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CHAPTER V

COMPULSORY EDUCATION

THE principle of compulsory education is by no means a new one in our country. Massachusetts and Connecticut were among the States of the world which earliest established education on a compulsory basis. Please note the following mandatory and somewhat paternal language of the good and famous law passed by the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1642: “Be it ordered, that the selectmen of every town

. shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbors, to see, first, that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to endeavor to teach, by themselves or others, their children and apprentices so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, and knowledge of the capital laws."': This law also imposed what was then quite a heavy penalty for non-compliance with its provisions. The Connecticut code of 1650 contained very similar provisions. And the earlier judicial and municipal records show quite conclusively that these early statutes were by no means dead-letters in either colony. For many years they were quite rigidly enforced, but later legislation for various reasons relaxed. Then, early in the present century, when population began to rapidly centralize, the evils of truancy became greatly aggravated ;? and this fact brought about a new movement in the direction of

i Records of Mass., ii, p. 8.

? The first annual report of the Mass. board of edueation (p. 37) states that only } of the children of school age in the State attended summer schools (short as they were), and only { attended winter schools. 32

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compulsion, which first came to a head in the Massachusets law of May 18, 1852, the first compulsory attendance law in the Union.

It will be worth while to quote the language of this law because of its influence on legislation in other States. Section 1. “Every person having under his control a child between the ages of eight and fourteen years, shall annually, during the continuance of his control, send such child to some public school in the city or town in which he resides at least twelve weeks, if the public schools of such city or town so long continue, six weeks of which time shall be consecutive; and for every neglect of such duty the party offending shall forfeit to the use of such city or town a sum not exceeding twenty dollars; but if it appears upon the inquiry of the truant officers or school committee of any city or town, or upon the trial of any prosecution, that the party so neglecting was not able, by reason of poverty, to send such child to school, or to furnish him with the means of education, or that such child has been otherwise furnished with the means of education for a like period of time, or that his bodily or mental condition has been such as to prevent his attendance at school or application to study for the period required, the penalty before mentioned shall not be incurred.” Section II. “The truant officers and the school committees of the several cities and towns shall inquire into all cases of neglect of the duty prescribed in the previous section, and ascertain from the persons neglecting the reasons, if any, therefor; and shall forthwith give notice of all violations, with the reasons, to the treasurer of the city or town; and if such treasurer wilfully neglects or refuses to prosecute any person liable to the penalty provided for in the preceding section, he shall forfeit the sum of twenty dollars.” It is very evident that the above law contained

Quoted from 24 Mass. Sch. Rep., p. 131.

too many exemptions and loop-holes for effective execution. It was a task far beyond the power of the average legal machinery to probe the psychology of offending town treasurers, and prove their neglect to be wilful.It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that this early law remained a dead-letter. For about two decades it was almost completely ignored, even in the reports of the State board and its secretaries. Apparently public sentiment was not yet ripe for such a measure, and no attempt was made to endorce it.

Although the law of 1852 was defective and remained a dead-letter, its passage was by no means unimportant. It was something to have the principle of compulsion recognized by law. About 1870 the State board began to urgently recommend the amendment of the law. This resulted in the act of 1873,' which cut down the age limit from 8 to 14 years to 8 to 12 years, but at the same time extended the annual compulsory period from 12 to 20 weeks. The most decided improvement, however, was in the provisions for enforcement. The old loop-hole of “$20 penalty for willful neglect” was omitted, and instead truant officers were required to prosecute for infractions of the law, "when so directed by the school committee.” Thus responsibility was no longer divided, but rested solely upon the school committee. And yet, as it turned out, school committees obeyed the law almost as reluctantly as the town treasurers, and in many cascs truant officers were not even appointed.3 On account of this latter neglect it was provided, in 1878, that their share of the income of the school fund should be withheld from towns not complying with the law of 1873.4 If one could safely trust the reports of the town committees for

"Acts 1873, ch. 279. ? The age limit was changed back to 8–14 years in 1874.

* In 1875 truant officers had not been appointed in 211 out of the 341 towns in the State. Cf., 39 Mass. Sch. Rep., p. 124.

* Acts 18:8, ch. 171.

1879, one would conclude that this penalty worked admirably, for in that year 214 towns reported the law "enforced.” This sudden increase, however, is somewhat suspicious, and probably represents some exaggeration in the returns.

But before considering the further changes in the Massachusetts compulsory law and its present operation, let us briefly summarize the provisions of the similar laws passed by other States and Territories since the above law of 1852. The following list gives the names of those States and Territories which have thus far passed compulsory attendance laws, as well as the dates of the passage of the first law of such character: District of Columbia (1864), Vermont (1867), Michigan (1871), New Hampshire (1871), Washington (1871), Connecticut (1872), New Mexico (1872), Nevada (1873), New York (1874), California (1874), Kansas (1874), Maine (1875), New Jersey (1875), Wyoming (1876), Ohio (1877), Wisconsin (1879), Montana (1883), Rhode Island (1883), Illinois (1883), Dakota (1883), Minnesota (1885), Nebraska (1887), Idaho (1887), Oregon (1889), Colorado (1889), Utah (1890), Pennsylvania (1895) and Arizona (date not ascertained). The great majority of these States prescribe an annual compulsory attendance period of 12 weeks; some prescribe 14 weeks; others, 16 weeks; a few, 20 weeks; one, 30 weeks; one, 36 weeks. The age limit during which attendance is made compulsory also varies somewhat. In some States it is 6 to 14 years; in some, 8 to 14 years; in some, 10 to 14 years; in some, 7 to 16 years; in some, 8 to 16 years; in some, 7 to 12 years; in some, 7 to 15 years; in some, 9 to 15 years; in some, 8 to 13 years. The usual penalties imposed for non-compliance with these laws are fines, which vary from one dollar to two hundred dollars for each offence. A few States inflict a short term of imprisonment.

Both North and South Dakota since entering the Union have passed such laws.

It thus appears quite evident that there has been in recent years a growing tendency to adopt compulsory attendance laws in the different States and Territories. In all, thirty States and Territories have passed laws of this character since the Massachusetts law of 1852. Furthermore it is to be noted that many States which at first had very weak and indefinite laws have recently replaced them with more stringent ones and have provided more and more effective machinery for enforcing the same.'

On the other hand a close study of both the earlier and the later compulsory laws, as well as the various school reports, reveals the fact that in many States and Territories the principle of the right of the State to interfere with the affairs of the communities to the extent of compelling school attendance is as yet little more than a beautiful theory. Many of these States have with a loud hurrah caught up the cry for compulsory education and have spasmodically rushed into premature legislation on the subject, most of which has been defective in the extreme, either containing many loopholes for evasion or else failing utterly to provide any definite or effective machinery for enforcement. Many of the States have provided so many exceptional cases in which attendance is not compulsory that the whole system has been thus thoroughly honeycombed; others have nominally required towns to provide special truant officers for enforcing the law and yet have not provided any penalties for failing to do so; still worse, in many cases, either no provision whatever has been made for enforcement or else the provision was so

Later laws or amendments have been passed as follows: Vermont (1888), Michigan (1883, 1885 and 1895), Washington (1883 and 1890), New York (1876 and 1894), Maine (1887), New Jersey (1885), Wyoming (1887), Ohio (1889, 1890, 1891 and 1892), Wisconsin (1882: in 1889 the so-called “ Bennett Law," repealed in 1891, but replaced by a law containing nearly all of the Bennett law, except the obnoxious sec. 5), Rhode Island (1887), and Illinois (1889, the socalled “Force Act”).

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