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On the 12th of March, 1817, Mr. Hawley transmitted to the legislature his fourth annual report, in which he states that “the returns which have been made to him during the last year, from most of the counties of the state, afford satisfactory evidence of a progressive increase in the number of common schools, and a corresponding improvement in their condition. It is ascertained with sufficient certainty, that there are within the state, exclusive of the city and county of New-York, at least five thousand common schools, which have been organized and kept up under the act for their establishment; and that the number of children annually taught in them exceeds two hundred thousand.”
In his fifth annual report, under date of March 16, 1818, the Superintendent informs the legislature, that from the returns made to him during the preceding year, it appeared that there were more than five thousand common schools, in which were annually taught upwards of two hundred thousand children, the returns not being sufficiently full and definite to enable him to speak with more precision. “On comparing the returns of common schools, however, for different years, it appeared that in almost every district a greater proportion of the children between the ages of five and fifteen years have been taught, and a regular school supported for a longer time in every succeeding year, than in the preceding one. To this result, so favorable to the establishment of common schools by law, it may be added-and it has not escaped the most transient observer-that under the operation of this system, better teachers have been employed, a new and more respectable character given to our common schools, and a much greater interest excited in their behalf.” i “ It is now more than five years,” continues the Superin. tendent, “since common schools were established by law. The first act of the legislature was passed in 1812. Soon after this act was carried into operation, it was discovered to be defective in many of its provisions. To supply this defect, and to add some provisions which were deemed necessary, a new act was passed in 1814. This act was also found on trial to be imperfect, and in the following year it underwent sundry amendments. Since that time, the system founded on the act of 1814, and the amendments of 1815, has remained unaltered; nor has a practice of three years under it discovered any very great defects. It was not, however, to be expected, even after the amendments of 1815, that the system would be found complete and perfect in all its details; on the contrary, it was to be expected of this as of every other new and untried system, that time would develop many imperfections which had not been foreseen." The Superintendent proceeds to suggest several particulars of the system which, in his judgment, required amendment; and adds, “ although when a system is once esta blished it is not advisable to subject it to frequent revision and amendment, without urgent cause-yet as the system of com mon schools might be improved in these and other respects not adverted to, and it will be necessary, at least, to consolidate the different acts on the subject, the propriety of revising the whole system and amending it in some of its subordinate parts, is respectfully submitted.” The residue of the report is devoted to a consideration of the Lancasterian system of education, the introduction of which, into the common schools, had been strongly recommended by the governor, (De Witt Clinton,) in his speech at the opening of the session. The peculiar excellencies of this system were clearly and distinctly pointed out by the Superintendent, and its adoption, especially in all the larger schools in cities and villages, urgently and ably enforced. Under the impetus thus given, Lancasterian schools were established in many portions of the state, and societies incorpo. rated, several of which are still in existence, having for their object the introduction and promotion of the system of Bell and Lancaster, then at its zenith of popularity. Experience, however, failed to realize the sanguine anticipations of those friends of education who saw in the general adoption of this system, the commencement of a new and brighter era in the science of elementary instruction; and after an ephemeral and sickly existence, these institutions, from which such favorable results were expected, languished, and with few exceptions, disappeared. Whether the failure of this experiment resulted from inherent defects in the monitorial system of instruction, from its want of adaptation to the peculiar genius of our people, or from an inability on the part of those to whom its administration was commiited, to carry into effect the plan of its founders and the views of its advocates, is still an unsettled question.
On the 17th of February, 1819, the Superintendent transmitted to the legislature his sixth annual report. From the returns which had been made to him during the preceding year, it appeared that in four hundred and two towns, from which only returns had been received, there were 4,116 common schools organized under the act for their establishment, and that in 3,844 of these schools, from which only particular district returns had been received, there had been taught during the year, 210,316 children. From one hundred and fifty-eight towns no returns had been received, and from many of the reporting towns the returns were to a considerable extent deficient. “ Allowing the towns from which no returns have been made, to have the same number of schools in proportion to their population and extent, as other towns of equal extent and population from which returns have been made, the whole number of common schools in this state, organized and permanently established
under the act of the legislature, may be estimated at nearly six thousand; and the nnmber of children annually taught in them, in the various branches of elementary education, at nearly two hundred and fifty thousand. This great increase and prosperity of our common schools,” continues the Superintendent, “is evidently the result of the wise and liberal policy adopted by the legislature for their encouragement and support. On comparing the returns of schools made for different years since their first establishment by law, it appears that they have increased in a much greater ratio than the increase of population, and that their condition, which was before stationary, has, under the salutary operation of the law for their establishment, been rapidly and substantially improved. From the earliest returns made under the act, it appears that the number of children taught was not more than four-fifths of the number between the ages of five and fifteen years. From subsequent returns, it appears that the children taught had increased to five-sixths of that number. But from the last returns it appears that the number of children now taught is equal to seven-eighths of the number between the ages of five and fifteen years. From the same.comparison it also appears, that the average length of time for which schools have been kept in each year, since their first establishment by law, has increased in about the same ratio as the number of children taught. The same data also afford evidence that common schools have risen in public estimation, and received a degree of care and attention to their concerns, corresponding with their increase and prosperity. If these results were the only evidence of a beneficial operation in the system of common schools provided by law, they would be sufficient to establish the public confidence in the policy of that system, and to secure it a permanent duration. But it is well known, although it does not appear from any data in the returns, that the system has produced other results not less in magnitude or merit. It has secured our schools against the admission of unqualified teachers, by requiring them to submit to examination before a public board of inspectors, and to obtain from them a certificate of approbation, before they can legally be employed. It has imparted to common schools a new and more respectable character, by making them a subject of legal notice, and investing them with powers to regulate their own concerns. It has corrected many evils in the discipline and government of schools, not only by excluding unqualified teachers, but by subjecting the schools and course of studies in them, to the frequent inspection of public officers. It has founded schools in places where, by conflicting interests, or want of concert in the inhabitants, none had been before established; and it has, by it? pecuniary aid, enabled many indigent children to receive the benefits of education, which would not otherwise have been
within their reach. The system having already fulfilled so many of the beneficial ends of its institution, and it being now only six years since it was first organized and carried into operation, it is warrantable to infer that all the expectations of its founders will in due time be realized.”
