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our colleges and academies, and know that much is attributable to their public anniversaries, and commencements, why should we hesitate to believe that the same means when used in support of our common schools, will produce the same end ? And why, permit me to ask, should not our common schools be placed on a footing as respectable as any other seminaries of learning : Are they not as useful ? and is not their influence more generally felt and acknowledged ? When we consider also the high character which our common schools have so deservedly maintained—when we find other states and countries imitating their example and quoting their success, should we not feel the strongest desire to render them still more worthy of this distinction, and still more useful to ourselves and to posterity ?” Administration of A. C. FIAgg—1826 to 1838, & In his message to the legislature, at the opening of the session of 1826, the Governor (De Witt Clinton) thus adverts to the subject of education: “The first duty of government, and the surest evidence of good government, is the encouragement of education. A general diffusion of knowledge is the precursor and protector of republican institutions; and in it we must confide as the conservative power that will watch over our liberties, and guard them against fraud, intrigue, corruption and violence. In early infancy, education may be usefully administered. In some parts of Great Britain, infant schools have been successfully established comprising children from two to six years of age, whose tempers, hearts and minds are ameliorated, and whose indigent parents are enabled by these means to devote themselves to labor, without interruption or uneasiness. Institutions of this kind are only adapted to a dense population, and must be left to the guardianship of private benevolence. Our common schools embrace children from five to fifteen years old and continue to increase and prosper. The appropriation for the school fund for the last year, amounted to $80,670, and an equivalent sum is also raised by taxation in the several counties and towns, and is applied in the same way. The capital fund is $1,333,000, which will be in a state of rapid augmentation from sales of the public lands and other sources; and it is well ascertained that more than 420,000 children have been taught in our common schools during the last year. The sum distributed by the state is now too small, and the general fund can well warrant an augmentation to $120,000 annually. - . “Our system of instruction, with all its numerous benefits, is still, however, susceptible of improvement. Ten years of the life of a child may now be spent in a common school. In two years the elements of instruction may be acquired, and the remaining eight years must either be spent in repetition or in idleness, unless the teachers of common schools are competent to instruct in the higher branches of knowledge. The outlines of geography, algebra, mineralogy, agricultural chemistry, mechanical philosophy, surveying, geometry, astronomy, political economy and ethics, might be communicated in that period of time by able preceptors, without essential interference with the calls of domestie industry. The vocation of a teacher, in its influence on the character and destinies of the rising and all future generations, has either not been fully understood or duly estimated. It is, or ought to be, ranked among the learned professions. With a full admission of the merits of several who now officiate in that capacity, still it must be conceded that the information of many of the instructors of our common schools does not extend beyond rudimental education; that our expanding population requires constant accessions to their numbers; and that to realize these views, it is necessary that some new plan for obtaining able teachers should be devised. I therefore recommend a seminary for the education of teachers, in the monitorial system of instruction, and in those useful branches of knowledge which are proper to engraft on elementary attainments. A compliance with this recommendation will have the most benign influence on individual happiness and social prosperity. To break down the barriers which poverty has erected against the acquisition and dispensation of knowledge, is to restore the just equilibium of society, and to perform a duty of indispensable and paramount obligations; and under this impression I also recommend that provision be made for the gratuitous education, in our superior seminaries, of indigent, talented, and meritorious outh. - - . . . . . - so consider the system of our common schools as the palladium of our freedom; for no reasonable apprehension can be entertained of its subyer: sion, as long as the great body of the people are enlightened by eduçàtion. To increase the funds, to extend the benefits, and to remedy the défects of this excellent system, is worthy of your most deliberate attention. The officer who now so ably presides over that department is prevented by his other official duties from visiting our schools in person, nor is he indeed clothed with this power. A visitorial authority for the purpose of detect; ing abuses in the application of the funds, of examining into the modès and plans of instruction, and of suggesting improvements, would unquestionably be