Truancy and Non-Attendance in the Chicago Schools

Chapter 18: The Special Problem of the Immigrant Child

Edith Abbott and Sophonisba P. Breckinridge

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The importance of the compulsory education law as a means of help and protection to the immigrant family cannot be overestimated. Moreover, in a state like Illinois and in a great city like Chicago, in which the vast majority of the inhabitants are immigrants or the children of immigrants, a compulsory education law is indispensable as a means of safeguarding the state. The federal census of 1910 showed that in the population of Chicago 36 different nationalities or races were represented and that, to use round numbers, out of our 2,200,000 inhabitants, nearly 800,000 were foreign born and more than 900,000 others were the children of foreign-born parents, in contrast to the 445,000 white Americans who are " native born of native parents."[1] It is, moreover, important to note that out of the 1,690,000 who are either foreign born or the children of foreign-born parents only about 362,000, or about 21 per cent, came from English-speaking countries. And yet, for the Russian, the Pole, the Hungarian, the Bohemian, the Bulgarian, the Italian, or the Greek, a knowledge of English is an indispensable requisite for his own protection and his ultimate achievement in the bewildering and complex new life into which he has come.

It is to the public schools, obviously, that we must look for aid in teaching these great foreign groups not only the English language but the principles of government upon which our

(265) democracy is based. Although it is clear that the public schools must assist the immigrant adult[2] as well as the immigrant child, it is with the needs of the latter and the use of the compulsory education law as a means of meeting these needs that this chapter deals. It is important, however, to note that large numbers of these non-English-speaking immigrants come from countries where education is neither free nor compulsory. The Report of the United States Commissioner-General of Immigration for the Year Ended June 30, 1914, showed that the largest number of immigrants of any single racial group admitted to the United States during 1913-14 were those from the south of Italy, of whom 104,000, or 47 per cent of the total number fourteen years of age and over, were unable to read or write in their own language.[3]

From the point of view of the American state, the great problem is to help these people and their children to become intelligent and useful citizens in the shortest possible time; from the point of view of the immigrant, the great problem is that of understanding and appreciating the new world of which he has suddenly become a part and the opportunities for which he has made such heavy sacrifices. But oppressed as he is by poverty, dreading failure, and fearing deportation, the immediate solution of the problem as he sees it is to be able to "get a job" and to establish safely a new home. The advantages of learning English are not necessarily underestimated, but bread is felt to be more important than education, and the latter may be neglected. Fortunately, however, the immigrant soon learns that his earning capacity will be increased and his chances of getting a "job" improved if he is able to speak our language.


The Americanization of the immigrant in the best sense of that word devolves more largely upon the public school perhaps than upon any other single agency; it is the public school, which through its Department of Compulsory Education insists that every newly arrived immigrant child, no matter how poor or how illiterate the parents may be, shall be given the best that America has to give through her system of free schools. Unfortunately it is not yet recognized that the problem of getting these children into school at the earliest possible moment and of compelling them to attend with regularity is a matter that concerns the future welfare of the state. This point has been emphasized in our earlier study of the Chicago Juvenile Court:

The foreign-born residents of Chicago and of other large cities of the country tend to segregate themselves in separate national groups where, in churches and schools, and in social, fraternal, and national organizations, the speech, the ideals, and to some extent the manner of life of the mother country are zealously preserved and guarded. In these large foreign colonies, which lead a more or less isolated group life, there is therefore a problem of adaptation both difficult and complex; a problem which is especially perplexing in connection with the proper discipline of the American-born children. For it should be kept in mind that the institutions of the city are those developed by American experience in the working out of American ideals. The city government may rest for support upon the vote of the German, Irish, or Scandinavian colonies; but the city government is not German, Irish, or Scandinavian. The children and their parents may speak Polish, Hungarian, Russian or Yiddish; but these same children are to be trained for a civic life that has grown out of American experience and Anglo-Saxon tradition, and for an industrial life based on new world ideas of industrial organization. The churches in the foreign neighborhoods, as a means of self-preservation, may attempt to maintain the national language through the parochial schools; but the child who leaves the parochial school must be fitted into an American community life in which the mastery of the English tongue is not merely a necessary