The Superintendent renews his recommendation for a revision and consolidation of the several enactments relating to common schools. His suggestions in this respect were adopted by the legislature, and on the 19th of April following, the “ Act for the support of Common Schools” was re-enacted, with the various amendments which had from time to time been made, and such as were suggested by Mr. Hawley in his reports for the two preceding years. The publication of the revised act was accompanied by an able exposition of its various provisions, from the pen of Mr. Hawley, and with complete forms for the several proceedings required under it by the several officers connected with its administration.
On the 21st of February, 1820, Mr. Hawley transmitted to the legislature, his seventh annual report. He states “ that the returns of common schools for the last year are much more full and satisfactory than any before received;" that from these returns it appeared that in 515 towns, there were 5,763 common schools organized according to law, and that in 5,118 of these schools, from which only particular district returns had been received, there had been taught during the year, in the various branches of elementary education, 271,877 children. The number of children between the ages of five and fifteen years, residing in the districts from which returns had been received, was, 302,703, making the number of children taught equal to nine-tenths of the whole number between the ages of five and fifteen.
On the 21st of February, 1821, Mr. Hawley transmitted to the legislature his eighth and last annual report as Superintendent; from which it appeared that in 545 towns from which returns had been received, there were 6,323 school districts organized according to law, from 5,489 of which particular district reports had been made, showing that of 317,633 children, between the ages of five and fifteen years, residing in those dis.. tricts, 304,549 had been under instruction during portions of the year in the common schools. No returns were received from twenty-seven towns. “ The proportion,” observes the Superintendent, “ which, from the present returns, the number of children taught bears to the number between the ages of five and fifteen years, is much greater than at any former period. In abour one-half of the towns in the state, the number taught exceeds the number between the ages of five and fifteen years; and taking the whole state together, the number taught is more than nineteen-twentieths of the number between these ages. The average length of time for which schools have been kept for the last year, has also increased in about the same ratio as the number of children taught. There is now, therefore, rea. son to believe that the number of children in the state who do not attend any school, and who are not otherwise in the way of receiving a common education, is very small. The public bounty is sufficient to defray the expense of most schools for about three months in the year; and where that is expended in different parts of the year, so as not to defray the whole expense of the school for any particular part, it is understood that in most districts poor children have been permitted to attend the district school free of expense, under that provision in the school act which empowers districts to exonerate those children from the payment of teachers' wages. The readiness with which such permission has been generally granted, wherever it has been deserved, is very creditable to the public spirit and liberality of the inhabitants of school districts, and it is considered proper on this occasion, to bring the fact to the notice of the legislature. From these circumstances, in connection with the friendly disposition every where manifested in the cause of education, it is considered warrantable to infer, that of the rising generation in this state, very few individuals will arrive to maturity without the enjoyment and protection of a common education.”
To no individual in the state, are the friends of common school education more deeply indebted for the impetus given to the cause of elementary instruction in its infancy, than 10 GIDEON HAWLEY. At a period when every thing depended upon organization; upon supervision; upon practical acquaint ance with the most minute details; and upon a patient, persevering, laborious process of exposition, Mr. Hawley united in himself all the requisites for the efficient discharge of the high functions devolved upon him by the legislature. From a state of anarchy and confusion, and complete disɔrganization, within a period of less than eight years, arose a beautiful and stately fabric, based upon the most impregnable foundations, sustained by an enlightened public sentiment, fortified by the best and most enduring affections of the people, and cherished as the safeguard of the state the true palladium of its greatness and prosperity. Within this brief period the number of school districts had more than doubled, and the proportion of children annually participating in the blessings of elementary instruction, increased from four-fifths to twenty-four twenty-fifths of the whole number residing in the state of a suitable are to attend the public schools. When we take into view the disadvantages under which every new and untried system must, of necessity, labor, before it can be commended to general adop tion, and consider the immense variety of interests which were,