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ADDENDUM TO MY LETTER OF FEBRUARY 18, 1924
As a credential of qualification for expressing any opinion on the questions at issue, may I say that I have been a member of the National Education Association for 29 years (a confession rather than a boast); that I was a school superintendent 9 year, and a University dean for 17 years; that I have been a student and teacher of the history, philosophy, and administration of education for 194 years; and that I speak solely as becomes a professor of education and not as a partisan representative of any association, political party, church, lodge, or klan.
(1) The statement contained in the Journal of the Nationa Education Association for February, 1922, page 79, calls for investigation (see official copy inclosed).
Was this an accurate statement of fact?
Why did National Education Association officials withhold the name of the organization?
Is there any evidence that there is anything behind the activities of this organi-zation besides a patriotic interest in the welfare of the American people?
What has this organization accomplished, thus far, and what is it now doing with regard to educational legislation?
Will this organization submit an itemized account showing how the alleged $125,000, or any part thereof, is being spent annually
(2) Your committee would be warranted in disregarding altogether the indorse-ments which the National Education Association bill has received until alternative proposals in bills since introduced have had free, fair, and full consideration by those who have indorsed that bill.
(3) After the side-stepping at the hearings of the joint committee on reorgani-zation, January 7 to 31, 1924, your committee would be justified in calling the bluff of the National Education Association representatives by reporting favor-ably on H. R. 6582 and leaving the Bureau of Education as reorganized in the Department of the Interior.
(From the Journal of the National Education Association, Jannary, 1922] A most encouraging growth in lay support of the Towner-Sterling bill was reported to the legislative commission of the association at a conference in Washington on January 7. Congressman Towner stated that the prospects of success were never so bright as they are now. Public sentiment is crystallizing throughout the country. One of the recent petitions to Congress for the passage of the bill was signed by 38,000 citizens. A lay organization of national scope hasappropriated $125,000 to be used in publicity for the measure during the present year and an annual appropriation of the same amount will be made until the provisions of the bill have been enacted into law. Another organization has launched on a national scale a "minute-man" campaign for the measure. The representatives of other lay organizations present at the Washington conference pledged continued and aggressive support and urged immediate effort to bring the bill to a vote.
The delay in having the Towner-Sterling bill reported out of committee, which the enemies of the bill
have attempted to interpret as a sign of failure, was clearly explained by Judge Towner. The reorganization of all Federal departments has been a part of President Harding's program. It would obviously have been discourteous to the administration to press a vote on the Towner-Sterling bill creating a department of education while Congress was expecting a report from the joint committee on the reorganization of the executive departments, which would necessarily include a recommendation regarding the position education should occupy in the executive branch of the Government.
In the meantime, however, the friends of the Towner-Sterling bill have taken steps to protect the interests of education whatever may be the report of the reorganization committee. The strength of public sentiment in support of the highest recognition of education is clearly evidenced by the effective nationwide protest against the submergence of educational interests in any Executive department. If the reorganization committee is to report at all during this session of Congress, it may be expected to do so within a short time. Action by this committee would be a signal for the rallying of the freinds of the TownerSterling bill to secure its enactment with such acceptable modifications as may be required to adapt it to the general plans recommended by the reorganization committee. Friends of education need have no fear that the plain intent of the bill will be sacrificed or compromised.
If the reorganization committee should fail to make a report, the TownerSterling bill will be pressed for passage in its original form. It was the unanimous opinion of the members of the legislative commission that the legislative program which has been repeatedly endorsed by the National Education Association and by the Department of Superintendence should be vigorously and loyally supported in cooperation with the other great National groups which are unitedly back of it. If satisfactory action is not secured during this session of Congress, efforts will be made to determine the attitude of every Senator and Congressman on the bill and the friends of the measure will carry the campaign for its support into the congressional election next fall.
A TEACHERS' BONUS BILL
1. No other agency in the social order is so vital to a nation as its public-school system. The schools are the arteries through which circulate the very life blood that nourishes the mind and the conscience of a people. For this reason any measure intended to modify and readjust the plan of public instruction is of highest concern to every citizen. The Sterling-Reed bill now before the Congress is such a measure. If it shall be enacted into law it will profoundly affect the conception and conduct of public education in the United States.
