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ture, having provided, that a grand inquest into the condition of the schools should be taken, it seemed desirable, not only to learn facts, but also to obtain opinions, from the most competent witnesses. Hence the selections, for the two last years, are much more copious than would otherwise have been deemed necessary or proper.
Among other topics discussed in the reports, frequent references have been made to the recent Legislative enactments in behalf of the schools, and to the measures adopted by the Board of Education. These have been freely copied from ; as the opinions of the committees on these points, when sanctioned by the towns by whom the reports were accepted, have been deemed of great weight. Among all the numerous and decided testimonials to the great benefits already realized by the schools, from recent Legislative enactments, and the course of proceedings adopted by the Board of Education, in pursuance of them, there are two only of a contrary character,one from Hamilton, in the county of Essex, the other from Savoy, in the county of Berkshire. To give these counter views a full hearing, the reports from those towns are published entire.
The great object of ascertaining the present state of our schools having now been obtained, it is obvious, that, if the precedent of making selections from the school committees' reports should be followed hereafter, these selections may be much more brief and special, than heretofore ;-only such parts of them being taken as present new and valuable matter. So long as the evils, which now oppress the schools and impair their usefulness, are suffered to exist in any town, so long ought the attention of such town to be reiteratedly and perseveringly called to their existence; but, while the remedy for these evils lies with the district or the town, there will be no necessity of republishing them for
State. At least, this will be so for a time. At the end of ten years, should another inquest be taken, it is hoped the schools may
be exhibited in a very different condition.
Of the great body of the reports themselves, from which the present selections have been made, it is hardly possible to speak in terms of exaggerated praise. The reports of the previous year, so far as they were copied into the Abstract, have received high encomiums, both at home and abroad, for their general intelligence, their sound practical views, and the high tone of philanthropy and morality, by which they are pervaded. In no respect are the reports of this year inferior to those of the last, while they surpass them in minuteness of discrimination, and in the more thorough comprehension and development of the prominent evils, under which our school system is laboring. Not one
of the whole number was written for personal display for the unworthy purpose of exhibiting the pleader, instead of advocating the cause. They are direct, clear, earnest, strong expositions of the merits of the great subject they discuss. What shows the sincerity and high principle which dictated them, and what, in these excited times, may be regarded as their most remarkable characteristic, is, that, though emanating from men of every variety and shade of religious and political opinion, there is not an expression, from beginning to end, from which it could be predicated, with any degree of certainty, to what party, political or theological, the writers belonged. To enlighten the juvenile mind, to avert vicious habits, to lead children to aspire to and to perform all those things which are honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report, seems to have been considered by all, a fit and necessary preparation for the adoption of what is considered by each as higher and more advanced truth. I speak of these facts in regard to the reports, because it is an act of justice towards their authors, as well as an honor to the State, that they should be known; and because it is not probable, that any other individual, by a perusal of the entire body of the manuscripts, will ever, personally, acquire this knowledge.
In fine, it may be said, that no citizen of Massachusetts can ever read these selections, without feelings of humiliation at the generally depressed condition of the schools; nor without emotions of pride, that there are men, in all the different towns in the State, who entertain such high purposes of human improvement, and are capable of furnishing the materials for so admirable a document.
The wisdom of the law providing for the reports, has been signally manifest during their perusal. Cases have been constantly occurring, where striking views, or suggestions for improvement, made by one committee and published in the last Abstract, have been extensively copied or recommended for adoption, by committees, in their reports for the present. In this way, lights, struck out in one place, have been radiated abroad, and reflected back from a hundred points. As no town can be supposed to be more enlightened and more wise than all the other towns in the State, collectively taken ; it follows, that, if any town receives no benefit from the reports of all the rest, it must be for some other reason than its own perfection.
A generalization of the contents of the reports may be given in a few words.
They abound in attestations of the value of our Common School privileges, and in a belief of the capacity of the system to work out immeasurable good, for the present and future generations.