(267) tool but the only medium through which he may share the most valuable products of American civilization. The community may rob itself when it fails to realize and appropriate the cultural contribution which may be made by these groups to the collective life which in the end they must help to work out; but it robs the individual child and the coming generation in a much greater degree when it fails to demand for every member of every foreign colony the opportunity of acquiring at the earliest possible moment the use of the English language and an understanding of American institutions.[4]

Unfortunately, as yet, there exists no official machinery for discovering and notifying newly arrived immigrants of the requirements of the compulsory education law. The names and the ages of all the immigrant children arriving at our various ports of entry should be sent to the school authorities in the different cities, towns, or counties to which they are going. It would then be the first duty of the truant officer or other representative of the local education authority to inform the parents of these children that they must be immediately enrolled in school.[5] If the commissioner-general of immigration could be persuaded to set this machinery in motion, the results would be valuable in many ways. The immigrant parents would be impressed and the neighbors reimpressed with the public solicitude for education. Coming, as many of these people do, from countries where education is denied to the poor, they would learn to understand their new opportunities and obligations. In this way it would be possible to get all the immigrant children enrolled in school, and to do this promptly before they had gone to work and lost a part of the short time available for school attendance.


At present, the children of newly arrived immigrants can, of course, evade the law with the greatest ease if they wish to do so; but fortunately the great majority of immigrants are eager to send their children to school, often more eager than many American families. The opportunity to give their children a chance at the education that they have missed has been one of the great factors inducing immigration to this country. It is clear, however, that with so many thousands of immigrants there must be a very considerable number of people who value the certain present earnings above the problematical future welfare of their children.

It has, therefore, in the past been largely a matter of accident as to how soon the children in a newly arrived immigrant family came under the influence of the compulsory education law. If the parents understood their duties and their privileges, they might with directions from the neighbors enrol their children at once. But if they are ignorant or indifferent, it may be a matter of weeks or months before the children get into school. Sometimes they are never entered at all.

Esther G_____, for example, who was born January 23, 1901, came from Leeds, England, in 11912, at the age of twelve years. She did not enter school in Chicago, but as soon as she was fourteen she got her working certificate and applied at an agency for work. She had reached the seventh grade in the school that she attended in England. And in the two years of schooling to which she was entitled under the law, she could have been prepared for better paying work than she can obtain without it. She is the youngest of four children. Her brother, twenty-seven years old, is in England. Three sisters are working, earning $3, $9, and $5 a week, and the father works regularly, so that the family could have afforded to give her a high-school course. And cases like hers are less distressing than that of Rebecca H_____, who is now sixteen years of age and came to Chicago at the age of twelve from Russia. She had

(269) never attended school and did not enter the public schools here. Before she was fourteen she went to work in an apron factory, where she passed as sixteen years of age and was allowed to work on a power machine. As a result of working two and a half years in the factory, she developed tuberculosis and was sent to a sanitarium. She left the sanitarium recently and is looking for "light work." She can neither read nor write, and can speak and understand very little English. She had never had a working certificate.

Often, of course, these immigrant children are noticed on the street or in the tenement by a vigilant truant officer or some other alert social worker, or they are reported to the school principal by some neighboring child who understands that their absence from school is not in accord with American right and custom in the matter. But in the meantime, the days wasted are precious days. These children more than any other children in the country need every day at school that can be given them, because the children of the immigrants are also the children of the poor; they will have to leave school to go to work probably on the very earliest day that the law permits "working papers" to be issued to them. Most of them will never hear the English language spoken in their homes; their fathers and their mothers are many of them illiterate, and must be, in the presence of their children, learners rather than teachers. With these children it is a matter of learning " now or never "; they will come in contact with few if any educational influences outside of the schoolroom before they go to work, and after they go to work they are likely to lose the little they have already learned unless they have made sufficient progress to have learned at least the English language.

As an experiment in attempting to make some connection between the records of Ellis Island, our largest single port of entry for arriving immigrants, and the education authorities, the Immigrants' Protective League, one of Chicago's private

(270) social agencies, began in 1911 to act as a clearing-house by obtaining from the federal immigration authorities the names of all arriving children of compulsory school age who were " manifested"[6] to various parts of the state of Illinois. The League then sent the names of these same children to the school authorities in the various localities to which the children had gone, and asked in return for a report as to whether or not the children had been placed in school. The reports showed that in a large number of cases the children had not been enrolled until after the notification of the school authorities by this private society.

