« PreviousContinue »
“2. To diffuse the benefits of good teaching, at an early period, through all the districts in the state, and to accomplish the intention of the law as to an efficient inspection.
"3. To secure such a degree of respect and compensation to teachers, as to induce men of good talents and qualifications to make teaching a profession for life, and
“4. So to organize and govern the whole system of common school education as sufficiently to protect this great interest from every kind of abuse, and to cherish it for the various useful ends it may be made to serye
“It is proposed to effect the first of these objects by the establishment of gay three state seminaries, for the education of teachers; the second, by promoting the erection of one central school of the most approved description in each town, having the duties and services of its teacher so connected with all the other districts of the town, as to secure the object of good teaching to all, and gradually to qualify good teachers for the whole.” The particular details of the plan were also presented under the five following general heads :
"1. Of the proper qualifications of a teacher. “2. Of a state seminary, for educating teachers--its government-its course of instruction-admission of students—their diplomas and privileges.
"3. Of the town central schools--their government, &c.
“4. Of an annual meeting of the faculties, and report on school boooks, &c.
“5. Of the government and general superintendence of the whole."
The great length of this document precludes its insertion here. It is, however, well worthy of a deliberate and attentive examination, in the present advanced stage of educational science; and its sound suggestions and practical views commend it to the favorable regards of all desirous of elevating and expanding to their utmost practicable limits the capabilities of our unrivalled system of public instruction. The condition of the common school fund at the period when these views were presented, interposed an insuperable obstacle to the adoption of the plan proposed. This objection has now to a great extent disappeared ; and it is believed that a sound and enlightened public sentiment will sustain the public authorities in carrying into execution, with such modifications and improvements as experience has subsequently brought to light, the recommendations and suggestions of the memorialists, at least so far as a state seminary for the preparation of teachers is concerned. The Superintendent, in his report for the present year, also examines and discusses the question, how far the expenses of supporting and maintaining the common schools, and supplying them with competent teachers, may advantageously, be provided from the public funds of the state, and to what extent they may safely and successfully be committed immediately to the inhabitants of the several districts. He compares the operation of our system in this respect with those of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut and other states, in the two former of which the public funds were exclusively appropriated to the benefit of the children of indigent inhabitants of the several districts, and in Connecticut, were lavished with an indiscriminate profusion, furnishing ample neans for the gratuitous instruction of all classes.
"Our system” he observes,' “is well calculated to awaken the attention of all the inhabitants to the concerns of the district school. The power given to district meetings to levy a tax, to a limited extent, upon the property of the district, excites a direct interest with all the taxable inhabitants to attend the district meetings, whether they have children requiring school accommodations or not. The wealthy are thus prompted to act as trustées, and to watch over the concerns of the district, in order to see that its affairs are conducted with care and economy, and much of the intelligence of the district is put in requisition by the peculiarity of our plan, which
might be wholly lost to the districts if the whole expense of the tuition was provided by a state fund.” “ It has been urged,” he remarks, in another
" that the amount distributed from our fund is too small, and that an increase of the fund would, of itself, raise the standard of the common school; but an increase of the school moneys would be much more likely to decrease the contributions of individuals, than to elevate the standard of the common schools.” At this period the amount of public money apportioned by the state for the payment of teachers' wages in the several districts, was $100,000; while the amount raised on rate bills was $346,807. The annual report of the Superintendent for 1844 shows that while the amount of public money received from the state treasury applicable to the same purpose, was $220,000, the amount paid on the rate bills was $509,376.97 only ; being $254,000 less than a proportionate amount under the increased fund contributed by the state.
On the subject of a proposed uniformity of text books in the several schools, the Superintendent remarks, “no man or set of men could make out a list of class books for the instruction of half a million of scholars, which would give general satisfaction ; and there is great reason to believe that the experiment to produce uniformity would do more harm than it promises to do good. In view of all the difficulties which surround the subject, the Superintendent believes that it is best to leave the selection of class books to the intelligence of the inhabitants of the districts and towns." In support of these views he refers to a very able report of the literature committee in the assembly, made the preceding year, and which will be found in the fonrth volume of the legislative documents of that year, (No. 431,) of 1830.
Iu conclusion, the Superintendent observes :
“ The immense importance of elevating the standard of education in the common schools is strongly enforced by the fact, that to every ten persons receiving instruction in the higher schools, there are at least five hundred dependent upon the common schools for their education. In urging the importance of common schools, it is not designed to depreciate the great utility of those of a higher grade. In the discussions on the subject of popular education, it has in some cases been urged that academies and high schools were injurious to the common schools, by withdrawing from the aid of the latter, the patronage and care of those who are able to send to the former schools. There is nothing in our experience which should induce us to look with disfavor upon the higher schools, and the patriot and philanthropist, in estimating the means which are to contribute to the perpetuity of our happy form of government, will regard all our schools and seminaries as parts of the same useful and valuable system, from the university to the infant school.”
In 1832, the number of school districts had increased to 9,333, from 8,835 of which reports were received. The whole number of children between five and sixteen years of age residing in the several reporting districts, was 504,685; and the number taught during the preceding year, was 497,257 ; being an increase of 7,463 since the last report.
“ The school system of New-York,” remarks the Superintendent, “bas been used ing common schools which prevail in the New-England states. Connecticut has a large fund which produces nearly or quite the amount paid for teachers' wages, and they have no local tax. Massachusetts and Maine have no public fund, and the wages of teachers are provided by a town tax. Our system happily combines the principles of a state fund and a town tax; enough is apportioned from the state treasury to invite and encourage the co-operation of the districts and towns; and not so much as to induce the inhabitants to believe that they have nothing more to do than to hire a teach-. er to absorb the public money. The tax authorized upon the property of the town and district has a most salutary effect in awakening the attention of the inhabitants to the concerns of the common schools. The power of distriot meetings to raise money by tax, induces the inhabitants to attend the meetings, and to overlook the interest and proceedings of the district; when, if the whole expense was provided by a state fund, they would allow the trustees to receive and expend the money, as if it was a matter which did not interest the great body of the inhabitants of the district. Whatever differences of opinion may exist as to the best mode of providing for the expense of giving instruction to all the children of the state, the guccess which has attended our system warrants the conclusion that a public fund may be made eminently useful in organizing a system of universal instruction. The apportionment of a few. dollars is often the immediate inducement for neighborhoods, to establish schools where none existed before, and for prompting new settlements to erect school houses, at an earlier period than they otherwise would have done, in order to participate in a fund, however small, which they know is enjoyed by other districts in their towns.”
In relation to the “vexed question " of text books, the Superintendent renews the expression of his opinion that the adoption of a particular set of class books could be of no advantage except to the favored authors, to whom the monopoly of supplying the scholars should be given. Towards all other authors, who have devoted their time and talents to the preparation of books, as well as publishers who have embarked their fortunes in particular works, it would operate proscriptively and with manifest injustice."
Administration of JOHN A. Dix—1833 to 1839.
In his message at the opening of the session of 1833, Gov. Marcy thus adverts to the subject of common schools :
“Of all institutions, there is none that presents such strong claims to the patronage of the government as our system of common schools; and it is gratifying to know that these claims have been recognized, and to a very considerable extent, satisfied. The wisdom and providence of our legislation appears perhaps no where so conspicuously, as in the measures which have been adopted, and the means which have been provided for the general diffusion of primary education among the children of all classes of our citizens.” After adverting to the information contained in the annual report of the Superintendent, relative to the condition and prospects of the common schools, the governor proceeds : “An active and adventurous spirit of improvement characterizes the present age. Its best direction would seem to be towards multiplying the facilities, and consequently abridging the time and labor of acquiring knowledge. I indulge the hope that much may yet be done in this respect for primary education. One of the most obvious improvements in relation to common schools, would be a plan for supplying them with competent teachers. Under present circumstances, the remedy of the evils resulting from the employment of persons not properly qualified, can only be applied by the trustees and inspectors; and I am not apprised that any further direction for regulating their duties in this respect, could be usefully presented to the legislature.”
From the annual report of the Superintendent it appeared that in 1833, the number of school districts had increased to 9,600 ; from 8,941 of which reports were received, in which there were 508,878 children between five and sixteen years of age; and 494,959 children taught during the year reported; being a decrease of 2,146 since the preceding year. The Šuperintendent renews the expression of his conviction that the academies are adequate to the supply of competent teachers for the common schools. He also again calls the attention of the legislature to the expediency of making some suitable provision for the education of the children of persons engaged in the various manufacturing establishments of the state.
“ The policy of all our laws," he observes, “is to secure a good common school education to every child in the state; and the condition of the children who are employed in the manufactories, as to their means of instruction, ought to be carefully inquired into and provided for. The diffusion of education among all classes of our population is deemed of such vital importance to the preservation of our free institutions, that if the obligations which rest upon every good citizen in this particular are disregarded, the persons having the custody of such children ought to be visited with such disabilities as will induce them, from interest if not from principle, to cause the children to be instructed, at least in reading, writing and arithmetic. Intelligence has been regarded as the vital principle of a free government, and every parent, guardian or master, who neglects or refuses to give the children under his charge the advantages of a common school education, particularly in cases where the instruction is offered “ without money and without price," is as much an offender against the state, as the man who refuses to perform any other duty which is deemed essential to the preservation of our liberties."
