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THE TEACHING OF MORAL AND POLITICAL
DUTIES IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
BY THEODORE DWIGHT WOOLSEY, D. D., PRESIDENT OF YALE COLLEGE.
I REMEMBER the impression made on me many years since by the power, which Mr. Carlyle displays in his work on Chartism, of depicting social evils, compared with his impotence in suggesting remedies for them. It is not without the fear of exposing myself to similar criticisms that I appear before the association to-day. I have undertaken to speak on moral instruction in schools, and yet practical experience and skill in suggesting ways of meeting difficulties are failing to me. I seem myself to see the great importance of such instruction ; but how it can be best conducted, I hardly know. Still a person who is not master of a subject on all points may discuss it to advantage, if he can succeed in stimulating those who are more likely than himself to devise processes for removing difficulties, and for perfecting methods of teaching. In the hope of being able thus to arouse the minds of others, I throw myself on the indulgence of my audience, composed of experienced teachers, while I speak on the importance of moral instruction in public schools, of what has been done to forward such instruction, and on the methods which may be used to give it a more prominent place in our educational system.
1. Were all families thoroughly leavened with the spirit of Christianity, the children of the Commonwealth would have comparatively little need of moral instruction in the public schools. There would, indeed, even in such a golden age, be some need of training the young for the high political duties to which they would soon be called, for the best heads of families may not always have intelligence enough to lead the way in such teaching. But a large number of the children in our schools grow up under influences in the family adverse to the practice of morality, or not likely to foster any of those higher sentiments with which the welfare of the State is connected. The first necessity, then, laid on the school, is to supply the defects, or undo the evils of family neglect. This is a necessity, laid on the State, of very great moment. There are hundreds of families, even of native extraction, scattered through New England, for whom the Church opens its doors in vain, whose heads bring up their children in entire ignorance of their duties, except so far as the conservation of family life renders it essential to give such instruction, while within the household examples of intemperance, anger, dishonesty, and impurity, are beyond measure corrupting. Some children of this kind can be brought by the benevolent into Sunday schools, and there will have training in morals on the best of all foundations; but there still remain many householders who will neither go to Church themselves, nor send their offspring to the Sunday school; who, as is always the case with the degraded among Protestants, rather hate religion than neglect it; whom the voluntary principle in religion corrupts, because they can only make a bad use of their freedom; whom their political rights corrupt, because they cast their votes malignantly, or with blind confidence in the designing.
To this class of children who are depraved at home, and whom the State must teach the principles of morality, for its own peace and self-preservation, if for no other reason, may be added another class, which is allowed to roam about at will, through the neglect or misjudgment of parents. Some few parents will not exercise control, lest the manly spirit of the child be checked. His mind must remain a blank tablet until he can form his own opinions and choose his own course. A much larger number will be so engrossed with the cares of business or the family, that the older children are left to themselves, are not overlooked in their choice of company, or even governed as it regards the employment of their time. Such parents, whose consciences are insensible to their own violations of a very high duty, will not be found apt to inculcate the principles of morality on their children.*
Besides the two classes of children already named, who must get almost all their conceptions of morality from the schools founded by the State, a very large part of the children who are educated need instruction in two departments of morals -- in political rights and duties, and in the rules of honorable action. I will speak of these in order.
In regard to the very important subject of political ethics, I must content myself with expressing two or three leading thoughts, which will, I trust, commend themselves to all my hearers.
* It is well if such parents can shove off the moral training of their children upon the teacher in the Sunday school. And in this institution there is found the great advantage of a connection between morality and religion. Yet it ought not to be forgotten that if Sunday schools are substitutes for family instruction in the highest things, if they are anything more than refuges for the neglected, or supplements for what is done at home by the conscientious and religious parent, they are evils and snares in society. They help to destroy the dignity of the family, as the fountain of truth; they unburden the consciences of parents of their just responsibility ; they perpetuate the evil of family neglect in the next generation. No parent, who has the power to teach his child religion and morality, has any right to think that he has fulfilled his duty by transferring the child to a Sunday school.
First. Is it not an absurdity for the State to call its citizens to a high political trust, without taking the slightest pains to qualify them for the discharge of their obligations ? A great part of them can learn these obligations nowhere else, and, having never been trained to discuss questions of duty in other departments of morality, will not be likely to do so in this. Is it not probable, that, if the poor whites in the South had had moral and intellectual training in schools, our great convulsions of late would neither have existed nor have been necessary ?
Secondly. Freedom to vote can never be a real blessing to the voter or the country, unless he does his work with a good conscience. No one can use his freedom well unless he uses it as he ought. He must, then, have a general notion of what is dependent on his vote, of the principles and aims of parties, of the supreme demands of the country above all local interests. He must have such an enlightened moral sense, that anything immoral or flagitious in party measures shall strike him with abhorrence ; that repudiation, for instance, or unjust war, or violation of treaties, or political or social oppressions, shall seem to him worse even than kindred crimes committed by private persons.
The final end why the conception of rights is implanted in man is this : that each one may feel the obligation to respect the rights of others. To every