Charles Allen Prosser to Jane Addams, January 9, 1913

Please return to C. A. Prosser
105 E. 22d Street
New York

January 9th, 1913

Miss Jane Addams
Head Hull House
Chicago, Ill

My dear Miss Addams: --

It is a matter of deep regret to me that I have been compelled to delay answering your recent letter, in which you had enclosed a copy of a communication which I had sent to Mr. Cooley in reference to his proposed bill for Illinois.

Your letter came to me as I was on the eve of departure for our convention at Philadelphia. Miss [Breckinridge] did not attend the convention and I therefore had no chance to talk the matter over with her. I have been in bad physical condition for a long while and collapsed during the convention, and on the advice of my physician was compelled to take a rest.

I have just returned to the office and feel the necessity of writing you something at this time, which must necessarily be much briefer than I would like to make it, on account of the press of other work and my condition. I should have much preferred to have seen you personally than to be compelled to take this method of discussing the matter with you.

I certainly did not intend in my conversation on the train to mislead you and I do not feel that there is anything inconsistent in what I said to you there and in my letter to Mr. Cooley. It is regrettable that the copy of the letter which you received from him could not have been read along with all of my correspondence in the matter, including my criticisms of his bill and the various conversations which we have had from time to time about the unit versus the dual system for the control of the work. [page 2]

I am sending you herewith two documents, one marked "A", is a tentative statement of principles and policies which I drew as a basis for discussion for the meeting of the Committee of the National Society at Philadelphia, and which represents my attitude; the second marked "B" is a typewritten copy of the statement of principles and policies as it came forth from the hands of the Committee. I believe both statements to be sound and I stand upon them as I have always stood.

All over the country within the last eight months, on the public platform and in conferences of every kind, I have stood for the following propositions, which necessarily must be stated very briefly here:

1. All my experience leads me to believe that the American people do not want to deal with vocational education or any other form of education, by setting up a separate system of control. They are unwilling to have a separate State Board and separate local board [vying] with the regular school authorities largely for the same children and for money out of the same public treasury.

2. The Massachusetts experience indicates that where separate systems are established for carrying on vocational education, they will not last long. Quarrels between the boards of control for regular and for vocational education soon make the scheme impossible. That at least is the result to which the history of the movement in Massachusetts seems to point.

3. This would seem to indicate where a separate system is set up, it can at best be only a temporary device at the present time at least, whose largest effect is to give the new movement a chance to realize its dominant purpose of fitting for successful wage-earning, while at the same time fitting for citizenship, free from the traditions and prejudices of the regular schools.

4. At the same time, I fear just as Mr. Cooley does, the result when this work is placed in the hands of the regular public school system, the regular public school superintendent and in many cases, the regular public school teacher. In [page 3] the two attempts which the regular public schools have made to deal with the problem of practical education, they have failed utterly. Manual training arose in the first place to meet the need for industrial education and trusted to the regular public schools that were liberalized and culturized, until it has become a part of a general education and lost entirely its significance as a means of preparing workers for intelligent and successful wage earning in their callings. Evening schools in drawing were established in the first place for the purpose of giving the mechanic the training in drawing which he needed for his work. The regular public school system took hold of the problem, put in teachers who did not know anything about the shop requirements which these men must face, and used public funds to little or no purpose. No one claims that these evening schools in drawing, so far as actual workmen in overalls is concerned, have ever done them any good.

5. Many public schoolmen today are secretly, and all too many of them, openly, fighting vocational education of every kind. I hesitate to say why they do this. Where left in their hands, it is altogether likely that in many places the work will be suppressed altogether, and in other places, diverted from its real aim and purpose just as manual training and evening drawing work were perverted.

6. This is but saying in other words, that I am satisfied, that we shall make a mess of much of the vocational education work undertaken by the regular public schools at the present [time].

7. While this is true, I believe that the American people propose to solve the problem that way. I believe that the Wisconsin separate system is an accident resulting from the prestige of the University of Wisconsin from that State. And I do not believe that it will be anything more than a temporary arrangement. At the same time, I do believe that Wisconsin will gain largely in having the work placed on a practical basis at the outset, by separating it for a while from the academic influences of the regular schools.

