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The High School's Place in Education



By A. A. Thomas

     From our point of view, one of the greatest teachers that ever lived was Dr. Alexander Adam, Rector or Principal of the High School of Edinburgh. He came of that peasantry which is the wonder and glory of Scotland, and because it knows how to mingle poverty with ambition, high character, and high culture. Such features of that peoples’ life we can never understand until we get at them in biography. Dr. Adam records, that when a boy, "from the noise in the family apartment in the evening, his chief time of study was in the early morning, when his mother arose to spin with her maids by the light of bituminous fir procured from peat mosses." At school he lived on four-pence a day; and while there his parish minister, who had made his education possible, wrote him,--"Never forget your aim must be not to read much but to understand well."
There is difficulty in stating just when the High School of Edinburgh began; but Greek was introduced into its curriculum in 1534. The school for centuries was governed (as our is) by the town council of that city. If anyone wants to rightly know the High School’s place in education, let him read the life of Dr. Adam, who was not and "educator," but a teacher; and read the history of this institution. Born in 1741, he was, for forty years, its Principal. We have found out much if we learn what he taught and how he taught it. There were no good text books in those days. Dr. Adam made them; and his Latin Grammar and Roman Antiquities became and long remained standards. Before the end of his life, it was truly said, the sun never set upon hi pupils. One day he fell prostrate in the school-room before his scholars; when carried home, in his delirium he continued the recitation, and just before he died, he stopped, and said: "It grows dark, boys; you may go." We have no time to speak of the distinguished men who, as boys, sat before him on the school forms. Walter Scott was his idle and inattentive pupil; but among old Dr. Adam’s papers in the round boyish hand of Walter Scott, when twelve years old, was this school exercise. Was there ever a more beautiful child’s composition?


Those evening clouds, that setting ray,
An beauteous tints serve to display
Their great Creator’s praise;
Then let the short liv’d thing call’d man
Whose life’s compris’d within a span,
To him his homage raise;
We often praise the evening clouds,
And tints so gay, and bold,
But seldom think upon our God,
When ting’d these clouds with gold.

     Among the school boys then in Edinburgh was Robert Hamilton Bishop. His father could not long send any of his seventeen children to school; but this son, while yet a shepherd boy, wandered into the recitation room of the Edinburgh University and asked of Professors Finlayson and Dugald Stewart, "what were the lowest terms on which they would permit him to attend recitations." A little touch of their kindness then kept him from becoming a private in the British Army; and later on, a chance meeting on the street with Dr. Mason of America, who was hunting teachers for this country, brought him to the Miami Valley and made him the first President of Miami University. Here he became what Dr. Sprague in the Annals of the American Pulpit says was " the greatest educational influence of his generation in the West." He made this record in spite of the want of that training that our common and high school education ought to give; for he seemed to surpass all his colleagues in scholarly enthusiasm and in the faculty for teaching. These things, in a high degree, he kindled in those about him and passed on to his successors. He taught the teachers of many who have had most influence on this High School in the past. He gave them that peculiar gift, by questions alone, of inducing a pupil to first discover and then correct his own mistakes. This avoids correction and statement by the teacher, which does not, in the words of Dr. Bishop, "excite the pupil’s mind."
     Here, now, and again briefly, I must violate the caution of my preceptress, our President, to whom we are all indebted. That admonition was for me not to be reminiscent tonight. One day, when whipped and discouraged, leaving my listless and inattentive class in this Central High School, I went down stairs to the Principal, Mr. William Smith. He followed me back and gave the class a mute and long look of rebuke and surprise. Then, without a word, he took an open book from a pupil, and, by motion, called upon her to construe, which she did with imperfections and blunders enough. Then, with his finger, and without a word, he called up another and better pupil to correct the mistakes. This he did until the whole recitation was drilled into the minds of all; and, without his once opening his lips. Then, going to the door, he bowed himself out, amid the acclamation of the whole class, who recognized, with me, the achievement of the transaction. Now that faculty William Smith got from Prof. R. H. Bishop, Jr., of Miami University, who was taught it by his father, Dr. Robert H. Bishops, who learned it from these Scotch teachers with Dr. Adam.
