Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/453

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

There is no doubt that we owe our extensive system of free public schools in great part to faith in the service of education as a training for citizenship. Webster was a firm believer in the efficacy of popular education to ensure the triumph of democratic principles. "We do not," said he, "expect all men to be philosophers and statesmen, but we confidently trust, and our expectation of the duration of our system of government rests upon that trust, that, by the diffusion of general knowledge and good and virtuous sentiments, the political fabric may be secure, as well against open violence and overthrow, as against the slow but sure undermining of licentiousness." It is on the faith that education has power to prepare for the duties and responsibilities of citizenship in a republic, that government has provided so generously for the public school system in taxation and grants of land.

Since Webster's time the rapid growth of urban communities has created a most extensive and intricate system of city government calling for detailed knowledge. To be merely a good man is not now sufficient to be a good citizen. Good citizenship requires more than 'the diffusion of general knowledge and good and virtuous sentiments,' if the tide of municipal corruption is to be turned back. Here the school fails. The civic function of our school system has no doubt suffered greatly from the fact that teachers are so little interested in current politics. Fear of 'mixing in politics' has held the teacher aloof from matters of this kind; and the teaching of civil government is often a perfunctory task. It can hardly be expected that those who are denied the right of suffrage should speak with authority on the duties of citizenship. Few teachers are acquainted with matters at issue in local elections; and few understand the real inner workings of party politics. Political patronage, the caucus, the convention and the primaries are little more than abstractions to most of them. It would be interesting to know how far the widespread apathy of educated people as to local politics could be remedied by more adequate instruction in the schools. General education and enlightenment no doubt has much virtue in effecting good government. The entrance of women into public school work, by extending the system to a point beyond what the public finance would have permitted if equal intelligence had been secured from men teachers, has been of inestimable value in promoting this general enlightenment. But so far as educating to an intelligent interest in political and economic matters of a technical character is concerned, our educational system has not yet done all that should be expected of it.

If there were a steady growth in public sentiment regarding extension of the franchise, such as induced the legislatures of half a dozen of our newer and less conservative states to grant women full suffrage, this weakness of civic education would tend to correct itself. But the