Page images

prices which competition would soon reduce to the lowest rate at which they could be furnished. By making the imposition of the tax wholly discretionary with the inhabitants of each district, and leaving the selection of the works under their entire control, the danger of rendering such a provision subservient to the propagation of particular doctrines or opinions would be effectually guarded against by their watchfulness and intelligence.” .

By an act of the legislature passed this year, the surplus income of the literature fund, beyond the sum of $12,000, was placed at the disposal of the Regents of the University, to be by them distributed to such of the academies subject to their visitation as they might select, and to be devoted exclusively to the education of common school teachers. The funds thus appropriated were estimated at about $3,000 per annum. . . . At the opening of the session of 1835, Gov. Marcy, in his message, commended to the special attention of the legislature, the adoption of “a provision for supplying competent teachers, improvements in the method of instruction, and the faithful and economical application of the fnnds to such objects and in such a manner as will insure the best results.” He observes: “In regard to the common schools, considering their great importance in a political and moral point of view, the efforts of the legislature should not be intermitted until the system shall be so improved as to secure to the children of all classes and conditions of our population, such an education as will qualify them to fulfil in a proper manner, the duties appertaining to whatever may be their respective pursuits and conditions of life.” ... The number of school districts at this period had increased to 9,865; the whole number of children between the ages of five and sixteen to 584,000, and the number taught in the several districts from which reports had been received to 521,240, or 18,256 more than were so instructed during the preceding year. The following extract from the annual report of the Superintendent, transmitted to the legislature on the 7th of January of this year, will exhibit the views of that officer in reference to the adequacy of the academies to furnish the common schools with a competent supply of duly qualified teachers, and also in reference to the relations which the various institutions for the promotion of public instruction should sustain to each other :

“If the foundations of our whole system of public instruction were to be laid anew, it would, perhaps, be advisable to create separate seminaries for the preparation of teachers, although from the nature of our institutions, it might be deemed arbitrary, if indeed it were practicable, to compel the school districts to employ them. It would be equally difficult, without a great augmentation of the school fund, to present to the districts a sufficient pecuniary inducement to engage the individuals thus prepared ; and it may be safely assumed that nothing short of a thorough conviction in the public mind, that common school teachers are in general incompetent to the proper fulfilment of their trusts, and that the standard of education is extremely imperfect, would accomplish the object. If that conviction can now be created, the existing evils may be readily redressed. Our common school system is so perfectly organized, and administered throughout with so much order and regularity, and so many academies under able management are already established, that it would seem the part of wisdom to avail ourselves of these institutions, to the extent of their capacity, for the purpose of training teachers for the common schools. Their endowments, their organization, the experience and skill of their instructors, and their whole intellectual power, may be made subservient to the public purpose in view, and with the aid which the state can lend, much may be effected. But, whatever differences of opinion may prevail with regard to the foundation of this plan, in sound policy, the question has been settled by the legislature, and it remains only to carry it into execution with proper emergy. Should it prove inadequate to the ends proposed, a change of plan may then be insisted on, without being open to the objection of abandoning a system which has not been fairly tested.

“It may not be improper to remark in this place that the necessary connexion which exists between our common schools and the literary institutions of the state, including those of the highest grade, has been too frequently overlooked. The academies have already been, in effect, without receiving from the state any direct pecuniary aid for the purpose, nurseries for common school teachers. The great body of those who have either temporarily or permanently devoted themselves to teaching, have been prepared at the academies with a view to that occupation, or to some professional employment. The instructors in the academies have in their turn been educated in the colleges; and but for the latter or some other system of classical and scientific education, as a substitute for the course of training pursued in the colleges, the academies would obviously be destitute of the necessary supply of tutors. Thus all our incorporated literary institutions minister to the improvement of the common school system, on which the great body of the people are dependent for their education.”

The Superintendent, after adverting to the defective state of the systems of instruction in common schools, proceeds at considerable length to combat the idea that “the education which an individual receives, should be designed exclusively to fit him for the particular employment which he is destined to pursue.” “The attention of the great body of the people” he justly remarks, “should be directed to objects beyond the sphere of the employments on which they depend for their support.” “Rnowledge carries with it influence over the minds of others, and this influence is power. In free governments— what is of more vital concern—it is political power.” And he illustrates these views by a reference to the range and importance of the duties devolving upon every American citizen. - - t On the 8th of January, 1835, Gen. Dix, as chairman of a committee of the Regents of the University, appointed to prepare and report a plan for the better education of teachers of common schools, submitted an elaborate and able report recommending the establishment and organization of a teachers' department, to be connected with one academy to be designated by the Regents, in each of the eight senatorial districts of the state; indicating the course of study to be pursued in such departments; and suggesting for the consideration of the Regents the academies to be selected for this purpose, which should each receive annually the sum of $400 from the fund applicable to this object. The report was agreed to by the Regents, and Erasmus Hall Academy in Kings county, Montgomery Academy, Orange county, Kinderhook, St. Lawrence, Fairfield, Oxford, Canandaigua, and Middlebury Academies were designated for the establishment of these institutions, on the basis and subject to the restrictions and regulations indicated in the report. .

