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Chapter 6: Grading the School | Twenty Talks to Teachers | Thomas E. Sanders | Lit2Go ETC

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Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 6: Grading the School

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1908
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States of America
  • Source: Sanders, T. E. (1908). Twenty Talks to Teachers. The Teachers Co–Operative Company.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 10.4
  • Word Count: 2,438
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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The planning and making of a course of study falls to the lot of few teachers at present. Nearly every state has either a well–planned state course or else the county is the unit, and the county superintendent or the county board of education plan the course. While there is growth along this line in many places, the organization of the schools is less perfect, and the course of study is planned by the teacher in charge of the school.

A uniform course of study is a great strength to the school system. By uniformity, I do not mean dead uniformity, but intelligent, rational uniformity. Not the uniformity that takes all the life and individuality out of the teacher, but the uniformity that sets definite, rational ends, and makes a proper criterion of work and attainment possible in the different schools. What is needed is a course of study flexible enough to be adjusted to the varying classes and schools and uniform enough that the pupil leaving one school may be easily and properly classified when he enters another school. Many of our city systems have more red tape and system than any thing else, but our country schools in most states will be improved by more system and organization. Many able persons and many teachers of experience will cry out against better grading of the country schools and declare it cannot be done. This was the cry twenty five years ago when my own state began in a crude way to grade the country schools. It will continue in every onward step taken.

Experienced teachers who have become used to the old way are often the first to cry out against the change, and assert vehemently that it will never work in the country school. Long after it has become an accomplished fact there will be some who will refuse to see it. Like the stubborn father whose son had told him he could show him snow in June. Following the boy up a narrow little ravine, the boy pointed down in the cavity of an old hollow stump and said, "Look there father, there is the snow." The father took care to close his eyes before looking, and replied: "Son, I don't see a bit of snow."

The very argument used to prove that the country school cannot be graded and follow a uniform course of study is the best argument for gradation and a uniform course of study. I believe that every one who has ever studied the subject will agree that a rational uniform course of study will do the following things :

  1. Secure better attendance.
  2. Secure more regular attendance.
  3. Keep pupils in school longer. Hundreds of pupils are kept in school and do good work because of their desire and their parents' desire that they graduate. The desire for a diploma may not be the highest motive for an education, but so far all of our best institutions have found it necessary to hold to the custom.
  4. Secure better work on the part of both teachers and pupils. The tread mill grind of going over and over the same work year after year disgusts many pupils with school life. Unless there is specific things set for the grade, or in other words, if there is not a course of study, very few schools but will repeat the same work with the same class. When a boy in the ungraded school we went over the identical work five years in sue cession, the only variation was the natural variation from having three different teachers in the five years.

There is but one argument against the grading of the country schools. That argument is that the pupils do not attend regularly. Grading is one of the best promoters of regular attendance. If there is anything that stirs parents and makes them alive to school matters and observant of what is going on in school, it is for their boy or girl to fail to be promoted. Irregular attendance is very apt to be remedied when they find that it will endanger the promotion. This overcomes many a flimsy excuse which would otherwise keep the child out of school near the close of the year. It makes the work of school a reality, a business, something to be rated along with any other kind of business instead of an entertainment or place of amusement to be attended when there is nothing else to do.

In my own experience I have never been troubled much with attendance running down near the end of the year, although I have taught in different schools, different localities, and often as late as the middle of June. Pupils and parents knew that those who missed the last month or the last few weeks of the term must stand an examination at the opening of the next term before be ing promoted. It may have been a false motive, but I believe it was as good and as legitimate a motive as many parents have for keeping children out of school the last month or six weeks of the term as is often done. Pupils want to come and parents usually arrange to let them come rather than to risk an examination after the summer's vacation of three months.

While in common with all good teachers, I have put forth an extra effort near the close of the school year to keep up school interest and a good school spirit, I think the graded school course has helped me much. As a boy, I attended the ungraded school where any pupil took practically anything that suited him or his parents. I began teaching in an ungraded school, and am glad that at the end of two years I left it as well graded as many city schools. The schools of that county are now well graded, much to the advantage of education in the country. Two of my best teachers were bitterly opposed to the grading of the country schools. They fought it in institutes, associations and at every possible opportunity in conversation. One of them taught long enough to be converted and see the error of his way, the other never did surrender, quit teaching fifteen years ago, and thinks the world is badly out of joint. The grading of country schools is coming, in fact, is here in some form except in the most primitive communities. It is the common sense plan, it is practical, it is efficient. It does not have the hide–bound red tape of the city system, but it gives all the interest of class stimulus and definite rational accomplishment as a standard.

If you want to find individualism gone to seed, if you want to find hobbies ridden hard, and to the everlasting detriment of children, go to the ungraded public or average private school. The teacher leads off on his hobby, and he magnifies the hobby as he goes. If it is an ungraded public school, they go to seed on arithmetic, or history or map–drawing, or the particular line that offers least resistance or that fits the teacher's particular whims best. If it is the average ungraded primary private school, filled with mammas' little angel darlings, too pretty and too petted to go to the public school, it is even worse. The teacher masticates every thing, and puts it into the most charming fashion and makes believe they are really doing something. She is also discovering latent geniuses every few days. If the child likes to use water colors, she is an embryo artist, and her mother must develop this unusual talent. If the child can sing "Merry Greeting to You" she is a musician and the mother must from that day plan to keep her very exclusive and later send her to Paris to finish. A uniform course of study planned properly, representing the accumulated experience and judgment of our best educators, may have some flaws, but on the other hand it saves many of the gravest mistakes with the great mass of teachers and persons unaccustomed to thinking on educational subjects.

