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interest of men of talents, to fit themselves for the business of instruction as a profession.
Look at the schools of Boston, the pride of that literary capital, and the acknowledged models for the Union.
At the head of these institutions, public and private, you will find gentlemen of the first respectability for talents and acquirements, almost without exception, co!lege graduates; some of whom have even abandoned the profession of medicino and law for that of teaching; and why? The answer is obvious. Because it was their interest. The salaries of those engaged in the service of the city, vary from $800 to $2,500 per annum, whilst many of the proprietors of private schools, receive 80 and 100 dollars a year for tuition, from each of 80, 100, and in some cases 150 pupils.
Contrast with this the state of things in Connecticut, where about the time of thanksgiving, the roads will be lined with young cultivators of the soil, who, not being able to find in winter employment for their hands, intinerate the country, vending the services of their head to the highest bidder, and accepting of salaries of from five to twenty dollars a month.
In the one case you will find proud and honorable satisfaction with their schools; in the other, universal complaint, societies for the improvement of common schools, petitions to the legislature for reform, a dissatisfaction with the effects of their fund, almost amounting to a wish for its annihilation, a drain of scholars from the public to the private schools, and the aristocracy of wealth, fortifying itself by becoming an aristocracy of literature.
These representations, so far from operating against the interests of the poor, are expressly designed and calculated to promote them. If it be true, that “ knowledge is power," and that there is the connection asserted between liberal salaries and the employment of talents, and between the employment of talents and good education, whose fruit is knowledge, how, I would ask, can the unsuspected ascendency of the rich be more effectually secured, than by putting off the poor in means, with the present of a poor education ? Only allow the rich, (no matter under what pretext, whether of philanthropy or patriotism, or interest,) to prescribe the education of the poor, and they prescribe their condition and relative importance. If any thing be anti-republican, it certainly is so, directly or indirectly to maintain, that although a hundred dollars a year is not too much to expend for the mental improvement of the son of the wealthy merchant, lawyer and physician, a two dollar education, (the estimated cost of public school instruction in Connecticut,) is quite sufficient for the children of the poor, or in other words, the mass of our fellow-citizens,
I conclude, therefore, that if the aggregate property of the community is so far a common fund, that it is responsible for the instruction of all its children, then it is peculiarly the interest of the poor, that the education imparted, should be of the very best character ; for if a liberal expenditure of funds be necessary to secure it, it is not from them, but from the property and property holders of the country, that these funds must be obtained.
This language is widely different from that in which the system of our State was spoken of in a legislative document of Kentucky, in 1822. “ The Connecticut system originated more than one hundred and fifty years ago, and having undergone a variety of modifications has become an example for other States, and the admiration of the Union.”
On the 10th of November, 1830, a Convention of Teachers, and other friends of education was held in Hartford, of which Noah Webster, LL. D., was president, S. H Huntington and Asa Childs, secretaries; and Rev. T. H. Gallaudet, Dr. J. L. Comstock, and W. M. Holland, Esq., committee of arrangements. Addresses were delivered by Rev. Dr. Humphrey, President of Amherst Col
lege, by Rev. Gustavus F. Davis, of the Baptist Church, Hartford, on the qualifications of teachers; by Dr. Webster, on the English language; by Dr. William A. Alcott, on the location, construction, warming and ventilation of school-houses, and by Rev. William C. Woodbridge, on the introduction of Music into common schools. The convention was numerously attended, the lectures were able and practical, and the discussions animated. Nearly all the addresses were subsequently repeated in other parts of the country, published and widely circulated. The same good seed, scattered elsewhere, was followed by a more immediate and abundant harvest, than in our own State ; although there is reason to believe that the convention accomplished a good purpose here, by leading to inquiry and discussion. The address of Dr. Humphrey excited much interest, and Rt. Rev. Bishop Brownell, Hon. Timothy Pitkin, and Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, were appointed by the convention to request a copy for publication. The following extracts are taken from the printed copy :
Our ancestors knew that a privilege which costs the people nothing, is never duly estimated, and is never improved to the best advantage. Accordingly, while they raised moderate sums for the support of their schools by general taxation, so as on the one hand to encourage and help the poor, they would not, on the other, place those schools on such independent ground, that they could be sustained without individual efforts and sacrifices. Every district was laid under the necessity of resorting to some kind of assessment, for the support, in part at least, of competent instructors. Many parents were obliged to make very great exertions to pay their district taxes; and all felt a deeper interest in the improvement of their children than they would have done, had the whole expense of schooling them been defrayed from the public treasury.
The strong interest which our fathers felt in the prosperity of their schools was manifested both in the choice of teachers, and in a kind of spontaneous general oversight. As they had to pay money out of their own pockets for schooling, they wanted instructors who would earn their wages, and they were accustomed to keep their eyes upon the master all winter. If he was idle, they knew it. If he was indifferent about the proficiency of his scholars, they marked it. If he was incompetent, they were not likely to employ him again. They were in the habit of visiting the schools often, that they might know their condition and mark their progress, in every branch of study. They taught and questioned their children in the long winter evenings at home; and in various other ways co-operated so actively with the teachers, that much was accomplished in a little time. To say that a great part of this productive stimulus, emanated from the district assessments already alluded to, is only saying, that human nature was the same then as it is now. It required that kind of excitement which all the school funds in the world can never produce.
Long within my own memory, the common schools of Connecticut, were thought by well informed strangers, as well as by our own citizens, to be in a more heathful and flourishing condition than those of any other State in the Union. Do they still retain this enviable pre-eminence? Who will venture to answer this question in the affirmative ? One thing is certain—the opinion extensively prevails, both at home and abroad, that your primary schools have been for years on the decline, while those of some other States have been in a rapid advancement. You, gentlemen, have now assembled to inquire into the causes of a deprivation, so unfavorable to the character and prosperity of Connecticut, and to devise ways and means for restoring her to her proper rank in the great republic of popular education.
The great cause, then, of apathy and decline, is, in my deliberate judgment, to be sought for, in your princely school fund. And here I am sustained, as you well know, by the voice of many of the most enlightened friends of education in the State. If I am right, the honor of the discovery belongs to them, and not to me. If I am wrong, I err in common with men, whose opinions have always been considered as entitled to great respect. I revere the memory of those civil fathers, who in disposing of the Western Reserve, resolved to consolidate the avails into a permanent fund, for the encouragement and support of schools. It was a noble design. And though I have sometimes regretted that the academies can receive do aid from the fund, I am by no means sure, that the exclusive appropriation of the income to common district schools, is not the wisest and best that could have been made. I honor the men, who have hitherto managed this great fund, with so much ability, integrity, and success; and if any means can be devised to make it raise the standard of common education, which it certainly ought to do, I should be glad to see the amount greatly increased. But as matters now stand, and as the income is annually distributed according to law, I am persuaded, that the benevolent intentions of those who established the fund, are frustrated. The children of the State would be better educated without it.
There are no such uniform and stubborn truth-tellers in the world, as facts; and what is their testimony in the case before us ? If this testimony has not been most erroneously reported, there is a prevailing indifference with regard to the standard of common education, which is humiliating and alarming. A school is kept in every district, long enough to expend the public money, as a matter of course. But how obvious a decline of interest is there among the great body of the people. How much less particular are parents and school committees than they used to be, in the selection of teachers. How much more essential is the qualification of cheapness, in the opinion of many, than almost any other. How few and far between, are the visits of parents to the schools of their respective districts, and how remiss are they, for the most part, in the duty of superintending the evening studies of their children at home. I appeal to the members of this Convention, whether the question, “How long will the public money last ?" is not far more common, than, “ How long ought the school to be kept ?” How good an education are we bound to give our children considering the age and country in which we live ?"
Very many, if I am not much mistaken, rely upon your noble school fund to do every thing for their families, whether the teachers whom they employ are qualified, or unqualified—whether their children go to school, or stay at home. Your two millions of dollars, appears to be regarded by multitudes, as an immense water-power, which has been gradually accumulated from a thousand rills, under the eye and direction of the most skillful civil engineers in the State, and which ought, in all reason, to propel the whole machinery of education, without any other superintendence, but that of your worthy Commissioner and Treasurer at the penstock. And they marvel, that with such a momentum, any of the wheels should move sluggishly.
The truth is, that more than twice as much is necessary to give them a tolerable education ; and of course the schools can never flourish-can never be well taught, even during half the year, where additional funds are not raised in one form, or another. How shall they be raised ? Several practicable methods will occur to every mind. Each school society may be employed to tax itself to any reasonable amount, as is the case in Massachusetts—or each district may agree to raise so much upon the scholar–or when the public money is expended, a subscription paper may be circulated for the signature of all those who are willing to continue the schools longer. Either of these methods is far better than an entire dependence upon the fund. But there is another still, which appears to me to promise much more general and efficient aid to the cause of popular education.
Let your enlightened legislature, after the example of the State of New York, pass a law, requiring every town to raise a sum for the support of common schools, equal at least, to what it draws from the public treasury. Such a law, I have no doubt, would work wonders. It would wake up an interest which is now unfelt. It would make parents every where feel that they have something to do. It would enable the districts to offer liberal wages, and to continue their respective
schools much longer than is now customary. In this way, your public funds might become a great public blessing. It would do all that a fund can do. That is, it would help the people by encouraging them to help themselves.
Now till something of this kind be done, to give a new and more healthful turn to your school system, I apprehend it will continue to languish, in spite of all the ordinary stimulants which can be applied. You may exhort the people, as earnestly as you will, to cast off their apathy and put their hands to the work of resuscitation. You may give a new change to your committees and visitors every month, and they may discharge their respective duties with commendable fidelitybut till you can reach the main-spring of general action-till you can rouse the dormant and mighty energies of a free and intelligent population, the common schools of Connecticut can never again assume that pre-eminent rank which they so long and so proudly held in the noble rivalry of popular education.