They present full and practical details on points that are first in order, though for no other reason, first in importance ;-such as the division of territory into school districts; the principles on which the taxes, raised by the town, should be distributed; the construction and location of schoolhouses; the disastrous effects of irregular and tardy attendance, and of a diversity of books on the same branches, in school ; the necessity of a good understanding between prudential and superintending committees; the entire want of connection between a thorough knowledge of the studies required of the teachers of our schools, and a power of communicating that knowledge, or aptness to teach, and a capacity to govern; the inappreciable difference between well and illqualified teachers; the acceleration of progress, which may be derived from supplying the schools with suitable apparatus ; the value of School District Libraries ; the advantages which would accrue to the schools from a greater manifestation of parental interest in their welfare ; the clear policy of such liberal appropriations by the towns, as will save the children from losing, in a long vacation, all they may have acquired, during a short school ; the necessity of thoroughness in every branch pursued, especially in the elementary ones, as the indispensable condition of thoroughness in all others; the value of moral instruction,or rather, if I may express the idea in my own words,—the valuelessness and absolute danger of all other instruction without it ;-on these, and perhaps a very few other topics, the committees have marked out very much to be done, but have left very little to be said.
On another class of subjects, second, in point of order, but of equal, if not of paramount, importance,-such as the processes and methods for communicating real, instead of verbal, knowledge ; for setting at work and for keeping at work as many minds as there are pupils in the school-room, (or as near as possible to that number,) and thus of commencing, in school, those habits of investigation, of analysis and of proving the correctness of all mental processes, by subjecting them to some acknowledged test, which will make acquisition, through all subsequent life, at once rapid and sure ; for accustoming the intellect to perceive that it cannot make truth, but can only discover it; and for training that intellect to the discovery of those great truths, with which the material and the spiritual universe are alike filled, while the heart, at the same time, is trained to love and obey them ;-on this great department of the subject of education, scarcely any thing of detail is to be found in the reports. When the public mind shall turn its inquiries in this direction, it is believed, that far greater improvements will be realized, than any yet brought to light.
In examining the reports respecting schools, which are not kept during the whole of the year, I have observed, that, when committees are chosen at the March meeting, and therefore make report at that meet. ing, they sometimes have occasion to refer to the incompleteness of their report, because some of the schools, at that time, have not closed. But, when the committees are chosen, and of course the reports made, at the April meeting, I do not recollect that such a case has occurred. Does not this furnish a hint to towns, to choose their committees at the April meeting, or, at least, to choose them for a year, which shall begin and end in April, when the winter schools, generally, will have closed ?
In preparing the Abstract, twenty-eight days have been reckoned as one month. When returns, therefore, are made for odd days, six days or eleven half days, (as the case may be,) should be returned as seven school days, or one quarter of a month.
Twenty-five only of the towns caused their reports to be printed; of these, ten were in the county of Essex. Many of the reports would have made most excellent Tracts on the general subject of Common School Education, and the printing and circulation of them could not but have been highly useful.
I have observed, also, in a very few cases, that the amount of money, raised by taxes for the support of schools, is not equal to the sum now required by law to be raised, (that is, one dollar and twenty-five cents for
every person in town, between the ages of four and sixteen,) in order to entitle the town to its distributive share of the school fund. This fact is mentioned here, in order that any town, which has fallen into a similar error for the current year, may grant such an additional sum as necessary,
before the year expires. ' A tax for schools may be granted at any town-meeting,—the proper article for that purpose having been inserted in the warrant.
On the whole, these two Abstracts contain just the views, whose dissemination would be most useful, in the respective towns and districts. It would be impossible for the wisest man living to prepare any essay or volume, on the subject of our Common School system, so well adapted to the present wants of the community, as the selections from the school committees' reports are. Could an individual be found, who could draft something better than many of them are, (which is doubtful,) none could be found capable of presenting truths, of the most immediate importance to the schools, in such a variety of lights, and so well adapted to different minds. A perusal of them, therefore, is most earnestly commended to the friends of education throughout the State.
They should be read by school committee men, and especially by teachers. They should be read at teachers' meetings. If, during the ensuing autumn and winter, the superintending, or prudential committees would invite the members of the respective districts, or neighborhoods, to assemble at the schoolhouse, or other convenient place, for the purpose of hearing portions of them read, it would diffuse among the people, such a knowledge of existing defects, as could not fail to inspire many minds with a desire and a resolution to apply the remedies.
The reports contain facts and suggest topics for reflection, of great practical importance, in regard to the schools, but which are too numerous to be discussed here. Intending to make them the subjects of comment, in my next Annual Report, I refrain, on this occasion, from any further remarks
Secretary of the Board of Education.
Boston, Aug. 15, 1840.
NOTE. I wish to tender my acknowledgments to the Printers for the State, Messrs. DUTTON & WENTWORTH, for the despatch with which they have carried this work through the press,—without which, it would have been impossible for me to have superintended it, and to have discharged my other official duties.