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THE SCHOOL SYSTEM OF CONNECTICUT.
It is well known with what profound interest the pilgrims of New England regarded the subject of education. Harvard College, founded so soon after the landing at Plymouth, and reared by those who were forced to draw their very subsistence from an unsubdued wilderness, whilst their lives were in constant peril from savage foes, is a glorious monument of their love of knowledge. This was indeed consonant with their whole system of principles and measures. To enjoy liberty on earth, and to prepare for immortal happiness, were inculcated as the grand objects of life. Along with the right of self-government, they urged the duty of preparing the citizen for exercising this bigh function, by enlightening his mind; and they regarded nothing but an intellect enlarged and ennobled, as fitted for the communion of heaven.
For a few years after the first settlement of Connecticut, the subject of school education was left to the care of the parent, urged as he was to the faithful discharge of his duty by the powerful influence of an enlightened and learned clergy. It was not deemed safe, however, to confide a subject in which the State had so much at stake, wholly and forever to the zeal of parents, and especially of masters and guardians; but within fifteen years from the first organization of the government, laws began to be enacted to secure the faithful instruction of every child in the commonwealth. By a law passed in 1650, it was
decreed as follows: “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 of their duty in that kind; it is therefore ordered, that the selectinen in the several precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbors, to see that none of them 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 obtain a knowledge of its laws, – upon penalty of twenty shillings.” Moreover, every township of one hundred farnilies, was required to maintain a grammar school ; the masters of which were to be competent to prepare students for the University.
So earnest were our fathers to have every child in the State taught, at least, the rudiments of knowledge, that, by farther provisions, they made it the duty of the grand-jurymen of each town, to visit, in person, every family which might be suspected of neglecting the education of their children or apprentices, and to report the names of such parents or masters as were found offending against the law in this particular, to the next county court, who were to impose a fine of twenty shillings for each child or apprentice, whose teaching was thus neglected. As early as the year 1700, it was enacted that every town of seventy families, should maintain one good and sufficient school for teaching children to read and write, to be kept at least eleven months, besides a grammar school for the higher branches of education, and as preparatory to a collegiate course.
For the support of this system, adequate taxes were imposed. These were paid into the common treasury, and could be drawn out by any town, only as evidence was afforded that its schools had been kept according to law.
From a very early period of our history, the people of this State have embraced the idea, of placing the education of the children of the commonwealth, beyond tbe reach of all contingencies, by investing the means of its support in permanent funds, inalienably consecrated to this object. As early as 1743, seven new townships of land, the property of the State, were sold, and the proceeds devoted forever to the support of common schools; and to this fund was added, in 1765, certain sums due on excise on goods. Indeed, so attentive were our
fathers to this all-important subject, that even prior to the establishment of the great school fund, it was and ever had been rare to meet with a native of Connecticut who could not read and write.
In the year 1795, the avails of the sale of an extensive tract of land owned by the State, now forming a part of the State of Ohio, amounting to one million two hundred thousand dollars, were appropriated forever to the support of common schools ; a provision which, in the formation of the present constitution in 1818, was engrafted into this instrument, rendering the appropriation forever inalienable. By this act, the noble purpose was cherished of making the elements of knowledge free as the common air, and the light of heaven. The republic had in this manner consecrated its whole treasure, to perpetuate the benefits of a common education; thus testifying that it held the improvement of the common mind in knowledge and virtue, to be an object paramount to every other, which can engage the attention and command the resources of a free government. To this object, Connecticut literally consecrated her undivided treasure. While other States, small as Connecticut, have sought to render their glory imperishable, in monuments of ever-during granite or marble, she strove to rear a more undecaying fabric on the basis of the common mind.
Since the year 1800, Connecticut has distributed to her citizens from this fund, two millions two hundred thousand dollars. The amount of the fund is at present about two millions, and affords an annual dividend of nearly one hundred thousand dollars. It must also be borne in mind, that the territory of the State is very small, being only about half as large as Massachusetts, and only one tenth as large as New York.
After this brief sketch of the history and present state of the Connecticut school fund, we may proceed to inquire what effect this munificent provision has had upon the cause of common education, what are the defects of the system, and what the appropriate remedies for those defects.
First. What has been the effect of the Connecticut school fund upon the cause of common education ?
Comparing the state of school education now, with what it was forty years ago, that is, before the school fund went into operation, there is a manifest advancement. At that period, nearly all the exercises of the village school consisted of read