public library as the proper sequel to the public school, the one containing books, the other conveying the power to use them ; but we do not really connect them for children in the public schools are not given the power to use books. Such power does not necessarily spring from a knowledge of the alphabet and grammar; to make the public library a true sequel, children in the public schools should be taught what and how to read. There are very few persons who would learn to read at all, if left to themselves ; they have to thank the state that they were made to read by those who knew their wants better than they did. There are very few indeed who would voluntarily take up the great masters of literature, hut that does not prove any natural incapacity, and we see no reason why the guardians of public education should not incorporate into the common-school system a compulsory reading of pure literature, graded according to the years of the pupil. “ Understandest thou what thou readest ? ” was once asked of a man who was reading aloud a piece of very fine literature. “ How can I,” he answered, “ except some man should guide me ? ” and in our judgment it is equally unwise to expect that children in our schools should grow up with a love for good literature, unless deliberate measures are taken to cultivate such a love in them.
— That English-speaking people should have to wait for a German to write an authoritative English grammar is not strange, when one remembers that although the language is so widely spoken it would be hard to find one less generally studied; most of us trust either to our ear or to the last warlike document from some writer on the subject to get such vague notions as may serve for a guide. Generally, if we learn anything new in this last-mentioned way its only hold on our mind is as a subject about which something has been said, though what, it is not always easy to recall.
Maetzner’s Grammar2 is as complete as a book well could be. The author takes up the different divisions of his subject, and gives to each full and complete discussion. In the first volume the letters of the alphabet are first treated. The pronunciation is given, and the history of the origin of each letter is told at length. Then comes what is called the doctrine of the word, which explains the composition of words, the different classes of verbs, and the formation of the various parts of speech. The second volume takes up the composition of the sentence, illustrating the use of the verb, the cases of nouns, and, at great length, the use of the prepositions. The third volume goes on with the discussion of the sentence. This meagre analysis only inadequately expresses the full value of the book. The construction of the sentence, and especially of the English sentence, seems a very simple matter, but as Maetzner treats it, leaving no intricacy unexplained, it appears in a very different light. The bourgeois gentilhomme could not have been more surprised at learning that he had been talking prose all his life, than many even tolerably advanced students will be at some of the admirable explanations and full illustrations of points of grammar, which are plain enough when spoken or written, hut are of uncertain origin. With what faithfulness this work is done may perhaps be best seen by an example. Under the head of the coordination of sentences, in the subdivision of those expressive of the consequence, we find, among other particles, the modal particle so: “Anglo-Sax., Goth., Old-Norse svâ, Old-Sax., Old-Highdutch so,” it “ appears in a conclusive meaning. It then denotes that the consequence rests upon the stated nature of what precedes.” Then follow examples from Shakespeare, Milton, Gay, Bulwer, the New Testament, and Sheridan’s Rivals. Following this is mention of the use of so as a connective rather than as a conclusive particle, as in Judges vii. 8. In finer type are examples of the use of so in Old-English, by Piers Plowman and Maundeville, with an explanation of its probable origin from the Romance si rather than from the Anglo-Saxon svâ. This is but a slight example of the thoroughness with, which the author does his work; of the number of questions taken up, no idea can be given by quotations. The book stands as a treasury of information, and, to mingle our metaphors, a monument of honorable industry. That English literature has not been read for the purpose of culture alone is shown by the full list of references on every page. On one page alone, opening at random, we are referred to Shakespeare’s Tempest, King John, As You Like It, and Richard II.; to Donne’s Satires twice; to Carlyle’s Past and Present twice ; to Bulwer’s Lady of Lyons, Money, and Rienzi twice ; to Oxenford’s Twice Killed; to Marlowe’s Edward II.; to Scott’s Minstrelsy, Waverley,and Rob Roy; to Ferrex and Porrex; to Macaulay’s History of England ; to Addison’s Cato and Campaign ; to Dickens’s Notes from Italy ; to Young’s Night Thoughts; to Brougham’s Historical Sketch ; to Byron four times ; to Roscoe’s Life of Lorenzo; to Robert of Gloucester twice; to Wright’s Anecdotes; to Chaucer; to Piers Plowman; and to Maundeville four times. This is not a mere outburst of pedantry glorying in a well-filled notebook, but a collection of examples illustrating different modifications of one general principle, making them clearer than could whole pages of description. Reference, too, to a number of writers of different centuries shows the frequency of the usage in question.
The usefulness of a book of this sort cannot be doubted for a moment. It is not written for school-boys, but for teachers, whether of boys or of men. In it they will find whether their favorite theories and personal prejudices, which go so far toward keeping up hostilities in questions of English grammar, have really any firm ground to stand on. Maetzner’s industry has accumulated an immense amount of material for the settlement of any mooted question, and his authority should be of great weight.
He brings to his work full knowledge, not only of our language, but also of those cognate tongues which are of the greatest service in explaining dark points in our own. There are few writers on language so well equipped. The cost of preparation, too, is greater than it was a little more than a century and a quarter ago, when Johnson relied for the etymologies for his dictionary on a shelf of Junius Skinner and others, and on the Welsh gentleman who, having published a collection of Welsh proverbs, was to help him with the Welsh. How essential is the knowledge of much more than English, this book clearly shows. It is a melancholy fact that there are very few Americans or Englishmen who have made even the preliminary studies necessary for the scientific knowledge of their own tongue. We had to wait until a German noticed our wants and undertook to supply them. The mission of that country is not yet fully accomplished; there is one task to be performed by some enterprising German, and that is the writing of a satisfactory English dictionary. Those we have now in use are miserably inefficient in regard to completeness and accuracy of etymology and definition. Recent studies have made lexicography almost a new science, but it is still taught by professors of the old school.
Every teacher of the English language should have Maetzner’s Grammar — we had almost said — beneath his pillow. It is a most invaluable work. The translation is generally good, but there are flaws, as, for instance, vol. i., p. 207 : " The meanings of casting the sounding line lean not on the French sonde, sonder,” etc., which is obscure ; but there is almost no mistake which the reader cannot readily correct for himself. The misprints are frequent, as must be the case with a book printed in a foreign city, namely, in Berlin, and abounding in references.
- Milton: Areopagitica. Edited, with Introduction and Notes, by J. W HALES, M. A. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1874.↩
- An English Grammar: Methodical, Analytical, and Historical. With a Treatise on the Orthography, Prosody, Inflections, and Syntax of the English Tongue; and Numerous Authorities cited in Order of Historical Development. By PROFESSOR MAETZNER, of Berlin. Translated from the German, with the Sanction of the Author, By CLAIR JAMES GREECE, LL. D., Fellow of the Philological Society. In Three Volumes. London: John Murray. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1874.↩