« ForrigeFortsett »
No. 41, proposed to amend the existing law (Acts of 1885, chapter 332) by adding requirements, in the main as follows:
1. That instruction in the nature of alcoholic drinks and other narcotics shall be given as thoroughly as in other branches in all public schools.
That all pupils between the third year of school work and the second year of the high school shall study the subject from suitable text-books in the hands of the pupils, in not less than three lessons each week for fourteen weeks in each year, and that they must pass the same tests for promotion in this as in any other studies.
3. That in the primary grades below the third year the instruction shall be oral, in three lessons in each week for ten weeks by teachers using text-books.
4. That the text-books used shall have certain proportions of their contents devoted to this subject, the requirements being specified in the bill.
5. That school committees, principals of normal schools and supervisors in reformatory institutions shall provide a definite time and place for this study in the regular course of instruction and an adequate supply of the required text-books.
6. That school officers who shall neglect or fail to comply with the act shall pay for such offence a fine of not less than five nor more than twenty-five dollars.
The bill also provided certain questions to be asked by the secretary of the State Board of Education and to be answered under oath by the school officials charged with its execution.
For this bill there was offered by the petitioners, early in the hearing, a substitute, which was printed for the use of the committee. This modified the first bill by reducing the number of lessons to be given. The requirements as to text-books were not substantially changed. Instruction in the normal schools, required in the first bill, was not required in the substitute. The penalty was so changed as to read as follows: “Any member of a school committee or board, or any trustee or supervising officer connected with a reformatory institution, who shall neglect or refuse to co-operate in securing compliance with any of the provisions of this act, after thirty days' notice and a continuance of such neglect or refusal, shall pay a fine for such neglect or refusal of the sum of not less than twenty-five dollars." In other respects the bill was much the same.
On the last day of the hearing a further modification was presented by the petitioners, in the form of a much briefer bill, which omitted the specifications as to the number of lessons and as to the contents of text-books, also the requirement that text-books should be in the hands of pupils. It required that this study shall be taught as thoroughly as are other branches " in the primary and to all pupils in four grades of the grammar and high school departments, and in corresponding classes of ungraded schools, and by the aid of text-books graded to the capacities of pupils, who shall pass the same tests of promotion in this and other studies.” School committees were still charged to provide a definite time and place in the regular course of study and an adequate supply of text-books, and to generally enforce the law. The requirements as to returns to the State Board of Education were much simplified. The penalty remained in the same language as in the previous substitute bill, as already quoted.
The bill introduced on leave by Mr. Myers is printed as “House, No. 817.” It was, however, considered by the committee in a modified form submitted as a substitute. The substitute sought to amend the existing law by striking out the provision that this study shall be taught all pupils in all schools, and providing in its place that it " shall be taught as a regular branch of study in the primary, grammar and high schools, in such grade or grades thereof and in such manner as the school committee of each city and town shall determine.” The existing law was not otherwise changed.
From such a synopsis of the bills submitted, it will be seen that the general effort of the petitioners was for more specific requirements as to this instruction, and to secure observance of the law, by a penalty upon the school committee charged with the care of the schools in general and with the enforcement of school laws for a failure to execute this proposed law. The successive modifications indicate a willingness to abandon the language of the present law, 66 all pupils in all schools,” in order to secure more definite requirements, which should be supported by penalties attached to their non-observance. It becomes, in the last measure proposed by the petitioners, only that this study shall be taught in the primary and to all pupils in four grades of the grammar and high schools, as thoroughly in these grades as other branches are taught.
The purpose of the House bill is, broadly stated, to secure for school committees a wider discretion than certain interpretations of the present law permit them to exercise.
The law now in force is embodied in an act of the year 1885. It requires that “physiology and hygiene, which, in both divisions of the subject, shall include special instruction as to the effects of alcoholic drinks, stimulants and narcotics on the human system, shall be taught as a regular branch of study to all pupils in all schools supported wholly or in part by public money, except special schools maintained solely for instruction in particular branches, such as drawing, mechanics, art and like studies.” It further provides that all penalties for the neglect to provide instruction in other branches of study prescribed by law shall apply to this branch.
By this enactment Massachusetts became one of the first States of the nation to require by law what is known as scientific temperance instruction in the public schools. It has remained literally unchanged to the present time. Under it has been established instruction on the subject in all the towns and cities of the State. There are alleged, however, as the basis of the request in the petition for more stringent regulations, a lack of uniformity in the instruction given and a wide diversity as to its method and amount, reaching in some instances a serious if not total neglect.
The soundness of the charge of a wide-spread neglect of the instruction now demanded by law might be questioned on evidence offered to the committee in its hearing, but it is not essential to the committee's conclusions that the evidence on this point, somewhat contradictory as it was, should be discussed. Let it be conceded, as in some measure supported by the facts, that the present law fails of its full purpose; it still remains to consider whether legislation of the nature asked for would be an effective remedy, and if it is not open to serious objections as a part of the school laws.
