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a great and sudden increase in their number, requiring an increase equally sudden and great, in the number of teachThis sudden demand was of course supplied, in the first instance, by persons but poorly qualified; and the evil was afterward perpetuated, by the unnecessary multiplication of school districts, which had the twofold effect of extending the demand for teachers too rapidly, and of so depressing the rate of wages, that none but persons of inferior qualifications could be obtained. Another serious evil, which at first resulted from the interposition of the state, was a great diminution of interest on the part of parents, and other citizens. So long as the support and supervision of the schools was left entirely to them, they felt the necessity of care, in selecting teachers, and in overlooking their proceedings. When the law, however, provided for the appointment of inspectors, and for the partial support of schools, employers naturally concluded, that less vigilance on their part would be sufficient. It ought, therefore, to have been expected, that the introduction of this system would tend, in the first instance, to depress the standard of teaching, though it might secure the extension of its blessings to all the inhabitants.
Had this result been foreseen, it might have been provided for. As this, however, was not the case, it is apprehended that most persons who have had occasion to compare the state of common schools in 1822-6, with what they were previous to 1814, must have observed some degree of deterioration. When this deterioration became apparent, it led, in the first instance, to the establishment of select schools, which, though they gave relief to a few of the more wealthy inhabitants, tended still farther to depress common schools, and thus to fasten the evils of a bad system on the community, in a manner which seemed at one time to defy remedy. Within the last few years, however, the necessity, and practicability of some reform, has been
growing more and more apparent. Enlightened citizens have discovered, that good schools are important, not only to their own families, but to all; that common schools will always be preferred by most of the inhabitants; that it is therefore of the utmost consequence that they should be good schools; and that this can be the case, only when they unite in their support the wealth, respectability, and intelligence of the whole district. Hence select schools are decreasing; parents and employers bestow more care in the choice of a common school teacher; more liberality is evinced in constructing schoolhouses, and defraying the expenses of instruction; and much more personal attention is given to the character and operations of the school, and to its influence on the young. It must be admitted, however, that the progress of this auspicious change has hitherto been slow, and that its influence now is lamentably circumscribed.
I proceed to inquire how it can be made general.
HOW CAN COMMON SCHOOLS BE IMPROVED ?
"When, therefore, we attempt to construct institutions of education for the countless youth of centuries still to come, we enter on a task full of solicitude and responsibility, but full, also, of hope and promise."-WHEWELL.
To be able to answer this question fully, we ought to ascertain the precise causes of the evils which we seek to remedy. It is believed that they may be included under the following heads: I. Want of interest on the part of pa rents and others. II. Frequent change of teachers. III. Excessive multiplication of school districts. IV. Diversity of class-books. V. Teachers not qualified. VI. Defective supervision. We propose to examine each of these in their
order, and to endeavour to point out the appropriate correctives.
I. Want of interest on the part of parents, &c.—This is doubtless the sorest evil, with which we are called to contend. Indifference and neglect, on the part of those who ought to feel the most lively concern for the welfare of our schools, cannot fail to chill the zeal of all other persons. Neither teacher, nor scholar, nor trustees can be expected to labour with ardour and perseverance, when they find no sympathy where they have the best right to expect it. This apathy manifests itself in many ways: in the preference which is so frequently given to the poorest teachers, provided only that they are the cheapest; in permitting children to be irregular in their attendance; in the neglect of parents to visit the school, that they may know whether the teacher understands his duty and discharges it; in omitting such examination of the children at home as will animate them to greater diligence, and, at the same time, reveal the true degree of their proficiency; in allowing the schools to be closed for a large part of each year; in opposing every plan which involves an increase of expense or efficiency; and, finally, in encouraging a contentious spirit among the employers, and a want of respect towards the teacher.
It would seem, at first, as if no man could have the least sense of the importance of schools, or of his duty towards them, who gives his countenance to any one of these practices. Charity, however, requires us to admit, that in some cases, this may be owing to ignorance, or inconsideration. All persons do not know that schools may, in some cases, be useless-in others, a positive nuisance. They usually feel that education is very desirable, and, in the present state of the world, even necessary. They have built a schoolhouse, provided it with a teacher, supplied their children with books, and enjoined their attendance; and it nev
er occurs to many of them, that more can be necessary. When they propose to raise a crop of good marketable wheat, they are very careful to get the best seed, to see that the ground is carefully prepared to receive it, to have it deposited after the most approved manner, and to guard the young plant, at every stage of its growth, against noxious animals and every hostile influence. They trust no workman, who is unacquainted with his business, and omit no precaution which can secure them against loss or injury. It is not possible that these men would refuse to apply the same care to the training of their children, if they felt it to be necessary. They do not feel this. They say that their children are at school, and that they intend to keep them there. They have yet to learn that all this may be without benefit; that morally they may become worse at school; that even their intellectual tastes and habits may degenerate, and their prospects in life only be shrouded in deeper gloom.
What, then, is the remedy for this evil? It must be found, in a full and free discussion, before the people, of the claims of common schools. Every means must be invoked by which, on other subjects, men are enlightened and aroused. The press must be made to speak; not that portion of it only which is especially devoted to schools,* but the daily and weekly press; also the magazine and the review. Meetings must be convened in every town and neighbourhood, at which those who have hearts to feel, and minds to comprehend the vastness of this theme, may give utterance to their convictions. Arrangements must be made, to have these meetings recur frequently, and to secure the presence of those, whose opinions command respect and attention.†
* The District School Journal, edited by Francis Dwight, Esq., and published at Albany, under the supervision of the Superintendent of Common Schools, should be read and circulated.
+ The following remarks (from the last report of the secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education) on the influence of these
Every individual who appreciates at all the magnitude of the subject, must endeavour to fill his mind with impressive
meetings, and on the relative advantages of town and county conventions, are worthy of consideration : "These annual county meetings, which have now been held for five successive years in the counties of the state, have been eminently useful in diffusing information as to a better system of school district organization, better modes of instruction, and so forth. Especially, by bringing the sympathy of numbers to bear upon individuals, they have diffused a spirit, and created an energy, more worthy of a cause which carries so much of the happiness of the community in its bosom. But it seems to me that the mode of operation heretofore pursued may now be modified with evident advantage.
"To explain my views in regard to the most eligible course for the future, it will be necessary to recur for a moment to the practice of the past. At the county conventions, a considerable portion of the day has usually been spent in discussing such topics as were deemed most intimately connected with the welfare of the schools in the section of country where the meetings were respectively held. All persons present have been invited to participate in the proceedings. Questions have been freely put, and replies given. On these occasions I have always been requested to deliver an address in the course of the day, and have never felt at liberty to decline the invitation. I have also invariably held myself ready to answer such inquiries, and to meet such suggestions as might be proposed; but the friends of education assembled from the vicinity have always been consulted as to the topics for discussion, and, through the medium of a committee, have generally proposed them. Out of a general similarity of circumstances and of objects has naturally arisen a considerable degree of uniformity in the modes of proceeding; and it is with the sincerest pleasure that I bear witness, that at all times, and in all places, the greatest harmony has prevailed. I do not mean that opinions have always coincided, but that different views have been presented in an amicable spirit; and it has oftentimes happened that some modified course, some third measure, has been elicited, better than either of those originally suggested.
"Such has been the common mode of proceeding, the advantages of which have been clearly discovered in regard to those towns and districts which have been most regularly and fully represented at the meetings. In regard to a considerable number of towns, an