Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

the bounty of individuals for two centuries have accumulated on this favored seat of learning, in the shape of funds for carrying on the work of instruction (and I do not include the cost of buildings, cabinets, and libraries in reference to the University, as I have not included the cost of school-houses, apparatus, and libraries in reference to the schools), does not yield so large a sum annually, as the city of Cambridge appropriates to support this system of common school education.

WHAT COMMON-SCHOOL EDUCATION DOES.

I certainly cannot on this occasion, and in the few minutes' time still left me, undertake to treat this mighty theme in all its bearings; but I do not despair, even in a few sentences, of suggesting to you the great points of the argument. I will take school education in its common simple acceptation, as confined to reading and writing (in which I include speaking and composition), arithmetic, and the elements of natural philosophy; and I believe the extension to a whole community of the means of obtaining such an education without cost, is sufficient to effect all I ascribe to it. It is scarcely necessary to say that I do not, in these statements, hold up education as a creative cause. I take into the account the spontaneous coöperation of the mysterious principle of intelligence, with all its perceptive faculties, bestowed and quickened by the Author of our being ; just as the farmer, when he describes the effect of the various processes of husbandry, includes the coöperation of those inscrutable E. of vegetable growth, which philosophy strives in vain to analyze, ut without which not an ear of corn is ripened. With this explanation I say, sir, that common reading and writing, that is, in a word, the use of language as a system of visible and audible signs of thought, is the great prerogative of our nature as rational beings. I say that when we have acquired the mastery of this system of audible and visible signs, we have done the greatest thing, as it seems to me, as far as intellect is concerned, which can be done by a rational man. It is so common that we do not much reflect upon it; but, like other common things, it hides a great mystery of our nature. When we have learned how, by giving an impulse with our vocal organs to the air, by making a few black marks on a piece of paper, to establish a direct sympathy between our invisible and spiritual essence and that of other men, so that they can see and hear what is passing in our minds, just as if thought and feeling themselves were visible and audible, – not only so, when in the same way we establish a communication between mind and mind in ages and countries the most remote, we have wrought a miracle of human power and skill, which I never reflect upon without awe. Can we realize, sir, that in this way we have, through the medium of the declamation of these children, been addressed this morning by Demosthenes and Cicero, by Burke and Fox 7 Well, sir, all this is done by writing, reading and speaking. It is a result of these simple operations. When you tell me a boy has learned to read, you tell me that he has entered into an intellectual partnership not only with every living contemporary, but with every mind ever created that has left a record of itself on the pages of science and literature; and when he has learned to write, he has acquired the means of speaking to generations and ages that will exist a thousand years hence. It all comes back to the use of language. The press, the electric telegraph, are only improvements in the mode of communication. The wonderful thing is that the mysterious significance of thought, the invisible action of spirit, can be embodied in sounds and signs addressed to the eye and ear. Instead of wondering that among speaking, writing, and reading men you have occasionally a Shakspeare, a Bacon, or a Franklin, my wonder is to see these boys and girls, after a few years' training, able to express, in written marks and spoken sounds, the subtlest shades of thought, and that in two or three languages. The next branch of common-school education is arithmetic, the science of numbers, the elements of mathematics. This is in reality a branch of the great department of language, a species of composition ; but of so peculiar a nature as to constitute a separate science. This is another of the great master-keys of life. With it the astronomer opens the depths of the heavens; the engineer, the gates of the mountains; the navigator, the pathways of the deep. The skilful arrangement, the rapid handling of figures, is a perfect magician's wand. The mighty commerce of the United States, foreign and domestic, passes through the books kept by some thousands of diligent and faithful clerks. Eight hundred bookkeepers, in the Bank of England, strike the monetary balances of half the civilized world. Their skill and accuracy in applying the common rules of arithmetic are as important as the enterprise and capital of the merchant, or the industry and courage of the navigator. I look upon a well-kept ledger with something of the pleasure with which I gaze on a picture or a statue. It is a beautiful work of art. It is by arithmetical rules, and geometrical diagrams, and algebraical formulae, that the engineer digs an underground river-channel for an inland lake, and carries a stream of fresh water into every house in a crowded capital. Many a slate-full of vulgar fractions has been figured out, to enable our neighbors in Boston to sip a glass of Cochituate ; and I suppose, sir, a good many of the citizens of Cambridge think it is pretty nearly time that we should go to work on the same sum.

