Page images

"The acts of April last, after making certain appropriations for the support of colleges, academies and common schools, from the income of the United States Deposit Fund, provides that the residue of that income shall be added annually to the capital of the common school fund. The income of the former fund will amount to nearly $260,000 per annum, and the appropriations referred to amount to $208,000, viz.: to the common schools, to be applied to the payment of teachers, $110,000, and $55,000 to the purchase of school district libraries; to the literature fund $28,000, and to colleges $15,000; leaving a balance of about $50,000 to be applied to the increase of the last mentioned fund. Should this appropriation continue undisturbed, the capital of the common school fund will, by the year 1850, amount to about $3,000,000, without any further provision for its increase 'P as the sales of lands belonging to it may be expected to yield two or three hundred thousand dollars."

On the subject of moral and religious instruction in the several schools, the Superintendent has the following sensible and judicious remarks:

"However desirable it may be to lay the foundation of common school education in religious instruction, the multiplicity of sects in this state would render the accomplishment of such an object a work of great difficulty. In the state of Massachusetts it is provided by law that no school books shall be used in any of the schools 'calculated to favor any religious sect.' In this state no such legal provision has been made; but the natural desire of every class of Christians to exclude from the schools instruction in the tenets of other classes has led to the disuse, by common consent, of religious books of almost every description, excepting the Bible and New Testament, which are used in more than one hundred towns as reading books. The spirit of jealousy by which the schools are surrounded, regarded as they are as most efficient instruments in the formation of opinions, will probably render this state of things perpetual; and it is of the greater importance, therefore, that moral instruction and training should constitute a principal branch of the system of education. No teacher can receive a certificate of qualification from the inspectors, unless they are satisfied as to his moral character. In this respect the inspectors cannot be too rigid in their scrutiny. A teacher whose moral sentiments are loose, or whose habits of life are irregular, is an unfit instructor for the young, whatever may be his intellectual acquirements, or his skill in communicating knowledge. The lessons of moral truth which are taught at the domestic fireside and the examples of moral rectitude and purity which are there displayed, will be in danger of losing all their benefit, if the school room does not reinforce them by its sanctions. If neither the atmosphere of the family circle, nor of the school, is free from impurity, to what other source can the young resort for those principles of morality which shall render their intellectual improvement subservient to useful purposes, and without which it might become an instrument to be wielded for the annoyance of their fellows and for their own destruction? Though moral principles may have their origin in the heart, it is not to be expected that their proper development can be effected amid the perpetual counteraction of hostile influences. Moral cultivation should, therefore, be one of the first objects of common school instruction. The great doctrines of ethics, so far as they concern the practical rules of human conduct, receive the intuitive assent of all; and with them may be combined instruction in those principles of natural religion, which are drawn from the observation of the works of nature, which address themselves with the same certainty to the conviction, and which carry to the minds of all observers irresistible evidence of the wisdom, the beneficence and the power of their divine author. Beyond this, it is questionable whether instruction in matters of religious obligation can be carried, excepting so far as the school districts may make the Bible and New Testament class books; and there can be no ground to apprchend that the schools will be used for the purpose of favoring any particular sect or tenet, if these sacred writings, which are their own safest interpreters, are

read without any other comment than such as may be necessary to explain and enforce, by familiar illustration, the lessons of duty which they teach.

"In connexion with this subject, it is highly gratifying to consider that the religious institutions of the country, reaching, as they do, the most sequestered neighborhoods, and the sabbath schools, which are almost as widely diffused, afford ample means of instruction in the principles and practice of the Christian faith. In countries where ecclesiastical affairs are the subject of political regulation, there is no difficulty in making religious instruction the foundation of education, by arrangements independent of the action of those whom it immediately concerns. But the policy of our law is to leave the subject, where it may be most properly left, with the officers and inhabitants of the school districts."