attended with the most propitious effects.” - - . . . . It will be perceived that the governor here shadows forth two of the greatest features of public instruction subsequently engrafted upon our system; the establishment of institutions for the education of teachers; and the appointment of visitors. . : , ~ * ... On the 4th of February subsequently, Mr. John C. SPENGER, from the literature committee of the senate, to which this portion of the message of the governor had been referred, made an able report, in the course of which he distinctly suggests the expediency and practicability of a plan of coun: ty supervision, without however, going into any specific details. Thus it will be perceived, that as early as 1826, several of the prominent features of the admirable system which has since prevailed, were brought to the notice and attention of the legislature, by two of our most distinguished and eminent statesmen; one of whom, (Mr. Spencer) fifteen years afterwards, aided in carrying into practical and successful operation, the very plan in substance, which he had suggested at this early period. In the mean time, however, a similar suggestion had been earnestly and urgently pressed upon the public consideration by another distinguished friend of the common school sys; tem—the Hon. JABEz D. HAMMOND; who in 1887 published a series of numbers in the Cherry-Valley Gazette, from whence they were transferred to other periodicals, showing as well the practicability as the expediency of the adoption of the system of county supervision and inspection, and urging the abolition of the office of town inspector. Judge Hammond's plan was the appointment by the governor and senate, or by the State Superintendent, of a County Inspector of Common Schools, in each county, with power to license teachers and visit schools, and who should be required to report periodically to the Superintendent. This was, in substance, the plan afterwards recommended to the legislature by Mr. Spencer. . . . . . . . . The following extracts from the report of Mr. Spencer in 1826, to which allusion has above been made, will be found interesting: - “The committee concur entirely in the sentiments expressed by the gov. ernor in relation to the importance of the vocation of a teacher, and to the propriety of occupying the time of the young in the higher branches of knowledge. The progress of improvement in the great business of education, must necessarily be slow and gradual. Our common school system is itself but of recent origin; and during the few years, in which it has been in operation, incalculable good has been effected, particularly in causing the establishment of schools where none existed before, and where none would have existed but for its provisions. We cannot expect to make it at once perfect, but must content ourselves with remedies for the most obvious and important defects as they are discovered. From the observation of the committee, and from the best imformation, they can obtain, they are persuaded that the greatest evils now existing in the system are the want of competent teachers, and the indisposition of the trustees of districts to incur the expense of employing those who are competent, when they can be obtained. It is a lamentable fact that from a mistaken economy, the cheapest teachers, whether male or female, and generally the latter, are employed in many districts for three-fourths of the year, and a competent instructor is provided for only one-quarter, and sometimes not at all, du: ring the year. The state is thus made to contribute almost wholly to the o”. of teachers. This is a perversion of the public bounty; and its effect on the children, who ought to be provided with the means of instrugtion during the whole year, is most disastrous: for those above five or six years old are thus excluded from school three-fourths of their time, which must be spent in mental idleness, and thus the most precious time for education is utterly thrown away. The present arrangement of the authority to license and employ teachers, contributes to this result. Teachers are licensed by town inspectors, themselves generally and necessarily, incompetent to determine upon the qualifications of candidates, and willing to sanction such as the trustees feel able or disposed to employ. This is essentially wrong; and the state, which contributes so large a portion of the compensation of the teacher, has a right to direct its application in such a way as to effect the object of procuring useful instruction, . The remedy must be found in the organization of some local board, vested with the allthority of licensing teachers and of revoking the license, and charged with a general superintendence of the schools within the prescribed limits. The division of the state into counties affords a convenient distribution of territory for these purposes. And if it be made a condition of receiving the public donation, that teachers thus authorized shall have been employed for a portion of the year, it is believed that the sure and inevitable consequence would be the employment of instructors much more competent than the average of the present teachers. In those counties where the population is small and scattered, the standard of competency will necessarily be low ; but it will advance with the means of the districts and with the prosperity and intelligence