The planning of a rational course of study is no small task. It will vary with state and probably with the locality within the state. It will vary much with the nation. The danger is that each small locality may feel that their particular needs are different and must have special attention. In making the course of study the knowledge of the specialist is needed, toned down and corrected by the liberally educated man with broader views. Conditions must be weighed and due consideration for the worth of studies taken into account. The scientist wants to magnify science, the historian history, the mathematician mathematics, etc. It is in this particular that the specialist in the high school or the grades must be held in check by a liberal–minded superintendent or principal. Unless this is done, each will overload the student with his specialty. I have had teachers who if left to themselves would have monopolized the time of the high school pupil with Latin. The student that did not know Latin was in the estimation of that teacher a block–head, and should quit school and go to work.

Examine a course of study and you will find revealed much of the judgment and mental caliber of the teachers of the school. It is not uncommon to find high schools proper with university curricula. High–sounding names, often, are an attempt to hide the fact that it is an ordinary high school and many times very ordinary indeed.

Before me is a recent catalogue of a collegiate institute—it would be more appropriate to call it a village high school, that completes in two years Latin, including Preparatory Latin, Caesar, Cicero, Sallust, Ovid and Virgil, and then devotes the last year to Greek. There must be either intellectual giants in those parts or else some gigantic fools. To the thinking man the course of study would be a signal to give the school a wide berth.

We must not forget that the course of study is made for the child and not the child for the course of study. It must not be too hide–bound. There may be once in a while an exception to it. There may be extraordinary children that will not fit into the ordinary course. These should be treated as exceptions, and considered by them selves. Study the cause and figure the results of such changes and then be true to the child rather than to the course of study. The ungraded school goes to one extreme. Each child is changed and classified for any sort of whim. If he does not get all of to–day's lesson he goes it alone, thereby losing the incentive that comes from class competition. On the other hand, the course of study may become a fetich until the pupil that cannot make the uniform course is ignored. The saner, safer middle ground is best.

Below is given a mere skeleton outline of a course of study. Roughly it follows what is sometimes called the nationalized course. It would seem that careful adjustment would adapt it to almost any kind of school. The teacher or local board could follow its guidance as to subjects and quickly allot the work in the different grades. The texts used, the local conditions and the particular classes would thus be cared for. One class perhaps could do more in arithmetic than the same grade next year. Certain standards could be set. If the class could not reach this standard they could come as near reaching it as possible, and the remainder of the work could go over to the next year. The best classes would set standards of attainment that succeeding classes might be envious of equaling or surpassing. I have known teachers and classes to snooze over simple interest for month after month while if the teacher and the class had known that if they did not get a good working knowledge of simple interest in one month that the class would be considered slow or else the teaching poor, the work would have been done and well done in one month. Teachers and classes accomplish most when much is expected of them. That is one of the good things about a uniform course of study. One school learns to compare itself with another school, and both are benefited by it.

Set certain definite accomplishments for the class and the grade, do well what work you undertake, but keep moving. The outline may help you.

  1. Primary Grades
    1. First year
      1. Reading
      2. Writing
      3. Spelling
      4. Language
      5. Numbers
      6. General lessons
        1. Singing
        2. Drawing
        3. Care of the body
        4. Calisthenics
        5. Morals and manners
    2. Second year
      1. Reading
      2. Writing
      3. Spelling
      4. Language
      5. Numbers
      6. General lessons
        1. Singing
        2. Drawing
        3. Care of the body
        4. Calisthenics
        5. Morals and manners
    3. Third year
      1. Reading
      2. Writing
      3. Spelling
      4. Language
      5. Primary arithmetic
      6. General lessons
        1. Singing
        2. Drawing
        3. Care of the body
        4. Calisthenics
        5. Nature study
        6. Morals and manners
  2. Intermediate grades
    1. Fourth year
      1. Reading
      2. Writing
      3. Spelling
      4. Language
      5. Arithmetic
      6. Geography
      7. General lessons
        1. Singing
        2. Drawing
        3. Health lessons
        4. Nature study
        5. Calisthenics
        6. Morals and manners
    2. Fifth year
      1. Reading and literature
      2. Writing
      3. Spelling
      4. Language
      5. Arithmetic
      6. Geography
      7. General lessons
        1. Music
        2. Drawing
        3. Hygiene
        4.  Nature or agriculture
        5. Calisthenics
        6. Morals and manners
    3. Sixth year
      1. Literature
      2. Writing
      3. Spelling
      4. Elementary grammar
      5. Arithmetic
      6. Geography
      7. History
      8. General lessons
        1. Music
        2. Drawing
        3. Hygiene
        4. Nature or agriculture
        5. Calisthenics
        6. Morals and manners
        7. Sloyd
  3. Advanced grades
    1. Seventh year
      1. Literature
      2. Orthography
      3. Grammar
      4. Arithmetic
      5. Geography
      6. History
      7. Physiology
      8. General exercises
        1. Music
        2. Drawing
        3. Nature or agriculture
        4. Sloyd
    2. Eighth year
      1. Literature
      2. Orthography
      3. Grammar and composition
      4. Arithmetic
      5. Geography
      6. History
      7. Physiology
      8. General exercises
        1. Music
        2. Drawing
        3. Nature or agriculture
        4. Sloyd or manual training
        5. Literary exercises

No one would expect you to have a daily lesson in all the above subjects. For example, in the first year reading, writing, spelling and language would be combined.

In the second year these subjects in the main would be combined. The general lessons need not be daily lessons and often two or more years could be combined in the same instruction. Calisthenics could be general exercises for all the grades or the two advanced grades might be excused from these if you thought best. History and geography might come on alternate days, or history and physiology. The course is to represent the lines of study that in a well–graded school are kept abreast. The allotment of time and the work is left to the adjustment of the teacher or school.