Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/April 1888/Correspondence



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

BY the common consent of mankind, individuality is considered one of man's highest characteristics. During the early history of the republic, it was a much more common possession of our people than at the present time. In looking for the causes that have produced this loss of a prominent trait, the mind involuntarily stops to dwell upon our system of grading in the common schools of the country. By this system there is established a level to which it is believed all can attain. I am willing to concede that it tends to stimulate the dull scholars to rise to a higher level than they would naturally reach; but unfortunately it also prevents the bright ones from going forward to higher standards. It is said that the greatest good to the greatest number is the desired object, but this is a false statement of the facts, for it is to the bright scholars that we must look to finally carry all to higher attainments. This system of grading at once prevents the working out of the law of evolution; and we may truly assert that some, at least, of the graduates of our schools have reverted to common types, instead of developing to ever-higher standards. We can not stand still: if the scholars in our common schools do not go forward, then there is reversion. The world goes on and leaves them.

Perhaps the most glaring fault of the system is, that it turns out graduates with minds all cast in the same mold. Many of them are bright and capable young men and women, but they have been so educated that the girl graduates all want to be teachers, or marry rich men for a career in life, with now and then one who enters the pulpit or the medical profession; while the male graduates seldom see any other career open to them than law or medicine, with now and then one that enters the pulpit. At the same time the services of these young men are in demand as surveyors or engineers upon our railroads, and in the new avenues of employment created by the many wonderful recent inventions, especially in handicraft and industrial pursuits. It is just here that our schools are deplorably deficient. They ought to educate the hand as well as the head of the pupils, for industrial employments must, in the end, be the life-work of the majority of them. There is one lesson of the late civil war that I think has not been properly studied. The Southern States have never made use of graded schools, or had not done so before the war of the rebellion. That there was far more individuality in the South than at the North the history of the war abundantly shows. The Southern people had a surplus of able commanders for their armies, while we of the North, with resources and numbers far superior to theirs, saw our armies turning from one point of the compass to another, making no progress, because our commanding generals were routine men, most of them graduates of our common schools, without the ability and genius for command, or foresight to plan a great and comprehensive campaign. We made little or no progress until President Lincoln, a grand, self-educated Western man, saw the reasons of our constant defeat, and changed his commanders from Eastern common-school graduates to Western men, who had been trained in the non-graded, log-housed schools of the West, where the individuality of the pupils had not been repressed by this dwarfing process. We sometimes hear a phrase in New York and in the New England States, "The Ohio idea," and there are often an inflection and a tone of the voice indicating contempt in connection with it. The tone and inflection are nothing but the same sneer that was observed during the civil war upon the countenances of these Eastern common-school graduates when Mr. Lincoln turned them out, and put Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan in their places. The meaning of "the Ohio idea" then was individual development in contrast with the system of repression in the common schools of the East; for in Ohio, previous to the war, there had been but little of that grading process now conforming the schools of the West to Eastern standards. Would it not be well for our educators to study this topic, and try to find out a system that develops the individual as an individual, and not as one of a class or grade? Individuality can not be repressed without final disastrous results. The system of common schools of a State that developed Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, McPherson, and Garfield was not paralleled by any State in the East, where graded schools have existed the longest. In short, the point that I desire to present is that it is a violation of individual and natural rights for the State to make one individual smaller that another may be larger. General Grant was worth more to the nation than an army of common men.

D. S. Marvin.
Watertown, New York, February 25, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In the correspondence department of your March number 13 a note from Mr. Thomas L. Greene, in which he questions the accuracy of some statements contained in my article in the February "Monthly." I admit that the ill effects of the long and short haul section are not apparent in cases where its enforcement is suspended. My criticism was written some six months since, and before the policy of the commission of granting "temporary relief" had become so well defined as has since been the case. At that time the assumption seemed warranted that that law (like all other laws) was to be generally enforced. The exercise of "temporary relief" (permission to violate), which it is optional with the commission to apply or withhold in specific cases, places a tremendous power in its hands, and only the fact that its present members are incorruptible insures present safety. All law, theoretically, is general, impartial, and just in principle, but when its enforcement or violation is left optional with any tribunal, however competent, there is danger ahead. It would be unique to include among the merits of a law the easy facilities for its violation.

Henry Wood.
Boston, March 2, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In my letter, which you published in the March number, my main object was to state the fact that the fig-tree in southern Palestine should have figs in some stages of development on it at all seasons, though it is a fact that, in some varieties of figs, the fruit is a long time in ripening. The fruit of three seasons is sometimes found on the tree at the same time. It is true that one of the evangelists states that "the time of figs was not yet." That remark can only mean—as nearly all commentators interpret it—that the time of general harvest of figs for preserving purposes had not yet arrived; consequently, it was an additional reason for the condemnation of the fruitless tree, instead of a reason why it should not be condemned.

J. W. Huntoon, M. D.
Lowell, Mass., March 1, 1888.