Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/December 1880/Methods in Industrial Education



SHALL we have a school in the workshop, or a workshop in the school? Or what other combination can we devise that will permit mental and scientific training to proceed after the age has been attained at which serious manual labor must begin? Hitherto we have been contented at most to organize night schools, evening classes, and so-called Mechanics' Institutes for our apprentices, leaving it to their own caprice whether they chose to employ their leisure hours in self-improvement or squander them in self-indulgence. On the Continent of Europe somewhat different ideas have prevailed. In Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, France, and even Russia, there are innumerable examples of Technical Schools and Polytechnic Schools of all descriptions, which profess to teach with greater or less completeness the elements of certain handicraft industries. Overlooking the extreme diversity of type that exists among such schools, we have been apt mentally to throw them all together, and to refer to the supposed system on which they proceed as "the Continental system," in contradistinction to our British system of training, as we are pleased to term our obsolescent institution of apprenticeship proper. Nothing could be more misleading than this classification. It arises from lack of information as to the nature and work of such schools. It is not surprising, when such ignorance prevails, that the fallacy has in consequence been widely spread that the long undisputed superiority of British-made goods was due to the superiority of the British system. On the contrary, that superiority, which arose out of quite other economic causes, was the very thing which stirred up the Germans, Swiss, Belgians, and French to devise schemes for training workmen more efficiently and intelligently than was done in England, since only by such means could they hope to compete with her industries. Let the significant fact, that a very large proportion of the foremen of workshops in our skilled industries are Germans or Belgians, attest the result of a higher technical training. Besides the innumerable Gewerb-schulen and Real-schulen of Germany, where a general preparatory scientific and technical education is given, that empire can now produce a long array of trade-schools, sometimes organized as polytechnic schools, and sometimes devoted to particular trades, such as weaving, dyeing, or carpentry. In Switzerland such schools also abound; and in the commercial centers of Belgium they exhibit an extensive and healthy development. In France there are the technical schools of Douai, Chalons, and Aix, the École la Martinière of Lyons, the Horological School of Besançon, the Apprenticeship School of Havre, where workers in wood and iron are trained, and twenty others, including five or six in or near Paris. The technical schools of Paris present, indeed, so much diversity in their several organizations and results that it would be extremely difficult, even by going over a much wider area, to find so many different yet thoroughly characteristic types. To understand how completely different are the systems of organization by which it has been sought to solve this great problem, it would be necessary to pass from the Polytechnicum of Zurich—the Technical University, par excellence—to the Horological School of Besançon, and from the Kunst-gewerhschulen of Munich and Nuremberg to the unrivaled Pedagogic School of Moscow, and even then the list of types would be less complete than that which is afforded by the schools of Paris. In that great capital, in addition to the École des Arts et Métiers, the École des Mines, and the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, whose portals open only to an older and better educated class of students, and the great schools of modern type, such as the École Turgot, the Collége Chaptal, and the École Commerciale in the Avénue Trudaine, which qualify their pupils for commercial and mercantile careers, there are a group of technical schools intended for those whose primary education is not yet, or only just completed, and in which not only theoretical technical instruction is given, but where systematic instruction in some useful handicraft forms a necessary feature. From among these diverse types we select four, for each one of which its promoters claim that its practical success solves the knotty problem of the day. These four schools are the École Communale, in the Rue Tournefort; the Institution de Saint Nicolas, in the Rue de Vaugirard; the École Professionelle, established by MM. Chaix et Cie. in their printing establishment in the Rue Bergère; and the École Municipale d'Apprentis, in the Boulevard de la Villette.

The first two of these may be said to exemplify, though with striking diversity of method, l'atelier dans l'ecole, the workshop in the school; the third is an excellent instance of the school in the workshop; while the fourth belongs strictly to neither type.