2. The bill is referred to by those who are urging its adoption as the education bill. It might with equal justice be called the teachers' bonus bill, for the measure includes a huge grant which is available “in public elementary and secondary schools for the partial payment of teachers' salaries”-in popular phrase, for. “adjusted compensation.
The bill is pushed by the National Education Association. The association has established headquarters in Washington and created a “legislation division”. interesting feature of an educational association. This division is seeking to organize the public-school teachers of the country so as to marshal as much influence as possible in support of the measure. So energetic is this propaganda that no one may criticize the Sterling-Reed bill without being accused as an enemy of the public schools. In its circular of February 6 the legislative division prints with approval this statement:
"The Sterling-Reed education bill in the present Congress is likely to be the test of loyalty or disloyalty to the public schools of the United States. What the attempt to land tea at the Boston docks was to England, what the Dred Scott decision was to slavery, what the sinking of the Maine was to Spain, what the sinking of the Lusitania was to Germany, the defeat of the education bill is liable to be to all antipublic-school interests.'
This is an extraordinary statement to come from a body speaking in the name of wisdom and knowledge. Its literary form is scarcely that to be expected from an authority in education. The historical incidents here brought together appear somewhat incongruous. But the meaning is plain. Anyone who attempts to criticize this measure, is to be branded, so far as the legislative division of the National Education Association can do so, as an enemy of the public schools. One may well believe that the political organization of the Association, in taking so extreme a stand, had outrun the intentions of the thoughtful and able men and women in the public schools. In any event this situation ought not to prevent a fair and discriminating discussion of this measure, to the end that the Congress and the people may clearly understand how wide a departure from our American conception of public education this legislation will effect and how farreaching its results are likely to be.
3. The bill contains 19 sections. It undertakes to accomplish three main objects:
(1) To establish a department of education whose head shall be a Cabinet member, who will, under the powers granted in the bill, supervise and promote public education in the United States.
(2) To authorize and enable the secretary, so appointed, to carry out studies and investigations in elementary, secondary, and higher education, and to apply the funds at his disposition to various educational projects.
(3). The bill provides a total annual appropriation of $100,000,000. The principal items in this large grant are seven and one-half millions each for the
education of illiterates, and for Americanization of immigrants, twenty millions for promoting physical education, fifteen millions for the improvement of teachers in service and for the more adequate preparation of prospective teachers; and finally and most significant of all, fifty millions “to be used in public elementary and secondary schools for the partial payment of teachers' salaries, for providing butter instruction and extended school terms especially in rural schools; for the extension and adaptation of public libraries for educational purposes, and otherwise providing, equally good educational opportunities for the children of the 8 veral States.
The bill contains one provision which will place the secretary of education in a unique relation. Provision is made for a large council "to consult and advise with the secretary of education." The attempt to temper administrative action by a supervising council has often been tried, but rarely with success. at least be predicted that a secretary who serves under the advice and counsel of approximately 100 persons, including the chief educational officers of 48 States, 25 educators" and 25 “not educators,” will have a chastening experience.
The three objects sought in the bill are, therefore, supervision of education throughout the Nation by a central department of the National Government, scrutiny and investigation, through this department, of all branches of education, and, finally, the carrying out by the department, in cooperation with the States, of various educational projects including adjusted compensation to public-school teachers.
These three projects do not command the unanimous approval of all those who support the bill. Some who are sincerely devoted to the scheme for a secretary of education, with a large advisory council, have serious doubts of the proposal to subsidize from the National Treasury local schools and groups of teachers. On the other hand the body of hard-worked teachers in the rural and urban schools have little interest in the grandiose plan for a national secretary of education, but the suggestion of appropriations by the General Government to piece out meager salaries forms an argumentum ad hominem (et feminam) hard to resist.
4. It has not generally been recognized in the hearings on this bill that the question of supervision and subsidy of educational by the National Government, through a department of education, is not primarily a question of education. It is a question of statesmanship. A legislative measure may be directed to the attainment of a most desirable object and yet adopt methods for the attainment of that end which are capable of doing great and lasting injury to the body politic. No one can question the need to banish illiteracy, to teach a wholesome hygiene to all children, and to better the salaries of hard-worked and devoted teachers, but the question whether these things can be accomplished by a central agency in Washington, directed by a politically appointed head intrusted with the disposition of huge subsidies, is primarily one of public policy and of political experience, not of education. This measure needs therefore to be examined first from the point of view of the statesman, and then from that of the teacher. Is the measure wise and sound as a matter of public policy? And if so, is it justified from the standpoint of public education in a democracy? These are the questions that ought to be answered clearly and fairly before the Nation embarks on so momentous a policy.
