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secure a very thorough knowledge of the branches we have before enumerated. The late De Witt Clinton often expressed the opinion, in public and private, that “two years, under proper instruction, is sufficient to acquire all the knowledge which is usually acquired in our common schools.” And it was under the like impression, probably, that the legislature of Virginia lately proposed to fix the term of two years (between twelve and fourteen as the period within which all the public instruction that any child is entitled to receive should be obtained. We say nothing of the policy of the proposed measure, but it was certainly a liberal allowance of time.
It is worthy of consideration, whether the secret of the proverbial dulness and inefficiency of common-school teachers may not be found in the long, long time they are expected to consume in the process of education. A very appropriate definition of a common school, as the system is managed among us, would be, "a place to keep children out of the way till they are old enough to worķ.” Of course, it is expected that the thread of employment will be spun out to the same length with the thread of time. Hence, to sit still and say A, B, C, twice a day, is the employment of the first year; to do the same with a, b, ab, is the exercise of the second year; words of one and two syllables is the acquisition of the third; and so on, till the child is eight or nine years of age; by which time, perhaps, it will be safe for him to read in the Testament, and spell
valetudinarian, and all the rest of that musical column. Arithmetic and geography will occupy the three or four remaining winters, and then the boy can be let into the workshop, or turned out on the farm, with the advantages of having “ been to school all his days."
We said that, by better schools, much of the evil of nonattendance would be cured. It cannot be denied, however, that, after all we can do to improve our systems, a multitude of children will be beyond the reach of every thing but authority.
Nothing will reach the depth and extent of the mischief but a legal enactment requiring that every free, white, male child shall, at a certain age, be enrolled as a pupil of a public school, unless satisfactory evidence is furnished that he or she is receiving all necessary instruction at a private school, or at home. And the registry of the commissioners of public education for each ward, township, or other district, should show accurately, from year to year, the name and age of every child within the same, and the fact of his or her attendance or non-attendance on the public school, with the reasons of the latter. And for every
child in health, and capable of being taught, and of the prescribed age, who is not in attendance, no sufficient reason being given for the neglect, the parents, or other legal guardians, should be required to pay into the public treasury a sum equal, in the opinion of the local commissioners, to the largest amount that such child may or might earn by any employment of which he or she is capable.
The obvious principle by which such a course of legislation is demanded, and would be fully justified, is a regard to the public welfare and economy.
Society has the same right, and is under the same obligation, to protect itself against the evils of ignorance as to protect itself against the evils of fraud and oppression. An ignorant man not only withholds from society the contribution he is bound to make to its prosperity and advancement, (the amount of which can be estimated, in some degree, by comparing the usefulness and respectability of an educated citizen with the usefulness and respectability of one who is, in other respects, equal, but is uneducated, but he inflicts on society positive evil. Generally, ignorance is found to be the prolific source of vice and superstition; and, at all events, an ignorant man is incapable of bringing up his family and dependents as they should be brought up. This grand social duty must, therefore, be neglected, to the great detriment of the community; or it must be performed by some one else. Of course, so much time and pains will be subtracted from the common stock, and an injurious inequality will exist somewhere.
Farther, an ignorant man is a dead weight upon us. It costs as much to carry him along as it does another; and while he sensibly retards the general progress of society, he is good for little all the way; and, generally, good for nothing at the end of the journey. It costs more to keep him, if he is idle; more to restrain him, if he is refractory; and more to reform him, if he is vicious.
We are confident, then, that a law in each state, compelling the attendance of children, as a component part of an improved system of public instruction, would not only be just and politic, but indispensably necessary to ensure the education of the great mass of our population.
Respecting the topics we have thus far discussed, there may be a general concurrence of opinion, perhaps, among those who are not under the influence of prejudice, or some political bias. In approaching a higher and more difficult branch of the subject, we beg to be distinctly understood, that we are disposed to regard the opinions which others hold in opposition to us with the same deference and respect that we desire for our own. We only ask that the grounds and principles on which they are
severally maintained, may be carefully and impartially examined.
To fit a boy to become a faithful and good citizen of the republic, in whatever section of it he may live, is the object which we all profess to have in view. The structure of our government is adapted to a sober, well-educated, thinking people. It would be no government at all for France or Ireland. It is insufficient for the happiness or security of any but an intelligent community. We should be slow to believe that, if the present condition and character of the population of this country had been, when the federal constitution was framed, what it is now, such a form of government would have been proposed. Indeed, some of the most important barriers which were originally erected against the influence of ignorance and corruption have been dernolished, one by one, by the very power which they were designed to withstand.
Who can tell how much of the popular will of this country is, at this moment, subject to the control of those who have neither intelligence nor integrity? Who does not know that there is a prevailing inclination among quiet and peaceable citizens—those who have most at stake, all over the land—to withdraw from public elections and public offices ?: And as to the prospect that this alliance of power and ignorance will be short-lived, it may suffice to say, that a very intelligent commissioner of the British government, who has but recently investigated our system of police and education, spreads, before parliament and the British nation, the disgraceful fact, that there are at least thirteen hundred thousund free white children and youth, south and west of New York, totally destitute of the means of elementary instruction. No man in his senses can fail to see the tendency and final result of this state of things.
