Page images
PDF
EPUB

pleted. I cannot learn what influence Mr. Philbrick had in determining the plans that were adopted in the new building which he occupied in 1848. I learn only that Dr. T. M. Brewer was chairman of the school, and that great credit is given to Hon. John H. Wilkins, chairman of the Public Building Committee, in conjunction with George B. Emerson, the chairman of the Committee of Conference, appointed by the School Committee. I strongly suspect that to Mr. Emerson was due the radical change in the arrangement of the rooms. Instead of a large study room, with small recitation rooms opening out from it, there were twelve separate rooms intended to be occupied each by a single teacher, who was to have charge of the discipline of the pupils while studying, as well as of the classes when reciting.

This point in regard to architecture is by all means the most important item in the whole plan of organization. Instead of a small room, twenty-eight by thirtytwo feet, and holding fifty-six pupils, make a large room holding one hundred and fifty pupils and you change the entire morale of the school. While a humane, well-balanced teacher can easily manage the small room and secure excellent discipline with very little or no corporal punishment, it requires a person of strong gifts in the direction of discipline, - so strong, indeed, as to overbalance his other qualities, — to control and discipline the large room. The tendency of the school system with the large room is constantly toward the employment of bullies and tyrants as head masters. The influence of the whole school then goes toward military discipline sustained by brute force. I remember hearing an usher in a Boston school so far back as 1845 boast that the head master whipped up forty rattans in one morning in suppressing a rebellion among his boys. In the St. Louis schools, when I entered them in 1858, where the large-room plan prevailed, it was not uncommon for over one hundred cases of corporal punishment to take place in one day in a school building containing less than five hundred pupils.

The pupils in the small rooms remain under the discipline of the same teacher, both in recitation and in study, and teacher and pupil come to know each other and to feel an intimate sympathy, whereas, in the large room system, the number of pupils prevents intimate acquaintance on the part of the head master, who is responsible for the discipline. The constant danger of demoralization renders summary measures indispensable. Every case of misbehavior attracts the attention of one hundred and fifty pupils. The teacher can have very little power to hold so many pupils in subordination by the influence of his eye and voice. In the small room a case of misbehavior disturbs only fifty pupils, and the teacher easily holds the room under control by a mere look or a mere word. I have not begun to name the advantages of the new building over the old ; but it very soon reduced the cases of corporal punishment to one tenth as many as before, and finally to one-hundredth of the former number. Pupils were humanized; the teacher's will penetrated each soul intimately and became an unconscious governing power, and, finally, the pupils became self. governed.

In the system of schools of St. Louis after the adoption of the Boston style of building, corporal punishment decreased from an average of five hundred cases per week for seven hundred pupils to three cases for that number. Judge of the benefit to the schools of the Central Plain of the United States from this architectural innovation of Boston. But another benefit of almost equal magnitude arose from the close grading of classes which the new system produced. I think that Mr. Philbrick alone deserves the credit for most of this latter improvement. The large school was graded into classes from the lowest to the highest so as to bring together in each room only those of the same grade of advancement in their studies. According to the ungraded system, such as exists in small country schools now, each teacher had pupils of all grades, from those just beginning to read up to those studying algebra and perhaps Latin. Twenty-five pupils in the country school admit of classification into divisions of two or three pupils at most, and the result is, forty recitations for the day's work, and five or ten minutes to each recitation. It is obvious that no thorough work can be done on this plan; no searching analysis of the recitation, no discussion of the thought, no experi. ments to illustrate it, — nothing, nothing but mere committing to memory and repeating the words by rote, - no explanation of the process of an arithmetical problem, but only a memorizing of the rule, and an inspection of the figures in which the answer is stated. The ungraded school in which this method of procedure did not prevail was a rare phenomenon. In the graded school each teacher has two classes, one recites while the other learns its lesson. The recitation is as long as the atten. tion of the pupil can be held without over-strain, -twenty to twenty-five minutes in the lower grades, and thirty to forty minutes in the highest classes of the grammar school. Time is given for review of the previous lesson, for investigation of the lesson for the day, for discussion of authorities, for illustrations, for hints as to methods of study. Each pupil prepares himself by study of the textbook, and in the recitation sees the subject through the perspective of the minds of his fellow-pupils and teacher, thus widening his own narrow views of the subject by seeing what different aspects it takes on in the minds of his fellow-pupils. He acquires critical alertness by this process and goes to his next lesson with his mind full of new inquiry and reflection, thus re-enforcing his own power of attention by what he has learned from the whole class and the teacher. A good teacher can and does use the recitation as an instrumentality for reenforcing each individual mind by all the minds of the whole class.

The constant influence, therefore, of the graded school system of Boston has been to change the memoriter system of recitation into a system of critical investigation. Such a system is not possible in an ungraded school, even with a good teacher. Although bad methods are possible with poor teachers, even in a graded system, yet they are no longer necessary, and experience tends to eradicate them altogether.

If we now ask ourselves how it is that, under Mr. Phil. brick, the Boston schools attained their world-wide celebrity, we may see two great and sufficient causes in the fact that other parts of the United States have borrowed the system of graded schools from it, and have learned to look upon the Boston schools as the highest achievement in the common school system. Foreign authorities have been quick to perceive this original merit of Boston, and have acknowledged it.

In Boston, more than elsewhere in the country, there have been men of remarkable power and wisdom in the school committee, and, besides these, a very superior class of teachers. The bare fact that Mr. Philbrick held the superintendency for twenty years in such a city would itself imply the strongest eulogium that can be made. He was able to inspire and unite the action of so large a number of men of first-class ability on the school committee. He was able to secure and retain to the last the respect and love of such a corps of teachers. The thing is unprecedented and without the possibility of a parallel elsewhere in our country.

Mr. Philbrick was chosen to organize the graded school system in 1847 on the adoption of the “single-headed system of organization. All its possibilities were yet to be unfolded. None of them had become apparent. There was no model to go by. Any but a master-mind for organization would have found himself trammeled by the past, and would have failed to develop the advantages of the new, and would thus have retarded the good work. Mr. Philbrick, however, was quick to see what potential. ities were in the new, and at once organized them into a

« PreviousContinue »