• U.S.

Education: Every Man a Horace Mann

5 minute read

“It is my intention,” said the President of the U.S., “to call a national conference on education.” With that simple announcement in his 1954 budget message, Dwight Eisenhower set off a chain of events that even he might not have anticipated. By last week every state in the union, as well as Hawaii and Alaska, had either held, or was planning to hold, scores of local meetings in preparation for the big White House conference next Nov. 28. Special committees have made surveys on everything from the rise of enrollments to the shortage of teachers; thousands of citizens and educators were making a common effort, as never before, to solve the problems of the public schools. Whatever else the White House conference might accomplish, it had already, in the words of U.S. Office of Education Commissioner Samuel Brownell, started “the greatest stock-taking in educational history.”

Michigan has held 14 regional conferences, attended by more than 6,500 people. Iowa is planning 99 county conferences; Nebraska plans 25 in the early fall. So far, the major problem illuminated in each state has been the same : money. But a few have uncovered some special dilemmas of other sorts. Washington, D.C., for instance, has been surprised to discover that its school system’s administration was scattered wastefully throughout 30 different buildings. Arizona is troubled by its school-age Indians, some of whom go to public schools, some to Indian Affairs or mission schools, some to no schools at all. New Jersey has debated whether appointed or elected school boards are better for the community, and Washington has investigated the idea of a threeyear, eleven-month-a-year high-school curriculum that would cut down the state’s $67 million construction bill by at least $17 million. Other problems and discussions:

¶ In South Dakota, various conferences have discussed such problems as teaching religion, raising more money—e.g., by the reclassification of property for tax purposes and the consolidation of school districts—and easing the teacher shortage—e.g., by encouraging more future teachers’ clubs. The conferences produced figures to show that the state needs $20 million to make up for its shortage of classrooms, and that it will need $22 million more to take care of swelling enrollments by 1960. Just as significant, however, was a special study of high-school courses. In the past two years, the study revealed, 22.5% of South Dakota’s high schools did not teach plane geometry, 63.8% offered no advanced mathematics, 43.8% had no physics, 43.1% no chemistry and 80.8% no foreign languages.

¶ In Oregon, educators estimate that elementary-school enrollments will goup 23.9% by 1960, while high-school enrollments will jump 21%. The state will then need 2,800 classrooms, even now has so few teachers that 2,000 are on emergency certificates.

¶ Connecticut, which has some of the nation’s most active citizens’ groups working for the schools, may bring to the White House conference some special reports on the education of the gifted child. Today the state has three committees working on the problem. Some schools now offer advanced courses to bright pupils; one school is experimenting with giving eighth graders ninth-grade work; Darien has a program by which talented science students can work in the laboratories of local industrial chemists.

¶ Ohio, like many other states, may emphasize in Washington the problem of shifting residential populations. Because no young families are moving into the area, Toledo’s Hamilton School will open next fall with a third of its classrooms empty. But the opposite is the harsh rule. Toledo’s new schools in Grove Patterson and Old Orchard, for example, will be filled to overflowing. The problem for Toledo to decide: Should it try, over the protests of remaining residents, to close down its underpopulated schools, or should it keep them open to avoid having to transport its students many miles each day to other schools?

¶ Michigan’s conferences have discussed sex education, special counseling for students about to go into the armed forces, a drive to encourage pupils in junior high school to go into teaching. The conferences have also asked that the office of the state superintendent of public instruction, who must run for office, be taken out of politics.

By November all these problems and recommendations will be summarized in orderly reports and put into the hands of each state’s delegates to the White House conference. But the major goal of that conference is really intangible: to turn as many private citizens as possible into amateur Horace Manns. The preparations alone are achieving some of the objectives. One such amateur is Farmer Alvin Massman, who spearheaded a conference in Battle Creek, Neb. Says he: “We got people interested. The meeting adjourned at 4, but at 5 there were still several standing around talking. Considering that they were all farmers who had chores to do, that’s something. And at every farm sale or any place farmers have met since, it was brought up again. If you get people to realize schools are their own problem, you’ve got something.”

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