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fill the earth with its doings and desires, whether the stars and stripes of our national ensign still float over our long cherished Union, in its undivided greatness and power, or wrap its coffin as a shroud.
And to these grander and more enduring interests of mankind, our schools do also minister. Making us wiser and stronger as patriots, they also make us nobler and better as men; and, in either work, they prove the far-sighted sagacity of the sages who founded them, and the true wisdom of the people who so liberally maintain them.
In the light of the new and strong illustrations which this great crisis in our national history is throwing upon our system of public education, may we not hope to lead the public mind to some deeper thought of its true aims and actual successes? [We can no longer rest content with mere general panegyrics upon the school system—upon its beauty of outline or harmony of parts. A great need is pressing daily closer upon us to know what it does do and what it can do—what are its true aims, and how successfully it fills them. No costly magnificence of form and no mere smoothe movement of the gearings can save from condemnation a machine which fails to do the work for which it was constructed.
THE TRUE AIMS OF OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
In order to determine how far our public school system is a success—how well it is accomplishing its work, it is needful to inquire into the true character of that work; or in other words, what is the true aim of the public schools. This aim evidently is to train up the children of the country to be good citizens of the State and useful members of society. It is on their assumed ability to promote these great public ends, that these schools rest their sole claims for public care and support. The State cannot justly impose a general tax for the establishment and maintenance of schools unless on the ground that they promote the general good by making their pupils better and more useful citizens.
It is doubtless true that the public schools produce much personal and private good. They afford facilities to parents to secure that education for their children which it is at once their interest and duty to bestow. And so also they provide for every child the opportunities for that culture so necessary to his well being and success in life. But not for these private and personal ends, does the State maintain its system of Public Instruction. It is the broader and grander interests which society holds in its members, and the State has in its citizens, that constitute the true aims of a public school system as such.
Much confusion and not a little error prevail in the public mind upon this subject. Many seem to consider that the schools are established simply to aid parents to secure a desira ble good for their children, or at best to give to children the personal advantage of an education that will enable them to win a higher place or an easier subsistence in life. With these views it is not to be wondered at that many oppose all taxa. tion for education as a diversion of public property to private uses. They claim, with a seeming justice, that those who are to receive the advantages of the schools, should support them,
But there are three parties interested in the education of the young: the Parent, the Child, and Society or the State. Of all these parties, the parent's interest is the least. He is the guardian of the child during its childhood, and his natural affection as well as his parental responsibility bind him to rear it in virtue and intelligence. Once reared, 'the child leaves his father's roof and becomes a citizen. Often all ties of interest are here broken, and the ties of gratitude and affection alone remain. Henceforth the parent ceases from responsibility or control, and the child passes, with all his education, to the bosom and service of society.
Next to the parent's interest, and far higher and more enduring, is the interest of the child in its own education. To him it is the question between a life of ignorance and imbecility and a life of educated power and enjoyment. Whoever can estimate the value of a soul to itself, or tell the interest which
a man has in his own heart and intellect, can measure the interest that a child has in the education which shall waken his heart to its finest feeling, and lift his intellect to its fullest power of thought.
But the interest which society has in this great work of education is greater than that of either of the parties before mentioned. More enduring than that of the parent, as citizenship is more enduring than childhood, it is also wider and grander than that of the child, just as the interests of a multitude are greater than those of a single individual. Society embraces all men in its bosom, and its safety and well being are essential to the safety and well being of all. And since its prosper. ity depends upon the virtue and intelligence of its members, who can measure the interest which society has in the right education of those who are to fill its ranks and wield its power? How ample then this right of society to establish and maintain schools, and how clear that the main aim of these schools is to fit children for society; to train them to be law-abiding and useful citizens, with an intelligence that shall preserve them from becoming paupers and a virtue that shall save them from being criminals. Valuable, then, as is the good done to families and individuals by education, we must still conclude that it is these public rather than any private uses, that constitute the true aims of a public school system.
Happily the true interests of individuals and of society harmonize. Whatever perfects man as man, perfects him also as a member of society, so that practically our question narrows itself to the success of our schools in rearing a true and intelligent manhood.
THE QUESTION STATED.
To return, then, does our school system do its work well? Do the schools really educate the children of the State to the extent to which they ought, considering the time and means employed? Do they make their pupils as proficient as they might, in the common literary arts of reading, writing, spelling, and computing with numbers? Do they increase the general intelligence and virtue as mnch as we might reasonably expect? Does the average six months schooling furnished by each of the four thousand school districts of the State afford a just return of true scholarship and of well educated good and useful citizens.
THE ANSWER GIVEN.
If the answer to these questions is to be sought by a comparison of the poorer schools with the best, aud the work done in these latter is to be assumed as the standard of the work which might be done by all, then that answer must be clearly and emphatically in the negative. While many of our schools are models of excellence, and while the aggregate of public good wrought by the entire system is of inestimable value, greatly outweighing the cost of its support, we are compelled to admit that a large majority fall short of accomplishing all they might easily be made to do, and not a few are absolutely useless if not pernicious. While the number of good teachers and good schools is steadily increasing, there are still scores and hundreds, perhaps, in which, either through a lack of care or a too narrow economy, ignorant and incompetent teachers are employed, and thousands of children, after long terms of close confinement and of irksome and fruitless toil, come forth without culture or knowledge, stupefied and disgusted with the wretched farce in which they have been forced to take part, and infidel forever as to any good in learning, and almost of any truth in knowledge. I know not how to characterize the cruelty of thus compelling children to waste their childhood in such a miserable mockery of learning, robbing them at once of all desire and all power for future progress in truth. Who
7 that has ever seen a good school, can doubt that with our long and costly terms of school, with our immense machinery, our children should be fully twice as well instructed as they are, and that we ought to have ten well educated minds where now we have but one?
And if, going a step further, we inquire as to the effect of our system of education upon the moral and social character of the pupils—what it is doing to inspire the youth of the country with pure and patriotic sentiment—the answer is still more unsatisfactory. Selfishness grows unchecked. Nay, often the entire motive power of the school is an appeal to selfish ambition or a promise of selfish good to be obtained by study. Duty to society, fealty to truth, veneration for Deity, charity to mankind, reverence for right, love of industry, and habits of neatness and good order—these are not only much worse taught than reading and arithmetic, but, alas ! they are often not taught at all. Happy if their opposites are not unwittingly fostered, or permitted to flourish unnoticed and unchecked. The heart of childhood, all open as it is, to generous sentiments, gets not one lesson on these highest duties of its life, and sinks by mere neglect into cold, dark, worldly selfishness.
These painful facts are stated here from no love of fault finding, but to rouse the public mind to a sense of the evil, and to excite to an effort to apply the remedy.
Our school system has in it an almost undreamed of power for good. What it has done and is now doing are but faint prophecies of the good it will do when worked with more skill, and to the highest pitch of its capacity.
The remedies for its defects are few and obvions : better teachers, and better methods of teaching, more regular attend. ance of the pupils, and a more intelligent and thorough supervision. When the State shall come to understand rightly the vastness of the public interest in the schools, and shall assume the full right of public control over them, these remedies will be applied and our system of Public Instruction will become as fruitful in its products as it is beautiful in its features!
Leaving, for another place, any more extended discussion of these proposed remedies, I turn to the more detailed statement of the progress and condition of the School System. The law requires that the Aunual Report of the Superintendent shall contain: