1895 Fredericton Encaenia

Address in Praise of Founders

Delivered by: Davidson, John


"The University. The Encoenial Exercises There This Afternoon. Professor Davidson's Oration ... Delivered on Behalf of the Faculty" The Daily Gleaner (30 May 1895): 1, 4.

There is an old fallacy into which great bodies of men periodically fall, that the introduction of machinery supercedes human skill and reduces all differences to an equality of indifference, and every economic laudator temporis acti laments for the passing of the days when workmen were men, not the slaves of the machine. With clearer historical knowledge and a closer acquaintance with the conditions of labor in more backwood countries economists at least have come to recognize that probably greater demands are made to-day on the intelligence of the average workmen than were made in the days before machinery, and that the skill and the intelligence of the artizan are any rate no less in factories with their power looms than in domestic shop with its cumbrous hand looms. Periodically it is true the old fallacy is asserted in the industrial world. We have great strikes in the boot trade in England, partly at least against the introduction of machinery, and apologists for the strikers were not wanting who declared that the introduction of American machinery into the boot trade in England would reduce the demand for skilled labor, as if the operator in the boot factories in New England were less intelligent than the operators in Old England. The truth, however, is asserting itself that the more complicated the machinery the more skill is required of the operative; the more perfect the system the better must the operative be. The introduction of machinery does not do away with the necessity of human skill; the form may change, but the necessity of human skill is the same or greater. And it is the same with a system as with machinery. The more perfect the system is we have devised the more care must we exercise in selecting those who are to work it, for no system can operate of itself. Systems like machinery increase and do not lessen the demands on the intelligence and skill of the operator.

We have in theory at least an excellently devised school system, and we have much reason to pride ourselves on the system. The code contains all modern subjects, and nothing is omitted that could possibly be included. It is a building fitly framed together and the wonder is that the results of such a system are not better than they are. We find our education is more in seeming than in substance; that there are great gaps between the primary schools and the grammar schools, and the university, and that these gaps are at any rate not closing; and when we turn to enquire for the cause we shall find it in the fact that the minds of our educational authorities have been possessed by the old fallacy that machinery and sill and intelligence are in inverse proportions. They have imagined that a school system would operate of itself, and have labored to elaborate and perfect the code they had devised. They have forgotten that every improvement in the code and in the system makes a heavier and a higher demand on the skill and the intelligence of the teacher who has to make the system "march." In the industrial world the evil results arising from the mistaken point of view were readily apparent, and partly by the influence of competition and partly by the action of the state have been corrected; but in the educational world the results are not so apparent, nor to the average man do they appear so important. Therefore in spite of the protests of some far-seeing writers on education (generally pronounced reactionaries) our authorities have gone on elaborating the code and perfecting the system without enquiring whether any steps were being taken proportionately to increase the skill and ability of the teacher, on whom the ultimate responsibility of the proper functioning of the system must rest. Yet this is the real educational problem which awaits solution. Educational theory, and the practice enlightened by educational theory, is making less and less of the system and the subject, and more and more of the teacher. In the hands of the skilled any system will produce its perfect work, and without skill on the part of the teacher educational machinery is at least as good or as bad as useless. What are we doing to secure teachers skilled enough to operate our educational system? I do not speak of the systematic training of our teachers in normal school, or of the often undirected but yet very hopeful efforts in our county institutes, which are so good that one can wish them better. These are only parts of our system, part of our machinery. Skill is not the product of the machine, and it was only the pressure of enlightened self-interest which brought the employers to recognize that it was not profitable to work expensive machinery with half skilled labor, and only indirectly has machinery been the cause of skill. In educational affairs the enlightenment of self-interest has not been present and the light that has not been present and the light that has been in our educational masters has too often been darkness. There was little or nothing to combat the old fallacy that machinery lessened the demand for skill and the demand for skill has consequently diminished.

