« PreviousContinue »
of knowledge, and the more expanded its branches, the greater will be its trunk and the deeper its root.”
On the 21st of February, MR. SPENCER; from the literature committee of the senate, to which had been referred that portion of the message of the governor relating to common schools and the providing of competent teachers, brought in a bill, entitled, “ An act to provide permanent funds for the anņual appropriation to common schools, to increase the literature fund, and to promote the education of teachers," which, with some slight amendments, became a law on the 13th of April following. Thiş bill transferred to the common school fund the balance due on the loan of 1786, together with $100,000 of bank stock owned by the state: and to the literature fund, from the canal fund, the sum of $150,000; the income of which, together with that of the $95,000 formerly belonging to the fund, was required to be annually distributed by the Regents of the University “among the incorporated academies and seminaries of this state, other than colleges, which are subject to the visitation of the said Regents, &c., in proportion to the number of pupils instructed in each academy or séminary for six months during the preceding year, who shall have pursued classical studies, or the higher branches of English education, or both.” From the report accompanying the bill the following extracts are taken, with the view. of showing the design of the legislature in thus increasing the literature fund.
“ Another object of still greater importance is the furnishing of competent teachers for the instruction of common schools. In vain will you have established a system of instruction, in vain will you appropriate money to educate the children of the poor, if you do not provide persons competent to execute your system, and to teach the pupils collected in the schools. The message of the governor and the report of the Superintendent concur in pressing this subject upon our attention with the most anxious solicitude; and every citizen who has paid attention to it, and become acquainted practically with the situation of our schools, knows that the incompetency of the great mass of teachers is a radical defect, which impedes the whole system, frustrates the benevolent designs of the legislature, and defeats the hopes and wishes of all who feel an interest in disseminating the blessings of education. There are 8,114 organized school districts in this state; and if there be added the schools in the city of New-York, in Albany, Troy and Hudson, not included in the returns, and the private schools which are established in almost every county, we shall be justified in estimating the number of teachers required to carry on the business of instruction, at not far from ten thousand This result places in a strong view the vast importance of the subject. · From what sources can this supply of teachers be obtained ? And how can the great body of this multitude be rendered competent to their stations? In a free government resting upon the intelligence of its citizens, these questions are of vital importance.
* The governor has recommended the establishment of central schools upon the monitorial plan for the instruction of teachers. From the best consideration which the committee have been able to bestow upon the subject, and from all the information which they can collect, a doubt is entertained whether the monitorial plan is adapted to small schools in the country, or to the higher branches of education. The means of instruction in the ordinary mode must be provided. The colleges and academies ought to furnish competent instructořs; and indeed to them we are indebted, but
chiefly to the academies, for the qualified instructors now employed. While academies are instituted, and by proper encouragement may supply our wants, the committee would doubt the policy of establishing central schools in their vicinity, which would necessarily divert from them much of their present support. After referring to the location of the several academies in different parts of the state, with the view of showing that in this respect they were capable of meeting the wants of the community, and that but few portions of the state were not adequately supplied with these institutions, provided they were suitably encouraged, the report proceeds to recommend a different standard of apportionment than the one in operation, and an increase of the fund, specifically for the purpose of encouraging the preparation of a class of students, who might serve as teachers of the common schools.“ The income derived from the literature fund, they propose in the bill herewith reported, shall be distributed among the academies in proportion to the number of students pursuing the classical studies and the higher branches of an English education ; and their object is to promote the education of young men in those studies which will prepare them for the business of instruction, which it is hoped may be accomplished to some extent, by offering inducements to the trustees of academies to educate pupils of that description.” “These are the considerations which have guided the committee in preparing the bill now presented. They have only further to say, that if any confidence can be reposed in the official communications of those officers of the government.whose duty it is to give the legislature information on this subject, if the concurring testimony of all who have spoken or written concerning it can be relied upon, there is a radical, deep, and extensive defect in our common school system, which deprives it of much of its value; and that defect consists in the want of competent instructors. From six to ten years of the most valuable portion of human life-of that very period when instruction is-most easily imparted and most firmly retained, is absolutely wasted and thrown away. Every one in the least acquainted with the subject knows that a boy, under proper instruction, can, and ought to know as much at seven or eight years old, as he acquires under the present system at fourteen or sixteen. Having undertaken a system of public instruction, it is the solemn duty of the legislature to make that system as perfect as possible. We have no right to trifle with the funds of our constituents by applying them in a mode which fails to attain the intended object. Competent teachers of common schools must be provided : the academies of the state furnish the means of making that provision. There are funds which may be safely and
perly applied to that object; and if there were none, a more just, patriotic, and in its true sense, popular, reason for taxation cannot be urged. Let us aid the efforts of meritorious citizens, who have devoted large portions of their means to the rearing of academies; let us reward them by giving success to their efforts ; let us sustain seminaries that are falling into decay ; let us revive the drooping and animate the prosperous by the cheering rays of public benefi. cence; and thus let us provide nurseries for the education of our children, and for the instruction of teachers who will expand, and widen, and deepen the great stream of education, until it shall reach our remotest borders, and prepare our posterity for the maintenance of the glory and prosperity of their country.”
