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This part of the message was referred to a “ Joint Committee on Common Schools," of which Mr. Hawley Olmsted of Wilton, was chairman on the part of the House, and John Alsop of Middletown, on the part of the Senate. The committee coincided with the opinions of the Governor, " that the munificent donation on the part of the State, for the support of common schools, has not produced those highly beneficial effects which might have been reasonably anticipated;" " and they are fully aware that the strong reliance upon the annual aid derived from the school fund is accompanied by a correspondent want of exertion in our school societies and districts.” The committee concluded with introducing a Bill for a public act, providing for the appointment of a Superintendent of Common Schools, and a semi-annual report by school visitors. The duties of the superintendent were thus defined in the second section :
It shall be his duty to recommend for the adoption of the school visitors, such books to be used in the schools, and such modes of instruction and government as he may deem most judicious; he shall collect and diffuse information on the subject of elementary education, and by all suitable means, so far as he may be able, enlighten, guide, and excite the teachers and school visitors to a faithful discharge of their respective duties; he shall visit, from time to time, the several counties within the State, and ascertain so far as may be practicable, the condition of the schools ; he shall annually transmit to the clerks of the several school societies blank forms of reports for the use of the school visitors, and from their reports and other sources of information, shall prepare and present annually to the General Assembly, his report exhibiting so far as may be practicable, the condition of every common school in the State, with his proceedings during the year, pose such modifications of the laws relating to common schools as he may deem expedient.
In the discussions which took place in legislative halls, in associations of the friends of educational improvement and in the public press, on the subject of schools and school systems at this period, frequent reference was made to the experience of Connecticut. a "Report of a Committee appointed at a public meeting held at the State House in Trenton, New Jersey, Nov. 11, 1828," a letter written by the Hon. Roger Minot Sherman, to the committee, is published, in which, after giving a brief, but clear exhibition of our school system, the writer adds :
Requiring of the recipients of this public bounty nothing more than that it be expended according to the provisions of the law, is an obvious defect in this system. In this point, the policy adopted in the State of New York, is deserving of imitation. A sumn proportioned to the amount received from the State, ought to be advanced for the same objects, by all to whom it is distributed excepting the indigent. Such a proposition would cause a valuable augmentation of the revenues of teachers, and in that way command services of a higher character. But I should not consider that as its highest excellence. We know from common and universal experience, that little interest is felt in that which demands neither expense nor attention. Our country is affluent, and pecuniary means may be commanded for whatever we have
the will to perform. Few, comparatively, are so indigent as to need charitable aid in the education of their children. A public fund for the instruction of youth in common schools, is of no comparative worth as a means of relieving want. A higher value would consist in its being made an instrument for exciting general erertion, for tbe attainment of that important end. In proportion as it excites and fosters a salutary zeal, it is a public blessing. It may have on any other principle of application, a contrary tendency, and become worse than useless. It may be justly questioned whether the school fund has been of any use in Connecticut. It has furnished a supply where there was no deficiency. Content with the ancient standard of school instruction, the people have permitted the expense of sustaining it to be taken off their hands, and have aimed at nothing higher. They expended about an equal sum before the school fund existed. They would willingly pay seventy thousand dollars more, if made a condition of receiving the State bounty, and thus the amount would be doubled, for an object in which they would then feel that they had some concern.
In the same report there is a letter by President Wayland, of Brown, University, in Providence, R. I., in which there is the following passage:
It is generally supposed that legislative effort should be directed to the accumulation and distribution of large funds to be appropriated to this object. I am disposed to believe that this opinion is erroneous. Funds are valuable in this case as a condiment, not as an aliment. They should never be so large as to render a considerable degree of personal effort on the part of the parent, unnecessary. The universal law of divine providence, in the distribution of its favors, on the principle of quid pro quo. The adoption of any other, except in the case of absolute helplessness, is so far as I have observed, pernicious. Witness the effect of funds for the support of the ministry. A fund is only useful, in this sort of case, in so far as it induces men to help themselves. If they help themselves without it, so much the better. As soon as they are aware of the value of education, and it has elevated them to a certain point of moral acquisition, they will not want it ; Nay, if it be continued after they have arrived at this point, I think it may be injurious in its effect. If it, for instance, be so large as to give some sort of education to every one, and every one is sufficiently desirous of education to take it for nothing, but not enough so to be willing to pay for it, a community will soon suppose that it is not worth paying for, and will soon care very little about the thing, and only desire the most meagre representative of it. A fund, under these circumstances, effectually retards education. It may keep a community from absolute ignorance, but it will fatally prevent them from making the exertion necessary to acquire an education of any material value. Nor is this a purely imaginary case. In Connecticut, if I have not been misinformed, this result has already taken place.
