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The importance of an uniform and enlightened administration of a system embracing so great a variety of interests and forming so material an ingredient in the intellectual, moral, and social civilization of the community, has not been one of the least among the considerations which have led to the publication of this work: and if through its means any facilities shall have been afforded for the accomplishment of this desirable result, the time and pains spent in its preparation will not have been regretted. That it is free from imperfections and errors it would be presumptuous to assert; but in commending it to those for whose use it is specially designed, and to the friends of popular education generally, the compiler can accompany it with the assurance that no efforts on his part have been spared to render it worthy of their attention and regard.
ALBANY, May, 1851.
ORIGIN, PROGRESS, AND PRESENT CONDITION
COMMON SCHOOL SYSTEM OF NEW YORK,
From the Origin of the State Government to the Year 1851.
Ar the first meeting of the State Legislature after the adoption of the Copstitution, the governor, Geo. CLINTON, called the attention of that body to the subject of education. The following is an extract from his speech :
“Neglect of the education of youth is one of the evils consequent upon war. Perhaps there is scarce any thing more worthy your attention than the revival and encouragement of seminaries of learning; and nothing by which we cab more satisfactorily express our gratitude to the Supreme Being for his past favors; since piety and virtue are generally the offspring of an enlightened understanding."
In thi? year, the act incorporating the Regents of the University was passed.
In 1789 an act was passed, requiring the surveyor-general, to set apart two lots in each township, of the public land thereafter to be surveyed, for gospel and school purposes.
The following is an extract from the report of the Regents of the University, for 1793:
“On this occasion we cannot help suggesting to the legislature the numerous advantages which we conceive would accrue to the citizens in general, from the institution of schools in various parts of the state, for the purpose of instructing children in the lower branches of education, such as reading their native language with propriety, and so much of writing and arithmetic, as to enable them when they come forward into active life, to transact with accuracy and dispatch, the business arising from their daily intercourse with each other. The mode of accomplishing this desirable object, we respectfully submit to the wisdom of the legislature.
“The attention which the legislature has evinced to promote literature, by the liberal provision heretofore made, encourages, with all deference, to sug. gest the propriety of rendering it permanent by setting apart for that salutary purpose some of the unappropriated lands. The value of these will be en hanced by the increase of population. The state will thus never want the means of promoting useful science; and will thereby secure the rational happiness, and fix the liberty of the people on the most permanent basis--that of knowledge and virtue."
At the opening of the session of the legislature in 1795, Gov. Clinton thus again alluded to the subject : ,
“ While it is evident that the general establishment and liberal endowment of academies are highly to be commended, and are attended with the most beneficial consequences, yet it cannot be denied that they are principally com fined to the children of the opulent, and that a great portion of the communi
the greater number of days of instruction shall appear to have been given, shall have a proportionably larger sum. And if it shall at any time appear to the said commissioners, that the abilities or moral character of the master or masters of any schools, are not such that they ought to be entrusted with the education of the youth, or that any of the branches of learning taught in any school, are not such as are intended to receive encouragement from the moneys appropriated by this act, the said commissioners shall notify in writing the said trustees of such school thereof; and to the time of such notification, and no longer, shall any allowance be made to such school unless the same thereafter be conducted to the approbation of the said commissioners." The commissioners were requir. ed to give to the trustees of each district, an order on the county treasurer for the sum to which the district was entitled. Provisions were also made for annual returns from the several districts, towns and counties. An abstract of these returns, from sixteen out of the twenty-three counties of the state, for the year 1798, shows a total of 1,352 schools, organized according to the act, in which 59,660 children were taught.
In the year 1799 an act was passed directing the raising, by means of four successive lotteries, of the sum of one hundred thousand dollars, $12,500 of which, were to be paid to the Regents of the University, to be by them distributed among the Academies in such manner as they shall deem most proper, and the residue, $87,500 was to be paid into the treasury, to be appropriated for the encouragement of common schools, as the legislature should thereafter direct. This bill probably grew out of a project proposed by the Hon. JEDEDIAH PECK, of Otsego.“ It is due" observes Judge HAMMOND, in his Political History, " to this plain, unlettered farmer, to add that he was intent upon making some permanent provisions for these institutions, and that he formed the project of establishing a common school fund in pursuance of the example then lately furnished by Connecticut, the state from whence he emigrated that he never lost sight of it; and that to his indefatigable and persevering efforts, aided by Mr. ADAM COMSTOCK, of Saratoga, another uneducated and plain, but clear sighted and patriotic man, we are principally indebted for our school fund and common school system. What military chieftain —what mere conqueror by brute force, has conferred so deep, so enduring an obligation upon posterity ?”
