Published Date

January 1, 1898

From The Study of History in Schools (1898)

At the very outset of its work, the committee, believing that recommendations must proceed from a knowledge of the conditions and results in the schools, undertook to learn as far as possible what was actually being done by the secondary schools in the country in the subject of history. A circular was accordingly prepared in elaborate form in the hope that the answers to the questions thus proposed would give the committee a basis of fact. These circulars were not sent broadcast; in each state, so far as possible, some person acquainted with the educational work of that state sent us a short list of typical schools, large, middle-sized, and small, public and private, and we thus made up a list of about three hundred schools which would reflect the conditions of the whole country. From most of the schools thus approached answers were received, perhaps two hundred and sixty in all. Of these, two hundred and ten were sufficiently full on most points to admit of some sort of tabulation from which general tendencies might be perceived.

In going over the returns difficulties were encountered. Notwithstanding the combined efforts of the committee some of the questions were not so framed as to bring out precisely what was wanted. Accordingly, toward the end of the investigation a considerable number of the schools which had replied to the first circular were asked to send answers to a second much briefer and simpler set of questions, intended principally to make clear the practice and opinion of educators on the points that had proved the most difficult for the committee. A copy of this circular will be found at the end of this appendix.

As is usual in inquiries by correspondence, the returns show more certainly what schools do not do than what they do; the negative evidence is convincing that the schools have a great variety of programmes and methods, but it is hard to be sure that any considerable number have the same system or attach the same meaning to such terms as “collateral reading,” “topics,” “use of maps,” “notebooks,” etc. The general inferences from the circulars, however, agree with the results of many personal conferences with teachers, by showing that a large number of schools set themselves earnestly to the task of teaching history; that a large number make a sufficient time allowance to deserve good results; and that the general notions as to methods are on the same lines throughout the country. Such generalizations as the committee thinks itself justified in making on question of details, from the returns to the two circulars, supplemented by its private information, may be briefly stated as follows:


1. Choice of Subjects

The subjects in the order of their frequency are (1) English and American history, taught in more than half the schools; (2) “general history,” taught in almost exactly half the schools; (3) Greek and Roman history, taught in about half the schools; (4) European history, taught in about one-third of the schools, the three forms—mediæval, modern, and French history—being about. equally common. In a very few schools the history of the State in which they are situated is a subject. The favorite topics are, therefore, English and American history, usually both taught in the same school; Greek and Roman history, usually both taught in the same school; and some form of a broader history, commonly the so-called “general history.”

On the subject of general history there appears to be wide divergence of practice as well as of opinion. In the Middle States, most of the schools reporting have a one-year course, as have also a considerable number in the West; in New England, preponderance of sentiment is against such a course. In some cases the course takes the form of mediæval history alone, in some cases that of French history as a groundwork—the system recommended by the Madison Conference; in most instances the course is apparently a general survey based on one text-book, with little or no collateral reading or illustrative work.

2. Order of Subjects

The committee has taken pains to ascertain the more common preferences as to the succession of historical subjects, and finds that in general four different systems have been followed: (1) About one-third of the schools follow the chronological method, taking up in succession ancient history, general history, and modern history in some form, usually English or American or both; that is, they use general history as a bridge between ancient times and our modern nations. (2) A much smaller number of schools, perhaps a seventh of the whole, prefer the order, general, ancient, and modern; that is, first of all a survey of the whole field, and then more detailed study, first of the ancient period, then of the modern. This method is apparently less common in New England than in the West. (3) The third method begins with American, or sometimes with English history, and then takes general history, bringing in ancient history last. About one-fifth of the schools reporting use this system, which is least common in the Middle States, and which would seem to be devised to bring ancient history into a place convenient for college examinations. (4) A fourth method, which prevails in more than a quarter of the schools, is that of beginning with American, following with ancient history, and ending with a general course; that is, they proceed from the particular to the general.

To make the generalization in broader form, the returns from a body of schools most interested in the subject of history show that one-half prefer to begin high-school work with the history nearest to the pupils in experience, and then to take up wider choices, while one-third have the chronological system, and the remainder begin with the general survey of the whole field.

3. Separate College Courses

The report of the Committee of Ten bore very strongly against establishing courses in any one subject for the benefit of only those pupils who expect to go to college; and that recommendation exactly coincides with the actual experience of the schools so far as the study of history is concerned. Three-fourths of them advocate, and probably practice, the system of having the same teaching for both classes of pupils. This generalization applies also to New England, although in that section there is a large number of special preparatory schools.

