Education and the Nation
THOUGHTFUL foreigners who visit the United States are prone to remark upon the distinctly limited character of the two agencies in our civilization that one would expect to be least provincial — our metropolitan newspapers and our universities.
There are, they observe, in the United States no daily newspapers that have national standing, that are read throughout a wide section of the country, and that are representative of national ideals in the sense in which national purposes and aspirations are voiced by certain newspapers of other countries. From the same point of view they criticize the local character of our universities, even the largest and strongest. It is difficult for a European visitor to comprehend why one group of students cheer for Harvard and another for Yale, or why a man whose primary object is intellectual and professional advancement should spend his entire student-life at a single institution. Our universities, he complains, represent local, not national conceptions in education, and have little relation to national purposes and problems. Their provincial character, he argues, lies not only in the geographical limitations of their constituencies, but still more markedly in the personal form of allegiance which they develop, a type of devotion partaking more nearly of family loyalty than of fellowship in the world’s circle of scholars and truth-seekers.
Making allowance for the lack of familiarity with our conditions under which every foreigner labors, the American must nevertheless admit that there is a measure of truth in both of these criticisms. The strongest of our newspapers, with their staring headlines and exaggerated attention to matters of a personal, and oftentimes of a trivial, nature, are very local. They print certain world-news, to be sure, but local happenings are treated at such length in their columns as to overshadow news of real significance from other countries and from other parts of our own country. In the recent campaign over reciprocity in the Dominion of Canada it was quite evident that the Canadians felt some soreness over the fact that American newspapers gave such scant attention to important Canadian events. They complained even of the New York metropolitan dailies in this respect. The complaint may have a sound basis, but the Canadians might have remembered that the New York newspapers are entirely impartial in their neglect of matters outside their own neighborhood, or rather in the exaggeration of local unimportant happenings. Kansas and Oklahoma and Mississippi have just as much cause to feel irritated at the forgetfulness of the metropolitan dailies as have Quebec and Ontario and Manitoba.
Indeed, it is from this situation that there has arisen in the United States a class of vigorous weekly publications which take the place of the powerful national newspapers of other countries, and which seek to deal with the news of the world from a national rather than from a local standpoint. Coincident with their rise, the dailies of our great cities have tended steadily to become local organs of public opinion and local news-gatherers. No editor of an American newspaper has to-day so widespread a constituency of readers as had Horace Greeley sixty years ago.
Many causes contribute to this result, and one of them is the circumstance that the American paper is made primarily with an eye to local consumption.
But an American will scarcely wonder at the provincial tone of our newspapers, when he is forced to admit that our universities are more restricted in their influence and in their relations to the world than are the universities of such countries as Germany or England. The twenty-one German universities are comparable in their standards of admission and in the character of the courses of study which they offer. Work done at one is credited toward a degree at any other. About sixty per cent of all German students divide their student years between two or more universities, seeking to obtain at each university to which they resort some touch with the strongest and most inspiring teachers. The minority which does not migrate is composed mainly of inhabitants of large cities like Berlin and Munich, who are estopped from migration by limitation of income.
In addition to all this, the universities of Europe make no effort to influence students either to undertake the university life or to select a given university. In consequence, the attitude of the student is one of devotion toward the educational life, not one of loyalty toward a particular university; and the university itself becomes, under such conditions, representative of national ideals rather than an agent of local education.
It is a question worth asking whether, on the whole, it is better for a country to have a series of educational institutions which are local in their attitude and in their influence, rather than national; or rather, whether the larger outlook is not also consistent with the best service of local interests. These questions are in turn a part of a much larger question. Is a university one of the forces to be used in the republic as a means toward educational unity and political homogeneity? Is it better that the building up of institutions of learning should proceed entirely under the prompting of institutional initiative —the tax-supported university, the denominational college, the commercial institute, each going its own way, whether it seeks to deal with education from the standpoint of the state or from the standpoint of religion, or to exploit it for commercial purposes? Furthermore, if it is desirable to have some national educational policy on the part of the general government, what form of supervision or scrutiny could such a policy contemplate? Can a republic like ours have an educational policy?