8. To me the crux of the whole matter is the necessity of having the school free to realize [page 4] its dominant purpose, its chief aim of meeting the vocational needs of present or future workers. Some of the best schools I have ever seen have been under separate boards, and some of the worst schools have been under such boards. Some of the best schools, I have seen have been under regular school boards or school committees, and some of the worst I have seen have been so administered. In every case, where good work was being done, the school was under the direction of a competent man who had been left free by the superintendent of schools over him or by his board of control, to carry out his ideas. The important thing is not so much the administrative control as it is the executive procedure.

There is no possibility and there never has been any possibility from the start, of setting up a separate system of education in Illinois, as proposed in Mr. Cooley's bill. After a two weeks' tour of the State last May, I told Mr. Cooley this, in the presence of his Committee from the Commercial Club at a dinner at the Union League Club in Chicago, and urged him there, as I have repeatedly done since, to abandon a hopeless fight and secure, as I know he could secure, such concessions and compromises as would throw the greatest amount of safeguards around the work committed to a State Board of Education, with a lay element in it and local school boards aided by advisory committees.

Personally, I have the greatest admiration for Mr. Cooley. I know that he has through this whole controversy been actuated only by good, honest convictions and by a sincere desire to do the best thing for the city and state with which he has been so long associated. The abuse and misrepresentation to which he has been subjected, much of it coming from people in high circles who really know better, is a sad chapter in the history of education, for Illinois. I have even been subjected to some of it myself, through the charge that both Mr. Cooley and myself are in the employ of the manufacturers of the country and are seeking to use the movement for the purpose of exploiting childhood.

I feel strongly that Mr. Cooley has rendered a great service to the State by provoking controversy, by pointing out the peril of committing this work into the hands of the schoolmaster and by insisting upon safeguards to direct the movement in its earliest stages at least, against the traditions of the regular public schools. [page 5] 

I do not believe nor have I ever believed that Mr. Cooley's bill would pass, nor do I believe that if it were enacted that many communities would vote by referendum to set up a dual system such as he proposes. The need for practical education in this country has not become sufficiently acute to cause communities to take such a radical step when submitted to a vote.

At the same time, as I said in my letter to Mr. Cooley, of which you have a copy, and all the things I have said above, I have said to him repeatedly in conversation as well as in correspondence, I should like to have seen Illinois carry on such an experiment as proposed by his bill. I do not believe that there will be any legislation in Illinois under the present circumstances because it does not appear that the conflicting forces can get together? I would have welcomed Mr. Cooley's bill as a trial just as I have welcomed the Wisconsin Experiment but I do not believe and I have never believed that it has within it the makings of a permanent state wide system for vocational education. If it were possible to do so in every one of the states without the kind of controversy we are going through in Illinois and everywhere else, I think it would be highly desirable for the work to be carried on separate from the regular schools for a period of two or three years until standards could be [focused] and their aim realized. I do not believe, however, that this will be done in any commonwealth outside of Wisconsin. Facing the problem of constructive work for this Society, as I am, I must assume the position everywhere that the state is the best judge of what it desires and proceed to [cooperate] in the drafting of legislation and in the setting up of good schools under that system of vocational education which grows out of the autonomy of that commonwealth.

Mr. Cooley has an opportunity at the present time to do a great service for the State of Illinois by acting as a mediator and proposing checks and safeguards around the effort to administer the work through regular channels. He has not thus far been willing to concede this, but as I understand, proposes to fight his bill through to the end. State superintendent Blair has drawn a measure which I regard to say the least, as regrettable. The danger is that Mr. Cooley will by his attitude solidify opposition to his bill and to himself around the Blair [page 6] measure and in this way bring about the enactment of bad legislation, while at the same time standing for what he regards as ideal law.

I do not know that any reply to this letter is necessary. I should be glad to hear from you if you care to write to me, and if you think it advisable I stand ready to send a copy of this letter to Mr. Cooley. It is not necessary that you should regard the contents of this letter as being confidential.

You will be interested in knowing that there is some possibility that I shall [cooperate] with the Progressive Party in the drafting of bills for vocational training to be proposed to states that have not as yet set up state systems. If I should do so, the legislation will be drawn along the lines of the principles set forth in the enclosed statements.

Sincerely yours,