4. Time Given to History

One of the arguments frequently urged against insisting on a good secondary course in history is that there is no time for it. The committee therefore has taken some trouble to ascertain the time allowance now made in various schools, asking in the second circular the specific question: “What is the maximum number of exercises in history in your whole curriculum (allowing forty weeks as a school year), open to a pupil who chooses that course which has most history in it?” There seems no reason to doubt the sincerity and accuracy of the replies to this question, although the results are surprising. Only one-seventh of the schools offer less than 200 exercises in one or another of their curricula. Probably there are courses, as the classical or the scientific, in which this maximum number of exercises is not attainable by any one pupil, even although the facilities of the school permit the offering of detached parts of a good course. Three-fourths of the 70 schools scattered throughout the country which report on this question offer more than 400 exercises; that is, the equivalent of five exercises a week during two years. The Middle and Western States are rather more alive than New England to the importance of history; and some schools both in the East and West allow as much as 800 exercises. It is therefore safe to assume that good secondary schools can so arrange their schedules as to make a proper time allowance for history.

5. Text-Books

Knowledge as to the actual methods pursued in schools is difficult to gain from written circulars, because so much depends upon the understanding and use of terms; but the experience of the members of the committee gained by association with secondary teachers, and in many cases by actual personal knowledge of their work, supplements and corrects such generalizations as may be made from the returns to our circulars. The text-books used are legion, and without mentioning titles, it is the judgment of the committee that, although the old-fashioned and discarded books are now disappearing, the favorite text-books seem still to be the briefer ones. Few schools appear to select a book with a good round amount of reading matter; hence, unless supplemented by other work, the text-books used are likely to furnish an insufficient mental pabulum. Some specific information has been obtained about the opinion of selected teachers as to the wisdom of using more than one kind of textbook in the same class. Opinion seems about evenly divided, with a preponderance against the practice.

6. Collateral Reading

On the question of supplementing text-books with additional reading of some sort there seems little difference of opinion. Only one principal known to the committee advocates the extensive use of the text-book with little or no additional work; about one-half the selected principals favor a large amount of collateral reading; the other half prefer more searching text-book work and less reading. In view of this very distinct preference, it is surprising to find how few of the schools really seem fitted out with good collections of standard secondary writers, suitable either for reading or for written work. Even schools with considerable libraries appear unable to keep up with the new general books, which would be so useful to pupils.

Perhaps this lack of material accounts for the facts that very few schools (most of them in the Middle States) actually require as many as three hundred pages of collateral reading in connection with a course of five hours per week for a year, and that three-fourths of the schools have no specified requirements. Apparently pupils are invited to browse, but there is no system of enforcing the reading. Perhaps some of these schools may, without specifying a fixed number of pages, require results which may be gained from any one of several books; but it seems a fair inference from the replies that as yet the schools have not fully introduced the system of collateral reading, and that many of them have not the necessary library.

7. Written Work

From the replies received, written work seems to be reasonably well established; very few schools report that they require none. Inmost cases this work makes up less than one-third of the time spent by the pupils in a course. A great variety of written exercises are in use, and the schools seem eager to further the method; but in many schools it appears not to be a very exacting part of the historical work. Many teachers are struck with the effect of written work in training the memory and the powers of selection and in developing a capacity for individual thought. They see also that accuracy of arrangement and the power of analysis are induced, as well as an acquaintance with the material, and an ability to learn facts and to state them cogently. The criticisms most often passed upon such work are three: that it runs to routine and copying; that it consumes too much time; and that “it kills off good teachers.” It appears, however, that these disadvantages have not been sufficient to cause the giving up of the system, which in a considerable body of schools is now fairly established.

8. Use of Sources

The reports of more than sixty principals on the subject of using historical sources either as collateral reading or as material for written work, show that this system has little hold in the Middle States, much in New England, and some in the West. Nearly half the principals do not favor it, and some who like it have not sufficient books. The objections appear to be, first, that it is a time-consuming method; second, that it throws upon the pupils an undue responsibility beyond their years and understanding; and third, that it is “an attempt to foist upon the preparatory student the work of the university specialist.” The arguments used in favor of the method are that it teaches the habit of getting at the bottom of a question; that it induces methods of correct note taking and record; that it trains individual judgment; and that it “vitalizes” history and leads to greater interest and zeal. From the replies it seems doubtful whether all the teachers know what is meant by “sources,” or understand where to stop in using them in connection with busy school work.

9. Teachers

One question asked of the selected principals was: “Are your teachers of history especially prepared for that work, as your teachers of languages or science are expected to be prepared?” To this question one-fourth frankly answered that they had no teachers of history who had been especially prepared. About another fourth put part of their history work into the hands of untrained teachers. Something more than half give no work except to those who have special preparation. The Middle and Western States have in this respect a great advantage over New England, where the idea that none but persons who know history can teach history seems slow of infiltration.

10. College Requirements

It is not the function of this committee to make up a college entrance system, but rather to suggest a plan of study for the schools, and the committee has abstained from recommending any distinct system or method. As a means of collecting information it asked for the opinions of teachers as to a plan which has become known through the country. One of the specific questions asked was therefore as to the state of mind toward “the recommendation of the New York Conference of 1896,” which was substantially as follows:

  1. Minimum time, two years, three exercises per week (or one year, five exercises per week).
  2. A good text-book.
  3. Collateral reading.
  4. Written work (a notebook, to be certified by the teacher).
  5. Presumably two subjects, as Greek and Roman, or English and American.