Much, undoubtedly, can be done, to wake up the slumbering, and to inspirit the phlegmatic, by free and animated discussion in your public journals ; by State and local conventions ; by fervid and reiterated appeals to parents, teachers, and school visitors; but these and such like means, (excuse me for once more repeating,) will prove insufficient. Nothing quickens the great body of mankind, like a desire to get the worth of money which they pay out of their own pockets. Oblige them to settle with the schoolmaster, in part, from the avails of their own farms and shops, and they will take care whom they employ—but release them from all pecuniary responsibility, and they will merely inquire, “How long will the public money last ?"
The proposition to return to the old Connecticut system of property taxation for the support of the common schools was not favorably received by the tax-payers.
In 1831, governor Peters in his message remarks :
A proper inquiry at this time will be, whether this large amount (the revenue of the school fund) has been applied in the best manner, and has produced the greatest possible benefit to the rising generation. That it has not produced that result is obvious to all who have observed the iudifference with which the appcalition is made, and the subject of education is regarded.
The general apathy, the deficient qualifications of instructors, and the neglect of parents and guardians to sustain them in regulating and governing their schools are the causes of much of the evil that hangs so injuriously upon our system of, common school education.
The governor thinks that “ a tax of one cent on the dollar of the assessment list, collected and paid for the benefit of the district," would remove most of the causes above enumerated. During the session of the Legislature, evening meetings were held in the State house, at which a report of the proceedings of the Convention of 1830, and a statement of the condition of the common schools, as gathered from communication of school officers, and practical teachers, was read by Rev. G. F. Davis, of Hartford, and Hon. Roger Minot Sherman. The subject attracted but little attention in the assembly, while the claims of the colleges found eloquent and efficient advocates, and a grant of $10,000 was made in their behalf. From the statements above referred to, and the returns submitted to the General Assembly in 1828, a pamphlet of sixteen pages was made up and published with the title, “ Common School System of Connecticut."
From this document the following statistics and statements are taken, as exhibiting the practical working of the school system at this period.
We have more than once expressed our conviction, that the condition of education, in this State, when compared with improvement in other respects, is no better than it was before the fund was provided, nor even as good. Instruction had, indeed, been in a very excellent condition for a long period. For sixty years, not an individual was known to appear before the courts of justice, who could not write his name. The effect of this fund has been that which may always be expected, where he who is able and habituated to earn his own subsistence, is supplied with the means of living without exertion. The State, by its bounty, has virtually declared that parents need no longer pay for the instruction of their children, (that is, for their tuition ;) and the habit, and the sense of obligation to do this duty, were destroyed together. The State has been made exclusively responsible, and it has, too extensively, been deemed sufficient to provide such teachers as the fund would pay for.
We beg our readers to understand, that in these, and the following statements, we refer to the majority of the 1600 school districts of Connecticut, and not to all. We know that there are many—we hope several hundred, honorable exceptions; and it is worthy of remark that (other things being equal) those districts, which either from necessity or choice, depend most on their own exertions, have the best schools.
The visitors receive no compensation for their services. Those who are most
competent,” after a few years of laborious, and sometimes thankle:ss service, generally decline a re-appointment; and the result is, that the board is often composed in part of men, whose want of knowledge, or ignorance of the theory and practice of teaching, unfits them for the employment. Of course, the duties of school visitors are either neglected, or attended to as a mere formality.
In those societies where the spirit of improvement is beginning to prevail, the visitors meet soon after their appointment, organize themselves, and adopt certain rules to regulate their proceedings. They determine the standard of qualifications of instructors, and give notice of the times and places of meeting for examinations. At those meetings, the candidate undergoes a thorough examination in the various branches of an English education which their rules require him to understand. But these examinations are wholly of a theoretical character. The object is merely to ascertain what the candidate knows, not whether he can communicate his knowledge. We are acquainted with one society, however, in which the visitors make it their practice to require a candidate whom they are disposed to approve, to teach one month upon trial; when, if found competent to his task, they license him; if not, he is rejected.
But in by far the majority of cases, the visitors hold no regular meetings for examining teachers, nor adopt any rules for their own conduct. If the candidate, either alone or with the aid of the committee who employs him, can collect two or three of their number, they proceed to examine him, but their examinations are often a mere forınality ; for if he is a favorite friend or acquaintance, either of the district committee or the visitors, or if he has ever taught before, he is licensed almost of course. At most, he is only questioned on the spelling-book and the ground rules in arithmetic, and required to read and write a few sentences.
These remarks, however, apply particularly to arrangements for winter schools; for there is still less attention paid to the qualifications of the female teachers of summer schools. It often happens, that they are not examined at all; and they are still more rarely visited as the law requires. At the same time, the teacher is paid from the public fund, to obtain a share of which the society's committee are accustomed to certify that the schools have been kept in all respects according to law !
But the visits even to the winter schools, though less frequently omitted, are rarely of much consequence. Although invested with power almost unlimited, as we have already seen, they seldom exercise any considerable influence over the concerns of the school, either to aid in the classification of the pupils, in the direction of their studies, or in recommending proper books, or modes of instruction.