The initial reason for the lack of a national outlook upon education in our universities is undoubtedly related to our form of government. As in all the other federal governments, except Switzerland, nothing is said of education in our Constitution. In fact, education as a national unifying agency did not lie within the field of view of the framers of the American Constitution. Neither a national supervision of education nor a national system of schools was considered by them. But the German Empire, which legally is a looser federation than the United States, shows that a national spirit in education is not dependent upon national control. The Bavarian University of Munich is as much a colleague of the Prussian University of Berlin as are any of the other Prussian universities.
It is true that the idea of a national university was in the minds of some of the earlier leaders. Washington, in particular, was attracted toward the plan of a university at the seat of government which might, by bringing together the youth of the country in student relations, soften the rivalries and suspicions of the various sections, and help to develop a spirit of nationalism as an antidote to the sectionalism which so soon became evident.
Inasmuch as the field of education was not touched by the Constitution, it has remained with each state to deal with education as it might choose, without guidance or oversight from the central government. The government of the United states, therefore, has had no educational policy. When one studies education in the United States from a national standpoint one must take up such study with the state systems as units. Not only has each state its own system of elementary and secondary schools and of normal schools for the training of teachers, but nearly all states have also tax-supported institutions of higher learning. In addition, other agencies, which have entered the field of education, notably the religious denominations, establish their systems of institutions in accordance with state lines, so that throughout the United States, except in a few of the older New England commonwealths, educational institutions are grouped in accordance with the state boundaries.
We have, therefore, in the United States practically forty-eight systems of education; and yet these separate state systems have, as a matter of fact, kept in practical touch with each other. The elementary and secondary schools of the forty-eight states of the Union, while showing wide variation in their equipment, in the training of their teachers, and in their school-buildings, are, nevertheless, founded upon essentially the same plan and the same educational ideals. The elementary schools throughout the Union aim to take the child at about the same age and to lead him through the secondary school to approximately the same intellectual level. The state systems have also been kept in touch by a constant interchange of teachers and of pupils. Public-school teachers migrate from one city to another in the same state, and from one state to another, in far greater numbers than do college professors. The common schools have thus been a great unifying force in citizenship as well as in education. They have made the English language the sole medium of communication. Nowhere else on the surface of the earth can one find so enormous an area in which all the people speak one language, in which individuals living thirty-five hundred miles apart can understand each other as well as nextdoor neighbors. The public schools have opened their doors to the vast army of immigrants, and have introduced them to a common language and through it to a common citizenship.
As we look back over the educational history of the last half century, we must congratulate ourselves upon the homogeneity which the country shows. It seems clear that the educational and political solidarity, and the possession of common national ideals, have been due in the largest measure to the fact that a common system of elementary and secondary schools has spread throughout all the states. To this result the institutions of higher learning have contributed comparatively little.
Notwithstanding the fact that education is, under our form of government, a function of the separate states, it still remains an interesting inquiry whether the general government may not exercise some influence in coördinating and unifying the separate state systems.
Congress has already by legislation carried out two measures which have bearing upon this matter.
During the period of the Civil War, Congress made a great land grant to each state for education in agriculture and the mechanic arts, and now appropriates annually fifty thousand dollars to each state for these objects. From the history of this legislation it is difficult to decide whether its author, Senator Morrill, and its friends intended to promote elementary education in agriculture and the industries, or whether they wished to provide general higher education for the agricultural and industrial classes. Both subjects commingled in their minds, and they saw no incompatibility between them; votes were secured by the plea ‘to do something for agriculture.’ In making these grants Congress left their administration to the states, and as the states had no clear conceptions on the subject, the result, while extremely important, has not realized either of the ideas which may have induced Congress to enact this legislation. The institutions founded under the Morrill Act have developed into state universities or into schools of technical science, in which engineering largely overshadows agricultural science.
But it can hardly be maintained that the agricultural and industrial classes constitute now in any especial sense the constituency of these universities and colleges; and with a few exceptions, the interest of these institutions in agriculture is that of agricultural science, not of vocational training in agriculture and the industries. So widely is this realized that at the present time pressure is being exerted upon Congress, which the agricultural colleges are largely aiding, to make another great grant to the states in order to found institutions which will help agriculture and the trades in the manner originally contemplated by the Morrill Act.