In passing from the administration of Gen. Dix to that of his successor, it is scarcely necessary to observe that the exertions of the former, during the six years in which the interests of the common schools were committed to his charge, to elevate and expand the system of popular education, were unsurpassed by any of his predecessors. The impress of his clear, discriminating and cultivated mind, was stamped upon every feature of that system, and the order, arrangement and harmony which pervaded all its parts, were due not less to the ceaseless vigilance of its supervision than to the symmetry and beauty of the system itself. In 1837 Gen. Dix, under the authority of the legislature, collected together and published a volume of the decisions of his predecessor and himself, embracing an exposition of nearly every provision of the school act, and establishing, upon a permanent basis, the principles of future interpretation and decision, in reference to those provisions. The system of district school libraries was also organized and put into successful operation under his immediate auspices; and to his clear and convincing exposition of the principles upon which this great institution was based, the ends it was designed to subserve, and the objects it was capable of accomplishing, a large share of the success which has attended its establishment thus far, is unquestionably due. Administration of John C. Spenc BrCounty Superintendents—1839 to 1842. On the 4th of February, 1839, the Hon. John C.Spencer was appointed secretary of state and Superintendent of Common Schools. Deeply impressed with the necessity of a more thorough and efficient supervision and inspection of the several schools, his first measure was to procure the passage of a law authorizing the appointment of a County Board of Visitors, whose duty it should be gratuitously to visit the common schools of their county, and to report to him the results of such examination, together with such suggestions for the improvement of these institutions as they might deem expedient. These visitors were selected from among the most intelligent citizens of the several counties, without distinction of party; and under specific instructions from the department, most of the common schools of the state were visited by them, and a mass of valuable information respecting their condition and prospects, accompanied by suggestions for their improvement, obtained and communicated to the legislature. With great unanimity the plan of a county supervision through the medium of an officer to be appointed either by the Superintendenf or by some local board, was urged upon the department and the legislature; and under the strong recommendation of the Superintendent, backed by the exertions of several of the most eminent friends of popular education, among whom may be enumerated the Hon. Jabez D. Hammond, who as early as 1835 had given to the public the details of a plan essentially similar; the Rev. Dr. Whitehouse, of Rochester; Francis DWight, Esq., editor of the District School Journal, then of Geneva; Professor Potter, of Union College, and James Wadsworth, Esq., of Geneseo, this project became, in 1841, by the nearly unanimous action of the legislature, incorporated with our system of common schools.

In his message at the opening of the session of 1840, Gov. Seward thus adverts to the subject of elementary education:

"Although our system of public education is well endowed, and has been eminently successful, there is yet occasion for the benevolent and enlightened action of the legislature. The advantages of education ought to be secured to many, especially in our large cities, whom orphanage, the depravity of parents or some form of accident or misfortune seems to have doomed to hopeless poverty and ignorance. Their intellects are as susceptible of expansion, of improvement, of refinement, of elevation and of direction, as those minds which, through the favor of Providence, are permitted to develop themselves under the influence of better fortunes; they inherit the common lot to struggle against temptations, necessities and vices; they are to assume the same domestic, social and political relations, and they are born to the same ultimate destiny.

"The children of foreigners, found in great numbers in our populous cities and towns, and in the vicinity of our public works, are too often deprived of the advantages of our system of public education, in consequences of prejudices arising from difference of language or religion. It ought never to be forgotten, that the public welfare is as deeply concerned in their education as in that of our own children. I do not hesitate, therefore, to recommend the establishment of schools in which they may be instructed by teachers speaking the same language with themselves, and professing the same faith. There would be no inequality in such a measure, since it happens from the force of circumstauces, if not from choice, that the responsibilities of education are, in most instances, confided by us to native citizens, and occasions seldom offer for a trial of our magnanimity, by committing that trust to persons differing from ourselves in language or religion. Since we have opened our country and all its fulness to the oppressed of every nation, we shall evince wisdom equal to such generosity by qualifying their children for the high responsibilities of citizenship."

