Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/September 1880/Night-Schools in New York and Paris


THE system of night instruction is so widely different in Europe and America that the following statistics are given with a view to show which of the two methods, as represented by the schools of New York and Paris, has been most successful and of most practical utility to its students.

At the present time there are in the city of New York thirty-two free evening schools. Thirty-one of these are primaries or intermediates for children; the remaining one is the evening high school, which is for adults, as a certain degree of proficiency in various studies must he attained for applicants to gain admission.

The students in these schools represent almost every branch of industry in the city. Yet at the commencement of the term of 1879 two weeks were devoted by teachers to an examination of the moral fitness of applicants for admission—more strictness, the reports tell us, being observed than formerly as to the character of admitted pupils. In consequence, as many were rejected as-unqualified as were permitted to attend.

No difference is made in New York in the system per se which governs the day and night schools. Some slight changes, however, mark the manner in which it is worked.

The hours of attendance in the night-schools are limited to two. The opening and closing formalities, which are distinguishing features of the day-schools, are omitted. And in the evening high school, although sixteen different books are on the list of studies, choice of subjects is voluntary with pupils. Two classes are instructed each evening by each teacher—the first from seven to eight o'clock, the second from eight to nine. Students are required to be present only when their classes are in session.

With such apparent liberty in the high school in regard to time and choice of subject for study, it has surprised those having charge that the attendance during the second month of the course for 1879 diminished from fifteen to twenty per cent. Remarking upon this unprecedented falling off, the principal of the school says that "there are few of those admitted who do not begin their work zealously, and I doubt not with strong determination to continue during the whole term." But this enthusiasm soon cooled off, and after a few weeks the students who had commenced study so earnestly deserted the schools. This high percentage of absenteeism, however, was principally confined to the younger scholars, adults availing themselves to a greater degree of the educational advantages offered.

In the primary and intermediate schools the number of children who were enrolled as applicants for admission into the evening classes during the past year was 10,269. All of these were under sixteen years of age. The absenteeism among them amounted to sixty-one per cent, of all whose names were placed upon the school registry. Vigorous measures have been suggested to check what is called by the Board of Managers "this deplorable decrease in the attendance of children." Principal among these has been a proposal to enact a truant law, to be enforced during the evening hours. If such a formula were passed, it would be as unavailing as Kin s Canute's edict to the waves. Natural law would prevent its being obeyed.

Of the children who did attend the evening schools the assistant superintendent makes the following remarks in his last report: "Hundreds of young children attend these schools after the labors of the day have ended, being required to do so either by parents or employers; and, as they enter the class-rooms fatigued by such labors, unless the teachers can attract, interest, and instruct them, they will either become drowsy or resort to mischievous acts to keep awake."

This simple record is in itself a pathetic protest against a system of children's night-schools. If mere book-learning was all that its most earnest champions advocate, it would still be purchased too dearly by forcing growing girls and boys into crowded schoolrooms at night after a day of toil in factories, workshops, or crowded bazaars.

Taking Paris as a representative of European methods, we find that no such absurdity is committed there as the establishment of night-schools for children. The name of these institutions implies their mission. They are called "cours d'adultes" and are intended solely for pupils over sixteen years of age.

Their method of instruction contrasts with that of New York, by being in its character not only scholastic and commercial, but artistic, and to a constantly growing extent industrial, technical schools for mechanic arts being a marked feature of night instruction.

Choice of subjects in the cours d'adultes is entirely optional with pupils. And, as more circumstances are likely to arise preventing night attendance than day, the night-schools of France are perfectly free to all who desire entrance—even the formality of registering names not being required from applicants seeking admission.

All tuition at night in Paris is given in the form of lectures by competent professors. These lectures, embracing all subjects of study, are made both instructive and attractive by illustrations and experiments whenever possible. It is found that students learn more from these popular lectures than during hours of wearisome study. They also make familiar the technical names of things relating to different pursuits, and thus enable the multitude to read intelligently such books as treat in a scientific manner of the higher branches of their avocations. By making knowledge pleasurable, the schools of Paris, in marked contrast to those of New York, are crowded nightly by audiences desirous to learn.

Another special feature in night education in France, which would bear transplanting to America, is the school library. In 1877 there were 7,764 of these civilizers of men in France; the number has grown proportionately greater since then—five hundred new libraries having been instituted the past year of 1879. These libraries are either in the schools or school-wards, sufficiently near to be used for purposes of reference. The state has set aside a yearly sum of 120,000 francs for the purchase of books. Thus these libraries acquire a constantly increasing size and value.

Many of these free libraries, however, are not due to the state, but to the liberality of private individuals, who make strenuous efforts for their institution in localities where needed. All of these are accessible to others than pupils—in fact, to all who wish to use them, parents as well as children—and are open for reading fourteen hours out of every twenty-four.

For this system of scholastic and industrial schools, as well as the school libraries, the total expenditure of the French Government for the whole of France was about fourteen million dollars for the past school year. The number of students this sum paid for educating has been estimated at 4,700,000.

Educational appropriations reach a much larger sum than this in the United States, proportion of population considered. New York alone has spent for educational purposes for the past eight years from ten to eleven millions annually. In 1876 eleven and a half millions was disbursed; this was the largest sum ever paid out by the State. Since then the expenditures have somewhat decreased, the returns for the past year showing a smaller sum than any previous year since 1871. The total, however, reached considerably over ten millions. The number of pupils this sum educated (?) was 1,030,000. From these statistics it may be seen that New York pays more than three times as much per head for giving a merely scholastic and commercial education as it costs France to combine these with the artistic and industrial features, including a system of free-school libraries.

If this large outlay of money gave New York in return a more law-abiding, cultured, and self-helpful population, it would be capital well expended. That it does not do this is to be seen in the yearly increase in the appropriations for prisons, reformatories, and charitable institutions of all kinds. In fifteen years taxation has been more than doubled in the State of New York for purposes of public charity. Much of this evil may be laid to the fact that the industrial schools of the great capitals of Europe furnish New York with her best artisans. To remedy this, private enterprise and liberality have founded several industrial schools in New York. Statistics show these to have been well attended. Indeed, the applications for admission have in all cases been far in excess of the accommodations supplied. These night-schools, five in number, are mostly modeled upon the plans of the industrial schools of Paris and Berlin, and of South Kensington, London.