5. The advocacy in our country of a department of education headed by a Cabinet officer is no new thing. It has been discussed almost from the founding of the office of Commissioner of Education in 1867. The earlier advocates of the notion pointed to European ministers of education as spelndid examples of the system, and particularly to Prussia. The low rate of illiteracy, the high general average of the schools, the efficiency of the State-trained teachers were all dwelt upon as notable illustrations of what could be accomplished by a State-directed system of education. This argument has not been popular in recent years. The Prussian centralized system proved in time a little too efficient. Starting with admirable measures for general and technical education it ultimately gained complete control of the minds and of the consciences of Prussian children and transformed religion itself into a glorified worship of the State.
The objections to a centralized department of education lie in the very ideals of our democracy. It is not in the interest of the whole body of people in the various States and communities to take the risk that inheres in the establishment of a central department of education intrusted with large (and no doubt ever growing) subsidies. No one believes that a secretary of education in our country would be in a position to carry out the educational régime that made Prussia, through its schools, the most highly disciplined but the most subservient people in Europe. On the other hand, no one can doubt, in the light of the history of s ch centralized agencies, that a department at Washington would tend more and more toward bureaucratic control of education, that it would use its subsidies to promote its own educational theories, and that its influence would in time run counter to the free normal development of American citizenship,
Even if one could feel assured that illiteracy would be banished and hygiene taught to all the children through the labors of such a centralized department he would still hesitate to attempt these results through centralization in education. But who can be sure that the secretary of education, even with his subsidies, can compass these results any faster or any better than they are being accomplished by the States and communities working in their own way and on their own responsibility? European centralized departments of education have never yet succeeded in banishing illiteracy. France has perhaps the most highly centralized department of education but recent examinations of the men called to the colors have shown an astonishing illiteracy. We are making steady progress in these matters. Our Government is founded on the conception that education is primarily an obligation resting on the States and their communities. This is sound democratic reasoning based on long experience. Do we wish to adopt the undemocratie plan of centralized education with its risks and its doubtful advantages?
A second objection, arising out of considerations of large public policy, rests upon well-known economic facts. If ever the States and communities accept the notion that local schools and teachers are to be subsidized out of appropriations from the Treasury of the General Government, not only will the sense of community responsibility for education be weakened but ever-increasing pressure will be put upon the Congress to give in larger and larger measure. The one hundred millions carried by the bill as now drawn will in time swell into sums beyond any man's ability to estimate. There is no way .by which the obligation for the support of education can be permanently shifted from a community, large or small, without weakening its sense of educational responsibility. În some States laws have been passed under which the facilities of a limited area are to some extent equalized. The plan is sound only so long as the area is sufficiently limited so that the sense of community responsibility is not lost. To undertake to artificially equalize educational opportunities over our vast country through a national department of education will not succeed. But one may be very sure it will go far to destroy the community sense of educational responsibility, and most certainly it will in time impose upon the Treasury of the United States a staggering burden.
From the standpoint of a sound democratic conception of the function of government, there is a third serious objection to the bill as it is now presented. The Sterling-Reed bill is an attempt at group legislation of the most objectionable type. The fact that public-school teachers constitute one of the most devoted and patriotic groups in our social order does not affect the fact that the bill is frankly proposed and urged by an organized group.
While it is intended to serve large public purposes (all such group legislation has this hope) the bill has specific provisions in the interest of the group organized to promote it. There is to-day no more serious menace to constitutional government than these efforts to obtain, by organization and propaganda, special legislation in favor of this or that group.
One can imagine no more demoralizing influence in our system of public education than would ensue through the setting up by the General Government in the various States of large sums of money to be fought for by the schools and the teachers of the various communities. If this provision shail be enacted into law it will in a limited number of years corrupt the entire public-school system of the country. No greater misfortune could come to the teachers themselves than the adoption of a program of group organization for educational purposes.