Modern wage theory is inclined to state not merely that wages will generally be paid according to skill and the work done; but even to go so far often as to suggest that work done and skill developed are in strict proportion to the wages received. The hard master who would gather where he has not strewn does not gather much; if he pays meanly his men will work meanly, and if the general rate of wages be inadequate the general average of skill and efficiency will be correspondingly low. We do not go the length of heating the theory as a convertible proposition which may be read with equal accuracy from either end, skill or wages; but yet recognize the truth that there is an economy in high wages and that a policy of parsimony may often be a policy of waste. It is certainly not true to say that it is a matter of indifference to an employer whether many inefficient laborers are engaged at low wages, or a smaller number of efficient laborers at a more adequate wage, although many employers are short-sighted enough for their own interests not to see how this can be. It is absolutely untrue that where only one laborer can be employed, one inefficient laborer at a low wage is as economical as a skilled laborer at a higher wage; for in the first case the work may not be done at all. Wages are, according to Adam Smith, for the encouragement of industry, and all experience goes to show that the well paid laborer is not merely absolutely but relatively as well the more productive of the two. There is certainly a false economy in low wages and a decided economic importance to be attached to what the Scotch Reformers, when they drew up the Book of Discipline on which not merely the school system of Scotland but the school systems of the United States and Canada have been based, to what they called "an honest stipend;" and the economy of high wages becomes the more apparent, the more the reliance which must be placed on the worker. In the commonest manual labor, where the laborers work under direction, it may possibly be a matter of indifference whether cheap labor or dear is hired; but the greater the demands made on the mental and the moral nature of the worker the more nearly is it true that low wages show a low standard of efficiency, and that the inefficiency is due to the low wages. Wages are for the encouragement of industry, and where the encouragement is wanting the industry will fail. The standard of efficiency in any trade or industry or profession falls where the wages, which are for the encouragement of industry, are falling or do not advance as quickly as in similar professions. For a time custom and habit, professional pride or personal devotion may prevent the decline of the standard, but in the long run a poorly paid profession will have a low standard. There may be many other reasons for men entering the particular trade or profession and yet it is invariably true that when the rate of remuneration falls off relatively to other similar trades or professions, the standard of efficiency falls within the profession. The new comers who are attracted to the profession are not of the same quality nor have they as high qualifications as their predecessors, and in one way and another the standard of the profession falls and follows the rate of wages.

It is perhaps a matter of doubt whether wages are rising or falling in the profession of teaching in this province. Some insist indignantly or with lamentations that the standard for the remuneration of teachers has fallen considerably and others, more hopeful, chronicle with triumph any slight improvement. In the lack of precise information it would be useless to attempt to make any decision on this matter, and moreover it is quite unnecessary, for on two points there is practically universal consent, wages in the teaching profession have not risen so fast or so far as in other employments, and at the present day there are not as there used to be any prizes in the profession. Wages and salaries may be higher, and the general conditions may be better than they were fifty, thirty, twenty years since, but if the improvements have not come so fast as in other professions requiring similar skill and ability, the net attractiveness of the profession has diminished, and a poorer class of teachers will enter the profession.

The importance of the second point which is absolutely indisputable, can hardly be over estimated in examining the causes of the decline of the net attractiveness of the teaching profession. Wage theorists insist that in estimating the net attractiveness of any trade or profession, we must take account of the chances that offer themselves of great and marked success on the chance of attaining to one of the prizes of the profession, men will be long content to work for lower remuneration than their services are worth. The status of the profession is determined from above and where there are a number of lucrative positions which may be obtained, although after waiting, the standard of the profession will be set high and men of marked ability will enter it. There can be ono doubt that within the last twenty or thirty years the number of lucrative positions open to teachers has decreased. The average salary may be higher now than it was then, but this avails nothing to attract and to keep the best talent in the profession. The wages are for the encouragement of industry, and there is little encouragement where a man may obtain almost at first all that hie is ever likely to obtain.

The absence of prizes means the absence of incentive, and the absence of incentive to increased effort means that the efforts will not long be maintained. It is not merely that the number of prizes has decreased, but the prizes themselves are not relatively so attractive as they were. For no greater expenditure of time and labor in training, a greater return can be gained in other professions, and the other professions are attracting much of the trained ability that ought to have been directed to the teaching of the young. Teaching is rapidly falling to the level of those employments of which a man may make a stepping stone. Teaching offers the inducement of an immediate return and many become teachers from no other reason than to earn money to enable them to pursue other studies. It is well that opportunities should be afforded to those who have the ambition and the ability to go farther, but is were desirable that such an opportunity should not be offered at the expense of the status of the teaching profession. Indeed in some ways the ease with which a little money may be made teaching is a snare. It attracts into the profession those who are rather shiftless, without ambition and irresolute. These stay in the profession, while those whom it would be desirable to retain having pocketed their salaries, move off to their "fresh woods and pastures new." Many of those who entered the profession merely to earn a little money have remained in it from necessity. Once involved in work it was not so easy to work out again and some of our best teachers are teachers who with great diligence have made a virtue of their necessity. Yet the large effect is that the profession of teaching is being degraded to the level of those employments which are regarded by those engaged in them as merely temporary. In such temporary and stepping stone employments wages are low and this is generally put forward as the principal cause why woman's wages work for work are lower than men's. It is almost impossible to bring most female operatives to regard their present employment, and consequently the employers, having no guarantee that the hands will remain with them, will pay only low wages, and the hands having no regard for anything but the immediate present will not take trouble to master the difficulties of the trade.