Then come the elements of natural philosophy and natural science, the laws of organic and inorganic nature, of which something is taught in our common schools. Is it wonderful that a community, in which this knowledge is diffused, should multiply itself a hundred-fold: I mean is it wonderful that one welltaught man should do the work of uninstructed thousands? Mythology tells us of Briareus with his hundred hands, and Argus with his hundred eyes; but these are only faint images of the increased strength and sharpened vision which knowledge imparts to the well educated. Mr. Agassiz sees a great deal more with his two eyes than Argus did with his hundred. Mr. Bond beholds a satellite of Neptune in the depths of the heavens, three thousand millions of miles from the sun, a body perhaps not five hundred miles in diameter, as easily as the diver beholds a pearl oyster in seven fathoms of water. No Titan that fought with Jupiter, and piled Ossa upon Pelion, had as much strength in his arm, as the engineer has in his thumb and finger, when he turns the screw that lets the steam into the cylinder of his engine. What is there in the Arabian Nights like the skill of the Metallurgist, who converts a shapeless piece of iron ore into the mainspring of a watch? What was there in Michael Scott's book to compare with the practical necromancy of the chemist?

Now these are branches of knowledge of which the elements are taught at our schools; and need I urge that such a control of the signs of thought, such a possession of the keys of knowledge, such a consciousness of power over nature as results from this acquaintance with her mysteries, is quite sufficient in the aggregate to give a character to a community; not certainly to produce wonderful effects in each individual, but in their united and continuous operation to promote the prosperity of a State.

CONDITIONS OF A GOOD SCHOOL.

These liberal pecuniary appropriations, however, are but the first step ; they give you school-houses, school-libraries, apparatus, and fuel, and the salaries of teachers; but the teachers themselves are not to be had merely by paying for them. A class of skilful, accomplished, and conscientious teachers can only be gradually formed. They must be men and women, a considerable part of them, who have chosen the work of education as the business of their lives; who give to it their time, their abilities, and their hearts. Such a class of teachers is not to be had by asking for it. It must form itself in the bosom of an intelligent and virtuous community, that knows how to prize them, that holds them in high esteem, as some of its most honored public servants. There are portions of our country, in which, if you were to stud them thick with our beautiful school-houses, with all their appliances, apparatus, and libraries, you could not work the system for want of teachers, nor get the teachers merely by advertising for them. Sir, I say it for no purpose of compliment in this place; the school-teachers in this community constitute a class inferior in respectability to no other, rendering the most important services, by no means over-compensated, rather the reverse. I consider their character and reputation as a part of the moral treasure of the public, which we cannot prize too highly.

Closely connected with the teacher, and of the utmost importance in a good school system, is the school committee, a most efficient part of the educational machinery. Much of the prosperity of our schools depends upon these committees. They stand between all the interests, parents, pupils, and the public ; connect them all, mediate between them all. An intelligent committee is the teacher's great ally. They witness his labors, and mark the proficiency of the pupils. They counsel him in cases of doubt; share or assume the responsibility in cases of difficulty. A community may think itself highly favored when gentlemen of respectability in the several professions, and in the active callings of life, can be found, as in the city of Cambridge at the present time, to undertake this laborious and responsible office. Nor will an efficient school system readily be sustained where this cannot be done. I own, sir, I witness with admiration the spectacle of gentlemen, whom I know to be burdened with heavy and incessant duties of their own, and are yet willing, day after day, and week after week, in summer and in winter, to devote themselves to a laborious, thorough, and conscientious examination of the schools; besides looking in upon them frequently, and being always accessible for counsel and direction, in the intervals of the periodical visitations. But, sir, all this is not enough. In order that the school should prosper, no small part of the work must be done at home. Let the father and the mother, who think that their child has made but little progress at school, bear this in mind. I am almost tempted to say, without intending a paradox, that half of the government, if not of the instruction of the school, must be done at home. This I will say, that if nothing is done at home to support the teacher, his labor is doubled. The parent must take an interest in his boy's or his girl’s pursuits, and let that interest be seen. It is shocking to reflect how often the child is sent to school “to get him out of the way.” There will be no good schools in the community where that is the prevalent motive. No, he must be sent there for his good and yours. Your heart must go with him. He is not an alien and a plague, to be got rid of for so many hours. He is a part of yourself; what he learns, you learn ; it is your own continued existence, in which you love yourself with a heavenly disinterestedness. And yet you are not to let your parental fondness blind you. Do not listen to every tale of childish grievance against the master. The presumption is, that nine times out of ten the grievance is imaginary ; in truth, the presumption is always so, generally the fact is so. Then, too, the parent's coöperation is of the utmost importance in other ways. For many of the short-comings of scholars, the arents are the party to blame. It is their fault, if he stays at home for a reath of cold air or a drop of rain. It is the fault of a father or mother, if the poor child cannot get his breakfast in season, or if his clothes are not in wearing condition. Let the child see betimes that, in the opinion of his parents, going to school is one of the most important things to be attended to in the course of the day, and he will so regard it himself.

