Excerpt from The Forum, Vol. 12: September, 1891-February, 1892
We have a great system of common schools throughout the country, which engage the attention and interest - I may add, which awaken the anxiety - of large-hearted, thoughtful Americans; but my subject is apart from these. I am concerned with such schools only as belong to the secondary class, which are preparatory to a uni versity course, whether classical or scientific, and which profess also to give to boys who are designed for business, such beginning of sound mental training and knowledge of letters that they need not be classed hereafter with the uninformed and illiterate. The school is American in the strictest sense of the word, on American soil, under American institutions, for American needs, and not an imitation, however good, of what cannot be reproduced on this side of the Atlantic - a great English public school. We cannot have Rugby, or Eton, or Harrow here, if we would. And certainly no one who understands our society, and the special character of our civilization, would wish for such trans planting. This is not saying that we are above learning from England, or Germany, or any other nation, what is best in its educational work, or that we are starting out for ourselves regardless of the rich harvests of the past. Our danger as a nation is from self-confidence and satisfaction in beginnings which are at best only a promise and foundation for the future. But neither the great English public school nor the German gymnasium would suit us here. We have our own conditions to meet and provide for, which belong to ourselves as Americans, as well as those which are common to men in every country, age, and generation.
The ideal is one not easy of attainment, and there are opposing forces at work in our American social life, which make it peculiarly difficult. Average human nature must be surmounted and directed in every age, if we would reach a high standard of excellence, whether intellectual or moral; but we have our own special barriers and draw backs, and these will be brieﬂy indicated as I go on.
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