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Art. II.-Annual Report of the School Committee of the City
of Boston, 1864. 412 pp. 8vo.
If the style and character of an Annual Report are any index to the character of the thing reported, there is in this volume a strong presumption certainly in favour of the excellence of the Boston schools. No city in this country, no state, so far as we are aware, sends forth more complete reports, whether we regard the fulness and exactness of the information contained, the clearness and method of the arrangement, or the typographical beauty of their appearance. The report for 1864, for a copy of which we are indebted to John D. Philbrick, Esq., Superintendent of the Boston public schools, is a large octavo volume, of more than four hundred pages, printed with inviting type, on fair paper, handsomely bound, and seems to contain an answer to almost every question which a stranger might wish to ask concerning the progress and the present condition of the schools. It is indeed a model report, and we have reason to believe that it is only a fair exponent of the institutions which it represents.
It is not our intention, however, at this time, to speak of the schools of Boston, but to take the occasion to express somo views in regard to the general subject of education by means of common schools. The argument for popular education is familiar and trite, and yet it needs to be occasionally re-stated and enforced. There is no community in which there is not a considerable number of persons grossly and dangerously ignorant, and there are many communities in which the majority of the people are in this condition. There is no community in which the importance of general education is over-estimated; there are unfortunately many communities in which education is held to be the least important of public interests. A brief discussion of the subject, therefore, can never be entirely out of place.
Before proceeding to the direct argument, let us notice some of the most common objections.
VOL. XXXVIII.—NO. I. 4
It is a not uncommon opinion, that the business of education should be left, like other kinds of business, to the laws of trade. It is said, if a carpenter is wanted in any community, or a blacksmith, or a tailor, or a lawyer, or a doctor, carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, lawyers and doctors will make their appearance. If a store is wanted, a store will spring up. Why not a school house? Those who use this argument forget the essential difference between the two classes of wants to be supplied. All men equally feel the distress, if naked, or hungry, or sick, or suffering from any material want. The poor man, , no less than the rich, feels the pinchings of hunger, and will exert himself to remedy the evil. The sick man, even more than the well, appreciates the value of medicine and the necessity of a physician. Not so in the matter of knowledge. A man must himself be educated, to understand the value of education. There are exceptions, of course. Yet it is substantially true, that the want of education is not one of those felt and pinching necessities that compel men's attention, and that consequently may be left to shift for themselves. A man who has himself enjoyed the blessing of a good education, expects to provide schools for his children, as much as he expects to provide for them food and clothing. The wants of their minds are to him pressing realities, as much as are the wants of their bodies. Not so with the ignorant and debased neighbours, who live within stone's throw of his dwelling. They, from their own experience, know nothing better, and are quite content, both for themselves and their children, to live on in the debased condition in which we see them. If these wretched creatures are ever moved to seek a higher style of living and being, the movement must originate outside of themselves. It is a case in which the man of higher advantages must think and act for those below him. It is a case in which people have a pressing need without knowing it, and in which consequently the laws of supply and demand do not meet the emergency.
Another common opinion on this subject is that private enterprise is adequate to meet the want. Private enterprise in education is not indeed to be discarded. Where the community as a whole, in its organized capacity, will do nothing, let individuals do what they can. In such cases, let those who
appreciate the advantages of education, concert measures for the establishment of schools and the employment of teachers, and for inducing parents who are indifferent to send their children. By these private efforts, the community may be gradually awakened to the importance of the subject, and so be induced to take it up on their own account. But private benevolence is not sufficient for so great a work. Private benevolence besides is apt to be fitful. It is at best subject to interruption by death and by reverses of fortune, while the cause is one which especially demands steadiness and continuity. The means for educating a community or a city should no more be subject to interruption, than the means of lighting it, or of supplying it with water.
