Page images
PDF
EPUB

REFORM OF THE TENURE OF OFFICE OF TEACHERS.

Good teachers, and what next? There is no next. This is the meaning of Jules Simon in his saying, “The master is the school.” In this sense the great German pedagogue, when asked what his system was, made the well-known reply, “I am the system.” This was Garfield's thought, when paying a merited tribute to his great college-master, he said, “Give me a log hut with only a simple bench, Mark Hopkins on one end and I on the other, and you may have all the buildings, apparatus, and libraries.” This was Horace Mann's idea in declaring the teacher's seminary to be one of the greatest instrumentalities for the improvement of the race. Hence, the pivotal question in pedagogy is the question of the teacher, everywhere and always. The cause of education and the cause of the teacher are one. The best criterion of merit in a school system is to be found in the char acter and qualities of the teachers in its service.

There is no really fruitful educational reform which does not provide for increasing the competence of teachers. The originators and founders of our normal school system, Olmstead, Carter, Russell, Brooks, Mann, Barnard, and others, all maintained and acted upon this theory. They held that the end in view, the ideal education, imparted

(81)

in the ideal school, could come only through the ideal teacher. In maintaining this theory they stood on solid ground; their position was impregnable. The instrumentality which they advocated as essential for the realization of their idea, was the normal school for the professional training of teachers. Too much cannot be said in praise of their labors and devotion to this great cause. The establishment of normal schools was a great achievement. It is not to be doubted that the normal school is an essential element in a good school system. But history does not justify the assumption that it is the fundamental requisite for securing competent teachers. Something else more fundamental still is necessary to the full success and the full utilization of the capabilities of the normal school. That prerequisite is a desirable status for the teacher who has made his preparation in the normal school

The creation of such a status has no doubt been too much overlooked and neglected by our educational leaders and reformers, and the reason is obvious. The indispensable requisite for such a status is security, — certainty of position ; such security and certainty of position as is afforded by tenure of office during efficiency and good behavior. Fifty years ago this reform was impracticable. Every school system must, in the nature of things, be in substantial harmony with the other institutions of the country where it exists. In forming the school system of France, Guizot and Cousin took lessons of Prussia and Holland, but they were obliged to adapt their plan to the actual state of things in their own country.

Mr. Forster, on drawing up his school bill, the new Magna Charta of the English people, had at his command all the available results of foreign experience; but he was under the necessity of shaping every provision with reference to existing national institutions and customs. So our educational pioneers of half a century ago had to shape the fabric and spirit of our school system, so far as they were instrumental in introducing modifications and improvements, in conformity with existing political and social arrangements. Hence any attempt on their part to advocate any reform relating to the status of the teacher, in conflict with the prevailing theory and practice touching the status of other public servants, would have been impracticable and utterly futile. Improvements do not advance on all lines simultaneously. They made advancement where advancement was possible.

Now what was the status of public officers and employes, whether in the service of the Nation, the State, or the municipality, fifty years ago, in respect to tenure of office ? Our political institutions are founded upon the theory that public officers are public servants, and precisely at that period, more than at any time in our history, the opinion prevailed that the officers and employes of the public had no interest or property whatever in the offices and situations which they occupied. Out of this prevailing sentiment grew the pernicious custom of what is called rotation in office ; where the tenure of office was not fixed by law, as in the case of the Judiciary, custom limited the tenure to one or two years. Taking

advantage of the prevalence of this sentiment, which claimed for itself the credit of being the spirit of true democracy, President Jackson inaugurated the custom of removing officers without regard to their qualifications for their duties or their behavior.

The assumption and exercise of this arbitrary authority made the public officers in the service of the Nation dependent for their bread and butter on the will of the executive. Nearly all State officers, from the governor down, held their office, for the most part, for a single year only; the same was the case with municipal officers, including school committee. In some States even the judges of the highest court were elected by the people, to hold office for a short determinate period ; and so the office of teacher of public schools, which, in the days of Master Cheever, was held by life tenure, was made to con. form to the general custom in respect to tenure of office; and even the clergy, who had always held by life tenure, began to hold by a limited tenure. He, therefore, must have been not only a bold man, but an unwise one, who, as an educational reformer, should have in those days dreamed of undertaking to render the status of the teacher more desirable by advocating for him a permanent tenure of office. Hence the reformers of those days directed their efforts to other objects.

But an immense change has taken place since that time in public opinion, as well as in legislative provision, respecting the tenure of office of public officials. The civil service reform, to which has been accorded the largest plank in the platform of the dominant political

« PreviousContinue »