Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

end of man to hold back, they shut their eyes to the present and dwell only upon the past. I shall not at tempt to compare an inventory of our educational establishment, on the day when the old bell at Philadelphia rang out its message of freedom, with an inventory of the present. It was meagre then, though good for the time. It is larger now, and better. Within the lifetime of many of us here to-day, Horace Mann told the people of Massachusetts, that music and drawing could be taught to every child as successfully as could the multiplication-table; and he might have added, with about as much profit in the formation of character. He had few believers then; but we have lived to see that problem successfully solved. From the landing of the Pilgrims to the laying of the corner-stone of the Bunker Hill Monument, there was not as much progress made in female education, and in the adoption of correct views of such education, as has been made since the organization of this Association in 1830. During the past year we have enjoyed the educational advantages of the Centennial Exposition, and that, of itself, ought to be counted as equal to ten years of healthy progress.

I do not sympathize much with those who fear that, in educational matters, we are coming upon very evil times; who think, especially, that the lowering skies portend great harm to the common schools. That there are omens of change, signs of a reconstructive period in our schools, I fully believe and admit; and God speed the day when it shall begin and go on right heartily ! The people have not lost faith in education nor in schools. There was a time, it is true, when they oftener visited the school-room; showed special attention to the teacher, and went regularly to the spelling-school. But the world moved more slowly then; the occupations of the people were fewer; their tastes more simple, and the word leisure was known and understood by all. But in these later times, when business means a continual drive from dawn to dark, and when every man pursues his calling at high-pressure speed, not only the schools, but many other interests, are made secondary to the absorbing pursuit in which he is engaged.

It is true there are some among us who are not with us, in this cause. There are some men of wealth,—and wealth is not to be despised,—who are sordid also; who object to public schools because they cost money; who do not believe the children of the day-laborer should receive much education, because they can not see how such an investment can return a semi-annual dividend of five per cent. There are also people who, by virtue of some strong traits of character, have been highly successful in making money,-certainly not the highest order of success,

- and they have done this in spite of their limited education, and have, therefore, argued the uselessness of an education, in blissful ignorance, apparently, of the absurdity of their logic, which would prove, - if it can prove anything, – that they have succeeded by virtue of their ignorance ! But I suppose

that such men are not confined to the present time. The past had them also. From the time when Mynheer, the Dutchman, had his son Hans taught to write, and then the young rascal forthwith forged his father's name to a bank-check and obtained the money on it, there have always been those who are afraid of the tendencies of education.

On the other hand, be it remembered, we have those who are willing to contribute to a judicious support of schools, but who are not willing to deprive the children of the poor of their education for the sake of shirking

a more

their own taxes; who believe that a well-balanced education gives breadth and depth to character, makes man a man indeed, gives him greater supremacy over the world of matter, and over the difficulties with which he has to grapple in life, and fits him the better for all the higher duties and enjoyments of which a noble life is capable.

But what are the lessons suggested by this somewhat desultory survey of our educational affairs ? Briefly these:

1. There is indicated a demand for work, positive and aggressive policy on the part of educators and their friends. “The Bunker Hill Monument is finished," but our educational system is not. To cast off the old features that are now useless; to reconstruct, to beautify and adorn, and to secure symmetry in the whole, will require hard work, and willing laborers. Drones and laggards would better betake themselves to the rear.

There is too much timidity in our work, all the way from the school-room to the State House. The cause and the times demand activity, boldness, and untiring vigilance.

2. We need a greater enlightenment of the public, in regard to the importance of education as a conservative influence in our civil institutions; and more especially as a safeguard against that ignorance which is the enemy of all free institutions. The great lessons of history are often lost on the mass of mankind, who are too busy, or too indolent, to keep abreast of the progress of events and the needs of the times. Demagogues and wily politicians take advantage of this fact, and often seek to use the schools for their own selfish purposes; or, perhaps, would cripple them; for schools give light, and such persons love darkness rather than light. The governor of one of our great States declared in his inaugural, last January, that the limit of public expenditure for education should be the teaching a citizen to read the Constitution of his State, and the ballot he is to cast. If, in November last, no man in that State had voted except those who could read their ballots, we all know very well, that the present incumbent of that gubernatorial chair would never have been called to his present position. Educators must be vigilant and keep the beacon burning.

3. Our present system of education needs modification and adapting to our people and time. Its local administration is often in wrong hands and conducted on wrong principles. Our courses of study are, in some cases, monstrosities, containing some features that should be eliminated or pruned, and needing other features now seldom found in the schools. Ever keeping in mind the value and offices of disciplinary studies, and of culture; our studies must reach out into all the sciences and their applications, and must deal with the whole realm of nature. Education must be made to increase the power of the producing classes; and art, as applied to the numerous industries of the day, must elevate the tastes of the people, and furnish them with a higher class of productions. The extreme utilitarian tendencies of this money-making age, need the correction afforded by some considerations for æsthetics and the amenities of life.

In our revisionary school legislation, we must keep clear of the hobbies of mere theorists; must legislate on broad principles; avoid the errors of the past, and gather up all the results of successful experience. Our educational system, like most American institutions, has been injured by excessive and ill-timed laudation. It is to be hoped that some of the events of the past year will act as a healthy corrective of this too common fault of the American people. It is not a pleasant task, though generally a very profitable one, for individuals and peoples to be compelled to curb and lay aside their self-conceit. But there are already signs that this work has, to some extent, begun in our own midst. When Messrs. Hawley, Goshorn & Co. pitched their tents in Fairmount Park, and the nations of the earth showed us what can be done outside of this great and glorious country," the feathers of the spread-eagle began to droop.

4. We need compulsory laws that shall be sure and efficient. Let the parent say where the children shall go to school; but go to school 'they ought, and should. When the idle young vagabonds and paupers roaming our streets are compelled to attend school, it will be vastly easier to make them self-supporting, and to fit them for citizenship. Their education will cost less than the tax for the support of the poor-house, the criminal courts, and the prison. No country can be safe, nor reasonably prosperous, unless a wholesome education is given to the whole people.

5. The support of. schools needs to be upon a better and a more reliable basis. In the smaller towns, and communities of little wealth, the public schools should be better provided for by the State ; and a more remunerative patronage could be secured for the endowed and private institutions, by a judicious consolidation ; though far off be the day when consolidation shall be carried so far, as to necessitate the massing of very large numbers of students in any one institution, where individual and class acquaintance and companionship are lost in the multitude. When we put a stop to reckless extravagance in school architecture, and learn to be content with simple and inexpensive apparatus, without

« AnteriorContinuar »