No teacher, whose sole idea is to accumulate enough money to enable him to pursue a post graduate course, can take much interest in his profession as a profession, or care to apply his mind to the solution of the practical and theoretical difficulties of subject and method of which every teacher can speak. The results of this way of regarding the professions of a teacher are far reaching. The desire for immediate returns depresses wages and lowers the ideal of the teacher; the rapid circulation of teachers renders it possible to fill any vacancy from among the half skilled and inexperienced; those who have skill and experience are forced to accept the rates for which young teachers will engage; and thus a low rate of wages is established. To depress the rate of wages means ultimately to lower the standard of efficiency which we saw were closely connected. So we enter on a vicious circle which it requires courage to break. Poor wages make poor work and poor work is only worth poor wages. Who is likely to break this circle?

It is easy to see that the school districts in country districts will not and cannot break the circle. They are too often unqualified either in knowledge or in interest to direct the school affairs over which they preside. There is a very wide spread idea in all democratic communities that no man is worth much more than the average man, and in farming districts where the majority of the residents see very little money from years end to years end, the cash salary paid to the teachers seems truly princely; and the natural consequence is that there is a constant inclination to reduce the teacher's salary when it can be done. School expenses are indeed heavy; and the burden of the school rate is a very considerable item. Accordingly, where there is a lack of appreciation of the value of education a niggardly policy will be pursued. Salaries will be kept low, and the question of efficiency will never be raised, for a school trustee is very apt to take the measure of his own schooling as the standard of education which ought to be required. They imagine too, I suppose, that the system is all sufficing, and since any one is thought able to operate the system and produce the desired, the practical corollary is to get the work done as cheaply as possible.

The inference is not to be wondered at. If we accept the general American reliance on system and constitution we need not wonder that those, who have no sense of the high dignity of education, put the honor of the district up at a Dutch auction and stand ready to accept the lowest offer made. There is something particularly disgraceful in the advertisements one sometimes sees asking the applicants to state the lowest salary required; and yet those advertisements are not the worst that one sees or hears, stories not without foundation, in fact of mean spirited teachers offering to work at a lower salary than the actual occupant of the school house, and of meaner boards of trustees dismissing their teacher and accepting the offer instead of sending the correspondence to the Educational Review. Not hearsay evidence alone, but even the official reports of the school inspectors bear this out. G. W. Mersereau, '94, says: "The trustees in No. 5 aim at employing the cheapest teachers instead of the best they can afford; consequently the attendance has fallen off."

P. R. Steves, of '94, says: "Although the district is well to do, the trustees seem averse to efficiency. The disposition to improve seems wanting."

W. S. Carter, '94, said:--"In some cases ratepayers desiring a good school are greatly annoyed by the board or a majority of it engaging a cheap low class teacher. Some more stringent regulations should be made requiring the employment of teachers suitable to the needs of the district." It is a melancholy state of affairs and it is the more regrettable that the county boards have had no higher example shown them from the education centres of the province. The school trustees of the city of Fredericton have still to offer a satisfactory reply to the criticism on their action in the school report of 1893. A cut in salaries on whatever grounds made by the trustees in Fredericton must have an evil influence elsewhere throughout the province; and if these things be done in the green tree what shall be done in the dry?