The committee of which the Hon. Theodore Frelinghuysen was a member, add :
That the Connecticut system does produce the result of repressing the liberality of the people toward this object of benovolence, and leads them into the habit of relying upon the public money, to the neglect of education in most of their districts, during a considerable part of the year, we have the best reasons for believing. And yet this is the very system, defective as it is, and opposed to the plainest principles of policy, which some amongst us wish to see adopted in New Jersey.
In the same year, (1827,) Hon. A. C. Flagg, Superintendent of Common Schools of the State of New York, in his annual report, fortifies an opinion expressed by him in reference to the schools of that State, that the distribution of money however liberal, is not of itself sufficient to insure the establishment of good schools, by referring to the experience of Connecticut; and in a subsequent re
port he holds the following language-“If the mere distribution of money from a State fund, would produce good schools, it might be inferred that those in Connecticut were much superior to our own. But even there, with an ample fund, there is much complaint in regard to the low state of common school education." A few years later, his successor, Hon. John A. Dix, in a report on the cominon schools of that State, remarks, that the experience of Connecticut shows," that 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.”
In Massachusetts, a vigorous effort was commenced by James G. Carter and others, in 1824, to improve the public schools and other means of popular education. Among the plans suggested was one for the establishment of a school of practical science, to give completeness to the system of common schools and as a nursery schoolmasters.' A committee of the Legislature, of which Theodore Sedgwick, of Stockbridge, was chairman, in reference to the experience of Connecticut, in a report submitted in 1826, remark“ We trust, therefore, that whatever the State shall hereafter think it expedient to do, they will, in no event run into the error of attempting to relieve the towns from the responsibility of taking that care of the schools, which necessarily forces upon individuals, the high and interesting duty of taking care of them, and will adopt no principle of providing for common schools, which does not force upon the towns, as a general rule a proportionate provision on their part.” “ No school fund could greatly improve our schools, while the instructors are so lamentably deficient. While we would avoid the gross indelicacy of speaking unfavorably of the schools of our sister States, it is due to truth, that we should mention the condition of the schools of Connecticut, to show that we want not only more competent school funds, but also a fund of competent knowledge in the instructors.” The foregoing suggestions were heeded, and although the plan proposed by the committee was not adopted in form, the State did a few years afterwards establish seminaries for the education of teachers, and impose increased pecuniary obligations on the towns. And thus in a little more than a quarter of a century—a period of time measured by the lifetime of a generation—the amount of money raised by tax on property for the support of public schools, has more than quadrupled, and the State, instead of becoming poorer by this large annual expenditure, has increased still more rapidly in wealth. The productive power of her people in the workshop, and the fields, and in every form of
labor-saving and power-increasing invention, has been greatly multiplied by the better education given in the public schools. meantime, a State School Fund has been established in Massachusetts, but its annual income, instead of being paid to the towns to diminish the amount to be raised their by tax, is paid only on condition that a sum larger than was before raised, shall be levied and applied to school purposes.
We might multiply these references to the estimation in which the school system of Connecticut began to be regarded in States, in which it was once looked to as an example. But we will refer to only one more document of the kind.
In 1829, the Legislature of Kentucky, requested the Rev. B. 0. Peers, and Rev. Dr. Woods, President of the University, “to communicate any information which they may possess upon the sub. ject of common schools, and which in their opinion would aid the Legislature in selecting the best system for the State of Kentucky.” In the proceedings of that body, in the year following, appears a Report of the Committee on Education in the House of Representatives," embodying a communication from Mr. Peers, who, it appears, "repaired to New England, and all other portions of the country, where popular education had been made the subject of legislation, that from printed documents, personal observation, and conversation with intelligent men, who could state the imperfection of existing system, together with the remedies which had been suggested, he might present the collective experience of the nation." In this communication considerable prominence is given to the experience of Connecticut.
