Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/340

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
336
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

system of schools or a university?. . . These questions are not difficult to answer but it is difficult to frame the answer in terms that the successful man of affairs will find intelligible. The subject is one that he approaches with a prejudiced mind, although his bias is not so much due to a perversity as to sheer inability to realize the fundamental nature of the question at issue. He is so fixed in the commercial way of looking at organized enterprise that he can not so shift his bearings as to occupy, even temporarily, the professional point of view. Now the idea of professionalism lies at the very core of educational endeavor, and whoever engages in educational work fails of his purpose in just so far as he fails to assert the inherent prerogatives of his calling. He becomes a hireling, in fact if not in name, when he suffers, unprotesting, the deprivation of all initiative, and contentedly plays the part of a cog in a mechanism whose motions are controlled from without. Yet the tendency in our country is to-day strongly set toward the recognition of this devitalized system of educational activity as suitable and praiseworthy, and the spirit of professionalism is engaged in what is nothing less than a life-and-death struggle. When a university president or a school principal can indulge unrebuked in the insufferable arrogance of such an expression as "my faculty" or "one of my teachers," when school trustees are capable of calling superintendents and principals and teachers "employees," it is time to consider the matter somewhat seriously, and inquire into the probable consequences of so gross a misconception of the nature of educational service.

There is one general consequence which subsumes all the others. It is that young men of character and self-respect will refuse to engage in the work of teaching (except as a makeshift) as long as the authorities in charge of education remain blind to the professional character of the occupation, and deal with those engaged in it as objects of suspicion, or, at best, as irresponsible and unpractical theorists, whose actions must be kept constantly under control and restricted by all manner of limitations and petty regulations. Membership in a profession implies certain franchise, an emancipation from dictation, and a degree of liberty in the exercise of judgment, which most members of the teaching profession find are denied them by the prevalent forms of educational organization. And the denial is made the more exasperating by the consciousness that these rights (which are elementary and should be inalienable) are withheld by persons whose tenure of authority is more apt to be based upon the executive energy or the ability of the schemer or the success of the man of practical affairs than with expert acquaintance with the conditions of educational work. The "business" president or administrative board is bad enough, and the "political" president or board is worse; yet upon the anything but tender mercies of the one or the other most men who devote their lives to the noble work of teaching must in large measure depend.

The inevitable consequence is. . . to make the teaching profession more and more the resort of the poor in spirit, to whom the words of the Beatitude must have a distinctly ironical ring. To become a teacher in this country is, except in the case of a few favored institutions or systems, to subordinate one's individuality to a mechanism, and to expose one's self-respect to indignities of a perculiarly wanton sort. Inadequate compensation is a grievous fault of our educational provision, but it is not so grievous as the faults that undermine professional self-respect, and sap educational vitality at its very root. Yet these graver faults are easily remediable, and would be promptly remedied if we could once rid ourselves of the obsession of the commercial or military type of administrative organization.