(Obviously, neglected the blog to do, you know, actual work. I’ll try to post a little over the Christmas Break.)
I was on hold for about 70 minutes, trying to get through to a government bureaucrat, and so I started reading what was handy – the 1893 Report of the Committee of 10, established by the National Education Association to investigate and make recommendations about high school education in America.
Yet again, I read this stuff so you don’t have to.
(Aside: I had purchased for 99 cents the Kindle version of some best selling SciFi adventure novel by some guy who has sold millions of books, who I’d never heard of. I got maybe 4 chapters in, during which we have an epic event, a dangerous negotiation, a romantic conflict, and a helicopter landing on the balcony of a Third-World dictator’s palace during the middle of a formal state dinner to sweep our protagonist away for a super secret government mission – and I couldn’t take it, opened the Report mentioned above, and – yep, I actually enjoy reading the bureaucratic effluvia of late 19th century ‘educators’ more than popular, over the top, thrill a minute SciFi. But I’m guessing YOU wouldn’t.)
in 1892, the NEA proposed to determine how best to standardize high school education, and set up a Committee to look into it. I’m next putting up some lists – it pays to think about the people involved (and not involved), the subjects they were interested in (and those they weren’t) and the questions they asked.
For example, Charles William Eliot, the Chairman of the Committee of 10, was responsible for turning Harvard into a modern research university, after the model developed by Fichte and von Humboldt and embodied in the University of Berlin. To recap: Harvard was founded by Puritan fanatics who came to America explicitly to establish a Calvinist theocracy. Harvard was their seminary, expected to churn out both religious and political leaders, insofar as those two roles were distinct. By around 1800, Unitarians had taken over. Over the course of the 19th century, even a Unitarian’s feeble grasp of religion had failed, and Harvard was effectively run by the then-current version of ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd.
The original purpose of Harvard, however, never faltered: to produce righteous leaders, presumed to superior to all others, to enforce their theocracy upon the land. Fichte certainly believed this as well, with his program to simply seize all children so that they could be educated properly by the state outside the baleful influence of family, community, and church. So he can be assumed, I think, to have bought what the Prussians were selling.
My man William Torey Harris is there. As the US Commissioner of Education and the publisher and editor of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, he pushed Hegelianism as the only proper philosophy. “Its contributors promoted Hegel’s concept of time and events as part of a universal plan, a working out of an eternal historical dialectic.” He has elsewhere expressed his ideas of what constitutes an ideal high school education:
The secondary education takes up human learning and continues it along the same lines, namely : 1, inorganic nature; 2, organic nature; 3, literature (the heart); 4, grammar and logic (the intellect); and 5, history (the will). Algebra deals with general numbers, while Arithmetic has definite numbers to operate with. Geometry and physics continue inorganic nature, while natural history continues the study already commenced in geography. Then come Greek and Latin, and here is opened up a great field of study into the embryology of our civilization. In the dead language* we have the three great threads running through the history of human progress. The Greek, with its literature and aesthetic art and its philosophy, showing the higher forms of human freedom in contrast with the Egyptian, which showed only the struggle for freedom and never the man separated from the animal and the inorganic world. The Roman, with the continual gaze upon the will of man, seeks the true forms of contracts and treaties and corporations, whereby one man may combine with another, and it essays the conquering of men and reducing them to obedience to civil law, not only external conquest but internal conquest as well. The Hebrew thread is the religious one, which we recognize in the celebration of worship one day each week and in the various holy days. We acknowledge this the most essential thread of our civilization. So, with the secondary education we begin to get the embryology of our forms of life.Harris, the Philosophy of Education
Harris championed both a blank slate theory of education and confidence that the traditional approach unconsciously reflects the will of the Spirit as it unfolds itself in History. Thus, every single child gets the same education at the the same speed, with the goal that, while their individuality is subsumed in the synthesis of their interests and the community’s interests, they regain some agency as properly trained Hegelians moving the world forward on the right side of History. Something like that.
And so on.
Here is that Committee, per Wikipedia:
The committee was largely composed of representatives of higher education.
- Charles William Eliot, President of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts Chairman
- William T. Harris, Commissioner of Education, Washington, D.C.