     In vacation times, the custom of Dr. Bishop was to take long horseback rides, without destination, stopping wherever people were gathered together. He knew what he was searching for. One night,--it was in the 1829,--in an attic bedroom of a farm house on the banks of the Miami River, near Jersey Church, opposite Franklin in Warren County, he found my father, then an unknown boy seventeen years old, eager to learn but unable to proceed. I have my father’s letter describing that interview. "My head," he writes, "spun like a top when Dr. Bishop at last said, ‘Come, and I will engage in some way to find means to enable you to stay." Stay he did for five years, all that time doing his own cooking. Sometimes he was hungry when there was nothing to cook; and then he said he remembered the text,--"Blessed are ye that hunger now. But when this boy went to Oxford, what did they offer him? Options, manual labor, talks about nature, French and bookkeeping? No. They offered him what this High School for fifty years has offered with free hand to Dayton’s youth, an education, and such as I am endeavoring to specify and describe.
     The High Schools in this country are all much alike, and unconsciously too, they are in scope and purpose, if not in accomplishment, very like their Scotch prototype, To the task of making such a school there are brought to you already solved, many of the problems and difficulties which beset other institutions. The classes here come evenly prepared, as they do not to most colleges, having completed a uniform course of study about which there is no disagreement, and to begin a new one about which there ought to be little disagreement. Should there to be "co-education of the sexes?" Our High Schools have settled that beyond a quibble. Here scholars have the inestimable advantage that they may remain at home when they yet need parental oversight. I am told by these who ought to know, that at Yale, on the arriving freshmen temptation calls and presents her card. Must religious instruction accompany education? Yes; but here the scholars get that at home and in their own churches.
     What, then should be this High School’s place in education? I believe it should be in the future just what it has been in the past; and what is wanted is to do the same work better and not to do a different work. It has generally been well done, and we all know, has been bad in spots. It has often been admirably done. Mr. Robert Steele used to show that this High School was the outgrowth and legal successor of the Dayton Academy, which was chartered by our pioneer citizens in 1808. In 1820, its new building was erected, where the old High School stands, and adapted to the Lancasterian method, that was then supposed to be about to revolutionize education. They had cabalistics, and white sand and sticks, and other paraphernalia of educational revolutions. That was a bright day for true education in Dayton when E. E. Barney took charge of this Academy, as early as 1833. I suppose his instruction gave us Mrs. Harriet N. Stevens, the best teacher I ever knew connected with this institution. It would be impolite to mention the worst, but it’s not impolite to mention the best. Education may lament the day when E. E. Barney abandoned her pursuits for the activities of business.
     Mathematics, then, where Algebra begins; the languages, and preferably the classics; also one other daily branch varying with the advance, make the work the High School should undertake to do. If modern languages are taken would you omit classics? To one having four good years of study ahead, what folly to study French, and by preference be ignorant of Latin! Shall these and other studies be made optional as the fashion of the day advocates? In mercy, not; let there be a minimum of options in education to girl or boy under seventeen years old. Would you teach "Domestic Science" as they do in the new Chicago University,--the plain name for which branch is house-keeping? No; there are ladies at home who have good positions but no salary, who can do that better. Book-keeping is wanted by all business men; would you teach that? No. Mr. Wilt, later on can do this well, and there is reason for confidence that you would but give a smatter of it. Music? Yes, as a diversion, but not to make experts. Manual labor? No. "Well," a better portion of this audience may be ready to explain,--"one thing is plain, sir, you were born too soon or have lived a little too late; you will never reach the higher levels."
     In prescribing the work to be done in this institution, we have the teachings of tradition elsewhere and here, and the experience and results obtained in other cities. The proposed experiments may be found in high favor now in large cities, it is true; but they are new. Experience would lead us to expect they will never live to be old. The best High Schools elsewhere,--which like this, have sustained themselves for more than one generation,--did not begin in or maintain any radical change in their course of study. The ideas of Pestalozzi and Froebel, it is true, revolutionized primary teaching; but is there any reason to expect their procedures to be successfully applicable to high grades? Novelties in higher education are shams. In teaching there is no more novelty than there is in love-making. "The same old story must be told again," but may we not relay on its being interesting enough when new and well told. In High School teaching what then is needed? I will repeat, for there is need of repetition.—(1) wide and accurate information about the thing taught; (2) scholarly enthusiasm, and (3) skill in instruction. What well-known, obscure and intangible thing is this faculty or skill in imparting knowledge? The pupil recognizes it quickly indeed, but would fail in trying to describe what it is. How ineffectual my essay to give any appreciation at all of the technical skill of the late Professor William Smith.
