Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

Now I rejoice at the establishment of every institution for the education of youth; whether it be for the benefit of one or a thousand, if it can be conducted upon better principles of government and instruction than those which generally prevail. It is matter of congratulation that there are some among us, who feel the need of better schools; and I am one of the most hearty admirers of the private enterprize, which would endeavour to supply so important a public demand. I appreciate fully, too, the efforts of Those who have founded and conducted our public Academies. But, it is most deeply to be regretted, that their plans are quite so much tinctured with the notions of the last century, and, that the systems of instruction and government, which they adopt, do not partake more largely of the modern and improved ideas of education. The energy of their boards of directors, too, is frequently much impaired by the struggles among individuals to adjust oppo- site views and conflicting interests. And the fear of innovation hangs like an incubus upon many, and paralizes the efforts of all, even of those who have thrown it off.

Better schools and better instruction are demanded, than the academies in their present state afford. And they must soon be supplied. It is certainly to be regretted, that these public demands exist to so great an extent, and that they are every day increasing. It may here, without impertinence, be suggested to those who control the public academies, that if those establishments were put in the condition in which it should seem they might easily be put, they would meet the wants of even the most discriminating, and anticipate the opening of private schools of a higher character. If those wants exist, it is certainly better that they should be supplied by private schools, than not at all. But it would be much more for the interest of the community, if they could be supplied or anticipated by public ones. Not because it is any evil, that a few scholars are withheld from the public schools, and better provided for in private ones. But every private establishment, which is so far superior to the public ones, as to draw off a portion of the patronage which would otherwise be bestowed upon them, detaches a portion of the community from the great mass, and weakens or destroys their interest in those means of education which are common to the whole people.

tate of society more intelligent purses of peopith their

sufficienty more inteli: security and good of an

The character and influence of this enlightened and efficient part of the community, who thus secede from the whole, will be found in the end, when, perhaps, it is too late to remedy the evil, to be a loss, which has not yet been duly estimated. Their property may be, cheerfully, yielded to support the public schools, but their wisdom is needed to direct them. The remote good of an improved state of society, and the security and happiness of being surrounded by more intelligent neighbours, may, for a time, be sufficient to control the purses of people, but their hearts will most surely follow and abide with their own children. Now if the public academies, or at least some of them, be not new modelled and improved so as to meet the demands of even those, who demand the most, there must inevitably a portion of interest in them, soon secede from their support. And by the by, (may it be at some very distant day) when our population comes to be crowded; when our numbers have become so great as to press hard upon the means of subsistence; when property comes to be more unequally distributed than it now is; when the rich become more insolent and the poor more depressed, more hungry, and more factious; then will jealousies arise, and grow strong, between the different classes of the community; then will the children of the higher classes be contaminated by contact with those of the lower; then will general and public interest yield to particular and private interest; then will a large portion of the property be withheld from the means of popular education, or be extorted from unwilling owners; then will the several classes, being educated differently and without a knowledge of each 'other, imbibe mutual prejudices and hatreds, and entail them upon posterity from generation to generation. This may be refining a little too much, or looking a little too deeply into futurity, but it is the natural tendency of things, upon sound principles of political reasoning. Circumstances may conspire to hasten or retard the time, but the time will come, when those who hold most property, will not be so zealous, as they now are, to urge it upon others for their better education. Charity between individuals, is soon tired, when it begins to be abused. And a policy in government, however generous and noble it may be, operating in favour of the more ignorant and the weaker part of the community at the expense of the wiser and the stronger,

d by conthe child different wil jealoudepressed,

will soon be abandoned, when it begins to be perverted. May our rulers look to this natural and powerful tendency of things, and check it while it may be checked ; or counteract its influence as far as it may be counteracted. And what means are there so likely to do this as an efficient system of popular education, which shall bring out and put in vigorous action and keep in constant and struggling competition the greatest amount of intellect among all classes !

ESSAY IV.

ACADEMIES AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON THE FREE SCHOOLS.

The academies were unknown in Massachusetts before the revolution. The oldest of these institutions is Phillips' Academy at Andover, the date of whose charter is 1780. Before this time, all public schools, it should seem, were also free. The number of these seminaries or high schools did not much increase for many years after the close of the revolutionary war. But, during a short period, about ten or fifteen years since, they were multiplied to a very greatextent. The people of Massachusetts, always desirous of following the policy of the pilgrims of Plymouth in regard to schools, seemed for a time absurdly to suppose, that they had but to get an academy incorporated and established in their neighbourhood, and that their children would be educated without farther trouble. But in this too sanguine expectation, they have been most of them somewhat disappointed. An act of incorporation has not been found, on experiment, to be quite so efficacious as was, at first, anticipated. And many of these institutions, which, in the imagination of their projectors, rose at once almost to the dignity of colleges, are now found in a very inefficient, indeed, in a most wretched condition.

The legislature of the State, then willing and anxious to encourage “ learning and good morals” among the people,-a duty, which the constitution solemnly enjoins upon them,-by all means in their power, granted as many acts of incorporation as were petitioned for; and to many of these corporations, in token of their good will, they appropriated townships of land in the interiour and northerly part of Maine, which then formed a part of Massachusetts. Some of these townships of land, by the way, it is to be feared

may be found on the wrong side of the boundary line to be drawn between Maine and the British Provinces. So far as this policy evinced a desire to encourage the diffusion of knowledge, it should receive the commendation, which good intentions always deserve; but, for all practical purposes for perhaps fifty years from the date of these charters and appropriations, the legislature might about as well have assigned to the petitioners for them a tract of the Moon.

When these hungry corporate beings had been created by the legislature, and their first cries for sustenance had been soothed by the unsavoury dish of eastern lands, they were then abandoned to the charity of their friends; or, if they proved cold, to a lingering death by starvation. The eastern lands, which constituted the patrimony of the State, were in most cases utterly unavailable. The benevolence of friends was, generally, exhausted in accumulating the means to erect suitable buildings. And the corporation were left to rely upon their own sagacity for procuring other resources to put their institution in operation. The more essential, indeed, almost the only essential part of a good academy, viz: a good instructer, was left unprovided for. The only expedient which remained, was, to support the teacher by a tax upon the scholars. It seemed but reasonable that those, who cajoyed the exclusive benefit of the institution, should pay for their own instruction. But this condition, though perhaps but a small sum was required of each pupil in order to produce an adequate salary for an instructer, removed the advantages of the academies, at once, beyond the reach of a large proportion of the inhabitants. The appropriations of the State, therefore, for the support of these schools, if they benefitted any body in particular, surely benefitted not the poor, but the rich and middling classes of the community. At least, these enjoyed the chief advantage of them, the direct rays of the State's favour; while the poor could feel only a dim reflection of them.

That the academies, at least, those of them which have been put and sustained in a tolerably respectable condition, have been a great accommodation to a few of our inhabitants, cannot be doubted. And how few are those, who have received any advantages from them, may be easily estimated by comparing the small number of children instructed in them, with the whole number in the Commonwealth. Still these are, or may be, useful institutions.

« ForrigeFortsett »