HALF A CENTURY AGO.

In fact, Mr. Chairman, there are few things in which the rapid progress of the country is so apparent as in its institutions for education. The learned Secretary of the Board of Education (Rev. Dr. Sears) has just alluded to the defects of the schools in some remote parts of the Commonwealth, unfavorably situated in this respect. I dare say his representations are correct ; but the younger part of this audience would not believe me, no one scarcely whose own recollection did not confirm it would believe me, if I were to describe the state of what were called good schools when I was myself a school-boy, more years ago, Mr. Chairman, than I believe I shall tell you. I allude to the condition of the best public schools of that day. The instruction in what are commonly called the English branches was confined to reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, and geography, all taught according to very defective methods, and with the help of poor manuals. The books for reading and speaking were either foreign, some of them consisting of matter selected without judgment and taste, and ill-adapted to this country, or, if of domestic manufacture, not much better adapted, on that account, to form the taste of the young American speaker or reader. In fact, our native literature, at that time, afforded but scanty materials for a useful and interesting selection. In grammar, we had a very imperfect abridgment of a work of but moderate merit in its original form. For arithmetic we depended on the work of Pike. I desire to speak respectfully of it, as I learned from it what little I learned at all of the noble science of numbers ; and, in fact, in the elementary rules, there cannot be room for much diversity of method. But good or bad, there were few schools that carried the pupil far beyond the Rule of Three. Single and double fellowship was rather a rare attainment, and alligation, medial and alternate, a thing to talk of . As for logarithms, geometry and its various applications, and algebra, they belonged to a terra incognita, of which no school-boy ever heard, who had not an older brother at college. As to the blackboard, I never heard of such a thing at school. Geography was taught, at that day, from very imperfect compends; it was confined to a rehearsal of a few meagre facts in physical geography, and a few barren statistical details, which ceased to be true while you were repeating them. The attention of the learner was never called to the philosophy of this beautiful branch of knowledge; he was taught nothing of the relations in which man stands to the wonderful globe on which he is placed. No glimpse was given him of the action and reaction upon each other, in this department of knowledge, of nature and man. A globe, I believe, I never saw at a public school near enough to touch it. I am not sure that I was ever in the same room with one, at that period of my life, though I will not speak with entire confidence on that point. A large and accurate map was never exhibited in school fifty years ago. I do not speak of such beautiful maps as those now constructing under the superintendence of Professor Guyot, with their admirable ethnographical indications, isothermal lines, vegetable boundaries, oceanic currents, and careful delineations of those breaks in the mountain chains, which have determined the paths of civilization. I do not speak of these refinements with which the eyes of the young student of geography are daily feasted at the present day, but of large, distinct, well-executed maps of any kind ; I never saw one at school. The name of natural or moral philosophy was never heard in our English schools at that day; it was much if some small smattering of those branches was taught in the upper classes at our best academies. The same may be said of all the branches of natural science, such as chemistry, zoölogy, and botany, which have been so well unfolded to you at the High School during the last two years, partly in the stated routine of instruction, and partly in the admirable lectures kindly given to you by Professor Agassiz. There was no philosophical or scientific apparatus furnished at the schools in my day, with the exception, as I remember, in a single instance, of a rickety gimcrack that was called a planetarium, and showed how the heavenly bodies do not move. As for a school library, with which, my young friends, you are so well provided, there was not in any school I ever attended so much as half a dozen books bearing that name. There was indeed at the académy at Exeter, which it was my good fortune to attend for a few months before I entered college, a library, containing, I believe, some valuable, though probably rather antiquated volumes. It was my privilege, while I was a pupil, never to see the inside of that apartment; privilege, l say, sir, for it was the place where the severer discipline of the institution, in rare cases of need, was administered.