The École Communale, situated in the Rue Tournefort, a crooked back slum behind the Panthéon, is the most recent of the group which we have selected. Founded in November, 1873, at the instance of M. Salicis, and with the coöperation of M. Gréard, the energetic Director of Primary Education for the Department of the Seine, it is intended rather to prepare for than to supplant apprenticeships of a more rigorous type. The pupils of this school are not apprenticed at all in the ordinary sense; there is no contract, and they earn nothing. Most of them are very young—even as young as eight or nine years—nor have they yet completed their elementary education. If they stay out the prescribed three years' course, they not only get as good a schooling as in any of the ordinary elementary schools, but they will also have seen something of constructive industry. During the first two years they are sent to work for a day at a time, in rotation, in one or other of the occupations of the workshop. An "apprentice" will thus have one day in the carpenter's shop at the bench or the lathe; the next he will be learning how to forge a bolt; the next he will devote to metal turning—all his exercises being directed by practical workmen in charge of the shops. During the third year he will settle down to some one pursuit. The hours of actual labor are short, for the chief part of the day is devoted to lessons, only an hour and a half each morning and afternoon being given to manual labor. All learn drawing and modeling. Every pupil works from drawings which he has previously made to scale: no matter what he does, whether he is making a mortice-joint, rabbeting a window-frame, or filing down an iron nut, it is always done according to a careful sketch made beforehand. No articles whatever are made for sale; indeed, all commercial elements are scrupulously avoided, and the objects given as exercises are hardly such as would serve a useful purpose: little joints of wood accurately squared; little cones or cylinders turned with perfect truth of line. Here and there a more valuable article, a model of a crane in metal, or a model system of beveled gearing-wheels; but nothing more marketable. The genial director, M. Laubier, enters heartily into the work of his pupils. He has himself designed and executed many of their exercises—the plaster casts, the geometrical models, and the ingenious scholastic appliances of the institution. He thinks his school to be the type of the elementary school of the future. He has need to be an enthusiast, to train successfully his fifty apprentices and his two hundred non-working children on a grant not exceeding sixteen hundred dollars a year, salaries, tools, and materials included. He upholds the rotation system, believing extreme division of labor to be at this stage prejudicial to the development of the youthful faculties. He does not want to sell the produce of his workshops, as the construction of objects which would be made to sell would not afford so good a training for his boys. He admits that they do not work so rapidly as apprentices who have been brought up amid the hourly exigencies of trade; but he adds that he prefers cultivating their intelligence to quickening mere manual dexterity; that will come later. And what are the results? "Our apprentices," says the director, "being at once fit for useful work on entering the factory, are less often employed to run errands; they are better treated, steadier. I could tell you of young lads of fifteen who are actually earning two francs and a half, and two francs seventy-five centimes a day, and who in six months more will be paid as regular workmen."

The Institution de Saint Nicolas, in the Rue de Vangirard, is the oldest of the schools, having been founded in 1827. It is under the exclusive management of a religious guild known as the Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes, who devote themselves entirely to education. In this truly remarkable establishment there are eight hundred and ninety boys, all children of artisans, all boarders. Of this number, about two hundred are apprentices who come here to learn their trade. None are admitted who can not already read and write. The greater part of the day is given up to manual work, only two hours being reserved for schooling on three days of the week, on the alternate three days the two hours are devoted to drawing. On entering the premises the visitor is first introduced into a sort of little museum, in which are exhibited articles made by the pupils of the establishment—a truly surprising collection to have been executed by little fellows from eleven to fifteen or sixteen years of age. Here there are picture-frames, bronzes, panels carved in oak, wood-engravings that would not discredit either the “Graphic” or the “Illustrated”; farther on, in another handsome case, are telescopes, leveling instruments, a model engine, a saxhorn, and a trombone; and, in yet another, some exquisitely neat engraved maps, some of them executed on commission for the Government, together with the medals they won in Paris, Vienna, and Philadelphia. A varied assortment it would seem, and indeed the system under which such works are produced is without a parallel in this country. There are in the extensive premises of the school no fewer than sixteen ateliers, each let out to an approved master or patron, who is usually also the proprietor of a separate business in the city. To him are apprenticed for a term of three, or in some cases four, years some ten or twelve boys, all of whom at the end of that time will be able to take good positions as intelligent workmen. The trades thus taught are those of carpenter, wood-carver, turner in wood, optical turner, compositor, printer, wood-engraver, map-engraver (on stone), marble-mason, brass-worker, bookbinder, carver and gilder, clock-maker, portmanteau-maker, philosophical-instrument maker, and maker of wind instruments. The master of each separate atelier provides the materials, devises the work of the apprentices, superintends its execution either personally or by an authorized contre-maître, and to him belong the products of the workshop. Nothing is made in the shops that will not sell; the apprentices learn the value not only of materials but of time; and, though the works that successfully pass under their hands are graduated to their capacity and experience, they are precisely of the same character as those which apprentices in any ordinary workshop would have to undertake. The masters and foremen of the various ateliers appear to take great interest in their pupils, and pride themselves on the success of their instruction. "These boys," said the foreman of the portmanteau-makers, "when they leave this room know the whole mystery of their trade from end to end. They can take the brute materials, and from them evolve a finished article." The apprentices of this same shop will earn at once from five to six francs a day, instead of the two, three, or four francs usually earned by young workmen just out of their time. They work as quickly as other workmen, for they know from the exigencies of their particular work that time is money. Several of the patrons and foremen of the little workshops are themselves former pupils of the establishment. The apprentices earn nothing during their term of service beyond a little pocket-money when they are satisfactorily advanced. During the whole period of their apprenticeship their parents must contribute thirty francs a month for their board and lodging in the school. Great importance is attached by the Frères to the complete isolation from exterior influences insured by this internment. The magnitude of the work will be understood when it is learned that the income and expenditure of this establishment amounted to about two hundred and thirty thousand dollars in the past year, the services of the fifty worthy Frères who conduct the school being given at a purely nominal rate. There is a large gallery in the building for drawing and modeling, and excellent systems of instruction in model drawing and geometrical drawing have been here developed. Spacious refectories, commodious well-ventilated dormitories, and a large gymnasium form features of the school. The results of the system are significant. The aim of making intelligent workmen is really attained, and though the pupils have learned but one métier, and are in general better adapted for small businesses than for large, their repute for steadiness, skill, and general intelligence is such that the patrons have little difficulty in placing their pupils when their term of apprenticeship is over, and usually in circumstances where their earnings are about the average. The same testimony is borne everywhere concerning the apprentices of this establishment; and the writer was informed by M. Véver, President of the Syndical Chamber of Jewelers, of Paris, a gentleman greatly interested in the question of technical education, and possessing every opportunity of forming an accurate opinion, that the boys of Saint Nicolas are so much more intelligent and steady than the average of workmen that they are sought for by employers, and at the age of thirty have usually risen to the position of foreman or master.