The experience of Connecticut, is too mature and too rich in instruction as to the tendency of various and opposite modes of encouraging education, to be passed over hastily ; I shall, therefore, state some of the changes which her system has undergone, from the earliest period down to the present time.
After alluding to the enactments of 1650 and 1690, Mr. Peers proceeds:
In the year 1700, a law passed which placed the common schools of Connecticut on the foundation where they continued, with little variation, until since the establishment of the present fund in 1795. It was then required that in every town having seventy or more householders, a constant school should be kept, and where there were less than seventy, a school should be kept half the year. It was likewise enacted, that the inhabitants of every town should pay forty shillings on every thousand pounds of taxable property, estimated according to a rule prescribed by the Legislature in their general system of taxation, for the support of the schoolmaster, to be collected with the public or county tax ; and if any town failed to provide a schoolmaster according to law, this sum to be collected and paid to the county treasury, as a fine upon such negligent town. Where this fund was insufficient to support the school, the deficiency was to be made up, one half by the inhabitants of the town, and the other half by the parents or masters of the children.
The several changes in the details of the system did not originate in any instability of purpose, but were rendered necessary by the delinquencies of certain towns, where, from various causes the existing penalties were insuffieient to secure to the laws a prompt and entire execution. The clause in the law of 1700, by which a tax of forty shillings on every thousand pounds was collected through the colony for the support of instructors, and by which the enefit of this tax was limited to those towns which supported schools the time prescribed by law, undoubtedly contains the efficient measure which secured the object so long aimed at, the universal establishment of common schools. The tax for schools being collected with the county tax, had not the odiuin attached to it of a fine incurred by delinquencies; while it was attended with all the advantages which such a fine could promise. It was left to the option of the towns, whether they would make the necessary addition to the public money, and expend it for the purpose designated by the Legislature, or after it had been collected, leave it for the common and ordinary uses of the country. The consequence was such as had been anticipated from the law, and schools were every where maintained.
From what is known of the state of the schools, as well as from universal tradition, it appears that the laws were now rigidly executed ; a school was brought to every man's door ; the poor and even the slave, were always within the reach of instruction; and hence, for more than a century in Connecticut, a native of mature age, who, in the language of the old statutes, was unable to read the English language," has been looked on as a prodigy.
A scheme which was found to answer thus completely, for nearly 100 years, all the purposes desired, might have been supposed worthy of continuance; but upon the establishment of the present fund in 1793, it experienced a total revolution. The result of the present system, however, in comparison with the former, are far from recommending the creation of an immense fund. Indeed its influence has been evidently injurious. Nothing has been gained as to time by the schools from the operation of the fund, nor have the qualifications of instructors been increased, or the branches of instruction multiplied through its influence. The only end (it can not be called an advantage) gained by the fund, has been relief from taxation. “Where means so ample and imposing are provided, we look, of course, for some unusual and splendid result. To be informed that a fund which enables a community no larger than Connecticut, to expend more than fifty thousand dollars a year on schools, and which will soon afford ninety or one hundred thousand dollars a year for the same object, produces no visible effect, except in diminishing taxation, and that the whole benefit is limited to the pocket, much as we admire thrift and good management, leaves on our minds, to say the least, a strong feeling of disappointment. A school fund, according to the common rules of judging, ought to profit the schools as well as the supporters."
The next remark I shall make respecting the defects of the New England and New York systems of popular education, is, that without some essential changes, they must defeat the patriotic and cardinal object they have in view, viz., the union of the children of all classes, on terms of perfect equality as to opportunities of intellectual and moral improvement.
Indeed they are already, in some cases, particularly in Connecticut, producing that very discrimination between rich and poor, which above all things they aim to prevent, and are accelerating the classification of the members of society, according to their wealth.
The fact of the existence of this tendency, was made known to me by the acknowledgment and complaint of every intelligent gentleman I met with in Connecticut, and the reasons for it are obvious. Education in the free schools, has, in reality, been so much cheapened in more senses than one, that all those who can help themselves, will not accept of it, even as a gratuity, and are consequently providing select private schools for their children, in which, by the payment of liberal salaries, they engage the services of men of talents and attainments.
The only possible way in which this separation of the children of the rich and poor, and the existence of two sets of schools, plebeian and partician, can be prevented, is, to make the State schools such as will satisfy the rich, in short, the best that can be had. To accomplish this, it is indispensable that it be made the