« PreviousContinue »
“Of all our 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 to 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 age, and 494,959 children taught during the year reported; being à decrease of 2,146 since the preceding year. The Superintendent 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 enlightened 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 1837, 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 numerous 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 arise in the practical operation of the system.
From the first annual report of Gen. Dix as Superintendent of Common Schools, made on the 8th of January, 1834, it appeared that there were 9,690 school districts in the statė, from 9,107 of which reports had been made in accordance with law. The number of children between the 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 angmentation 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 connexion 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 object, 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 a muinent 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 inhabitarts 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 vooks for the use of the schools, the Superintendent also adopts the views of his predecessors, 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 prices which competition would soon reduce to the lowest rate at which they could be fornished. 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 coinpetent teachers.
improvements in the method of instruction, and the faithful and economical application of the funds 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 534,000; 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 preparatlon 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 pub lic mind, ihat comuon school teachers are in general incompetent to the proper ful. filment 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 readily be 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 intel. lectual 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 energy. 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 aca. demies 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 pro. fessional 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 dependant for their edu. cation."