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The correctness of the views set forth in the foregoing extracts are confirmed by documents proceeding from other sources. In an "Address to the parents and guadians of children respecting common schools in Windham County," prepared by a committee, (George Sharpe, Samuel J. May, and Jonathan A. Welch,) appointed by a County Convention held in the autumn of 1832, are the following
It was the undivided opinion of all present, that the obvious insufficiency of our schools to accomplish the purpose, for which they were instituted, is owing not more to the want of science, skill, method, and fidelity on the part of the teachers, than to the too general indifference of the parents and guardians of children, and their slowness to co-operate with the teachers and school visitors.
Your reluctance to attend the meetings of your school societies, and of your districts; and the manner in which you too generally transact the business of these meetings, would alone sustain us in all we have said. How often are heard excuses like these: "The meeting can do the business without us, and we may as well stay at home. We care not who are chosen on the district or visiting committees if we are not." Is this an exaggerated expression of the indifference which is really felt by you generally? You would not however be thus reluctant to attend a political meeting, or one respecting a road; yet the business of such meetings, might be done as well without you, as could the business of your school society or district. Is it not then evident, that you take a more decided and immediate interest in other concerns, (really of less moment,) than you do in the education of your children? If you felt as you ought to feel in respect to this, would you, could you voluntarily be absent at a time when the community, in which you live, will be called upon to elect the public guardians of our highest and most boasted privileges? Would not you rather be very careful to be present, and exert yourselves to secure the election of the most judicious and faithful men, that can be prevailed on to accept the charge? And would you not show at least so much interest in the welfare of schools, as to require from those to whom you have committed the care of them, a full report of their condition and prospects?
But we have other facts to alledge against you. Your school-houses, many of them, are not suitable for the purpose. Some of them are miserably contrived; others are not half large enough for the accommodation of the pupils; many are so poorly built that they can not be kept comfortably warm; and none of them are properly ventilated. The impure air of your school-rooms is of itself enough to impede the improvement of the children, if not to impair seriously their health.
And when your school-houses (such as they are) are fitted up for the winter; and your schoolmasters (such as they are) are set to work in them, there you leave them with your children, thinking, as it would seem, that now you have no more to do for them. But how unlike is this to your wonted prudence and watchfulness in every other concern? What wise and judicious men ever intrust important business to hired servants without carefully inspecting their labors from time to time, to see whether they be diligent, faithful, and successful; and whether they earn their wages?
How conclusive then against you, parents, is the fact attested to by nine teachers out of ten, that very few of you, often not a solitary one has visited the school in your district from the beginning to the end of the term! Your neglect in this respect is indeed a topic of very general complaint; for it is believed that you might so add the weight of your influence to that of the teacher's, as to impress deeply upon your children the importance of the purpose, for which they are placed under his tuition.
doing what you may, Do you often, do you Do you take pains to
And here permit us to ask, are many of you in the habit of while your children are at home, to assist their progress? ever, question them about the branches they are studying? give them familiar illustrations of the truths to which their attention has been
called; or to show them the useful applications they may make of the learning, they are sent to school to acquire? Nothing, we are persuaded, nothing arouses the minds of the young more than this, and inspires them to generous and successful efforts in pursuit of knowledge. We fear you are negligent in this particular also.
Is it not, moreover, too true that you are generally reluctant to incur any expenses for new books and school apparatus? Some children, whose parents can not plead poverty, are destitute of the most common books; and whenever the introduction of others is proposed the voice of complaint is loud and long.
One more fact, it is our painful duty to alledge, in proof that our schools suffer greatly through your neglect. It is this. Your children are neither so punctual, nor so regular at school as they might and should be. Few probably are aware how much time is thus lost. Could accurate returns be obtained from all the districts in the county, you would all, we believe, be astonished at each other's inattention in this respect. In one society, which is not thought to be less interested in education than others, we have ascertained, that last winter (reckoning the time lost by tardiness as well as absence) only half the pupils attended school about half the time; and the rest in less proportions even to one tenth? If it be so generally, and we fear it is, you, parents and guardians, must be to be blamed.
In 1832 a committee appointed by the school society to locate the site of a school-house, were authorized to determine by metes and bounds the quantity of land necessary, and to assess the true value to the owner or owners of such land; and on the payment of such valuation the land was to become the property of the district. Appeal was allowed from the doings of the committee to the county court, who were empowered to grant such relief as should seem to them just and reasonable. This provision was repealed in 1833.
In 1834, Governor Foote introduces the subject of common schools in the following paragraph:
While our system of primary schools, and the liberal provision for their support by the large fund consecrated for that purpose, which secures the advantages of education to every class of our citizens, has furnished a model for our sister States, it claims our unremitted care, and anxious inquiry, whether it has not been considered so perfect, and been so much admired, as to produce too much confidence in its beneficial results, without the fostering care of the Legislature, to improve the system, and keep pace with the march of mind, and the improvement of the age; this subject is respectfully recommended to your serious consideration.