From the annual report of the Superintendent for this year, it appeared that there were 8,114 organized school districts in the state---341 new districts having been formed during the preceding year; that returns had been received from 7,544 of these districts, in which 431,601 children had been taught during the year reported, being an increase over the number so taught the preceding year, of 13,864; the whole number of children residing in the state, between the ages of five and fifteen, was 411,256.
Speaking in reference to the practical operation of the existing system of visitation and inspection of the common schools, the Superintendent holds the following lauguage: :“The system of inspection might be improved, by the appointment of competent persons to visit the schools of a county, or larger district; to investigate the mode of instruction, the qualifications of teachers, the application of the public money, and to inquire into all the operations of the school system. Such inspectors would aid the schools by their advice, and add to the stock of intelligence on the subject of education, by collecting information in relation to the condition of the schools, and the manner in which they are conducted ; and these inspections would be the means of more effectually ascertaining what the common schools now effect, and what they may be made to accomplish." The results of the subsequent adoption of this plan, in substance, has effectually vindicated the prescience of the Superintendent, in this respect. The report goes on torecommend, first, "the establishment of schools in the several counties for the education of teachers ;” and second, " the gradual introduction of the system of mutual instruction.” The improvement of the system of female.education is also adverted to, as well as the propriety of furnishing the schools with a judicious selection of text books. “The course of instruction in the common schools ought to be adapted to the business of life, and to the actual duties which may devolve upon the person instructed. In a government where every citizen has a voice in deciding the most important questions, it is not only necessary that every person should be able to read and write, but that he should be well instructed in the rights, privileges and duties of a citizen. Instruction should be co-extensive with universal suffrage.”
The sum of $100,000 was this year apportioned by the Superintendent among the several school districts, in pursuance of the provisions of an act passed the preceding year, authorizing the annual distribution of this amount from the common school fund. The several laws relating to common schools were also revised by the legislature and republished, with the necessary expositions and instructions from the department.
Gov. Clinton, in his message at the opening of the session of 1828, again adverts to the subject of common school education, in the following terms:
" That part of the revised laws relative to common schools is operative on this day, and presents the system in an intelligible shape, but without those improvements which are requisite to raise the standard of instruction, to enlarge its objects, and to elevate the talents and qualifications of the teachers. It is understood that Massachusetts has provided for these important cases ; but whether the experiment has, as yet, been attended with promising results, is not distinctly known. It may, however, be taken for granted, that the education of the body of the people can never attain the requisite perfection without competent instructors; well acquainted with the outlines of literature and the elements of science. And after the scale of education is elevated in common schools; more exalted improvements ought to be engrafted into academical studies, and proceed in a correspondent and progressive ascent to our colleges.
“In the meantime I consider it my duty to recommend a law authorizing the supervisors of each county to raise a sum, not exceeding two thousand dollars, provided the same sum is subscribed by individuals, for the erection of a suitable edifice for a monitorial high school in the county town. I can conceive of no reasonable objection to the adoption of a measure so well calculated to raise the character of our schoolmasters, and to double the powers of our artizans, by giving them a scientific education.”
From the annual report of the Superintendent, it appeared that the number of school districts had increased to 8,298, from 7,806 of which returns had been received, showing that the whole number of children between the ages of five and fifteen, in the districts, was 419,216 ; and that the whole number taught in the common schools during the year reported, was 441,856; being an increase of 10,225 since the preceding year, and of 301,750 since 1816. The aggregate amount of public money received and expended by the several districts, in the payment of the wages of duly qualified teachers, was $222,995.77 ; of which $100,000 was paid from the state treasury, $110,542.32 raised by tax upon the several towns and counties, and $12,453.45 derived from local funds.
The productive capital of the school fund was increased during the year reported, $256,121.50, by the transfer of $33,616.19, the balance due on the loan of 1786 to this fund; and of $100,000 of bank stock owned by the state; by the avails of the premiums received on the sale of the stock of the Hudson and Delaware canal company, amounting to $31,156.50 ; and by ized for the benefited by the state at Oswego, by which $91,349 were real
of the fund. The Superintendent recommends the affording additional facilities for common school instruction to children engaged in manufacturing establishments; and suggests the appropriation by the commissioners of common schools, of a portion of public money to each such establishment, according to the number of children to be benefitted by instruction.
In 1829 the number of common schools had increased to 8,609, from 8,104 of which returns were received by the Superintendent. The number of children between five and sixteen years, residing in the several districts from which reports had been received, was 440,113; and the number of children taught during the year reported, was 468,205 ; being an excess of 26,349 over the preceding year.
