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THE COMMON SCHOOLS AND FREE ACADEMY.
From observing the smiling crowd, which is to form the men and women of the succeeding generation, we turn naturally to the means of education. In this department it is very pleasant to adopt the language—at which one is apt to smile when you hear its mistaken application on some other subjects, and to say gladly, that “no country in the world” has a more just appreciation of the importance of universal instruction than the United States—and, also, that the Eastern States have been surpassed by “no country in the world” in the extent and energy of their educational schemes.
The knowledge which is reckoned necessary to every man, no matter what his business or position, and which forms the subject of instruction in the common schools, is to “spell accurately, read well, write legibly, understand the principles of grammar, have a fair knowledge of geography, arithmetic, and the history of the United States.” One of the annual reports of the Board of Education for the city and county of New York gives its judgment on the subject thus : “ The education of no citizen should fall below this standard, whether his interests and happiness as a man, or his influence as the head of a family or a member of society, be alone regarded,” and at this object the Common Schools aim. It may be needful to state that the word common, in the designation of the schools, does not mean schools for the common people, but schools common to and suited for all. The basis of education is satisfactory so far as it goes ; but while for the multitude this is as much as their destined occupations permit them to reach, for those whose prospects, ability, and leisure may induce them to desire to go further, more is wanting—and in consequence the Free Acadeiny has recently sprung up in the city of New York, which receives youth who have attained all that the common school offers, and who wish to advance to classical, mathematical, and scientific studies. This Free Academy is founded by the city, and, like the common schools, sustained by a self-imposed tax. The Board of Education took up the initiative in this manner—a committee was appointed to report, and ultimately a memorial was laid before the legislature. By it an act was passed under which the institution was established, but with the provision that the question be submitted to the people at the ensuing school and judicial election. The result of this election is interesting, as shewing to which side the balance for ignorance or for instruction turns. There were votes for establishing the Free Academy 19,404, against it 3409, giving the enormous and honourable majority in favour of instruction of 15,995—and thus the scheme went on, and the beautiful new edifice was opened in the beginning of 1849, with the following staff of professors :
Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.
No government is so much in need of universal enlightenment, or so much in danger from popular ignorance, as the republican. Each member of it ought, by having a certain store of knowledge laid up in his own mind, to be sheltered from the overpowering influences of eloquence, the hasty and unweighed opinions of talking demagogues, and the misleading sympathies of popular cries. He requires to discern the liberal from the selfish, the just from the unjust. Not only his own, but the general welfare, is concerned in his being able to take a part in carrying on its government; he may be required to enact laws, or to aid in their execu. tion when enacted. If he understands his own rights as a citizen, and those of his neighbours, and takes any part that may fall to him in carrying on the government, he will gain a useful ascendency, and may, by means of superior cultivation, become a help, an honour, and a blessing to his country. Therefore it is pleasant to consider that the largest proportion of those who enjoy the advantages of the Free Academy are sprung from parents who could not well afford to give them such an educationand that the only barrier against their admission is deficient attainment in those lessons which they ought to have previously acquired in the Common School.
It is curious to remark the grounds of dissent from the plan of the Free Academy propounded by Horace Greeley—a kind of republican run mad, who objects to learning the dead languages, because science and art are of far greater practical importance, and refuses to afford to a part of the youth a more costly education, because it cannot be provided for, and freely proffered to all.
If the Free Academy were to abridge the powers and extent of the Common School, the objection might be valid; but as it only offers the deeper cup of instruction to the lip which has already drained the shallower, and as it only passes it from those who, from position or slow attainment, have not leisure or relish for it, one apprehends that the objection is unsound, or mayhap insincere, and got up to serve some political turn.
A republic possesses a sacred trust in the talents of its citizens, and ought to cultivate them for the public good—and the more that the average of talent is low, ought those who rise above the average to be cared for. As you would select the strongest to bear the standard, and the bravest to man the breach, so should you cherish him of powerful intellect to deal with the laws and executive of his country. Self-educated and self-raised persons are apt to despise the ladder to learning, from a notion that if mind is worth anything, it will find its level. But what an advantage to remove early difficulties, and suggest pursuits that may be selected according to taste. These selfraised know not how much higher they might have risen, or how much better they might have acquitted themselves, had they been early placed amid the facilities which education furnishes.
* New York may bravely lift up her head and say. she has not left the “stepchildren of nature and fortune, the outcast, the benighted, the brutalised, and the homeless,” to flee to a rock for shelter. She has generously opened her arms, and is opening them wider and wider still. She has instructed thousands, and will instruct thousands more. Besides the very extensive benevolent institutions sustained by voluntary subscription, the report for 1850 shews at least nearly 11,000 dollars contributed by the city, to aid in sustaining orphan houses, blind asylums, and places of reform for juvenile delinquents. How poor and dangerous a plea is it