At this session (1834,) Thomas Day, Roger Huntington, and Wilbur Fisk, were appointed a committee to inquire whether any, or if any, what alterations in the laws of this State relating to common schools are necessary to raise their character and increase their usefulness. This committee submitted a report drawn up by President Fisk, to the Legislature in 1835, from which the following extracts are taken.
That their examination into this subject has resulted in the conviction that the general condition of our common schools is such as to require some legislative action, in order to give them the character and secure the benefits, which may be reasonably expected from our advantages and resources. When the subject is viewed in reference to the state of primary instruction among our neighbors, such action appears more especially necessary; as they are making vigorous and suc
cessful efforts for improvement. A position absolutely stationary will be relatively retrograde. If we extend our view across the Atlantic, and fix it upon the system of instruction adopted by Prussia and Germany, and the improvements in progress there, (as well as in France and Great Britain,) where" the highest point of excellence of one age has been made the starting point of improvement by the age succeeding," the disadvantages of a stationary condition will be still more palpably apparent.
The only substantial basis of improvement is experimental knowledge. We have had experience, but it has not profited us because it has not been collected and preserved. It has been lost before it could be applied for the purposes of improvement. It has thus become unavailable to the legislator. To him there is, therefore, no instruction in the past. He wants the statistics of education, a minute and exact record of the actual condition of our schools, of the teachers and the scholars; of the practical workings of the present system, its success and its failures. This is indispensable to enlightened legislative action.
The committee, however, do not mean to assert that this object has been wholly overlooked by the Legislature of this State. In 1831, incipient measures were taken to obtain such information as would enable the Comptroller to report to the then next session of the General Assembly, the condition of the common schools. To this end the Comptroller was required to furnish the several school society committees with blank forms of returns, specifying the following particular subjects of inquiry; the number and names of the school districts in each society, the length of time a public school is kept in each district, the sex of the teacher, the compensation, the number of scholars, the studies pursued, and the books used; to which was added a call for general information. Of the 209 school societies, into which the State is divided, 136 (about two-thirds) made returns, more or less complete. Many of them embraced only a part of the districts. Items of information called for, were sometimes altogther omitted, in other instances, the facts were imperfectly and indistinctly stated. Hence the information obtained, though important as far as it reached, was not sufficiently complete and exact to render it a safe basis of general conclusions. The resolve of the Legislature imposed no duty upon the districts or teachers, whose co-operation was obviously indispensable to the attainment of the object, and provided no sanction to its implied requirements of the society committees. The measure thus imperfectly devised and executed, has not since been repeated.
The committee are of opinion, that these inquiries ought to be extended and continued; and that provision be made by law for obtaining full and correct answers thereto, not only from every school society, but from every school district. This course is necessary now, as has been suggested, in order to ascertain the nature and extent of existing evils and defects; and it will be necessary hereafter, in order to see how far such evils and defects are remedied and supplied by any measures that may be adopted for that purpose, and to show from time to time, the actual workings of the system. The adjoining States of New York and Massachusetts, have adopted and are pursuing the course here recommended with beneficial results.
Among the defects in our common schools and the regulations regarding them, which the committee, by observation and inquiry, have ascertained, the following are the most prominent :
1. Bad school-houses, deficient as to size, light, and accommodations.
2. Schools too large and multifarious, requiring division by age and attainments, or by sex, or in both these modes.
3. Incompetent teachers, occasioned, 1st. by inadequate compensation; 2nd. by the want of suitable provision for training competent teachers.
4. Bad or imperfect text-books.
5. Discontinuance of school, during a part of the year.
6. Want of a library in each school district, to be kept by the teacher, in the school-house, and to consist of books which may be advantageously consulted by the teacher, and read with interest and profit by the scholars.
7. Want of interest in the parents, and others in the place of parents, resulting in part from existing evils in the system, and, at the same time, enhancing those evils.
8. The want of a general supervisory power, in some individual functionary,
with qualifications adapted to the peculiar duty of improving the system and keeping every part of it in healthy exercise.
