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THE

NATIONAL EDUCATIONAL

ASSOCIATION.

ITS ORGANIZATION AND FUNCTIONS.

BY HON. WM. T. HARRIS, COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION, U. S.

[READ BEFORE THE MEETING OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SUPERINTENDENCE, AT PHILADELPHIA, PA.,

FEBRUARY, 1891.)

THIRTY-THREE years ago last August there met in the city of Philadelphia a handful of men to organize a National Teachers' Association. The movement started in New York and Massachusetts. A call had been issued and widely circulated the year before (1856), inviting “all practical teachers in the North, the South, the East, the West, who are willing,"—these are its significant words,—“who are willing to unite in a general effort to promote the general welfare of our country by concentrating the wisdom and power of numerous minds and by distributing among all the accumulated experiences of all; who are ready to devote their energies and their means to advance the dignity, respectability, and usefulness of their calling." A constitution was drafted and adopted, and officers were elected for the following year. The directory of the newly formed Association voted to meet in Cincinnati in August, 1858. The noteworthy feature in the constitution adopted is the government of the Association by a board of directors elected at the annual meeting. This board was to consist of a large number of counsellors, one from each State, district, or Territory, together with the president, secretary, treasurer, and twelve vice-presidents. It also became the practice, even from this early meeting, to appoint a large nominating committee,—one member from each State represented in the convention. Inasmuch as it has frequently happened that only a single delegate was present from a State, the nominating committee has been obliged to fill out its extensive list of officers by naming its own members. The first president of the Association, as well as seven of the vicepresidents and two of the counsellors, ten in all, were members of the nominating committee that reported their names. While this strikes us at first as bad form, or even as dangerous to the usefulness of the Association, a moment's reflection convinces us that the danger is imaginary, and affects the form rather than the substance of the thing. If an entire assembly appoint itself on a nominating body, and then names all of its members to one office or another, it amounts to the same as a committee of the whole for the nomination of officers and a distribution of offices to all.

In later years, since the Association has grown to gigantic proportions, it is true that this large committee has dwindled in comparison to the size of the body it represents. But the fact that the rule requires that all the States, districts, and Territories shall be represented on the board of directors, secures a variety of interests in that board, which prevents the possibility of clannishness or misrule.

Should, however, it be deemed desirable to provide even a wider participation of the rank and file of the Association in the election of its directory, this could be easily effected by a constitutional provision permitting each State delegation to select its member of the nominating committee, leaving the president to select, as heretofore, for those States that decline or neglect to act. Practically, this would be a safeguard against any possible influence that might come from partisanship or political management, but it is quite difficult to conceive any circumstances wherein danger is to be apprehended from such source. All will agree, however, that the highest usefulness of the Association depends on the complete subordination of the political partisan element.

We may here properly inquire what the legitimate results are for which we should look to come from this annual gathering of teachers from the length and breadth of the land. The main answer to this is provided for us in the words of the original call issued in 1856. In the language already quoted, the Association should “concentrate the wisdom and power of numerous minds, and distribute among all the experiences of all.” This call was written by Dr. Daniel B. Hagar, then president of the Massachusetts Teachers' Association. It was stated at the Philadelphia meeting

in 1857 that there were already in existence twenty-three State Teachers' V Associations, besides larger and smaller associations not bounded by State

lines, --such, for example, as the American Institute of Instruction in New England, and the American Association for the Advancement of Education, which had been formed in Philadelphia. These associations had demonstrated the value of general conferences in which educational topics were discussed. The wisdom and power of many minds concentrated on the difficult problems of the profession brougbt light such as none had seen before. The accumulated experience of all was thus distributed to each. The individual teacher, in his uneven development, strong in some points, and weak in others, found complementary strength in the experience of his fellow-teachers, strong where he was weak, and perhaps weak where he was strong.

The divine principle of vicariousness that prevails in the spiritual world, rendering it possible for each man, woman, and child to participate profitably in the experience of another human being, so that the spectacle of a deed and its consequences renders it entirely unnecessary to perform the deed itself in order to get what of good comes from doing it as a life experience,-this divine principle of vicariousness in the life of human souls at once explains for us the true function of teachers' associations, and also the function of education itself in its entirety. What, indeed, is all edu

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cation except the reënforcement of the individual by the experience of the family, the community, the nation, the race ? Education is, therefore, properly defined as the elevation of the individual into participation in the life of the species.

