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World War and Education

1918

Whenever a great social cataclysm occurs prophets arise up everywhere. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I have no items of information that are not known to all men and women of ordinary intelligence. My apology for writing this article is to further the importance of sanity.

No doubt the World war has disclosed serious weaknesses in our educational system. At this hour, no educator would venture to advocate a revolution unless he is saturated with German philosophy.

For several years prior to the World War a considerable number of American educators and not a few of the statesman were going up and down the land, urging this country to adopt the vocational features of German education. During the past four years, these advocates have been diplomatically silent.

If the end of education is industrialism and militarism we can expect a revival of this philosophy. The attempt to introduce vocational education into the grades below the high school means the destruction of individuality, initiative and personal freedom. I have no objection to elective vocational education in the high school although it is of doubtful value there.

Of the more than twenty million of school children in the United States not more than 20 per cent enter the high school, and a much smaller percentage graduate.

The majority of the twenty million never get beyond the sixth grade. If public school education is for the masses our plain duty is to see that the masses at least have a common school education. There are now in the United States five and one half million who cannot read and write English. Of this number one and a half million are native born. The world war is not responsible for this condition. This condition has existed for years. The war has demonstrated the importance of having an education, in fact the war has put a premium on soldiers having a high school education. The government made a strenuous effort in reorganizing the S.A.T.C. units to give twelfth graders special educational training. Eighty per cent of American soldiers remained without any special governmental provision. I protest against this discrimination.

In order that the reader may see the impossibility of an educational revolution, let him observe that the great majority of American children would be fortunate if they could secure even an eighth grade education. Of what does an eighth grade education consist? We have a right to demand that he shall be able to read understandingly in English any book or periodical that is not distinctively technical. That he shall be able to write English in accordance with modern usage. That he shall be able to compute rapidly and accurately in all ordinary arithmetical requirements. That he shall know something of American history, not simply dates and battles but something of the growth and development of this great nation. That he shall know something of the geography of the world and much of the geography of the United States. That he shall know something of the fundamentals of the government of the United States. If his study of the United States history and United States geography is vital he will become saturated with enduring patriotism. That he shall know and practice the general laws of health. That he shall learn to write a legible hand. These are most of the fundamentals.

The World War has not eliminated the necessity for giving our boys and girls these fundamentals. The world war has shown us the necessity for making this education more thorough and efficient.

Having provided these fundamentals, I have no objection to so much of domestic science and agriculture as will strengthen the fundamentals. In its last analysis education should enable our boys and girls to think. Any human being who has mastered the art of thinking can master any vocation in a comparatively short time. Would that educators could keep this stupendous fact in mind.

The weakness of modern education is superficiality. Would that schools attempted only a few things and did those few things well. There is no short road to the acquisition of an education.

There should be a revolution in the answer the United States has given to this question, "for whom are the public schools conducted?" For twenty-five years I have answered this question in the language of democracy- here is the answer-"For all of the people all of the time." The Ferris Institute has demonstrated (during the past thirty-four years) that thousands of men and women not included in the public school provision of five years to twenty-one, are hungry for an education. The truth of the matter is, our government has provided education for a definite class, and by doing this has taught by implication that after reaching maturity education availeth nothing. Let the United States provide for conducting schools twelve months in the year six days and six nights in the week. Devote present hours to the so-called regular school work. Provide separate teachers for teaching fathers and mothers, day-workers, etc. the subjects they need to know. At first this plan would be restricted largely to city and village schools. We use billions for war, why not use millions for education which is equivalent to saying millions for a democracy that is really worth while? This is not a dream, this is not a vision. It is the simple statement of Americanism at its best.

The United States government, should honor, next to the stars and stripes, the English language. The millions of foreigners, regardless of their age should be taught to speak and write English. This should be made compulsory. The English language is the life blood of our nation. Within a given number of years, five at the most, all services of whatever kind should be conducted in English. In fact, I would modify our present laws relating to compulsory education so that all of the people (not including mental defectives) would be compelled to read and write the English language within five years from the date of signing the International Peace Agreement. If necessary, conscript these men and women pas the school age and train them in English. I admit that plan approximates to a revolution in education.

I need not say much about military education. Even the silent advocates of militarism would not even suggest military training for the boys below the high school.

I am opposed to military training for any of our schools. Once more it is wise to learn a lesson from Germany. This world war has shown decisively the importance of physical training. In all schools, physical training adapted more or less to the individual needs of the pupils should be compulsory.

If physical fitness for the boys demands compulsory military training then in this age of democracy make military training for the girls compulsory. It is quite as important that America have both fit men and women.

Source: "World War and Education." Pioneer Progress Edition. December 1918. In Addresses and Writings, Box 6. Woodbridge N. Ferris Papers. University Archives. Ferris State University.


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