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A Smart' Schoolmaster.
and many more things, as matters of importance in early educa-
We demand, for every child, the best and most wholesome food and drink, the best clothes, the best associates, the best books, the best school. We demand for him what he will be likely to regard as a pleasant, a comfortable, and an agreeable school room. There should be good chairs, or good seats with backs, and good and commodious desks; either on the plan of Mr Luther, or on some other plan. It is butchery to retain in school such seats or desks as are in most common use among
There should be handsome floors, and walls, and ceilings. There should be a father and mother in each school; and all the scholars should be brothers and sisters. In other words, the school should be formed as nearly as possible on the model of the family; and he who will not seek the happiness, present and future, of his children while at the school room, and spare neither money, nor time, nor influence, to render the school as much as possible a substitute for his own parlor; and a wise male and female teacher, not only the affectionate educators of his children, but, for the time, as nearly as possible their parents, has not yet begun, to good purpose, the work which Divine Providence, especially in a crisis like this, has assigned him.
CONFESSIONS OF A SCHOOLMASTER.
Early the next autumn, I was invited to take charge of a school, at a considerable distance from my former sphere of labor. What report, with her thousand tongues, had testified of me, I never knew, I only learned that they wanted a 'smart' master,' and therefore came for me. The school, for several years had been taught, in the winter, by easy, good-natured, but rather inefficient men ; and they wanted somebody of a different character.
They proposed to employ me four months, at twelve dollars a month and my board. I believe I have already told you it was customary in that region, with few exceptions, for teachers to go from house to house, and board in the families. I had done so the previous winter.—The price offered me was so tempting, and the call so urgent, that I accepted it.
I had just begun to feel my ignorance, and to perceive the responsibilities of a schoolmaster. I will not say that I regarded these responsibilities as I ought to have done ; for I doubt, almost, if this were possible. Eternity alone, it seems to me now, can set this matter in its true light. But I felt them to such a degree as to give me much anxiety. How should I govern? How should I begin? How should I succeed ?-were questions that sometimes rested with great weight on my mind. I have lain awake nearly the whole of the first night, on opening my school, and sometimes several of the succeeding ones, studying what to do, and how to manage.
One thing I had learned during the two preceding winters ; which was not to lay down a code of rules or laws for my pupils before circumstances seemed to call for them. If you form your set of laws in the first place, it is taking the pupils to be bad, which always seems to have an unhappy tendency. It is the same thing, or at least has the same effect as to express a want of confidence in them, or a want of respect for their characters. And in proportion as they discover a want of respect for them, they will generally lose respect for themselves. Now nothing is more deeply unfortunate to the young than a want of self-respect. This lost, and all is lost. And any thing which diminishes this is, I say again, of a most unhappy tendency.
My method was to seem to take it for granted, that every one knew what was about right, and meant to govern himself accordingly. If he conducted improperly, I made strange of it, and gently reminded him that he had forgotten himself. This, with most pupils-for indeed it was very nearly the truth-was sufficient. If, however, a considerable number continued to disregard a certain thing, or to repeat, too frequently, certain acts which I conceived were unfavorable to good order, and subversive of just principles, I then made a law against them.
Such a law, to be good for any thing, must have a penalty annexed to it. This penalty was usually mild, but was always -unless it were in some most extraordinary case-inflicted. had found out long before this, that punishments, however light, should be certain. Uncertainty defeats their whole purpose.
This may be the place, too, for observing that I had made
A Singular Adventure.
some progress in the art of teaching. Not much, I confesscertainly less than I had in the art of governing or managing. Still I had done something. I had learned to pay my whole attention to a class while it was reading, unless, indeed, a monitor was, for a time, employed ; in which case, I ventured to be absent. But such monitors were very seldom employed; and, in general, if I found it necessary to leave the class, I disbanded it. In short, I had come to the resolution to avoid doing more than one thing at a time.
But the main object of my present article is to relate a curious incident that took place this winter, and which came very near breaking up the school, and destroying my rising reputation as a schoolmaster, forever.
There was, in the school, a certain boy whom, for distinction's sake, I shall call Charles. He was always ready to play tricks when set a going by others; but he was not very artful in getting rid of the punishment due to a fault. Some children, you are aware, have the skill to do things which are wrong, and then shift the blame upon others. I had several of this description, at the time of which I am now speaking. They were even willing to unite in roguery, in order to enlist Charles; and generally skilful enough to escape censure, and involve Charles in trouble. Of this trait in their character, I was, however, at first utterly ignorant. Instead of regarding them as the ringleaders—the seducers--and Charles as only an accomplice, I thought Charles was himself the ringleader; and at length I began to watch and warn him. And according to the principles I have elsewhere advocated, the more he saw himself suspected, watched, and doubted, the worse he became.
