Monday, June 15, 2015

Early Results on Students’ Petition for Esperanto

We want Esperanto now!
On June 8, 1913, two of the Washington D.C. newspapers, the Washington Herald and the Evening Star reported on plans by D.C. students to create a petition to have Esperanto taught in the public schools. This was neither the first nor last attempt to get Esperanto into the D.C. schools, though none of them were successful. We can cheer for the students in their attempts at convincing the board of eduction to have Esperanto as a subject, while at the remove of more than a century, we know that their efforts were not successful.

But they tried. What it does show is just how energetic and large the Esperanto movement was in just one American city a century ago, and that they were doing the work to try to perpetuate the movement. They had big plans in era when the hope was still alive that Americans traveling abroad would speak Esperanto. The Esperanto Association of North America was still headquartered there, although they would soon move their offices to West Newton, Massachusetts (Amerika Esperantisto had already moved there). Sadly, in a way this move showed that the Esperanto movement was diminishing in the United States; the EANA presidents would be Esperantists, not those who held power in diplomatic circles. The organization would no longer be headquartered in a major city, but was in a suburb. The Esperanto movement in the United States was somewhat running out of steam. A petition drive for Esperanto in the public schools was a bold move that, if successful, might have been imitated.

One June 15, 1913, three of the D.C. papers reported on their continued efforts, the Evening Star, the Washington Times, and the Washington Post. It would seem the Herald decided they’d done enough on this subject, as they didn’t cover it.

The Times had the shortest article.

May Teach Esperanto.
Esperanto may be taught in the District high schools as a result of the work of the High School Esperanto Club, which met last night at 1410 H street northwest. The committee which conversed the city showed that more than 200 students signed petitions asking the universal language be made an elective subject, while many teachers endorsed it.
The Post had more to say:

High School Students Approve of Its Introduction Into Lessons
A the weekly meeting of the High School Esperanto Club, at 1410 H street northwest, the committee in charge of the campaign to into the local high school submitted its report for the first week of the campaign.

The circulation of petitions to the board of education requesting the admission of Esperanto into the curriculum of the high schools was started last Monday, and the success of the first week was a surprise to every one concerned.

More than 250 high school students signed, as did a large number of parents and teachers. None of the principals oppose the plan: Esperanto has been made a study in some Ohio schools.
And the Evening Star had the longest:

Club Works to Have Language Made Elective in Schools
Last night at the weekly meeting of the High School Esperanto Clubt at 1401 H street the committee in charge of the campaign to introduce Esperanto as an elective subject in the local high schools submitted its report for the first week. The circulation of petitions to the board of education asking that the language be taught in the local high schools was started last Monday and results are said to be surprising.

Wednesday evening the Interncia Klubo, the largest Esperanto club in the District, entered the campaign and since then the other Esperanto clubs have joined the work. By Saturday night, with only a part of the reports in, the committee finds it has more than 200 signatures of high school students alone, as well as many signatures of parents and high school teachers.

The most promising feature of the campaign is the favorable attitude shown by the teachers and principals of the high schools. Practically none was actually opposed to the introduction of Esperanto as an elective subject, while many were outspoken in their indorsement. There was, however, a suggestion by some of the language teachers that Esperanto would be better in the eighth grade as a preparation for the study of the more difficult languages.
Isn’t this typically done by getting representation on the school board or the board of education itself? Certainly, that’s how a lot of curriculum changes (for well or ill, usually ill) happen today. But if you’re going to petition the board of education, I would think that the signatures of students and teachers would be the least convincing, though it is interesting to note that the language teachers want to avoid Esperanto encroaching on their turf. Then you’re competing for resources. Can’t have that.

Note that the Evening Star describes the Internacia Klubo as “the largest Esperanto club in the District.” I don’t think there’s any city in the United States that can boast of two Esperanto clubs. Why would they have them? What city would have enough Esperantists where you might get enough people to form multiple Esperanto clubs with somewhat divergent interests? Note also that the article says that, following the example of the Internacia Klubo, “the other Esperanto clubs have joined the work.” I have yet to work out how many Esperanto clubs there were in D.C. at what time, but that implies at least three.

The 1912 Tutmonda Jarlibro Esperantista (World Esperanto Yearbook) lists the following:
Internacia Klubo - met Wednesdays at the Esperanto Office
Washington High School Esperanto Club - met Thursdays at the Esperanto Office
Itala Esperanto Societo - A club for Italian-American Esperantists; met Sundays at the Esperanto Office
Kapitala Esperanto Klubo - Blind Esperantists, met on F Street
Esperanta Oficejo - Offices of EANA.
Usona Asocio Esperanta - Met on Iowa Street.
Clearly, the removal of the EANA offices was going to be a real problem for Esperanto clubs in D.C. The 1913 Jarlibro lists updated contacts for the Internacia Klubo. All the other clubs seem to have vanished. Eventually, the Internacia Klubo would rename itself the Kolumbia Esperanta Unuigo (new name, same people in charge).

Although the article describes the result as “surprising,” there are no hard numbers given, other than the two hundred students (and, seriously, who listens to high school students, particularly on curriculum?). Sure, they said they’d even go so far as ask President Wilson for his endorsement, but if they had it, it would have been mentioned in the article. Alas, this was the end of the glory days for Esperanto in D.C.

There would be no more fights over invitations with stage beauties. There would be no major diplomats having their staff listen to lectures on Esperanto. In mid–1913, the Esperanto Association of North America was starting a new phase of its existence and moving not far from where its predecessor, the American Esperanto Association, had been headquartered, five years earlier.
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