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AS few subjects are more interesting to society, so few have been more frequently written upon, than the education of youth. Yet is it not a little surprising, that it should have been treated almost by all in a declamatory manner? They have insisted largely on the advantages that result from it, both to the individual and to society, and have expatiated in the praise of what none have ever been so hardy as to call in question.
Instead of giving us fine but empty harangues upon this subject, instead of indulging each his particular and whimsical systems, it had been much better if the writers on this subject had treated it in a more scientific manner, repressed all the sallies of imagination, and given us the result of their observations with didactic simplicity. Upon this subject the smallest errors are of the most dangerous consequence; and the author should venture the imputation of stupidity upon a topic, where his slightest deviations may tend to injure the rising generation.
I shall therefore throw out a few thoughts upon this subject, which have not been attended to by others, and shall dismiss all attempts to please, while I study only instruction.
The manner in which our youth of London are at present educated is, some in free schools in the city, but the far greater number in boarding schools about town. The parent justly consults the health of his child, and finds an education in the country tends to promote this much more than a continuance in town. Thus far they are right; if there were a possibility of having even our free schools kept a little out of town, it would certainly conduce to the health and vigour of perhaps the mind, as well as of the body. It may be thought whimsical, but it is truth ; I have found, by experience, that they, who have spent all their lives in cities, contract not only an effeminacy of habit, but even of thinking
But, when I have said that the boarding schools are preferable to free schools, as being in the country, this is certainly the only advantage I can allow them, otherwise it is impossible to conceive the ignorance of those who take upon them the important trust of education. Is any man unfit for any of the professions; he finds his last resource in setting up school. Do any
become bankrupts in trade; they still set up a boarding school, and drive a trade this way, when all others fail : nay, I have been told of butchers and barbers, who have turned schoolmasters, and, more surprising still, made fortunes in their new profession.
Could we think ourselves in a country of civilized people; could it be conceived that we have any regard for posterity, when such are permitted to take the charge of the morals, genius, and health of those dear little pledges, who may one day be the guardians of the liberties of Europe, and who may serve as the honour and bulwark of their aged parents? The care of our
children, is it below the state ? Is it fit to indulge the caprice of the ignorant with the disposal of their children in this particular? For the state to take the charge of all its children, as in Persia or Sparta, might at present be inconvenient ; but surely with great ease it might cast an eye to their instructors. Of all members of society, I do not know a more useful, or a more honourab one, than a schoolmaster; at the same time that I do not see any more generally despised, or whose talents are so ill rewarded.
Were the salaries of schoolmasters to be augmented from a diminution of useless sinecures, how might it turn to the advantage of this people ; a people whom, without flattery, I may, in other respects, term the wisest and greatest upon earth ! But while I would reward the deserving, I would dismiss those utterly un. qualified for their employment: in short, I would make the business of a schoolmaster every way more respectable, by increasing their salaries, and admitting only men of proper abilities.
There are already schoolmasters appointed, and they have some small salaries ; but where at present there is but one schoolmaster appointed, there should at least be two; and wherever the salary is at present twenty pounds, it should be a hundred. Do we give immoderate benefices to those who instruct ourselves, and shall we deny even subsistence to those who instruct our children ? Every member of society should be paid in proportion as he is necessary; and I will be bold enough to say, that schoolmasters in a state are more necessary than clergymen, as children stand in more need of instruction than their parents.
But, instead of this, as I have already observed, we send them to board in the country, to the most ignorant set of men that can be imagined. But lest the igo norance of the master be not sufficient, the child is generally consigned to the usher. This is generally
some poor needy animal, little superior to a footman either in learning, or spirit, invited to his place by an advertisement, and kept there merely from his being of a complying disposition, and making the children fond of him. “ You give your child to be educated to
a slave," says a philosopher to a rich-man; “ instead " of one slave, you will then have two.'
It were well, however, if parents upon fixing their children in one of these houses, would examine the abilities of the usher as well as of the master; for whatever they are told to the contrary, the usher is generally the person most employed in their education. If then a gentleman, upon putting out his son to one of these houses, sees the usher disregarded by the master, he may depend upon it, that he is equally disregarded by the boys; the truth is, in spite of all their endeavours to please, they are generally the laughing stock of the school. Every trick is played upon the usher; the oddity of his manners, his dress, or his language, is a fund of eternal ridicule; the master himself now and then cannot avoid joining in the laugh, and the poor wretch, eternally resenting this ill usage, seems to live in a state of war with all the family. This is a very proper person, is it not, to give children a relish for learning? They must esteem learning very much, when they see its professors used with such ceremony. If the usher be despised, the father may be assured his child will never be properly instructed.
But let me suppose, that there are some schools without these inconveniencies, where the master and ushers are men of learning, reputation, and assiduity. If there are to be found such, they cannot be prized in a state sufficiently. A boy will learn more true wisdom in a public school in a year, than by a private education in five. It is not from masters, but from their equals, youth learn a knowledge of the world; the little tricks they play each other, the punishment
that frequently attends the commission, is a just picture of the great world, and all the ways of men are practised in a public school in miniature. It is true, a child is early made acquainted with some vices in a school, but it is better to know these when a boy, that be first taught them when a man, for their novelty then may have irresistible charms.
In a public education, boys early learn temperance; and if the parents and friends would give them less money upon their usual visits, it would be much to their advantage, since it may justly be said, that a great part of their disorders arise from surfeit, plus occidit gula quam gladius. And now I am come to the article of health, it
not be amiss to observe, that Mr. Locke and some others have advised that children should be inured to cold, to fatigue, and hardship from their youth; but Mr. Locke was but an indifferent physician. Habit, I grant, has great influence over our constitutions, but we have not precise idcas upon this subject.
We know that among savages, and even among our peasants, there are found children born with such constitutions, that they cross rivers by swimming, endure cold, thirst, hunger, and want of sleep to a surprising degree; that when they happen to fall sick, they are cured without the help of medicine by nature alone. Such examples are adduced to persuade us to imitate their manner of education, and accustom ourselves betimes to support the same fatigues. But had these gentlemen considered, First, that those savages and peasants are generally not so long-lived as they who have led a more indolent life. Secondly, that the more laborious the life is, the less populous is the country. Had they considered, that what physicians call the stamina vitæ, by fatigue and labour become rigid, and thus anticipate old age.
That the number, who survive those rude trials, bears no proportion to those who die in the experiment. Had these things been pro