A second act of the general government looking toward the promotion of educational unity was the creation of a Bureau of Education under the Department of the Interior. This office was established in 1867, and while the powers of the Commissioner of Education have been somewhat increased in recent years by appropriations for specific purposes, the duties of the Bureau are still practically limited to the work of a special agency in education, gathering statistics and publishing statements of educational progress in our own and other countries. An investigation of actual conditions of education in a state, and a critical and constructive report upon these conditions or a comparison with other states, is something that the Bureau has hitherto not felt authorized to undertake. Colleges and universities have been practically removed from its scrutiny.
Both of these measures, while tending in some degree toward a coöperation among the separate state systems, have been inaugurated without any well thought-out policy toward education. The Morrill Act, for example, creating the agricultural colleges, was an accidental measure enacted from personal reasons and without any study of the widely varying conditions of the separate states to determine whether such action were wise or not.
It goes without saying that the central government can never under the Constitution exercise arbitrary control over education in the separate states. It is altogether wholesome that it should not be able to do so. It still remains, however, a question whether, in the two directions in which it has already acted, — that is to say, in the appropriation of money to be used by the states in education and by the development of a national educational bureau, — Congress can still further minister toward unifying and coördinating the various state systems and thereby increase the efficiency of these systems and the formation of a larger national patriotism.
The plan of national aid to local educational institutions is extremely popular. Even those who are most earnest as states-rights men are generally willing to accept an appropriation from the general government for any form of local educational aid. Since the passage of the Morrill Act, appropriating money for the founding and support of agricultural and mechanical colleges, bills have been introduced in nearly every Congress looking toward the support of local educational institutions at the expense of the national purse. At one time or another such bills have been introduced in favor of engineering schools, of mining schools, to say nothing of the various bills that have been introduced for the appropriation of money to secondary schools.
One who studies these repeated attempts to use the purse of the nation for the benefit of local schools realizes how widespread is that sentiment which applauds the old flag so long as it is accompanied by an appropriation. All such legislation seems questionable. The original Morrill Act was vetoed by President Buchanan on grounds that are to-day very strong, and his statement at that time that such action would be followed by succeeding legislation, taking more and more money out of the treasury of the general government, has been completely fulfilled. There is no more reason that the general government should subsidize the local agricultural schools of various states than that it should subsidize mining schools and schools of medicine and schools of law and secondary schools, and all other useful schools. The objection to such legislation is fundamental, and the widespread movement at the present time to levy upon the treasury of the nation for schemes of local education, generally ill-considered, is to be regretted. The spectacle of rich and prosperous states seeking aid of the nation for their schools is not reassuring for the future of these schools.
The strengthening of the Bureau of Education, so as to make out of it a national agency for scrutinizing and reporting upon educational matters, is a very different matter. While it is quite true that the general government can never assume control of the school systems of the various states, it is quite within its province to maintain at its own cost an agency for informing itself upon the progress and the relations of these state systems, and for developing in them common ideals of devotion to a common country. The value of such an agency will depend in large measure upon the function that it assumes. What that function is to be has never been determined. Like most of our educational legislation, it has been left in large measure to the individual action of those who were in immediate control of the work. Certainly the development of an accurate and expert scrutiny of the various systems of education of the country would be of great moment in our common educational progress.
There is no reason why the United States Bureau of Education should not report with entire frankness, not only upon the secondary and elementary schools of the country, but upon its colleges, universities, and professional schools as well. There is no reason why such a bureau should not be in a position to tell the full truth about all these agencies, and to become in this way not only a force looking toward national ideals and standards, but also one that works at the same time toward sincere and effective educational methods. No agency upon private foundation can ever do for the whole country what can be done by a well-directed, free, and conscientious national agency; and it may well be hoped that with the incoming of a new Commissioner of Education some such conception of the scope and the function of the Bureau of Education may commend itself to Congress. Every state system of education, every college, every university which is doing honest and sincere work, has everything to hope and nothing to fear from such a national scrutinizing agency. No one can doubt that the influence of a bureau so administered would make not only for educational efficiency, but for a larger patriotism. The college which best serves the nation will in the long run serve best its state and its community.