9. Were we to mention the munificent fiscal aid flowing from our school fund as one of the obstacles to improvement, it might seem paradoxical. Still it may well be doubted, whether under our present system, the effect of this aid be not to retard improvement. Large and productive as our school fund is, it is insufficient to defray the whole expense of the schools. The consequence is, that the income from it is relied upon for the support of the district schools until that income is exhausted; and then the school-houses are closed for the remaining part of the year. By doing more than is necessary to stimulate individual effort, and get not enough to support a good school through the year, little individual effort is made and no good school is sustained. An intelligent writer on this subject in another State, observes: "I do not think that the common schools of Connecticut are as good as the common schools of Massachusetts or New York. And the cause of this inferiority lies in her large school fund. It does too much for the people, unless it does the whole." If there is any truth in these remarks, it is surely wise to modify our system, that the school fund shall not injure the people, by doing too much for them; and this the committee believe is not impracticable. There may be, and probably are, other evils and defects, which have not been brought within the notice of the committee. The proper remedy for some of those which have been specified, apparent from the nature of them. Where the evil is general, and consists merely in the absence of something desirable, and there is but one way of supplying the deficiency, there is no room for doubt or difficulty. But this is not probably the case with most of the evils in question. Their prevalence may be limited; they may exist in different degrees where they prevail, and may not always be distinctly marked in their character. Hence it is necessary to collect all the facts constituting the statistics of schools, and to examine them in detail, and to collate them carefully before the appropriate remedies can be advantageously prescribed.
The committee, therefore, do not deem it expedient at this time, to report a bill for the improvement of common schools, but recommend the adoption of a resolve in the form herewith submitted, providing the means of ascertaining more fully and precisely their actual condition.
The committee have procured and herewith present for the use of the General Assembly, or any committee of that body to whom the subject may be referred : 1. The revised statute of New York, relating to common schools, with the forms and regulations prepared by the Superintendent, and various decisions in cases of appeal.
2. The report of the Superintendent made to the Legislature of that State in 1834.
3. The report of a committee of the Regents of the University of that State, on the education of common school teachers, presented in January, 1835, together with an ordinance of the Regents, &c.
4. An abstract of the school returns of Massachusetts for the year 1834.
5. Cousin's report on the state of public instruction in Prussia, with plans of school-houses, translated by Mrs. Austin.
The report was referred to the standing committee on the School Fund, but no action was taken by the committee, or the Legislature.
In 1836, Gov. Edwards, in his annual message points to one of the principal evils in the condition of the schools.
The situation of our common schools has for some time been the object of complaint. It is thought that our school fund does not furnish the benefits expected from it, and which it ought to furnish. The evil arises from the want of suitable teachers. This want has been experienced in other States as well as our own. Various remedies have been suggested. The education of teachers at the public expense has been proposed. This to some extent would be beneficial, but it is doubtful whether it would remedy the evil entirely. If persons are educated with reference to their being teachers, unless the business of teaching is found to
afford a reasonable compensation, it will soon be abandoned for some other employment.
It is not enough that the teacher should be acquainted with the things to be taught, he must be capable of communicating as well as learning. He ought also to be capable of understanding the character of his pupils, their tempers and dispositions, and discovering the peculiar bent and turn of their minds, and be capable of developing their faculties. To make a good schoolmaster, time and experience are necessary.
At an extra session of the Legislature in December, 1836, the proportion of the surplus revenue belonging to the United States devolving to Connecticut, was deposited with the several towns, and one half of the annual interest of the same was appropriated "to the promotion of education in common schools, in such manner and proportion as each town might direct"—the other half can be in like manner appropriated at the option of the town. Under this act, $738,661 83 were deposited with the several towns.
In 1837, the school visitors were required to prepare and deliver to the committee of the society, a statement of the condition of each school for the year previous, in the following particulars:
1st. The name and number of the district.
2d. The number of children which have attended such schools in such year, distinguishing the number of each sex.
3d. The average number attending such school.
4th. The number of persons in the district, over 16 and under 21, unable to read or write.
5th. The length of time the school is kept in winter and in summer.
6th. The names of the instructors, of both sexes.
7th. The amount of wages exclusive or inclusive of board, as the case may be, paid to each instructor, within the year, both summer and winter.
8th. The amount raised in the district for schooling within the year, whether by contribution, subscription, or any other mode.
9th. The name and title of each book, and the number of each used in the school within the year, and also whether the book is in general use. 10th. By whom the books are selected for the schools.
11th. What is taught in the school in summer and what in winter. 12th. All other information in relation to the schools, which may be required by the comptroller, as useful to ascertain their condition.
Which original returns shall be by the school society's committee returned to the comptroller on or before the 1st of March next, and before the payment of the March dividend; together with information in such form as may be prescribed by the comptroller, of the average number of children attending academies and private schools, with the estimated amount paid for tuition-whether there is any local fund in the society for the support of schools-what is its amount-how vested-and what is the amount of the annual income thereof.
Thus, after nearly fifteen years of agitation in the press and in public meetings, and after the attention of the Legislature had been repeatedly called to the subject by successive governors in their annual messages, an efficient step was taken to ascertain the condition of the schools from officers charged by law with their supervision, and the administration of the system. This may be regarded as the commencement of a new era in the legislation of Connecticut, respecting common schools.