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The Ideal School

Among W.N. Ferris' papers is his description of an ideal school, written in answer to a letter from a "dear pupil and friend." In the cover letter accompanying the description, Ferris said that it would be impossible for him to secure the time necessary for writing a paper on the subject. "The truth of the matter is," he said, "I haven't sufficient time to sleep."

Nevertheless, Ferris did write his description with instructions that it was not to be quoted unless he gave prior permission. He excused the piece by saying that the hints he relayed applied only to a pretty good school. But here it is:

  1. There is no such thing as an "Ideal School." Any person who has thought to give schools attention may have an ideal, but the ideal of one person differs radically from the ideal of another.
  2. A good school should involve three factors: the teacher, the pupils, the patrons.
  3. The teacher must have made the necessary preparations. His/her preparations should be based upon his natural fitness, his thorough training, his health.
  4. In considering the fitness there is natural aptitude, intellectual force, moral force, and physical force.
"It is still believed that almost any person who has received a thorough course of training can teach. This, of course, is a mistake."
  1. His training should have been academic or collegiate and professional. The professional training is the most likely to be disregarded. Notwithstanding the progress that has been made in educational matters, it is still believed that almost any person who has received a thorough course of training can teach. This is, of course, a mistake.
  2. No man or woman should attempt to teach who does not possess a good degree of health. Perhaps this point does not receive sufficient attention.
  3. The teacher is powerless to change the students to any great extent, but he can put himself in right relation to them and lead them to see that their hearty cooperation means not only their own success but the success of others.
"The truth of the matter is I haven't sufficient time to sleep."
  1. The factor that is neglected most lies along the line of the parents. Before the schools of this country can approximate to any ideal, the parents must work with the teacher for the highest results in educating the child. The parent knows the child; knows its environment and ought to know its nature. Teachers are frequently responsible that the parents take so little interest. The teacher can secure the attention of the parents in various ways: by a personal call upon the parents, by inviting the parents to attend school, by giving entertainments in warm seasons of the year, by excursions and picnics.
  2. With all the factors presented, the teachers can have a most excellent school. It will not be an ideal school. In the best school there are not too many scholars. The model school is a school where scholars are developed. In one sense they are exactly like the plants in a well cared for garden.
  3. In the best school, the finest fruit is in the line of character and not in the line of intellectual attainments. The coming age must recognize this. It is this factor that distinguished the old from the new.

It is well that Ferris explained that he was too busy to write a proper set of criteria for an ideal school because his ideas here do not parallel one another. But the piece does reflect his foresight, and his respect of Pestalozzi.

Whether he thought because there were 10 Commandments, there should be 10 points in everything ideal is a matter of conjecture.

Teachers aid
A teacher's aid from 1897, with an article by W.N. Ferris.
Debating Class
The Ferris debating class of 1894. At the left of Mr. Ferris in the middle row is B.S. Travis.
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