Popular Science Monthly/Volume 73/November 1908/Celibate Education To-Day


By E. S.

IN our public schools are half a million teachers, of whom about four hundred thousand are women. Of these latter over half are spinsters or, according to official investigation and correspondence, have taught eight years and upwards. They have crossed the female dead line of matrimony, having reached the age of thirty.

The proportion of "old maids" is even more striking according to the estimate of school officials in some of our larger cities. In San Francisco, Pittsburg, Boston, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Denver, New Orleans, Nashville, Chicago and Cincinnati the figures run from 50 to as high as 80 per cent, with a general average of about 70 per cent.

These pedagogic conditions have grown upon us so gradually that we have not stopped to consider their significance. It is, however, an entirely modern development, really of the last fifty years. Less than half a century ago men formed nearly 40 per cent, of the teachers; they are now hardly 20 per cent. Some of the largest cities show still greater disparity between the sexes. In Boston and St. Louis, each, men are only 10 per cent, of the teachers; in New York and Indianapolis, 9 per cent.; in Cleveland, 7 per cent.; in Philadelphia, 6 per cent.; in Chicago, Detroit and Richmond, 5 per cent.; in Minneapolis, 4 per cent.; in Omaha, 3 per cent.; in New Orleans, 2 per cent., while Youngstown, O., has not even one man in her 188 teachers. Our centers of population are usually the most advanced in any social tendency and the small number of men employed in them may be taken as an indication of the drift of the whole country.

Throughout this paper it is to be remembered that to all general statements there are exceptions, both numerous and brilliant, and further that these theories of what is best to be done rest upon the interpretation that one investigator places on the data of the past, and the phenomena of the present, including testimony in the printed utterances of other workers in the same field.

The era of celibate education is on us and it behooves us to take our bearing to see whether we follow a safe course. For the male, we no longer have any doubt, he has been tried and found wanting. He dominated teaching for centuries as a celibate and now he is nearly displaced. It can not be said that he was superseded, because there were two sexes in the schoolroom as women were constantly engaged in teaching as far back into the middle ages, certainly to a considerable extent in our colonial period. The proportions now are reversed, women being in the majority instead of men. The work of men was deficient because bachelors can not really know life. Our civilization is based upon the family as a unit and only married persons really know the duties and demands of our social structure. As education is nothing but preparing young people to take their places in the framework of life, only those who know what that life is can adequately guide these tender feet.

We tried to supply what was lacking by introducing woman, and at first her natural tact, her sympathy and her deference to age-long authority made her popular with educational management after the first shock of conservatism had passed by. With the advent of the public school system her numbers increased rapidly, especially when she readily accepted a lower rate of compensation.

As each sex is only half of the sphere, is there anything in the temperament of woman that will enable her to come nearer filling the other half herself than her brother did? Just like him she is handicapped by the impassable limitations of sex, and, as with him, her nature attains its full measure only through matrimony. The most fully developed woman is the mother, next the wife, and least of all is the "old maid." This last is entirely a modern type, scarcely going back a century, and therefore her capacities are untried and unknown. It may be said she discharges a new function among the many always being created by our civilization, and has come to stay. Time can alone decide whether any innovation will survive, whether the apparently temporary will become permanent. But the question of sex is the most constant and prevailing of all in the interests and relations of the race, and the main features are neither of to-day nor of yesterday, but of all time. Some phases of woman's temperament are the product of the evolution of the ages, and are fixed. A reference to one or two of these may throw some light on this problem.

There are unquestionably two considerations that make the chances of women succeeding alone in this path more doubtful than those of men. First, is her mother instinct noticeable even in little girls playing with dolls. She grows to womanhood with the idea of queening it in a home of her own, least of all is it a part of her dream to rear children of other women. It is a frightful wrench to her whole nature to give up these aspirations for which she is not at all responsible as they are an inheritance to her from the millions of generations before.

