« PreviousContinue »
struction of the city of Chicago, and to you the official Representative of public education of Cook county, which is so fortunate as to include in its fold this great city of the Northwest, I would tender in the name and on behalf of the National Educational Association our sincere and grateful acknowledgements for your eloquent words of greeting and welcome, and through you as their honored representatives, to the citizens of the State, county, and city in which we are gathered. We appreciate heartily the spirit of the generous and liberal hospitality that prompted you to invite the Association to gather here the present year. Some of us, older members of the Association, have pleasant memories of the welcome extended to this body twenty-four years ago, in August of 1863, at a time when the nation was in the midst of a gigantic struggle for its perpetuity. The sessions were held in Bryan Hall, and we remember the glowing words of welcome that fell from the lips of the late William H. Wells, then superintendent of the public schools of Chicago, and the fitting response of the lamented John D. Philbrick, the president of the Association for that year. He then spoke of this city as “the miracle of this continent;" and its phenomenally rapid growth, matchless enterprise, and marvellous development of material and intellectual activities since that date, excelling even ancient Carthage in its palmiest days, justifies us in pronouncing it the "miracles of miracles” of this century. There came from the East alone over six hundred persons to attend that meeting, the largest the Association had ever held until it came, in 1884, to Madison, Wis., under the presidency of another gallant leader from the old Bay State, where the attendance was much larger than in Chicago, in 1863. We are rejoiced to be here again, from all sections of a united prosperous, and happy nation of sixty millions of people. In 1863 we believed, as we do to-day, that education was the sure foundation of our free institutions and the very basis of our national and individual life and that the intelligence and virtue of our people would secure to us victory for the right. Our faith and hope inspired the efforts that achieved the grand triumph, and placed the United States in the front rank of the nations of the earth. I must not detain you further, except to say we hope that the conduct and proceedings of this Association, as represented in its general sessions and in the deliberations of its nine departments, will fully justify the pains taken and sacrifices made by the friends of popular education in Chicago and vicinity to promote the success of this meeting. We cordially invite you, gentlemen, and your fellow citizens, ladies and gentlemen, to attend our sessions and join in our deliberations, by which we seek to promote the highest educational interests of our whole land. Again thanking you for your inspiring words, we will proceed at once to the work indicated for us upon the regular programme.
I suppose that a careful reader of history cannot fail to be impressed with the fact that every race, and in some measure every generation of men, seems to have had a special task, seems to have performed, more or less effectively, some special function in the development of the world's civilization. Each seems to have proclaimed some new or hitherto forgotten truth, or to have established some useful institution among men. This is one of the most instructive and one of the most cheering testimonies in human annals. The idea of government, for example, was early developed. It was first administered by the patriarch in the family, afterwards in an aggregation of families. Then amid the strifes of contending households and their leaders, by the wisdom or brute force of some one mightier than the others, a tribe was established. Fired by ambition, some still mightier leader, arose and many tribes were consolidated into a nation, and at last there came forth the great empires of the antique world. Thus men were made familiar with the idea of government, of political institutions, of the union of millions into one consolidated state. But at first it seems to have been a union dependent upon the personal will and the personal prowess of the despot. The government was purely auto. cratic. Even in the administration of justice only the personal will of princes or their agents was regarded. Such an empire was Babylon. Such an emperor was Pharaoh. In these latter days their rule would be intolerable, but in their own day they taught the world the possibility of great states.
That was the lesson of those early times. It was a lesson needful to be taught. Without it the world could not have got on. But this was only one, and that among the lowest, that men needed to learn. They needed religion, and the Hebrew race came forth as the teacher of it. Religion was incorporated into the daily life of the Hebrews. It was the foundation of their politics. It was their guide in all affairs, foreign and domestic. The children of Abraham were the priests of mankind, and they uttered their sacred sayings with such emphasis that the world was compelled to listen. Man needed art and philosophy, and the Hellenic race came forward as the interpreter of these higher mysteries. It was the function of this marvellous people to awaken the sleepy intellect of the world, to call forth into active exercise and reason, the imagination, and the taste of mankind. How well they performed the task assigned them we shall remember when we notice that Grecian ideals still rule, to a great extent, the thinking world.
In the course of events the time came, when the old idea of holding to. gether great masses of men by mere brute force, by the irresponsible exercise of one man's will, must be displaced, and a new power of cohesion must be introduced. These great communities, in order that they may make the needful progress, must come to be governed by principles, by wisely ordained rules. In short, law must take the place of mere personal domination. And lo, there appeared on the face of the earth the great Roman Commonwealth. Law was evolved. The idea of a rule independent of the personal will of the ruler appeared. Men said it is neither safe nor wise that the destinies of millions of mankind should be determined by the prejudice or the passion of one of their own number, distinguished from his fellows by the accident of birth or some other accident. Thus began the development and the study of jurisprudence. Law and politics became a science more or less perfect.
These achievements of past generations we are to-day inheriting. The idea of national unity comes to us from the very dawn of history. The religion taught by Moses has spread itself over the civilized world. Greek art and Greek thought have schooled the world to a love and appreciation of beauty and a discernment of truth. And the legal maxims that rule our courts to-day are lineally derived from the Pandects and the Institutes.
