Moral Briefs – Chapter LXII – Educational Extravagance

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonOur public educational system is made up of a grammar and a high school course, the latter consisting of a four years term of studies, devoted in part, to a more thorough grounding in the essentials of education; the other part – by far the more considerable, according to the consensus of opinion – is expended on educational frills and vanities. These “trimmings” are given gratis, the public bearing the burden of expense, which foots up to a very respectable total.

For a certain class of people – the people of means – this sort of a thing has not many disadvantages; it is in a line with the future occupation or profession of their offspring. But for the bulk of the children who attend our free schools and on whose parents educational taxes are levied, it has serious inconveniences, is not in line with their future occupation or profession, is not only superfluous, but detrimental. It is for them so much time lost – precious time, that were better spent learning a trade or otherwise fitting themselves for their life work. Herein therefore we discover a double extravagance: that of parents who provide unwisely for their children’s future and that of the municipality which offers as popular an education that is anything but popular, since only the few can enjoy it while all must bear the burden alike.

There is much in getting a start in life, in beginning early; a delay is often a handicap hard to overcome. With very few exceptions, our children gain their livelihood with their hands and eyes and ears, and not solely with their brains; they therefore require the most practical education imaginable. They need intellectual tools to work with, and not a smattering of science, botany, drawing and political philosophy to forget as soon as possible. Pure culture studies are not a practical gain for them, while the time consumed in pursuing these is so much taken away from a thorough training in the essentials. Lectures on science, elementary experiments in chemistry, kindergarten instructions in water color painting, these are as much in their place in the education of the average child as an ivory-handled gold pen in the hand that wields the pick-ax.

A boy is better off learning a trade than cramming his head full of culture fads; he is then doing something useful and profitable on which the happiness and success of his life will depend. By the time his companions have done dabbling in science and have come to the conclusion that they are simply being shown how ignorant they are – not a very consoling conclusion after all – he will have already laid the foundation of his career and be earning enough to settle down in life. He may not be able to talk on an infinity of subjects about which he knows nothing at all, but he will be able to earn his own living, which is something worth while.

If the free high school were more of a business school, people would get better returns for their money. True, some would then be obliged to pay for the expensive fads that would be done away with; but since they alone enjoy these things, why should others be made to pay for them who cannot enjoy them? Why should the poor be taxed to educate the rich? Why not give the poor full value for their share of the burden? Why not provide them with intellectual tools that suit their condition, just as the rich are being provided for in the present system?

The parochial high school has, in several places we know of, been made to serve as a protest against such evils and as an example that has already been followed in more than one instance by the public schools. Intelligent and energetic pastors, knowing full well the conditions and needs of their people, offer the children a course in business methods as being more suitable, more profitable and less extravagant than four years spent in acquiring a smattering of what they will never possess thoroughly and never need in their callings in life. It is better to fill young minds with the useful than with the agreeable, when it is impossible to furnish both. Results already bespeak the wisdom of this plan and reflect no small honor on its originators.

Parents therefore should see to it that their children get the kind of education they need, the kind that will serve them best in after life. They should not allow the precious time of youth to be whiled away in trifles and vanities. Children have a right to be educated in a manner in keeping with their conditions in life, and it is criminal in parents to neglect the real needs of their children while trying to fit them for positions they will never occupy.

In the meantime, let them protest against the extravagance of educational enthusiasts and excessive State paternalism. Let them ask that the burden of culture studies be put where it belongs, that is, on the shoulders of those who are the sole beneficiaries; and that free popular education be made popular, that is, for all, and not for an elite of society. The public school system was called into existence to do one work, namely, to educate the masses: it was never intended to furnish a college education for the benefit of the rich men’s sons at the expense of the poor. As it stands today, it is an unadulterated extravagance.