On the 15th day of January, 1833, JOHN A. Dix was appointed secretary of state and Superintendent of Common Schools, Mr. Flagg having been promoted to the office of comptroller. During the administration of the latter, a period of seven years, the number of school districts in the state had increased from 7,773 to 9,600 ; the number of children instructed in them, from 425,586 to 494,959, and the proportion of the number of children taught to the whole number residing in the several districts, from 100 to 93, to 250 to 249. The amount of public money annually appropriated for the payment of the wages of approved teachers, had increased from $182,790.09 to $305,582:78. The external organization and internal details of the system had received the fostering care and enliglitened attention of the most practical and discriminating minds of the state; and the unequalled rapidity with which districts sprung up in every section of the state, and children of all ages and classes were gathered into the common schools, sufficiently indicate the general appreciation of the advantages and merits of the system, on the part of the people generally. To untiring industry and great efficiency, Mr. Flagg united an eminently practical mind, which enabled him, in the midst of numerous and plausible projects for the elevation and improvement of the system of popular education, to select and recommend those only which promised the realization of the hopes and aspirations of the sound and judicious 'friends of the common schools; and accordingly, while steadfastly setting his face against the adoption of an uniform series of text books, and of a state seminary for the instruction of teachers, as impracticable in the existing state of things, he strongly urged the adoption of a more efficient and vigorous system of inspection and supervision, and several years in advance of any direct movement on the subject, recommended the publication and distribution of suitable books for the diffusion of useful knowledge, among the several school districts of the state.
During his administration of the common school department, the foundations were laid of those equitable principles upon which the various controversies growing out of the several school laws, were adjusted by the decisions of the Superintendent. Up to this period, no records of the adjudications of this officer had been kept; and the various questions almost daily presented for settlement had been determined upon their specific merits, without apparently any attempt to reduce the system to unity and harmony, or to establish and maintain general principles of interpretation and decision. The decisions of Mr. Flagg, and his successor, Gen. Dix, were in 1.837, collected by the latter and published, for the benefit of the several officers connected with the administration of the system throughout the state; and they have not only served as a basis for the determination of the numerons and complicated questions which have since arisen, but have exercised a highly beneficial influence upon the councils and proceedings of the officers and inhabitants of the several districts, by repressing litigation, by defining the powers, privileges and responsibilities of those called to the performance of any duty in relation to the common schools, and by the introduction and settlement of fixed principles of interpretation, applicable to almost every emergency likely to ovise in the practical operation of the system.
From the annual report of Gen. Dix, as. Superintendent of Common Schools, made on the 8th of January, 1834, it appeared than there were 9,690 school districts in the state, from 9,107 of which reports had been made in accordance with law. The number of children between the a
ages of five and sixteen, residing in the several districts from which reports were received, was 522,618; and the whole number of children taught in the several district schools, was 512,475; being an increase of 17,516 over the number thus instructed during the preceding year. In reference to the amount of the public funds provided for the support of common schools, the Superintendent expresses his opinion that the sum ($100,000) distributed among the several districts, was as great as was necessary to accomplish every object of such a distribution. “ Experience in other states," he observes, "has proved what has been abundantly confirmed by our own, that too large a sum of public money distributed among the common schools has no salutary effect. Beyond a certain point, the voluntary contributions of the inhabitants decline in amount with almost uniform regularity as the contributions from a public fund increase.” “ Should the general fund at any future day be recruited so as to admit of an augmentation of the capital or revenue of the common school fund, or both, the policy of increasing the sum annually distributed to the common schools, beyond an amount which shall, when taken in connection with the number of children annually taught in them, exceed the present rate of apportionment, would be in the highest degree questionable."
With respect to the preparation of teachers for the common schools, the Superintendent concurs generally in the views of his predecessor, that the several academies in the state, aided by liberal appropriations for this purpose from the literature fund, are abundantly adequate to the accomplishment of the object in view; that the establishment of one or more teachers' seminaries, devoted exclusively to this subject, would be impracticable without requiring the districts not only to employ such teachers when prepared, but to provide them with an adequate compensation--neither of which measures would for å moment be tolerated; and that the demand on the part of the districts for teachers of a higher degree of qualification will be met by a corresponding supply from the academies, whenever sufficient inducements are held out to the latter to devote a large portion of their attention to the preparation of such teachers. An enlightened appreciation, on the part of inhabitants of districts generally, of the functions and responsibilities of teachers--a determination to secure the highest order of talent, and to provide an adequate compensation-and a disposition to elevate the character and advance the social rank of the teacher, by assigning him that station in the regards of the community which is due to the dignity and utility of his profession ; these are regarded as indispensable pre-requisites to the success of any system which contemplates the specific preparation of teachers.
On the subject of the adoption of a uniform series of text books for the use of schools, the Superintendent also adopts the views of his predecessor's, discountenancing such a measure as impracticable and unjust.
In reference to the establishment of DISTRICT LIBRARIES, the Superintendent observes :
“If the inhabitants of school districts were authorized to lay a tax upon their property for the purpose of purchasing libraries for the use of the district, such a power might with proper restrictions become a most efficient instrument in diffusing useful knowledge, and in elevating the intellectual character of the people. A vast amount of useful information might in this manner be collected, where it would be easily accessible, and its influence could hardly fail to be in the highest degree salutary, by furnishing the means of improvement to those who have finished their common school education, as well as to those who have not. The demand for books would ensure extensive editions of works containing matter judiciously selected, at