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SUGGESTIONS TO PARENTS.
Thoughts on the influence of Education in forming the Moral and Religious
Character. To the Editor,
Sir, if it be admitted that our state in the life to come will be influenced in any degree by the characters which we form in the present world, the principal object of all our efforts for improving the common systems of Education, must be to meliorate the moral condition of the human family; and, by connecting knowledge with duty, to give to all instruction a direct tendency to establish in the mind those principles and those affections, which will determine our final destiny. The belief that human science is incompatible with the religion of the Bible has nearly passed away from this country, and is rapidly leaving the world; but while abandoning this belief, many persons seem disposed to fall into the opposite extreme, and even to assume it as a conceded fact, that secular knowledge has no connection with religion.
But, without any controversy, may we not assume it as an obvious truth that all knowledge and all duty is religious just in proportion to its influence, either direct or indirect, in forming our moral characters. Truths and duties are of different orders; but there can be no truth which is important to be known by an immortal being, that may not have some influence in forming his religious character. By expanding bis mind, it enlages his sphere of duty; by ennobling his capacities, it enhances his moral obligations. To whom much is giren, of him shall much be required.
The rank to which your Journal has already attained, indicates that it is destined to exert an extensive and powerful influence on the characters of our children; and you will be disposed, sir, to consider very seriously the extent of your responsibility. If you should decide that the subject which I have introduced is fairly entitled to a place in your work, I shall occasionally offer a short letter for your consideration. It is not, however, desirable that this subject should employ merely the talents of an humble individual. The field is wide; it is little cultivated; and there is room for the labors of all; for those who can clear the ground of its natural growth-its thorns, and brambles, and ivy, and nightshade; for those who can sow good seed; for those who can watch lost the enemy sow tares; and for those who can prune and nourish the growing plant, that it may spring up, and bear fruit unto lise eternal.
If any singularity of sentiment should be discoverable in these letters, it may not be improper to ask whether something new ou
this subject is not desirable. We should pass but a poor compliment to our holy religion by supposing that its precepts had been duly applied to the subject of education. For more than eighteen centuries it has been taught as the way of life; but the annals of this period are crowded with the records of the blackest crimes. Every imaginable remedy for the general corruption of human nature has been tried, except that of instilling into the infant mind the genuine principles of love towards God, and charity towards its neighbor, and training it up in the way it should go. This method has received many partial experiments on a very
limited scale; and wherever it has been tried it has been attended with the most salutary and encouraging results. But the experiment of educating a community as Christians, has not been tried in Europe nor in America. If we wish to form any tolerable estimate of the effects of such a inode of education, we are compelled to look to Pitcairn's Island; or to go out of Christendom, and mark the influence of principles and modes of instruction, which deserve to be called Christian, among the Leeo-Keeos, the Japanese, or possibly among some sequestered tribe in central Africa, which heaven may have preserved from the contamination of paganised christianity.
In these remarks there is no intention of censuring any system or creed among Christians: the meaning is simply, to deny that any sect of Christians has educated its children practically in the real spirit and temper of the gospel, and to infer that some new and more thorough method of combining religious and secular knowledge is necessary, in order that, by educating our children, we may prepare them to be good and happy.
You will, sir, do me the justice to remark that I seek not to shackle the minds of children by the austere maxims of any system of faith; but to show by what means their minds and their conduct may be regulated by the pure maxims of religious morals. You will also observe, that my object is to analyse the minds of chil
. dren,—to show the relations which they sustain in respect to their parents, and teachers, and other associates, -and to illustrate those rules for their discipline and instruction, which shall be found suited to their condition. I shall adopt this plan, instead of confining myself to the encouragement of any particular mode of instruction, because I believe this branch of your grand topic receives too little attention. Those who have adopted and convenient method of imparting knowledge, would be still more useful, if their knowledge were more philosophical
. paratively few instructers have possessed the means of acquiring from observation, a very extensive knowledge of human nature, Any information which would aid them in a just estimate of the capacities and propensities of the infant mind; the natural order
of its developement; the best method of exciting and preserving a disposition to reduce knowiedge to practice; and the true means of engaging the whole heart in what duty requires; -any such in-' formation would be highly important to all those who are entrusted with the care and instruction of children. Even a moderate share of such knowledge might greatly increase in the instructer a sense of his solemn responsibility, and make him more careful to sow good seed.
