The Educational Trend of the Northwest

THE great river which is the central artery and highway of our continent is so varied in its direction — at one point flowing eastward, then northward, with here a stagnant marsh and there an eddy without progress — that those whose observations are restricted to small sections of its course may differ greatly as to what its general trend is, and whether it will finally empty its waters into the Gulf, or either ocean.

For a like reason, we, in the midst of complex and conflicting social forces, with no view of the future and seeing the past in very different perspective, are likely to differ in our judgments or guesses as to whither we tend. Since there is no question which attracts the attention of the American people more seriously than that of education, I shall give in outline, without discussion, what seems to me to be the general trend of educational sentiment in the Northwest in relation to the public school system.

As civilization moves westward, its tendency is to slough off the accidents of local conditions, to incorporate more thoroughly into itself the good results of ancient strife and controversy, and to readjust itself to its new conditions. English pilgrims brought with them to this country the best that the Old World had to give, high ideals of religion and politics, and left behind the conditions which impaired the realization of those ideals. In like manner the great West has inherited the wealth of New England’s history, and, removed from some of the effects of her controversies, may add what may prove to be a paragraph, if not a new chapter, in the national life.

Unity on the basis of homogeneity of mass is of the lowest type. Of this type is the government of state or family unifled in the absolute will of one man. The higher and ideal type is that based on individuality and freedom of parts acting in unity as one harmonious whole. Conservatism often mistakes crystallization for disintegration. In this line of progress New England represents the freedom of the individual, the separation of church and state, and the duty of the state to provide elementary and secondary education for its children. The institutions of higher education came of individual philanthropy, to which the State has, by its friendly alliance, given continual support and protection. I note, then, as the first step of progress in the West, that higher education has come to be recognized as an integral part of our public school system. From the common school through the university, the system is one, and commands the unquestioning support of the public. The State that, for its perpetuity and progress, felt bound to teach its children to read and write feels an equal necessity to bring within the reach of its youth the learning and culture necessary to the higher and more vital demands of citizenship in government and industry. In Minnesota for the future, as in Michigan for the past, the property of the State will sustain a regular annual tax for the support of its university, as well as for its common schools.

The second step of progress is that Protestant Christianity is coming to recognize it as the province of the State to provide secular education in all its departments for all its people. This is already an accomplished fact as to elementary education. Christian people have come to see that when the family and the church recognize their respective responsibilities, the influence of the elementary school, in its moral atmosphere and intellectual results, is quite satisfactory ; that godless schools are made up of godless children of godless parents ; in which case the remedy is in the hands of the church, and not of the State. American Protestantism has turned over its entire work of elementary education to the public schools. There are strong indications that, allowing the State to teach the children all their arithmetic and geography, it will also soon turn over the teaching of chemistry and calculus. In other words, that, as the churches now utilize the instruction of the elementary schools for the religious instruction of youth in Sabbath-school and family, they will at no very distant day utilize the higher instruction in natural science, philosophy, classics, and history given in the public schools of higher learning, eliminate these branches from their own curricula, and then, under the growing demand for a division of labor, concentrate their resources and energy upon distinctively religious instruction, training specialists in church work, such as ministers, lay preachers, medical missionaries, city missionaries, and superintendents and teachers of Sunday-schools. This is likely to come about because (1) it is the logical outcome of the position taken regarding elementary education; (2) the resources of the churches are wholly inadequate to the demands of secular education at this day in addition to their own special work of evangelizing the world; and (3) the problem of special training for special work is pressing hard upon the attention of thoughtful Christians. This new question, when solved, will divert interest from mere secular learning, and engross interest and all available means in religious schools. Churches will at no distant day have normal religious colleges for the training of teachers of the masses, as the State now has for the instructors of its school.

Michigan and its university are evidently at the front in this movement. About the state university are now clustered separate and generously equipped halls for the use of the students’ Christian associations, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, for social and religious culture, and for special courses of lectures upon religious themes for the defense and establishment of Christian truth. It will be interesting to follow the development of this movement, and to note its bearing upon the disposition of the Christian public toward state university education.

The third and most marked indication of progress is the possible reconciliation of the Catholic Church to the public school system. No part of our national organization is more vital to its great future, if not to its very existence, than our public schools. Hence patriotism and loyalty are words of stinted meaning in the vocabulary of him who is disloyal to our free schools. I believe that the heart of the American Catholic is as true to our free schools as to the old flag itself. Hence I believe that the order and trend of events are toward an American Catholic Church, and a corresponding adjustment of relations in view of historic differences, whether of prejudice or of conviction.

We have seen various phases in the history of this problem in Europe and America, all of which provide for the separate instruction of Protestant and Catholic children by teachers respectively of their own faith. All these expedients recognize the existence of a feeling of mutual distrust that religious faith and character would be liable to corruption if exposed to the influences of persons of any other form of Christian faith than their own. Under such circumstances there is no alternative but to dwell apart; for it is better so to live in peace than together in discord.

