There is much controversy right now about education in our country and especially in our state. Recently, as he was going through some documents in our collection, our curator Walter Font pulled a copy of the Fort Wayne High School Vth Annual Commencement Booklet of Essays and Addresses to show to me. This work is dated June 17, 1869 and the commencement took place at Hamilton’s Hall. The writings were published by Keil & Brother Booksellers and printed by the Gazette Company, Book and Job Printers.
Among the essays were two on education that I thought you would enjoy reading some 144 years later. Both are the “affirmative” and “negative” of a question. Offered here first is
“Should Prizes be used as Incentives to Study?”
Affirmative by Lou. E. Strong
“Men are so constituted, that they are influenced largely in their actions by hope of reward. The highest human endeavor, the most heroic deed, the sublimest effort, come from those only how have before them some goal to reach, some end to be attained. As we look wonderingly out into the world, and see the countless millions of humanity swaying hither and thither, like an angry sea, or tossing and breaking like the mighty throes of an upheaval of the earth, do we ask, wherefore? It is that they may win success—the prize of all, who live and do. The miser toils for money; while the ambitious seek renown or power, worthily or unworthily, all, all are striving for good, either fancied or real. Take away these prizes for which men toil, and the world is a blank. This principle is so universal, that he who attempts to deny it might as well deny that the earth revolves around the sun. This state of man is recognized by the Almighty. ‘The crown of glory’ is the reward of well-doing in a devoted Christian life. Are we not properly influenced and prompted to labor day by day, to lead a pure and holy life by the blessings offered? The prize, eternal life! Let us see how these principles apply to the business of education. In our advanced schools we see the student pursuing his course up the hill of science, and when rugged barriers oppose, or a yawning precipice appears, and the way is one of weariness, seeing that a retreat is failure, and that success is beyond, he makes a firm resolve, and girding himself for a desperate effort, victory is won. Now, what incentives, what inducements, are before his eyes? Evidently, commendation, position and influence among his fellows. These are the prizes for which he contends. To be sure, he ought, and he may seek improvement, progress and growth for themselves; he may desire to excel, because excellence is in itself desirable, or he may seek to gain discipline and knowledge, as means of usefulness and happiness, but how universally are these sought merely for what they will bring; moreover, they are in themselves of the nature of prizes. The fact that almost every college in our country has felt obliged to offer prizes—yes, prizes of money, too, is evidence that ought to be considered. Now, then, if men do, and must have tangible prizes to labor for, if students in colleges must have money offered them; nay, if the Christian must set before him the prize of the high calling, is it not the result of profound ignorance to suppose that young children will eagerly climb the hill of science for the mere sake of climbing? I know that some children are wiser than their fathers. I know that there are some that have more sense than their superiors, so-called. I can mention scores of them who know enough not to smoke tobacco. I can name hundreds who know it is wrong to profane the name of their Maker; but I have yet to see children who could not, ought not to be influenced by the same means that seems so absolutely necessary for their elders. Go with me, friends, into our won schools, and from actual observation determine this matter. See what regularity of attendance. Learn that more than two hundred of your children have not been tardy once during the whole year ending to-day. Learn, too, that this has been accomplished not by whippings, poundings or other abominations, but merely by the power of a bit of pasteboard, bearing upon it ‘Grade of Honor.’ This is prize power. It is useless to attempt to fix the attention of pupils, large or small to their books, by constant signs, words or blows. They must be induced to study, not driven. It may be urged that it is unwise to create a desire for these less noble tings, but that motives higher and better should be set before children. We answer” We ought to place high aloft on our banner, the motto, ‘Duty,’ ‘Right for the sake of Right,’ ‘Study for the sake of Knowledge.’ But, when these fail, as they do with children, knowing that ‘straws swim on the surface, but pearls lie at the bottom,’ we see the need of more tangible inducements. The prize system tends to cultivate the latent faculties. The sluggard is incited to diligence, the diligent to more diligence. Through these immediate rewards, children gain the final one of knowledge, the power which moves the world.
In view of these things, we must conclude that the prize system leads to renewed efforts, and more zealous working, to better thoughts and nobler deeds, the reward of which will be that success which is the end and aim of all who fight life’s battles.”