The contrast between the crude methods with which our government deals with education and the well-considered methods under which the Prussian government, for example, proceeds in such matters, is strikingly brought out in the proposed inauguration of an endowed university in the City of Frankfurt. For a long time Frankfurt has been ambitious for a university, and its citizens are ready to assist its establishment. Before the enterprise could be undertaken, however, those who represented the interests of education in the government had to conduct a public investigation of the whole scheme not only with an eye to the local interests of the city of Frankfurt, but with regard also to the near-by universities already in existence, and to the independent scientific and literary institutes in Frankfurt. As a result, the university, if finally established, will coördinate and render more effective existing agencies, instead of merely adding a new competing institution. The whole proceeding is one full of suggestions to Americans interested in education and in the function of educational institutions in human progress. The public discussions and public hearings as to the function which the university was to serve, how it should be established, what relations it should have to other schools and institutions, were worked out under the eyes of the entire city and region in a manner unknown to us.
In our states a new university is founded ordinarily by a single man or a group of men or the state. In the last case the politicians generally decide the location. The idea of calling in expert educational aid or of inviting the people of the community into consultation is rarely considered. The proceedings in the case of the Frankfurt university are most suggestive to us as citizens of a democracy, not only because they furnish an example of educational building done in a thoughtful, not in a haphazard way, but for the stronger reason that they are an example of the workings of a modern government in the effort to conserve at once the interests of the individual and the interests of the organized community. Practically all modern legislation is an effort to deal with these oftentimes divergent interests. How to preserve the freedom of the individual and, at the same time, to promote the efficiency of those organizations which do so much of the work of modern civilized states is the essential problem which every government is facing.
This is the question to-day in America at the heart of all legislation by Congress, whether such legislation deal with trusts or railroads or labor organizations or customs duties. The significant thing to us in the governmental dealing with the Frankfurt university is the fact that there the government dealt thoughtfully and in a scientific way with a problem which, in our democracy, we have hitherto left to be settled at haphazard and quite without supervision on the part of those who are supposed to be capable of expert judgment.
Not only has our education lacked scrutiny by the general government, but in nearly all of the states the scrutiny of education and of educational institutions on the part of the state itself has been extremely superficial. Institutional competition has had free course. Colleges have been started, not on the ground of educational need, but for all sorts of local, personal, and sectarian reasons. The same denomination will have in a single state a halfdozen or more colleges, rivals of each other. Devotion to education is translated into terms of loyalty to a particular local institution. It was inevitable that under such conditions American colleges and universities should lack a national outlook, and that they should lose touch with the state systems of secondary schools. As long as each college set up its own standards and mingled secondary education with higher education, the tendency was not only to lose touch with the secondary schools, but to develop toward them a somewhat hostile attitude.
The rise of the state universities has come in large measure from the fact that these institutions, particularly in the Central West, have assumed a close relation to the state school-system. It is impossible that the universities and colleges in a country should become national in character, or invite the migrations of students, until some such relationship comes about. It is evident that when admission to college means one thing in Texas, another in Minnesota and still another in Massachusetts, migrations of college students are impossible. This multiplication of college standards results in what practically amounts to an educational tariff between different institutions and between different states.
The Constitution of the United States guarantees industrial free trade between the states. It is impossible to get anything like educational free trade either between states or between colleges so long as each college sets up a different tariff in the form of admission requirements. The situation is a little like that which existed in transportation relations between New York and Pennsylvania when their railroads used different gauges. It is enormously to our advantage to have such an educational exchange in both teachers and students between states and between colleges of the same state. Such interchange makes for a wider national outlook, for a better understanding, for a homogeneous nation.
The state legislatures have in some cases taken a hand in the establishment of a formal educational tariff as between certain classes of schools. For example, the State of Minnesota has enacted a law enforcing an educational qualification as to the training of physicians who are allowed to practice in that state. The law was adopted in order to protect citizens of Minnesota against the graduates of commercial medical schools in neighboring states, and particularly of those in Chicago. In the present state of medical education such a measure is entirely justifiable. But it is to the advantage of every state to secure the best medical practitioners without regard to state lines. If the standards of medical education in Illinois and in Minnesota were on the same plane, there could be no occasion for such a law.
The colleges and the state schoolsystems, by their variation in fundamental standards, produce what is equivalent to a tariff, which operates to prevent the free interchange of teachers and students among the colleges and universities. Such conditions arise in the absence of any supervision from the central government, out of the lack on the part of our higher institutions of learning of a national consciousness. It is only when colleges begin to recognize their relationship to the great system of popular schools that they develop either state or national consciousness.