The demolition of this age-long air castle brings about a change of her nature, more usually the souring of her disposition. It is well known that she suffers from nervous troubles much more than the man teacher and it is not to be wondered at. If we are to put any reliance at all upon universal attitudes and firmly crystallized expressions, her married sister, her parents and her brothers, even the children in the seats before her, all look on her as a failure in life, and, worst of all, she feels the same in her heart. Such disappointment would acidulate the sweetest spirit. Besides, she is leading an unnatural existence, dealing with children of the same age twenty, thirty or forty years, while the vast bulk of women have the care of one brood only from marriage to death. The constant strain on her temper within the school and without it makes her either querulous and harsh or flabby and indifferent—both states disastrous for discipline.

For the interests of the student, and consequently of all the race, is it a good model to set before maturing minds that the unmarried woman is the best type of all? Still more, is it wise to have examples of mannish women, as so many of them inevitably tend to the paths that men tread, after admitting to themselves that they are practically excluded from the chosen sphere of women, the home? Many of them turn to money making with all the avidity of their brothers. We have seen such exhibitions of greed and contentiousness among the women teachers in two of our largest cities when they have banded together for an increase in their salaries, going to much greater lengths than men would dare to do under such circumstances. The influence of all this will be felt in time upon the characters of the young.

All these weaknesses in the woman teacher have brought themselves to the surface; they are inherent, and therefore incurable by any method of selection or supervision. If we add the fundamental argument that we have derived from the test with men it seems a foregone conclusion that the celibate female teacher will fall just as far short as her celibate brother; she will fail in the schoolroom just as he did.

Failure is the lot of each because each is abnormal. "The normal citizen is a father or mother," thus tersely and truly does the president of the United States express the sentiment. If this is so and it has to be, who can properly guide young persons into that realm except normal men and women as teachers?

Another deduction from this premise is that we must have both sexes instructing the young. The difficulty with the male has been settled, we no longer require him to be unmated. On the other hand, it is almost an unfailing query on the part of appointing officers whether a male applicant is married or not. In numerous instances the preference is unhesitatingly given to the one with the wife.

This solution, however, should be impossible with women. It is abhorrent and disgusting to the average person to think that men should allow their wives to be breadwinners unless for special reasons. Again has Mr. Roosevelt summed up the case when he spoke of men as the home providers and women as the home keepers. This is the result of aeons of evolution and any general breaking down of this line of division between the duties of the two will end disastrously to both. There can be only two causes for a wife to be in charge of a class, either she has stifled all of the instincts of femininity or her husband is incapable of providing for her. The latter is often justifiable because of misfortune or loss of health. But as young persons can not discriminate, the model before them is terrible. They can only see that the husband is incompetent or the wife is unwomanly, miserly and penurious. A horrible ideal it is to set before them that the chief aim of women in life is to make money instead of to make homes! In spite of this spontaneous repugnance there is a tendency to employ married women, due most likely to an unconscious feeling on the part of educational officials that the "old maid" is too abnormal. It is estimated that in San Francisco 5 per cent, of the teachers are married women; in Denver, 4 per cent.; in Philadelphia, 3 per cent.; in Boston, 2 per cent.; in Chicago about 2 per cent.; all a growth of a very few years. This is a tendency that every one who at all considers the relation of the sexes and the course of development must deeply deplore. The "old maid" in the school is an abnormal exemplar but the wife is a thousand times worse. The woman who neglects the highest, holiest—in fact the only—duty of woman is a hideous monstrosity to teach duty to others.

The best type of male teacher has been discovered after long and wide search—the married man. What is the best kind among women, it is still more important to learn, as we have settled down for the present beyond all doubt to coeducation and to having a large majority of women teachers, whether good, bad or indifferent. The general employment of married ones is repulsive and vicious. The single ones beyond thirty are unbalanced. There is left only woman before that age. She is still normal, still cherishing matrimony as woman's work in life evolved for her through long cycles of time by biology, physiology, sociology and the whole environment of existence. Her path has been marked out for her and the laws of her progress along it laid down by powers far above the scope and the strength of the race to alter. So long as she looks forward to the goal of the wedding she retains the feminine temperament. From the time of maturity until she turns aside from the broad road that the most of her sisters follow, she is almost at the high tide of woman's life. It is then her disposition is most sympathetic and her ideals the clearest and strongest. She is then the most vivacious, the most animated, the most energetic and the best fitted for training the young, because the most companionable with the girls and the best example of womanly graciousness. If we can not have the highest type of normal woman, the wife, we must come as near as possible.

