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Out of the Morgue
The Kansas School of the Future, as envisioned in 1894
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The old school in Ellinwood, which was built in 1888. - photo by courtesy of Karen Neuforth

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

We’ve heard a lot lately about changes coming about in our schools.  Since 2000, the nation has struggled with No Child Left Behind, and now the Kansas is implementing Common Core in Math and English.  The state has been found guilty of underfunding education, and has been ordered to increase funding. Since the 1980s, technical education has been downplayed by a push for college readiness, and today the pendulum is beginning to swing the opposite direction.  Once again, educators and elected officials, business owners, students and parents are beginning to see the value in technical training and job readiness.

While perusing the Morgue, we ran across a story in the Feb. 8 edition of the Great Bend Evening News, by Mrs. L. Baldwin, entitled “The Kansas School of the Future”.  According to Great Bend historian Karen Neuforth, Mrs. Baldwin was the wife of Luttellus Baldwin.  Her maiden name was  Martha “Mattie” A. Gunn, and she was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, on April 4, 1845, the daughter of William and Catharine Gunn.  She lived a long life here,  and died here Sept. 2, 1925.

Judging from the length and long windedness of the essay, readers in 1894 must have had longer attention spans.  Enjoy this edited version.

It has already occurred to many thoughtful people in many parts of our land that somehow the schools fail to accomplish that for which they were intended.  It is true that teachers labor hard.  They are required to be encyclopedias of knowledge and angels in temper; the taxpayer votes his tax ungrudgingly; clerks and superintendents compile the reports and the examinations are held and the promotions and diplomas are granted.  The school houses and books and apparatus are the latest improvements.  But the ends or fruits of all this “ways and means” is what will be placed in the balance for just estimate.

The first thing to be corrected is our ideas of a course of study for the common schools.  The modern tendency is to enlarge the course and to attempt more than is natural or philosophical in any plan of culture for the young.  
The future educator will revise all this and concentrate upon the essentials and fundamentals in education.  
I would emphasize language and mathematics By language is meant, reading, orthography, penmanship, grammar and rhetoric, the latter being the study of composition, poetry and eloquence.  By mathematics I mean arithmetic and geometry.  I would let algebra alone as being too abstract and abstruse for the common school.

Now I have given you all the branches I would crowd into a common school course, over which the pupils should not be allowed to spend more than three hours per day.  The remaining three of the school hours should be spent n an industrial training department, under the supervision of skilled artisans.  
Let the pupils escape from the monotony of books and the imprisonment of the school  into some place where to whistle or laugh or speak is not a crime.  Let them escape from the stifling den of impure air and nervous pressure into the workshop or laboratory, to develop the skilled eye and cunning hand.  Let them draw and cut and carve and experiment;  let them whittle and dig and spade and be natural boys and girls, instead of the stilted, stifled, crushed, prematurely old, bookish nonentities which largely comprise the grist being now ground out by the “roller process” called the common school.

I believe the course I have prescribed to be complete enough to develop all the mental power native to any young person.  There is no history, geography, civil government physiology or bookkeeping in it, except as would be incidentally found in an extensive course of reading, which I would recommend.

Another evil notion is the idea that the public school is a factory or mill.  The public seeks to organize it a mills are run.  They talk about the school as tho’ the school were the chief end.  The teacher is not a failure simply because some pupils do not wish to learn or because a boy chooses to chew his geography leaves into a wad to fire at her back hair when she turns around.

This ideal teaching implies smaller schools, and we must have more teachers and fewer pupils in each school.  The greatest Teacher had 12 pupils.  All great educators insist upon a limited number of disciples.  In the future we will teach more individuals and not do so much “class” work.  The work of the future teacher will be a poem, an inspiration.

The schoolhouse will be a temple.  There will be no sounds of command and marching to and fro.  There will be no discipline.  Boys and girls needing discipline will go to schools of that kind, because in the golden age to be there will be a “division of the sheep from the goats.”  There will be organized schools where the disturbing element will go and be taught after the “lickin’ and l’arnin’”fashion, provided there be no better way discoverable.

Yes, the time will come in Kansas when the public school, properly so-called, will be emancipated from the drudgery of “government” and “school management.” It is the worry of government and managing the bad elements that kill teachers and make them prematurely old.  

In the Kansas school of the future, the boys and girls will be educated separately after they have passed the age of innocent childhood, until they have developed out of the barbarous , say until the age of 17 to 20, when the girl has learned to respect herself and to love all that is womanly, then send them to school together to complete their education together, but during that period, between the ages of 8 and 18, by all manner of means let them be educated at separate schools.

But you ask, “When is this ideal school to be realized?”  I reply, never, unless teachers begin to organize and agitate the question.  There are always two great classes, the reformers and the conservatives.  One class looks forward, the other backward.  God pity the teacher that is contented with the present condition of the schools and chooses to ignore the sin that lies at their own threshold.