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The important part which our Union Schools are acting in the great educational work of the State, demands special notice. Whatever of distrust and opposition which were at first felt to the introduction of the system of graded schools, have almost entirely disappeared. The opposition now felt to the plan of Union Schools is occasioned by local considerations. Some towns, separated into two nearly equal parts by & stream of water, or other natural division, each part being jealous of its own peculiar interests, and ever watchful lest one should gain some advantage of the other, finding it very difficult, if not quite impossible, to agree upon a site for a school edifice, or some other point necessary to union, cling to their own school, thus maintaining, in some instances, as many as three graded schools, each having its principal and corps of teachers.
One Union School, with its large and vigorous high school department, under the supervision of a competent Principal, or Superintendent, would be vastly more efficient. Most of of our larger towns, and many of the smaller ones, are now enjoying the advantages of a well conducted Union School. The real good these schools are accomplishing can hardly be over estimated. The catalogues which come to the Department of Public Instruction from these schools, make an exhibit of work done that is most gratifying. Many of these schools report more than a thousand pupils in constant attendance. Their courses of study are as extended and thorough as those prescribed by our best academies, offering to all who desire it, a course of instruction which will qualify them to engage successfully in any branch of business, or prepare them to enter the University or any of the Colleges of the State.
By the advantages furnished by these schools, scattered as they are through the State, bundreds, and I may say thousands, are induced to pursue a course of study complete in itself, and more or less extended, and many do not stop until they have
completed the curriculum of the College or University. The Superintendent of the public schools of one of our cities says, in his Annual Report: “It would be strange indeed, if, after the elapse of more than a decade of years, since the establishment of the Union Schools of the city, there should not be some questions concerning these schools, so fully determined by public opinion, as to be no longer fit subjects for argument or discussion. Among such settled questions, may be named the following: That a graded Union School shall be maintained in this city, by methods in accordance with State and municipal law; that this school shall provide for the primary education of all children of suitable age within our limits; that above the primary school there shall be higher departments, furnishing the means for acquiring the elements of a more liberal education; that these higher departments shall also supply all needed facilities to such pupils as desire to prepare for our State University, which is an integral part of the public school system of this State—a part indeed, of our public schools; that individual choices shall so far yield to the general choice, and the public good, as to admit of a thorough classification of pupils, and an entire uniformity among pupils of the same class, in text-books, and in subjects and methods of study; and that such rules shall be enacted concerning attendance, punctuality and discipline, as will enable the schools to do their fullest and best work in the community. These are no longer open questions. They have long been settled in accordance with a school system, which has the sanction of time and authority. I find myself in this system and wholly bound by it, in common with other citizens of that great State which has adopted it, and every member of that intelligent community, which has so long carried out its provisions, consequently wholly absolved from all responsibility for it, and all necessity for putting forth argument in its defence.”
The questions here stated as settled, should be settled in every school in the State, whether it be a union school, or simply a district school. It will be noticed, also, that another question is settled, which is this: “That this school shall provide for the primary education of all children of suitable age, within our limits.” This is done by raising money, for school purposes, by general tax. No fear of rate bill for the poor, making them to feel compelled to take their children from school, even if in the midst of the successful prosecution of their studies. May the day soon come when the rate-bil! shall be numbered among the things that were. Another settled question in this school is, that higher courses of study are arranged for those wishing to pursue them. The names of thirteen persons are given in the catalogue of this school who graduated from the High School, the last year. The number promoted from the Grammar School to the High School, is forty-four. Other catalogues make an exhibit equally favorable, showing that the schools are most successfully conducted. By referring to the courses of study to be pursued in these schools, it will be seen that it is no light thing to do, to thoroughly complete the course.
Another thing is true of these Union Schools: the teachers remain in the same school for a series of years. It is true that in some schools there are frequent changes. But with many of the schools the principals have been connected for a number of years. The success of the school demands this permanent connection, and the longer the better. It gives the teacher time to perfect his plans, to test his methods, and thus to determine by actual trial whether his theories are mere theories, or whether they correspond with fact. The fact that the teacher knows all his pupils thoroughly, knows their capacity for study, knows their power of endurance, and the fact that the pupils know the teacher, are advantages as great in securing a successful school as the fact that the physician knows his patient and the patient the physician is an aid in the art of healing, and tends to ensure the recovery of the patient.
The principals of these schools understand this, and often do we hear them congratulating the School Board that they have been able to secure the same corps of teachers for the several departments another year. The following is taken from the annual report of a principal to the School Board: “In conclusion, gentlemen, allow me to allude to the faithfulness and earnestness of that.body of teachers to whom is mainly due whatever of good the schools under your charge have achieved, and to express the gratification which I feel that this corps of teachers is to remain so nearly unbroken for the year that is to come. May we not look forward with high hope to the coming year as one of marked usefulness for the public schools of this city?” They may look forward with confident hope, and feel perfectly assured that their expectetions will not be disappointed.
One of the most serious obstacles that our district schools have to contend with, is the constant change of teachers. Seldom do teachers in these schools remain more than a single term. Indeed the custom has been so long continued, that it has come to be looked upon as a kind of necessity, that the services of a teacher be secured only for a single (term. And for a teacher to remain in the same school for a year or more is to render that teacher notorious. The contrast between the work done by the Common Schools of our State, and the Union Schools, is very great. Greater, by far, than it ought to be, or than it need be. But we cannot reasonably hope for a change for the better, so long as the present system of supervision remains, or teachers are continued in their schools for so short a period.
The number of beautiful school edifices, costing from $15,000 to $40 000 are rapidly multiplying. These are erected, not from any spirit of rivalry, or false ambition, but because experience has shown them to be the cheapest in the end. The people have found that it is the most economical expenditure
of money that can be made for the interests of the schools, to build these edificos; and more than this, they have found that these towns can make for themselves no more profitable investment. In doing this noble work, these towns are not fol. lowing the lead of some. wild , and reckless spirit, which will prove disastrous to the interests of our schools, in the end, as some seem to apprehend, but a healthful, judicious, yet earnest spirit seems to prevade the minds of a large majority in these towns, a spirit which will ensure a grand ultimate success in the varied school enterprises of the State. But while so much is expended, care should be taken that every valuable improvement should be introduced into these new buildings. The children in nearly all of our schools are now constantly suffering from iphaling impure air, resulting from the want of proper ventilation.
The method of ventilation which is used in most of our school buildings is very imperfect. Ventilating from the apper part of the room removes the warm air, which is the pure air in those rooms heated by a furnace; for the air as it comes into the room warm from the furnace rises, and if the registers are in the upper part of the room, passes off at once, while the cold air and carbonic acid gas, being heavier than heated air, remain, forming a vitiated atmosphere for the shildren to breathe. This impure air should be constantly and rapidly removed from the room. It cannot be breathed with impunity. It can be removed with perfect certainty and sase, and without additional expense. It is surprising that so little attention has been given to this subject when so much has been said and written upon it. Several years since, the Superintendent called the attention of the people to this subject, and urged builders of school-houses to give their " chief attention to the provisions for warming and ventilating the rooms.” But notwithstanding this warning, together with the thousand and one other cautions from other sources, but very