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STATE OF MICHIGAN,
Lansing, December 31, 1887.
Governor of the State of Michigan: SIR,—In compliance with the provisions of law, I have the honor herewith to transmit through you to the Legislature, the annual report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, together with the accompanying documents, for the year 1887.
Your obedient servant,
JOSEPH ESTABROOK, Superintendent of Public Instruction.
THE FUNCTION OF THE PUBLIC SCHOOL.
Some claim that it is the true province of the public school to prepare children for their special places in life, to train them to the application of their active powers to some industrial pursuit, and that the school is a failure so far as it falls short of attaining this end.
Others maintain that every child should be considered an end unto himself, rather than an instrument for producing some end outside of himself; and that, in his general education, the true aim should be so to direct his studies and exercises as to produce a harmonious and symmetrical development of all his faculties. This they hold is the legitimate work of the public schools, the immediate end to be sought in all the processes of disciplinary study.
If the former theory be correct, the work of the teacher is to communicate knowledge and train the pupils to some industrial occupation. If the latter, then the teacher's aim should be to train and discipline all the powers of the chiid with reference to what he may become.
Because of the prevalence of these two radically different opinions, and the plans of instruction that necessarily come from them, much is said on the one hand about the advantages of “a practical education,” and on the other of “a complete and harmonious training of the mind."
To settle this question it seems necessary to determine, if possible, what our public schools should attempt to accomplish for the children and youth. This will determine the subjects of study or occupations, and the general methods of school work.
If the fundamental aim of the public school is to prepare the children for some particular way of gaining a living, then exercises should be introduced into the schools which would train them for some special occupation. This would change very largely the character of the work of the common' schools. It would add to the system, professional and industrial elements. In changing the supreme end, the character of the public schools, would be changed. The work would be done with reference to supplying the wants of life. This would be a matter of private utility, in direct conflict with the idea of public utility, upon which the right to tax the people for the support of the public schools is based. All social institutions must be based on the idea of promoting the public good, and in the administration of the system, the good of the many must not be made subordinate to private ends.
But there is a common general education which should be preparatory to special professional or industrial skill, which will broaden the individual above the narrowing tendencies of any trade or occcupation, and prepare him for his special work, with a well disciplined mind, a strong and vigorous will and a manly spirit. And on this ground public educational institutions may be supported by a general tax, and may require all the children to receive their benefits. It should be the ultimate end of public instruction so to direct the attention of the pupils to themselves, to one another as social beings, and to loyalty to the State, that they will become true men, intelligent and virtuous citizens, and thus be prepared for all the duties of life, private and public. Let this solid foundation be established, and men will enter upon their various professions and trades with intelligence, and will pursue them with a conscientious regard for the highest good of all with whom they may be connected.
The spirit which one brings from the public school to his special occupation is of more value either to public or private utility than any amount of skill that can ever be acquired in the public schools. If the disciplinary schools succeed in making sensible men and women, such men and women will become sensible laborers in whatever occupation they may choose. Industrial, technical and professional schools offer the highest advantages of a special education after the preliminary work has been done.
Many such schools, the best that human wisdom and generosity can provide, are already established, and are made easily accessible to all who desire a technical course of instruction and training. But such institutions ought to require of those who ask for admission, a knowledge of the elementary facts of science, of the principles and laws which govern the use and construction of language, as well as some of the processes by which the mind passes from particular facts to general knowledge. They have a right to demand of those who apply for such instruction, such a training of their faculties as enables them to think accurately and behave with all the proprieties of well-ordered public and private life.
No fact is better known than that those whose minds have been trained to habits of careful observation, thorough analysis and correct reasoning, who have gained that power of self-control which enables them to concentrate their whole attention upon whatever they wish to do, will, in preparing for the special work of life, quickly outstrip others in what they seek to accomplish. General intelligence, thorough discipline and self-control constitute the true basis of success in the various industries of life. Hence, the most practical men are those who have the fullest and most symmetrical development of their faculties and powers. A true system of education should provide for the general cultivation of the individual, as a human being, before his active powers are turned to the pursuit of a trade or profession.
A citizen of a free commonwealth like ours, with a thousand varied industries open before him, can have no special place for which he must prepare, or to which he is to be appointed. The profession that he shall enter, or the calling that he shall pursue must be decided, not by any accidents of outward rank or condition, but by his fitness of mind and heart which is the product of his home and school training. When children enter the public schools the teachers have no means of knowing what particular instruction each must receive for his future occupation; and for this reason there seems to be the strongest reasons for directing public instruction towards that broad and general development of the individual that makes a true man, and thus prepares him to enter upon any pursuit to which his intelligence may fit him and inclinations incline him. After the powers have been sufficiently unfolded, after good habits have been established and the ability to acquire knowledge independently of the teacher's aid, from the study of things, and from communicating with other minds, has been attained; after the foundations of a true manhood have been laid by the proper disciplinary exercises of the public schools, then and not till then let the professional, technical and industrial schools open their doors and offer to all who desire it, the instruction required for the special business of life.
In our larger cities industrial schools may be established, where those who cannot be trained at home may have an opportunity afforded for acquiring practice in the use of tools. Technical schools ought to be organized in every State, in which pupils who have finished the disciplinary studies, may have the most ample opportunity for acquiring manual skill.
But our schools will fail of accomplishing their object, if they are burdened and confused by attempts to teach that which it is not necessary for all to know, or to give training which is not needful to all. The common schools are necessary for the perpetuity and prosperity of the State. The special schools are for the advantage and prosperity of the individual. The one should be open to all “without money and without price," and attendance upon them should be made compulsory, the other should offer their advantages to all who may desire them.