- James B. Angell, President of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
- John Tetlow, Head Master of the Girls’ High School, Boston, Massachusetts
- James M. Taylor, President of Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York
- Oscar D. Robinson, Principal of the High School, Albany, New York
- James H. Baker, President of the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
- Richard Henry Jesse, President of the University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri
- James C. Mackenzie, Head Master of the Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, New Jersey
- Henry Churchill King, Professor in Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio
These people then set up 9 subcommittees, called Conferences, to look into each of the 9 subjects or areas that the Committee of 10 thought important:
- Other Modern Languages;
- Physics, Astronomy, and Chemistry;
- Natural History (Biology, including Botany, Zoology, and Physiology)
- History, Civil Government, and Political Economy;
- Geography (Physical Geography, Geology, and Meteorology) .
The councils were to answer 11 questions:
- In the school course of study extending approximately from the age of six years to eighteen years —a course including the periods of both elementary and secondary instruction —at what age should the study which is the subject of the Conference be first introduced?
- After it is introduced, how many hours a week for how many years should be devoted to it?
- How many hours a week for how many years should be devoted to it during the last four years of the complete course ; that is, during the ordinary high school period ?
- What topics, or parts, of the subject may reasonably be covered during the whole course?
- What topics, or parts, of the subject may best be reserved for the last four years?
- In what form and to what extent should the subject enter into college requirements for admission ? Such questions as the sufficiency of translation at sight as a test of knowledge of a language, or the superiority of a laboratory examination in a scientific subject to a written examination on a text-book, are intended to be suggested under this head by the phrase “in what form.”
- Should the subject be treated differently for pupils who are going to college, for those who are going to a scientific school, and for those who, presumably, are going to neither?
- At what stage should this differentiation begin, if any be recommended ?
- Can any description be given of the best method of teaching this subject throughout the school course ?
- Can any description be given of the best mode of testing attainments in this subject at college admission examinations
- For those cases in which colleges and universities permit a division of the admission examination into a preliminary and a final examination, separated by at least a year, can the best limit between the preliminary and final examinations be approximately defined?
I got through the abstract or summary and am now working on the reports from the individual Conferences. Interesting stuff so far:
- The summary goes to great length to emphasize their surprise and delight at the near-unanimity of the Conferences in their recommendations. The lady doth protest too much – you mean, your hand-selected Committee’s hand-selected Conferences are all singing from the same hymnal? Shocking!
- The Conferences unanimously agreed that no consideration should be given to whether a student intended to go on to college or a ‘scientific’ school – train them all the same. Blank slate thinking. Specialty schools, such as law, medicine, and engineering schools, are weirdly dismissed in the sense that it seems it was beneath the dignity of the Committee to show any interest in what such schools might want in high school graduates.
- The Committee sent out a questionnaire to 200 high schools, asking about curriculum. They got 40 responses. Think about that – the NEA sets up a committee headed by the President of Harvard. This committee selects 200 high schools to survey – out of how many thousands of high schools in America? And 80% of those selected high schools blow them off. So, in 1892, how much weight did the NEA and the president of Harvard actually carry among ‘educators’?
- The Committee proposed not one, but 4 courses of study: The Classical Model, the Latin-Scientific, the Modern Languages, and the English.
- In order to do any of this, a lot more needed to be expected of grade schools. Latin, for example, should ideally start around 6th grade, and Greek one grade later. The Committee ends up recommending reform of the entire K-12 enterprise.
- To pull any of this off, the Committee recognizes the need for many more, and much better trained, teachers. Huh, imagine that. This is an implicit criticism of and an attack on Catholic schools and one-room schools, none of which had the resources to do this sort of education even if they wanted to. But starting with this report, some diocese tried, leading to elite Catholic high schools in several cities. But the model of religious sisters from the Old Country sacrificing to teach immigrant children – the foundation of all parish schools – meant that kids were being trained by the wrong teachers: ones who had not been processed through the Normal Schools beloved by the NEA and the US Commission of Education.
And a bunch more stuff! The Committee noted that while work remained to be done, there were plenty of high schools in America that achieved, or nearly achieved, the goals the Committee laid out. Think about that, and weep: these schools turned out high school grads who were competent in AT LEAST Latin and Greek, had AT LEAST a good start in German and French, were well read in the Classics, and knew how to write decent English. AND colleges expected their applicants to demonstrate competence in these areas to gain admittance. How many of our current Masters and PhD holders have this level of education? Dumbing us down hardly covers it.
I’ll try to do a more thorough analysis once I get through all the individual Conferences reports. The Committee of 10 was hugely influential, and its ideas on a uniform, super-high quality education for every kid were used to beat down the opposition – until Dewey’s kinder, gentler, commie-revolutionary- producing model took over, producing the angry, ignorant mediocracies with which we are all familiar.