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Journal on Ravitch

In the early years of the 20th Century Nicholas Butler’s legislative reforms created a progressive sentiment throughout the country and under Maxwell’s leadership the pubic schools had enjoyed a level of autonomy. Few years later the reformers had started to feel that the previous reforms were not sufficient enough. According to the Hanus report the social programs run by the schools were not doing well specially they were completely ineffective in the slums. The slogan to accommodate and enroll every child of school age failed to materialize because of the fast growing population of the slums.

Even by 1914 one out of every 8 enrolled children was part-time or in double session classes. Many special programs for the defected and retarded children often claimed by Maxwell were criticized due to their limitations. Maxell was also unable to overcome the problem of overage students due to the limited number of physical fitness programs and constant enrollment of new immigrant students. Another problem was the high level of truancy, which was nearly 50% when they reach working age.

This allowed the critics to criticize the curriculum and its lack of ability to hold the students longer. The increasing problems resulted in the dissolution of supporters for Maxwell and he came under fire from both social and political reformers. Social reformers demanded the increase of school timing to polish the slum student. While the political reformers wanted the schools to be run in a more business like manner criticizing on Maxwell’s heavy expenditures. Finally in the election of 1909 Maxwell had to battle against the Board of Estimate governed by the reformers.

John Purroy Mitchel was the greatest opponent of Maxwell who was the President of the Board of Aldermen. He sponsored the Hanus survey and traced most of the problems to the mismanagement. He imposed strict budgetary control on the public schools, but thought it improper to control teachers’ salaries. On the Contrary “Because of his experience in the political-ridden Brooklyn system, Maxwell instinctively resisted political interference in educational-policy making. ” (Ravitch, 194) In 1913 Mitchel won the mayoralty race and thus ending the Tammany mayoralty.

Summary of “The Solution to New York’s Problem”: The “Fusion Platform” was dedicated to economy, efficiency and home rule. After being elected Mayor Mitchel sought to control teacher’s salary, reduce the size of Board of Education and reorganize the curriculum. Mitchel failed in Albany to reduce teacher’s salaries due to strong opposition of teachers. Many major cities reduced the size of board of education. His legislation to get the power of appointing board members was enacted in 1917. The current board in Albany resisted the reduction plan.

Thomas Churchill was the head of the board apposed the idea saying the job will only be suitable for the rich then. Mitchel was adhered to the programs of PEA and appointed several PEA members to the Board. Mitchel, Churchill and other city officials visited the Gary schools which was the turning point for the New York schools. Though is efforts to install Gary system in New York schools was highly controversial. The founder of Gary School system was Dr. William Wirt. The system attracted visitors and got a nation wide attention in 1912.

The Gary system “offered an enriched curriculum, superb facilities, and a fully utilized school plant- and all at a saving to the taxpayers. ” (Ravitch, 198) Wirt controlled overcrowdedness by giving equal time to the classrooms and playgrounds. Elaborate workshops were also a key component of his system, which enforces the child to take active participation. In 1915 Bourne projected Gary’s system in a series of articles and called them ideal. Moreover many school facilities were open to the community in the evening as well.

According to Bourne Wirt was looking forward to include college in the same building. Students even write and print their own textbooks. Chemistry students work practically as food inspectors. Only two hours were spent in Classrooms, the rest in different activities. They were well disciplined also. Despite all these trainings and activities they were highly economical than traditional schools. Soon after his visit to Gary Mitchel offered Wirt a contract to establish his system in New York. His first task was to organize PS 45 an overcrowded school.

Gary option to give religious instruction alarmed several religious groups. In a year he was given to reorganize PS 89 in Brooklyn but faced a not cooperating staff. The rejection of the request of payment of salaries also angered them. Despite all these controversies Wirt was given 12 more schools to reorganize and Controller Prendergast demanded installation of Gary system throughout the city’s schools. PEA executive director praised Prendergast. The Board of Superintendents warned Wirt against his cost cutting policies. Mitchel demanded Churchill to install Gary’s plan in all city schools.

Churchill urged the Mayor to give the plan a full trial before doing further extension. Several parents complained about the non-academic activities and regard them as wastage of time. At the end of the year Board of Estimates cut the school budget again. Mitchel ousted Churchill next year to get control of Board of Education. The Buckingham report sparked more controversies and the reformers didn’t take notice of its indictments. Mitchel despite all criticism pushed Gary’s plan forward. The new president of The Board of Education William Wilcox started campaign for Gary’s Plan.

In 1916 Women’s Municipal League argued the need of the Gary’s plan and called it “the schools in Utopia”. But the labor groups, the superintendents, teachers all were against this plan. Same critics say that Gary schools are incapable to compete private schools. Even the Board of Alderment vetoed the salary of Wirt overrode by Mitchel himself. Despite all opposotion the Board of Estimate voted to fund for the installation of Gary’s plan throughout the public schools. The controversies over the organization of the public schools have profound impact on the educational system today.

The Gary’s plan experiment has led the thinkers to notice that only traditional way of learning is not the best way but extra curricular activities can do a great job in building the physical and mental health of the child as well as give them the confidence needed to survive in the practical life. That’s why most of Gary’s system program are still utilized in our educational system.

References: Ravitch, Diane (2000), The Great School Wars: A History of New York City Public Schools, The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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