In a not inconsiderable number of towns no one could be found, neither a truant officer, superintendent of schools, nor member of the Board of Education, who would send back the reply blanks showing whether or not the children had been placed in school, Table XXVIII shows for a period of nearly

Table XXVIII Results of Inquiries by Immigrants' Protective League Regarding School Attendance of Immigrant Children
(10 months)
1912 1913 1914-15
Number of towns to which lists were sent 118 167 91 209
Number sending replies 97 69 62 139
Percentage sending replies 82 41 68 67
Percentage not sending replies 18 59 32 33

four years (from March, 1911, to October, 1915) the number of towns to which lists of immigrant children were sent by the Immigrants' Protective League and the number of towns which did and which did not send replies. It will be seen that in

(271) a considerable number of towns varying from 18 to 59 per cent of the whole number of towns to which lists were sent, there was no representative of the local school authority who was sufficiently interested to send any reply concerning the school enrolment of these newly arrived immigrant children. The marked falling off in the number of towns in 1913 and in 1915 was due to the drop in immigration during those years.

From the replies sent from the towns in which someone was willing to send back the reply cards, the data presented in Tables XXIX and XXX have been compiled showing the number of children arriving, the number that had been entered in school before the receipt of the Immigrants' Protective League notices, the number entered in school as a result of the sending of these notices, together, finally, with those who refused to enrol.

Table XXIX Showing Number of Immigrant Children "Manifested" in 167 Illinois Towns From March 1, 1911 to December 31, 1915, with Reports from School Authorities Concerning Their School Attendance
Location of Children Number
Children of compulsory age 821
   In school 646
   Not enrolled in school 174
   Incapacitated 1
   Children not of compulsory age 138
   Children not located 305
 Total 1,264

Table XXIX shows that during this period of slightly less than four years, 821 children were found of compulsory school age. Of these children 646, or 79 per cent, had enrolled themselves in school, and 174, or 2 1 per cent, were not enrolled and presumably were not informed of their obligation to attend

(272) under the compulsory law until a private organization had notified the school authorities of their existence.

The situation in Chicago, where the superintendent of compulsory education has co-operated most cordially with the Immigrants' Protective League, is shown in Table XXX. The

Table XXX Showing Number of Immigrant Children Manifested To Chicago from September 1911 to May 1915* with Reports from Compulsory Education Department Concerning Their School Attendance
Location of Children Number
Children of compulsory age 3,542
   In school 2,977
   Not enrolled in school 532
   Incapacitated 33
   Children not of compulsory age 775
   Children not located 3,383
    Total 7,700

*This table does not include the figures for the year 1913-14 and therefore covers a period of two years and eight months only. For the year 1913-14 no report was made to the Immigrants' Protective League by the superintendent of compulsory education.

figures show that during a period of less than three years, 532 children were found in Chicago who were of compulsory school age but who were not enrolled in school until after the notices from the Immigrants' Protective League were received. The percentage of unenrolled children was smaller in Chicago than in the country towns -- 15 per cent as compared with 21 per cent of all the children between seven and fourteen years of age. This is due no doubt to the fact that many of the smaller cities and towns have made no provision for enforcing [lie compulsory law. Moreover, in Chicago, where there are so many social agencies, some of which are devoting themselves exclusively to work among immigrant groups, it is to be expected that a smaller proportion of children would be able to escape the knowledge of their duty of attending school. On the other hand it

(273) should be noted that the number of children reported as "not located" is relatively very much higher in Chicago than in the other towns -- 3,383 children, or 44 per cent of the whole number in Chicago compared with 305 children, or 24 per cent of the whole number in towns outside.

In the majority of cases the school authorities reported that as a result of their visits the children of compulsory school age had been enrolled in school, but in some cases the report showed that the child's parents or guardian refused to comply with the law and that the school authorities for one reason or another would not or could not enforce the law. Thus, in one town three Scotch children, all under fourteen, were found whose parents refused to send them to school. In this case the superintendent said he was powerless to compel them to attend, as the town had no money to enforce the compulsory attendance law. In another town an English girl of eight was kept from school because her mother was ill. The truant officer reported that nothing could be done about the child because the uncle who cared for the mother and child was a reputable man who gave them a good home and would in time be sure to send the child to school.

