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REPORT OF THE
a compulsory system, (2) any facts which he may be able to collect with reference to the operation of such laws, (3) views of eminent educators, together with any recommendations which he may see
proper to make."
The right and duty of the State to provide for the education of all its children and youth in a system of free schools, will hardly be called in question at this late day. It is impossible that any form of civilization should spring up and flourish among an illiterate and uncultured people, and if history has one unambiguous lesson, it is that ignorance and barbarism go inseparably together in retarding the development of national life, or in bringing it into swift decay.
Men may differ as to the moral scope of the intellectual training which our children get in the schools, but they can never be bronght to say that illiteracy is a kind of material on which to build a State. If the training of the schools in reading, writing and arithmetic, will not put the youth beyond the evil destiny of a life of crime; still the schools at their worst must furnish that degree of elevation above mere animal impulse that is necessary to make sure of a citizen instead of a brute. That much of moral power there is in the discipline of the schools, and the great civilizations of modern times have instinctively entertained and acted on this belief. They have been common school civilizations just to the extent in which they have kept abreast with the times. Especially in this country, where our theory of government has transferred the base of sovereignty from the hereditary titles of a class to the people as a whole, the necessity of universal school privileges for the children becomes virtually a question of life and death. If the sovereign be illiterate, even by a majority of one, where then are our boasted republican institutions? And even if a large minority cannot read nor write, how must our whole experiment of popular government tremble in the scales. In a contest of contending factions ignorance is always capable of being bought and sold. We are all of one mind in this regard. The State is bound to equip its coming citizen with a degree of intelligence that will enable him, on his own account, to understand what his duties and responsibilities are; and right munificently have these school privileges been every where supplied. The question now engaging us is, should the State go farther and compel delinquent parents to send their children to school. In discussing this question it will be necessary for os, (1) to get some notion of the history of compulsory school legislation, with reference in the main to the success, or lack of success, with which such legislation has compassed its aim; and then, (2), to look into the exigency of our own time and determine, if possible, what would be the probable result of a compulsory law upon education in our own State.
It is a significant fact that the idea of compulsory education was co-eval with the first suggestion of a system of public free schools. To Martin Luther belongs the credit of having first conceived of popular education, and, with singular fcresight of what would be its embarrassments and needs. As early as 1524 he sent out an appeal to the bergomasters and magistrates of all towns in the German countries insisting that all the children should be taught to read the Bible in their mother tongue, and that to this end free schools should be established in all the parishes, and it should be made “the duty of the State authorities to compel their subjects to send their children to school." In the spirit of that suggestion all the German States have, from that very hour, been at work on the problem of a practicable compulsory law; and after a rescript defining the school age of children was issued by the Duke of Brunswick about 1680, the movement was uninterrupted and assured. As early as the beginning of the nineteenth century all the German States had wheeled into line.
HOW PRUSSIA RETRIEVED HER NATIONAL DISGRACE.
It will illustrate the wisdom of Germany and the practical working of a vigorously executed compulsory school law, to allude in this connection to a most signal crisis in the history of the German States. In 1806 Prussia, almost single handed, threw herself against the victorious tactics of Napoleon, and was so completely demoralized and disgraced in the conflict as to be compelled to stand by and witness the sacking of her capital by the French, and the abduction of her art-treasures as trophies to Paris. That indignity King Frederic William III determined to avenge. As to how he should do this, we have information in his own words: “Although we have lost territory, power, and prestige, still we must strive to regain what we have lost by acquiring intellectual and moral power; and, therefore, it is my earnest desire and will to rehabilitate the nation by devoting a most earnest attention to the education of the masses of my people.” This noble resolution was carried into effect by entrusting the national education to a separate branch of the State administration, with a distinguished educator and scholars at its head. But the chief thing done thereafter, was the vigorous execution of the compulsory school law.
What a case of prevision this was, and how sublimely the rehabiltating of the German nation followed upon this method of regaining intellectual and moral power, coercive though it was! Almost with the precision of cause and effect, the day came when Prussia wreaked her revenge on France for the Napoleonic insult, when on the sorrender of Paris, 1871, King William was crowned Emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirors in the palace at Versailles.
EARLY INCEPTION OF COMPULSORY EDUCATION.
