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The first thing to be noted on inspecting this table is, that only Northern States-sixteen in all, have adopted a compulsory school law; and that all the Southern States, together with six Northern States, are set down as up to this date, unwilling or unable to secure the enactment of such a law. Now, what does this mean?
So far as the Southern States are concerned, it is easy to find a reason for their lack of interest in popular education in the long years of retarded civilization under the blight of slavery, and in the race caste which that institution settled so deeply in their social life. Until recently a large proportion of their population was without citizenship, and it was not to the interest of the rest that they should be made sufficiently intelligent to desire it. After that order of things had been swept away by the war, there still remained the old race prejudice which has kept back that people from any impartial and aggressive measures toward rendering school privileges univer
sal. There is a slow and steady advance of these States out of this unhappy condition of things, but certainly it is nothing to be surprised at that not a single one of them should have had any thought. of resorting to coercive measures to get their children to school.
When, however, we are obliged to put into this list some of our most flourishing and cultured Northern States, Indiana, Nebraska,. Minnesota, and our own Iowa, the problem becomes a little entangled with conditions lying deeper than what we should at first suspect.
Take Iowa, for example. We have no compulsory school law. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to secure the enactment of such a law. There is always a strong advocacy of compulsory education in the teachers' associations and among the legislative bodies of the State, but the sentiment has never been persistent enough to put such a law upon the statute book. It cannot be from social environment or lack of interest, as in the Southern States, that Iowa has held back from this special mode of promoting the efficiency of the schools. It could hardly be that there is no felt necessity of a measure so uniformly resorted to by all the great nations of Western Europe and nearly one-half of the States of the American union, and all the Northern States except six.
It is, indeed, true that Iowa has the distinction of having the lowest percentage of illiteracy of any State in the Union, and singularly enough, Nebraska ranks next. Both of these States are on the noncompulsory list. But, this fact, whilst unquestionably complimentary to the general intelligence of these States, ought not to be accepted for anything more than it is worth. As already intimated, the percentage of illiteracy depends upon causes reaching back of the schools to the social standing of the original settlers of a State, and the kind of immigrant population that subsequently arrives. As to general intelligence, Iowa stands at the head of all the States of the Union,. but this extraneous distinction should not blind us to the fact that certain other estimates have a damaging story to tell.
Thus, while it is true that 75 per cent of our school population are enrolled, there is only 46 per cent of that population in average attendance on the public schools. That is to say not one-half of the children that are of the requisite school age are found in the schools. This state of things is made to hint the more decisively toward the
necessity of a compulsory school law, when it is noted that nearly 76 per cent of the whole number of school children are enrolled, while the average daily attendance falls considerably below one-half. We are thus allowing more than one-half our school children to withhold themselves altogether from the schools, or, having entered, to fritter away their opportunities by truancy and neglect. If this be a fair statement of the actual facts in the case, what in a little time will be the result? Evidently illiteracy will very much enlarge its borders, and our reputation for general intelligence will speedily decline.
COMPARATIVE ESTIMATE OF THE LARGER STATES-NEW YORK, ILLINOIS,
We may now proceed to a comparative estimate of some of the larger States where compulsory education is in force, to see if its practical workings are such as might be hoped. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, are respectively represented by over a million school population, and at varying dates, and with provisions somewhat diversified to suit the special needs of the locality, have enacted compulsory school laws. Let us briefly inquire into the experience of these States with reference to the kind of law they have adopted, and the extent and manner in which they have carried it into effect.
New York struggles against the constant influx of the riff raff of the old world, and the sloughings of European pauperism and discontent as a kind of social sewerage, often deluging the whole system of municipal government in the metropolis. We shall not be surprised therefore that, notwithstanding the menace of a compulsory school law, there should be an enrollment of only 59 per cent out of a school population of 1,702,967, an average daily attendance of only 35 per cent, and that the illiteracy should be 4.2.
