Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/399

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
383
CHILDREN LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE.

Now the educational system in practice in the two or three hundred thousand public schools in the United States is a somewhat definite one, with a somewhat fixed order of studies through the different years or grades. In a majority of the States children are admitted to the schools at the age of six; in more than one third of the States children of five are admitted. In a general way we may say that during the first four years of school life the principal subjects occupying the time of the children are reading, writing, and arithmetic. To be more exact, we may cite, for instance, the city schools of Chicago.[1] Exclusive of recesses and opening exercises, there are in these schools thirteen hundred and fifty minutes of school work per week. Of this time, in the first and second grades, six hundred and seventy-five minutes are devoted to reading, seventy-five minutes to writing, and two hundred and twenty-five minutes to mathematics. Seventy-two per cent of the total time is therefore consumed by these subjects. In the third grade the proportion is the same; in the fourth grade it is somewhat more than fifty per cent. I have mentioned the Chicago schools because this is one of those school systems where a liberal introduction of other subjects, such as Nature study, physical culture, singing, and oral English, has somewhat lessened the time given to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Other cities, with few exceptions, will be found to give more rather than less time to these subjects. In the country schools, and indeed in a vast number of town and city schools, practically all the time during these early years is given to reading, writing, and arithmetic.

We must conclude, therefore, if our educational system is a rational one, that reading, writing, and arithmetic are the subjects peculiarly adapted to the mind of the child between the ages of five and ten. It is worth while to inquire from the standpoint of child psychology whether this be true. It should be observed, in the first place, that the manner in which our educational system has grown up is no guarantee that it rests upon a psychological basis. Our schools are exceedingly conservative. Any innovations or radical changes are resisted by the parents of the children even more strenuously than by school boards, superintendents, and teachers. Notwithstanding numerous and important minor improvements, the school system as a whole remains unchanged. Our children of seven and eight years are learning to read and write because our grandfathers were so doing at that age.

We can not here discuss the origin of our present school curriculum, but, as explaining the prominence given to reading, writing, and arithmetic, it is worthy of notice that originally the elementary


  1. See the article on Courses of Study in the Elementary Schools of the United States, by T. R. Crosswell, Pedagogical Seminary, April, 1897.