The “Scheib School” of Zion

Pastor Heinrich Scheib transformed what had been a parochial school into a regular primary and secondary school. His plan for reorganization of the institution was readily approved by the Church Council. The new school was set apart from Zion Church. Religious instruction was only extracurricular. Furthermore, Scheib insisted on the use of both English and German in the school, an innovation which met with much criticism, as from the earliest days on, all classes at Zion School had been held exclusively in German. A school-directorium was set up, composed of members of the vestry and other parishioners. On November 1, 1836, the new school opened its gates for the first time. Seventy-one students were enrolled the first year.

Soon the number of Anglo-American, Catholic, and Jewish children, together with the children of Protestant German families who were not members of Zion Church, exceeded by far the number of Zion’s own boys and girls enrolled in the school. There was only one distinction between members’ children and others— members paid a smaller tuition fee. The faculty at first consisted of two good teachers and the pastor himself. As the old school building was too small to accommodate the increasing number of pupils, the church edifice was made available for the classes.

Pastor Scheib brought an entirely new philosophy of education to this school. First of all, he gave the teachers and the parents of the pupils an opportunity to participate in the various affairs of the school. On January 3, 1839, his newly created parent-teacher association (almost certainly the first one of its kind in the United States) met to discuss the future of the school. He set forth his pedagogical principles in a bi-weekly paper, the Allgemeine Deutsche Schulzeitung, published in Baltimore in 1839-40.

When the second year began, the total enrollment stood at 94. The final examinations and commencement exercises were conducted in a solemn form each year, and consisted of demonstrations by the pupils, musical programs, and the award of honors. In 1838, a third teacher was secured and the building enlarged. In 1839, a fire destroyed the school building completely. A large new school was built, with bright, well-ventilated classrooms.

Although Scheib’s School was absolutely independent and self-supporting except for the ground and the old building, which were furnished by Zion Church, the congregation took much interest and pride in the school. In 1850, the members of the church donated $8,000 to the institution. The enrollment was constantly swelling. In 1853, there were 315 pupils; in 1861, 418 boys and girls were students of the various classes, ranging from kindergarten to the upper grades. The Civil War did not affect the activities of the school, and at the close of hostilities the maximum enrollment was attained—802.

The period from the end of the war until the opening of public English-German schools in the seventies brought Scheib’s unique school to its high point of growth. Twenty classrooms, a faculty of sixteen carefully selected teachers, a library and study rooms served the needs of its many pupils from all over the city. The essence of this successful institution of learning, however, was Pastor Scheib’s own pedagogical genius. His philosophy of education was far advanced over most of the contemporary concepts of teaching. The first paragraph of the constitution of Zion School concisely expressed his views:

The intent of the institution is rational education, or the natural development of the faculties lying within the child in order to lay the foundation for a personal, social, and general welfare.  The essence of this educational method is based upon the following principals:

  1. It observes the development of the human being and proceeds in accordance with nature by inciting and exercising in ascending order the powers which slumber within
    the child.
  2. It considers the child as an organic being which develops through external stimuli according to innate laws of nature.
  3. Since the human being received no faculty in vain, this method strives for the cultivation of all talents in naturally ascending steps.
  4. Since all knowledge originates with experience, this method employs visual aids. It is a demonstrative method.
  5. Since the essence of the human being lies in the desire for the realization of the true, the good, and the beautiful, this method is ethical, or moral and religious in character.
  6. As man must attain good qualities through his own efforts this method awakens in every regard the independent action of the student.

Proceeding along these lines, the school was eminently successful. Most of the subjects offered by present-day high schools were taught, in a lively manner which aroused the interest of the students. Thousands of Baltimoreans went through Scheib’s School, and the influence of Scheib’s approach has been evident in their acting and thinking. Many men and women who later achieved prominence in the life of the city and the state were once students at “the school way down on Gay Street.”

The school declined in numbers when the English-German public schools were started in Baltimore, and the latter, keenly sensible of the rivalry, ever increased in efficiency. The free tuition of the public schools attracted a large part of the former patronage of Zion School, and finally in 1895, but not until after a long struggle, Scheib’s School, because of large annual deficits, was forced to close its doors.