At last I began to threaten him with punishment. The results of these threats, any one who had a thorough knowledge of human nature might have foreseen. The boy grew worse and worse, every day. The time finally arrived when, in my judgment, it became necessary to punish him.
Near the school house was a large alder swamp. A boy was sent to this swamp to cut whips. I think his orders were to get and bring in three. The whips came. The boy looked affrighted. The other scholars looked at each other, and at me. One young man, of riper judgment than most of the pupils, hung his head. I now suppose that, knowing the character of Charles, he had doubts whether I was pursuing the right course.
The school room was rather small, as is the New England fashion ; not more, I think, than fifteen or sixteen feet square. In order to make room for my operations, as well as to strike the boy and the beholders with terror, I ordered all the inside mov
Mistuken Conduct of Col. K.
able benches to be crowded as near the backside of the room as possible, took off my coat, directed Charles to rise, and begged my scholars to get as far as they could from the whip. Half frightened to death, the younger of them crowded into the corners of the room, while the larger ones, more fearless, sat still and looked on.
Long and eloquently did I represent to the poor boy the nature and enormity of his transgression, and the justice of his punishment. His crime, I said, was obstinacy; and I thought so. The boy evinced no deep sense of guilt, and I concluded at length to discontinue my speech, and commence blows.
It happened that the rod which was used was rather dry. I made a parade of laying on very heavy blows, to put the school in awe. They were not so very heavy after all. But the stick was so dry, it soon broke in pieces. One of its brittle parts flew against the cheek of a boy standing near the fire, and slightly broke the skin. The delinquent was punished with some degree of severity, but there was nothing very remarkable about it.
After this was over, he seemed to behave better ; as well as the whole school. There was not half the noise, and disquiet, and play that there had been, or else I imagined it so. In fact, I thought I could perceive the good influence of the chastisement for weeks, if not for months afterward.
However, about a month or six weeks—I have forgotten which-afterward, I heard a most singular story, abroad. Why I had not heard of it sooner, I cannot and could not then conceive ; nor do I now recollect any better how it was divulged in the end. It was substantially as follows.
The master of the boy whose cheek had been wounded by the piece of whip, and whom I will call Col. K., being very passionate, no sooner saw the cheek and heard the story, with all those exaggerations to which the boy's fright would be likely to lead him, was at once full of wrath and fury. He took his horse and sallied forth. To see me, do you ask? To see the committee ? To see any of the rest of the pupils, to find whether their stories confirmed that which he had heard ? No such thing.
He rode to the village, and entered a complaint against me, to the grand jurors of the town. He represented me as having abused-tyranically and wickedly—a poor orphan* boy; and as being wholly unfitted—by my ungovernable temper—for continuance in the school. He also told them how long the
* Charles was, indeed, an orphan.
Consequences to the School.
stripes were to be seen on Charles's back after the punishment.
It is rather to be wondered at, that the grand jurors should take no notice of this complaint, strangers as they were to me. But the gentleman was not able to rouse them. Perhaps they saw what the state of his mind was—for he was so exceedingly angry, that he seemed almost like an insane man-and concluded that the case was not worth attention.
Here the matter ended, or would have ended, but for me. It is true that there were several persons in the district dissatisfied with me, in a greater or less degree. But they knew better than to treat me in the way Col. K. had done ; and between their sympathy for me and their indignation towards him, the whole matter was dropped.
For my own part, I was unwilling it should end thus. I went to Col. K. and expressed, at once, à sense of the wrong he had done ; and concluded by asking him why he did not come to me at once, as soon as he heard the story. Was it acting the Christian part to go first to others ?
"Sir,' said he, I did not go to you first, because I could not have kept my temper. The children said you were in a violent passion, and had whipped the poor, fatherless boy almost to death, and I thought that if so, it was not worth while to go to you at all. Better go to the civil authority at once.'
I asked him whether he still approved of such a course of proceeding; and as the stories of children, in cases of the kind, could not be wholly relied on, whether he did not think it better to go first to the teacher, and tell him his grievances—whether, in short, if he were the teacher, he would not like to be thus dealt with. Indeed, I pressed him very closely on the subject. It is true, I did not fail to concede that there might have been something wrong in the course I had taken ; but was this the way to set me right?
He frankly acknowledged, at length, that it was not. He said his only apology for the course he had taken was, that he was passionate, and was not sure he should not beat me, if he met me alone, while enraged. But he now saw, he said, that he had done wrong, and was willing to say so publicly.
This was satisfactory; I could not ask more; and though Col. K. had not taken the best method of setting me right, 1 was quite willing to let the matter rest.
It is strange, that while so many parents and masters are quite ready and willing to acknowledge that they ought to go directly to the teacher, if they suppose they have cause to be dissatisfied with him, and talk the matter over freely, so few will ever do it. They are more likely, nine cases in ten, to go to