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I trust, a reform will follow. We, too, have had searching reports in our country from such men as Horace Mann, and salutary have been the consequences. But what is peculiarly worthy of observation is, that the boys in the great English classical schools do obtain a most thorough and efficient, though, alas ! irregular and injurious education, while at school, utterly independent of the teachers, in a spontaneous, self-organized, most democratic manner. To accomplish this, they have professors of their own, sometimes selected from among themselves. The sciences taught are cricket and other forms of ball-playing, rowing, riding, fencing, boxing, and other athletic arts and games. The influence thus exerted on their social relations, habits of life and of thinking, are much the most efficient part of their school education.
Now, it may be that too much of this social influence is left there to chance, and to the boy's own action; and it may be that, in our schools, the absence of rank and party divisions, and the superior organization and training of the social tendency, give to them a peculiar adaptation to our republican form of government.
I do not believe that our republic would ever have existed but for public schools, or that it would now survive a single generation without them.
Our attention has often been called to the fact that the late Rebellion infatuated and controlled the
people in precise proportion with the prevalence of slavery. Where that was supreme, the Rebellion was supreme; where that existed, but was feeble, the Rebellion existed, but was feeble. This is true; but let it also be noted that the same thing can be asserted, with equal exactness, of public schools. It may be impossible to decide which exerted the greater baleful influence, slavery or ignorance, or which is the cause, and which the effect. Twin relics of barbarism, either alone would destroy the republic; and neither can exist long without some form of the other.
For this reason, the project of preventing some form of absolutism among such a people as that of Mexico, by force, is a dream of politicians, who are deceived by mere words without an analysis of facts. Mexico is not prepared for freedom, and any strong parental government, whether Austrian or French, is probably better than the self-government springing from a people degraded, licentious, and ignorant, who have had as many irregular revolutions in their government as they have had regular revolutions of the earth around the sun, since they severed their connection with the Spanish monarchy. You might as well attempt to construct a pyramid of mud, or of sand, as to make a republic like the United States out of the States of Mexico. Should the United States repel the Austrian and French, this country
must assume their place and do their work. A republic without an educated people will not live long enough to die respectably. It would be like an ox of which I once heard an old Revolutionary soldier say, that it was the only animal that the
of soldiers to which he belonged had for food in the whole of one winter, and that was so weak that they had to hold him up in order to knock him down !
This indirect advantage of our public schools, evinced in the discipline of our children and youth, and training them to obey law, and thus qualifying them to become citizens of a self-governing republic, may also be seen in another form, in the habits of genuine courtesy and politeness, which certainly ought to be inculcated in our schools.
That the education of Americans, in this regard, has been deficient, cannot be denied. Formerly, in New England, more attention was given to formal ceremony, and less attention to the true culture of the heart. Who, that has reached an age approaching half a century, cannot recall with pleasure the directions given by our teachers of the olden time, especially in the country towns, never to allow a person to pass us without giving him a friendly salutation, or, as it used to be called, “making our manners”? And who does not recall the good old custom of making a bow or courtesy to the teacher on entering and leaving the school-room? That was well in spirit,
if not in form ; but it was sadly neutralized by the harshness, the tyranny, the degrading punishments, employed by the teacher. Substantially the manners of the pupils have been greatly improved, because of a new and abiding affection that has sprung up between teacher and pupils. Formerly this affection was not so much felt till years after the connection had ceased, when time had thrown a mellow haze over long-past sorrows, and melted away the solemn vows of revenge from the pupils' hearts. But now, interest and love produce their immediate fruit in kind. Happy is the teacher who is not only kind, but faithful and honest, so that when the pupil's mind is mature, and his judgment strengthened, he will still recall with delight the character of his instructor.
The genial character of the teacher is reflected in all the scholars. It is more than reflected ; it is reproduced. The coarse and semi-brutal character of many of the teachers of our country schools, in former times, did great positive harm, and, but for the family and the Church, would have been productive of much more mischief. Of late, amid all the extreme theories of school government presented, it has come to be generally understood that teachers and pupils are not foes, but friends; that government is not designed for the gratification of one party, and the humiliation of the other, but for the convenience and profit of both.
The heart has been appealed to and developed. Naturally the social character of our institutions, of learning, has been improved. The rudimentary spelling matches have been displaced by systematic assemblages for conversation and literary exercises. Alumni associations have been organized, and the friendships of pupils — really among the strongest of unions — have been deemed worthy of perpetuation. The beneficial effects that will flow from this improvement it is difficult to over-estimate. And yet these things are never mentioned when estimating the value of our public schools ! If these premises are true, how near to the source of a people's character and power is the position of the teacher !--nearer than that of any other profession.
Often the office of a teacher has been ridiculed, and feeble persons in the profession are too sensitive on that point. Many have regretted that that popular writer, Washington Irving, should have drawn such a portrait as the long, lean, Yankee schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane. But it should be remembered that all good and noble characters are the most easily ridiculed. How laughable are the sketches of the Dutch governors made by that same Washington Irving ! Justices of the peace weighing account-books in the scales to balance accounts; Rip Van Winkles indulging in their long naps. Every good and powerful thing can be ridiculed — weak things cannot be.