It was a wise observation of that sagacious statesman, William Penn, that “that which makes a good constitution must keep it, (viz.) men of wisdom and virtue ; and these are qualities that, because they descend not with worldly inheritance, must be carefully propagated by the virtuous education of youth." The soundness of this opinion will be readily admitted, but will the virtuous education of youth be secured by instructing them in reading, writing, and arithmetic ? How are the principles of virtue to be taught and enforced without reference to the being and government of God, and a future state of rewards and punishments ?
We believe that it would be found, on investigation, that the most thorough and complete system of public instruction, which has ever been pursued in this country, was sustained wholly VOL. XX.--NO. 40.
by taxation, and was founded on the religious responsibility of the schoolmaster. And it is our settled conviction, that if we could roll back the wheels of time three quarters of a century; take the population as it then was, and apply our present prevailing systems of instruction (sustained by a public fund, and excluding religious influence to the generation of children and youth that then was, 1776 would have gone by like other years, and would have told, no more than they, of the mighty deeds which have now marked that year, conspicuously, in the annals of all succeeding time. Is it wise to give up to atheists and scoffers the only conservative principle of a free republic?
Every body knows the Yankees. They have peculiar characteristics. Some of them may be unenviable; but we have sometimes remarked that even those who apply the epithet sneeringly, show something in their manner that seems to say, “after all, I wish
And what are the marks of a Yankee ? Among them are enterprize, industry, invention, sobriety, perseverance, &c. And when were these marks made? A century and a half ago; when the fear of God was a part of every day's instruction in the common school, and when the boy was taught that the Bible is the best of books; the Sabbath the best of days; and a father's house the best of homes. Whether such a system was wise or unwise, enlightened or unenlightened—whether these were the defects and overactings of a puritanical and superstitious age, are questions we need not decide. One thing is clear. It prepared a generation of men, the record of whose deeds no change of time can mutilate or efface; and the influence of that very system of education is seen at this day—we had almost said in the very bodily nerve and muscle of a full-blooded, uncorrupted New-Englander, whether you find him in the forest or on the prairie, in ship or on shore.
We well know that there is a marvellous change in the character of New England education--for, in the times of which we have been speaking, (we “say not that the former times were better than these,") the people were educated together. The minister's boy and the 'squire's boy were on the same bench in school with the mechanic's boy and the day-labourer's boy; and it often so turned out, that the labourer's boy, by dint of application, became the minister or the 'squire, and the minister's or 'squire's boy became the day-labourer. It is sometimes so now. But then, the chief instruction of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, for example, was public; now, the private education of twenty-five thousand children in that state costs nearly as much as the public instruction of six times that number. Then, religion was a part of education ; now, when tolerated at all, it must find its way by some secret avenue, for
if a teacher should be found, even in many parts of New England, boldly inculcating the great doctrines of the protestant faith, in connection with other branches of instruction, as the basis of virtue, integrity, social happiness, and true wisdom, it might involve a forfeiture of his place, if not of his vocation. We do not say that great improvements have not been introduced, concurrently, with this revolution in public sentiment, but we fear the balance is sadly against the interests of virtue and freedom.
We have stood beside the beautiful and almost magical machinery by which the paper, now spread upon our table, was prepared for use. It flows from the cistern a pure, white pulp. It passes, from web to web and from cylinder to cylinder, about as fast as the spectator walks along-side, as he cursorily surveys the process; until, after the lapse of four or five minutes, it comes into a fair sheet ready for the pen. At the outset of its brief journey we touched the yielding substance with the head of a pencil, and the impression was distinct and obvious upon the finished surface. The involutions and evolutions it had undergone, and the prodigious pressure of cylinders, hot and cold, had only served to define and strengthen the outline.
Now, we do not say that the sons of New England are better or wiser men than the sons of the West or the South ; but this we do say, that the educational institutions for instruction, which were established among the hills, and forests, and rock-bound shores of their nativity, impressed upon them, long ago, the character they now bear as a community; or, if the figure is allowable, the New England mark, which appears so broadly on the fabric, was made in the pulp. The main fact we would use as an illustration of this grand principle—that whatever we would admit or exclude in the formation of national character, we must admit or exclude in the process of national education.
It will be asked, we are well aware, with a very grave and honest look, and by the most forward advocates of universal education-“Why, is not religious instruction a part of the system of popular education in this country? Is the man ignorant that the Bible, or selections from it, is almost universally a text-book in our schools ?1 What more would he have? Would he turn our public schools into places for the propagation of sectarism? Would he curse us with a state religion ?"
Before we shall feel called upon to answer such enquiries as these, we might ask that some intelligent and unprejudiced
1 A late statistical document, presented to a literary convention in Vermont, shows that of one hundred schools in that state, the New Testament is used on an average in but forty-eight, either as a reading book, or for devotional purposes.