by Robert Hanaford Smith Weirs Times Contributing Writer
Just to be clear, I am not giving the report by the committee of five or the report of the fifteen; I’m just reporting on the report of the five that was published in the Granite Monthly issue of December, 1895.
Committees have been around for a long time and it is not unusual for one committee to appoint another to deal with a certain aspect of its responsibilities. The report under consideration was on elementary school education in the State of New Hampshire under the oversight of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Fred Gowing. The names of those on the committees I have not been able to locate but assume that the New Hampshire State Teachers Association may have been involved. The Teachers Association had its beginning in the year1854 and was one of ten founding states of the National Education Association in 1859.
Local yokels in 1895 probably had more control over their schools than is found on the local level today. Even the length of the school year was dictated by how much money a town budgeted for elementary education each year. But there were state guidelines and the committees of 15 and 5 were responsible for determining what should be taught in which elementary grades and how many hours a week should be set aside for each subject.While commending the Committee of Fifteen for their work, the Committee of Five did not agree with all of their conclusions.
Here is a brief summary of what the 1895 committees decided. As pertaining to English classes the “15” recommended ten reading lessons a week for the first two years of school and five lessons a week for the rest of the elementary school years. The “15” also felt that at the beginning of the fifth year, or at about age 10, the students should be given a textbook of grammar. The Committee of “5” disagreed with the “ 15”,and after a long discourse insisting that the student develop “intelligible” reading and the ability to get the sense of a sentence before undertaking the technical side of picking out “…nouns, prepositions, adverbs, etc.” They recommended a year of intense study of grammar at the age of thirteen.
The Committee of Fifteen suggested that during the last year of elementary school five lessons of Latin per week be offered in place of grammar. The “ 5 ” believed “that, as conditions are in New Hampshire at this present time, this step would be inadvisable. We believe …this time should be reserved for a more careful study of English.”
The two committees also disagreed on the details of studying arithmetic. The “15” suggested sixty minutes of oral lessons during a child’s first two years of school, studies from a text-book for the next four years, and two years of Algebra before going on to high school. The “5” felt that this was impractical, pointing out “ that most pupils are not yet perfect mental machines”, and “ that pupils have been confused too much in the past by the introduction of complicated conditions; that they have been impeded in their arithmetical progress…” . Charging that the “15” viewed the “ science of numbers from the standpoint of an adult mathematician’s brain ” instead of a child’s, the “5” asked that algebra be taught in connection with arithmetic in the eighth grade.
Agreement was found in the study of geography with the report of the five concentrated on making the subject interesting to the students by combining physical and political geography. They stated that “the earth- the necessary dwelling place of man, is so closely related with every human interest that any attempt to reduce its study to a mere science like other sciences can but result in failure.”
The “15” disagreed with the “5” only in that they believed history text-books should be given at the middle of the sixth year instead of at the beginning of the seventh. Both agreed that the study of the Constitution of the United States should be taught during the last half of the eighth year along with local applications.
Writing would be taught for the first six grades if the recommendations of the “15” were followed; the “5” thought it should be continued beyond the sixth year, maintaining that ‘… in many cases the child’s muscles are not sufficiently developed at the age of eleven or twelve to enable him to get steady control of the required movements of penmanship.”
Stating that “the era of bad spelling is on with a vengeance” the Committee of Five rejected the recommendation of the Committee of Fifteen that spelling lists be used only in the fourth, fifth, and sixth years and stated that it should continue for the next two years.
Making reference to “the new era in education” the report also suggested that sixty minutes a week be reserved for Natural Science and Hygiene, General History, Physical Culture, Drawing, and Vocal Music. The actual writer of the report was John Henry Bartlett of the Whipple School in Portsmouth.