While the brute inherits organically in his muscles and nerves and brain the experience of his progenitors in such a way that the life of his race appears as instinctive impulse, man, on the other hand, not only inherits the results of the life of his ancestry in the form of instincts and aspirations, but he can by language receive and communicate the outcome of his life direct. Hence his ability to collect within himself the results of others' lives is increased infinitely beyond that narrow line of hereditary descent; for he can, through language, avail himself of the sense-perception of others far removed in time and space, making himself thereby a sort of omnipresence in space and time. Then, too, he can avail himself in like manner of the thoughts and reflections of his fellow.men, especially the thoughts and reflections of those most gifted minds that have done most to solve the problems of life and explain the anomalies of experience. More than this, too, he learns not only through their perceiving and by their thinking on what they perceive, but he learns by seeing their doing, and by the story of their doing, what to do himself and what to refrain from doing. Thus, by language, the individual is enabled to live vicari. ously the life of the race, and to live his own life vicariously for others. Whatever one does, goes into the reservoir of human experience as something of value ; if it is a negative deed, bringing with it its punishment, the knowledge of it renders unnecessary the repetition of its like by others. If it is a positive deed, securing for it the normal development of the soul, then it is a precious discovery, and it may be adopted by all men as a new ethical form or moral law.

Thus the very principle of all education,—the principle that makes possible what we value as civilization in contrast to savage life,—this principle is appealed to as explaining and justifying the existence of a national educational association. “ Concentrate the wisdom and power of numerous minds; distribute to each the accumulated experience of all."

Who can say, looking back down the ladder of thirty-three years, that this beneficent process of giving and receiving has not characterized every stage of its ascent? Spiritual giving, we are taught, is not a giving which diminishes the supply of the giver. In material giving, there is a transfer which makes him who gives poorer by the amount of his gift. But he

who imparts his experience to others, possesses all the more firmly all the fruits of his own experience. Every teacher who has risen in this National

Educational Association to expound his own observations or reflections, or to give the results of bis experience, has, in the act of doing it, helped hinself first of all to see more clearly than before the true lesson of his life. In spiritual participation, there is no division or loss. In material

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things,-in food, clothing, and shelter,—to share is to divide and diminish the part that goes to each.

But these general principles we may admit, and yet fail to see in the work of the National Educational Association anything worthy of being classed under such high rubrics. Let us, therefore, take up in detail, that all may recognize some of the phases of the teacher's work that have been under discussion at the annual gatberings.

I find, on looking over the table of contents of the annual volumes of proceedings, that there have been presented 241 papers on the five parts of the school system, namely : twenty-eight on the kindergartens, twentyseven on primary work, seventy-five on high schools and colleges, fifty-six on normal schools, forty-five on manual training and technical schools.

These 241 papers have all related, incidentally, to matters of course of study and methods. But besides these there were twenty-one papers relating especially to the philosophy of methods ; eighty-one to various branches of the theory of education and psychology ; twenty-nine to the course of study ; ten to the peculiarities of graded and ungraded schools; twenty-five to musical instruction; ten to natural sciences ; forty on drawing; and twenty-four to the important subject of moral and religious instruction. These make 240 additional papers on special themes of course of study and methods of discipline and management,-in the aggregate nearly 500 papers on these themes.

Besides these papers, there are others,--on building, heating, and ventilation, three; national aid to education, fourteen ; education for Chinese, Indians, and colored people, eight; on supervision of schools, ten; on the uses and abuses of text-books, nine ; on examinations of teachers and of pupils, eight; on compulsory education, three ; foreign educational systems, ten; education and crime, two; on the best methods of keeping statistics, four; on the criticisms urged against our schools, eight; in all, nearly a hundred more papers on important questions.

We all remember with some remaining feelings of dismay the oldfashioned essays read at teachers' gatherings. The following titles will suggest them : “ The Teachers' Motives”; “ The Teacher and His Work"; “ The Causes of Failure and Success in the Work of the Teacher”; “The Teacher's Ideal.” Very often such titles introduced only goody-goody reflections on the personal character of the teacher. In the early days of the Association such essays were more frequent. One is glad to observe their growing rarity, not only in the National Educational Association, but also in State Associations and in educational magazines.

Of course these 600 papers, relating to various points of school management, were only the half of the intellectual pabulum set forth at the annual gatherings. It is safe to say that the impromptu discussions called forth were at least another half. Where the undisciplined mind had flagged and failed to follow the thread of the written discourse, the oral

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