The Trouble with the Schools

The Trouble with the Schools could easily be the title of an editorial from my Sunday morning newspaper, which just happens to be the Winston-Salem Journal. Instead, it is taken from a 1908 letter to the editor of the Keowee Courier, which I have been reading to gather historical background for my first novel, Hattie’s Place. I’ll set up the scenario and then you tell me after reading the article if you agree. (Warning to all teachers and friends of public school education:  This editorial will surely raise your blood pressure, even if it was written over a hundred years ago.)

Background:  In 1909, W.H. Hand published a study entitled Report of School Conditions (in South Carolina). Professor Hand was a teacher at the University of South Carolina and the leader of the high school movement in the state. His study concluded that the schools were not meeting the needs of the students and should be reorganized for the following reasons:

  • State Per Pupil Expenditure–$4.50 per student in 1907, as compared to $6.90 in North Carolina, $8.10 in Mississippi, and $47.oo in New York. Teacher Salaries–$267. per year or $45.87 a month.
  • Teacher Preparation and Certification–Many teachers had only finished the common course in school before taking the examination for their certification; teacher certificates were sometimes passed out as favors; and, oftentimes during the examination, the people taking the test were allowed to discuss the answers among themselves.
  • Attendance–Many schools had to run on a $300 state allotment and were forced to shut down before the required 180 days were over.

Harvey Hand, “Our Schools,” Bulletin of the University of South Carolina, Nov.16, 1909 cited at http://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/bereah//History/history.htm

Editorial in the Keowee Courier

Mr. Editor:

The articles to your paper by Professor William Hand have interested me greatly, and I wish to say just a few words on the subject of “Who is responsible for the intelligency of the present system of public schools?” from the patron’s point of view.

I am delighted to note that the public mind has grasped the fact that the school system is failing universally to meet the requirements. When we recognize this as a fact we can surely arouse ourselves sufficiently to find a remedy. Like Prof. Hand. I place the responsibility with three classes, but my classification differs from his. The teachers, the trustees and the patrons of the schools are undeniably responsible for the failure of the educational efforts of to-day.

In the first place, teachers regard their duties and responsibilities with remarkable Indifference. They are content to do the least possible amount of work that the law permits, losing sight entirely of the blessed privilege of arousing the soul of the young to seek noble tillings. In nine cases out of ten, they enter schoolwork as a stepping-stone to another profession. Their ambitions, their hearts, their brains, and their energies are centered in that profession and schoolwork is a secondary consideration-except on payday.

The course of study is narrow and incomplete, because, we are told, there is time for no more, yet the fact remains that days still contain twenty-four hours, and that teachers work fewer of these hours than any class of people receiving like compensation. The old-fashioned essentials, reading, writing and spelling are omitted after the third and fourth grades, while geography, grammar, arithmetic and history are alternated a thing unheard of in good old times- all for want of time.

The pupils of the schools are Idle half their time- and this I believe accounts for the abnormal growth of crime among the young. In some places, they tell us boastfully, that children are required to study four hours out of school. How stupid a child must be to need four hours to prepare the three or four lessons a day expected of him.

If a child is the least bit difficult to control he is expelled; but the parents pay the tax and the teacher gets the pay. We need to copy our Western states in this particular, for out West a teacher who fails to control his pupils and finds expulsion necessary is dismissed as unfit for the work, and most properly so! If a child is tardy by the fraction of a minute he is sent home for the day- but the teacher gets the pay, though he is not always punctual himself. Now don’t you realize that if the teacher had to forfeit the pay for these absent pupils, he would find a more efficient way to punish tardiness?

It is quite true that high schools in many places are maintained at enormous cost to the tax-payers, and that pupils from these places go to colleges in great numbers, even when they must enter preparatory classes. It is true likewise that the parent patiently pays the college expenses and the high school taxes when he prefers to keep his boy at home. Why? Because if that boy was kept in the local high school until his head was white with age he would not be prepared for the freshman class of a first-class college. Not that the boy is stupid, but the high school curriculum is entirely lacking in the requirements of college courses. This is the reason parents do not support the high schools, and colleges have been forced to meet the urgent necessity by establishing preparatory classes.

Trustees are to blame because they accept the office without considering the responsibility, without interest in the work, and without being willing to give time and thought to lt. They employ teachers without making any special requirements of them. Five trustees ought to constitute a local board instead of three. To my mind, this is the most essential improvement needed in the present system. It would prevent unfairness in the administration of school affairs and keep the balance of power adjusted.

Last, but not least, the parent, or taxpayer, as you choose to call him, is to blame for submitting to things without a protest. If he paid his money each month, he would see that he got what he paid for. But taxes are indefinite-they cover a multitude of things-and education is free, so the enormous cost financially, morally and mentally is lost sight of. Hence, the average taxpayer sends to the school arranged for him, without much struggle against the combined forces.

Mrs. J. H. Adams.

Seneca, S. C.

 

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