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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.
On the 4th of February, 1839, the Hon. John C. SPENCER was appointed secretary of state and Superintendent of Com. mon 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 visiters were selected from among the most intelligent citizens of the several counties, without distinction of party; and under spe. cific 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 Superintendent 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, and may in truth be regarded as its crowning glory:
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 consequence 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 circumstances, 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 fullness, 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 10,706; the number of children between five and sixteen, residing in the several districts from which reports had been received, 564,790; and the number of children taught during the year reported, 557,229; showing an increase of 28,316 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 recom mend the abolition of the office." - The Superintendent is con strained 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 advantages 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 and preparation of teachers; being of 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 service of the trustees of the several districts, and of commissioners of common schools, and the election of one only 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 suits 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 Snperintendent holds the following language:
“ The common school system of this State is comparatively of recent origin. The first law authorizing the establishment of common schools was passed about twenty-six years ago. In the management of the economical and pecuniary 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 deficiencythe deficiency under which the Prussian schools languished so long-the want of efficient and well qualified teachers. One
of the principal improvements 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 object 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 them 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 since 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. İs 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 De 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 suc cessfully 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 bas already been observed, was gradual. The teachers' semina
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 cona. sidered, 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 to judge 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 effectyal 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 urtil 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 i opular education, attributes the success of the schools in Holland almost entirely to the constant and unremitting inspection to which they are continually subjected, and demonstrates that wherever schools