Instruction in physiology and hygiene with a special purpose to inculcate temperance must be considered to have a fixed place in the work of the public schools. It is so established by the fact that for fourteen years it has been one of the required branches to be taught in schools supported by public money. It is further shown to be regarded as essential by the legislation of other States of the Union, nearly every one of which has placed it in the required list. There is fresh evidence of the purpose of the people of Massachusetts that it shall be retained there by the petitions to the present Legislature, which, however their value may be questioned as supporting particular provisions of a proposed law, as to which the petitioners were but partially informed, at least show that a strong public sentiment exists in support of thorough instruction in physiological and hygienic truths as to alcohol and other narcotics, with a view to the reduction of intemperance. This sentiment cannot be disregarded in dealing with the question of modifying the present law, which embodies in general terms the purpose represented by these petitioners.
In considering a proposition to define in exact terms the instruction to be given in any branch of study in the public schools, the general school policy of the State cannot be ignored. In no case, except as to this branch alone, has the State through its laws undertaken to establish standards of instruction in any study. The required studies, other than this, are simply named in the statute as subjects to be taught in the public schools. No attempt is made as to any one of them to enumerate the lessons to be given in a certain period, or to say that each shall be taught in every grade of school. They do not depend for their security in the course of study upon express provisions of law. They are fortified in their place by a well-settled public sentiment, which is permitted a wide freedom of operation through the local school officials. It may well be asked if the study now being considered might not safely be left, at least as to the details of the method and amount of instruction, to local regulations, as are other required branches; or, at most, if the requirement peculiar to the law as to this study, that it should be taught to "all pupils in all schools,” should not be held to be the utmost the Legislature can well demand as to its particular treatment. The criticism that this requirement is vague and capable of various interpretations would apply to the statute provisions as to any other branch with greater force, as there is no specification relating to them of equal definiteness. Every proposed requirement as to this branch would be novel to the laws of the State. None now exists as to the number of lessons to be given in any required study; none as to the number of weeks it shall be taught in a year. The use of text-books is left entirely to local committees; the State in no case requires the use of text-books by the pupil or even by the teacher, the text-book being only recognized in the State law by the rather recent legislation which requires towns to pay for such as may be prescribed by the school committee. The making of proficiency in any branch a test for promotion would be the first recognition of the existence of such tests in the school system; and when there is a difference of opinion as to the value of employing them in the public schools, the establishment of any one of them in State law would be of questionable policy.
There is evident danger in the departure by the State from a policy which has respected the bounds of local authority in the legislation of two hundred and fifty years. When, to enforce such specifications as to a particular study, it is proposed to make the failure to comply with the requirements a penal offence and to subject members of school committees to criminal processes, the General Court should, in the opinion of the committee, refuse to grant the request.
Of the few penalties that are now imposed upon school committees, or even of those falling upon towns because of the negligence of school committees, there is not one that relates to their duties as to instruction. The line of distinction is clear between duties neglect of which brings penalties, and those that are strictly within the educational field; and in no case as to the latter has it been found wise or nece
cessary to adopt the method which appears in all the successive bills of the petitioners and which has been insisted upon as a positive essential to their proposition. It cannot be held that the general responsibility of school committees to their own communities and to the State to provide suitable instruction in the required studies can be increased by provisions of law which tend to degrade the official. An unavoidable tendency of such legislation would be to add new difficulty to securing the best service on school committees. Another danger suggests itself when it is proposed to select one of the many duties of school committees as to instruction for special and penal treatment; would it not tend so far as it accomplished a greater sense of responsibility in one field, by the fear of penalties, to weaken the sense of responsibility in other fields where it rested upon a general respect for the law? The interpretation would be natural, once the State entered upon building a code of penalties as to instruction, that those duties which were omitted from its express provisions and left to the official's respect for the law were less imperative.
The final draft of the bill of the petitioners which proposes a penalty for a “ failure to co-operate" to secure as thorough instruction in this as in other studies illustrates the impossibility of reconciling legislation of the kind asked with the State's established school policy. The suggestion that the police court be made a tribunal to pass upon the relative thoroughness of instruction in two or more studies, in order to determine the liability of a member of the school committee to a fine, is to put the entire proposition of enforcing moral and scientific education by this means to a test which reveals the unwisdom of the attempt to change so radically our school laws.
If the Legislature should be inclined to abandon what the committee believes to be the only wise and safe relationship of the State to the towns, by undertaking further to specialize the treatment of this study, the difficulty would have to be faced of establishing standards which would be reasonable. Widely divergent views were presented to the committee in the hearings as to the sort of instruction to be given and as to the ages of childhood in which it should be taught. The committee does not undertake to pass upon them, and only suggests the practical impossibility of the Legislature establishing a wise balance in the course of study in the schools of cities and towns, by undertaking to define the place and amount of time to be given to any one branch.
Finally, the legislation is not necessary to interpret the present law on this subject as being compulsory. It is clearly mandatory. The school committee is held by it to be equally responsible for instruction in this and in the other required branches. To refuse to comply with