The third type of apprenticeship school is that of the École Professionelle attached to the large and flourishing printing establishment of MM. Chaix et Cie. This school, founded in 1862 by M. Napoleon Chaix, receives two groups of pupils, the apprenticed compositors and the apprenticed printers of the house. The schoolroom and the apprentices' composing-room, though contiguous to and overlooking the great busy atelier of the firm, are distinctly separate from it. The apprentices, of whom there are between thirty and forty, devote most of their time to the practical work of composing, two hours a day only being allotted to lessons in the schoolroom. Apprenticeship lasts four years, during the whole of which time the apprentices receive wages rising from fifty centimes to two francs fifty centimes for the compositors; and for the printers, who work at the machines in the great atelier under the direction of a responsible master, from seventy-five centimes to four francs fifty centimes a day. The teaching comprises a special primary course for those whose previous schooling has been insufficient; a technical course, including grammar and composition, reading of proofs and correcting for the press, the study of different kinds of types, engraving, and the reading and "composing" of English, German, Latin, and Greek—in the two latter cases from a purely typographical point of view, without any attempt to understand or to translate; lastly, a supplementary course which includes the history of printing, simple notions of economics, a little mechanics and physics, and a smattering of chemistry, dealing chiefly with the materials that they will hereafter employ—acids, oils, fats, carbon, soda, turpentine, etc. Everything is done with the utmost system. Every line set up by a pupil is, if possible, so much contributed to the current work of the firm; and, as time exercises are frequent, the value of rapidity in work is learned. At the end of the apprenticeship the pupils elect—almost without exception—to become employees of the firm, and enter at once into the rank of participants in the yearly division of profits. Of nearly seven hundred persons employed, two hundred and fifty-eight are now participants, of whom about eighty are past apprentices. A much larger portion are depositors in the caisse d'épargne, or savings bank, established by the firm, or are "insured" in its books. Even the youngest apprentices put by a portion of savings out of their small earnings. The principals of the house fear no strike now, as there are enough participants in the wealth of the house to carry on its business through a crisis. "La maison pour chacun, tous pour la maison" is inscribed in gold on one of the beams that cross the great atelier. The sum thus divided among the employees in 1878 exceeded ten thousand dollars. The financial results of these arrangements, at once educational and prudential in their nature, are most encouraging. M. Berger, the accomplished inspector of this department of the enterprise, attributes the substantial growth and prosperity of the business, now one of the largest and wealthiest in France, as much to one influence as to the other. He prides himself on the superior intelligence of his pupils and their technical knowledge, gained while they are in the very midst of a great business, and thus forced even to realize and keep au courant with commercial exigencies. The few who have gone out to take places elsewhere are also doing well.

