OF all questions that agitate the public mind, Education, in some phase or other, seems to give rise to the most versatile and everlasting discussion. One band of reformers keeps an unending vigil over the finances of school administration; salaries, pensions, supplies are constantly under fire somewhere along the line. Others tinker at the curriculum, until the “ course of study ” is a wonderful combination of novelties and essentials. Scientific methods are applied more and more thoroughly to every phase of education, from the preparation of teachers to the fireproofing of buildings, and the inevitable result of so much effort is a constantly increasing efficiency in the work of the schools.
But there is always the chance that good progress may blind us to the possibility of better progress. Thus, in our educational system, it has long been the complaint that few pass from the elementary to the high school, and fewer still to the college or university. Of late, these percentages have been improving, — which is progress. This improvement lias been largely effected by changes in the lower schools to make them more conformable to the standards set by the higher schools and colleges. It has, however, appealed to some that it would be more real progress so to constitute every school that it should give, or at least stand ready to give, a general, practical training for life, without any regard to the pupil’s high-school or college intention. It is hard to do this, because the higher schools dominate the lower; and tradition makes the high school a place not to fit for life but to fit for college.
The great movement toward industrial training is a step along this road. It is felt, in a general way, that the child who is going to leave school at the end of the high-school course should get from the high school some practical, paying equipment. This equipment takes the form usually of some kind of skilled tradework, — and right here we run against a great difficulty, not only in this industrial work, but in our whole educational problem. It is the simple question: Which study or trade or group of trades shall a given child take? Who shall take trades, and who professional studies ? It is, in brief, the question of election.
The elective system has its justification in the varying abilities, desires, and aptitudes of different individuals. But while attention has been devoted so largely to the development of courses, methods, and materials to suit varying types of children, too little thought has been given to the proper choosing of courses by pupils. In a college or university the student who is aiming at a certain profession can usually exercise enough caution and common sense to elect courses bearing in some way on his chosen life-work. But in the high school the pupil is very apt to choose his courses without due thought or a due appreciation of his own weaknesses.
This is an important matter. It is very easy to get into the wrong rut, and very easy to stay there, especially in any kind of school work. There are too many boys studying Latin and Greek for college who are going to become carpenters or chauffeurs. If they had some way of finding out early what they want to do, and of choosing the right high-school course to attain this end, their chance in the race of life would be improved. To get this knowledge of individual aptitude and desire, and to help in the resultant choice of school work, is the province of the mysterious being whom I call the Vocation Teacher.
The Vocation Teacher, as such, does not exist. A good many regular teachers and parents try to assist the youth with whom they come in contact to choose their life-work wisely; but this advice and help should not be a merely incidental duty: it should occupy the whole time of a carefully trained vocational expert. In every high school there should be a Vocation Teacher, whose duties might be briefly outlined as follows : —
Before the opening of school every new pupil must have a private interview with the Vocation Teacher on the subject of his ideas for the future. Some have a pretty definite idea of what they want to do. If their talents agree with their desires, the Vocation Teacher gives them permission to elect the courses that will put them on the right track. If, as is so often the case, the new pupil has no idea of his wants or capabilities, the Vocation Teacher tries, by questioning and experiment, to assist the pupil in coming to some decision and getting upon the right track. If for any reason a decision is temporarily impossible, the pupil is given a selection of courses designed to be of some practical value in any line he may afterwards take up.
When the actual school work is under way, the Vocation Teacher keeps in close touch with every pupil by means of continued personal interviews, in which the pupil’s increasing interest or growing distaste, as the case may be, is discovered. Besides this, written reports of progress and expressions of opinion are due at regular intervals from the pupil. When the pupil is losing interest, the Vocation Teacher may order a new choice of courses; he may even advise the pupil’s transfer to an entirely different kind of school. This supervision is to follow the pupil closely through the whole course.