Negative by Maggie A. Tower
“In choosing incentives to study, we should be very careful to select those that will secure the best results, and be productive of the greatest good to those influenced. Should prizes be used as incentives to study? Will they secure the best results? Let us consider the nature of a prize. It is a reward gained by contest with competitors. We should at this point carefully distinguish between rewards of this character and rewards that are the natural outgrowth of true, earnest effort. The first urges those engaged to strive for the mastery, for the first position, even if obtained by rough elbowing and unfair jostling. The second excites all to earnest exertion and worthy deeds. Our heavenly Father does not offer us rewards for excelling others, but for patient continuance in well doing. Neither can every good we receive be called a reward, much less a prize, for what have we done to merit the numberless blessings which are continually bestowed upon us? When we give prizes, we must of necessity give only to a few, suffering the majority to pass unnoticed. Very few are stimulated by the prize, and those the very ones that, naturally quick and ready, need no such incentive. The duller ones are below the reach of this stimulating influence, and only feel their deficiencies more keenly. This undue stimulation acts but for a short time. When the prize is removed, the reaction takes place. Again, what is the character of the knowledge thus forced upon the mind? Where the awakened thirst for knowledge? Where the time for reflection and assimilation that gives the well disciplined mind? The pernicious influence of the prize system has led to its abandonment in all but a few of our higher institutions of learning. Here and there, in a College or University, the dust of ages has gathered so thickly that the light of the nineteenth century fails to penetrate it, and it is to the apparent success of the prize system in these institutions that we are directed. But leaving mere moralizing, let us look to actual experience for information. Listen to the words of one whose experience and knowledge in educational matters give weight to his testimony. ‘Many a college student is harmed for life by the corrupting ambition kindled within him by these incitements, not to genuine studiousness, but to class pre-eminence. From much visitation of schools and colleges, from conversation with professors, from testimony of students who have been prize winners, and from personal experience of the inherent viciousness of the prize system, I hold to the opinion that it is wrong, and ought to be prohibited.’ Are these good results; are they satisfactory? Will they secure us the best results? But the second question: ‘Will this incentive be productive of the greatest good to those influenced?’ We have shown that the results in an educational point of view were not of the best. We will say nothing of the propriety of giving a tangible reward for the acquirement of some thing that is intangible, and of infinitely more value, but we will speak only of the contest and competitors. Take the case of a young man desperately resolved to gain the prize. He is poor. The purse, or offered scholarship, is to him the way to success and honor. He studies incessantly day and night, even prostrating his health. All in vain. The great good, the prize is bestowed on his more successful rival, who has made but half the effort. He believes he is unjustly treated, and regards his rival with feelings of anger and jealously. Is this profitable competition? This cultivation of evil passions and disregard of the injunction, ‘Love they neighbor as thyself?’ Will our prize system tend to the best development of such a man? The mistake is this: we reward intellectual superiority, not intellectual effort. If taught in youth to labor for the sake of rewards, the habit will be so firmly established that it will become the motive power of all future actions. The supposition that pupils may be incited to labor for a prize, and thus led to love of study, is purely visionary. When has this dream been realized in practical life? What is the necessity for the use of prizes? Where is the intelligent teacher who will say that children cannot be educated to value study for its own sake? What true teacher that cannot arouse in her pupils a willingness, and even an eagerness, for that which incites them to perseverance and hard labor? To study that pupils may gain knowledge because it is right; to labor that they may please their friends; these we consider worthy motives. But to labor for a prize as the reward of earnest effort and diligent study—it were as wise to urge the miner to strike deeply through the rich, golden vein that he may reach the baser rock beneath. Prizes may have some intrinsic value; so have the grey rocks in their proper places. But to draw the attention from the rich, the golden reward, and direct it to such worthless results, is to depreciate the value of knowledge. Wherein will the use of prizes make the life purer or better, or discipline it for a higher and nobler life? View them in every light, and we cannot close our eyes to the withering effect they have upon intellectual effort, the debasing effect upon moral character. ‘The great end of all human study is human perfection, and none but noble motives can lead to the attainment of so noble an end.’”