The fourth and last of our typical schools is the École Municipale d'Apprentis, which since 1872 has been at work in the Boulevard de la Villette. No school has produced more striking results as yet, and none merits more careful attention. Beginning with seventeen pupils in 1872, it now numbers a following of two hundred and twenty-one. The course lasts three, or in some cases four, years. It speaks volumes for the efficiency of the school that, out of seventy-two who, up to the end of 1877, had completed the course and gone out into situations, sixty-nine are at the present moment pursuing the trade they have learned in the school, and are earning on the average four francs a day—some of them even as much as six and a half francs a day. A school which can receive young lads of thirteen or fourteen, and after a three years' course can turn out workmen at the age of sixteen or seventeen able at once to command wages of twenty, or, in some cases, thirty-three shillings a week, is something so wholly new that its organization merits the most profound study. Founded on the suggestion of M. Gréard by the then Prefect of the Seine, M. Léon Say, at the expense of the city of Paris, it began its work in premises previously used as a factory of aneroid barometers, additional schoolroom accommodation being obtained in the adjacent dwelling-house. The object of the school is simply to make good workmen. The education it offers is absolutely gratuitous, and even remunerative to the pupils, for they receive every week a "gratification" varying from a franc and a half to three francs. None of the pupils are boarders. None are admitted until their primary education is completed, and then only after an easy examination. Five hours a day are given to studies, six hours to the work of the shops. The teaching of the schoolroom is both general and technical in character, mechanics, physics, chemistry, and technology being added to the usual programme of literary routine, while drawing and modeling occupy a prominent place. The system of solid geometry taught in the schools is excellently conceived and admirably followed. M. Müller, the director, himself conducts this and some of the scientific branches of study. All the apprentices learn also to sketch bits of machinery or even entire machines, figure the sketch from actual measurement, and then with rule and compass draw them carefully to scale. There are two principal workshops, one devoted to the workers in iron, the other to workers in wood. The trades actually taught are forging, metal-turning, fitting, carpentry, wood-turning, and pattern-making. A small workshop for teaching the manufacture of philosophical instruments has also just been organized. During his first or preparatory year the apprentice, so called—there is, in reality, no formal contract—is making the round of the various shops, taking a fortnight in each in rotation. There is therefore no haste to specialize his work, and he has the opportunity of discovering the pursuit for which he is best fitted, while gaining information and intelligence. His first year over, he settles down to serious work in one of the six categories of labor: henceforth all the articles he makes are salable, and indeed of some value. Still, although the commercial element, eschewed in the Rue Tournefort, here steps in—to the profit of the municipality, be it said, rather than of the school—the apprentice does not sacrifice theory for practice. No single object must be attempted before the working drawing of it has been made out in plan and elevation; and the niceties of true surfaces and exact angles are scrupulously insisted on. Enter the forging and fitting shop, where over a hundred embryo workmen are busily, not to say noisily, employed, each on his all-absorbing task: they hardly look up as the stranger passes along. Here are three novices being taught to forge a hammer-head, learning to "strike," under the direction of a young foreman; and he does teach them, too, with a will. Here an older group are working out a piece by themselves at another forge. All down the long room are benches with vises, and in the middle the heavier machines, lathes, slotting-machines, and planing-machines—the latter designed and constructed only last year by the pupils themselves, and containing a valuable improvement first conceived in the brain of the able foreman of the workshops. Here, a large pinion is being turned; there, the parts of a vise, are being filed into shape, while in the corner an apprentice of one week's standing is trying to file up into perfect form a simple square bar of iron fresh from the forge. After that he will pass to a task a little more difficult, following the course prescribed by experience. Almost all the tools are made by the apprentices themselves. The steam engine which moves the heavy machines is under the charge of two pupils, of the second and third year respectively, their services being devoted for a fortnight to officiating as stoker and engineer. Healthy and actively industrious the lads toil at their work, and three foremen suffice for the efficient superintendence of the hundred! Above is the carpenter's shop, where an equally numerous clientèle are equally hard at work. Here, too, we find originality of design and thoroughness of execution. Several of the machines—for example, a ribbon-saw—were made in the establishment, and were among exhibits of the school which attracted so much notice in the central pavilion of the Exposition Universelle of 1878. The first exercises in carpentry and in turning are literally exercises; useful to the last degree to their constructor, but of no marketable value. Here one realizes one advantage possessed by this municipal school over those in which the atelier is simply the workshop of a great business. In the early stages, when workmanship is very imperfect, it is not always well to strive to produce a salable article. Better waste wood, says the superintendent of the shops, than spoil the making of a good apprentice. Better to let the young workman see something of all the different corners of his trade, than by too fine a division of labor to keep him all his years learning only to shape chair-legs. And he is right, if the general look of intelligence and workmanlike style of his young charges afford any indication of their capability of well fulfilling the career they have chosen. From seven in the morning to seven in the evening are the hours of school, with an hour's intermission for dinner, and two shorter recesses. Work over, they disperse to their separate homes, for there is no boarding. M. Müller points out that the cost of setting up these shops, with all their tools and appliances, has been at the average rate of $55.75 for each of the one hundred and seventy-five places nominally provided in the accommodation of the school; while each of the present two hundred and twenty-one pupils, as he passes through the school, costs the municipality on the average an annual sum which is, as it happens, almost equal, namely, $55.50, instruction included. When the extensions of the buildings now in progress are completed, a very slight increase of total cost will suffice to extend the benefits of the school to a much greater number of pupils. The school property and furniture have already cost the city of Paris 750,000 francs ($150,000), including the lands and buildings, and the school is costing it 60,000 francs ($12,000) a year for working expenses. To set against this are the sums received for work sold, and the value of the instruments, models, and appliances fabricated in the school, and employed either in the school itself or handed over to one or other of the municipal schools, and which must amount to many hundred dollars yearly.