Some fair relationship of the colleges to the secondary schools must precede any movement looking toward a less local form of college than that which we now possess, and this is why the general movement of the last ten years toward a fair adjustment between college and university is of such significance. In no section of the country has this been more marked than in the Southern states. Not only have the better colleges of this region raised their entrance requirements to the same level as elsewhere, but they have gone vigorously to work to develop a system of public schools in each state. For it is only when the college agrees to respect the field of the secondary school, and to found its work in a rational way upon it, that a good system of secondary schools in any state becomes possible.
Perhaps few realize how noteworthy has been this progress in the last decade throughout the Southern states. In the old Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, there was ten years ago not a single institution which required graduation from a four-year high school for admission to its classes. Today the majority of the colleges of the state articulate squarely with the fouryear high school, and most of this progress has been made within the last five years. This movement has, of course, gone hand in hand with the upbuilding of the secondary schools. In the year 1905 there were only ten four-year high schools in the whole State of Virginia. At the end of 1910 there were more than one hundred. In the year 1905 only one hundred thousand dollars was spent in Virginia by local authorities for high-school support. In the year just passed, between three and four hundred thousand dollars has been thus spent. In the year 1905 in the whole state only five thousand dollars was spent on high-school buildings. During the last five years an average annual expenditure of more than half a million dollars has gone into the building of high schools. No educational development in any state of the Union is more noteworthy than that which is sketched in this brief statement. It means that the colleges of Virginia are now requiring for admission the same intellectual standards which are required in other states having good educational systems; but its greatest significance lies in the fact that throughout the state there have come into existence high schools which serve as stimuli to local intellectual interests, and provide also the most effective means of keeping each such neighborhood in touch with the thought of the whole country. Such a school system does more to banish intellectual and political isolation, and to foster a large nationalism, than any other means which civilization has yet developed.
Outside of this extraordinary rise of standards and development of high schools in the Southern states, no step taken by any of our universities has been more far-reaching in the direction of nationalizing education than the action of Harvard University last year in adopting a new form of admission to college. Harvard College has, during nearly all its history, maintained higher standards of admission than other American colleges. In the endeavor to preserve these standards, and to secure a student-body rightly prepared, the college has developed during the last thirty years a somewhat elaborate system of entrance examinations. These examinations have assumed very detailed forms. For example, a student who presented Latin had an examination in Latin prose, in Latin composition, in scanning, in various Latin authors. In each case the specific text upon which he was to be examined was named, and he sought to prepare himself for the specific questions which were contemplated. The requirements have also gradually been raised until, of late years, they called for more work than can well be completed in the ordinary good fouryear high school, unless indeed the candidate presented Greek and Latin.
The purpose of these detailed examinations was admirable. They were intended to test a candidate for admission to college by a definite examination, independent of the school from which he came, the passing of which would prove the ability of the student to undertake college work successfully.
It is not too much to say that the outcome of this method of examination has been disappointing. First of all, the amount required for admission made it extremely difficult for a boy to fit himself for Harvard in the ordinary four-year high school. The college was, therefore, at one stroke cut off from the great body of secondary schools. The tendency of this was to develop fitting schools whose function was to prepare boys for these examinations, and thus get them into college. In addition, many coaching agencies arose, some of them under the shelter of the college itself, which attained great skill in enabling boys to meet the formal tests of detailed examinations, while at the same time the boys obtained a limited intellectual discipline.
Under such conditions the habit grew up to accept boys who were conditioned in a considerable number of subjects, so that for some years past over half the students admitted to the freshman class at Harvard entered with conditions. In other words, a boy already handicapped by poor preparation undertook a heavier load than the well-prepared boy when entering college. The detached examinations had not only brought about a situation under which the college and the better high schools had come to regard themselves as independent and unrelated agencies, but a boy, in order to get from one to the other, had to climb over or through the artificial barriers which had been set up. Getting into college was no longer necessarily a part of a liberal training of the mind.
It was in view of this situation that the faculty of Harvard decided last year to adopt a new plan of admission which should relate the college directly to the four-year high schools of the whole country, while at the same time testing the qualities of the candidates whom the schools send up to college by an entirely different kind of test from that of the detailed examinations.
