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Needed reform in
tire system of education theoretically seems to be nearly perfect, practically it does not meet the real needs of the great majority of our young people. The training offered in our educational institutions practically leads only to the professions, and as a result too small school a number of our young people pass even through the public curriculum. schools. We find that of a stated number of students entering the public schools in the first grade nearly fifty per cent of them have disappeared by the time that group has reached the eighth grade, and when the same group has finally arrived at the twelfth grade we find only about ten per cent of the original number still in attendance. This leads us to the conclusion that there should be a reform in the curriculum of the public schools, and that said public schools shall be made to meet more nearly the problems of actual life as they are.
The foregoing discussion of the school system of Michigan makes it clear to my mind that the establishment of a proper course of study with work for the first eight grades of the public schools is at the basis of all public education. The work of our secondary schools, or the graded and city schools, is not closely related to the life of rural communities, and the problem of adjusting the courses of study and the instructors for these schools has so nearly been solved that it is unnecessary to discuss the subject at great length.
The only real school problem in Michigan at the present time is the rural school problem, and this subject has been discussed by all my predecessors from various standpoints. In the light of the increased attention given public schools and the investigations that have been instituted, it is my desire to contribute to the solution of this great problem.
At the outset the people in Michigan were thinly scattered over the lower part of the State. They were poor and the support the rural of public education was limited. Michigan inherited practically
problem. the New York district system and the necessities of the case caused the construction of small, one-room school buildings, and these were furnished and equipped to give instruction in a limited number of subjects and on a very narrow scale. The subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic covered nearly the whole course. The increase of population and the increase of wealth caused the number of these schools to increase while their character remained nearly the same, and it is only in very recent years that the course of study now pursued has been practically followed in all the rural schools. The introduction of such subjects as language, history, civics, physiology, drawing, nature study, has been slowly accomplished, and at the present time the course of study covers many subjects, and yet the equipment of the room and the number of teachers employed has remained about the same as in former times. Very few school buildings have even yet been erected having more than one room, and practically none have been constructed with basements which may be finished off for workshops, kitchen and play-room use. The plot of ground selected as the school site has not averaged over one-half an acre, and thus the means for observation work in nature study and for experimental work in agriculture which is now being talked about has not been possible. Because of all these things and
because of the pressure now being brought to bear upon the rural schools in the way of increasing the course of study by the introduction of some forms of manual training and a study of agriculture, and because of the construction of our buildings and the training of our teachers, I repeat the state ment that the real school problem before the people of Michigan today is the rural school problem.
Various remedies have been suggested from time to time, and
most prominent among those of recent times is the consolidation The solution.
“of school districts, which means the increase of the taxing area
set apart for the purpose of a single school or for a group of people in a particular community. This remedy to my mind is one of the best. But the simple increase of area in the school district will not solve the problem; there must come with it a complete reformation and reconstruction of our school buildings and grounds, also the production of an adequate, trained teaching force. These will come, I believe, with the township unit district, which means, each township to constitute one district, with one board of education, a central high school with twelve grades, as many primary schools as are needed at properly located points in the township, expert supervision, and better school conditions.
The subject of consolidation of school districts has been agitated now for several years and some very decided results have already been secured. Enough has been done to establish beyond cavil the idea that increasing the size of the school district even to the point when transportation of pupils is necessary and the construction of a modern, well equipped building and the employment of an adequate teaching force will produce something like the educational results that our people desire.
As mentioned in the report of my predecessor, the consolidated school at the village of Martin, the consolidation by legislation in Charlevoix county, the consolidation of schools in Genesee county at Grand Blanc and Mt. Morris, at Comstock in Kalamazoo county, and in a large number of other places where consolidations have taken place with and without transportation of pupils, has given an object lesson which may be studied by our people without great difficulty, and I find that the subject is receiving an increasing amount of attention by people in various parts of the state. People in certain parts of Isabella county, Kent county, Berrien county, St. Joseph county, are giving the matter very serious attention, and doubtless results will be seen in the very near future. It is not necessary at this point to give statistics in regard to these places, but the school authorities there will be pleased to give information to anyone who may desire it.