It would seem that the idea of compulsory legislation has kept pace with the conception of a public school system from the first. In all the Scandinavian kingdoms the two movements have kept pace, and in particular, Denmark has attained a foremost rank in the general intelligence of her people by a vigorous enforcement of her compulsory school law. The movement seems germain to all the great branches of the Teutonic race, unless it be England, where, for reasons we need not now stop to look into the popular feeling has always been adverse to any large participation of the State government in the management of the schools. Yet, even there, under the discretionary power of municipal school boards, compulsory school attendance, since 1870, has been undergoing a thorough trial, and a gratifying record of results has been obtained.
As an instance, however, of the early inception of this idea, we may adduce the educational history of our own country, and the fact that as far back as 1650, only ten years after the same movement had been inaugurated in Germany, Connecticut in her colonial days included in her code of laws a stringent statute for compalsory attend. ance upon school, and this law continued in force, and was successfully improved until in the early part of the present century it fell into neglect and so remained through an interval of years, and in 1869 took on a new lease of life.
Public schools and compulsory school attendance are, it would seem, ideas of tiwn origin. Even though schools are open and free for all, all children will not attend. This startling paradox is easy to explain. Ignorance is not only unapprized of what will make for its good, but in addition has clinging around it an environment of idleness and shiftless living which it very reluctantly throws off. Parents of low organization, and hereditarily under the whip of circumstance, have the higher interests of their children very little at heart, and will keep them grinding in the cruel mill of necessity where their own vices possibly have imperious sway, until the years of school opportunity have gone by forever, and the great army of illiterates gets them as recruits. The number of these is always discouragingly large, and without some influence from above, laying hold of them with a firm but beneficient hand, they are not likely to decrease. The knowledge of this fact would naturally suggest compulsory measures in connection with a project to establish public schools, and keep more or less active a public effort in this direction through all the subsequent years.
Leaving now, this general aspect of the history of compulsory legislation, we must come to particulars, with the view of ascertaining to what extent such legislation has been carried into effect, and how far it has succeeded or failed in accomplishing its end. It is nothing unusual for legislative enactments, wholly tentative and intermittent, to follow the fashion in public favor, and so be persisted in, over many counties and through long periods of time, without ever coming to fruit in such results as had been hoped. Impracticable legislation is not a thing unknown. On the other hand it often occurs 'in the history of legislation that a measure designed to reform an abuse, or promote a good, has failed through many stages of its trial, and yet at last through these very reverses has pushed its way to success. We must look at the workings of the compulsory school law in the light of the broadest generalizations we can make of the place, and circumstances and time, in which the law has been operated, if we would rightly estimate the value of such a law as against the formidable difficulties in the way of speedy and uniform results.
Thus, for example, in Germany we have already seen that the law passed through a process of groping evolution, rescript following rescript, until a definite school age was fixed upon within.which all offenses should be open to prosecution. And even then it lagged through many years of ineffectual execution, until Prussia stung to the quick by the victories of Napoleon, undertook the novel enterprise of rehabilitating the nation through the vigorous execution of a compulsory school law. At that point, also, as we have seen, the law was again supplemented by additional helping apparatus to ensure its execution. The whole matter of public education was taken away from a committee, and constituted a separate department of the State administration, with a minister of public instruction at its head, and local supervision for each province. This chief officer is not only minister of public instruction but of ecclesiastical affairs as well, and it is fair to infer that here, as elsewhere, in all the old world nation. alities in which Church and State are united, the management of the schools must be considerably embarrassed by this two-fold and often dissentient control.
To what extent this may have interfered with the enforcement of a compulsory school law we are not prepared to say, but we have this instructive item of history bearing on this point. In 1873 Saxony passed a new school law, in which a long step forward was taken toward secularizing the elementary schools. The clericals were thrust in the back ground, and the advance in school attendance and in school improvement in every way was so marked as to attract the attention of the whole German nation. Whether this increase in attendance was due to the revived interest in the schools accompanying the new regime, and the improved methods of instruction and discipline going with it, or to the more efficient execution of the compulsory school law, now less hampered by ecclesiastical interference, it is not in our power to say. The presumption is in favor of the latter, by as much as the improvement followed immediately upon the secularization of the schools. In the absence of specific information on this point it is reasonable to conclude, that where the civil and ecclesiastical powers are mixed up in the management of the schools, a trouble must arise like that which embarrassed the administration of justice in England when the civil and spiritual courts could not agree.
Suffice it to say that the German and Scandinavian kingdoms have pushed on a compulsory school law through analogous stages of development, and against much the same difficulties, and these often of a most formidable character; and yet they have never questioned the necessity of a compulsory law, or showed any inclination to give it ар. .