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BY THOMAS W. BICKNELL, A.M.,
Our school systems have been of slow but steady growth. The various parts, from the primary school to the university, have each a separate origin and history, growing out of the wants of society as civilization has advanced. The common school is at once the child and the mother of the State, and in its historic growth has taken on such forms and appliances as society seemed to demand, and has yielded to such formative influences as the growth and changess of social and business life have required. What we call school systems are but the aggregate of the trial-attempts of the past in practice and in legislation, to bring to pass the solution of one problem,—namely, given an infant child, to secure the useful and intelligent citizen.
One of the first principles to be established is, that every child should receive a fair share of education. History tells, and repeats the story, of the slowness of the great mass of the people to accept and adopt so cardinal and vital a policy. In theory, this doctrine lay at the foundation of our State and National Governments. Winslow, Winthrop, and Williams were advocates of a system of sound learning, both in the school and the college. Domestic education in New England was the first care of the founders, and in 1642 it was ordered in the Court of Plymouth, “ 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, under penalty of twenty shillings for each neglect therein.” Not to keep and maintain the schools required by law, has been an indictable offence in Massachusetts since 1647. Attendance at school, if not enforced by law, was sustained by a strong public sentiment. Legal compulsion in attendance is the modern feature, which our own times enact to protect the State from the greater dangers and wider encroachments of vice and ignorance.
The second principle is, that the property of the State should be responsible for the education of its children. Admitting the first principle, which is now almost an educational axiom, it required years of growth to reach the next period, of free education of all the children of the people. To incorporate this principle into the policy of even enlightened people, it has cost volumes of argument and years of wordy warfare. What seems to us so plain and well established as these two principles, were at one time the issues over which battles, - political, ecclesiastical, and social,—were fought and won on either side. Growing out of these two principles are practical matters of vital importance, such as the provision for school buildings, furnishings, teachers, books,
etc., all of which had their settlement in the local, rather than general legislation.
The New-England States and the country generally, long ago passed through these two periods of school history, and have now entered upon the third epoch, — namely, that of school unity and system as secured by school supervision. Schools of various grades have been established, the children have more or less generally attended them, and the people have more or less generously supported them. But we can readily see that the several parts of this educational work could never become a complete and harmonious whole, without some great controlling, unifying power. The diversity of origin, the plan, spirit, work, and success of the various school agencies testify to the need of a central administration, which should embrace all its parts in its comprehensive control and impulse.
Forces to be effective for good must be organized, supervised, and controlled by some superior agency. Educational forces are subject to law, and their highest utility is secured, and the least waste of energy accrues when a wise intelligence directs the movements of all the parts. It may seem a matter of surprise that so important elements as those of organization, system, and supervisory care, should be among the last phases of educational development,—that what was needed at the outset should be the latest adjunct of the school work. While the genius of order and wise direction enters so largely into the other secular plans and enterprises of the day at their birth and establishment, we shall find that the great systems of the world have been tentative in their growth, the people have been slow to apprehend their needs, and that very gradually the work has been built up. But it is the natural order or law of proceeding from parts to the whole, from particulars to genera, from units to systems. First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. Minerva may have sprung full panoplied from the brain of Jupiter, but we wait the day for the full-equipped school system, though centuries have followed its birth. There are four departments or order of superintendence; namely, national, State, county, and municipal or town. The scope and value of each will be treated in the order named.
It is now over one hundred years since Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria, famous in the encouragement of the industrial arts and sciences, and in the protection and development of the national life and strength, sanctioned a general law for the schools of Austria. After the noble declaration that the education of both sexes is the basis of the real happiness of nations, and that the future destiny, the genius and thought of entire nations depend mainly on the good instruction and right training of children from their tenderest years, she insists that these can never be attained except by “ well-regulated instruction and education.” “To secure this result in each State of the monarchy, shall be formed a school commission, comprised of two or three counsellors of the government, one under-delegate and a secretary, associated with the inspector-general of normal schools.” “This commission is charged with the supervision of all school interests, school officers, as well as school material, and they shall assure themselves that the method prescribed by ordinance is employed. Frequent reports on the condition of schools must be rendered.” Thus reads the first law which established a national supervision of public instruction, which had for its object the "improvement of existing schools.” Nine years previous, in 1765, Frederic the Second of