of the counties. In other counties, where candidates were more numerous, the qualifications, would be higher. The teachers would become emphatically a profession; men would devote themselves to it as the means of fivelihood, and would prepare themselves accordingly, Their character would advance, and with it their usefulness and the respect of their fellow-citizens. Such is an outline of the first efforts, which, in the opinion of the committee, should be made to obtain able teachers. “The next object is to provide the means of qualifying the necessary number of teachers. By the report of the Superintendent of Common schools made in January, 1825, it appears there were then in this state 7,642 school districts. That, then, is the number of teachers now required; the best evidence that can be adduced to show that there must always be a sufficient demand for those who are qualified. It is obvious that the suggestion of the governor, in his message respecting the establishment of an institution especially for the purpose of educating teachers, will not answer the exigencies of the case. It is entitled to much weight, however, as a means, in conjunction with others, to effect the object. But in the view which the committee have taken, our great reliance for nurseries of teachers must be placed on our colleges and academies. If they do not answer this purpose they can be of very little use. That they have not hitherto been more extensively useful in that respect, is owing to inherent defects in the system of studies pursued there. When the heads of our colleges are apprised of the great want of teachers which it is so completely in their power to relieve if not supply it, is but reasonable to expect that they will adopt a system by which young men whose pursuits do not require a knowledge of classics, may avail themselves of the talent and instruction in those institutions suited to their wants, without being compelled also to receive that which they do not want, and for which they have neither time nor money, . “Our academies also have failed to supply the want of teachers, to the extent which was within their power ; although it is acknowledged that in
this respect they have been eminently useful. But instead of being incited to such efforts, they are rather restrained by the regulations adopted by the Regents of the University for the distribution of the literary fund placed at their disposal. The income of that fund is divided among the academies in proportion to the number of classical students in each, without reference to those who are pursuing the highest and most useful branches of an English course. With such encouragement, how could it be expected of trustees of academies that they should prefer a pupil disposed to study the Elements of Euclid, surveying, or Belles-lettres, to a boy who would commit the Latin grammar, while the latter would entitle them to a bounty which was refused to the former ? The committee are not disposed to censure the Regents; they have merely followed the fashion of the times; and it is believed that they are themselves alive to the importance of extending the usefulness of the institutions under their care, by adapting them more to the wants of the country and the spirit of the age. But if they should not be willing to extend the benefits of the fund under their control beyond classical students, still it will be in the power of the legislature, and within the means of the state, to appropriate a capital sum that will yield a sufficient income to compensate for this inequality, and to place the English student on the same footing with the others, and thus make it the interest of the academies to instruct them. And if this bounty be distributed in reference to the number of persons instructed at an academy who shall have been licensed as teachers of common schools by the proper board, it is believed the object of obtaining able instructors will soon be accomplished. - . . “The committee have not been able to discover why, upon every principle of justice and of public policy, seminaries for the education of females in the higher branches of knowledge should not participate equally with those for the instruction of males, in the public bounty. - . “In connection with these, the committee admit that the establishment of a separate institution for the sole purpose of preparing teachers, would be a most valuable auxiliary, especially if they were to be prepared to teach on the monitorial plan. They hesitate to recommend its adoption now, chiefly because the other measures which they intend to submit, and which they conceive to be more immediately necessary, will involve as much expense as ought now to be incurred. But they fondly anticipate the time when the means of the state will be commensurate with the public spirit of its legislature, and when such an institution will be founded on a scale equal to our wants and our resources.” . " . . The committee, after adverting to the embarrassments caused by the prevalent diversity of text books in the several schools of the state, recommend an appropriation for “the printing of large editions of such elementary works as the spelling book, an English dictionary, a grammar, a system of arithmetic, American history and biogrophy, to be used in schools, and to be distributed gratuitously, or sold at cost.” “There can be no doubt,” says