From another town the superintendent, replying to an inquiry about a family of three children, wrote that they were not in school, and he sent the following memorandum with regard to them: "Came to school a few days and ha I to go home to rid themselves of vermin. Parents absolutely refused to return them to school. No money to enforce compulsory laws. Age was misstated to emigration [sic] bureau. Deport them unless they agree to attend school." The assumption on the part of this superintendent was that the compulsory education laws were to be ignored by the local authorities but could be enforced by some "emigration bureau" by means of deportation, in spite of the fact that deportation would not be legal in such a case.


In several instances children were not in school because there were no "beginners' classes" for them to enter. In many towns these classes are formed only in the fall, and a child arriving during the winter or the spring must wait until the next fall to enter school. Since these immigrant children have at most so few years for school attendance and since they have so much to learn if they are to become useful American citizens, some provision should always be made for enrolling them in school at the earliest opportunity. Moreover, the school authorities are under obligations to provide instruction for them if the compulsory law is complied with.

In a number of cases it was found that the children had been sent illegally to work. The lists sent out by the League include the names and the addresses of all children under sixteen years of age, because in many cases it appears upon investigation that the children are younger than the records indicate. The age given by the parents on the Ellis Island "manifest" is increased sometimes with the hope of eluding the school authorities and of putting the child to work illegally.

In one town a thirteen-year-old Greek boy was found at work instead of at school, and investigation showed that he had been admitted to this country under bonds to attend school for two years. He was at once placed in school, and the superintendent undertook to make bimonthly reports as to his attendance and progress to the Bureau of Immigration at Ellis Island.

Another working child was a German girl of twelve, who was kept at home to help with the housework. Her mother had not intended to send her to school at all, because she would that year have finished the common-school course in Germany. She was quite willing to comply with the law, however, when she was told that in Illinois the child was required to attend school until her fourteenth birthday.

In one town the superintendent of schools complained that the parochial school authorities had in several instances issued

(275) working certificates to children under legal age, apparently without ascertaining their correct age. In one case when the matter was looked up and the illegality of the certificate was proved, the father had obviously given false information. When confronted with the facts, the father destroyed the certificate and made no further objection to placing the boy in school. In this same town a Magyar boy of thirteen was found working in the cotton mills. The case was reported to the factory inspector, who saw to it that the boy was sent to school. In another town a Lithuanian boy of eleven, whose parents claimed that he was sixteen, obtained a working certificate from a parochial school and got a job in a large industrial plant. This case also was reported to the factory inspector. In another case, two Finnish children, a boy of ten and a girl of seven, were in school but in their leisure hours were tending bar in their father's saloon, in violation of the provisions of the child labor law.

Sometimes, of course, the family seemed not to know of their obligations to send the child to school and were glad to comply when notified. Thus, a German boy of eleven, whose mother was employed in domestic service, was living with friends who had not thought of placing him in school; but the mother was glad enough to send him at once when she learned through the visit of the truant officer that he was expected to go.

The importance of these visits to immigrant children is further indicated by the fact that a number of cases were reported of children who were afraid to go to school alone, but went gladly when escorted by the truant officer.

Occasionally the visit of the investigator brought into school a child who was above the compulsory age. Thus, a Greek boy of fifteen was being kept out of school until he should learn English, and the truant officer was able to persuade his friends that he would acquire the desired knowledge much more quickly by attending school.


It is a pleasure to record that in many cases the new immigrant families had discovered the educational resources of the town without assistance and were using them to the fullest possible extent. Thus, one Croatian boy of fifteen had entered the evening as well as the day school; and a family of Austrian Hebrews was found in which, besides the three children in the day school, there were four older ones who worked in the daytime and were in regular attendance at night school.

The replies to the notices sent show that some of the persons acting as truant officers had evidently enjoyed none of the advantages of the compulsory system in their own youth, their communications being sometimes quite illiterate. Thus one officer who was asked to find out whether certain immigrant children who were "manifested" to his town had been enrolled in school wrote back, "There are no foren children in our school." In another town the clerk of the board, who evidently acts as truant officer, wrote very illegibly, "I Visit the School once Every Five Weeks. we are Looking after all Foren Born Children Very Clost So that they are in School all the time." From another town, the clerk of the board wrote with regard to a family of three children, "we have a good many Italians tending our school they tend regular the 3 you have wrote to us about are not in our school."

