« VorigeDoorgaan »
MEANS AND OBJECTS OF COMMON SCHOOL EDUCATION.
Gentlemen of THE CONVENTION:
In pursuance of notice, contained in a circular letter, lately addressed to the school committees and friends of Education, in this county, I now appear before you, as the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education. That Board was constituted by an Act of the Legislature, passed April 20, 1837. It consists of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth, for the time being,-—who are members ex officiis,and of eight other gentlemen, appointed by the Executive, with the advice and consent of the Council. The object of the Board is, by extensive correspondence, by personal interviews, by the development and discussion of principles, to collect such information, on the great subject of Education, as now lies scattered, buried and dormant; and after digesting, and, as far as possible, systematizing and perfecting it, to send it forth again to the extremest borders of the State ;-so that all improvements which are local, may be enlarged into universal; that what is now transitory and evanescent, may be established in permanency; and that correct views, on this allimportant subject, may be multiplied by the number of minds capable of understanding them.
To accomplish the object of their creation, however, the Board are clothed with no power, either restraining or directory. If they know of better modes of education, they have no authority to enforce their adoption. Nor have they any funds at their disposal. Even the services of the members are gratuitously rendered. Without authority, then, to command, and without money to remunerate or reward, their only resources, the only sinews of their strength, are, their power of appealing to an enlightened community, to rally for the promotion of its dearest interests.
Unless, therefore, the friends of Education, in different parts of the State, shall proffer their cordial and strenuous coöperation, it is obvious, that the great purposes, for which the Board was constituted, can never be accomplished. Some persons, indeed, have suggested, that the Secretary of the Board should visit the schools, individually, and impart such counsel and encouragement as he might be able to do ;-not reflecting that such is their number and the shortness of the time during which they are kept, that, if he were to allow himself but one day for each school, to make specific examinations and to give detailed instructions, it would occupy something more than sixteen years to complete the circuit;while the period, between the ages of four and sixteen, during which our children usually attend school, is but twelve years; so that, before the Secretary could come round upon his track again, one entire generation of scholars would have passed away, and one third of another. At his quickest speed, he would lose sight of one quarter of all the children in the State. The Board, therefore, have no voice, they have no organ, by which they can make themselves heard, in the distant villages and hamlets of this land, where
those juvenile habits are now forming, where those processes of thought and feeling are, now, to-day, maturing, which, some twenty or thirty years hence, will find an arm, and become resistless might, and will uphold, or rend asunder, our social fabric. The Board may,-I trust they will, -be able to collect light and to radiate it; but upon the people, upon the people, will still rest the great and inspiring duty of prescribing to the next generation what their fortunes shall be, by determining in what manner they shall be educated. For it is the ancestors of a people, who prepare and predetermine all the great events in that people's history; their posterity only collect and read them. No just judge will ever decide upon the moral responsibility of an individual, without first ascertaining what kind of parents he had ;nor will any just historian ever decide upon the honor or the infamy of a people, without placing the character of its ancestors in the judgment-balance. If the system of national instruction, devised and commenced by Charlemagne, had been continued, it would have changed the history of the French people. Such an event as the French Revolution never would have happened with free schools; any more than the American Revolution would have happened without them. The mobs, the riots, the burnings, the lynchings, perpetrated by the men of the present day, are perpetrated, because of their vicious or defective education, when children. We see, and feel, the havoc and the ravage of their tiger-passions, now, when they are full grown; but it was years ago that they were whelped and suckled. And so, too, if we are derelict from our duty, in this matter, our children, in their turn, will suffer. If we permit the vulture's eggs to be incubated and hatched, it will then be too late to take care of the lambs.
Some eulogize our system of Popular Education, as though worthy to be universally admired and imitated. Others pronounce it circumscribed in its action, and feeble, even where it acts. Let us waste no time in composing this strife. If good, let us improve it; if bad, let us reform it. It is of human institutions, as of men,-not any one is so good that it cannot be made better; nor so bad, that it may not become worse. Our system of education is not to be compared with those of other states or countries, merely to determine whether it may be a little more or a little less perfect than they; but it is to be contrasted with our highest ideas of perfection itself, and then the pain of the contrast to be assuaged, by improving it, forthwith and continually. The love of excellence looks ever upward towards a higher standard; it is unimproving pride and arrogance only, that are satisfied with being superior to a lower. No community should rest contented with being superior to other communities, while it is inferior to its own capabilities. And such are the beneficent ordinations of Providence, that the very thought of improving is the germination of improvement.
The science and the art of Education, like every thing human, depend upon culture, for advancement. And they would be more cultivated, if the rewards for attention, and the penalties for neglect, were better understood. When effects follow causes,-quick as thunder, lightning,— even infants and idiots learn to beware; or they act, to enjoy. They have a glimmer of reason, sufficient, in such cases, for admonition, or impulse. Now, in this world, the entire succession of events, which fills time and makes up life, is nothing but causes and effects. These causes and effects are bound and linked together by an adamantine law. And the Deity has given us
power over the effects, by giving us power over the causes. This power consists in a knowledge of the connection established between causes and effects, enabling us to foresee the future consequences of present conduct. If you show to me a handful of perfect seeds, I know, that, with appropriate culture, those seeds will produce a growth after their kind; whether it be of pulse, which is ripened for human use in a month, or of oaks, whose lifetime is centuries. So, in some of the actions of men, consequences follow conduct with a lockstep; in others, the effects of youthful actions first burst forth as from a subterranean current, in advanced life. In those great relations which subsist between different generations,-between ancestors and posterity,-effects are usually separated from their causes, by long intervals of time. The pulsations of a nation's heart are to be counted, not by seconds, but by years. Now, it is in this class of cases, where there are long intervals lying between our conduct and its consequences; where one generation sows, and another generation reaps;-it is in this class of cases, that the greatest and most sorrowful of human errors originate. Yet, even for these, a benevolent Creator has supplied us with an antidote. He has given us the faculty of reason, whose especial office and function it is, to discover the connection between causes and effects; and thereby to enable us so to regulate the causes of to-day, as to predestinate the effects of to-morrow. In the eye of reason, causes and effects exist in proximity,-in juxtaposition. They lie side by side, whatever length of time, or distance of space, comes in between them. If I am guilty of an act or a neglect, to-day, which will certainly cause the infliction of a wrong, it matters not whether that wrong happens, on the other side of the globe, or in the next century. Whenever or wherever it happens,