The University and the Elementary Schools

The parents' Association of the University, Elementary, and High Schools may legitimately ask what advantages it gets from the connection between these Schools and the University. We are certainly attracted by the fact of this connection. It serves to justify the tuition we pay for our children's instruction. We feel that in some way the methods used and the studies pursued are guaranteed by the larger institution of learning which takes the responsibility for these lower schools. It is assumed that we have a favorable conjunction of supply and demand. On the one side we ask for the best education which can be given our children, while on the other side stands the University with not only its body of learning but its educational ideals, its methods, and its departments of education seeking to prove by theory and practice, and by actual experiment, that the training it gives shall square with what we want and with the canons of pedagogy.

While this is the face value of our connection with the University, I presume that we all of us recognize that it stands not so much for an accomplished fact as the statement of the problem with which the University has to deal.

We all know that both elementary and secondary education grew up apart from the University. That they stand upon traditions that are centuries old. That there has been in the past little or no community of life between the schools and the University. And those of us who are at all familiar with the sentiment of the members of our Universities recognize that very few there feel the necessity, or even naturalness, of any close connection between the higher and lower branches of our educational structure. At most, many of them would say the University can pass upon the results which the schools attain.

They can set standards for admission to college which the lower schools must respect. The pedagogical staff of the University will also discuss the methods which are used in these schools, but beyond this they feel that the connection of the schools with the University can only be an administrative one.

In the largest School of Education in the country, that of Columbia University in New York, the secondary and elementary schools are not in as close connection with the University as that which subsists here in Chicago.

So far as I know, the only other large schools of a similar character are those connected with Normal Schools, and serve primarily the purpose of practice teaching (and these do not generally include High Schools).

The University, Elementary, and High Schools are not primarily practice schools. Certainly the intention with which these schools have been brought into the University has been that they should be vital parts of the whole institution. The question arises, then, in what sense this can be accomplished. It has never been assumed that these schools were to be simply supervised by the members of the College of Education and the Department of Education. Both the University, through its officers and members of its faculties, and those who have been part of the Schools themselves have maintained that there was to be a continual organic relation between the Schools and the other parts of the University. We do not, therefore, have to ask the question whether there is willingness to cooperate upon both sides. The history of the Schools and the University emphatically affirms the purpose of maintaining this cooperation. We may assume that the University is willing to give anything that it can give, and the Schools to receive anything that they can profit by.

I do not think, however, that it is quite clear in our minds just what this cooperation can be, and it is this lack of clearness which constitutes the problem with which both the Schools and the University are face to face.

The easiest answer to the question would be that the University has no other organic relation to these schools except through its departments of theoretical and practical pedagogy. If that were the case, the responsibility could be loaded onto certain shoulders, and the rest of the University would have its skirts quite free.

It is, however, not difficult to see that such an answer is really dodging the whole issue. If the Elementary and High Schools had no other connection with the University than the Departments of Education, they would never have come into it. They are not necessary for teaching theoretical pedagogy, and the University is not undertaking to simply train School Teachers. It has not simply added a Normal School to its departments. The reason that the Schools have arisen within the University is, that we are beginning to recognize that the problems of Elementary and Secondary education cannot be solved apart from the subjects that are taught and investigated within the University; that there is the same justification for a laboratory of Education within the University that there is for those of Chemistry, Physics, or Biology. These exist within the University because no one can pursue any of these subjects apart from the others. The scientist in one branch must have connection with the scientist in other branches. They are naturally necessary to each other.

There have been two problems in elementary and secondary education. One was the problem of the way that which is to be learned should be presented. The other is the problem of the subject-matter of the curriculum itself, what shall be taught.

We are all of us pretty conscious of the revolution that has been taking place in the methods of teaching. We know, in the words of G. Stanley Hall,' that the Renaissance of Childhood has come. We have heard from early morn till dewy eve that the child can only assimilate what comes to him in terms of his own experience. That it is only in so far as the problems of the schoolroom are his problems that he can gain any real education through them. Child-study has brought our teachers close to the child, and psychology has demonstrated that only in so far as what the child learns interprets his own experience can it be educative. Here we have a comparatively sure platform to stand upon. But when we go beyond this platform, that of the attitude which the school and the teacher should occupy toward the child, when we advance beyond what has become the commonplace of Teachers' Institutes and Parents' Associations, Life with the Child in the School—we find no sort of uniformity of theory or practice. What shall we teach? Is it to be the same content which is contained in the old-fashioned text-books, enlivened, illustrated, revivified by our newer pedagogy? Or is it to be something new? And, if it is to be something new, what will it be and where will it come from?

The problem is a somewhat more serious one than it seems to be at first blush. Take a group of textbooks that were in use in our schools a generation ago, Colburn's or Thompson 's or Ray's Arithmetics, or McGuffey`s or Sheldon 's, or Wilson's Readers, or Guyot's or Mitchell's  Geographies, and you will find no material differences. The doses were differently divided, but the contents of the prescriptions were the same. Any one with a good general education and that sort of common sense which was called the endowment of the born-teacher, could write a textbook on any subject, and publish it, too. But this subject-matter has no sort of natural relation to the child's experience or life, and was made up of a body of facts which were so commonplace and generally accepted that no one felt called upon to investigate their truth or pertinency. In fact, the question of the reliability of the statements made in these textbooks was not raised, for they were after all written for children, and if the children learned to read and write and figure out of them, what they read and wrote and figured night as well be one thing as another. Which is another way of saying that, when the education is largely of a formal character, the content of what is taught is generally neglected. If the child questioned it, of course he was brought up with a sharp turn for an unwarranted questioning of his elders and betters. This was supposed to be particularly good for his moral development. It formed character.

I think that any one will agree that this was an ideal situation for the textbook writer, and that this highway, where he that runs may read, becomes at once precarious and uncertain when one has entered the field of the Newer Pedagogy, The only demands that were made upon the former textbooks were that they should train the children in the formal processes and should not be at variance with generally accepted views and ideas of the community.

Now we demand, in the first place, that the subject-matter should be true for the child; that is shall be fair essential part of his experience; and, in the second place, that it shall be as rich and varied in its contents as the kaleidoscopic consciousness of the child, for it must appeal to his interest, and for that purpose to the varied activities, especially constructive activities, of the child. A great mass of material has been brought in this way which is quite foreign to the text

book world, which does not always square, by any means, with the commonly accepted views and opinions of the community, and which has very varying success in interesting the children. (The teacher and textbook writer are still possessed with that somewhat easy conscience in regard to that which they present to the children. From their point of view, it does not make so much difference" what is presented, provided it holds the children's attention.)

The situation has completely changed: while formerly what was thought was of minor importance provided the formal part of the work was satisfactory, now we are depending upon the content of what is given to insure success in the schoolroom work. We have got to justify what we give the children, first by its success in appealing to them, and controlling their attention, in the second place because of its value for its own sake. This new material does not belong to it traditional mass of textbook material. It is so novel that after all nothing but the imprimatur of scientific testimony can assure its place in the schoolroom.

I think it has been this unwieldy character of the material with which he is dealing that has driven the driven the pedagogue to seek the assistance and support of the University, that has made situation out of which Elementary and Secondary Schools in University pedagogical departments have arisen. The newer educator has felt that he or she was quite competent to deal with the child if they could live together in the schoolroom, there was no call for intermediation by an institution of higher learning. It has only been gradually that these school teachers have come to recognize that the new material which they wish to use in the schoolroom has got to come from the researches and investigations of the institutions of higher learning and that these investigators have got to give the stamp of scientific accuracy to this new subject-matter before it can have currency.

In a word, a content teaching in the place of the formal teaching has been bringing Elementary and Secondary Schools constantly closer to the University, because the University has in the end to pass upon the contents used.

I have dwelt upon this phase of the movement, because it has not been so evident as the other current which flows in the channel of educational theory. As I indicated above, the old-fashioned teacher was born and not made. It was the textbook that was made, sometimes out of whole cloth. Now the material of the textbook is born or supposed to be out of scientific researches, while the teacher is made in a training school. Teaching, instead of being a natural-born talent, is found to be the product of applied psychology, and the teacher has had to come to the University for the psychology. But, while the teacher has had to come to the University for his scientific pedagogy, it is not so evident that he must bring his school with him. Indeed, such all active educational University center as Clark University has gathered the teachers without the Schools. The problems that have given rise to University Elementary and High Schools are not those of the training of teachers through scientific psychology, it has been rather the problems of what can be taught. I do not think that Colonel Parker felt that the School of which he was the head had so much to gain from the educational theory to be found in the university as from the materials which the scientific departments should put at their disposal. I know that Professor Dewey felt that the important problems with which the Laboratory School could deal were those of the subject-matter of the curriculum rather than those of the theory of teaching.' To get a subject-matter which would be worthy of the intelligence of the child he felt to be the pedagogical demand that could not be silenced. These and all other educational thinkers who have thought their way out have recognized that such subject matter could only be secured at the fountainhead of scientific research.

I can see no other adequate justification for the presence of our Elementary and High Schools as parts of the University of Chicago, than this demand which the Schools are making upon the university, to work out a curriculum which shall square not only with educational theory, but which shall in every grade bring in that which stands the test of scientific criticism, and those ideas and newly discovered truths which are bound to be most interesting and valuable even to children, if expressed in the language of their experience. We are only just beginning to appreciate how much material the competent expert can put at the disposal of the schoolroom, that we can make better use of one-sided competency in graduate work in the University than we can in the elementary and secondary schools.

We have yet to appreciate that the highly trained expert in higher mathematics is the man who can free the child with his Square-paper from the divorce between his number and his geometry; that it is only the trained Biologist who can safely make use of the conception of Adaptation to present the facts of life to children, that it is only an Ostwald that can present the essential concepts of Chemistry to the child of the secondary-school period, in conversations that neither impoverish the subject nor lose contact with the child's intelligence; that it is only the first Latinist in the country who could make use of his point of view in his theory of structure of the Latin language, to construct an ideal beginning book in Latin; that it has required a historian in the country, who is in the first rank of research men, to produce the text-book of medieval history which guides the secondary school pupil through the intricacies of that period. You are perhaps unaware that in three cases University men have worked out text-books in the High School here that are as legitimate tests of their competency in their own fields as any work they could publish, and the converse of this is true, that men who were less competent could not have accomplished what they did for the child.

We are only just beginning to comprehend that truth is an organic whole, that, therefore, it has to be taken into account as a whole when we make use of it in the instruction of children.

We have attained the standpoint which recognizes the experience of the child as the field within which education of the child must take place. And the simple use of this pedagogical point of view has reached the limit of its reforming power. Unless I am very much mistaken, the great and important steps in development of our school-system in the immediate future are going to be taken by the scientifically trained men in our Universities reorganizing the curricula from the point of view of the truth which makes children as well as men free.

This is, then, what we have a right to demand of the University, because it harbors the Schools to which we send our children. We may ask for the cooperation of every department in the University that deals with that which our children are taught. And when we ask for the mint, anise, and cumin of administrative reform, let us not forget these weightier matters of the law.


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2