The children most in need of protection are, of course, the children who are nearly fourteen years of age or who are large enough to pass for fourteen. To parents who are not only very ignorant but very poor the temptation to sacrifice the older children to the younger ones and to the general family security is great. As we have said elsewhere these children will, unless their parents or guardians are promptly made to understand the compulsory education law, " lose what is perhaps their only chance of schooling and what is certainly their best chance of initiation into American life and their best introduction to those new conditions with which they must become

(277) familiar." There may be found in the records of the United Charities of Chicago many cases where the eldest child of an immigrant family has been sacrificed. For example, an Italian family with eight children, survivors of the Messina earthquake, first applied for help at Hull-House because the eldest child, Chiara, who was said to be nearly sixteen years old, was out of work as a result of the garment workers' strike, and the father was also out of work. The family wished to buy milk for the baby on credit. The parents were at that time also trying to get a certificate for the thirteenyear-old girl, Giovanna, who was deaf and subnormal, but they were compelled to return the child to school. Several months later they tried again to get working papers for Giovanna, and then claimed that she was fourteen years old. The district office of the United Charities to whom the family had been referred then wrote to Messina and received a reply, saying that the records were not destroyed by the earthquake, and it was therefore possible to ascertain the correct dates of birth, which were given, showing that Giovanna was only twelve years old instead of fourteen, and that Chiara was not yet fourteen, although she had been working ever since the arrival of the family in Chicago more than two years before.

Chiara's working certificate was then confiscated, and she was returned to school by order of the Department of Compulsory Education, but came to Hull-House in the evening, saying that she could not go to school with such small children; she was a "great big girl and would be married soon." She had, of course, in these two years lost her only chance of learning English. She will now never learn to read. Her mother was very angry and said " Hull-House ladies are dreaming to send so old a girl to school " (thirteen years, nine months). The Messina records were obtained too late to do anything for Chiara, but they have saved the younger child, who has now had her tonsils removed and her deafness cured and has two years

(278) of schooling ahead of her. The eldest child will be as illiterate as her parents, and the hard part of it is that she will be illiterate in spite of our compulsory law and our free school system.

Especially difficult are the cases of immigrant children who drift in from other cities and who may have lived in several towns without attending school in any one of them. Unless some system of transfers between cities can be worked out, there is not much hope of catching these more migratory families. Some of them pass through the hands of social workers, but frequently not until it is too late to save the children. For example, a Polish woman applied for help in a district office of the United Charities of Chicago, saying that her six children were freezing and her husband ill in the hospital with incurable heart trouble. Their story was pitiful: the man had worked in the sulphur mines at home and, hearing of the high wages in America, decided to come to this country. He came to New York, but was unsuccessful in finding work and then went to Pennsylvania, because he had heard of work in the brickyards there at $1.50 So a day. He had saved enough in two years to bring over his wife and children; but after the first year, work became slack, so he moved to another small town in the same state, and then, still unsuccessful, he went back to New York, where he struggled along for sixteen months, and then came to Chicago, where work was plentiful but for him disastrous, since it had led to overwork and a mortal illness. The oldest child, Hedwig, who was not quite twelve, seemed so large and stout that neighbors told them to say she was fourteen and the child could earn money for them. When she was told that the little girl must leave the candy factory where she was working and go to school the mother refused to submit, and a long struggle followed to get the child in school. The mother claimed that the child was unwilling to go to school and felt no other excuse was needed.


Another interesting case is that of a little Italian boy, Joe C_____, one of five children. Application for help was made at the office of the United Charities when the father was out of work. Joe, who was then the proud possessor of a working certificate, could not spell his name although he could write it. He could neither write nor spell any other word, however simple. He had attended the B_____ School in Chicago for one month, but he did not know what grade he had been in. He had been in the town of S_____ near Chicago for about a year and a half and claimed that he had attended school there. He has not been able to "get a job" since he left school. What hope is there, if he does, that he will ever learn to read and write?