If it be necessary, in introducing this subject to your readers, to add any remarks as to its importance, they may be reminded that the whole life of man is not too long, when well improved, to make him good. When the early part of it has been misimproved, the remainder is attended with embarrassments, perplexities, and dangers; and the result, if all reflection be not lost, is appalling. The time to correct our natural evil propensities, and to establish virtuous habits, is in infancy and childhood. Many external evils may be removed merely by convincing men that they are impolitic; but every reformation which requires a change of the internal character,--a change of the hearts of men, should commence at the cradle. It is only in insancy and childhood, that the mind will make no resistance to what is good and true. In later years, man's own will, and the imaginations of his own heart, rise in opposition. These must be first consulted and first conciliated. And the labor of this method is hard, and its effects uncertain. When the character is formed after a false and corrupt model, nothing can be conceived more difficult than to effect a radical change. Good principles, if received after the character is established, rarely work a general reformation. They may gain an ascendancy in the centre of the soul, and, under more propitious circumstances than the present world affords, reduce the whole man to an orderly and consistent character. This is nearly all that can be expected. We look in vain for a consistent man in this world. We readily abandon some speculative principles, and some habits which have little connexion with our ruling love. It is easy to produce a striking external transformation, without suppressing pride, or eradicating self-love. But to exchange self-love and love of the world, for the love of God and our neighbor, and to submit the whole soul to these essential principles and those which flow from them, is a vast work. Begin it as early as we will,—and still, even with the aid of Heaven, it is slowly wrought, and late, if ever, completed. Why, then do we encourage our children to neglect it until their characters are fixed like the skin of the Ethiopian and the spot of the leopard ?
Man's selfishness always prompts him to examine cautiously the conditions on which he is to exchange opinions and principles which he has long possessed and acknowledged, for those which are new; and it would be well, if it did not also blind him as to their comparative value. But, by long possession and use, they become a part of himself, and he loves himself in them. They are his possessions; they serve and have long served his purposes: they have given him the reputation which he enjoys in his own view, and the view of others. How, then, can he attach to them merely their relative value? 'How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God.' • Whosoever shall not receire the kingdom of God as a litile child, he shall not enter therein.'
HISTORICAL 3KETCH OF THE FREE SCHOOLS OF MASSACHUSETTS.
[The following paragraphs are extracted from "Letters to the Hon. William Prescott, LL. D. on the Free Schools of New-England, with Remarks upon the Principles of Instruction. By James G. Carter. This gentleman is one of the few individuals who in this country have vigorously and effectively devoted their exertions not merely to the business of instruction, but to the extensive improvement of education. That Mr. Carter has been highly successful in his efforts, it will be unnecessary to inform those of our readers who have observed the favorable influence of his labors as editor of the United States Literary Gazette.
In the pages of that work the inductive method of teaching has been ably inculcated; and, with whatever skepticism it may be regarded by some theorists, the practical results of it, as far as it has been hitherto adopted, have been decidedly beneficial. To designate a single instance: Colburn's works on arithmetic, which have been much aided by the recommendations of the Gazette, have effected, in schools of every description, a more rapid and thorough reformation than any that has yet been recorded in the history of instruction.
The pamphlet from which our present extracts are made, contains, beside its historical matter, many valuable suggestions for improvement in the methods of teaching in common schools. The hints contained in this part of the work, would be very serviceable in seminaries of every kind.]
Under the Colony charter of Massachusetts Bay, among the first legislative acts, are recorded the following characteristic preamble and law:
* For as much as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any commonwealth, and whereas many parents and masters are too indulgent and negligent in that kind;
"It is ordered, that the selectmen of every town in the several precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbors, to see;
First, that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families, as not to endeavor to teach, by themselves or others, their children and apprentices, so much learning, as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, and knowledge of the capital laws:
Also, that all masters of families do once a week (at the least) catechise their children and servants in the grounds of religion; and if any be unable to do so much, that then, at the least, they procure such children and apprentices to learn some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions, that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism, by their parents or masters, or any of the selectmen, when they shall call them to a trial of what they have learned in that kind.'*
Although laws like these would not, in themselves, lead us to form any very sanguine expectations of great progress in literature, or very astonishing discoveries in science; yet, from the deep solicitude they manifest upon the subject, we are led to anticipate something better, as soon as the resources of the Colony are adequate to a more liberal provision. This anticipation is realised by the foundation of Harvard College in 1636. After the confederation of Colonies, Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New-Haven, in 1643, this school of the prophets,' as it was then called, became an object of deep interest, and received their united and undiverted patronage.
How general was the interest taken in this institution, and how great exertions they were willing to make for its encouragement, will appear from the following petition of the ‘President and Fellows,' and the reply they received from the Commissioners.
“Seeing from the first evil contrivall of the collidge building, there now ensues ycarely decayes of the rooff, walls, and foundations, which the study rents will not carry forth to repaire; therefore, we present to your wisdome to propounde some way to carry an end to this worke.' A reply was returned; “The Commissioners will propounde to and improve their several interests in the Collonies, that by pecks, half bushells, and bushells of wheat, accord
Colony Laws, Chap. 22, Sec. 1.