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OFFICE OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION,
Lansing, Dec. 15, 1866. To the Honorable the Legislature of the State of Michigan: GENTLEMEN—
In compliance with the requirements of law, I have the honor to submit the following
The general sentiment which pervades the entire State, respecting our educational interests, is most gratifying. The people are evidently in earnest in their efforts to secure good schools.
The grading of our schools, which a few years since, met with such general disapproval, and in many places encountered most violent opposition, is now as generally regarded an absolute necessity. The erection of beautiful school edifices, in so many of our large towns and villages, the constantly increasing demand for thoroughly qualified teachers, the increase of teachers' wages, although in many instances far below what they should be, yet a large advance upon what was ever paid before, all show a constantly increasing interest in the work of education. The importance of improving the character of our public schools, is becoming more and more appreciated. It seems to be the purpose of many communities to furnish every facility in their power, that may aid in bringing the schools to the highest state of perfection. There is no good reason why the schools of Michigan should be inferior to any in the nation. Praise may indicate real worth, but never produces it. The mere lauding of our school 'system will never produce good schools.
In order that the highest success of our public schools may be realized, certain modifications in the present school system are imperatively demanded. To simply stand still and eulogize our wonderful school system, and boast of what has been done under it, will never remedy the defects in the system, nor supply the want which our schools suffer from these defects.
We ought to be grateful for what our schools have accomplished, and should not feel a contempt for the system which has aided in accomplishing what the schools have done, although that system be may imperfect. But this does not imply that we should not improve the schools and perfect the system by which they are to be improved.
The deep interest which the people have felt in the success of the schools, has done more, by far, in securing the results already realized, than any influence of the School System. Hence, we find that the best schools are confined to given localities, to such communities as have felt a special interest in the schools. Such towns and neighborhoods will have good schools whether there be a school system or not.
Although it may be true that no system of schools can be devised which will secure good schools by its own force, without the hearty coöperation of those who are to be benefitted by the schools, it is, nevertheless, true that a system may be inaugurated, which will greatly aid the people in their work, and encourage them to continue their efforts to render their schools more efficient for good.
The people do not hesitate to expend money to build good, and even elegant school edifices, and to pay large salaries, if they can be assured that their schools can be made enoagh better to pay for the expenditure. There are many of our citizens who' manifest a willingness to devote their time, and expend personal effort, in order to increase the efficiency of their schools. It is found that many of our School Laws are a hindrance rather than an aid to many of our rural districts. Letters of inquiry are constantly coming to the Department of Public Instruction, asking if there is any way by which money can be raised in districts of more than one hundred children but less than three hundred, entitled to public money, and in a sufficient amount to enable them to build a school-house immediately, that will cost more than they are able to raise in one year.
If there are three hundred children in any district, money may be borrowed and the bonds of the district may be issued, bearing interest, and these bonds met from taxes raised in years following. But with a less number of pupils, there is no way in which the money can be thus obtained. Before the school house can be built in these districts, the money must be already secured, so that the people are compelled to wait to raise by successive taxes what is desired to build a good house, or to impose a single tax, which would be too large to be met by the people without very great inconvenience.
The result is, many are deprived of a comfortable school house for years, although every member of the district may be willing and anxious to build, at once, a commodious school edifice, and raise a tax in successive years to meet the expenses. They greatly prefer to pay the interest on the district bonds, that would accrue while the money is being raised, than to be deprived of the use of a good school-house, during that time.
The present method of dividing the townships into small districts, is by no means the best. The older States are abandoning this plan of division, and are districting the State by townships. This enables the proper officers to grade the schools of the township, and also to arrange a regular course of study for these schools. By this means, the pupils in our schools would accomplish a hundred fold more than they now do. I do not now design to enter upon a lengthy discussion of this subject, but simply, by these few words, wish to call the attention of those interested in the success of our schools, .to this subject. There is, however, a question which is attracting the attention of the teachers of the State, and many others, which demands
immediate action. This I propose to discuss, at length I refer to the topic of
COUNTY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENCY.
The lack of a thorough and competent supervision of our schools, is a most serious defect in our school system. The district, or common schools, as they are called, suffer greatly for the want of competent teachers, but more from the lack of supervision. In no way can the deficiency of preparation, on the part of teachers, be rectified so speedily, as to place over the schools competent men, who shall have the oversight of both the schools, and the teachers. It being the duty of the County Superintendent, first to examine the teachers, and then to keep a constant watch over the schools of the County, there could be no one better prepared to remedy any defects in the schools, resulting from incompetent teachers. If any one should offer himself for examination, who was manifestly incompetent, he would be at once rejected. If any doubts should be entertained by the Superintendent, a visit or two of the school, would solve the doubt, and the remedy at once be applied.
With the present arrangement for examining teachers and supervising the schools, persons are often placed over the schools, as instructors, who are notoriously incompetent. The examinations, as conducted in a multitude of instances, is simply a form; or, perhaps, to say that it was a mere farce, would bo saying what was more nearly the truth, and not unfrequently are certificates given without even the form of an examination. We are constantly receiving intelligence from different parts of the State that teachers are employed who are entirely incompetent for their work. A letter has just come to the office, stating that for years the Inspectors of a certain township had been in the constant habit of issuing certificates without even the formality of an examination, and no examination had ever been had, except one, when one of the citizens offered his services as examiner, but even then, a certificate was granted to one who was unable to answer a single question, and not a single school had been visited for several years. I fear that it is true that a thorough visitation and examination of the schools is unknown, to the larger number of the schools of the State. The present system of examining teachers, so far as the securing of competent instructors by it is concerned, is a complete failure, and the system of school supervision, so far as the improvement of the schools by it is concerned, is equally a failure. But these examinations and this supervision are imperatively demanded. We can never have schools successful, in any true sense, without a constant and rigid system of supervision. It was a part of the plan, originally devised, that the schools should be constantly cared for. It was never intended that the schools should be neglected, and suffer in consequence of the neglect, as they have done, and are still suffering
The people of our cities and large towns have been led to see the folly of attempting to conduct their schools in this loose way, or of leaving them without any oversight at all. They now employ competent men to take the supervision of their schools. These men devote their entire time to the business of looking after the interests of the various schools, except those who have charge of a less number of schools; these give a part of their time to teaching some of the more advanced classes, and the remainder they devote to the various schools of the city or town.
The benefits of this supervision are most manifest. These are seen in the order and system which prevail, instead of the confusion and disorder of former times. The improved methods of instruction also, which have been introduced into those schools, the grading of the schools, and classification of the pupils, are results of this intelligent supervision. The extended courses of study, and the rapid progress of the pupils in these courses, make evident the advantages of this supervision.
The country schools cannot enjoy all of the advantages of the schools in the cities and large towns; hence every facility should be given them which may aid in the thorough prose