In 1830 the number of districts was 8,872 ; reporting, 8,292; in which were 468,257 children between the ages of five and sixteen; and 480,041 children taught; being an increase of 11,836 during the year reported. The Superintendent, in his annual report, adverts to the “ serious deficiency in the supply of competent teachers," as "the great obstacle which it is necessary to remove before we can reasonably expect to accomplish the great result, and confer the enduring benefits which were anticipated by those who founded and those who have fostered our system of common school instruction." “Those who have turned their attention to the subject of giving a higher character to the common schools, in this, as well as in other states," he continues, "have recommended the establishment of seminaries for the exclusive education of teachers. This would serve to multiply the number of those who would be qualified to teach ; but after being thus qualified at the public expense, what guaranty would there be that such persons would follow the business of teaching, unless they could be as liberally compensated in a district school as in the other pursuits of life? If the inhabitants of the districts were resolved to have none other than teachers of the highest grade, and would pay the highest premium for talent, our academies and high schools would be thronged by persons fitting themselves for the business of teaching; and all these institutions would practically become schools for the education of teachers. If the districts could be induced to give an adequate compensation, and constant employment to first rate instructors, then it would be eminently useful to establish seminaries for the special purpose of training persons as professional instructors.”
“ To secure permanent teachers, it is indispensable that the inhabitants of the districts should afford such reasonable compensation and constant employment as will induce persons of good talents to devote themselves to the business of teaching as a profession. “If the intelligent farmers in the districts would apply a small share of their attention and practical common sense to this subject, a revolution in the character of the schools would soon be effected."
The Superintendent also adverts to the multiplicity of text books in use in the several schools, but expresses the opinion that the designation of any particular work or series of works, to the exclusion of all others, would be attended with injurious consequences, not only to the schools themselves, but to the cause of education generally. He remarks that “great improvements are constantly going on in the character of school books ; the greatest experience and much of the best talent of the country is enlisted in this business ; and the fruits of their labors are constantly giving them new claims to the approbation of the public. The adoption of a particular book would amount to a prohibition upon all improvements
, and would subject the inhabitants to a loss of the prohibited books then on hand. The interests of the common schools may be seriously injured, and cannot be essentially benefitted by the adoption by law of any book or set of books."
The following is the earliest specific suggestion, looking to the establishment of district libraries, which I have been able to find. It is contained in Mr. Flagg's report for this
is year, (1830.) “A society has been established in England, for the purpose of imparting useful information to all classes of community, particularly to such as are unable to avail themselves of experienced teachers. To effect this object, treatises on the various sciences, and books of practical utility have been published at such moderate prices as to bring them within the reach of all classes. A small sum applied to the publication and distribution among the several school districts, of similar works, would have the most favorable influence."
It will have been perceived, however, that Gov. Clinton, in his message at the opening of the session of 1827, called the attention of the legislature to the expediency of providing small and suitable collections of books and maps, to be attached to the common schools.
Gov. Throop, in his message to the legislature at the opening of the session of 1831, thus alludes to this great interest of the state:
“ There is no one of our public institutions of more importance, or which has better fulfilled public expectation, than that providing for instruction in common schools. The large fund appropriated to that object has produced a complete organization throughout the state; and although the system has had to encounter all the obstacles to a new enterprize of such inagni- tude in its operations and objects, yet it has been well seconded by public zeal and liberality. Its imperfections may receive some correction from legislation, yet more is to be hoped from individual exertions to carry the design of the legislature into effect within the several districts.”
From the annual report of the Superintendent for this year it appears that the whole number of districts was 9,062, from 8,630 of which reports had been made in accordance with law; that the number of children between the ages of five and sixteen residing in the several districts from which such reports had been receļved, was 497,503.; and the number of children taught therein during the year reported, 499,434, being an increase of 19,333 over the number so taught the preceding year. "The aggregate amount of public money received and expended in the several districts for the payment of the wages of duly qualified teachers, was $239,713.00; of which $100,000 was paid by the State from the common school fund; and the residue derived from a tax on the several towns, and from local funds. In addition to the public money, there was paid by the in makes of the several districts, on rate bills for teachers' wages, $346,807, making a total of $586,520 paid for teachers' wages alone. The average annual increase of the number of scholars instructed in the common schools, during the preceding eleven years was 20,000.
The productive capital of the common school fund amounted at this time to $1,696,743.66, and the revenue actually received into the treasury on account of this fund, during the year 1830, exceeded the sum required for apportionment among the several districts by $678.60, it being the first year in which the revenue bad produced the sum requisite for
The Superintendent, in this report, examines and discusses at considerable length the various plans for the education of teachers, and recommends the conversion of the several academies, equal in number at that period to the counties in the state, into seminaries for training teachers. On this subject he remarks: “The state has done much for these schools, and something in aid of the cause of the common schools may reasonably be expected from them; and if the required information to fit a person for teaching can be obtained in the present institutions, sound policy and good economy are in favor of relying upon them for the training of teachers." He adverts in this connection to the proposition presented to the legislature at its preceding session, by a committee of the citizens of Rochester, for the establishment of a state seminary for the education of teachers, and a town central school in each town in the state, as a document exhibiting “much research and attention to the subject of common school instruction.” In this memorial (legislative documents, 1830, volume iv. no. 387,) the committee, (Messrs. Penney, Comstock, Brown, Ward and Norton,) after recapitulating the prominent defects in the existing condition of common school education submits a plan, designed
"1. To furnish a competent supply of well qualified teachers.