The argument for depending upon private enterprise for devising and providing the means for popular education, would apply equally well to matters of police, and to the protection of property. The strong armed and the sagacious can take care of themselves. The stout hearted and the good, by due concert and combination, could keep criminals in some check, even in a country where there were no courts of justice, or prisons, or detective police. But this is not the ordinary or the best mode of accomplishing the end, nor could it in any case be thoroughly efficient. The restraint and punishment of crime belong to society as a whole, in its sovereign capacity. To the same society belongs the duty of seeing that its members do not fall into degrading ignorance and vice. God, in ordaining human society, had something higher in view than merely providing for the punishment of crime. Our Heavenly Father would have his children raised to the full enjoyment of their privileges as social and rational beings, and he seems to have established society for this very end, among others, that there may be an agency and a machinery adequate and fitted to drag even the unwilling out of the mire into which they have fallen. Without such an interposition on the part of society as a whole, the work will not be done. The mass of the people will remain in ignorance in every community, in which the community as euch does not provide the means of e ducation and general enlightenment.
It is often urged against common schools, that they tend to
impair parental obligation. Let us look this objection fairly in the face. The argument is stated as follows. If the community, in its organic capacity as a civil government, provides systematically for the instruction of the young, the system, just so far as it is successful and complete, does away with the necessity for any other provision. The parent, finding this work done to his hands, feels no necessity of looking after it himself, and so gradually loses all sense of obligation on the subject. Such a result, it is contended, is in contravention of the plainest dictates of nature and the most positive teachings of religion, both nature and religion requiring it as a primary duty of every parent to give his child a suitable education.
In meeting this objection, the friends of common schools agree with the objector to the fullest extent in asserting the imperative, universal, irrepealable duty of the parent to educate his own child. The duty is not the less binding on the parent, because a like duty, covering the same point, rests also on the community. The interests involved are so momentous, that God in his wise ordination bas given them a double security. It is a case in which two distinct parties are both separately required to see one and the same thing done. It is like taking two endorsers to a note. The obligation of one endorser is not impaired, because another man equally with himself is bound for payment. If a child grows up in ignorance and vice, while God will undoubtedly hold the parent responsible, he will also not hold the community guiltless. Both parties will be guilty before him, both parties will be punished. A man is bound to maintain a certain amount of cleanliness about his habitation, If he fails to do so, and if in consequence of this failure the atmosphere around him becomes tainted and malarious, he and his will suffer. Disease and death will visit his abode. But the consequences will not end here. The infection will extend. The whole community will be affected by it. The whole community, equally with the individual, are bound to see that the cause of the infection is removed. The infection will not spare the community because the individual has generated it, nor will it spare the individual because the community has failed to remove it. Each party has a duty and a peril of its own in regard to the same matter.
The fact is, individuals and the community are so bound together, that on many points their obligations lie in coincident lines. The matter of education is one of these points. God has ordained the parental relation, and has implanted the parental affections, for this very reason, among others, that the faculties of the helpless young immortal may have due training and development,—that this development may not be left to chance, like that of a worthless weed, but may have the protection and guardianship which are the necessary birthright of every rational creature brought into being by the voluntary act of another. But God has ordained society also for this same end, among others, namely, that his rational creatures may have a compentent agency, bound by the laws and necessities of its own welfare to make adequate provision for the instruction and education of every human being. The one duty does not conflict with the other. The one obligation does not impair the other. Both lie in coincident lines.
But, as a question of fact, is it true, that common schools impair the sense of obligation in the minds of parents in regard to the duty of educating their children? We affirm the fact to be exactly the contrary. Those communities in which there are no common schools, and in which the people generally are in a state of deplorable ignorance, are precisely those in which the sense of parental obligation on this point is at the lowest ebb. Go to a region of country in which not one man in ten can read and write, and you will find that not one man in ten will care whether his children are taught to read and write. Those communities on the contrary which have the best and most complete system of common schools, and in which this system has prevailed longest and has taken most complete hold of the public mind, are the very ones in which individuals will be found most keenly alive to the importance of the subject, and in which a parent will be regarded as a monster, if his children are allowed to grow up uneducated.
The objection, therefore, has no foundation either in fact or in reason.
There is moreover another consideration not to be overlooked. In this matter of education, it is after all but a small part which the school does for a child. The main part of the child's education always takes place at home, or at least,