This recommendation has the qualified, or slightly qualified, approval of a little more than half the principals replying, and seems to meet with little objection in New England, where various colleges have indeed adopted it. The criticisms are most numerous from the West, but about half the objectors take exception only to the time requirement; they urge that the colleges ought to require more subjects, or at least that the minimum time ought to be enlarged. Four persons object to the collateral reading-none from New England. To written work there is little or no specific objection. The most frequent criticism is as to the notebook requirement. On that point one-ninth of the answers protest. A small number object to the choice of subjects stated by the conference. To sum up the returns on this question, the serious objections raised are not against a wider allowance of history, but against details, of which the notebook suggestion is the point most criticized.


In this attempt to state in a few words the practices and preferences of the three thousand secondary schools in the country, the committee has availed itself, first, of the experience of its own members, four of whom have been teachers in secondary schools; second, of the acquaintance of the members of the committee with teachers, schools, and conditions in the various parts of the country; third, of answers to the circulars sent to schools, stated by educational authorities to be representative, some of which are very large and strong, some smaller, and some weak. In the 260 schools replying out of this category, an attempt has been made to discover the practice in teaching history; and a second inquiry has been sent out to a body of schools which from their answers to the first circulars seemed in a position to furnish representative information. If the committee has misjudged what the schools are doing and may be expected to do, it has not been from lack of effort, or from preconceptions as to what the schools ought to do, but from the impossibility of generalizing where the practices of the schools are so varied.


It has not seemed necessary to reprint the first circular of inquiry; but we add a copy of the second circular, since it was directed to the questions which in the course of the investigation seemed vital.

My Dear Sir: Some time ago you were good enough, at the request of this committee, to fill out a circular of inquiry as to the teaching of history in your school. We beg to thank you for your courtesy, and to express our sense of the helpfulness of your answers.

In attempting to collect the answers from various sources, and to arrive at a just estimate of what the schools are doing and can do, we need definite statements on a few points, in a form for comparison; and we therefore ask you to add to the obligation under which you have placed the committee and all those interested in the proper teaching of history, by briefly stating your practice and your preferences with regard to the subjects mentioned below.

The committee will feel very grateful for suggestions of any difficulties which you foresee in the new methods which have recently been brought forward. We want to know both sides, so that we may make no recommendations which will not commend themselves to intelligent teachers.

In order to be available, your answer should reach the secretary of the committee by December 17. Please answer on this sheet or otherwise, numbering the answers in sequence. Your answer is not to be made public; and even the briefest replies will be much appreciated, if time presses.

  1. Courses—What is your practice and what is your opinion on having a separate course in history for those only who expect to go to college, and another course for others?
  2. Order of courses—What do you consider the best order in which to take up the five subjects most frequently offered, viz, American, English, General, Greek, Roman?
  3. General history—What is your practice and what is your opinion as to a one year’s course (of five exercises a week) in “general history”?
  4. Time given to history—What is the maximum number of exercises in history in your whole curriculum (allowing forty weeks as a school year), open to a pupil who chooses that course which has most history in it?
  5. Text-books—What is your practice and your opinion as to using more than one kind of text-books in the same class ?
  6. Collateral reading—Which of the following systems do you prefer: Simply a text-book drilled over and over; or a text-book thoroughly taught, with some collateral reading; or a text-book carefully read as a backbone, with much collateral reading? How many pages of collateral reading do you actually require in a course of five hours a week for a year?
  7. Written work—Do your pupils do substantial and systematic written work throughout their history courses-sufficient to make up say a third of their history work? What advantages and disadvantages do you notice in written work?
  8. Sources—Do you use sources for any purpose-either as collateral reading or as material for written work? What do you consider the advantages and disadvantages of the method?
  9. Teachers—Are your teachers of history especially prepared for that work, as your teachers of languages or science are expected to be prepared?
  10. College requirements—What is your judgment of the recommendation of the New York conference of 1896 for a uniform entrance requirement? It is substantially as follows:
    1. Minimum time two years, three exercises a week (or one year, five exercises a week).
    2. A good text-book.
    3. Collateral reading.
    4. Written work (a notebook to be certified by the teacher).
    5. Presumably two subjects, as Greek and Roman, or English and American.


The following courses of study are actually followed out. The first (A) is the course of an Eastern high school; the second, of a Western high school. They are offered here simply as exhibits, showing how practical teachers in the secondary schools have arranged their programmes so as to give time for long and continuous courses in history. The committee does not offer them as models to which the schools are asked to conform, but as suggestions that are valuable because now carried into operation.

Next section: Appendix II