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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 26th of May, 1841, the legislature, by a nearly unanimous vote, passed the act drawn up by Mr. Spencer, and reported by the literature committees of the two houses, providing for the appointment by the board of supervisors of each county, biennially, of a County Superintendent of common schools, charged with the general supervision of the in'erests of the several schools under his jurisdiction. The various poweri, functions and duties of this officer, will hereafter be more particularly adverted to. The number of town inspectors of schools was reduced to two; the qualifications of voters at school district meetings, specifically defined; provision made for the establishment of schools for the instruction of colored children'; a subscription for so many copies of a monthly periodical exclusively devoted to the cause of education, as should supply each school district in the state, authorized; and various minor amendments in the details of the system, made.
Under this act, County Superintendents were appointed in the various counties of the state; and under full and ample instructions from the Superintendent, entered in the succeeding winter upon the discharge of their official duties.
By an ordinance of the Regents of the University, of the 4th of May, 1841, the sum of $300 was directed to be annually apportioned to two academies in each of the Senate districts, for the maintenance of departmients for the education of teachers of common schoolş: in addition to which seven other academies were provided with similar departments under the act of 1838, requiring their establishment in every institution receiving a share of the literature fund equal to $700 per
In October, of this year, Mr. SPENCER was transferred to a seat in the Cabinet, as Secretary of War; and by a provision in the act of 1841, above referred to, the duties of Superintendent of Common Schools devolved upon his general deputy, until the vacancy was filled by the legislature in the month of February ensuing,
Of the energy, ability and transcendent success with which the brief administration of Mr. SPENCER was conducted, it would be superfluous here to speak. The value and importance of the reform effected under his auspices, and chiefly through his indefatigable exertions, in the system of common schools, by the
option of the plan of local supervision through the agency of Connty Superintendents, will be best appreciated by the fact that every successive legislature since convened, through every mutation of party, has, with unexampled unanimity, sanctioned and sustained the system so devised and matured: that the practical operation of that system has immeasurably ele
vated the condition of the common schools throughout the state advanced the standard of popular education, enlisted the effi cient co-operation of an enlightened public sentiment, and laid the foundations for that universal diffusion of knowledge, which under the guidance of sound moral and religious principles, is destined to sustain, and we would fain hope to perpetuate, the fabric of our free institutions.
In reference to the act of April, 1838, appropriating the income of the U. S. Deposit Fund to the purposes of education, the Superintendent observes:
“ 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; 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 foundations 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, aud 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 apprehend 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.”
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 nu'nber 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 mollern literature. Henceforth no citizen, who shall have improved the advantages offered by our common schools and the district libraries, will be without some scientific knowledge of the earth, its physical condition and its phenomena, the animals that inhabit it, the vegetables that clothe it with verdure, and the minerals under its surface; the physiology and the intellectual powers of man; the laws of mechanics and their practical uses; those of chemistry and their application to the arts, the principles of moral and political economy; the history of nations, and especially that of our own country; the progress and triumph of the democratic principle in the governments on this continent, and the prospects of its ascendancy throughout the world; the trials and faith, valor and constancy of our ancestors; with all the inspiring examples of benevolence, virtue and patriotism, exhibited in the lives of the benefactors of mankind. The fruits of this enlightened and beneficent enterprise are chiefly to be gathered by our successors. But the present generation will not be altogether unrewarded. Although many of our citizens may pass the district library, heedless of the treasures it contains, the unpretending volumes will find their way to the fireside, diffusing knowledge, increasing domestic happiness, and promoting public virtue.”
« When the census of 1850 shall be taken, I trust it will show, that within the borders of the state of New.York, there is no 'child of sufficient years who is unable to read and write. I am
sure it will then be acknowledged, that when ten years before, there were thirty thousand children growing up in ignorance and vice, a suggestion to seek them, wherever found, and win them to the ways of knowledge, and virtue by persuasion, sympathy and kindness, was prompted by a sincere desire for the common good. I have no pride of opinion concerning the manner in which the education of those whom I have brought to your notice shall be secured; although I might derive satisfaction from the reflection, that amid abundant misrepresentations of the method suggested, no one has contended that it would be ineffectual, nor has any other plan been proposed. I observe, on the contrary, with deep regret, that the evil remains as before; and the question recurs not merely how, or by whom shall instruction be given, but whether it shall be given at all, or be altogether withheld. Others may be content with a system that erects free schools, and offers gratuitous instruction; but I trust I shall be allowed to entertain the opinion, that no system is perfect that does not accomplish what it proposes; that our system is therefore deficient in comprehensiveness, in the exact proportion of the children that it leaves uneducated; that knowledge, however acquired, is better than ignorance; and that neither error, accident, nor prejudice, ought to be permitted to deprive the state of the education of her citizens. Cherishing such opinions, I could not enjoy the consciousness of having discharged my duty, if any effort had been omitted which was calculated to bring within the schools all who are destined to exercise the rights of citizenship; nor shall I feel that the system is perfect, or liberty safe, until that object be accomplished. Not personally concerned about such misapprehensions as have arisen, but desirous to remove every obstacle to the accomplishment of so important an object, I very freely declare, that I seek the education of those whom I have brought before you, not to perpetuate any prejudices or distinctions which deprive them of instruction, but in disregard of all such distinctions and prejudices. I solicit their education less from sympathy than because the welfare of the state demands it, and cannot dispense with it. As native citizens they are born to the right of suffrage. I ask that they may at least be taught to read and write; and in asking this, I require no more for them than I have diligently endeavored to secure to the inmates of our penitentiaries, who have forseited that inestimable franchise by crime; and also to an unfortunate race, which þaving been plunged by us into degradation and ignorance, has been excluded from the franchise by an arbitrary property qualification incongruous with all our institutions. I have not recommended, nor do I seek, the education of any class in foreign languages, or in particular creeds or faiths; but fully believing, with the author of the Declaration of Independence,