One great difficulty in the way of educating the non-English-speaking immigrant child is the foreign parochial school. it has been pointed out that the Illinois law permits a child to leave school and to go to work without knowing how to read or write the English language. The provision of the old compulsory education law of 1889, which required children to attend schools in which the instruction was in English was stricken out at the succeeding session of the legislature through the influence of the sectarian schools; and at the time, the German-Lutheran schools of Cook County seem to have been most influential in obtaining the omission of the words "in English."

Later, when the child labor law made provision for the granting of working papers, it was not possible to include among the educational requirements that the children leaving school to go to work should be able to speak, read and write the English language. The law merely provides that the children shall be able to read and write simple sentences; and the additional words "in English," which were so much desired by those interested in the protection of children were finally omitted from the law. The result has been the establishment, not only in Chicago but in other parts of the state, of large numbers of parochial schools in foreign neighborhoods in which the instruc-

(280) -tion is carried on in part, at least, in some language other than English. It has not been possible to obtain a complete list of these schools, but the Official Catholic Directory for 1914 shows that there were in that year in Chicago 23 Polish schools, 22 German, 8 Bohemian, 5 Lithuanian, 3 French, 3 Italian, 3 Slovak, 1 Belgian and 1 Ruthenian school maintained by various Roman Catholic parishes. According to the same directory these 69 schools had more than 33,000 pupils enrolled in the year 1914.[7] There were also the German-Lutheran schools and the schools maintained by the Greek Catholics, which are of course quite separate from the Roman Catholic schools. The amount of instruction in English that is given in these schools varies greatly. In some nearly all the instruction is in the English language and in others English seems to be taught only a few hours per week.[8]

Unfortunately, the easiest way to deal with any difficulty is to ignore it instead of trying to understand the problem that needs to be solved. And all phases of the parochial school question, including that of the bilingual schools, are usually dealt with in this way. Since the question is in part a religious one, there seems to be a feeling that it should never be discussed.

(281) Yet surely the question of the right of the state to insist that its children shall be so educated that they shall be able to understand the language of their country is an elementary one. It is important to note here the results of an investigation made in Massachusetts of the bilingual schools of that state. The compulsory education law of Massachusetts, unlike that of Illinois, provides that attendance at private schools will be accepted in compliance with the provisions of the compulsory law only when the local school committees shall have approved these schools, and such approval shall be given only "when the instruction in all the studies required by law is in the English language, and when they are satisfied that such instruction equals in thoroughness and efficiency and in progress made therein, the public schools in the same city or town." The Massachusetts State Commission on Immigration, after a careful investigation of the bilingual schools, reported that "for obvious reasons, such as local influences, political expediency and in some cases indifference, the school committees make no pretense of fulfilling this obligation and, under existing conditions, there is no prospect that they ever will."

Because the subject of the bilingual school is so little discussed and so little understood and because it has not been possible to make an investigation of the large number of such schools that exist in Chicago,[9] and also because there is every reason to believe that a similar investigation in Chicago would disclose similar results here, it has seemed worth while to quote at some length the account of the bilingual schools given in the report of the Massachusetts Immigration Commission:


The large number (over 200) of parochial schools throughout the State may be divided into two groups; first, those in which the teaching is conducted in English exclusively, and second, those in which some of the instruction is conducted in English and some in a foreign language.

Schools of the first group were not investigated by the commission. Like the public schools, many of these enrol children of nonEnglish-speaking parentage, and like the public schools they are affording those children the associations and all the advantages of instruction that they are affording the native-born.

In the second group, 39 schools in 19 different towns and cities in Massachusetts were visited. The almost universal rule in these schools is to teach in English for half a day, and in Polish, Italian, Portuguese, French or Greek for half a day. These bilingual schools, of which there are over 90 in Massachusetts, present a problem of much difficulty, involving both religious and national motives deeply rooted in the heart and mind of the foreign-speaking peoples, and entitled to sympathetic recognition by the entire community. The problem, moreover, includes highly important social, financial and economic considerations. In some instances it is being successfully solved.