The consolidation of districts in isolated instances is of some value, but if we are to get adequate results the consolidation should go far enough to rearrange the entire township in which they are located. In the township of Orleans in Ionia county there are ten school districts with something over 350 pupils on the school census. Of this number ninety are between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, or high school age, and out of these ninety
only forty are attending high school. The others are either purSpecial
suing an indifferent course in their own rural schools or not atconditions. tending a school at all. This condition of things in Orleans
township is simply a type, and the most pitiable part of it is that while the parents of the forty are able to send their children away from
home to school, the lack of ability on the part of the parents of the other fifty, who are equally bright and should have equal privileges, closes the door of opportunity to them. And thus, while the theory of our public educational system is that every boy and girl may go by successive steps through the rural schools and higher institutions of learning, the practical working out of the system fails entirely to meet this theory.
The course of study as pursued in our rural schools is practically identical with the course pursued in the lower grades of the graded schools, and this course of study points almost solely to the professional side of life and not to the solution of the everyday bread and butter problem. Thus the boys and girls who are enabled to secure only such education as the rural school affords, practically go out with the ability merely to read and write.
Public education should be suited, so far as possible, to the conditions of the people and to their future aspirations, and while it is a laudable ambition for every boy and girl to plan to take a college or university course, this should in no way prevent the securing of practical training in the problems of their own neighborhood as a foundation for such advanced work. That is to say, the rural school should teach the academic subjects and to them there should be added instruction in musie, drawing, manual training, domestic science and agriculture. These latter subjects cannot be classed as academic because they deal with the practical problems of life. A knowledge of the use of tools is a valuable asset for any and every boy. A knowledge of housekeeping and home economy is equally valuable for every girl, and a knowledge of agriculture, that is, the study and practice in the management and use of soils, crops, machinery, fertilizers, together with their relation to the commercial world, is bound to prove valuable to both young men and women.
The present arrangement of our rural schools makes it impossible to give all this instruction. The present course of study provides for full eight grades with an average of four subjects in each. Thus the teacher of the ordinary rural school is bound to have from twenty-four to thirty classes per day. At the same time she is the superintendent of schools, ihe kindergarten teacher, and too often the janitor and the truant officer, and with all these problems before her and with the Limitations. very short time she can possibly give to each subject, the children leave the school at the close of the eight grades with simply a smattering of the subjects presented. Instead of opportunity for thorough drill and practice, absolutely no time can be given to these things.
The problem of securing trained teachers, that is, persons who are skillful in their work, for the rural schools is being slowly solved in Michigan by the establishment of county normal training classes and special courses in our State normal schools. It remains, therefore, for the people to so adjust their schools that the teacher shall be given an opportunity to do what is best for the welfare of the children now and hereafter. The course of study pursued should be preparatory for higher education and at the same time should include the practical instruction herein mentioned.
I repeat that the present organization of the rural schools absolutely precludes the accomplishment of the thing that our people all desire. Therefore, one remedy is first-Unite small school districts
Rearrangeor consolidate them, and instead of one-room buildings, the con- ment on struction of two or three-room buildings with basement under township the entire building and the putting together into one school basis. of the children who now are found in three or more separate schools. Second-Readjust the course of study. Third--Introduce such apparatus, tools and materials as is necessary to give instruction in branches not now included in our course of study. This plan will increase the efficiency of the teaching force by providing a community of interests and opportunity for consultation and advice, and by creating the spirit of emulation among the young people.
Referring again to the township of Orleans, the remedy for the conditions now existing there, it seems to me, is to unite all the territory of that township into one school district, and establish at or near the center of the township, a school for the lower grades and also a high school for the instruction of all children above the sixth grade, and construct an adequate building. Then discontinue the use of all of the present school buildings except four, which are conveniently located towards the corners of the township, and in these the instruction of the younger children, or those below the sixth grade, could be given by one teacher, and these pupils when they have passed the sixth grade would go to the central school. This plan would reduce the problem of transportation to the minimum, and through consolidation, not simply of territory but of the interest of the people and of the product of taxation, the people of that township could accomplish the thorough, practical training of all the children of the township almost at their own door.