     The city of Dayton has provided liberally enough; and you have the right to demand here not a wider scope but greater thoroughness in the narrower one which is maintained; and to demand in High School teachers all the accomplishments named, and each in a high degree. With the better opportunities of higher instruction given in this country, such teachers are now obtainable if they were not once.
     My own teaching here, for a brief period, was a failure from an inexcusable want of thorough and accurate knowledge of the thing taught. But some little touches of success are pleasant to remember.
     Fifteen years after leaving the class-room, one hot midnight, at -----, Ohio, I went to the Western Union office to send a telegram. The transaction done, the telegraph operator looked up and said, "You don’t know me?" "No." "My name is -------- --------. I was in your High School class." I recalled him as the poorest scholar of his class, from whom scarce a ray of intelligence had come in a year’s time. "Don’t you remember telling us never to read a book without buying it, nor to buy one without reading it, and to always keep one on hand unread?" "I have forgotten it." "Well, I did not. Come up stairs and see my books." There I went with him and saw a large collection of cheaply bound and choice volumes. "I have never been able to marry," he said, "I live in this old barrack of a building, but that library had been the delight of my life."
     In Caesar, we would construe and do the day’s lesson, but then I would read to them ahead and from the advance chapters of the Gallic War. One afternoon I noticed, as the class dispersed, no pupil went out to recess, but all gathered, intent, and in little groups, in the rear of the school-room, while some of the better scholars picked out aloud the continuing narrative, to get the event of the story. And well they might; for all Gaul was aflame. The legion and a half, - 10,000 men, - under Titurius and Cotta, acting on advice of the enemy, had been utterly destroyed. Roused from the security of his isolated winter quarters, Caesar, bare-headed and mounted bare-back, was riding along the ranks of his legionaries, urging them to the most of human endurance and speed across morasses and trackless forests to relieve the legion under Quintas Cicero among the Nervii, besieged and in such extremity as seldom confronted Roman arms. Making beacon fires by night and smokes by day, they held out; and because, the record says, across the impossibilities of obstruction and distance "’they knew he would come.’"
     Would you hold examinations in the High School? What’s the use? The examinations for its entrance are essential; but they will have any value only so long as you reject incompetent applicants. Are not incompetent students to be expelled from a good institution if they do not keep up? By no means. Examinations do not teach the pupil anything; they take much time; the real standing of a scholar all his class know and the teacher, too, by the examination of each day’s recitation; and the attempt to apply mathematical exactness to such standing is unjust when there is no exactness about it. But then your teaching will not produce uniform results. Of course not, The Lord does not perform uniform results in the material he sends into the schools, and you will not, when you have done your work upon it. Enough is accomplished when you have given an opportunity to aspiration, removed difficulties, opened the vista of knowledge and lured the way. Sometimes we do see a man make all his progress in later life; and in such cases I am inclined to blame his teacher. Take the late Mr. George L. Phillips, for example, who got almost nothing in three years in this High School There was intelligence, and ambition, and strength, and capacity for work galore; why could not the High School instructor touch or arouse any of this? Now let us be reminded that you cannot teach by impact. Parent, pupil and teacher may maintain a triangular case of self-deception, if they want to; but there is no mental progress possible in any study except to the extent that interest is aroused on the subject. "To simplify and repeat" is the teacher’s art; to simplify is easy, but the repetition must be had without weariness or the stake is lost. And here the wide knowledge Is needed, not for information, but for illumination. So the teacher should be able to make and should make his own text books, not to displace the text book of the pupil, but to illustrate it. Is geography dry? That depends upon who teaches it. Is northwestern Ohio a dreary waste? That depends upon what you know about it. Will a boy remember the counties of Paulding, Williams and Van Wert,--and all the other counties in Ohio, for that matter, if you tell him the history of the men after whom they are named? An English writer once said that Canada was a country without a history. Forsooth? So it was until its story was dug out of innumerable biographies, and told. And what a story? Exhibiting enterprise, adventure, devotion and self-sacrifice in a contest for the future possession of this continent by conflicting civilizations. How would you like to study American Geography under Francis Parkham, while he, if the Superintendent let him alone, would trace the lives and routes of Champlain, and Frontenac, and BreBeuf, and Tonti, and LaSalle, and Montcalm? The most picturesque party that ever was on the Miami River, a war expedition, came down the Stillwater once, past this building, on that water. Who composed that party? Who commanded it? Where did they come from? What were they about/ Once most of our ancestors knew. We have forgotten.