On the other hand the educational authorities of the province, in spite of all their opportunities have done little to raise and unfortunately a good deal to depress the status of the profession over which they are placed, one can recognize the difficulty in which the Board of Education is placed. The inspector reports that district No. 2 has been without an open school for two years because the trustees will not offer salary sufficient to attract even the poorest teacher, that the school house in district No. 7 is unfit for use during the winter, and that strong measures will have to be taken with the trustees of district No. 10. The lack of a compulsory law, and the difficulties in the way of enforcing regulations as they at present exist rendered the position of the Board of Education very hard. They are under the necessity of pretending that the young people of the county are growing up educated, and while it could be found in the official report that district No. 5 had not had open school for two years, the pretence could not be made. The trustees throughout the province could not or would not pay salaries sufficient to attract teachers of the proper class and so the fatal regulation regarding third class teachers, a regulation which will do more to lower the standard of the profession than any other cause. It is a good rule for all educational authorities not to make it easier to act along the line of least resistance; and yet the board has made it easier for the county trustees to follow the devices of their own hearts. The board has delivered the county trustees into temptation that will not long be resisted while the ideal of education is set low. The schools will all soon be opened and or a few weeks in the year the children of the poor district will be taught by third class teachers without experience, age or knowledge. It is time that the third class teacher cannot remain teaching long as a third class teacher, and that his practical experience will render his future theoretical training more profitable. The regulation does indeed secure a certain term of apprenticeship without supervision or guidance where the experience is gained at the expense of the poor children of the county districts who have the same rights to a good eduction as the more fortunate children whose lot has been thrown in a more settled district. The new regulation has made it easier for the county trustees to offer low salaries, and the force of the limitation on the period during which such teachers may teach is destroyed by the fact that no limitation has been placed on the supply. Each year the Normal School will turn out a new batch, more than sufficient to supply the schools rendered vacant under the regulation. Children of seventeen are not fitted to teach, and as long as the wages of teaching remain so low as they are it is only the services of children that we can command. Yet surely it is more economical to pay well and have the work done than to pay poorly and have the work botched and mangled. We need mature ability to operate our education system, all the more because whether we like it or not our educational system is a secular system, and that means that our teachers must build up the character of their pupils (for what is education but character building) without the aid of the most efficient instrument in their work; and the children whose services we command at the price we offer, children of sixteen, seventeen and eighteen, without absolutely unformed character, cannot do the real work of education, the foundation of character.

It seems almost useless to protest and futile to suggest any remedy. Yet there is no class of the community that works harder or has to work harder than the teachers in our public schools. By the common consent of the ignorant, teachers high and low are professional elders, but I doubt much whether there is any class of the community more faithful in the discharge of their under paid duties.

If we take devotion to an ideal other than the making of money as the distinguishing feature of a profession, teaching must rank second only to and not far behind the christian ministry as a profession. Nothing but a consciousness of the importance of the work they were doing keeps many of our best teachers working under the irksome conditions to which they are subjected. Yet the laborer is worthy of his hire and no profession can long maintain its high standard if its members do not receive an honest stipend.

To the teachers in our public schools we owe much. The future of our country is in their keeping. Whether we say cynically with Mr. Lowe that we must educate our masters, or prophetically with Mazzini that the problem of democracy is an educational problem, we must all admit the absolute importance of education in a democracy; and if democracy is to be more than a somewhat squalid experiment in political government, if the rule of the people by the people, for the people, is to remain an ideal worth striving for then we ought to make sacrifices for its realization, and the most obvious, as well as the most important means, is that we should by suitable provision attract able men and women to the training of those who come after us.

There is one point on which all writers on wages are agreed, viz.: that nothing lowers wages and consequently efficiency so quickly as a steady supply of half skilled laborers seeking employment. It is just possible that many of those third-class teachers are worth no more than they receive, but it is not in the third-class alone that wages at the bottom have a tendency to pull down wages in all higher classes. The regulation is having its effect already. The result is that the standard of efficiency is low and is falling. We multiply subjects and extend our codes and include all the sciences in our heading (and some that are not sciences) and yet we neglect the weightier matters. We trouble ourselves much about the subjects and their proper co-ordination and not at all about the fitness of the teachers. We elaborate our systems and perfect our machinery and leave sublimely and ridiculously alone the question which becomes more, not less, important as our machinery is improved. The more the system, the more skilled must be the operator, and yet we take not the slightest real precaution to secure skilled operators. We introduce regulations which will reduce wages, lower efficiency and render worse than unnecessary all the educational machinery which has been so diligently constructed. We can commit our educational machine to the care of children. We need able men and women to do the work, and mature ability cannot long be commanded at the price.


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