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late census, likewise, disclosed the astounding fact, that in some counties of this state, as many as one out of every ten adult inhabitants (in one county it was one out of every five) could neither read nor write. It is computed, that five thousand boys, of a proper age to attend school, are employed, on the Erie and Hudson Canal, as drivers during eight months of the year, and it is supposed that few of them attend school at all.* If to these, we add the children who are employed in manufactories, and the offspring of foreigners recently arrived in the country, or speaking a different language, or engaged on public works; and if to these, we add, again, those whose parents are too depraved, or too indifferent, or too poor to send them to school, we shall have a vast and fearful aggregate, who are growing up without any proper culture. Ability to read, some of them may acquire, by attending a Sunday School occasionally; but how meager is such instruction, when compared with the wants of the citizen, the Christian, and the man.
2. Those who attend irregularly. It must be apparent, on slight reflection, that the best schools can do little for those who are frequently absent. By such absences, a child forfeits his standing in his class, and is disqualified from advancing with the requisite speed and accuracy. He forms habits of irregularity, and soon becomes listless or discouraged. His absences tend, also, to disorganize the school, and to add, grievously, to the labours and vexations of the teacher. One needs not be surprised, then, if, where the attendance of scholars at school is not only suspended, for some months each year, but is extremely irregular at other times, that in such cases, the proficiency is very slight.
It is worthy of remark, that, until lately, the great importance of this subject, seems to have been overlooked. In the returns of school officers, no distinction was made between the total, and the average, attendance; the whole
* It is said that three thousand of these boys are orphans!
number registered, throughout the year, being reported as attendants. Some of these might have been present but a few days; others but a few weeks; and others, again-having entered, withdrawn, and entered a second, or even a third time within the same year-might be returned twice or thrice over. In this way, the returns have been swelled, until the number reported as at school has, in several instances, been greater than the whole number of children between the ages of 5 and 16 in the state, and this, though many thousands were known to be in select schools and academies; and though thousands, besides, entered no schoolhouse at all. By the same means, the average nominal period, during which common schools have been kept open, was extended to eight months, though it is not believed, that the average attendance of the scholars exceeded half that time. Within the last few years, a corrective has been applied, in some of the states, by adopting a new form of making re ports, and in all, public attention has been directed to the necessity of producing greater regularity.*
I quote from the last school returns of Massachusetts, to show the magnitude of the evil, in that state. Say the school committee of a large and populous town, “Although able teachers have been employed, the school registers, accurately kept through the summer and winter terms, show an average daily attendance which is less than one half of the whole number of scholars." Say the committee of another town, "The school registers have brought to light one of the most prominent evils which exist in our schools,
* In the State of New-York, trustees of school districts will be required to report, hereafter, "the number of pupils who have attended for a term less than two months in each year; the number attending two and less than four months; the number attending four and less than six months; the number attending six and less than eight months; the number attending eight and less than ten months; and the number attending twelve months."-See Statutes relating to Common Schools, &c., p. 148.
and which has existed from time immemorial, and which would have remained undiscovered, or been but partially revealed, probably, for years, if not centuries, but for the aid of that or of some similar contrivance. They have disclosed the astounding fact that, even in this town, a little more than one fourth part of the money raised for the support of schools is annually lost, actually thrown away, and has been so for years. It is found, by consulting these registers, that the average attendance of the scholars, in all the schools, is a fraction less than three fourths of the whole number of scholars belonging to the schools, which shows that a fraction more than one fourth part of the time allowed for the cultivation of the minds of our children, and, consequently, the same proportional part of the school money, is squandered away by the irregular attendance of the scholars. If we extend these inquiries to other towns, through the state, we find that the proportion materially increases, and, in the whole, taken collectively, it exceeds one third. For out of a little more than 477,000 dollars, raised for the support of schools in the state, more than 200,000 dollars are annually directly thrown away by this voluntary abandonment of privileges. But this enormous waste of money is but an atom in the scale when weighed against the opportunities neglected which can never be recalled. Nor is this the extent of the evil: whenever any scholar unnecessarily absents himself from the school, or is unnecessarily detained by his parents, not only is so much of his time lost, and (as it regards him) so much of the school money is lost, but the whole school suffers, by the interruption, in the arrangement and progress of the class."
It appears, then, that in the State of Massachusetts, more than one third of the whole number of scholars are absent, on an average, each day. If such is the fact, and it seems verified by precise and authentic returns, the absences in the State of New-York must form a still greater propor
tion. All the causes which can operate in Massachusetts to produce irregular attendance, exist here, and, in addition to them, there is another and powerful cause, which operates, probably, in no other state. There, the parent pays alike, whether his child be present or absent; here, he pays only when he is present. The teacher is required, by law, to keep an exact record of the number of days and half days that each child attends, not for the purpose of enabling the inspectors, superintendent, and public to know how far parents and children avail themselves of the advantages of school, but that the teacher may know how much shall be deducted from each employer's rate-bill on account of absences. In this way a premium is, by law, actually offered to the parent to induce him to detain his children from school, or to gratify them when they wish to stay away. Nor this alone. As though it were not enough, to subject a teacher to the inconvenience and pecuniary loss, which he incurs by this arrangement, he is himself compelled to keep a record of it, for the benefit of the parent. It is difficult to conceive a more preposterous law. As a rule, no private school would tolerate it; and if, in Massachusetts, where it is happily unknown, the average absentees of each day form more than one third of the whole number of scholars on record, there can be little doubt that, in this state, under the fostering hand of such a law, they must have swelled to at least one half.
We have thus reviewed the condition, and character of our common schools. We have endeavoured, to ascertain the influence which they are likely to exert on health, manners, and morals, as well as on intellectual improvement. It has been our anxious desire, neither to exaggerate, nor to extenuate, the evils which prevail. As we remarked at the outset, such general statements must be qualified in favour of many instances, in which, teachers are capable and faithful, school-officers are vigilant, and parents both liberal and
attentive. It must be admitted, too, that, with all their imperfections, these schools still do render unspeakable service, by affording, to our entire population, some opportunities for instruction. It is to be considered, farther, that our institutions, and the state and prospects of our country, exert an animating influence on the minds of our people, which is felt powerfully everywhere, and which renders the most imperfect instruments more efficient and useful with us, than they could be under older or less popular governments. If tried by a strict scholastic test, it may be doubted, whether our common schools are greatly in advance of those which were spread over the states of Germany when Frederic the Great first undertook the work of their regeneration; a work which has been advancing ever since, with the highest success. There can be no question, however, that their usefulness is immeasurably greater.
Our present common school system was established, something more than twenty-five years since. The effect of it has been, to add immensely to the number of schools, as well as to diminish the expense of the people in supporting them. It is sometimes suggested, however, that this system has not contributed, in the same proportion, to improve the character and efficiency of our schools, and that in these respects they have, in fact, deteriorated. On this point, various opinions are advanced by the special visiters before referred to. In the estimation of some of them, the schools are decidedly less thorough in their methods of teaching, and secure less actual proficiency, than they did twenty years ago. In the opinion of others, they are more advanced, and have been improving rapidly, especially, for the last four or five years.
It is believed that both of these opinions are in a degree correct, and that they will be found less discordant than they appear to be at first sight. The immediate effect of the establishment of common schools by law, in 1815, was