The first interviews with the new pupils and the selection of their courses would take but a few days; if, after that, the adviser simply dropped out of sight till next September, his work would be largely wasted. Our Vocation Teacher is not to drop out of sight. On the contrary, his most important work would be the close following of every pupil’s record, and the constant supervision of each one’s activities. This supervision should be a very definite part of the school life. One phase of it would be the monthly examination of the marks of every pupil. If the marks of the First Year class were received on the last day of the month, the following week might be spent in interviewing those whose marks were inadequate, and helping them either to advance or to change. The Second Year class could be gone over in the same manner during the following week, and so on through the month. Thus the Vocation Teacher would be kept busy, and the pupils kept alive to the necessity of “making good.” To help in the changing of pupils to new courses, the school year might profitably be divided into two terms instead of one long period as is now so generally the custom. Then, as a climax to the year’s work, each pupil should present a thesis discussing his chosen aim and the progress he has made towards its attainment.
The important point in this plan is that the Vocation Teacher is to give all his time to the one task of guiding and supervising the direction of the pupils’ work. It is not intended to weaken the initiative of any pupil, but simply to see that that initiative drives the pupil in the right direction ; or if the initiative is lacking, to attempt by suggestion and example to awaken a desire that will result in some definite action in a wise direction. In this suggestion of possible lines of work lies the Vocation Teacher’s great opportunity. Many boys are entirely ignorant of all but three or four fields of endeavor; and if they could have presented to them the possibilities of certain uncrowded and congenial occupations, their outlook would be much brighter. There are many ways in which a boy may choose unwisely in selecting a calling, and the presence of a trained vocational adviser should render such unwise choice much less frequent. Such an adviser can in most cases give more helpful direction than the parent, who is often misled by preconceived desires, or by false ideas of the relative dignity of different callings.
The practical working-out of the Vocation-Teacher plan would, like everything new, present grave difficulties. Not the least of these would be the securing of properly equipped and trained men to do the work. Besides a very complete general education, the Vocation Teacher must have a very practical knowledge of the laws and phenomena of psychology, including a complete understanding of human nature as revealed in the motives, interests, aims, desires, and personal differences which go to make up that complex something we call character. Far more than the ordinary teacher, he must, be tactful, sympathetic, sincere, and resourceful — able to command respect and trust, and to invite confidence and candor in his dealings with the young. Also, as a matter of course, he must be familiar in a practical way with the requirements and possibilities in different lines of industry, and in the various professional callings. It can readily be seen that such qualifications demand, not only a thorough and comprehensive university education, but also some years of practical experience either in teaching or in some position where there is an abundance of human contact, scientific investigation, and executive decision.
There are a few isolated examples of just such vocational advisers as the theoretical one we have been describing. The Boston Young Men’s Christian Association has worked out a comprehensive plan, starting with a Vocation Bureau for the advice of young men in choosing or changing occupations. From this bureau has arisen a school for Vocation Counselors, which plans to fit men to take positions such as we have described. Some such preparation, added to a pedagogical training and a thorough knowledge of the particular school in which he is to serve, should produce a man competent to carry out the plan as outlined above.
Other and numerous difficulties would, of course, arise. For a man so highly trained, the salary must needs be high, but the gain in school-efficiency should more than balance the largest salary. It would undoubtedly add difficulties to the organization of schools at the opening of the term, but that is merely a problem of administration which has to be met in any case. One of the greatest benefits conferred by a Vocation Teacher would be the making of initial choices and assignments of courses more definite, satisfactory, and permanent. It might be necessary to open the school a little earlier, and make the first week’s work consist entirely of interviews with the Vocation Teacher, followed by choice of or assignment to the proper courses. A week spent thus in the beginning might save countless hours of wasted energy in the pursuit of courses chosen without any thought, or from mistaken ideas of the future.
In general, the great result of such a plan would be a gain in the definite aim of the school, and of every pupil in it. Educators are a unit in demanding definiteness. “What we need in education is something definite to tie to.” At present there is too much vagueness about the high school. It must be both a finisher — a practical school for life; and a trainer — a preface for college and university. To keep the proper balance between these two functions, it is necessary that the pupil have a definite aim, to the attainment of which the school can help him. To secure this definite aim, and to maintain this balance, it would seem that some sort of vocational direction and advice is a prime necessity.