“If a school fulfills its mission there must be constant evolution…”

It is quite possible that the assigning of grades to school children and college students as a kind of reward or punishment is useless or worse…

I’ve discovered an absolute treasure trove of fascinating material: Popular Science has put its entire 137 year archive on line.

The quotation above is from Examinations, Grades and Credits by Professor J.McKeen Cattell of Columbia University. And the date?  March 1905.

In this same edition there’s a piece on how immigrants are inspected at Ellis Island, cacti, Galileo and an argument in favor of adopting the metric system.

Several decades later – November 1957 – there’s another great education piece offering a test to parents to grade how schools are teaching science. It has some interesting suggestions for improving physics teaching.

How well does your youngster’s school teach science?

The future of your child demands solid training in the sciences. Is he (sic) getting it? Here’s how to tell.

Of course – the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik the month before and the nation was in a frenzy about staying competitive and fearful of falling behind in the arms and space race.

Also in 1905 there is the first  President Roosevelt’s address to the National Education Association. Mostly it’s an admonition to teachers to avoid stirring up class enmity and envy of the rich. He champions the virtues of being poorly paid while declaring:

You teachers make the whole world your debtors….If you – you teachers – did not do your work well this republic would not endure beyond the span of the generation.

And then – because it is our 75th year at PDS – I had to look up 1934.  Just look at the range of  topics in this one copy- – only 15cents and NRA – we do our part on the cover!

The articles and advertisements are a window to different era.  There’s the sheer range of topics and then the advice on do-it-yourself home improvements and plenty of the wonder of scientific discovery.

And don’t miss those ads – everything from 1930’s social anxiety about being too skinny and body odor to how to calm your jangling nerves with a Camel.

And all the tools and plans for building things at home and all the wonder gadgets, modern marvels and the purely bizarre: Girl Fights Octopus for Underwater Movie.

There’s even a radio kit ad ad that touts progressive education methods – learning by doing.

Together with all the reports of amazing discoveries, new inventions and build-it-yourself advice that span the decades there are quaint and curious  articles about education dating to the 19th century full of earnest pleas for moral education and modern methods.

You can track the long history of anxiety about science and math teaching in school with a simple search.  And there are pieces on coeducation, kindergarten and the “proven” uselessness of freehand drawing. Art in school is a total waste of time and money it seems when compared with the value of mechanical drawing. From November 1897:

But some things, it seems, never change: See for example Determining Educational Values from  October 1914. Change the language a little for a contemporary reader and you have a ready made article on current teaching and learning controversy. Look at this from the last paragraph:

If a school fulfills its mission there must be constant evolution…

Now that’s statement that could have been the centerpiece tagline for the NAIS  Annual Conference in San Francisco last month.

On that subject, more anon.

Featured photo: danist soh


  1. Vielen Dank für die Post. Wandel ist unvermeidlich. Und Schulen müssen zu ändern.

  2. Gunther Bauer:

    Ja. Beata ist richtig. Der Wandel ist unvermeidlich und Schulen muss sich ändern. Aber wir brauchen nicht in das Gesicht der Veränderung hilflos zu sein . Wir müssen von den besten Denken über das Lernen und die Entwicklung von Kindern geführt werden

    Yes. Beata is right . The change is inevitable and schools must change. But we need not be helpless in the face of change. We must be guided by the best thinking on the learning and development of children

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