At the opening of the Session of the Legislature in 1800, Gov. Jay called the attention of both Houses to the subject of Common Schools, in the following language :
5 Among other objects which will present themselves to you, there is one which I earnestly recommend to your notice and patronage. I mean our institutions for the education of youth. The importance of common schools is best estimated by the good effects of them, where they most abound and are the best regulated.”
On the 25th of March of the same year, the Assembly, by a vote of fifty-seven to thirty-six, adopted the following resolution, offered by Mr. Comstock, of Saratoga :
" Resolved, That the Act for the Encouragement of Schools,' passed the 9th day of April, 1795, ought to be revised and amended ; and that out of the annual revenue arising to this State from its stock and other funds, the sum of $50,000 be annually appropriated for the encouragement of schools, for the term of five years."
On the 3d of April, subsequently, a clause to this effect was inserted in the annual supply bill, on Mr. Comstock's motion, by a vote of fifty-one to thirtyfive. The Senate, however, by a vote of nineteen to sixteen, struck out the clause. The house, on the return of the bill, at first refused to concur with the Senate in this amendment, by a vote of forty-two to forty-one ; but subsequently reconsidered its vote, and assented to the amendment, on the last day but one of the Session.
By an act passed on the 3d of April, 1801, the sum of $100,000 was directed to be raised by lottery, of which one-half was ordered to be paid into the Treasury for the use of Common Schools ; leaving to future legislatures the discretion of making such application of it as they might judge most conducive to the end in view. In order to promote so laudable an object, the Legislature of 1803, by an act passed on the 6th of April. directed the Comptroller to invest in good real estate, all such sums of money as had been, or should thereafter be received from the proceeds of each lottery, for the term of two years.
In 1802, the Governor (Geo. CLINTON,) again called the attention of the Legislature to the subject of Common Schools. He observes, “The system of Common Schools having been discontinued, and the advantage to morals, religion, liberty and good government, arising from the general diffusion of knowledge being universally admitted, permit me to recommend this subject to your deliberate attention. The failure of one experiment for the attainment of an important object, ought not to discourage other attempts." No legislative action however, in reference to the subject, was had during the session of that year.
In 1803, Gov. Clinton renewed his recommendation in the following energetic terms: “The establishment of common schools has, at different times, engag. ed the attention of the Legislature; but although its importance is generally acknowledged, a diversity of sentiment respecting the best means, has hitherto prevented the accomplishment of the object. The diffusion of knowledge is so essential to the promotion of virtue and the preservation of liberty, as to render arguments unnecessary to excite you to a perseverance in this laudable pursuit. Permit me only to observe, that education, by correcting the morals and improving the manners, tends to prevent those evils in society which are beyond the sphere of legislation."
On the 21st of February of that year, Mr. Peck, of Otsego, from the joint committee of both houses on this portion of the governor's speech, reported a bill authorizing the several towns to organize their schools, and to raise money. to support the same. No definite action, however, took place upon it during the session of that year.
In 1804, the governor again called the attention of the legislature to the subject. On the 3d of March, in that year, Mr. Peck, from the committee on that portion of the speech, again made a favorable report, accompanied by a bill, which, however, shared the fate of its predecessor,
At the extra session of the legislature, in November, 1804, Gov. LEWIS brought the subject before that body, in the following language:
“I cannot conclude, gentlemen, without calling your attention to a subject which my worthy and highly respected predecessor in office had much at heart, and frequently, I believe, presented to your view the encouragement of literature. In a government, resting on public opinion, and deriving its chief support from the affections of the people, religion and morality cannot be too sedulously inculcated. To them, science is an handmaid ; ignorance, the worst of enemies. Literary information should then be placed within the reach of every description of citizens, and poverty should not be permitted to obstruct the path to the fane of knowledge. Common schools, under the guidance of respectable teachers, should be established in every village, and the indigent be educated at the public expense. The higher seminaries also, should receive every patronage and support within the means of enlightened legislators, Learning would thus flourish, and vice be more effectually restrained than by volumes of penal statutes."
On the 4th of February, 1806, Gov. Lewis transmitted a special message to the legislature in reference to this subject, in which he recommended the application of all the state lands for the benefit of colleges and schools; the whole fund and entire management of the system to be confided to the Regents of the University, under such regulations as the legislature might prescribe; the Regents to have the power of appointing three trustees for each district; who should be authorized to locate the sites for school houses, and to erect such houses wherever necessary, employ teachers, apply the funds of the district, and levy taxes on the inhabitants, for such further sums as might be required for the support of the school and the education of indigent children, None of these sug. gestions, however, with the exception of the first, seem to have met with any favor at the hands of the legislature. We ho pe