On the 13th of April of this year, the foundations of the District School Library were laid by an act authorizing the taxable inhabitants of the several school districts to impose a tax not exceeding twenty dollars for the first year, and ten dollars for each succeeding year, “for the purchase of a district library, consisting of such books as they shall in their district meeting direct.”

This bill was ably advocated in the Senate by Col. YoUNg of Saratoga, and the Hon. LEVI BEARDSLEY of Otsego; and its friends were indebted for its success, in great part, to the untiring exertions and extensive influence of JAMES WADsworth of Geneseo; an eminent philanthropist, who lost no opportunity to aid, by his ample wealth and enlightened intellect, every means by which the mental and moral advancement of the youth of the state might be promoted. - . . . .

On the 6th of May, Mr. WETMORE, of New York, chairman of the literature committee of the house, made a very able report, concluding with a recommendation for the establishment of a separate “Department of Public Instruction,” under the superintendence of an officer to be known as “Secretary of Public Instruction,” to be appointed by the legislature triennially, in the same manner with other state officers; who should possess the powers and discharge the duties of Superintendent of Common Schools, and be ex-officio Chancellor of the Regents of the University, &c. The several colleges and academies of the state were to be subject to his visitation; and he was required particularly to visit and inspect those academies in which departments for the education of teachers were established. No definite action was however had on this proposition, by the legislature. . 3. . The following is an extract from Gov. Marcy's message at the opening of

the session of 1836:

“In a government like ours, which emanates from the people, where the entire administration, in all its various branches, is conducted for their benefit and subject to their constant supervision and control; and where the safety and perpetuity of all its political institutions depend upon their virtue and intelligence, no other subject can be equal in importance to that of public instruction, and none should so earnestly engage the attention of the legislature. Ignorance, with all the moral evils of which it is the prolific source, brings with it also numerous political evils, dangerous to the welfare of the state. It should be the anxious care of the legislature to eradicate these evils by removing the causes of them. This can be done effectually, only by diffusing instruction generally among the people. Although much remains here to be done in this respect, the past efforts of legislation upon the subject merit high commendation. Much has been already accomplished for the cause of popular education. A large fund has been dedicated to this object, and our common school system is established on right principles. But this is one of those subjects for which all cannot be done that is required, without a powerful co-operation on the part of the people in their individual capacity. The providing of funds for education is an indispensable means for attaining the end; but it is not education. The wisest system that can be devised cannot be executed without human agency. The difficulty in the case arises, I fear, from the fact that the benefits of general education can only be fully appreciated by those who are educated themselves. Those parents who are so unfortunate as not to be properly educated, and those whose condition requires them to employ their time and their efforts to gain the means of subsistence, do not, in many instances, sufficiently value the importance of education. Yet it is for their children, in common with all others, that the common school system is designed; and until its blessings are made to reach them, it will not be what it ought to be. If parents generally were sensible of the inestimable advantages they were procuring for their children by educating them, I am sure the efforts and contributions which are required to give full efficiency to our present system would not be withheld. If I have rightly apprehended the indications of public opinion on this subject, a more auspicious season is approaching. At this time, a much larger number of individuals than heretofore are exerting their emergies and contributing their means, to impress the public mind with the importance of making our system of popular instruction effective in diffusing its benefits to all the children of the state. I anticipate much good from the prevalence of the sentiment that the efforts of individuals must co-operate with the public authorities to ensure success to any system of general education.” . . . .

From the annual report of the Superintendent, it appeared that the number of districts had increased to 10,132; the number of children between the ages of five and sixteen, to 543,000; and the number taught in the several districts from which reports had been received, to 541,400, being an increase of over 10,000 from the preceding year. The Superintendent repeats the expression of his conviction, “that a school fund so large as to admit of a distribution of money to the common schools in any degree approaching the amount expended for their support, would be likely to be injurious rather than beneficial. A school fund,” he observes, “can only be useful when its revenue is sufficient,