From the annual report of the Superintendent it appeared that the whole number of organized school districts in the state was 10,106 ; the number of children between the ages of five and sixteen, residing in the several districts from which reports had been received, 5 64,190, and the number of children taught during the year reported, 557,229—showing an increase of 28,816 over the preceding year.

On the 13th of April, 1840. the Superintendent transmitted to the legislature the reports of the several Visitors of Common Schools appointed by him under the act of the preceding session, accompanied by a condensed abstract of their views and suggestions, together with a full exposition of his own, in reference to the various proposed improvements and modifications of the system. In relation to the inspection of the schools the Superintendent observes:

"It has already been shown to the legislature, from the official returns, that at least one half of all the schools in the state are not visited at all by the inspectors. The reports of the Visitors show that the examinations of the inspectors are slight and superficial, and that no benefit is derived from them. Many of the Boards unhesitatingly recommend the abolition of the office." "The Superintendent is constrained to express his concurrence in the opinion expressed by several of the boards of visitors, that the office of town inspector of schools is unnecessary, and rather an incumbrance on the administration of the system." He recommends the appointment of Deputy Superintendents of common schools for each county and expatiates upon the signal advantage to be secured to the interests of the common schools by the adoption of a system of visitation at once so comprehensive and efficient. He dissents from the views of the visitors in reference to the expediency of establishing normal schools in each county for the instruction of teachers; being of the opinion that, the existing system of academical departments for this purpose was preferable; and he accordingly concurs in the recommendation of his predecessor to increase the number of those departments. He strongly urges the establishment, under the patronage of the state, of a journal to be exclusively devoted to the promotion of education; the attainment, if practicable, through the organization of some general society of an uniformity of text books for the use of schools; some adequate provision for the vaccination of children attending the common schools; the introduction of vocal music as a branch of elementary instruction; the extension of the official term of office of the trustees of the several districts, and of commissioners of common schools, ard the election of one annually: the voluntary organization of county boards of education, and of town, county and state associations for the improvement of common school education; the establishment in cities and populous places of schools of different grades under the charge of a local Superintendent; and the denial of costs to plaintiffs in suit commenced against school officers in cases where the court shall certify that the act complained of was performed in good faith and in the discharge of official duty.

On the subject of the proper preparation of teachers for the common schools, the Superintendent holds the following language:

"The common school system of the state is comparatively of recent origin. The first law authorizing the establishment of common schools was passed about 26 years ago. In the management of the pecuniary and economical affairs of the districts there is nothing to be desired. Greater regularity in the administration of this part of the system cannot well be fancied. But its defects become apparent the moment we enter the schools. All these defects centre in a common deficiency under which the Russian schools languished so long—the want of efficient and well qualified teachers. One of the principal improvemenients which have occupied the attention of the legislature and the friends of education during the last six years has been to supply this defect; but in the pursuit of this common objeet some diversity of opinion has prevailed with regard to the measures best calculated to accomplish it. Some distinguished advocates of the cause of popular education (and among these are found several of the chief magistrates of the state) have recommended the establishment of teachers' seminaries on the Prussian plan. The prevailing opinion, however, has been in favor of departments for the education of teachers, engrafted upon the incorporated academies of the state, with such endowments as to render them adequate to the object in view."

"Although the proper objects of popular instruction are better understood than they have been at any previous time, the importance of the reform now in progress is not, perhaps, so generally appreciated as it deserves to be. It is but a few years smce common school instruction was ordinarily limited to a knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic. The acquisitions which are now regarded as the means of education, were then sought as its objects and end.— No plan of education can now be considered complete, which does not embrace a full development of the intellectual faculties, a systematic and careful discipline of the moral feelings, and a preparation of the pupil for the social and political relations which he is destined to sustain in manhood. It must be conceded that the standard of common school education in this state falls far short of the attainment of these objects. But the aim of its friends is to introduce into the established system such improvements as shall ultimately secure their accomplishment. Is this a visionary hope? Those who are most familiar with the practical workings of the system, believe that it is not. The whole reform will be accomplished by furnishing each school district with a competent teacher. The application of the remedy is certainly surrounded with difficulties. It must be accomplished by the gradual progress and influence of opinion. The Prussian system not only prepares the teachers, but compels the school districts to employ them. Our whole system proceeds upon the principle of accomplishing by persuasion what the Prussian effects by force."