The discussion thus far has related to the consolidation of two, three, or four districts, as may be most convenient, and the establishment of at least two-room schools in the place of the present one-room school. This is an age of centralization, an age of economy and of the solution of economic problems. In the schools as at present organized the reports from the several school districts of the State prove conclusively that we are extravagant in the following items: (a) The child's time; (b) the administration of school affairs; (c) the expense connected therewith.
Under the first item, or the child's time, I call attention to the Economy following points: We teach arithmetic for nine years, language
and grammar for six years, geography for five years, history child's time.
three years, and other subjects accordingly. This is an extravagant waste of time of the child. Teachers are continually complaining that they have not time enough to teach the various subjects, while the main trouble is that they use too much time in teaching. Yet the teacher herself cannot be blamed because our courses of study have been practically machine made all these years. All of arithmetic can be learned, and learned well, in the years from the seventh to the ninth grades. All of geography that is really essential and that needs to be learned from books can be secured in a half year. All of the technical grammar that is really essential, either for actual life or for advanced work, can be secured in a year, if the work is introduced at the proper time. What the child needs is to learn to speak and write the English language, and he will get this ability by speaking and writing, not through the study of technical construction.
The first reform, therefore, in connection with the larger consolidation of our schools is a consolidation of our course of study, thus giving ample
time to introduce before the high school the foundational work Reform necessary in manual training, domestic science, agriculture,
nature study, that will meet the needs of the individual should his educational opportunities be limited, and which will give him a proper foundation for the continuation of this work as well as the academic work of the high school and college.
Under the second head, or administration, we have in the average township ten school districts, each having a board of Adminiseducation of three members, thus making thirty men essential tration. to the management of ten schools. Every business man knows that this is an absolute waste of administrative powers. Under the statute school officers are given the power to look after the business affairs of the district, and if instead of having thirty men to care for ten schools, the people of the township could indicate and select five men, it would increase the efficiency of the administration many fold.
The third item, or expense, is one where the greatest study along the line of economy is needed. The administration as Economy indicated above is unwieldly and expensive. Every school of- of expense. ficer should be paid something for his services, and if we suppose that they are paid even a small amount the compensation given to thirty men in a township will not adequately pay any of them for the time he must necessarily use, and yet if the same amount of money could be used in paying one or two executive officers of a board of five we would have secured the maximum of efficiency at the minimum of expense.
To provide apparatus such as maps, globes, dictionaries, libraries, stoves and other material for ten schools in a township where only five schools are needed, and when five would produce much better educational results, is an absolute waste of money. The amount of money that has been used by the school officers in the purchase of useless charts and apparatus, in the purchase of fuel which has been allowed to go to waste, in improper construction or improper repairs of school property, and particularly in the employment of unskilled and untrained teachers, amounts to an immense sum. Close estimates show that the amount of money expended for these items and wasted during a year amounts to nearly a million dollars in the State of Michigan.
My plea, then, is for absolute economy in the time of the children, in the matter of administration of the schools, and par- Economy of ticularly in the expense connected therewith. A careful study buildings. of these conditions will lead the student to the clear conclusion that instead of thirty officers in a township there should not be more than five. In the place of ten school buildings there should not be more than five. In the arrangement of the course of study we should secure the broadest possible course that will give us the maximum result. This conclusion will lead us, first, to the consolidation of the schools of each township into one school district, the election in each township of one school board, the organization in each township of not more than five primary schools and not less than one high school.
I have not exaggerated in any of these statements and I call the attention of the people of the state to these matters because in my judgment it is high time that the grange, the farmers' clubs and the school officers' organizations should take hold of this problem of the readjustment of the rural schools with a firm hand, with clear and definite aims in mind and with a resolute purpose to solve the greatest school problem of our age, the rural school problem, in a manner that shall bring to the children of the present generation the greatest and best possible preparation for those duties of life which they will be called upon to discharge in the next gener