But with us this is no solution; it may be a truce, but it is not peace. When our schools are pervaded with an atmosphere of Christian culture, and by such a sense of respect for the religious opinions and rights of others that Protestant, Catholic, and Jew are equally at home in our schools, and the children of Protestants are confidently trusted for their instruction in the secular branches to teachers who are Catholics, and, vice versa, when Catholics come to believe that Protestants can teach their children these same branches without the least prejudice to their religion; when the children of both classes may sit at the same desk, recite in the same class, and play at the same game in friendly accord, and then part at the schoolroom door, each to his own home and church life, then, and not till then, we shall have the final solution.

It must be confessed that this day has not yet come, but no one can measure the progress of the past twenty-five years without feeling that the trend is in that direction.

As Minnesota is the field of controversy, and the Archbishop of St. Paul the prominent representative of the Catholic educational movement, it will help to recall some significant and brave words of Archbishop Ireland uttered at Baltimore in 1889 : —

“ The watchwords of the age are reason, education, liberty, the material improvement of the masses. ... I seek no backward voyage across the sea of time, I will even press forward. . . . Do not fear the novel, provided principles be well guarded. It is a time of novelties, and religious action, to accord with the age, must take new forms and new directions. Let there be individual action. Laymen need not wait for priest, nor priest for bishop, nor bishop for pope. The timid move in crowds, the brave in single file. . . .We should live in our age, know it, be in touch with it. There are Catholics, more numerous in Europe, however, than in America, to whom the present will not be known until long after it has become the past. Our work is in the present, and not in the past. It will not do to understand the thirteenth century better than the nineteenth. We should speak to our own age of things it feels and in a language it understands. . . . The church of America must be, of course, as Catholic as ever in Jerusalem or Rome, but so far as her garments assume color from the local atmosphere, she must be American. Let no one paint her brow with foreign tint, nor pin to her mantle foreign linings.... Americans have no longing for a foreign church with a foreign aspect.”

Again, at St. Paul, in an address befor the National Educational Association in July, 1890, he used these words: —

“ I am a friend and advocate of the state schools. . . . The right of the state school to exist I consider is beyond the subject of discussion. . . . I unreservedly favor state laws making education compulsory. . . • The state school — withered be the hand raised in sign of its destruction.”

And next, in the season of 1892, Mgr. Satolli. representing the Roman pontiff, suggested several expedients for the reconciliation of Catholics with the public schools. Of those proposed, the most advanced was that when the public school is of such a character as to be satisfactory to the priest in character and in its considerate spirit toward the children of Catholics, the children may attend such school; in which case provision shall be made for their religious instruction apart from the school. This is the Faribault plan, so called, and as distinguished from the Poughkeepsie plan.

In response to a request by the Superintendent of Public Instruction for a “statement of the facts in the case and the interests and principles involved,”an official statement was made by the President and Secretary of the Board of Education.

Following the proposition made by Father Conway for the transfer of the parochial school to the charge of the Board of Education, and the offer of the use of the building for public school purposes, the report continues : —

“ The Board of Education unanimously accepted this proposition. They are bound by no conditions other than those contained in this proposition. We accepted the building simply because we needed it for the present. Finding the teachers in the school competent, we engaged them. It is the purpose of the Board of Education thoroughly to assimilate the parochial schools turned over to us with the public school system and make them an integral part of it, and to effect this as rapidly as possible. We believe this is also the wish of the Catholics interested in the matter. We intend to treat all patrons of the school fairly and courteously, and to give to the city the best schools we can, but at the same time we shall carefully guard every interest involved and every principle at stake in our American public school economy.

“ By order of the Board of Education.”

It appears, then, that in Faribault the Catholics, priests and people, are satisfied with the public schools.

That this is likely to be the final outcome appears in these reasons : (1) The Americanizing tendencies of the century are irresistible. Nothing short of a complete assimilation of foreign blood will satisfy the spirit of the times. (2) By no other means can the children of the nation secure the knowledge and training necessary to fill the more honorable. lucrative, and responsible positions in civil and industrial life than through the public schools. The field of learning and investigation has so broadened in every direction, and the cost of equipment in scientific branches has so increased that, however well a private school may meet the several demands of religious or social culture, all are alike dependent upon the provision made by the State for all its youth.

There will be an immeasurable gain to religion and the State when, in the freedom allowed every body of Christians to perfect its highest ideal undisturbed by strife about differences, they can grow toward a common likeness in life and character, a common hatred of all evil, a common loyalty to their common country, in defense of which they will stand shoulder to shoulder. In that day we shall profess, with deepest sincerity, “ I believe in the holy Catholic Church.”

D. L. Kiehle.