Monday, June 8, 2015

Students Petition for Esperanto

Well, maybe not "planned"
There were several attempts to get Esperanto classes in to the Washington, D.C. school system. The early Esperantist Mrs. Wilbur Crafts made an attempt in 1908, and in 1914, a Representative from Louisiana attempted to get the D.C. schools to add Esperanto to their curriculum. He was preceded by a year by Esperantists who tried to influence this themselves.

The plan was (and, alas, we already know it was unsuccessful) was to get District residents to sign a petition that the D.C. schools teach Esperanto, and no house was going to be ignored, not even that big white one on Pennsylvania Avenue. It made sense: get the endorsement of the people in D.C., and the school board would have to follow. In a way, this is a great idea, since one of the problem Esperanto seems to have is that it’s never achieved a large enough group of speakers to achieve the network effects where it then becomes sensible for lots of people to learn it.

This was reported in two Washington newspapers, the Washington Herald and a shorter article in the Evening Star, both on June 8, 1913.
Washington High School Club to Inaugurate Movement to Teach New Language.
Under the leadership father Washington High School Esperanto Club, the Esperantists of the National Capital tomorrow morning will inaugurate a movement for the teaching of the new languages in all of the public secondary schools of the city.

The first step will be the circulation of petitions among the residents of the District, urging the Board of Education to include Esperanto in next year’s curriculum. More than 1,500 potion sheets will be distributed among students, teachers, and business men for signature. The campaign is being aided financially by the Students’ Esperanto League.

It is the hope of the Esperantists to have the international auxiliary language taught ultimately as a compulsory subject in the District high schools, but this plan will not be pushed vigorously until the subject has first been included in the curriculum as an elective.

The high school students of the city for some time past have been manifesting much invest in the language and have formed private clubs and classes for the purpose of perfecting their mastery of the tongue. Some of the more ambitious have entered into correspondence in Esperanto with enthusiasts abroad.

Because of this already manifest interest, and because of the growing practicability of the language, the Esperantists have reason to believe that their efforts in connection with the crusade will be crowned with success. It has been announced that the campaign will be a city-wide one, and that no one will be overlooked in the work of obtaining signatures—not even President Wilson.

The High School Esperanto club meets every Saturday night at 1410 H Street Northwest. Reports on the progress of work in the crusade will be made at the weekly meetings. When many thousands of signatures have been received, the petitions will be presented formally to the Board of Education.
And in the Evening Star:
Board of Education to Be Asked to Introduce It in Schools.
Petitions asking the board of education to provide for the teaching of Esperanto in the Washington public schools are to be circulated throughout the city, beginning tomorrow. The campaign to bring about the teaching of the universal language in the schools is to be conducted by the Washington High School Esperanto Club. This organization is being backed in a financial way in the campaign by the Students’ Esperanto League. The circulation of the petitions is to be but one feature of the propaganda to be carried on during the summer by Esperantists of the city. Fifteen thousand petition blanks, each having space for twenty signatures, have been provided.

Aim of the Promoters.
It has always been the aim of the Esperantists, it is said, to have the international auxiliary language a compulsory subject, preceding all other language study, but as yet this is not regarded s practicable. In many European countries Esperanto is an elective study in the schools, but it has never been officially taught in the public schools of this country. In this city, however, the High school students have shown such an interest in the language that it has been hoped the board of education will decide to admit it as an elective study.

The High School Club will commence work tomorrow morning and other clubs later this week. It is announced that no prominent person, from President Wilson down, will be omitted in their visits.
As I said, we know the sequel. If the students’ petition has been a success, Richard Bartholdt wouldn’t have introduced a measure in Congress (also unsuccessful) to add Esperanto to the curriculum. Sadly, a sentence from the Evening Star seems to be as true today as it was on June 8, 1913: “[Esperanto] has never been officially taught in the public schools of this country.”

There were some further updates to these articles, but no work on if the students filled out the three hundred thousand signature lines on their forms, or if President Wilson assented (it would be my guess that high schoolers seeking to have the President sign any sort of petition would be politely but firmly turned away). Given the lack of follow-up, and no story about the board of education receiving three hundred signatures in support of Esperanto, the White House probably wasn’t the only place where the resident declined to sign.
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