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THE Act creating the Massachusetts Board of Education was passed April 20, 1837. In June following the Board was organized, and its Secretary chosen. The duties of the Secretary, as expressed in the Act, are, to "collect information of the actual condition and efficiency of the Common Schools, and other means of popular education; and to diffuse as widely as possible, throughout every part of the Commonwealth, information of the most approved and successful methods of arranging the studies, and conducting the education of the young, to the end, that all children in this Commonwealth, who depend upon Common Schools for instruction, may have the best education which those schools can be made to impart.
The Board, immediately after its organization, issued an "Address to the Public," inviting the friends of education to assemble in convention, in their respective counties, in the ensuing autumn; and the Secretary was requested to be present at those conventions, both for the purpose of obtaining information in regard to the condition of the schools, and of explaining to the public what were supposed to be the leading motives and objects of the Legislature in creating the Board.
The author of the following Lectures was a member of the Legislature when the act establishing the Board was passed; and he was intimately acquainted with the general views of its projectors and advocates. At that time, however, the idea
never entered his mind that he should be even a candidate for the Secretaryship; but when the Board was organized, and the station was offered him, he was induced to accept it;-not so much from any supposed fitness for the office, as from the congeniality of its duties with all his tastes and predilections, and because he thought that whatever of industry, or of capacity for usefulness, he might possess, could be exerted more beneficially to his fellow-men in this situation than in any other. On accepting the appointment, therefore, it became his duty to meet the county conventions, which were held throughout the State, in the autumn of 1837; and the first of the following lectures was prepared for those occasions. Its object was to sketch a rapid outline of deficiencies to be supplied, and of objects to be pursued, in relation to the Common School system of Massachusetts.
In the session of 1838, the Legislature provided that a Common School convention should be held, each year, in each county of the Commonwealth, and that the Secretary should be present at every convention. This law continued in force until the year 1842, when it was repealed. During the first five years, therefore, after the establishment of the Board, a Common School convention was annually held in each county in the Commonwealth;-and in some of the large counties two or more such conventions were held. The Secretary made his annual circuit through the State, and was present at them all; and the first five of the following lectures were respectively delivered before the annual conventions. The lecture on "District School Libraries" was prepared in view of the great deficiency of books in our towns, suitable for the reading of children; and was delivered before Teachers' Associations, Lyceums, &c., in different parts of the State. In
the year 1839, a number of the friends of education, in Boston, instituted a course of lectures for the female teachers in the city, and the lecture on "School Punishments" was delivered as one of that course.
On almost all the occasions above referred to, a copy of the lecture delivered was requested for the press; but the inadequacy of the views presented, when compared with the magnitude and grandeur of the subject discussed, always induced the author, (except in regard to the first lecture, which was printed in 1840, in order to make known, more generally, the objects which the Board had in view,) to decline a compliance with the request. In the month of May last, however, the Board of Education, by a special and unanimous vote, requested him to prepare a volume of his Lectures on Education for the press, and to this request he has now acceded.
In preparing this volume, the author was led to doubt whether he should retain those portions of the lectures which contained special and direct allusions to the times and circumstances in which they were delivered; or whether, by omitting all reference to temporary and passing events, he should publish only those parts in which an attempt was made to discuss broad and general principles, or to enlist parental, patriotic,and religious motives in behalf of the cause. He has been induced to adopt the first part of the alternative, both because it presents the lectures as they were delivered, and because it gives an aspect of practical reform rather than of theoretic speculation to the work.
The author begs leave to add, that, as the lectures were designed for popular and promiscuous audiences, and pertained to a cause in which but very little general interest was felt, he was constrained not only to confine himself to popular
topics, but also to treat them, as far as he was able, in a popular manner. The more didactic expositions of the merits of the great cause of Education, and some of the relations which that cause holds to the interests of civilization and human progress he has endeavored to set forth in his Annual Reports; while his more detailed and specific views, in regard to modes and processes of instruction and training, may be found in the volumes of the Common School Journal. Each one of these three channels of communication with the public, he has endeavored to use for the exposition of a particular class of the views and motives, belonging to the comprehensive subject of education.
Justice to himself compels the author to add another remark, although of an unpleasant character. Some of the following lectures have been delivered not only before different audiences in Massachusetts, but in other States; and, in several instances, the author has seen, not only illustrations and clauses, but whole sentences taken bodily from the lectures, and transferred to works subsequently published. Should cases of this kind be noticed by the reader, he is requested to compare dates before deciding the question of plagiarism.
BOSTON, March, 1845.