Hinc exaudiri gemitus, et sava sonare
Verbera.

We, little fellows, sir, got to have the most disagreeable associations with the very name of library. I ought to add, in justice to our honored preceptor, good Dr. Abbott, that the use of the library for any such purpose was a very rare occurrence. He possessed the happy skill, Mr. Smith, which I am gratified to say has not died with him, of governing a school by persuasion and influence, and not by force and terror.

As to the learned languages and classical literature generally, they were very poorly taught in those days. I do not like to speak disparagingly of men and things gone by. The defects were at least vitia aevi non hominum, but defects they were of the grossest kind. The study of the Latin and Greek was confined to cursory reading of the easier authors; a little construing and parsing, as we called it. The idiom and genius of the languages were not unfolded to us; nor the manner of the different writers; nor the various illustrative learning necessary to render the text which was read, intelligible. We got the lesson to recite, and that was all. Of Prosody, we were taught little; of versification nothing. I was never set to make an hexameter or a pentameter verse at any school, or, I may add, college, in my life ; nor did I ever do it, till I was old enough to have children at school, who asked my assistance.

As for text-books and editions, they were all foreign, and, I may add, compared with those of the present day, both native and foreign, all poor. Master Cheever's Accidence, Corderius, and Eutropius, with an English translation in parallel columns, were the books with which the study of Latin was commenced half a century ago.

Such were the schools ; and the school-houses were in keeping with them ; for the most part cheerless and uninviting in the extreme ; cold in winter, hot in summer, without ventilation, destitute of everything required for accommodation, comfort, or health.

WACATION.

But it is fully time to close these remarks ; let me do it with a single word of counsel to our young friends, who are still to enjoy the advantages of this institution, — a bit of advice suggested by one of the laws of our nature. The force of habit is very great. I remember hearing an anecdote of one of the members of the Massachusetts Convention of 1820, who was so regular in his daily attendance, that he went up to the State-house the day after the convention was dissolved, and wondered his colleagues did not appear. Now, I hardly suppose any of you will actually go down to the school-house in vacation, but if you should be tempted to continue in the holidays your habit of studying six, eight, or ten hours a day, as you do in term-time, let me caution you against it. Such uninterrupted exertion all the year round will not be good for your health. Give yourselves a little repose as a matter of duty. If your parents propose to you some little excursion, do not churlishly refuse. Take the times and seasons as they come along, enjoy term-time as much as you please, but do not murmur at vacation. Make it a season of relaxation, and, if possible, of pleasure, in order that, when it is over, you may rush back to your duties with a keener zest. With this parting counsel, I bid you, my young friends, an affectionate farewell, and tender to you, Mr. Smith, and you, gentlemen of the committee, my best wishes for the continued prosperity of the Cambridge High School.

[These historical reminiscences are selected from different addresses made by Mr. Everett when President of the University at Cambridge, at the annual exhibition of the High School in that town, and from other addresses made at the Boston School Festival, and at one of the meetings of the alumni of Harvard College. The passages on the “Conditions of a Good School,” and on “Vacation,” are also taken from the addresses at the Cambridge High School.]

PopULAR EDUCATION AND sound SCIENCE.”

But it is more than time to proceed to the second point, which I proposed briefly to illustrate, – the favorable influence of the extension of the means of education, and the diffusion of knowledge, on the progress of sound science. It is a pretty common suggestion, that while the more abundant means of popular education, existing at the present day, may have occasioned the diffusion of a considerable amount of superficial knowledge, the effect has been unfavorable to the growth of profound science. I am inclined to think this view of the subject entirely erroneous, – an inference by no means warranted by the premises from which it is drawn. It is no doubt true, that, in consequence of the increased facilities for education, the number of students of all descriptions, both readers and writers, is almost indefinitely multiplied, and with this in

* From an address delivered before the literary societies of Amherst College, Aug. 25, 1835.

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »