A Heckling School Board and An Educational Stateswoman
The dramatic events in Chicago which culminated in the re-election of Ella Flagg Young, after she had withdrawn her name, were in part recounted in a recent number of THE SURVEY. Since that account was written Mayor Harrison has reappointed one member of the Board of Education whose resignation was placed in his hands at the time of his original appointment, and has appointed four new members.
At a stormy session of the board the action electing Mr. Shoop to the superintendency was reconsidered, and Mrs. Young was re-elected for the coming year.
The ousted members of the board threatened quo warranto proceedings to regain their seats, and the legality of the action by which the election of Mr. Shoop was set aside may be tested in court. These are matters, however, of less immediate interest than the factors which have been responsible for the events themselves.
Mrs. Young's first appointment to the superintendency dates back to August, 1909. While those members of the board who first elected Mrs. Young remained in the majority, there was a quiet in the affairs of the schools which was very noticeable, for during the superintendency of Edwin G. Cooley, who had preceded Mrs. Young, there had been almost continuous hostility between the then Teacher's Federation and the superintendent's office.
The city was greatly relieved and gratified by the cessation of this warfare. The city was still more gratified when it became evident that Mrs. Young maintained the authority of her office, and that such delicate questions as the marking of teachers and their promotions, and the still more difficult matter of the advance in their salaries, were being dealt with in a business like manner, in which the interests of the teachers and the limitations of the budget were fairly considered from both sides.
From that time the public turned its attention to other matters and was well satisfied to leave the conduct of its schools in the competent hands into which the Board of Education had entrusted it. It is known that that board supported Mrs. Young almost unanimously during their period of office. But Mayor Harrison's appointments to the board have gradually reconstructed the body, and last July there was a clear majority of his appointees. The present mayor of the city has on several occasions expressed publicly his approval of Mrs. Young's superintendency, and stated that he desired that the board should retain her as long as she was willing to remain.
It was known that Carter Harrison exacted from many of his appointees that they should place in his hands their undated resignations that he might remove them at will. The mayor's public support of Mrs. Young seemed therefore to ensure her position if she desired to remain. But last May the public heard from Mrs. Young that in the efforts to push through the acceptance of a certain spelling book, the agent of the publishers had threatened her with the loss of her place, because of her opposition to the book. The book had a vigorous backing in the board. The representative of organized labor on the board supported the text because it was printed by union labor.
Though the public never learned just what other interests were involved in the advocacy of this text book, there was no evidence produced to indicate that those who pushed it were influenced by corrupt motives. But it has become increasingly evident that the attitude of the present board has completely changed from that of the previous one. In place of loyal support, the system of "heckling" from which former superintendents had suffered seemed to be in operation. No one was therefore greatly surprised that in August Mrs. Young presented her resignation because of the attacks to which she had been subjected by members of the board.
These attacks, Mrs. Young stated, were due to her refusal to set aside the rules of the board itself to carry out requests of its members, and to her efforts to conduct the affairs of her office in the interest of the schools and the children. At this time there was a vigorous response from the city, especially from the women's organizations, actively demanding that Mrs. Young be retained and that the Board change its attitude towards her. In their demands they were supported by the papers and the public expression of the mayor. Mrs. Young withdrew her resignation and it was the understanding that she was to find the support which she needed and that the heckling was to cease.
Those who have followed the action of the board, however, know that the heckling has not ceased, that unnecessary tasks have been laid upon the superintendent, that there has been continued evidence of the hostility of those members whom Mrs. Young had earlier accused of opposing her. Finally came the dénouement already recounted in this journal. Members hostile to Mrs. Young placed blank ballots in the box to signify their disapproval of her and presumably to postpone an election long enough to keep her on tenterhooks.
It is not probable that Mrs. Young's action in withdrawing her name was anticipated by her opponents. But when she had given them this opening they sought to ensure her departure by placing another person in the superintendency.
Since this meeting have occurred the mass meeting in the Auditorium and the mayor's action in accepting the resignations of certain of Mrs. Young's opponents, and her re-election.
Naturally her opponents have sought to present some sort of case against her. The charges which have appeared have come back to accusations of autocratic conduct, of insistence upon an unpopular book in the instruction in English, of unfair criticism of certain teachers, of an unwise policy which her enemies say is prompted by partisan support of certain assistant superintendents and principals, of deliberate falsehood, and actual corrupt complicity with school book publishers in their efforts to put their books in the school. It is needless to say that no evidence has been adduced for the last charge — a glance at the other charges will convince any one at all familiar with our vast systems of city schools that no competent superintendent with ideas and sufficient force of character to maintain his position could fail to arouse just such criticism, no matter how tactful he might be, nor how determined to avoid unnecessary friction. Mrs. Young was a victim of a Board of Education which was unwill-
(444)-ing to give her support for which her ability and her unquestioned success called.
It has been the avowed policy of the mayor in making his appointments to the Board of Education to represent the different national groups in the city's population. One of the natural results of this policy is that these appointees conceive that they owe to those whom in some sense they represent some palpable evidence of their activity on the Board. The large size of the board — it has twenty-one members — lends itself to the formation of many committees whose reasons for existence must be found in fields where the superintendent should be supreme as long as she remains in office. Mrs. Young was the victim not so much of a particular board, as of a system which is bound to hamper and eventually displace, any competent educator. The freedom and confidence Mrs. Young enjoyed under the board which preceded this, was exceptional in the history of Chicago's public schools.
It was due to the unwavering support by that Board of Education that the superintendent was able to accomplish the remarkable results which stand to her credit before the city and before the country. I have already referred to the administrative ability with which she brought teachers, superintendent's office and board together, and in settling the long, rancorous fight regarding teachers' salaries and promotions. It is more difficult to indicate in a few words the changes she has brought about in all the curricula of the schools, by the introduction of different types of training, especially those of a motor sort, by the development of all phases of vocational training, by taking the first steps toward the introduction of vocational guidance, by introducing instruction in sex hygiene into the high schools, in organizing teachers' councils which should, as they develop, bring about a direct relationship of the teachers with the superintendent's office.
What Her Superintendency has Meant
During Mrs. Young's superintendency the Chicago public schools have faced about and come into active touch with the growing community at the most important points at which the schools and the community should directly co-operate.
The limitation of the school funds in Chicago forbids expensive and wide-reaching changes; yet the technical high schools have not only perfected their technical work, but have enormously widened their vocational field. They have taken classes of retarded children of the sixth, seventh and eighth elementary grades, and held them in school beyond the compulsory period by the attractiveness of the school work. In sixteen or eighteen elementary schools industrial courses in the upper grades, in which only half the time is given to academic subjects, have been introduced with striking results, both in awakening backward pupils and in holding children in school beyond the fourteen year period, and even in passing them on to high schools. Carpenters, masons, and electrical apprentices have regular instruction in the technical high schools, not only in academic subjects, but also in their own callings.
The night schools have developed both in giving pupils who had not graduated from the elementary school an opportunity to complete their course, but also in giving older children and adults the sort of instruction they need to meet their immediate concrete problems. This year there have been opened three night high schools. The two year vocational courses in the high schools have improved, especially the commercial training. This was an improvement needed no only for the effectiveness of school training in this department, but especially important in a city where so vast a force of clerical employees is found. The school board has allowed the vocational guidance work already commenced, largely through the activity of women's clubs, to be carried on through the superintendent's office, and Mrs. Young has asked for an appropriation of ten thousand dollars for pushing this work next year. The lectures given by picked men and women physicians to the high school children on sex hygiene have not only been most successful, but have met a very sympathetic response from parents.
In the meantime, continued work in reform and reconstruction of the so-called academic subjects has been going on through the work of effective committees of teachers and principals throughout the system. The schools in the Juvenile Detention Home, the open air rooms for tuberculosis children, the great development of the work with defective children, the improvement of medical inspection and steady advance in physical care of the children, are but indications of the rapid changes which have been going on in the schools under Mrs. Young's leadership and direction.
It is not too much to say that the superintendent of schools has proved herself an educational stateswoman. Nor can we believe that if the sober intelligence of the city were allowed to express itself it would ever permit her to lay down her task while she continues to have the vigour and health which the office demands. Beyond the preservation of Mrs. Young at this critical period of growth of the school system, the great issue emphasized by this series of events is the inadequacy of Chicago's form of school control. With such a large appointive board it was, in the present form of city politics, a remarkable stroke of luck that produced a board that was willing to select a competent head for the schools, and to support her loyally in her work. The Board of Education, as at present constituted, cannot normally fulfill this function.
There are two alternatives: a small board either appointed by a non-partisan mayor or else elected by the city by non-partisan ballot.
It is the belief for the writer that the latter is the more satisfactory alternative, because the profound social problems with which the schools are more and more involved, should not be settled without popular discussion, and the identification of the members of the board with certain general policies.
In any case the present system has received a striking condemnation in the threatened sacrifice of one of Chicago's greatest and most competent servants.