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LECTURE VI.

ON THE PRESENT CONDITION AND WANTS OF COMMON

SCHOOLS.

BY REV. L. W. LEONARD, D. D.,

OF DUBLIN, N. H.

Nothing prospers in this world without care and attention. To succeed in the best manner, much labor and pains-taking are necessary. With regard to the success of common or free schools, as they are constituted in the New England and other States, this is especially necessary. All who engage in the enterprise of improving them, or, to use a common phrase, are in earnest "to raise the standard of popular education," must adopt and apply the poet's expression, "Learn to labor and to wait." Without

" . persevering effort and due confidence of success, little or no progress will be made. Many obstacles are to be encountered, and in attempting to remove them, there will be frequent failures, and, of course, frequent discouragements. But failures and discouragements in this enterprise, not more than in others,

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success.

should lead to despair. Our motto should be, "Hope on, hope ever.”

The institution of common schools is admitted by all to be of vast importance. The welfare of communities, of states, even of the nation, depends upon its

But has it not already been successful ? No one will say that it has been unsuccessful—that it has failed altogether of its object. Neither will any one say that it has done all that it might and should have done. It has fallen far short of this. The investigations of the last ten or fifteen years afford the most convincing evidence that much must be done before our common schools will become what, with due interest and effort, they are capable of becoming.

But what is the present condition of common free schools, and what is wanted to make that condition better? This is the subject on which I propose to make a few remarks.

a Common schools, in general, it is believed, in nearly all places where they are established, are in a progressive state of improvement. The difference, however, between the best and the poorest schools is very great. None are so good as they might be, some are doing very well, some indifferently well, some are merely tolerable, and some are positively bad, doing more harm than good. Few schools, however, maintain a uniform character. They change from year to year, the good becoming less good, if not bad, and the bad becoming better. The causes of this mixed and variable state of things have been freely and fully set forth and discussed during the years recently passed. The reports of school committees and boards of education for the current year afford ample proof that poor school-houses, incompetent teachers, uninterested parents, careless supervision, loose discipline, and superficial instruction, are still operating as causes to hinder the due progress of pupils in many of our schools. Few schools, it may be, are wholly free

. from some of these hindrances in some of their forms.

But to be more particular. Look at the actual state of things, as manifested in a large proportion of the towns in New England, or, at least, in New Hampshire. I do not now refer to villages, where pupils are divided into classes in separate schoolswhere the pupils, in the first stages of their progress, are placed under the care of teachers, who adapt themselves to their special wants, but to the mass of schools in farming towns, where all ages and grades are assembled in the same room. If

you were to look into these towns on some Monday morning in the month of May, you would see groups of children wending their way to the school-house, their ages varying from four to fourteen. Among these children would be found many who never before left the paternal roof for such a purpose. They move onward with different feelings, according to their different prepossessions. Holding the hand of an elder sister or brother, some are filled with happy anticipations from the encouraging words which have been spoken to make them willing to go; or they are incited by the hope of seeing something new, and of enjoying new sports. Others, it may be, go unwillingly. They have heard of the severity of teachers, of the necessity of sitting very still, of punishments inflicted for improper behavior in school and their hearts are beating with fearful apprehensions. They enter

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the room where they are to take the first steps of learning in a public school. All are seated-some most uncomfortably; silence is enjoined, and the exercises begin. In due time, these young pupils are called out upon the floor. Some of them, perhaps, have learned at home the names of the alphabetic characters; others are ignorant of them, or know them but imperfectly. Now, upon the first steps taken with these children very much depends, with regard to their future progress. Too often, even at the present day, teachers pursue the old method of pointing to the letters, and asking and telling their names in alphabetical order. It may not be that the number of teachers, who are so much behind the times, is great, but there are some scattered here and there over our land. There should not be one. Who that was taught the alphabet in this way, does not remember how almost insupportably irksome it was to stand and look and answer till the pointer came to the bottom of the long column, and how glad he was to be permitted to sit again upon his seat, however uncomfortable !

Many teachers, indeed, take the letters and tell their names out of alphabetical order, yet go over the whole twenty-six at one exercise. This method is little, if any, better than the other. A large majority of teachers, however, it is believed, reject both these methods, and adopt such as have been recommended in recent times; some teaching words in the first instance, and others teaching the names of a few letters and forming them into words at the same time, and so proceeding till the whole alphabet is learned. I have seen the best success attained by this last me

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thod. But even with the best methods, with the help of slates and pencils and black-boards, the teaching of the alphabet is often performed in a clumsy manner—the natural tones of the voice are changed into sing-song, and an indistinct and incorrect articulation acquired, which it is hard to amend by the best subsequent efforts.

It may seem, to some persons, that I attribute too much importance to methods of teaching the alphabet. But it should be remembered, that the habits and impressions of children are lasting. By a wrong or careless method of teaching the alphabet, not only the literary progress of a child may be hindered, but its moral feelings may be injured, a perverseness of spirit may be excited and nurtured, and a dislike of the school-room and its exercises created. Those who have been familiar with schools, in which there were young children, must have seen examples of this kind. More attention, therefore, should be paid to the initiatory step in the art of reading. More pains should be taken to make the learning of the alphabet interesting. More apparatus of various kinds is wanted to aid the teacher in his work of occupying and interesting young children.

As soon as children have learned the letters of the alphabet, the next step is to teach them to call words at sight. The importance of being able to do this with ease and facility is too little understood, or, at least, not sufficiently regarded. Some pupils, as all know, learn to read much more readily than others; not, as I believe, because they have stronger minds, or minds capable of higher cultivation, but because they perceive more quickly the forms of letters, and

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