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Co. for company? What is meant by the phrase "by sea ?” What course a vessel sailing from Philadelphia to New York takes? In what other way packets pass from one port to the other? and what is meant by half per cent. premium?
These questions involve no other branch of instruction than the three above named. They all relate to common subjects, which it is the very purpose of common-school instruction to enable a boy to understand; and one who has been properly laught, at the most secluded and ordinary district school, might be expected, one would think, to answer nearly or quite all of them. Is there any thing ulira or visionary in this view ? Surely not, unless the whole subject of popular instruction is ultra and visionary. If a boy learns any thing at school, it is to be presumed that he will learn such things as we have named, or, at least, such a class or kind of things.
If such an examination as this should seem impracticable, take a number of the Penny Magazine-containing knowledge especially for “the people," and ask the first intelligent-looking boy you meet, of common education, to read a passage, selected at random, and then propose to him a series of simple questions, such as are suggested above. Or, if the passage shall furnish no such questions, ask him what county he lives in ? What river is nearest to him, and where it rises and empties? Of what materials his coat is made? Who was the first president of the United States? And what is the rate of interest in the state in which he lives?
Half a dozen boys, taken indiscriminately from the mass, and interrogated in this way, would afford a pretty fair specimen of the state of popular education in any given country town of one or two thousand inhabitants.
And, after all, this is the great question that comes home to us as fathers and citizens—not where our boy or our neighbour's boy goes to school, nor how long, nor whether the mode of teaching is monitorial or anti-monitorial, nor whether the teacher is paid by tax, subscription, or fund—but how far do the boys really advance in the acquisition of that kind of knowledge which they need for the common purposes of life, and as American citizens ?
Now we venture to affirm, with great confidence, that whenever and wherever such a test is applied to our existing institutions of public instruction, their value and efficiency will be found to have been altogether overrated; that the commonschool system, (as it is called,) as at present administered in this country, is emphatically a failure; and that not one in twenty of the boys and girls, who attend upon it, is educated as the public good-nay, as the public safety and his own individual usefulness and happiness require him to be educated.
A highly respectable mechanic in Philadelphia, who employs nearly two hundred hands, informed us not long since that very few of his apprentices could read or write with any propriety; and, moreover, that it was very rare with him to find a journeyman who possessed such a common practical education as would enable him to take charge of any important branch of his business. Upon our suggesting to him the expediency of rejecting the application of uneducated boys, and so making it for the interest of parents to send their children to a good school, and to see that they were properly taught, he expressed the decided opinion that “such a course would cut off at least nineteen twentieths of the applicants, for those who are able to read and write well, seek and find employment behind the counter, or in some office or clerkship.”
In the course of five or six years past we have had occasion to know, personally, the degree of instruction received by four or five hundred lads and young men from various sections of the country; and though we have found among them many lads of excellent natural abilities and pleasing manners, at least three hundred of them have been unable to read, much less to write a common letter, with any propriety. Their acquaintance with geography, when they have pretended to any, has been very imperfect, often much worse than none; and their knowledge of the art of writing so defective as scarcely to admit of any practical application whatever. As to writing a letter of business or friendship, they might far better attempt to construct a coarse clock; and in the matter of arithmetic-although they can fix the exact limits of their proficiency by telling us just how far they have “ciphered" in Pike or Adams, and can even corroborate their statements by the exhibition of a nice book with all the answers worked out and set down in fair round numbers, to the amazement, it may be, of their grandmothers and niaiden aunts, and the unfeigned satisfaction of the gentlemen of the school committee--yet, when these same boys are called to apply their knowledge to the most common purposes of life, they are at their wits' end; and must learn late, in the school of necessity, and with the very disagreeable incentives of reproof and mortification, what they should have been well and faithfully taught in childhood, in the common school of their native town. It
may be said that, if this is a fair representation of some sections of the country, it is not true, generally. Without entering on the enquiry which is thus opened, it is enough for our present purpose, that there are no territorial bounds to ignorance. An uneducated man or woman, in whatever place or situation, is a political as well as a moral evil—for such are rarely within the range of those influences which give health
and strength to the community. They neither think, read, nor observe, profitably. Their views are circumscribed to the very last degree; and must continue so, while their means of enlarging them are so few and precarious. Under these circumstances, they are liable to contract violent prejudices. They are unable to perceive or appreciate the force of truth, and generally become the dupes of the wicked and designing. Our penitentiary discipline sometimes results in the reformation of an educated delinquent; rarely, if ever, does it reform the ignorant. There is nothing to lay hold of but the animal man. And if a rogue steals my horse, or sets my house on fire, it matters little to me who is responsible for the neglect of his education, or the growth of his evil dispositions. As we said,
, there is no local restriction upon the evils of popular ignorance.
It is pertinent to our purpose to enquire, briefly, what our common schools ought to do.
1. All the boys and girls in our country should be taught to read and spell before they are seven years old. In cities and populous towns, well-regulated infant schools would do this. One year is ample time for teaching these branches by any rational mode of instruction. In places where the population is scattered, and the facilities of assembling small children, few, the instruction might be supplied either by domestic teaching; by local or neighbourhood schools; by itinerant teachers, suitably qualified, and carrying with them the necessary apparatus; or, in the last extremity, by Sunday schools.
As to the degree of knowledge in reading and spelling, it should be such as would enable the pupil to read and spell any fairly printed paragraph, in a book suited to its comprehension. We should not think of requiring at that age (however easy of attainment it might be) such a knowledge of the art as every common school ought to furnish at an early stage of the pupil's progress; for we hold firmly; that every American child, of ordinary intelligence, should have such opportunities of schooling, that, if diligently improved, he shall be able, at ten years of age, to read with propriety the President's Annual Message, and spell correctly every pure English word in it.
It is impossible, perhaps, to estimate with any degree of accuracy, the number of adults in this country who are not able to read. Loose statements are constantly made, and some with an official sanction which rather perplex than guide our enquiries. The number is larger--very much larger--we fear, than the highest estimate we have ever seen makes it. We should be
'Infant schools have been fully incorporated into the system of public instruction in Philadelphia, and perhaps elsewhere; with what success, however, we are not fully informed.
agreeably disappointed if a thorough investigation, connected with the census-taking of 1840, would not show that upwards of one fourth of the inhabitants of the United States of ten and over, are unable to read intelligibly to themselves or others. And when we think, but for a moment, of the condition of a man who cannot read, the bare presumption that there are hundreds and thousands in this condition among us, may well awaken every kind and benevolent sympathy of our nature.
We do not say that the man who cannot read is of course useless or despicable. We know that in many sections of our country a strong mind, acute observation, and long intercourse with the world, combine to supply, in some measure, the deficiencies of education. But what shall we say when such a man comes up to the polls and casts a vote which he cannot read ! To him, the newspaper, in which the claims and qualifications of opposing candidates are discussed, is a blank sheet; and, perhaps, as our political papers are now generally conducted, this is no serious disadvantage. But the laws under which he lives, and the manner of framing and administering them, he learns only by some uncertain and imperfect, more commonly by some vexatious and ruinous process, in which he is the injured party. His warning as a soldier, his ticket as a voter, and his summons as a juror, party, or witness, are alike unintelligible to him. Some one else must examine the accounts, notes, and other evidences of debt against him; and, in short, every business transaction of his life must be recorded in his own treacherous and uncultivated memory, or by the hand of some faithful or faithless friend, as the case may be. And what degrading dependence is this! What a consciousness of inferiority-we had almost said, self-contempt-must possess a man, of any reflection, who lives in a country like ours, inundated as it is with newspapers, books, and means of knowledge-governed by the intelligence of freemen, and offering instruction to every child who will take the trouble to go a mile or two after itwhile he himself, so far as intellectual life and freedom are concerned, is a slave, chained hand and foot to the floor of a dungeon!
Such a man has no Bible. In a Christian land, encompassed on every side by Christian institutions, he is still, in a great measure, shut out from Christian irfluences. His
very eye and countenance tell us that the intellectual and immortal nature is lost in mere animality, and that the joys and hopes and consolations which the gospel reveals, are, before him, like pearls before swine. He may instinctively rejoice with the birds and beasts in the pleasant warmth of the sun, even while he is ignorant and incapable of learning; but the moment he is endued with the power to read what have been the thoughts and feelings of
other men and other ages, he is raised to his place among intellectual beings, and feels at once that he is introduced to a new world.
We contend that this ignorance of which we have spoken is not a necessary evil, and that the reproach of it lies upon society, and not upon the unhappy individuals themselves. There is some defect in our laws of education, or in their execution, if any boy or girl, of competent ability to learn, grows up ignorant of the art of reading.
2. All our boys and girls have a right to skilful instruction in the art of writing; and they should receive it at the common school. The practice of employing teachers of writing, as a separate branch, has excluded it, very much, from the routine of common-school exercises. Every teacher should be adjudged unfit to take charge of a common school, who cannot instruct his pupils, thoroughly, in the art of making a pen, preparing ink, and using them both with propriety; for this degree of knowledge is indispensably necessary to the discharge of the ordinary duties of a citizen, and should therefore be readily obtained at a common school. An inspection of the documents of various municipal offices, such as the receipts, orders, reports, accounts, records, &c. of commissioners, guardians, administrators, arbitrators, and magistrates, will show what popular education, in this branch, has been ; and where is the evidence of material improvement? Surely we are within bounds when we say that to write a common business letter, promissory note, receipt, bill, or account, legibly and in proper form, is the least that should be required of our common schools in this department.
3. In the science of numbers, such instruction should be furnished by our common schools as shall qualify the pupil for the ordinary business of a farmer, or mechanic. This would, of course, embrace the simple rules of arithmetic-addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, reduction, fractions, proportion, interest, &c. We would not give a single straw for nine tenths of the teaching of common schools in this branch. Most of the text-books in common use are framed upon obviously irrational principles. The abstract rules are committed to memory, and the process of applying them duly noted in what is called a “ciphering book," where every sum is fairly 6 worked out," and the written answer is made, per fas, aut nefas, to correspond with the answer in print. But who needs to be told that when a knowledge of figures is required, in the emergency of business, the poor schoolboy must begin anew ? We have been surprized, when enquiring of engineers, surveyors, navigators, accountants, &c. &c., to find how very little VOL. XX-NO. 40.