Teachers in all these schools have to deal with a perplexing situation, inasmuch as the pupils when they first enter rarely speak English, and in instruction precedence is given to subjects conducted in their native tongue. The complication is increased by reason of the fact that many of these teachers have but a limited knowledge of the English language; comparatively few speak it fluently, some do not speak it at all. Such lay teachers as are employed are, generally speaking, wholly unqualified. In certain schools of one nationality, conducted wholly by lay teachers, the instruction, discipline and results are a mere travesty on even rudimentary educational methods. Under such condition,; proper progress in English or any other study is impossible.

The atmosphere of any one of these schools depends mainly upon the attitude of the pastor of the church with which it is connected. While some of these pastors are thoroughly imbued with American ideals, the majority are of foreign birth, education and training, so

(283) intensely devoted to their native land that their patriotism permits no divided allegiance; hence any special emphasis upon the study of English or American traditions and ideals, which often the Superior in immediate charge would gladly undertake, does not enlist their sympathy or meet with their approval.

Furthermore, while we have the greatest respect for the exalted character, disinterested service and untiring zeal of the teachers, we must regretfully declare that in very many cases they are not equipped by previous training (often excellent in their own language and literature), by familiarity with American civic or social ideals, or with the stress of modern economic pressure, to impress sympathetically upon the understanding of their pupils the fundamental knowledge which is required alike in the interests of the State and of the future industrial life of the pupils themselves. In some instances the atmosphere is so intensely foreign that progress in acquiring English is deprecated rather than encouraged.

In drawing comparisons between these and other schools the element of time must be considered; for as the system of parochial schools, and particularly of bilingual schools, is comparatively young, it could hardly be expected that these privately maintained schools should be able to make as rapid progress in the character of their buildings and equipment as those schools maintained by the public purse.

While a large number of the school buildings are of excellent construction in every respect, and many may be rated as reasonably good, some were not originally erected for school purposes; they are distinctly bad in lighting and in ventilation and are positively injurious to the physical well-being of the children.

The financial resources of these schools-mainly the voluntary offerings of poorly paid wage earners -- are utterly inadequate to the magnitude of the work undertaken. This financial handicap may be regarded as the principal cause of the inability of so many of these schools to approach modern educational requirements in housing, in limiting the size of classes to reasonable numbers, in the character of textbooks used, or in the employment of a sufficient number of thoroughly efficient lay teachers to offset the scarcity of teachers of the religious orders.

(284) When we consider the comparatively inelastic character of the wages of the groups who support these schools, and the increasing cost of living, it is difficult to see how the revenues upon which these schools depend can be greatly enlarged . . . . .

That the knowledge of a second language has cultural advantages is beyond dispute, and should be encouraged, for in the history, traditions, literature and art of the various nations there is much that would enrich American life. But it is not in the pursuit of culture that the overwhelming majority of these children are to spend their lives. The far more practical and far more difficult problem of bread-winning is the one to which -- day in and day out-they will be forced to devote their unremitting attention. It is therefore of vital importance to them, as well as to the State, that they should be fitted in the best possible manner for this daily bread-and-butter struggle. As they succeed or fail in this they will become an asset or a liability of the State, for, waiving other grave possibilities, there inevitably will be a marked increase in dependence resulting from the premature physical and mental breakdown of those who, from lack of proper training, are forever unable to escape from the most exhausting and the poorest-paid occupations.

It is therefore of importance to the Commonwealth that in the secular instruction in these schools, the study of English should be given first place, and that all studies, except religion and the native language of the children, should be conducted in the English language. The study of the foreign language should be made clearly subordinate to that of English. It should be possible to follow this plan without serious interference with the spiritual or national motive of these schools.[10]

The first step that is needed to insure that English is adequately taught in the bilingual schools is to restore to the compulsory education law of Illinois the words requiring that certain specified parts of the teaching in private school must be "in English" if work in these schools is to be accepted under the compulsory school law. But such a provision obviously could not now be enforced by the local authorities in Illinois any more

(285) than in Massachusetts. The only way to make such a provision effective would be to place the supervision of these schools under a state educational board. To quote a concluding paragraph from the Massachusetts report:

The task of gradually bringing these schools up to the desired standard is one calling for infinite wisdom, tact, and patience, as well as for clear comprehension and sympathetic recognition of the aspirations of the people who voluntarily support them. In such a spirit the task should be begun at once, and plans in the best interest of all concerned should be worked out harmoniously. As the local school committees have not even attempted to perform this task, the commission recommends that this responsibility be vested in the State Board of Education, as provided in the bill that is submitted with this report.