New York City in an especial manner should feel the need of such a law, and bring every agency to bear in coercing the children to school. From the report of the Board of Education of that city for 1884, we gather the following interesting items: (1) Under the amended law the board employed truant agents, whose entire time was devoted to the duties of their office, who were empowered to apprehend all children between the ages of eight and fourteen who might be found wandering about the streets and public places of the city during school hours, and bring them to school. During a single
year these agents returned to school 2,247 truants and placed in school 782 non attendants. (2) The board report that "the failure to send their children to the schools is confined almost entirely to the cases of very poor or illiterate immigrants and of the vagrant and criminal classes."
Illinois, with about the same school population, 1,069,274 of a school age, from 6 to 21, has a somewhat higher showing in per cent of enrollment (68, as against New York, 59,) and in per cent of attendance (46, as against New York, 35), and about the same illiteracy (4.3, as against 4.2). The Illinois law, passed in 1883, has none of the special provisions of the amended law of New York with reference to truancy and the employment of children under age, but simply requires every person having charge of any child or children 8 to 14 years of age, to send such child or children to a public or private day school for a period of not less than twelve weeks in each school year, unless such child or children be excused by the school officers of the city, town, or district in which the child or children reside, the penalty for violating the statute being $5 to $20.
Inasmuch as large cities are in the main to be benefited by a compulsory school law, and their success in executing it becomes the touch-stone of the practicability of such a law, the experience of Chicago as contrasted with that of New York, will be of interest to us in this connection. Information direct from the county superintendent, Prof. Albert G. Lane, assures us that "on account of technicalities, etc., the compulsory school law has not been enforced in Chicago;" and that "attempts have been made in several places to enforce it without success, and now it remains a dead letter." The reason of this doubtless is, that there is no adequate provision in the law for its enforcement. For non-compliance with the provisions of the act, any director, or member of any board of education, may bring suit for the recovery of fine and costs, and indeed the school officer is made himself subject to prosecution and a fine of ten dollars for neglect of his duty when his attention has been called to the offense. But what] is everybody's business is nobody's business in the end. The provisions of the amended New York law, that especially in the case of the large cities, the board of directors shall be empowered to employ truant officers whose business it will be to bring the children to school, or otherwise see to the execution of the law, and that those employing, or causing to be employed, children of school age to the loss of their opportunities for instruction, should
likewise be subject to fine-provisions of this character are wanting in the Illinois law, and therefore it is a dead letter, as we are told.
Pennsylvania and Ohio have nearly the same school population. Pennsylvania, 1,422,377; Ohio, 1,082,295; the same school age, from 6 to 21; per cent of enrollment nearly the same (Pennsylvania, 68; Ohio, 70,); per cent of attendance nearly the same (Pennsylvania, 45; Ohio, 46,); per cent of illiteracy, considerable difference in favor of Ohio (Pennsylvania, 4.6; Ohio, 3.6,). These figures will render at once interesting a comparison of the main features of their compulsory school laws. Ohio has incorporated the following effective clauses in its law: (1) That no manufacturer, owner of mills or mines, agent, overseer, contractor, landlord, or other person, shall employ any child under 14 years of age during the established school hours of the locality, etc. (2) It is made the duty of the clerk of the Board of Education to prosecute every offense against the law brought duly to his notice. (3) Boards of Education are required to look after the matter of the employment of untaught children each February and September, and make provision accordingly. There is wanting the distinctive element of the amended New York law, a clause empowering boards of education to employ truant agents or some such officer, whose business it will be to see that the law is enforced. The Commissioner, in his last report, has therefore wisely urged upon the legislature an efficient truant law as necessary to secure the largest attendance upon the schools.
Pennsylvania, without having a compulsory school law after the customary form elsewhere adopted, has nevertheless since 1849 forbidden that any children from thirteen to sixteen years of age be employed in or about any factories, unless such children have attended school at least three consecutive months within the year of such employment, with heavy penalties affixed. It could hardly be expected that so meagre a law, with so feeble a grasp upon the evil of absenteeism, would work any noted result. And hence we hear the Superintendent of Public Instruction making this complaint: "Yet notwithstanding the law and its severe penalty to deter from its violation, we have convinced ourselves that it is in very many sections a dead letter, and requires far more care than it receives upon the part of citizens who have any deep interest in the matter." In other words, there is no adequate provision for enforcing the law already too feeble and hesitating in its grasp.