January 22, 1885
I make it a rule that I do not depart from when I get an audience that is pretty well seated and can’t get away from me to speak of my hobbies. One of my hobbies is on the subject of education. Do not misunderstand me. I do not wish to criticize our system of public schools. I do not belong to that class that say that they cost too much, that we do not get our money back, that a dollar is not well expended for public schools. But I suppose there are defects that may be remedied, there are additions that may be made; and if I were now to name some of them I should speak of at least two topics:
First, while it is well that we study the history and geography of the Jewish nation, because we got our religion from that; well to understand the biography and history of the Greeks, because we got much of our finest literature from them; well to understand the history of Rome, for many reasons; yet it seems to me that too much attention relatively has been given in academics, schools and colleges to the history and biography of the ancients and not enough to that of America.
We learn in schools of the higher grade the Hebrew language – the later scriptures were in that language. Some should be instructed in Hebrew. We are taught in Latin and Greek. Now the reform that should go through all our schools on this subject is this: We should learn the living languages-German and French, and above all we should study far more than we do in our schools the literature and language we call English.
Many and many a boy goes through our college that can talk glibly about ancient heroes of the poets of Greece and Rome and yet knows very little of the great poets and historians of America. And this is only leading up in the line of reform.
What after all is the object of education? Plainly this: To fit the young for the duties of life. The young of both sexes. Now what are the duties of life? What is the first duty of life? Evidently and plainly to be self-supporting, to be able to make an honest living. How much are our schools doing for that? How much good are they doing? I happened this week to be at a New York college in which in about six months one good trade is taught to a boy, and in the period of about twelve to eighteen the essential parts of several trades may be taught to boys, and by devoting only one or two hours during the day during the six days of the week to the business. Now I need not go into a detail of the system in particular. Trades used to be learned in a way which was profitable rather to the master than to the apprentice, as was explained to me there, where they were teaching molding. Under the old rules of the apprentice-ship system a boy used to be kept shoveling sand about seven years in learning the trade! All there is in shoveling sand and a boy can learn it is fifteen minutes, and in six months all the art and history of molding.
Now in Toledo they have started on this principle in which one hour is given a day to the pupils of the public schools, twenty-four of them at a time, three times twenty-four in the course of the day; and similar instruction for the girls. The point is to teach them enough in the first place to respect honest labor. And in the second place by honest labor to make a living. Now I go one step farther than some friends of industrial education. It is not merely make them self-supporting. I am confident, from my knowledge of men that there is better way to give a man a mastery of intellectual faculties and to discipline his mind than by having him learn a trade. Of course while the ordinary work is done by rote, automatically, without thought, but while you are learning, it must be done by the concentration of the faculties on the work at hand. You must give your mind to it or you will have mishaps and breakages. No man now gives his son the education he ought to have, the best possible education, unless he gives him that training of the judgment and of his hands which best acquired by using the implements of the farm or the workshop. I speak of this from some amount of experience. I have been on the Board of Directors of this, that and the other, and three times in four you will find that the man who can at once bring his full attention to the subject that is before the board, decide promptly and accurately, is the one who had a training on the farm or shop and not by the man who wasted his time reading novels. I wish to have such an arrangement introduced into our whole education system.