Another means of insuring the adequate teaching of English in the private schools is to insert in the child labor law of Illinois a provision that no child shall be given "working papers until he is able to read and write simple sentences in English." Until the words "in English" are restored to the compulsory education law and added to the working-certificate provision of the child labor law, the essential first steps toward the Americanization of the immigrant will not and can not be taken.

In the valuable Report on the Employment Certificate System in Connecticut recently issued by the federal Children's Bureau, attention is called to the failure of the Connecticut law to include the ability to read and write English among the educational requirements for the issuing of employment certificates. The comment of the government investigators on this feature of the Connecticut system is as follows:

The theory upon which it is attempted to justify this omission is that it must be made easy for a foreign-born child to obtain a certificate, or else he will go to work without any legal protection whatever. However, the problem of registering the foreign-born child

(286) either in school or in the certificate office has to be met in any event, for probably a majority of these children have not received sufficient education in their own language to pass the arithmetic test. This test is said to keep many foreign-born children in school until they are 16 years of age, while American children, unless mentally defective, can generally go to work at 14 if they wish. Certainly an unenforceable provision of law is undesirable; but it does not seem  impossible to devise methods of enforcing a law which would require a knowledge of the language of their adopted country by young wage earners.[11]

Finally, it must be pointed out that our compulsory education system was devised to meet the needs of American-born children of American parents before the problem of assimilating the non-English speaking immigrants or any other immigrants had come into existence. If compulsory education laws were needed for the education of the native American, they are doubly needed for the immigrant who today needs to learn not only our language, but also the principles of our democracy, if these principles are to endure and " the promise of American life" is not to be obscured.


  1. The exact census figures are as follows: foreign born, 781,217; native born (one or both parents foreign born), 912,701; native born, native parents (white), 445,139; total white population 2,139,057; total population 2,185,283. Out of the total 1,693,918 who are foreign born or the children of foreign-born parents, 361,854 are from English-speaking countries.
  2. On the subject of classes for adult immigrants, -cc Report of the Massachusetts Commission on Immigration, pp. 128 ff.
  3. See Table VII, "Sex, Age, Literacy, etc.," on P. 42 of the report. The total number of South Italians admitted was 251,612, and 218,676 of these were fourteen years of age and over.
  4. The Delinquent Child and the Home, p. 55.
  5. This plan has been recommended by several immigration commissions. See Report of the New York Commission of Immigration, p. 97, and Report of the Massachusetts Commission on Immigration, p. 124. The federal Commission on Immigration presented five volumes of statistics on children of immigrants in schools but made no recommendations on this point.
  6. That is, listed on the ships " manifest " to the immigration authorities as destined for Illinois.
  7. This list, of course, excludes the Catholic parochial schools which are not especially indicated in the directory to be Polish, Bohemian, etc. The directory shows that there are, including the English-speaking schools, a total of 181 Catholic parochial schools in Chicago with 95,110 Pupils enrolled (Official Catholic Directory for 1914 [New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons], p. 74)
  8. Publicity has been given in the Chicago papers, since the writing of this chapter, to an announcement indicating that there will be in the future more and better English teaching in the foreign language speaking parochial schools in the Roman Catholic diocese of Chicago. The problem of the foreign school, however, is not exclusively a Roman Catholic problem. And again it must be emphasized that this problem will not be solved until the teaching of English is made compulsory by a state law enforced by state inspectors, and until a knowledge of English is made a prerequisite for the issuing of working papers.
  9. Unfortunately the exact number of Such schools cannot be given. It has been shown that the Roman Catholic directory indicates 69 such schools, and it seems Probable that such schools are not always designated and that the number is even larger. Add to these the number of German-Lutheran schools and the Greek Catholic schools and the number becomes very considerable.
  10. Report of the Massachusetts Committee on Immigration, pp. 148-51
  11. Helen L. Sumner and Ethel E. Hanks, Employment Certificate System in Connecticut (Washington, 1915), p. 41. U.S.. Department of Labor, Children's Bureau.

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