The sentimental appeal by the representatives of the National Education Association that education is belittled because the Nation spends money on hog cholera or agriculture or commerce, but has no national department of education, is based on a misconception of that which government can and ought to do. This plea is precisely like the movement of 40 years ago to put “God into the Constitution.' A secretary of religion with subsidies for ministers, priests, and rabbis might be urged upon the same ground, and in time this may come about if the ministers, priests, and rabbis can organize with an energetic "legislative division.” Education is not to be made honorable by a Cabinet officer and a subsidy. It will be honored in just such proportion as it is sincere, thorough, and wise, and fitted to the varying needs of each community.
From the point of view of large public policy this bill can not be commended to the people of the United States. It proposes to depart from the constitutional methods of the past, under which the responsibility for tax-supported education was placed squarely upon the States and the communities. That the legislation proposed will weaken the sense of local responsibility is certain; that a centralized department of education carries great risks to democratic ideals is equally certain. That it will ultimately impose a stupendous load on the National Treasury can not be doubted. That its establishment in response to organized propaganda would be but the beginning of indefinite demands no one can doubt. Indeed, the National Education Association already has visions of further grants. At its meeting in July 1923 a report on pensions for publicschool teachers was made which contained this significant statement: "It is the distinct duty of the National Education Association to ascertain what part, if any, may properly be taken by the Government toward inviting or encouraging the establishment of retirement systems in the schools." The report then advocates that the Federal Government assume the accrued liabilities of the teacher-retirement systems of the different States.
One of the gravest objections to the Sterling-Reed bill lies in the fact that it is a part of the prevailing movement for group legislation, well meant by those who propose it, but undemocratic, paternal in its efforts, and capable of great harm both to the people and to the schools. Education will be better served in the long run to leave to the communities their educational freedom. Progress may be slower for the moment. Illiteracy may not be cured so quickly but in the end we shall have better schools, and they will represent more truly the aspirations and desires of the various communities. A democracy may well hesitate at the notion of schools standardized under the central government with the aid of huge subsidies. The benefits are too dubious, the risks too great, and the cost is beyond anyone's estimate.
6. When one considers this complicated measure from the standpoint of the education of the whole people he finds in it weaknesses no less serious for the cause of education than for that of democratic ideals.
The history of European countries has shown both the strength and the danger of the centralized bureau of education in autocratic countries. What can a national bureau of education do, and what ought it to do, for a democarcy scattered over a continent of infinite diversities; made up of free self-governing Commonwealths who to-day are charged with the duty and responsibility of maintaining schools fitted to the needs of children and of youth, and appropriate to their training for citizenship? These Commonwealths varv enormously in population, in area, in industry. The most populous has 10,000,000 inhabitants, the least populous contains 70,000 people scattered over an area as large as France. A centralized national bureau of education for this union as States so diverse in their problems and needs can not possibly undertake the rôle of similar departments in the smaller, compact, closely administered European States.
This bill assumes that the secretary of education will scrutinize, study, and develop their diverse educational needs better than the States and their communities.
This assumption is, in my judgment, unfounded. The States and communities will avail themselves of any moneys the secretary can hand out and they will go far to meet his conditions. They will balk at taking his advice and they will resent his criticism, if it be sufficiently explicit to be of real value. This has been illustrated in the history of the present National bureau of Education. That bureau has been of great service as a source of educational information. Its educational statistics met a distinct need. Some years ago it undertook to exercise the function of educational critic. A report on colleges, comparing institutions in different sections of the country was prepared. When it became known that this report made discriminating comparisons between institutions in different sections of the country an energetic and effective protest was made. The report still slumbers on the shelves of the Commissioner of Education. The conception of a secretary of education in the role of a national critic can be realized in Germany or France or Austria, but not in democratic America. The great service a national agency of education can render is in the furnishing of accurate, significant, and fruitful information, statistical and otherwise. This can be done by the present Commissioner of the Bureau of Education, if properly manned and supported, far better than by a politically appointed Cabinet officer. There are some things that can be done in an autocratic government that can not be done and had best not be attempted in a democracy. The standardization of education by a central department of education is one of them.
A democracy does not need, nor does it desire, a uniform standardized system of education. It is to the interest of the public good that schools and colleges