A plan of admission was adopted under which any graduate of a wellconducted four-year high school in any state may present himself for admission to Harvard. His certificate of graduation serves as an admission to the entrance examinations. These entrance examinations are, however, of quite a different character from those to which the candidate has hitherto been subjected. Instead of passing some eighteen or twenty separate written examinations, he is asked to pass only four, and these of an elementary sort, designed to test his mastery of the subjects which he has studied longest, not his memory of the details on which he has been recently coached. For example, instead of being asked to give an analysis of ‘ The Vision of Sir Launfal ’ or of some one of Shakespeare’s plays, he will be expected to prove the value of his high-school training in English by his ability to write and use good idiomatic English.
This kind of examination does not require cramming; and on the other hand, it cannot be passed by mere cramming. It leaves the high school free to educate the boy, not to coach him. The secondary school need not sacrifice the last year to coaching for examinations, provided a wise freedom is allowed the candidate in taking his examinations at the most suitable times. Finally, the plan does away with that prolific source of demoralization, the conditioned student. Either the high-school graduate who presents himself can show a fair mastery of the fundamental subjects which he claims to have studied, or he cannot. He is either admitted or he is refused; but there will be no half-and-half admission, with deficient students dragging along two or three extra loads in the form of conditions.
The action which Harvard has taken in thus coördinating itself with the high schools of the whole country and in replacing a series of detailed examinations by simple tests upon fundamental subjects, is a significant event in the present-day movement toward a unified and coördinated system of schools. It gives to Harvard College for the first time in its history direct contact with the four-year high school, which has become the typical secondary school for every state of the Union. The college has thus placed itself upon the four-year high school as a foundation. The two institutions, college and secondary school, become under this conception parts of one structure, not separate and unrelated agencies in education.
The first examinations held at Harvard under the new régime, in June, 1911, were most encouraging, although they revealed the difficulties as well as the excellences of the plan.
One hundred and fifteen boys took these examinations (candidates for admission still have the option of taking examinations under the old plan). Of this number, seventy-two were admitted and forty-three rejected. The large number of rejections showed the wide variations in standards of scholarship in different secondary schools. Boys whose school records were very high sometimes made a very poor showing in the examinations. It will require a stiff academic backbone on the part of those who administer these admission examinations if the plan is to succeed, but Harvard men can do no better service to education than fearlessly to send back to the high schools applicants for admission to college who present good credentials in English and yet cannot write the language correctly; who have high rank in mathematics, and yet cannot solve a simple problem; who present flattering papers in history, and yet know nothing of the forces of civilization which make history.
One gratifying feature of the first examination was the wide distribution of the one hundred and fifteen students who presented themselves. This first experiment showed that to make it possible to prepare for college in the local high school was to open the college doors to a large number who otherwise could not hope to enter.
The chief difficulty in carrying out this plan of admission to college will probably be found in the preparation of the examinations themselves, American teachers have so long accustomed themselves to the hard-and-fast detailed examination that it may require some years of experience before the Harvard teachers will succeed in framing examinations of a sort fitted to test the qualities of the boy’s mind and the character of his scholarship rather than the excellence of his drill in a specific field. It requires an entirely different preparation to cram a boy’s memory with the details of a limited subject from that which is required to give him a fair mastery of the elements of the subject. The high schools have been spurred on by the colleges for many years to drill boys rather than to educate them. It will require some time before they will learn that the new examinations call for the mastery of a few subjects rather than a memorized familiarity with the superficial details of many. It is in the framing of examinations that will test the real quality of the applicants that the Harvard faculty will find its hardest task. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the action of the university is a notable one in the direction not only of national ideals, but also in the direction of educational unity and educational sincerity.
As one looks, therefore, over the progress of higher institutions during the last decade, one finds a most encouraging movement toward uniformity of entrance requirements, and a corresponding tendency on the part of the colleges to relate themselves intelligently and fairly to the four-year high schools, which constitute the great mass of secondary institutions of the various states. These two phenomena are part of one general movement toward educational unity, and the outcome of this movement looks in the end toward a growth of colleges and of universities less local in character and more nearly in touch with national ideals and national purposes. It is out of this movement, proceeding at the present time at an unusually rapid rate, that we may expect in the future the development of institutions of higher learning which shall be national in their attitude and in their influence.