If these golden years, however, are to be taken from a woman's life she ought to be adequately compensated. Salaries now paid should in most cases be increased 50 to 100 per cent. Such a rate in every locality would command the service of the brightest and most attractive women, who are usually the most intelligent and the healthiest. There would thus be a union of the highest qualities of character, intellect and physique. The objection of cost comes to nothing when the sacredest and most important concerns of life are involved. Of course, the women now in the service should be retained unless they would voluntarily take the higher rate for the limited time. The next question of age can be easily avoided by placing the limit eight years after high school graduation and five or six after collegiate. There would at the same time be a splendid example to the girls as most of these teachers would marry before the term expired or shortly afterwards. The girls would thus be learning something about the highest duty of life, a kind of inspiration that is given nowhere in our schools now except by fitful instances. It must be remembered that there is a more solemn obligation of marriage than ever before if racial suicide is to be stayed. Fashion and the social system are insistent upon small families, and it is only by universal marriage that the native stock will reproduce itself. It does not do so already in some sections, and it is significant that in those places the spinsters flourish. Our highest institutions, the state and the school, should not encourage the increase of old maids, as their multiplication spells death to mankind. Vestal virgins are a luxury that prosaic America can not afford.

As a corollary with the limitation upon the age of women teachers there would need to be a certain number of men, not over one fourth of the total, to serve as permanent directing heads. This ratio of the sexes is entirely in keeping with the teachings of evolution. Two principles of sex relations seem to be established in these cycles of experience: (1) That both boys and girls are almost wholly controlled by the mother up to the age of twelve or fourteen, with the father's influence becoming more pointed after that on the boys and the mother's continuing over the girls; (2) that all pioneering initiative work, executive management, should be by men. With the men as principals and assistant principals in every schoolhouse, with them as directors of special studies and heads of departments in the higher grades, there would be a solid core for the flitting women teachers to group around and get inspiration from.

These men could be employed on a scale suitable for attracting native strength and ability. They would be sure of a life career in this calling after once having proved their fitness. In order that they should be examples for the youth it should be stipulated that when their usefulness ended their connection with the system would also cease. Without any pension or dole of charity they would be a standing stimulus to the boys that each should look forward to taking care of himself, not depending upon his neighbors or his government.

This plan would cure two difficulties of the present system. First the whole scale of pensions would drop away, as of course there would be no thought of so rewarding the female teacher. Second the disgraceful squabbles that take place periodically between the sexes over the question of equal pay for equal service would offend the ears no longer. Each sex would be hired on the true basis of compensation within its own ranks. That logical fallacy, such a fond subject of dispute, the equality of work of the two, would appear no more. It would be plain and above argument to every one that there is no such thing as men and women doing the same work in the schoolroom or elsewhere, and consequently to speak of equality of the two is absurd. The relation is far higher than that of equality, it is that of indispensability. It is the same as exists between the two halves of a circle or between the center and the circumference.

For some places, although the general rate of compensation would have to be raised higher, the total expense would not be very much greater. There would be no pensions, and instead of appropriating public funds to people who give no service whatever every dollar would get its worth in the devoted labor of both men and women teachers.

The school next to the family trains for life, for conduct, for character. The best method of development is that of example. What better model for these maturing natures than a teacher who is a success? Success for women means marriage. This notion is entwined in our very fibers so that we look upon the "old maid" as a failure in the great female game of life. The man who can not care for his family and for himself, who becomes a burden upon the goodness of his neighbors, is equally considered a failure. It is not a good pattern to set before the youth that the leader, man or woman, who daily instructs them has not succeeded in the great battle of the world. The schools should have the best and, in the long run, success, for the great bulk of mankind, is the proof of the best: competency for the man and marriage for the woman.