These facts are mentioned merely as illustrations. They simply show what a race can do in enriching the world. Many other examples might be cited. The Middle Ages, with all their darkness, were by no means altogether unproductive. The Gothic arch is worth something, and the idea represented by it is worth more. For how much are we indebted to the age of Luther, and indeed to every age that has since come and gone ? This nineteenth century is the heir of all the ages.
But he is a thriftless heir who does not improve upon his estate. If we have taken from our predecessors, we ought to bequeath to those who come after us. It would be a shameful thing for this nineteenth century to boast of its mental possessions and attainments, most of which have been bestowed upon it, and to do nothing towards making the twentieth century still richer in knowledge and virtue. And so it is a reasonable question for us to ask ourselves, what we can do, what we are doing to make the world of tomorrow better than the world of to-day.
It is certainly not too much to claim that in our day the educational enterprise is one of the most important and characteristic. In this age we have deliberately set about training the minds and moulding the characters of the coming generation. When, therefore, the question arises, what this age is doing in the way of uplifting the race, it is fair to look to this enterprise and its methods for the answer. The problem of today is the educational problem. In proof of this let us consider the machinery of our schools, and compare it with all that the world has ever seen before. In what age, in what country have men incurred such a vast expense, made outlays of such immense sums of money for the establishment and maintenance of schools? In our own country one hundred millions of dollars a year, or thereabouts, are voluntarily contributed to this end. The subject of education is discussed as it never was before. The meeting of today is but one in a long series of great gatherings in the United States. Many of the ablest minds of the century are concentrating their thought upon the philosophy of education. And what is true in this country is true in other parts of the world. Every civilized nation is agitating the question and seeking the best attainable light upon it. If the historian of a thousand years hence, as he sums up the achievements of the different epochs in the world's annals, does not assign to this age the honor of being the teacher of the race in the philosophy and practice of education, then it must seem that the record he will make for us will be a blank. If we contribute nothing to the world's stock of knowledge on this subject, what contribution shall we make? In what department of higher human culture are we making additions ?
It is sometimes said that this age is an age of material discovery and of the application, in the arts, of scientific principles, and surely this claim must be conceded. There have been times when men have seemed to be the slaves of the blind forces around them, times in which wind and wave, heat and cold, earthquake and tornado, domineered over the hu
Men lacked facilities for crossing the sea. There was no adequate power to resist the cold. Men crouched before the natural forces like timid hares before the angry lion. But that time has passed in a great measure. The natural forces are subjugated by the human will. The energies which were once so destructive to human life have been harnessed to the car of human progress. The ocean steamer seldom succumbs to the tempest. A stretch of three thousand miles of continent is a small obstacle in the way of the traveller. The lightnings, that were formerly known only as agents of destruction and terror, have become our obedient servants. We have compelled all nature to contribute to our comfort. We have grown rich in material possessions. Our great lack in these days is not a lack of material wealth. Divide the possessions of this great country equally among all the inhabitants and each one would have what in former days would have been called a princely estate. It is not especially necessary, therefore, that pains should be taken to instruct the youth of the country in the ways and means of increasing our material prosperity. We are not suffering on that side. We are not poverty stricken.
I am sure the theme is illustrated by this day's surroundings. We are in the midst of a city that is one of the marvels of even these times. Consider for a moment the rapidity with which wealth has been accumulated on this spot. The man who wrote the Arabian Nights gives us glowing accounts of the rearing of palaces by the power of magic. If the sober facts surrounding Chicago had been detailed to him, he would have rejected the account as too improbable for his story. Palaces have arisen here as if by some supernatural power. The evidences of luxuriant wealth are displayed on every hand. The eye is surfeited with the visions of material prosperity, and if the question were raised concerning the city, What are its deficiencies? Wherein does it lack ? the answer would not be that it is deficient in the power to make money. If it have a lack, it is in some other department, in some other line of activity. If something is to be added to its energies in order that its forces may be well balanced, we should hardly think that the addition ought to be in the line of material resources. And this city may be taken as an epitome of the world today. Chicago is the nineteenth century, possibly a little exaggerated. And Chicago's greatest danger is not that she shall be poverty-stricken. We neel not agonize to teach her, through the schools, how to make money.
I submit that this material prosperity must be considered after all a subordinate thing. The right product of the highest civilization is an improved humanity. The chief end of man is not to construct railways, to erect massive buildings, or to launch titanic steamers. It is to develop noble men and women. The true test of the work of a nation or a race is, therefore, to be found in the realm of mind. If we would measure the true worth of Grecian civilization, we must inquire what effect it has had in the development of human character. Wherein is the race improved by · what Greece has contributed to it? Now we know that large material possessions do not always imply a corresponding loftiness and symmetry in the development of mind. Very mean men have sometimes been very rich. The Romans of the later empire were a grovelling race, but they revelled in an abundance of the good things of this world. So that, to measure our present status and the value of our contributions to the true wealth of the world by these outward things, would be a perversion. It would be gauging men by their lowest attributes. We need, therefore, some loftier standard than all this. The significant question is not what are we doing in utilizing matter and changing its forms but What are we doing in the way of ennobling humanity and enlarging its powers ?
In regard to educational processes and the knowledge to be imparted in schools, there has been and is a great variety of opinions. Whether there ever was a time when the instructors of any country or of the world were settled in respect to thece things, when there was no strife, when there were no conservatives and progressives, we know not. In the early patri