We have dwelt at some length upon this school, inasmuch as, regarded from the point of view of practical results, it appears to present by far the nearest approach to the ideal of an apprenticeship school. Not ignoring what is so valuable in consideration of the circumstance that the training is to be a preparation for after-life—the commercial value of the time and labor—it differs from the Institution de Saint Nicolas in regarding the aim of producing good workmen as higher than that of establishing a self-supporting school. The Institution de Saint Nicolas is, thanks to the self-denying labors of the Frères, self-supporting so far as the ateliers are concerned, though the pupils pay for their board and lodging. The École Professionelle of MM. Chaix et Cie., which is but one example of a considerable number of similar establishments, is looked upon as one of the main causes of the prosperity of the concern. To establish such a school in any large business establishment requires little additional expense beyond the salaries of teachers. The École Communale is a most valuable experiment, and shows with what slender outlay some useful instruction in manual labor can be added to the resources of an elementary school. The École Municipale, with its kindred schools at Lyons and Havre, enable us to realize what an apprenticeship school may become if taken in hand by a rich and powerful municipality.

Turning once more to the conditions which obtain in our own country, the thought naturally occurs. Which of these very different types of school will best suit the requirements at home? On which line shall we proceed in our attempt to adjust to the altered social and industrial conditions of our time the apprenticeship of the past? Probably no one of these varied types will meet the thousand possible cases which may present themselves in the working out of the problem. Possibly there is room for all these types of apprenticeship school, side by side, or room even for new and untried types. One may adapt itself better to one locality or industry, another to another. Our business is not to copy, but to create and to develop for ourselves that which meets our own case. Much as will depend upon the character of each individual industry, all experience shows that there are other factors in the problem of scarcely less importance, and that much also depends upon the individual proclivities of the director of the school, the industrial enterprise of large firms, the far-sightedness of wealthy corporations. In France many of the schools have been initiated by the municipal or communal authorities. In Germany it is the town or the state that has made the venture. Will our town councils or our school boards ever think the experiment worth a trial, or is centralization too fierce and too frigid to countenance the attempt? All that is most valuable in the results obtained in the majority of the typical cases afforded by the Parisian schools can also be attained by private local enterprise, if guided wisely and well. Private local enterprise may surely hope for a success at least as great at home as that which it has already won across the Channel. And obviously the various industrial establishments know best the strength and weakness of their own resources. If a guiding and organizing central institution is needed, and it probably will be, it will be forthcoming so soon as there is work for it to do. But no central organization or institution can be expected to do the work which, at the outset, the local industries must initiate for themselves and develop by their own resources, and direct by the light of the consciousness of their distinctive needs. Then, and not till then, shall we able to form an exact estimate of the social and industrial conditions under which the apprenticeship of the future may become a living reality. Then, and not till then, will the apprenticeship of the future constitute a powerful instrument, not merely for the intellectual, moral, and social improvement of the working-classes, but for the promotion of the wealth and prosperity of the whole nation.

  1. Continuation of article from the September "Contemporary Review," entitled "The Apprenticeship of the Future," the first part of which was published in the November Monthly, under the title of "Education as a Hindrance to Manual Occupations."