     Beginning, then, with the High School branches as indicated, how far shall pupils go in their four years’ course? As far as they can get. I do not contend—no one would—that they shall remain in languages simply and pure mathematics. Languages blossom out into and imply literature. Here is scope enough! Mathematics end in science, which means the intelligent and orderly arrangement of all the laws of nature and physical life. Considering its recent development, what wonder that the daughter of the English Arnolds says: "A new awe has arisen on the brow of knowledge."
     Has not this whole thing of science, and geology especially, reformed itself in our life-time? How old is the world anyhow? I can remember when, say from 1859 to1863, it was 6,000 years old; how old is it now?
     Still, in any branch of scientific study, the greatest gain comes not in information, but in cultivation of the scientific habit. What’s that? Curiosity first, then inquiry, research, criticism, judgment, opinions and conclusions last. When you stray from the society of educated persons to the near companionship of the uneducated, one thing is newly apparent, everyone abound in certainties of conclusion and opinion about every subject that mankind to-day discuss; and a short examination will show you these things go along with an absolute ignorance of facts which would warrant any conclusion on the subject. The first business,--perhaps the last result,-- of a High School education is to correct all this. Will not the time soon come when the father will neither expect or wish his son to take his opinions along with other heridataments, but rather to form them for himself.
     Yet these are not all the things we demand the High School teachers shall teach before they let this scholar go. I would not insist on Sociology until they settle what that means. I have listened all year to the Professors of the Chicago University without any approximation to finding out. They seem lost,--if not, the listener is,--in words and phrases. Perhaps in the end, we may agree with the Frenchman, who said, "There is no Social Question." But there is such a thing as the principles of Political Economy, unless they have been abolished by the platform of some political party, or by act of Congress. So the Government can give a man a dollar without taking it from anybody, can it; and extension of the pension list cost the country nothing, but only put money into circulation,--is that so? and what makes prosperity in this county is higher prices created and maintained by law? Just so!
     The folly and panacea of to-day is to throw everything onto the State. The State does so well now, let us increase its problems and burden twenty-fold. The mines are not run right; let the Government take and operate them all, and the railroads, and the telegraph, etc. How are you going to pay for them? Bonds How will you pay the interest? We would not; we are opposed to interest. How, then, would you raise the money? Issue it. Is not this whole country getting to be a little Coxey in looking to Washington for sustenance, and the creation of commercial prosperity by the enhancement of prices by statures? Who can answer the clear little letter of Willie Steele, son of Robert W. Steele, and one of our number, on the silver question, written to the Dayton Journal from his western mine? "You want protection for your products; why may we not have it for ours?" Thess things must be adjusted at Washington. By trades? Well, yes. Now in such adjustments and trades, who of us does not know the powerful few who will prosper and powerless many who sill suffer? Why need we wait until the sugar schedule is reached to know that, to Democrat and Republican alike sugar tastes sweet, aye, and that in the future, "ginger will be hot in the mouth?"
     At Edinburgh, in 1776, and for eight years following, among a Tory constituency whose sons were in the armies of Clinton, Burgoyne, and Cornwallis, Dr. Adam stoutly opposed the prosecution of the American War. His doing so would have cost him his place could they have afforded to lose him. In Ohio, in 1833, old Dr. Bishop filled his scholars’ minds with indignation at the cruelties of African slavery, which burned like a flame in many a pulpit and school-house until slavery was abolished. For this, the trustees, with the concurring vote of Col. John Johnson and Peter P. Lowe of this city, removed him in old age, from a position where he needed and deserved support and repose. "New occasions teach new duties." Can anyone teach in this High School sound principles of Political Economy and live; or would the School Board put him out? Noyes did this with a gentle considerateness and skill which, provoked neither criticism nor controversy. I remember his stating how much more the subject interested the boys than the girls, but this was before female suffrage was upon us. Having reached the subject of the political future of women,--there comes the tap and timely reminder of the President that my time is out. "Sir, having thus risen and explained, will you please resume your backseat." Yes; but it must be away back among the gray heads and old fogies, who still insist that woman was created not for the purpose of competition with man, but solely for the purposes or ornament and consolation.