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The De-schooling of America

NOTE: This was done during 2014 as I was working on the Miller Collection and encountered the Spencerian Script that influenced decoy painting.

Considering the plight of our current educational system I thought it would be interesting to look back almost a century and a half at comments made by our 20th President, James A. Garfield who served only 200 days in office.

Born in Moreland Hills, OH, in 1831 he attended Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (which later became Hiram College) from 1851-54 and eventually taught there. It was a school that emphasized the Spencerian calligraphy and commercial business courses developed by Platt R. Spencer, Sr. in 1850 by, “the man who taught America a new standard for penmanship and the world how to write” (e.g. the Coca – Cola logo and the extraordinary penmanship we have all seen in those “old” journal entries). Called chirhythmography, or, “The Grand Key of Guidance in Muscular Motion”, in the execution of letters, words, sentences and a large variety of running flourishes, flares and arcs creating a wide variety of birds all, “to the beat of the metronome”. By 1869 the 3-4 month courses had expanded to other states and Canada and there with over 40,000 graduates including such notables as John D. Rockefeller, Harvey S. Firestone and Henry Sherwin and E. P. Williams. They proved successful for two reasons, primarily because they stressed education for living and working within the business community encouraging new immigrants to pursue jobs in the telegraph, railroad and in the multitude of newly created firms in a growing nation. Secondly, graduates learned marketable skills with which to secure good jobs at a reasonable cost in a short period of time that were available to everyone, including women and minorities.

Garfield went on to graduate from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1856 and successfully ran for the Ohio State Senate in 1859-61 on the anti-slavery platform. He passed the Ohio Bar in 1861. Running on, “full rights of citizenship”, for African-Americans he served nine consecutive terms as a U. S. Congressman from 1863 until he assumed the Presidency in 1881.

He attained the rank of Major General for the Union Army during the Civil War and fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh and Chickamauga and became the compromise nominee for President by the Republican Party in 1880, beating out Ulysses S. Grant (for his third term), John Sherman and James G. Blaine. One of his main goals was to ease the warring factions between the Republicans. He was sworn in on March 4, 1881 as President and was shot by Charles J. Guiteau, a deranged political office seeker, on July 2, 1881 but did not die until 80 days later on September 19th.

In Penman’s Art Journal – A Monthly Journal of Penmanship and Practical Education, Garfield was quoted, “Business colleges originated in this country as a protest against the inefficiency of our system of education – as a protest against the failure, the absolute failure, of our American schools and colleges to fit young men and women for the business of life. These business colleges furnish their graduates a better education for practical purposes than either Princeton, Harvard or Yale.” [There will be a Part II to this later.]

We are losing, greatly today, the creation in our children the ability to grasp the importance of comprehending and employing the lessons of the past to better understand and utilize the advantages our various “heritages” offer for a better tomorrow.


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