A Report on Vocational Training in Chicago and in Other Cities

Chapter 12: Views of Teachers of Commercial Subjects in Chicago High Schools

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[In 1910 two-year vocational courses in commercial subjects were introduced into the Chicago high schools, giving more time to practice in accounting and stenography. In most of the schools an adequate number of machines has been provided, and in so far the criticisms made in this and preceding chapters have been already met. This report was made prior to this period.]

Teachers of commercial subjects in the public high school complain that the work receives little or no encouragement from school officers, that it is lacking in equipment, in time (especially for practice work), and in an atmosphere of practical business. Moreover, pupils who elect the commercial subjects are handicapped by the excessive amount of academic work required because courses are planned to meet college-entrance requirements.

Some statements made by teachers relative to the above conditions are here given.

Commercial education in this high school, as in the other high schools of Chicago, is in a very bad way. None of the classes provided for by the Board of Education has ever been organized except for the first year in bookkeeping and one year in stenography and typewriting. The request for classes in advanced bookkeeping and commercial law has always been denied. The number of pupils desiring advanced bookkeeping is large. We have absolutely no equipment except a limited number of typewriters. Since no instructor is available to supervise the work in the typewriting room, the result is necessarily unsatisfactory. Until commercial work receives approximately the same consideration as other subjects, it is idle to discuss courses.

The trouble with the high schools, with reference to commercial studies, is that the teachers have not the responsibility for their success. Those pupils who have most of their work in this line are overworked, the others have their attention and interests divided. I think commercial work in this city will be most speedily advanced by a policy toward it similar to the policy adopted toward manual training. We should have two or three commercial high schools distributed over the city.

The enrolment in one high school shows a large decrease in the number of pupils taking commercial branches. In September, 1908,


there were enrolled in the commercial courses in this high school 310 pupils. In September. 1909, there were enrolled 252 pupils in the commercial courses. The reasons for this are given by one of the teachers in charge.

The drop in enrolment in our bookkeeping from 1908-9 to 1909-10 may be explained by the fact that in June, 1909, physiology was deducted from the time and credit allowed for first-year bookkeeping. It was thought to be more convenient to subtract this time from bookkeeping (the commercial subject) than from any other subject. The drop in stenography for the same period may be explained by the fact that sewing was offered to second-year pupils in September, 1909, as an elective alternating with stenography, and no pupil was allowed to elect both.

We have little or no equipment; lack. suitable text-books; should be freed from the domination of outside (publishing) influence; and in order to invite hearty, enthusiastic. concerted effort, teachers should have a fair hearing upon matters devolving upon them to put into efficient operation. Our subjects have been looked upon as intruders within the classic precincts and have been given cold reception. We hail this movement upon the part of the business community as the dawning of a new era and the promise of better things in the future.

Our second-year bookkeeping list of pupils would doubtless have been 20 to 25 per cent larger but for difficulty arising from conflict of subjects on program schedules. This doubtless to some extent has affected the second-year stenography. Two years ago we had 40-odd applicants wanting second-year bookkeeping, but who could not be provided for because no text had then been authorized.

The departmental system (now but a name) would do much to insure thorough work. There are no heads of departments in our high schools. Such heads of departments would take pride in their own department and assist materially in securing efficient assistants fitted for such work. The work would also be better correlated.

A committee such as yours. or a committee consisting of men from business associations and men from educational associations, could propose questions of policy which would arouse an interest and impulse that would solve many difficulties.

Penmanship is taught incidentally, by taking ten minutes daily from the bookkeeping period, and only by those teachers who wish to teach it.

There ought to be a separate period given daily to penmanship, a period of fifty minutes per day devoted to penmanship alone. The course of study does not at present provide for the giving of credit for work in penmanship. This should be provided for.

What Chicago needs is a central commercial high school devoted chiefly to commercial education. Such an institution could give both the briefest and the most complete courses in the curriculum. Such an institution centrally located would so set the standards for commercial education that the other high schools of the city would be educated as to what is possible for


the city, and would be persuaded to include a larger portion of purely business education in their course of study.

The attitude of some principals and of some teachers of other subjects is that of protest or of tolerance. They insist that no commercial subject shall encroach in any way upon the time allotted to other subjects, or the interest of other subjects. Some even maintain that pupils in commercial subjects neglect other subjects, or because pupils oftener become discouraged in other subjects that the least capable pupils elect commercial subjects.

When a pupil who desires to learn typewriting may have but two practice periods (of forty minutes each) per week, how soon could one expect him to become an efficient operator? Yet his acquaintance with the machine, even under these unfavorable circumstances, the habits of close attention and concentration his practice inculcates, the improvement it develops in his formal English (spelling and punctuation especially) are all of real value to him.

Observation of the commercial work in the various high schools of the city confirms the truth of the above statements. Although 5,236 children elected commercial subjects in 1909-10 - 31.5 per cent of the total enrolment of 16,616-the work does not receive the attention required by the interests of the pupils and the needs of the business community. Excellent equipment is provided for manual training and the science departments, but little for commercial subjects. Desks suitable for bookkeeping are found in only two or three schools. Practically all of the high schools do not have a sufficient number of typewriters, and some of these machines are in poor condition and are placed on tables not suited to the work of pupils.


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