"There is reason to hope and believe that opinion will gradually accomplish what it seems difficult, if not impossible, to secure by compulsory measures.— No people are more quick sighted as to their true interests than the inhabitants of this state. They cannot fail to see that the education of their children will be best secured by employing competent teachers, and that the avenues to wealth and distinction, though open to all, are beset with difficulties for those who enter them without the mental preparation which is necessary to enable them to contend successfully against more favored competitors. These convictions may and doubtless will be, the fruit of time; for they are to take the place of long established opinions, which are not often hastily eradicated. The reform of the Prussian system, as has already been observed, was gradual.— The teachers'seminaries were, for many years, few in number, and were altogether inadequate to supply the schools. Our departments for the education of teachers have been in operation but little more than three years ; and there is certainly much ground for encouragement in the fact that the demands of the school districts upon these departments, for teachers, have been greater than they have been able to supply."

In reference to the plan of county supervision through the medium of local superintendents, he observes: "A regular supervision is indispensable to the success of every public or private undertaking. There is not a department of the government which is not subject to some direct and immediate control, and no individual appoints an agent for the management of any business, without reserving and exercising a superintendence over him. Conscious of the absolute necessity of such a provision in the common school system, the framers of the law endeavored to secure it by the election of town inspectors. But the object has not been obtained. The official reports show to what extent even the duty of simple visitation has been neglected. And when the nature of these visitations is considered, it will be obvious that if they were as frequent as might be desired, they could not accomplish the great purpose in view. To be of any avail, the inspection of schools must be conducted by those who are competent tojudge of the qualifications of the teacher, and of the progress of the pupils, by examinations in the different studies pursued, and to suggest such improvements and modifications as will enable the student to derive the greatest amount of benefit from the schools. And time must be devoted not only to the schools and their masters, but to the trustees and inhabitants." "All writers on public education concur in the unanimous and decided opinion, that effectual inspection and supervision are more essential to the proper management of schools, and more indispensable to their improvement than any other agency or all other agencies combined; and the Superintendent does not hesitate to express his conviction that until they are provided, all efforts to improve the condition of the schools, to extend the range and elevate the character of the instruction in them, will be utterly hopeless. M. Cousin, the celebrated author on popular education, attributes the success of the schools in Holland almost enirely to the constant and unremitting inspection to which they are continually subjected, and demonstrates that wherever schools have failed, in other countries, to meet the public expectation in the degree and amount of instruction, it has been owing to the want of such supervision."

On the 15th of April, John A. King, Esq., from the committee on colleges, academies and common schools, of the assembly, submitted an elaborate report, accompanied by a bill embracing substantially the improvements and modifications of the system recommended by the Superintendent. This bill passed the assembly on the 12th of May subsequently, by a vote of fifty-eight to forty-seven; but no definitive action was had upon it in the senate, for want of time.

The following are extracts from the message of Gov. Seward, at the opening of the session of 1841:

"The number of children attending the common schools is about 570,000; and the whole number of children between five and sixteen years of age, as nearly as can be ascertained, is about 600,000. There are about eleven thousand common school districts in the state, in all of which schools are maintained during an average period of eight months in the year. Of these school districts there are very few which have not complied with the act providing for the establishment of school district libraries. * * * Although an injudicious choice of books is sometimes made, these libraries generally include history and biography, voyages and travels, works on natural history and the physical sciences, treatises upon agriculture, commerce, manufactures and the arts, and judicious selections from modern literature. Henceforth no

« PreviousContinue »