the committee, “that a selection of such works as have been enumerated could be made by a competent board, excluding all sectarian views and tenets, as would be entirely satisfactory to the citizens of this state.” On the 14th of February, 1826, AzARIAH. C. FLAGG, of the county of Clinton, was appointed secretary of state; and the administration of the common school system consequently devolved upon him. The interests of public instruction had been ably and faithfully guarded by Mr. YATEs, who seems to have united to eminent talents as an executive and administrative officer, a lively zeal for the promotion of education and the diffusion of knowledge among the great body of the people. His various reports exhibit an accurate practical knowledge of the working of the common school system, in all its departments; his decisions on the numerous appeals which were from time to time brought before him, were characterized by a sound discrimination ; and his efforts for the improvement and advancement of the schools were earnest and indefatigable.
The first annual report of Mr. Flagg as Superintendent of Common Schools was transmitted to the legislature on the 13th of March, 1826, from which it appeared that 425,350 children had been taught in the common schools during the year; being 22,410 more than were taught the preceding year, and exceeding by 29,764 the number between the ages of five and fifteen residing in the state. The whole number of organized school districts in the state was 7,773. The Superintendent alludes to the necessity of “some provision which should have a tendency to increase the number of qualified instructors,” and adds: - . . . . . . . . . . “It might be beneficial to offer facilities for the special education of common school teachers; and as the districts progress in wealth, and the domation of the state is increased, inducements will be furnished for a greater number of persons of competent talents, to engage in the business of teaching, as a profession.” . . . . . At the opening of the session of 1827, Gov. CLINTON thus eloquently alluded to the subject of popular education: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “The great bulwark of republican government is the cultivation of education; for the right of suffrage cannot be exercised in a salutary manner without intelligence. It is gratifying to find that education continues to flourish. We may safely estimate the number of our common schools at 8,000; the number of children taught during the last year, on an average of eight months, at 430,000; and the sum expended in education at 200,000 dollars. It is, however, too palpable that our system is surrounded by imperfections which demand the wise consideration and improving interposition of the legislature. In the first place, there is no provision made for the education of competent instructors. Of the eight thousand now emo this state, too many are destitute of the requisite qualifications, and perhaps no considerable number are able to teach beyond rudimental instruction. Ten years of a child’s life, from five to fifteen, may be spent in a common school; and ought this immense portion of time to be absorbed in learning what can be acquired in a short period? Perhaps one-fourth of our population is annually instructed in our common schools; and ought the minds and the morals of the rising, and perhaps the destinies of all future generations, to be entrusted to the guardianship of incompetence # The scale of instruction must be elevated; the standard of education ought to be raised, and a central school on the monitorial plan ought to be established in each county for the education of teachers, and as exemplars for other momentous purposes connected with the improvement of the human mind. * * * * Small and suitable collections of books and maps, attached to our common schools, and periodical examinations to test the proficiency of the scholars and the merits of the teachers, are worthy of attention. When it is understood that objects of this description enter into the very formation of our characters, control our destinies through life, protect the freedom and advance the glory of our country, and when it is considered that seminaries for general education are either not provided in the old world, or but imperfectly supplied by charity and Sunday schools, and that this is the appropriate soil of liberty and education, let it be our pride, as it is our duty, to spare no exertion and to shrink from no expense in the promotion of a cause consecrated by religion and enjoined by patriotism; nor let us be regardless of ample encouragement of the higher institutions devoted to literature and science. Independently of their intrinsic merits and their diffusive and enduring benefits, in reference to their appropriate objects, they have in a special manner, a most-auspicious iufluence on all subordinate institutions. . . . . . . . “They give to society men of improved and enlarged minds, who, feeling the importance of information in their own experience, will maturally cherish an ardent desire to extend its blessings. Science delights in expansion, as well as in concentration; and after having flourished within the precincts of academies and universities, will spread itself over the land, enlightening society and ameliorating the condition of man. The more elevated the tree