and no more than sufficient, to operate as an inducement to the inhabitants of school districts to contribute liberally to their support.” “It is, from the nature of the subject, impossible to fix the exact limit, below which a reduction of the sum distributed (including the amount raised by taxation in the several towns) would cease to operate as an inducement to the inhabitants to assume the residue of the expenses of maintaining the schools, or beyond which its increase would render their burdens so light as to create inattention to the concerns of the districts. It may, however, be safely assumed, that, at any point between forty and fifty cents per scholar, it is not probable that either of these evils would be felt ; and that its augmentation above the maximum, on the one hand, or its reduction on the other, below the minimum above named, ought to be avoided, if practicable.” The effect of the subsequent increase of the sum so distributed during the past few years, has certainly, it may here be remarked, by no means "impeached the soundness and accuracy of this proposition; the extent to which the Schools have improved being clearly attributable to other and more potent influences than the augmentation of the public funds applicable to their support. At the opening of the session of 1837, Gov. Marcy again brought the subject of common school education before the legislature, in connection with the act of congress of the preceding year, authorizing the deposit of the share belonging to this state, of the surplus revenue of the United States, with the state for safe keeping, until required by the general government. He recommended the appropriation from the income of this fund, of an amount equal to the sum annually distributed to the common schools, to be applied to the same purpose, viz. the payment of the wages of duly qualified teachers; making the annual distribution for this purpose, $220,000—a liberal appropriation to the academies, “having in view principally the design of rendering them more efficient as seminaries for educating common school teachers—and the addition of the residue of such income to the capital of the common school fund. He also recommended the transfer of the general superintendence and supervision of the several academies of the state, from the Regents of the University to the secretary of state in his capacity of Superintendent of Common Schools, disapproving of the proposed erection of a separate department of public instruction, and suggesting the appointment of an additional deputy to aid the secretary in the Yerformance of this portion of his official duties. He commends the efforts in progress for the promotion of popular instruction by the diffusion of education through all ranks of the people, and the devotion of talents and wealth to this great cause ; and expresses his conviction, that aided by the powerful oration of the legislature, its advancement may confidently be anticipated. - - The sum of $110,000 was this year apportioned among the several school districts, the number of which had augmented to 10,207. The number of children between five and sixteen residing in the several, districts from which reports had been received, was 538,398; and the number instructed within the year, 532,167; being a diminution of 9,234 from the number instructed the preceding year. This diminution is accounted for by the Superintendent, “by the prevalence of an absorbing attention, in a considerable portion of the community, to their pecuniary interests rather than to the interests of education.” “Strong excitements in the community,” he observes, “especially when continued for a length of time, are in their nature, unfriendly to the cause of education; and of such excitements none is perhaps so much so as that which is characteristic of periods when fortunes are amassed without effort and by the mere chances of speculation.” “In the year 1834,” he continues, “the common schools were in better condition, in all respects, than they had been at any previous time; and, as is well known, that year was distinguished by a serious depression in the business affairs of the country. The interests of education seem never to be better secured than in seasons when individuals are compelled to husband their resources, and when the highest as well as the most certain re

wards are those which are the fruits of patient industry. No period seems less propitious to the promotion of those interests, than that season of delusive prosperity in which multitudes are tempted by a few instances of wealth suddenly acquired, to lay aside their accustomed avocations, and embark in the precarious pursuits of fortune.” In his message at the opening of the session of 1838, Gov. Marcy repeats his recommendations of the previous year, in reference to the proper disposition of the revenue of the United States deposit fund, with the additional suggestion that a portion of this fund be devoted to the purchase of TXISTRICT LIBRARIES, in such of the several school districts of the state as should raise by taxation an equal amount for that object. In reference to the departments for the education of teachers connected with the respective academies designated by the Regents of the University, he expresses the opinion, that however ably conducted, they must of necessity be inadequate to the supply of the requisite number of teachers for the common schools, and suggests the establishment of county normal schools, “on principals analogous to those on which our system of common shools is founded.” An increase of the number of academies provided with teachers' departments, is also suggested, the additional expense to be defrayed from the revenue of the deposit fund. The number of school districts had now increased to 10,345: the number of children between five and sixteen residing in the several districts from which reports were received, to 536,882 and the number taught was 524,188; showing a still further diminution of nearly 8,000 from the preceding year. . During this session the sum of $160,000 was added from the annual revenue of the United States deposit fund, to the amount to be apportioned among the several school districts of the state; of which $55,000 was is required to be expended by the trustees in the purchase of suitable books for a district library, and the residue for the payment of the wages of duly qualified teachers. An equal amount was also required to be raised by taxation on the several counties and towns, and applied to the same purpose. The residue of the income, after making certain appropriations to the colleges and academies, was added to the capital of the common

school fund. -

On the 7th of March, the Hon. DANIEL D. BARNARD, from the literature committee of the house, submitted a masterly and eloquent report upon the general subject of public instruction, to which we regret that our limits compel us only to advert. Many important and valuable suggestions for the extension and greater efficiency of our systems of popular education will be found embraced in this document. No specific action, however, in accordance with the recommendations of the report was had. At the opening of the session of 1839, Gov. SEWARD called the attention of the legislature, in an especial manner, to the interests of elementary public instruction; expressing his conviction of the paramount necessity of elevating the standard of education ; recommending legislative co-operation in the furtherance of the effort to engraft the system of normal schools upon our institutions for education, through the agency of the academies; strongly commending the district library system ; and urging the indispensable necessity of a more thorough and efficient visitation and supervision of our common schools. .

By the annual report of the superintendent, it appeared that the number of organized school districts in the state was, at this period, 10,583; the number of children between the ages of five and sixteen years, residing in the several districts from which reports had been received, 539,749; and the number of children under instruction, 528,913; exceeding by 4,725 the number instructed the preceding year. . - -

In reference to the act of April, 1838, appropriating the income of the U. S. Deposit Fund to the purposes of education, the Superintendent obServes : - .* -

« PreviousContinue »